Thoughts about the Prodigal Son

I have heard the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31) a lot, but when I thought about the story a few days ago, it came differently to me now that the Bible in its fullness is “stirring in the soul” as my mom says.

For all this year, I’ve been reading the Bible everyday so I would finish it, finish the whole book, to be better equipped in teaching. Like James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly”; I used to be afraid to speak or write, because I never wanted to be judged for the wayward direction a man or woman takes, away from God’s light. My hands would shake and my heart pound if I ever had to teach others about what God’s word said. My thoughts: got to take it seriously…

So, a few days ago, I thought about the prodigal son story and unlike every other time, I thought about the two sons and father from the light of Scripture (Jesus’s era), rather than from the light of my culture, fear of judgment, or just a young person’s way of making a story relate to myself rather than the other way around – this time I put myself in the shoes of that time, in historical context. There’s probably nothing wrong with applying the Bible to modern times, but you must first understand the text as it was intended, for the people that heard it. Only then can we accurately make a modern interpretation.

If you don’t know: the prodigal son in quick review is about two sons and their father. One went to his father and said, “Give me my inheritance now, Dad. I want the money in hard cash while I’m young!” The father said ok, and the son took it and ran. He spoiled it on who knows what (materialism, wine, women), and he found himself in the worst situation. With nothing left, he became homesick and returned to his father, who took him back lovingly. …Imagine you haven’t taken a bath or had a good meal in ages and then you walk into the horizon, hometown coming in view, when suddenly your dad is running towards you with open arms. “Son, welcome home!” He throws a huge party to celebrate you back… The prodigal son’s brother, which is the antagonist, grumbled and complained. “How can HE get a party? Who was it that worked for your approval all these years and never failed once? Me! I deserve the thanks.”

The father’s response to the angry brother has been remembered for all time, and has been retold in every format, but let’s see it again:

“Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!” Luke 15:31-32 (MSG)

The message of The Prodigal Son is exactly the same take-away as the two parables also in Luke 15:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep:

“...There is more joy for that one sinner than for 99 good people who don’t need to change.” Luke 15:7 (ERV)

The Parable of the Lost Coin’s message:

“It’s a happy time for the angels of God when one sinner decides to change.” Luke 15:10 (ERV)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son’s message:

A celebration happens when God’s child returns to Him after living a wicked life.

 

Every other time I heard this story, I thought, I can relate to this story if I’m not careful. I can be that complaining brother, as a Christian, because I could become unaccepting to new converts. I actually worried, at times, that someday I would become the guy who complains, and that is how I communicated the message to those around me.

But a few days ago, I interpreted it differently. “I’ve never heard it told that way before,” Kat said when I finished telling her what I now tell you:

If you carefully read the beginning of Luke 15, you will see the Pharisees –these were members in the Jewish religion who were strict about keeping the law (legalistic to the point of judgmental) and kept many harsh regulations – are disgruntled because Jesus chose to hang around people not like them. Notice the bold words: not like them. 

The context of the Scripture reveals that the Pharisees were the original ones Jesus spoke to, when telling the parable. The Jewish leaders were known to ban outsiders, criticize sinners, and place themselves above everyone else. The Gentiles, for example, were “uncircumcised heathen”, which you can understand by reading Paul’s letter to Ephesus, who were not a church of former Jews, but rather they were Gentiles. (Gentile was the word for anyone who was not a Jew.) Specifically chapter 2, verse 11 through 13:

Never forget that once you were heathen and that you were called godless and “unclean” by the Jews. (But their hearts, too, were still unclean, even though they were going through the ceremonies and rituals of the godly, for they circumcised themselves as a sign of godliness.) Remember that in those days you were living utterly apart from Christ; you were enemies of God’s children, and he had promised you no help. You were lost, without God, without hope.

But now you belong to Christ Jesus, and though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought very near to him because of what Jesus Christ has done for you with his blood.”

 

Paul says about the Jews that their hearts were unclean because of what? Later in Ephesians 2:15 he says:

“By [Jesus’s] death he ended the angry resentment between us, caused by the Jewish laws that favored the Jews and excluded the Gentiles…”

The Jews resented outsiders (Gentiles) because they were not like them. This, in fact, was what made their hearts unclean. Their attitude and unwillingness to forgive displeased God.

Although we are capable of falling into the same trap today as Christians, there are no Gentiles and Jews: we are all one in Christ Jesus. Sure, there are Jews, atheists, and others too, but we are all equal, and that makes it different than Jesus’s timing when the Jewish nation was the light on the hill, the lighthouse for all to see God’s glory revealed; that glory was Jesus Christ, and he is all around the world now.

So when you think about the prodigal son story, remember not to replay it too far from its original context, but I don’t see anything wrong in noting the quality of the father’s open arms, and the mistake of the son’s complaints, because God’s word can speak to us today as much as it did in Jesus’s time.

Lastly, I was inspired to include Malachi 1 in our study:

Malachi 1 (TLB)

Here is the Lord’s message to Israel, given through the prophet Malachi:

“I have loved you very deeply,” says the Lord.

But you retort, “Really? When was this?”

And the Lord replies, “I showed my love for you by loving your father, Jacob. I didn’t need to. I even rejected his very own brother, Esau, and destroyed Esau’s mountains and inheritance, to give it to the jackals of the desert. And if his descendants should say, ‘We will rebuild the ruins,’ then the Lord Almighty will say, ‘Try to if you like, but I will destroy it again,’ for their country is named ‘The Land of Wickedness,’ and their people are called ‘Those Whom God Does Not Forgive.’”

O Israel, lift your eyes to see what God is doing all around the world; then you will say, “Truly, the Lord’s great power goes far beyond our borders!”

“A son honors his father, a servant honors his master. I am your Father and Master, yet you don’t honor me, O priests, but you despise my name.”

“Who? Us?” you say. “When did we ever despise your name?”

“When you offer polluted sacrifices on my altar.”

“Polluted sacrifices? When have we ever done a thing like that?”

“Every time you say, ‘Don’t bother bringing anything very valuable to offer to God!’ You tell the people, ‘Lame animals are all right to offer on the altar of the Lord—yes, even the sick and the blind ones.’ And you claim this isn’t evil? Try it on your governor sometime—give him gifts like that—and see how pleased he is!

“‘God have mercy on us,’ you recite; ‘God be gracious to us!’ But when you bring that kind of gift, why should he show you any favor at all?

“Oh, to find one priest among you who would shut the doors and refuse this kind of sacrifice! I have no pleasure in you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will not accept your offerings.

“But my name will be honored by the Gentiles from morning till night. All around the world they will offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name shall be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you dishonor it, saying that my altar is not important and encouraging people to bring cheap, sick animals to offer to me on it.

 “You say, ‘Oh, it’s too difficult to serve the Lord and do what he asks.’ And you turn up your noses at the rules he has given you to obey. Think of it! Stolen animals, lame and sick—as offerings to God! Should I accept such offerings as these?” asks the Lord. “Cursed is that man who promises a fine ram from his flock and substitutes a sick one to sacrifice to God. For I am a Great King,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be mightily revered among the Gentiles.”
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Invited to Come

“And Jesus answering spoke to them again in parables, saying, The kingdom of the heavens has become like a king who made a wedding feast for his son,”  Matthew 22:1-2 

Imagine for a minute that you work for a very important company.  You’re a hard worker, and you’re looking for a raise, so you’ve been working hard to be seen by the CEO (your boss!) and have your work noticed.

Now imagine that your boss’s son is becoming the new CEO of the business that you work at.  It’s a happy day for the boss and it’s put him in a good mood.  Such a good mood that he decides to throw a party.  He’s very proud of his son, so he invites all the workers of the business to celebrate his son’s achievements with him.   That includes you!

“and sent his bondmen to call the persons invited to the wedding feast, and they would not come.” (v.3)

The day comes, and you get a message on your phone.  Not just a reminder, but a personal message from the boss:  “I’m celebrating my son today.  I hope you’ll come and help me celebrate him and all that we’ve done together with the business.  Remember, the doors are open in an hour.  Don’t be late for the toast!”

Keeping in mind that you’re looking for that raise, would you miss this chance to celebrate with the boss and his son, and maybe show off your charm and friendly personality and maybe even get a word in about all that you’ve done for the business?  Of course not!  You’d most likely shine your medals, wear your best outfit in the closet, and take a glass of champagne as you proudly join the ranks of all the leaders of the company.   You would want to be noticed by the boss!

But in this parable that Jesus tells the crowds, the people who were invited were not coming to the wedding feast that the king had thrown for his son.  It was a proud day for the king: his son had found a beautiful princess to love and cherish and be wed to, but none of the people that he invited…. “they would not come.”  They didn’t bother to show up at the feast that he was throwing.

Now imagine you decided that you had other things to do, instead of celebrate your boss’s son’s promotion.  He’s not the one who deserves it; you work hard.  You need to be the one up there being praised and honored, not the boss’s son.  So you decide not to come.  And no one else shows up either.

How do you think the boss would respond to no one showing up when his doors are opened.

“Maybe there was a mistake.  No one received the message.  Maybe it didn’t send.”  Cell phones aren’t the most dependable form of sending messages, after all.

“Again he sent other bondmen, saying, Say to the persons invited, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatted beasts are killed, and all things ready; come to the wedding feast.  But they made light of it, and went, one to his own land, and another to his commerce. And the rest, laying hold of his bondmen, ill-treated and slew [them].” (v.4-6)

The boss decides to send an email to his employees.  “The doors are open!  The food is ready. Come, celebrate my son with me!”

You read the short and simple email, and laugh it off.  Why would you celebrate that egotist?  After all, he’s entitled and privileged.  You notice others on Facebook and Twitter expressing the same thing.  One person even copies the boss’s letter to their Facebook status and speaks negative and disrespectable things about the boss’s son.

“And [when] the king [heard of it he] was wroth, and having sent his forces, destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (v.7)

Of course, when the boss sees what his employees are saying on social media and when he sees that no one cares to come and celebrate his son with him, he becomes very angry with the people who work under him.  How can he hand his business to his son and expect people to respect the new CEO, if they don’t even respect the current CEO (him!) enough to come to a celebration that he throws?

You and all of your co-workers might find yourself with a new message on your phone.  “Don’t come into work tomorrow; you are relieved of all the duties that you are responsible for in my company.”

Wait, that wouldn’t be very smart, since firing everyone would mean that the boss would no longer have any workers at the company, right?  It would surely be a company suicide.

“Then he says to his bondmen, The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy; go therefore into the thoroughfares of the highways, and as many as ye shall find invite to the wedding feast.” (v.8-9)

Instead of canceling the party and closing the business, the boss creates immediate buzz to put on TV.  “Breaking News!  There’s a celebration going on, and everyone is invited!”

“And those bondmen went out into the highways, and brought together all as many as they found both evil and good; and the wedding feast was furnished with guests.” (v.10)

Now imagine you’re a local shop clerk who’s dreamed of working for a large company, but you have never had the chance to be discovered.  You can’t even afford to own the proper evening-ware for a party of this stature.  But now everyone is invited to come celebrate the passing of the baton in this highly esteemed company.

So you decide to drop everything, change into your best clothes and attend the party.  The boss is pleased at the outcome, because many people  have come.

“And the king, having gone in to see the guests,” (v.11)

The boss mingles with the new guests.  He hires people on the spot, eager to replace the disrespectful people who had been working for him before.  He has a vision for his company.  There is no room for hateful people who don’t show respect for anyone but themselves.

“beheld there a man not clothed with a wedding garment.” (v.11)

Imagine, instead of dressing in your very best clothes to impress the boss, you drop everything and come as you are: in casual tank top and shorts.  You’re not here for a job; you just want to gaze on the beauty of the fine silverware and the exquisite foods that will be served there.  You know nothing about the company, the CEO or his son.  Maybe you could even take home a bag of leftover food and save it for later.  Would anyone miss just one crystal champagne glass if it was lost? With so many, surely not! Even if they did, they would have the money to replace it.  Right?

Even if you don’t think about taking away a souvenir, your main purpose is to enjoy viewing the lifestyle of luxury and enjoy the rich (free!) food that you could never afford on your own.  Maybe you’ll wish that you could live in a grand mansion or eat from golden dishes, but you don’t have any plan to shake up your own life with change.  It’s too much work.

“And he says to him, [My] friend, how camest thou in here not having on a wedding garment?  But he was speechless.” (v.12)

What does it mean to be speechless?  Merriam-Webster.com expresses it as this

  1. Unable to speak: Dumb
  2. Not speaking: Silent
  3. Not capable of being expressed in words

So, for just a moment, imagine yourself as the boss.  You’re celebrating you’re son: a bright young man who you have seen from infancy, grow into a mature and responsible leader.  You’re brimming with pride. You want to show him off and honor him for everyone to see what you have had the pleasure of seeing all along. You’re promoting him to the position that you would only give to a person you trust as much as you trust yourself: the head executive of the business that you dreamed, started, and fought for most of your adult life.

With that in mind, when you see a man dressed in slacks coming to your honorary celebration, you don’t want to judge a person based on the clothes that is worn.  He could be living on the streets, and needing help.  Who is he?  Where did he come from?

“Friend,” You say.  “Don’t you know that this is a celebration of the utmost importance to me? My son is taking over the company that I started 40 years ago with my own hands. Why haven’t you come in more formal clothes?”

He is speechless.  Maybe he’s ignoring you?  Or perhaps he doesn’t have anything to say.  You try to reason out in your mind why he doesn’t speak.  You can think of 3 reasons (based on the definitions above) why he could be speechless.

  1. Maybe he is mute. If he were, then surely it wouldn’t stop him from having words to say.  He would still try to express his reasons to you, even without the ability to speak.  He could use gestures and facial expressions to give you an answer.
  2. He does not wish to speak to you, because he has intentions that he wants to keep hidden. Perhaps he is a thief, here to steal your silverware when you’re preoccupied with hosting the party.  Or worse, he’s here to pick pocket your unsuspecting guests and take advantage of the people who have gathered.
  3. He will not speak simply because he has come to gawk at your wealth and gaze at the beauty of your living. You cannot have him disrupting the celebration and intimidating your guests; after all, you didn’t invite people to come and stare at your accomplishments and marvel at your golden platters, they are here to honor your son, who you are very proud of.

“Then said the king to the servants, Bind him feet and hands, and take him away, and cast him out into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. (v.13)

That’s harsh!  But looking at the possibilities, why wouldn’t you want to throw the man out? You have the power to send away anyone you wish to send away, because you are the host of the celebration.  He didn’t respond to you when you spoke to him.  He’s either ignoring you, wanting to steal from you or your guests, or he’s turning all of your guests into spectacles to gawk at and watch as if they were animals in a zoo.  He won’t even talk to you, so if he’s troubled or needing help, you surely don’t know.  You’ll send him out, and if he doesn’t leave, you’ll probably call security.  The harder he fights, the worse it will be for him.

“For many are called ones, but few are chosen ones.” (v.14)

Truth be told, you most likely wouldn’t go to a millionaire CEO’s party in shorts and a tank top.  It would leave you feeling awkward and out of place.  But the issue here isn’t what clothing is or isn’t appropriate.  The issue is the fact that the speechless man didn’t treat the host of the party with the deserved respect.  Don’t you think that a man kind enough to invite everyone to the party would be equally kind enough to help the speechless man out, if he had just asked?

Let’s imagine, instead, that you are a guest that came to honor the host of the party and his son, but you came only as you are because you are poor and cannot afford anything fancier than the second hand clothes that you’re wearing to the party.  What might happen if the CEO comes to you and asks you about your clothes and you choose to give him a respectful answer instead of staying silent.

CEO: “Friend, don’t you know that this is a celebration of the utmost importance to me?  My son is taking over the company that I started 40 years ago with my own hands.  Why haven’t you come in more formal clothes?”

You: “I’m sorry, sir.  I came because I was invited.  I’m simply a sales clerk.  Though hard-working, I have just enough money to pay rent and buy food for my family. I don’t have anything impressive to wear.”

With this response, the boss is impressed with you, and for reasons unknown to you he takes you to his office and helps you clean up your appearance.  You are transformed; when you look in the mirror you see a confident and strong entrepreneur that you’ve never seen before.

The boss brings you to his son, who is the new CEO of the company, and introduces you.  “Look son, I have brought to you our new COO (which is the chief operating officer- the second in command) in the business.  I expect you to teach your new employee everything that I have taught you.”

 Jesus's words to His Father: “I have told these men all about you.  They were in the world, but then you gave them to me. Actually, they were always yours, and you gave them to me; and they have obeyed you.” John 17:6 (TLB)

 

 “Let us rejoice and exult, and give Him glory; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready. And it was given to her that she should be clothed in fine linen, bright [and] pure; for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of the saints.  

And the angel says to me, Write, Blessed [are] they who are called to the supper of the marriage of the Lamb. And he says to me, These are the true words of God.”  Revelation 19:7-9

Why does God allow persecution?

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  -2 Timothy 3:12

We can see in so many places in the Bible where God’s people were persecuted and even killed!  It causes many to wonder why God would allow persecution to happen.  It doesn’t seem like a very loving thing to do.

The truth behind the persecution of the Christian churches can also be found within the pages of the Bible.  In Genesis 3:15, God’s curse against Satan is this: “From now on you and the woman will be enemies, as will your offspring and hers.  You will strike his heel but he will crush your head.” (TLB)

Satan caused Adam and Eve to bring sin into the world because of the great hatred and animosity that he felt against God.  The truth is, Satan hates God!  And so he also hates humans, because we are loved by God and have His protection.

You can see Satan’s bitterness against God and His beloved creation in the story of Job.

“One day as the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan, the Accuser, came with them. 

“‘Where have you come from?’ the Lord asked Satan. 

“And Satan replied, ‘From earth, where I’ve been watching everything that’s going on.’

“Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth-a good man who fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.’

“‘Why shouldn’t he when you pay him so well?’ Satan scoffed. ‘You have always protected him and his home and his property from all harm. You have prospered everything he does-look how rich he is! No wonder he ‘worships’ you! But just take away his wealth, and you will see him curse you to your face!’

“And the Lord replied to Satan, ‘You may do anything you like with his wealth, but don’t harm him physically.’

So Satan went away and sure enough, not long afterwards when Job’s sons and daughters were dining at the oldest brother’s house, tragedy struck.” Job 1:6-13 (TLB)

Satan comes to God again in chapter 2 of Job and acts the same way. What hatred Satan presents to God!

We are also warned in 1 Peter 5:8 “Be careful-watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart.” (TLB)

There are many stories in the Bible about God’s people being persecuted. Next time you read about them, remember the one who is doing the persecuting; Satan, who is our enemy.

IDOP-StoriesOfPersecution

We can read more about Satan’s animosity in Revelation 12:7-13.

“Then there was war in heaven; Michael and the angels under his command fought the Dragon and his hosts of fallen angels. And the Dragon lost the battle and was forced from heaven. This great Dragon-the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world-was thrown down onto the earth with all his army.  

“Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, ‘It has happened at last! God’s salvation and the power and the rule, and the authority of his Christ are finally here; for the Accuser of our brothers has been thrown down from heaven onto earth-he accuses them day and night before our God. They defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony; for they did not love their lives but laid them down for him. Rejoice, O heavens! You citizens of heaven, rejoice! Be glad! But woe to you people of the world, for the devil has come down to you in great anger knowing that he has little time.’

“And when the Dragon found himself cast down to earth, he persecuted the woman who had given birth to the child…” (TLB)

So Satan resents God for exiling him, and he takes out his resentment by persecuting God’s people on earth.   You could say it’s Satan’s way of getting God back for punishing him.

IDOP-TypesOfPersecution

But that doesn’t explain why God would allow us to be persecuted.  After all, if He’s a loving God, wouldn’t he have the power to stop Satan from persecuting His people that He loves?

But here’s some news that may seem unbelievable…

We are actually blessed by our persecution.

Yes, it’s true.  When we are persecuted, we can count our blessings and feel joy in these truths:

  • We are identified through Christ Jesus.
"At one time you were separate from God. You were God's enemies in your minds because the evil deeds you did were against God. But now Christ has made you God's friends again. He did this by his death while he was in the body, that he might bring you into God's presence. He brings you before God as people who are holy, with no wrong in you, and with nothing that God can judge you guilty of. And Christ will do this if you continue to believe in the Good News you heard. You must continue strong and sure in your faith. You must not be moved away from the hope that Good News gave you. That same Good News has been told to everyone in the world. I, Paul, help in preaching that Good News. I am happy in my sufferings for you.  There are many things that Christ must still suffer through his body, the church. I am accepting my part of these things that must be suffered. I accept these sufferings in my body. I suffer for his body, the church." Colossians 1:21-24 (ICB)
  • The world is paying us tribute because we belong to Christ.
"But you should be happy that you are sharing in Christ's sufferings. You will be happy and full of joy when Christ comes again in glory. When people insult you because you follow Christ, then you are blessed. You are blessed because the glorious Spirit, the Spirit of God, is with you." 1 Peter 4:13-14 (ICB)
  • God compliments us over our service to Him.
"Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you noticed  my servant Job? No one else on earth is like him.  He is an honest man, innocent of any wrong. He honors God and stays away from evil. You caused me to ruin him for no good reason. But he continues to be without blame.'" Job 2:3 (ICB)
  • God is weaning us off of our love for the world by letting us see where our trouble actually comes from.
"Since Jesus went through everything you're going through and more, learn to think like him.  Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you'll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.  

"You've already put in your time in that God-ignorant way of life, partying night after night, a drunken and profligate life. Now it's time to be done with it for good. Of course, your old friends don't understand why you don't join in with the old gang anymore. But you don't have to give an account to them. They're the ones who will be called on the carpet-and before God himself." 1 Peter 4:1-5 (MSG)
  • God is perfecting patience through our persecution.
"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. 

"If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who "worry their prayers" are like wind-whipped waves. Don't think you're going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open." James 1:2-8 (MSG)
  • We are being identified with great saints of the past.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
  • We are waiting to receive God’s great promise to us.
"That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our inner strength in the Lord is growing every day. These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won't last very long.  Yet this short time of distress will result in God's richest blessing upon us forever and ever! So we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (TLB)

 

IDOP-OvercomingPersecution

We typically think that in Jesus’ resurrection, He destroyed Satan’s power which is death. But that’s not true! Jesus actually destroyed Satan’s power and plans with His death, not rising from the dead.  He was sinless- our passover lamb.  His innocent blood washes us clean.

“Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.” Hebrews 2:14-15 (MSG)

“We have this treasure from God. But we are only like clay jars that hold the treasure.  This shows that this great power is from God, not from us. We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us.  We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. . We carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies, so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. We are alive, but for Jesus we are always in danger of death. This is so that the life of Jesus can be seen in our bodies that die. So death is working in us, but life is working in you.”  2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (ICB)

Guardian of Your Heart

“God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him!” (Matthew 5:8, CEV)

Do you want to see God? The sixth Beatitude says we should have a pure heart to see God. What is the heart? If nothing else, it is those feelings we associate with the red shape drawn on our Valentines cards, with two rounds at the top and a point at the bottom… Right?

Nah, the heart is more than that. Like the Trinity is God –Father, Son, Spirit – thinking, saying, and acting the same, there are also 3 organs that “speak” to each other a special way inside your body: the heart, the brain, and the stomach. Did you know that according to research, all three organs have their own neurons and neurotransmitters, meaning the heart can communicate to the brain feelings of pain and emotion? Likewise, the stomach can communicate hunger and digestive feelings. Some websites say different things, implying the heart and stomach can “think” on their own, but then others say they can’t. Really, though, what is “thinking”, and what is “feeling”, if not a collective effort of the body’s functions?

Think about a scenario: a man is waiting for his wife to stride downstairs donned in her little black dress for the date –wouldn’t his heart be racing as he envisions the dinner and car ride home? How about another: a kid walks in the bedroom while her parents are watching a midnight horror film and catches a glimpse of blood and gore – wouldn’t her heart be pounding when she runs back to bed and feels monsters underneath? In the same way, your stomach grumbles and you think, I’m hungry. It’s all feelings, and feelings are the government of your thoughts.

To be what God intends for us to be, you and I need to give our brain the role of guardian. Imagine that your organs are a family, your heart and stomach being dependents (children), while your brain is the independent (parent). They come to your brain with emotions of anger, fear, an adrenaline rush, or a lack of appetite. Your brain executes a plan determined by surroundings. For example, someone is walking nearby in the street, at the same pace as you, oh, but maybe a step or two quicker; immediately, an adrenaline rush begins to occur and your mind works out the facts of whether you have a stalker. Is the person suspicious looking? Is he armed, strong, and are you alone? Then suddenly, he crosses the street and heads towards the other block. Your reasoning grows serene at the realization he is a mere stranger.

In the example above, the heart was an influence to your thoughts. How? A pumping heart can affect your thoughts, making your brain scramble to keep calm.

But whether or not the heart’s neurons can grow fearful or the brain itself does the “feeling” and the “thinking” does not matter for this discussion. We can wait until later for science to discover the details. Right now, whether he means the Valentines heart or the muscly organ, Jesus has our answer in Matthew 15:16-20 regarding the role of the heart:

“Don’t you understand?” Jesus asked him. “Don’t you see that anything you eat passes through the digestive tract and out again? But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the man who says them. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile; but there is no spiritual defilement from eating without first going through the ritual of ceremonial handwashing!” (TLB)

The Old Testament also speaks of the heart. Jeremiah 17:9-10 says:

“The heart is the most deceitful thing there is and desperately wicked. No one can really know how bad it is! Only the Lord knows! He searches all hearts and examines deepest motives so he can give to each person his right reward, according to his deeds—how he has lived.” (TLB)

That’s why the heart needs a guardian, because it needs to stay dependent on the brain to make sense of things, and connect with the knowledge of the Lord and His Word. There may be neurons in the heart (estimated to be 40,000), but there are billions more in the brain and the brain is where laws, principles, logic, solutions, and memories are kept.

“For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are…” (Hebrews 4:12, TLB)

Meanwhile, the stomach (where an estimated 100 million neurons are!) is temporary to this life, and probably sends signals to keep us alive, but does nothing for our spiritual walk. As Jesus said to Satan when he was starving in the wilderness, to keep temptation away,

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:

‘No one can live only on food.
People need every word
that God has spoken.’”

(Matthew 4:3-5, CEV)

Paul also makes the argument, in the context of sexual immorality and how wrong it is, that the stomach and the body is temporary and that the body should therefore be used for God’s purposes instead of man’s whims.

“Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.

And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.”

(1 Corinthians 6:13-14, KJV)

Therefore, the mind should become the guardian of the heart and stomach, watching over them from a leader’s perspective. The mind is where the higher intelligence of Jesus Christ and his gospel is stored, along with steps on how to get to heaven, saving a person from the “second death”:

But those who are cowards, who refuse to believe, who do evil things, who kill, who are sexually immoral, who do evil magic, who worship idols, and who tell lies—all these will have a place in the lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8, ICB)

We must stay on the “road of right living” to stay safe:

“The road of right living bypasses evil;
watch your step and save your life.

First pride, then the crash—
the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.”

(Proverbs 16:17-18, The Message)

It takes smarts to decipher “right living”! However, it’s not too hard a concept: even Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith, which is the same as it is now, with faith in Jesus Christ.

Genesis 15:6: “And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He [God] accounted it to him for righteousness.”

In conclusion, with the smartness of your brain, the knowledge of Christ, and the grace of God, you can make your heart pure and keep it clean and fearless in the sight of God.  You’ll find a beautiful treasure waiting! Your pure heart will become the loving kindness behind the logic – the brain’s benefactor – and compassionate intuition will aid your deed doing.

 “So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith. We have been cleansed and made free from feelings of guilt. And our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, ICB)

 

 “…Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God; nothing can be hidden from him to whom we must explain all that we have done.” (Hebrews 4:13, TLB)

 

”No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God [Jesus], is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” (John 1:18, NLT)

 

“By the power of your hand, O Lord,
destroy those who look to this world for their reward.
But satisfy the hunger of your treasured ones.
May their children have plenty,
leaving an inheritance for their descendants.
Because I am righteous, I will see you.
When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied.”

(Psalm 17:14-15, NLT)

“You can either doubt God and think he is in no part of your life, or you can believe God and think he is in every part of your life - everything changes.” ~Lacy Andrews

 

Multifaceted Mercy

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

The world is full of people who are self-driven: as long as they aren’t in pain or in some sort of discomfort, their lives are just fine.  Their own happiness, reputation, and enjoyment are what’s important. They would rather watch and laugh at other people’s misfortunes instead of lending a hand.

"The earth, O Lord, is full of Your mercy; teach me Your statutes." Psalm 119:64 (MEV)
"This is what the Lord Almighty says... show mercy and compassion to one another..." Zechariah 7:9 (NIV)

We are to show mercy… but what is mercy? It’s surely not something that comes naturally for us, because it’s a trait of God Almighty, but it’s a trait that all Christians must learn to imitate.  It’s part of God’s statutes.

"So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For he who has shown no mercy will have judgment without mercy, for mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:12-13 (MEV)

Showing mercy is… being able to cry in another person’s skin; it’s feeling their pain, being concerned about their wellbeing, and having a strong desire to do something to help out.  We were put on this earth to show God’s mercy to the people around us.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

Showing mercy is… realizing that we are no different than our neighbor, and reaching out to show kindness to them.  Before receiving God’s grace, we were the same as those who aren’t saved.  It’s only by God’s mercy (the same mercy that we are required to imitate) that we are set apart.

"...you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world and according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among them we all also once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)," Ephesians 2:1-5 (MEV)
"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." Titus 3:3-7 (NIV)
"If your brother sins against you, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turns to you, saying, "I repent," you must forgive him." Luke 17:3-4 (MEV)

It has been said that the difference between grace and mercy is that grace is giving us what we don’t deserve, while mercy is not giving us what we do deserve. That’s true, but only partially true.  Actually, the difference is that grace takes away our faults, while mercy takes away our pain.

Showing mercy is… knowing when to rebuke a person who is wrong and when to allow the person to have the final word; it’s also knowing how stern or soft to make the rebuke, when you are called to give one.

"But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned." Titus 3:9-11 (NIV)
"Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, watching yourselves, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galations 6:1-2 (MEV)

Showing mercy does NOT… always follow the moral standards of the rest of the world. Worldly common sense would tell you to give a homeless man a 20 dollar bill to pay for his meal. But mercy would tell you not to buy him a meal. Rather, teach a man how to work and then he can feed himself.

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'  

"We hear that some  among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.  

"Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer." 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 (NIV)

Sometimes showing mercy must take an extreme stance: it may require to dis-fellowship a brother or sister in Christ who does not try to follow God’s laws.

"Now if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, then take with you one or two others, that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every word may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile [or pagan] and a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17 (MEV)
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife.  And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.  So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

"Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case  you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked person from among you.' " 1 Corinthians 5:2-23 (NIV)

Most of all, showing mercy calls us to… pray for those who we see living in sin, because “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. So if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have whatever we asked of Him.” 1 John 5:13-15 (MEV)  

As long as we continue to pray for the people we know, God won’t give up trying to reach them to save and to grant them eternal life.

Today’s Hymn: Immortal, Invisible God

I was doing a Youtube search for the hymn “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” and my favorites I will share with you, but something about the lyrics struck a chord in my heart. The lyrics are old; the meaning is magnificent.

First, the lyrics:

Verse 1
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Verse 2
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

Verse 3
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small,
in all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth Thee.

Verse 4
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render, O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee!

 

Next, how it touched me:

In worship, there was a reading of the lyrics before singing the hymn, so we could better understand the old song’s message. What I interpret from it is this:

  • Verse 1 tells of the unsearchable quality of God, how he is light and yet his light we are not aware, even as we praise him. “Too vague a God” skeptics say, and too big a concept for any of us to fathom, really, but Jesus Christ gives us reason to believe (recommended reading: “A Case for Christ”  by Lee Strobel)
  • Verse 2 expresses the simile “silent as light” which my brain wants to replace the word light with night, due to the popular song “Silent Night”. But then I actually think about it, and how much more silent can anything be, than light? God’s mighty presence is all around us, his handiwork in the sky and mountain peaks.  His plan is carefully brought about by his perfect love. Even in the hurricane, his love never ceases.
  • Verse 3 strengthens the point he is ruler, unchanged by fleeting lives and seasons. Even when the hurricane comes and goes, and the flowers bloom and the grass grows for months on end afterwards, once it is all over, God still remains.
  • Verse 4 finishes the point with the majestic request for God, the invisible, to not let our lack of sight be a hindrance in our faith. God and the angels are there, but our hearts pray, please don’t let our eyes hinder us from seeing the light and believing God is within it.

Last, the spotlight videos from international sources:
Sang by American music group Out of Eden (live performance), along with the song Meditate

Sang by African worship group Soul Winners Worship, an African worship group

Sang by American artist Fernando Ortego

Piano Solo by a member of Singapore church, Life Missions Church

 

Meekness Defined

“Pop, pop, pop! Bom, bom, bom!  throughout the day. No time for memorandums now. Go ahead! Liberty and Independence forever.”

~Davy Crockett, the last entry in his diary, on the 5th of March, 1836

In the battle of the Alamo, do you think you would you hear Davy Crockett telling his fellow patriots “Proud men, we’ll need to be meek in this battle!”  To call the battle of the Alamo meek would be like trying to pronounce Hurricane Harvey as a meek storm in the wake of its devastation at Rockport and its torrential downpour over Houston this weekend. The defenders of the Alamo fought courageously, and the Tropical Storm Harvey still threatens Southern Texas with its strong winds and flooding waters. That’s not the image of meekness, is it?

In today’s world, meekness is labeled as weak.  The Merriam-Webster explains the word meek with 3 definitions.  The first is “enduring injury with patience and without resentment: mild”; the second definition states “deficient in spirit and courage: submissive” and the third says “not violent or strong: moderate”.

The definition of the Greek word πρᾷος, or práos, according to the biblehub.com is “mild, gentle, meek, kind”. HELPS Word-studies gives the example: “the necessary balance of exercising power and avoiding harshness”.

As Christians, we need to show meekness.  But what defines meekness in God’s book?

“So I am not the one living now—it is Christ living in me. I still live in my body, but I live by faith in the Son of God. He is the one who loved me and gave himself to save me.” Galations 2:20 (ERV)

Since it is Christ living in us that inspires our actions, and Christ says “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29, ASV), we should strive to be meek like Him.

John 2:12-17 shows us an example of Jesus’s meekness.  While God’s temple was supposed to be a house of worship and reverence to the Lord where people would come to find forgiveness through sacrifices that they offered, the Jewish leaders had set up stalls and tables in the temple, and the people were told to buy the perfect sacrificial offerings from the temple, when their own offerings didn’t match the priests’ standards.

…it was almost time for the Jewish Passover Feast. So Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves. He saw others sitting at tables, exchanging money. Jesus made a whip out of cords. Then he forced all these men, with the sheep and cattle, to leave the Temple. He turned over the tables and scattered the money of the men who were exchanging it. Then he said to those who were selling pigeons, “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place for buying and selling!”

When this happened the followers remembered what was written in the Scriptures: “My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.” (ICB)

HurricaneHarvey-HibiscusLeaf_2017-8-27

Quoting Psalm 69:9, this is a good example of what meekness truly means.  “My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.”  It’s not mildness or submissiveness or the lack of strength as the world sees it.  It’s zealously letting God’s will be the one to control the actions that you take.  Like Moses, who was called the meekest person on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3); like Stephen, who portrayed a godly meek spirit with a powerful speech (Acts 7); like Daniel, with his meek request to disregard the king’s orders (Daniel 1:5-21); like Paul, who boldly wrote letters to Christ’s churches “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10-13); and like David’s meekness when he wrote his psalms and praises to the Lord; we need to represent Jesus’s “meek and lowly” spirit in our own lives.

 

 

Psalm 46:9-11, ESV

“Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

 

Psalm 69:9, 16-20, 30-36, ESV

“For zeal for your house has consumed me,
    and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me…

“Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
    according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Hide not your face from your servant,
    for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
    ransom me because of my enemies!

You know my reproach,
    and my shame and my dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
    and for comforters, but I found none…

I will praise the name of God with a song;
    I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
    or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad;
    you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
    and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
    the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
    and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
    the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
    and those who love his name shall dwell in it.”

 

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3 NIV

Be Comforted by the Rock of Ages

Today during worship, I sang the old hymn, Rock of Ages. It is a beautiful song, especially sung by the Mennonite Choir in the video above, and it’s also sung around the world; below there’s another sing-along video with the lyrics both in English and Khmer (the language of Cambodia), and also a third video by the choir at Michael’s Children Home. The choir in the third video has a mesmerizing new arrangement, starting at 1 minute and 28 seconds; I strongly recommend you take a listen.

I believe the diversity we have in Christ, and in our brothers and sisters around the globe, is indeed a pleasure to behold. I invite you to join me in song and praise, wherever you are, so we can make Christ’s joy complete.

Cure for the Guilty Conscience

Paradox of Matthew 5

“What joy of those who mourn…”

Matthew 5:4, paraphrased by Ted Kell

In Matthew 5:4, Jesus tells us that we will be blessed when we mourn. He’s not talking about the mourning that comes with a tragic event or with anxiety of tomorrow.  Nor does he refer to the despairing sorrows of the world or morbid self pity.  There’s a special kind of mourning that Jesus speaks of that brings us blessings.

It’s human nature to want to run away from something that you know you’ve done wrong.  Maybe you want to hide from it or brush it away and try to ignore it as best as you can.  But as Christians, we are called to mourn for our sins.  We mourn because we realize that we will never be perfect.

We are told in Hebrews 12:14 to “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (NIV).  We must live a holy life to be an example for the people around us; but to be holy one must reach perfection, and it is impossible for us to live a perfect life, so we mourn because we fail our calling.  Like David when he wrote Psalm 38:17 & 18, “For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin…” (NIV) and Isaiah in Isaiah 6:5 when he declares that ” ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty…” (NIV) we must recognize our sinfulness and we must mourn for it, because it’s our sins that lead to our death.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that in Christ we are a new creation: “…the old has gone, the new has come!” (NIV) But when we sin, we return to our old sinful nature, and so we mourn.  We mourn because it is our sins that sends us to death, but Jesus took our place.  He was nailed on the cross for our sins.  We can never be perfect the way that He was perfect.

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Psalm 32:1

In our mourning because of how sinful we are, God sees our grief and He forgives us.  We can take comfort in His forgiveness and be joyful: our sins are erased and we are made alive when we believe in Christ and accept Him as our Lord and Savior.  (Ephesians 2:1-10) Our sinful death has become a merciful resurrection.

A letter from Paul to the church in Corinth, concerning godly grief and forgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:5-11,NIV; 7:2-16, ESV):

“If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent — not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.  Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven — if there was anything to forgive — I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.  (2:5-11, NIV)

Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together I am acting with great boldness towards you: I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. 

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn — fighting without and fear within.  But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more  For even if I made  you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it — though I did regret it, for I see that the letter grieved you, though only for a while.  As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.  For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.  

And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.” (7:2-16, ESV)

 

God’s Kingdom is for the Empty-Hearted

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In this week’s cassette tape study, late preacher Ted Kell tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and how we can be in God’s kingdom, starting today into eternity. It’s a glorious existence to serve the King of kings, Lord of lords, Heavenly One, and Creator. Let us define what His kingdom is, and how we go about entering into the gates.

First of all, let’s describe the difference in philosophies between the physical realm and the heavenly realm. With the physical, there’s this philosophy that if you can’t see or touch in tangible form a building or throne, there is no kingdom. People love to visit castles in England, and onion domes in Russia with their colorful tops, and the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, from times gone by; or like the young man who asked our current US President recently on Twitter, “It would be my honor to mow the White House lawn some weekend for you… I have been mowing my neighbors’ lawns for some time” — if there is no stepping into the threshold, no soles of one’s shoes hitting the marble floor before the throne where Abe’s statue sits in the Washington memorial; like that, if it hasn’t been experienced physically, then it can’t be marked off the bucket list, therefore it cannot be said that we ever “entered into the kingdom”.

In heaven’s philosophy, God the Creator made the whole world, and His kingdom is where His throne, and His authority, is. In Isaiah 66:1-2, we can read that God is with the hearts and minds of those who are contrite. (To be contrite means to show remorse or to have the desire for atonement.)

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,’ says the Lord. ‘But on this one I will look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.'”

Kell said, paraphrased, you’re God’s people. Ours is the kingdom. The whole earth is ours — the Alexanders think it’s theirs but it’s not, it’s God. His great victory is ours, too, because God lives in us, within us. We must empty our selves, our egos, in order to receive God’s victory.

With that mindset, we can ask ourselves, what in life can be taken away from a Christian? How does one break a man who is already broken? What’s the victory in beating a man who has already given up the physical? So it is for the kingdom inheritors who accept Jesus’s words as true, and follow His example, becoming brothers and sisters in His blood as we sacrifice our selves on the cross next to Him.

Apostle Paul described his own poor and contrite perspective in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, as he explained his works, along with Apollos’s (another servant of Christ):

 “So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.

“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.”

It’s mysterious to fathom God’s kingdom, both physically and spiritually, and the sooner we admit the answers don’t come from ourselves, the sooner we will enter into the gates and step before His throne.

Finally, Ted Kell told of a sobering example where soldiers from World War II defined the meaning for us, what it means to lose oneself to gain the kingdom:

7 troops from the Ukrainian army bravely volunteered for a dangerous work -utmost secrecy- against the ominous Nazis who came with tanks and artillery in a complete takeover. They volunteered to conduct a Kamikaze-type journey of blowing up the enemy’s tanks. As they stood before their leader, he began selecting the troops who would carry out the mission, and they waited anxiously to find out who among them were chosen. 7 names were on the board. The leader struck out 3 of the names. Immediately, those 3 troops began to protest, as they thought that being struck out meant they weren’t chosen. “We volunteered!” they objected. “We want to go!” The leader was quick to correct the misunderstanding. “Your names weren’t struck out because you were not chosen. You are chosen. After today, you will no longer be accounted for by the army officials. You 3 cease to exist. We are not responsible for your lives.” The chosen volunteers were going to be removed from the roster- proving the extent of deadliness in their mission.

Through it all, the glory of war did not leave those Ukrainian soldiers, because they chose to sacrifice themselves in the most rewarding call of duty, with their very lives, volunteering headfirst for the suicidal course of action. They even protested when they thought their names were canceled. Likewise, we as kingdom inheritors must voluntarily lose ourselves in order to gain possession of the kingdom. Whoever is willing to lose his carnal, physical life for Jesus Christ’s sake will in return find his spiritual, immortal life. Guaranteed!

“Now when He (Jesus) asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21