Reality Check

An important topic came up in this weekend’s Sunday morning conversation.  “Your generation needs a reality check.  Kids believe in playing games all day.” The topic was idols and the generation’s dependency on them.

Let me quote Isaiah 44:9-10, 15-17, and 19, an explanation of what God thinks of idols: “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless.  Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing?…It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill.  He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down and says, ‘Save me; you are my god.’ …No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” (NIV)

Isaiah tells us that the items themselves are worthless.  We needn’t defend them against harsh words.  They aren’t sin. But at the same time, they can lead to sin.   Anything that you love unconditionally which gets in the way of your service for God is considered an idol.  If you love something too much to set aside when God calls, you should check your priorities.  That’s an idol: not the object itself, but your level of respect for it.

Anything can be idolized.  Do you love something that’s important to you? Ask God in humble prayer if its ok to feel your heart’s involvement.  Promise your loyalty to Him.  Check your life.  What’s important to you?  Do you love video/computer games, politically pushed values, or hyped movies? Youtube? Is personal nit-picks, team loyalty, or lucrative money-spending of high caliber in your life? Do you consider PhDs, pledges from trendy celebrities and TV publicity, or searches on the internet as a reliable source of information?  Listen for God’s answer: does any of this get in the way of God’s purpose for you?

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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.”

Inherit the Earth!

Want to know how to inherit the earth? First, I’ll tell you what happened to me today. After that, I’ll explain.

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Today I learned that bird-watching is a good test of one’s patience. Your eye has to be skilled, watching and waiting for the bird to appear. My family got a hummingbird feeder for our backyard, filled with bright-red, citric hummingbird food, and it hangs outside on the white arch.  From the window, you can watch for the little bird. It comes every 15-20 minutes on the clock. When it comes it is sudden: the hummingbird in a flash appears and feeds for 10 seconds or less, zooming off, and then you’re stuck waiting for it to come again. (Taking a picture is even harder than waiting.)

I’ve seen videos where others have the perfect spot for hummingbirds, bringing large enough numbers so that the buzzing noise their wings make, collectively, is loud enough to be heard even at a distance. Maybe someday my feeder will do that, too, but as of today, I saw only two hummingbirds come at the same time and one ran the other away – that little green one was possessive of her food saying (I can imagine) “It’s mine! Go away,” dive-bombing at the other one, making him leave.

It’s odd, yet amazing, how animals act as the defenders of their good green earth. There’s this narrative society declares, about how peaceful nature would be if only humans would stop their wars, and although I understand, it makes me surprised when I see animals angry or possessive, bickering at one other about what they think is theirs. My Dad saw the birds fighting and said, “They should know, it’s not private property! The feeder belongs to everyone.” Ha! Absurd to think the human is telling the birds to be nice, considering I favor that popular nature narrative I told you about.

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I continually ask myself, what is meekness and what is meek? Even a person who is said to be sweet, gentle at heart, or a humble person can find him or herself thinking, “I’m meeker than my Christian brother” and comparing their blessings, or comparing their lives to see which is more blessed. In reality, in the moment a person revels in his own meekness, is the moment of weakness instead of meekness.

Let’s repeat that thought:
In the moment a person revels over his meekness is a moment of weakness, not meekness.

No matter who you are, becoming meek needs discipline. That’s why God tells parents to discipline children, wives to submit to husbands and citizens to obey governmental authorities. If a person is not disciplined, meekness is only but a concept, and not a precept.

Without discipline, meekness is a concept not a precept.

Once a person becomes an adult, becoming meek needs self-control. You have to control yourself to be a meek adult. That means controlling what your body does, controlling what your mind thinks, and controlling what your mouth says. Like reins direct a horse’s will and body strength, self-control directs a person’s body and makes a temple for the Holy Spirit.

Self-control allows the Holy Spirit to take the reins.

Listed below are four ways you can be meek:

1. Live Confidently Knowing God’s Power.

Job 1:21 When Job heard that all his servants, his livestock, and his children died disastrously all the same day, he glorified God with these words: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Luke 1:38 Mary asked the angel how she was pregnant since she hadn’t been with a man, and he told her with God nothing is impossible. She said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Her willingness is an example on how to receive God’s power over our lives.

2. Live Obediently Submitting to God’s Authority.

Luke 22:42 “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” Jesus prayed in the garden with his friends nearby, relinquishing his will obediently to God, knowing his fate would always be to die on the cross for the sins of humanity, but he prayed with the desire for God to change His mind, anyway. He gave up his will for his Father’s.

Acts 8:3, 9:1, 9:6 Saul threatened, imprisoned, and punished Christians fervently up until the day he saw the light (literally) in which he asked Jesus, who appeared to him in the light, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Instantly, he was meek enough to know all he did was wrong and Jesus truly was the Messiah.

Jeremiah 18:1-11 God, the Potter, and mere mortals, the clay: the Lord said, “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel!  … Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.” He spoke to His people Israel. Presently, God is calling us to submit to Him in Christ Jesus for the salvation of our souls.

3. Live Unselfishly Taking God’s Direction.

James 1: 21 “…lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word…” The man who endures in good even when evil tempts, tries to love the lowliest of persons, and gives up personal pride is living by “the implanted word”.

Psalm 25:4-5 A prayer from our mentor David, asking for God’s guidance: “Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day.” That’s how we should talk to God.

4. Live Honestly Keeping the Peace.

1 Peter 3: 15-16 “… sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”

Ephesians 4:2-3 “…walk…with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I think the way to do that is to not think too highly of myself, and listen sooner than I speak.

Application of “Inherit the Earth”

The Jews in Jesus’s time were aware of his meaning when he said, “the meek will inherit the earth”. Like our popular idioms nowadays (i.e. “Hit the nail on the head” means exactly on point, you can picture a nail being hit by a hammer), the Jews knew to imagine great fortune and blessings when he said the phrase “inherit the earth”. Psalm 37:28-29 says, which the Jews also lived by, “For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.” The Promised Land was a gracious gift to Israel from God, with the promise it would be theirs forever, as long as they obeyed God. Therefore in the Hebrew culture, it was common knowledge that God blessed those He loved with an inheritance of land and people, so Jesus Christ could say to his listeners this concept and immediately they would gain encouragement. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”, his listeners understood that he was comforting the common folk and lowly people of the land, and the ones who served God without trying to possess or gain anything in return.

In conclusion… Here’s how I sum up Creation vs Creator after today:

NATURE: It’s a dog eat dog world. (I learned that from hummingbirds.)

HUMANS: Bombers and missiles and nukes, oh my! (I learned that from news about North Korea.)

GOD: There are many rooms in my house. I am preparing a place for you. My Son Jesus will come back and take you there when it’s time. (I learned that from the Bible.)

 

Girls With Swords, Week 6

“Good men must not obey the laws too well.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In this week’s study, we were given this quote and asked to explain what we thought it meant.  I really had no clue what to imagine the quote meant, but finally came up with this answer to the challenge:

“It needs context. I went and tried to read a little bit of the essay that the quote is from, and it’s generally about government.  In more entirety, the quote actually says ‘Every actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey the laws too well.’ The essay also argues the ‘government’ between Laban and Jacob; how Laban and Isaac are the keepers of the land, [and are in charge of making decisions on matters concerning their land, and though Jacob lives there too, he must simply earn his keep.  He has no power over what happens to the land.]  So from the little that I read, maybe it means that there is no HUMAN state that is flawless.  Only God’s state is really Good.” 

Later, my dad shared a new thought with us, a sermon that he had heard spoken, and it cleared my understanding of Mr. Emerson’s quote. It dealt with the story in John 5:1-18. In the story, Jesus was healing a man who couldn’t walk.

When Jesus saw the man and knew that he had been sick for such a long time, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered, “Sir, there is no one to help me get into the pool when the water starts moving. While I am coming to the water, someone else always gets in before me.” Then Jesus said, “Stand up. Pick up your mat and walk.” And immediately the man was well; he picked up his mat and began to walk.” (verses 6-9, NCV)

According to the laws of love, Jesus did a wonderful thing.  He healed a man who had been trying to reach an angel’s healing touch for 38 years.  Who could have possibly been against such a good act of kindness?

“Because Jesus was doing this on the Sabbath day, some evil people began to persecute him.” (Verse 16, NCV)

As wonderful as was the kindness that Jesus showed to the cripple, the Jews weren’t happy with his work because it was on the Sabbath, which was their holy day of rest.  According to the Jewish laws, no one was allowed to work on the Sabbath.  Jesus, however, never allowed the laws of the Sabbath to stop Him from doing a good deed.

“But Jesus said to them, “My Father never stops working, and so I keep working, too.” This made them try still harder to kill him. They said, “First Jesus was breaking the law about the Sabbath day. Now he says that God is his own Father, making himself equal with God!” (verses 17-18, NCV)

There are many stories where Jesus healed people on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-31, 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17, 14:1-6; John 9:1-16).  Jesus was hated for His work.

“Every actual State is corrupt.  Good men must not obey the laws too well.”  Jesus matched the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson perfectly in this story: He is a good man, the only good man on earth, but He didn’t follow the Jewish laws perfectly.  Instead He followed God’s flawless law: love and mercy.

 “Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Mark 10:18 (NCV)

Amen, Lord Jesus!

“Our Warrior-King is beautiful. His very image is beyond compare. The wondrous span of creation captures a mere fragment of his beauty. The mighty ocean, soaring skies, and majestic mountains declare the powerful, immeasurable, enduring beauty of his strength.  Each and every living thing-from plants to animals- is an irresistible revelation of the fact that our God is gorgeous! He lovingly formed his sons and daughters to carry more of his majesty, glory, and beauty than any other creation.  We are his masterpiece.” –Quote from Lisa Bevere, Girls with Swords

“Being kind to people who see no kindness, or little of it anyway, [moves me].  Also being reliable. I am moved by quality, whether it’s quality of life, writing, behavior- perhaps I have high expectations, but…”    -quote from Lacy’s fencing manual

“Read the Psalms.  All over the place, [the scriptures can bring you perspective when you’re anxious or afraid], it calls God “a fortress”, “a shield”, “my strength”.  I never really understood the concept of the Psalms until we came up with Belaedria, and Escaping the Lair.  Taliesan [our fictional character] is always impressed by the Psalms.  He convinced me that God really is our shield!” -quote from Kat’s fencing manual  

Girls With Swords, Week 1

Let’s be sparring partners! Do say, will a friendly duel work for you?

I say that because I bought this book, Girls With Swords by Lisa Bevere, and I’ve read only Chapter 1, but already it’s very effective, with its contemporary perspective of the ancient battle we Christians face, both in our daily lives and on a global spectrum. I want to study with you for the next 14 weeks, because there are 14 chapters in the book, and we will take 1 chapter a week. Of course, I’ll recommend you buy and study it alongside me, with a hard copy of your own, and especially buy its counterpart, Fencing Manual, if you like to write your thoughts down in a journal and learn more about yourself. You can discover your personal vulnerabilities, what areas you need improvement in, and how you should train harder.

I share my evaluation of Chapter 1 in a video. It’s a bit long, but I go over 3 points made by Ms. Bevere, in case you can’t buy the book, I lay it all out for you.

My second video is meant to be shared on social media. It’s engaging in a bit of sword-talk: which type of sword would you wield in battle? Describing five types of swords, I spur you on to think characterization! What kind of warrior will you be for God?

The 3 main points Lisa Bevere makes in Chapter 1, You Are a Target, is:

1. Satan is trying to distract you from who God has made you to be.

2. You need to equip yourself to withstand his hostile schemes.

3. Universal gendercide causes a startling death rate among 21st century women, primarily because of the imbalance brought on by mass abortions (boys are favored therefore the number of girls are decreasing) but also because women are dying in many tragic ways: kidnapping, mistreatment, and human trafficking to name some.

“This is God’s battle. I’m one of His prayer warriors. I’m ready to go where He needs me, pray for who needs Him, and take whatever action He created me for. I stand ready to work for God.” -quote from Kat’s Fencing Manual

“…I would be words, poignant and true; I’d be actions, loving and empathetic; I’d be a thrust forward  when the enemy is open for conviction, and a defensive block when the enemy strikes, so God’s plan is made complete.” -quote from Lacy’s Fencing Manual

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Ephesians 4:25 (ESV)