A Mother’s Oracle to Her Son

King Lemuel and his mother

Interestingly, what began as fatherly advice Solomon passed on to his son, in the Book of Proverbs (1:1, 8), closes with motherly advice given to her son who happened to be a king. As her son recalls,

31 The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him:

What, O my son?
And what, O son of my womb?
And what, O son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
Or your ways to that which destroys kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Or for rulers to desire strong drink,
For they will drink and forget what is decreed,
And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to him whose life is bitter.
Let him drink and forget his poverty
And remember his trouble no more.
Open your mouth for the mute,
For the rights of all the unfortunate.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
(New American Standard Bible, 1995, NASB’95)

The true identity of King Lemuel is not certain. His name only appears two times, in verses 1 and 4. He is not listed among other kings of Israel or Judah in the Bible although he is referred to as “king.” Furthermore, we don’t even know for sure if there was ever a king by that name in any other province or nation.   

There is a lot of speculation on King Lemuel’s identification, however. It all ranges from his name being fictitious, to being King Hezekiah, to being a king of Massa, and to being a symbolic name for Solomon himself as proposed by Jewish legend. (see Wikipedia)

Some are intrigued by that last theory since it fits the Rabbinical narrative that Solomon had several names, according to The Babylonian Talmud, one of which was Lemuel meaning, “towards [lemo] God [el].” (A. Cohen, Proverbs [Hindhead, Surrey: The Soncino Press, 1945, p. 209] as cited in a blog post by Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament). Moreover, if this king is King Solomon, then Bathsheba would have been the mother to whom he was referring.  

In his book Solomon and Solomonic Literature (Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2008, p. 67), Moncure Daniel Conway tells a rabbinical story that relates Proverbs 31 to Solomon and Bathsheba. He wrote:

“As the Rabbinical story is told, on the day the temple was dedicated, Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, drank too much at the wedding feast, and slept until the fourth hour of the next day, with the keys of the temple under his pillow. thus bringing on Bathsheba’s oracle.”

Whether or not this legend is true, it does illustrate the love of a mother who wants her son, a king no less, to make wise choices not only for his good but for the good of those under his leadership. Going back to Solomon, for example, rather than following his own wisdom and understanding, even he gave in to his own lusts, leading not only to his demise but the fate of his own nation (1 Kings 11).

It says that King Lemuel’s mother taught him an “oracle.”  The Hebrew word for “oracle” is massa which is rendered, “utterance (prophetic), burden, tribute, uplifting,” (Brown-Driver-Briggs). It’s because of this word some scholars speculate that Lemuel was actually a king of Massa, a North Arabian nation. Some translations (e.g., The New Jerusalem Bible) put Lemuel as “king of Massa.” Massa was a descendant of Ishmael and one of the tribal leaders of his clan that settled in the Arabian territory (Genesis 25:12-16). (Mariottini).

As for the oracle, itself, King Lemuel’s mother gives wise advice for anyone to follow. You don’t have to be a king (or queen, for that matter) to understand the inspired warnings which weigh on our consciences for wisely serving the Lord.

All too often, when we see those considered successful or famous we’d like to think they are good role models to emulate. But that’s not always the case as we all-too-often see with so many personalities and leaders we might admire. When we’re shocked to discover that their personal lives have involved drugs and alcohol, sexual exploitation, abuse of the less fortunate, or social injustice of some kind, we shake our heads in disappointment, and sometimes disbelief. With regret we say to ourselves, “If only these people would not have done such things!”

This is the kind of warning the mother of King Lemuel was giving him. She wanted him to know, “You must be careful not to  fall into the trap of these immoral people.” In summary, I believe she was telling him,

“Worldly people do not have the self-discipline you must have, especially since you have the highest position of anyone. Sexual sin and and indulgence in alcohol—these are two of the worst temptations you could fall into. The world—they can have these pleasures but you cannot afford to get entangled in them lest they cloud your ability to exercise sound justice and mercy for all, especially to the poor and downtrodden. Rise above reproach. Set a holy example. Be the kind of leader who reflects the wisdom that will truly make you and your people prosperous and happy. Do that, and you won’t go wrong!”

Interestingly, Lemuel’s mother herself must have also set a good example so as to know what, indeed, makes a virtuous woman for him to choose. The remainder of Psalm 31 presents an excellent portrayal of a good wife and mother worthy of honor and praise.

Just think of it: If everyone followed that mother’s wise advice, how better off we’d all be. This is not just for leaders of nations, but persons like you and me who desire to live the kind of life that pleases God, and therefore, give us peace, joy, and love in our daily lives.

Whoever King Lemuel was, and whoever his mother was, we cannot discount the wisdom in the oracle she shared. We can certainly learn from mothers like her, and pursue their wisdom for our own good.

Good News to YOU!
And, Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers!
Pastor Michael

P.S. One can truly appreciate a wise mother—someone devoted to the Lord and lovingly sees to it that her children are raised to follow him. Whether or not one’s mother is still living, each son and daughter can still be moved by her example of faith. Here’s the Blythe Family presenting, “Mama’s Knees,” https://youtu.be/cuTWUGRtvdg (Warning: You might need some tissues while listening to this song! Lol!)

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The Battle in Your Mind

mind battle image

There’s a certain battle going on. Not in another country. Not in your own country. Not in your state, county, around the block, next door, or even in your home. No, it’s closer than that. It takes place in the six inches between your two ears.

Fact is, no matter who you are, there’s always this battle taking place inside your mind—a battle involving good and evil.

It is fought by the choices you make And yet, as someone said, few people make a deliberate choice between good and evil; the choice is between what we want to do and what we ought to do.

It’s like a dog fight going on in your conscience. Irish Playwriter, George Bernard Shaw, explained it like this:

“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, ‘The one I feed the most.’”

Although the Apostle Paul didn’t compare it to two dogs fighting, he did talk about the fight in his mind between the two natures—one, evil; the other, good.

In a letter to the Roman believers, he opined,

“This has become my way of life: When I want to do what is right, I always do what is wrong. My mind and heart agree with the Law of God. But there is a different law at work deep inside of me that fights with my mind. This law of sin holds me in its power because sin is still in me,” (Romans 7:21-23, New Life Version, NLV).

In his mind, Paul deeply desired to do what is right in accordance with God’s Law. But because of another law, the law of sin, it was always in Paul’s nature to do what is wrong and go against God’s Law. The apostle voiced his frustration with this inner battle when he just previously commented,

“We know that the Law is right and good, but I am a person who does what is wrong and bad. I am not my own boss. Sin is my boss. I do not understand myself. I want to do what is right but I do not do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. When I do the thing I do not want to do, it shows me that the Law is right and good. So I am not doing it. Sin living in me is doing it. I know there is nothing good in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do good but I do not. I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I am always doing the sinful things I do not want to do,” (Romans 7:14-20, NLV).

Paul’s battle is a battle that is all too familiar in our own daily lives. Just name your strongest temptation to disobey any one of God’s commands, basically his Ten Commandments which are…

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

And then you add all the other laws God gave to Israel—all 611 of them as listed in the Old Testament according to Jewish teaching. These are divided into two parts: Positive Commandments and Negative Commandments. A quick scan of these commandments will clearly indicate how impossible it is to consistently keep every one of them even though, as Paul confesses, the Law is good (v. 16).   (The Law: All 613 Commandments! (gospeloutreach.net)

As spiritual as the Law of God is, we come into conflict with it because of another law that we are born with: The carnal nature due to sin which is of “the flesh.” Therefore we are in this battle between spiritual and carnal; spirit and flesh; good and evil. Deep down in our conscience we know that the carnal nature or sinful desires is not what will bring us satisfaction. In our minds (“the inner man,” v. 22), we’d rather do good but this means submitting to something so spiritual that we just can’t attain to it—God’s perfect Law. And the guilt causes us to cry out like the Apostle Paul:

“Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24, NLV).

Consider, “sin and death.” The chief reason why problems and conflicts arise is because we all sin and sin separates us from God (Romans 3:23) and, therefore, we suffer from a guilty conscience whether we know it or not (Romans 2:14-16). And the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

NOTE: This is not the first death we all die (Ecclesiastes 3:20, NASB). Rather, it’s referring to the second death in Revelation 20:6, 11-15 which has to do with the future Judgment. This is the final death of the wicked who are resurrected and judged after the 1,000 year reign of Christ, (Revelation 21:8).

Once we come to terms in our minds with sin and death, then we can start to accept what God has done to deliver us from it. When we humble ourselves and confess our sins, realizing we cannot save ourselves, then we are walking in a direction that leads to peace of mind and hope. That’s half the battle right there.

When we make up our minds to confess our sins to God and accept Jesus, God’s Son, through faith, repentance, and baptism, then we are on the right track for being saved from the penalty of sin and death (Acts 2:38; 16:31; Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 3:26-29). When we decide in our mind and heart to put on Jesus Christ and make him the Lord and Savior of our lives, then the other half of the battle has begun.

The Good News is that we’ll gain the victory over our battle with sin and death by abiding in “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” just as the Apostle Paul went on to say,

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the Law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death,” (Romans 7:25; 8:1-2, NASB).

When we decide to belong to Christ then we are spiritually free to win the battle in our mind. While we are constantly in the battle between “the flesh” which represents sin and death, and “the Spirit” which represents life and peace, we can be grateful that through Christ, we’ll have the Power to settle the struggle taking place between our two ears. We’ll be relieved knowing that God who raised Christ from death to immortality will also give believers eternal life when Christ returns in triumph (Romans 8:3-11).  And then the battle in our mind will be won and lasting victory will come to all who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-37; 1 Corinthians 15:56-58; 1 John 5:4-5).

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. When we give the battle in our mind to the Lord, the victory will be his and we will overcome when it’s all said and done. Here’s Paul Wilbur singing, “The Battle Is Yours,” https://youtu.be/pfvofKFkQ50

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Piece of Your Mind or Peace of Mind?

piece of your mind

As the story goes, a man was caught in traffic and couldn’t go anywhere. The man behind him honked and honked. The driver ahead started fuming. “I’ll give him a piece of my mind!” he thought. He got out of his car, went back to the fellow behind him, banged on the window, and yelled at him in some abusive, disrespectful language for honking. The startled driver rolled down his window and simply replied, “Your bumper sticker says, ‘Honk if you love Jesus.’”

Here is a good illustration of someone who thinks if he gives another person who has angered him a piece of his mind then he will get peace of mind. But imagine how embarrassed the angered driver must have become when the driver behind him was merely responding to the bumper sticker on the guy’s bumper. There was no peace of mind in that incident!

By the way, what is “piece of my mind,” anyway? Of course, it can’t be taken literally or else you’d be missing some vital portions sliced off your brain! Actually, the phrase is an idiom or figurative of speech that expresses how you’d like to tell someone off and what you really think about them. It usually stems from anger or some form of it.

The words are nothing new. They reportedly go back as far as 1572 in an English letter containing the old spelling, “Thus am I bolde to unfolde a peece of my mynde.” (Sir Henry Ellis, Original Letters Illustrative of English History. as cited in Words Matter by Wix) Since then, “piece of my mind” has been expressed in literature, plays, movies, and various media not to speak of personal confrontations now and then. 

So, if you’ve ever used this expression a time or two yourself, you’re not the only one to speak or think it. But don’t let that make you feel any more comfortable. Misery might love company when it comes to giving someone a piece of your mind but it doesn’t come without a painful headache.

The problem is that giving someone a piece of your mind tends to result in hurt feelings. You rarely hear someone say to you, “Thanks for giving me a piece of your mind! I really appreciate you telling me off and making me feel miserable!” Rather, it often sparks such resentment that the person you’ve given your piece of mind to is more than willing to return the favor and give you a piece of theirs. And there you go—a feud has been born!

Author J.P. McEvoy, once wrote, “Peace of mind is better than giving them a piece of your mind.”

Ironically, the scene between the two drivers in our illustration would have turned out much differently had the one in front not forgotten what the sticker on his bumper said about loving Jesus. The guy probably would have reacted in a way that truly would have put him in a more peaceful state of mind. And it would have put his mind at ease to remember that love for Jesus is something that really is worth honking one’s horn about. Indeed, Jesus IS the one who brings peace as well as love, joy, and hope in our minds (Galatians 5:22-24; Philippians 2:1-2; 2 John 1:3).

Jesus said to his followers, “Peace I leave you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful,” (John 14:27, New American Standard Bible, NASB). He will give us his peace. With his peace in our minds (or, thoughts) and hearts (or, feelings), we will prevent the inner turmoil and fear that leads us to lash out intending to give the person a piece of our mind.

If we even for one moment forget that Jesus brings peace in us, then we’re likely to regret giving someone a piece of our mind. In other words, if you don’t want to regret the consequences of giving someone a piece of your mind, then never forget the peace of mind Jesus wants you to have.

Once again, going back to the drivers, had the one in front been thinking more about the love of Christ and the peace he gives, then his bumper sticker would have probably come to mind. And he would have honked back at the one behind him. Now isn’t that enough for anyone to honk his horn about?

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. When the sea of our thoughts are raging inside our minds it’s time to ask our Lord to give us his peace. Here’s Zac Rowe singing,Give Me Your Peace” (https://youtu.be/_dLEd0hABNw)

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Who’s Controlling Your Mind?

mind-control

Okay, so you need to think with a positive mindset as I mentioned in my last post (“You Are What You Think,” published 4/10/2021). That has to do with HOW you think. But what about WHAT you think? Who’s controlling that mind of yours? You? Or, is it someone or something else?

When you speak of mind control, you usually think of something sinister—like someone trying to brainwash you and make you do or believe something that runs contrary to your convictions, personality, decisions, or behaviors. And it’s often feared to be done through subliminal messages sent to your brain without your knowing it, such as in music, commercials, and ads. Of course, there are other mind control techniques, too, inflicted through pain, intimidation, and mind-altering substances which are not so pleasant.

On the other hand, mind control might be for constructive purposes. It could be used in a way that brings improvement, for example, changing the destructive habits of a drug addict. Using persuasion or influence can be a good thing for controlling someone’s mind as long as it’s with their consent and not through manipulation or force.   

Some might think their minds can’t be controlled. “I have a mind of my own,” they’d say.  That could be true to a certain extent. Perhaps you view yourself as an independent thinker—you know, strongly opinionated, making decisions on your own. To you, that’s just a normal trait. But what’s normal when it comes to your mind? How do you decide?

Give it the bathtub test like I found in one source that says, 

It doesn’t hurt to take a hard look at yourself from time to time, and this should help get you started. During a visit to the mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what the criterion was which defined whether or not a patient should be institutionalized.

“Well,” said the Director, “we fill up a bathtub, and then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub. What would you use?”

“Oh, I understand,” said the visitor. “A normal person would use the bucket because it’s bigger than the spoon or the teacup.”

“No.” said the director, “A normal person would just pull the plug. Do you want a bed near a window?” (hotsermons.com)

What’s normal in your mind is not always so clear. You might have your mind set on something that you think you know is true. But is it?

Is what you believe about what is true and what is not true based on what you’ve proven to yourself? Or, is what you believe about what is true and what is not true because your mind is being controlled by someone else somehow? It would help not to have a closed mind about this.

An open-minded person would be willing to consider these question by looking at the benefits as opposed to being close-minded and missing out on the benefits. From an online article titled, “The Benefits of Being Open-Minded” written by Kendra Cherry as published in Verywell Mind (updated 3/12/2021), here are some ways having an open mind is helpful:

Gain insight. Challenging your existing beliefs and considering new ideas can give you fresh insights about the world and also teach you new things about yourself.

Have new experiences. Being open to other ideas can also open you up to new experiences.

Achieve personal growth. Keeping an open mind can help you grow as a person. You learn new things about the world and the people around you.

Become mentally strong. Staying open to new ideas and experiences can help you become a stronger, more vibrant person. Your experiences and knowledge continue to build on one another.

Feel more optimistic. One of the problems with staying closed-minded is that it often leads to a greater sense of negativity. Being open can help inspire a more optimistic attitude toward life and the future.

Learn new things. It’s hard to keep learning when you surround yourself with the same old ideas. Pushing your boundaries and reaching out to people with different  perspectives and experiences can help keep your mind fresh.

I would like to add that being open-minded is not being wishy-washy or lukewarm in regard to our convictions. Nor does it mean we don’t have a clear-cut ideology for guiding us and giving us a sound foundation for building our lives. Instead, it will help us understand others’ views from their perspective, thus enabling us to more effectively communicate our thoughts, and possibly influence their minds for the better. Close-mindedness, on the contrary, only causes confusion and misunderstanding thus causing communication breakdown and, in the end, shattered relationships.

When open-mindedness is approached from a Biblical view, then you will know who is really controlling your mind. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Let’s make it clear: This is not saying you should be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good, although you might know someone who is like this. (lol) Rather, it means that if we keep our minds on things which God approves, then we won’t be controlled by the worldly things of which God does not approve.

This includes receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives. For one who has been converted to him will have one’s mind focused on seeking him. The analogy is drawn from the perspective of dying to one’s self mindedness to being raised up with Christ. In Colossians, the Apostle Paul likens it to living a new life, and putting on the new self:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God…. For you have died [metaphorically speaking] and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:1, 3, English Standard Version, ESV).

The beauty of this is that is not only provides our minds from being controlled by misguiding forces but provides us hope of the glory to be revealed when Jesus returns to reward all the faithful with eternal life in God’s Kingdom (v. 4).

In my previous post I discussed the advantage of having the mind or attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:5).

In First Corinthians 2:16 the Apostle Paul stated, “But we have the mind of Christ.” The best open mind is to have your mind opened to putting on the mind of Christ. For it’s with the mind of Christ that we’re able to distinguish between the right way and the wrong way; truth and error; the abundant life and the unproductive life. After all, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me,” (John 14:6). 

With the mind of Christ, our thoughts are harnessed for going the right direction in life he wants us to go. This provides many blessings. In an article titled, “How to Develop the Mind of Christ,” printed in Crosswalk.com (3/3/2017), Jennifer Slattery  wrote,

Our thoughts have the power to paralyze or motivate us, to thrust us into the depths of despair or propel us to the heights of celebration. They can center us in truth or lead us, slowly but steadily down the destructive path of deception…..
Scripture tells us once we accept His free gift of salvation, we’re given the mind of Christ.
This means we have the ability to maintain the same focus and values as Christ has. I believe it also means viewing the world through a Christ-centered lens. And yet this gift, which is given to every believer freely, must be developed in order to be of full value. We do this by taking our thoughts captive; reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture; spending consistent time in the presence of Christ; and leaning heavily on a trusted accountability partner.

One further thought is that when we put on the mind of Christ starting at our conversion (faith, repentance, baptism), then we change and become Spirit-controlled. That is, God’s Power kicks in and our minds are no longer fixed on things that are hostile toward God. Instead, our thoughts and desires are harmonized with God’s Spirit and this brings life and peace to our minds.

What you think is a matter of the controlled mind. Romans 8:6 says, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

Therefore, when we our minds are Spirit-controlled through Christ in us, then we’ll be transformed by the renewing of our mind from day to day. So, Paul says in Romans 12:2,

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

So, who’s controlling YOUR mind?

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here’s Jake Armerding singing, “May the Mind of Christ my Savior,” https://youtu.be/lXUOuzJo1bE

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You Are What You Think

the thinker

We often hear it said that you are what you eat. In other words, if you want to be healthy you must have a nutritionally balanced diet for if you don’t then your health will suffer. Experts assert that what you eat will eventually have a bearing not only on your physical condition but psychological condition, as well.

Similarly, you could say that you are what you think. If your thoughts are constantly dwelling on negative things you will develop negative feelings. Eventually this will affect not only the way you feel about yourself but your attitude toward others, too. In fact, the whole world will appear grim and hopeless and you will be conditioned to hold a cold, callus view of the world.

On the other hand, when you think with a positive mental attitude, you have a better chance to grow and develop in good, wholesome ways. This will lead to behavior that is likely to be constructive and not destructive like those who harbor negative thoughts all the time. Thus, it’s in your best interest to produce the kind of positive mindset that will not only benefit you but everyone else, as well.

Now I can just hear someone asking, “But what IS a positive mindset? And how do I get it?” In my thinking, it’s like growing seeds in a flower garden. I don’t know who wrote it, but there’s a verse that says,

The mind is a garden
Where thought flowers grow,
The thoughts that we think
Are seeds that we sow.

I know that sounds rather simplistic. But it’s true. Every thought is a seed. Our aim is to make it grow into something beautiful like a flower. We want every thought to attract progress and true satisfaction. When we plant the right thoughts into our minds then we can accomplish all kinds of things we probably never imagined we could do.

This reminds me of a new kind of toy kids are playing with these days called Thinking Putty. No, it’s not a putty that has a mind of its own. The thinking part is actually up to the individual playing with it.

Thinking Putty is a substance that reminds you of Silly Putty but it does more things you’d probably never thought of before. You can not only stretch it, squish it, and smash it, you can also tear it, roll it, bounce it, and break it to pieces like glass. It even changes colors. And there’s more!

I know I sound like a commercial, but here’s a link by Home Science Tools with some fantastic features of Thinking Putty: https://youtu.be/uTX-8jHhTTw

Now, my whole point about Thinking Putty I want you to ponder is what all you can do with it once you put your mind to it. The video gives you a lot of fun things to think about thus providing some creative ways you can entertain yourself and others in the process.

Now, when it comes to planting the right seed in order to succeed in our lives, you have to use the Thinking Putty that God our Creator has given you—your brain. It’s there where God has given each of us the ability to think, to feel, and to choose. When we use the brains God gives us in the right way then we’re able to grow the right thoughts for achieving his will and purpose for our lives.

As it says in Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Regarding this verse, Author W.G. Vollmer commented, “This Biblical admonition tells us that we cannot think in terms of failure, and then succeed…in terms of weakness, and then be strong…in terms of fear, and then be courageous…in terms of doubt, and then have faith.”

This applies to the thoughts shared by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church. He said,

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” (Philippians 4:8, English Standard Version, ESV).

I liken each of these virtues as seeds you can plant into your mind. In fact, here’s something you can do:

On a lined sheet of paper, write a list of each virtue I’ve italicized in the verse. Give plenty of blank lines between each listed word. Copy each one and write out how you can specifically apply them in the circumstances you’re in or in what you’ll be doing as you make your choices and decisions.

In a spiritual sense, this is a good Thinking Putty type of activity that might prove to be more fun than you think! Sure it will take some work and time and personal discipline to integrate these virtues into your own pattern of thoughts. But they will work toward making your life more productive and satisfactory. If it didn’t, Paul probably wouldn’t have been able to face his circumstances—namely being held prisoner at the time he wrote these words. No wonder he could rejoice in the Lord and exclaim, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13).

Here’s some food for thought: Following Christ and giving him first place in your life requires thinking the thoughts that he wants to develop in us. He will give us the Power to help us think, act, and grow for our strength comes through his name or authority. We are instructed, therefore, to have the mind or attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:5).

You are what you think. What you think will depend on your faith, hope, and love in Christ. Think about it!

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Steve Amerson gives us more to think about as he sings, “The Mind of Christ,” https://youtu.be/4zwVzmynRTI

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Two Jesus Followers Who Defied the Court

Jesus_tomb_Acts 4_33

The Miracle (Acts 3:1-11)

It all started with helping a man crippled from birth. The Apostles Peter and John, two of Jesus’ inner circle, were on their way to the temple. As was their custom, they were there to attend the first of three Jewish periods set aside each day for prayer. It was 3:00 in the afternoon.

Upon arriving at the temple gate called Beautiful, they saw a man who was lame from the time he was born. He was widely known in the community to beg for money from those entering the temple. As Peter and John were about to pass by him, the beggar called out, “Alms, please! May I have some alms?”

Peter and John stopped and looked squarely at the poor man. “Look here,” Peter said. At that, the man expected to receive some charitable gift from them.

What the man did NOT expect came as a sudden jolt. “I am not carrying any silver or gold,” Peter said. “But what I do have I will give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” Then, taking the man by the right hand, Peter helped him up. Immediately the man’s feet and ankles strengthened. Leaping up, he started to walk. It was a miracle! He was overjoyed!

He then entered the temple. And, with everyone watching in awe and astonishment, the healed man started leaping, walking, and praising God. The worshippers couldn’t believe their eyes.. Here was this crippled beggar they’d seen at the temple gate for many years. And now he could walk.

Later, while the cured man was ecstatically clinging to Peter and John, a crowd quickly hurried around them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. The curious onlookers wanted to get a look at this forty-year-old-plus beggar who was never able to walk but was now hopping and stepping like a young child. Not wanting to let a miracle go to waste, Peter spoke to the crowd, plainly declaring it was Jesus Christ who healed the lame man. It was a great opportunity for him to be a witness of the Good News in Christ and bring many more to salvation in Jesus’ name.
https://youtu.be/_KZp4kMcXEo

The First Trial & Interrogation (Acts 4:1-12)

The huge throng of people gathered there drew the attention of the Jewish authorities. These were religious leaders including the chief priests, the captain of the temple, and a sect of the Jewish court, the Sadducees. They were all angry at Peter and John knowing that the two men were followers of Christ, the same person they previously had crucified on the cross. What disturbed the leaders, particularly the Sadducees, is when Peter told the crowd that the Jesus whom the rulers had crucified was the same person God raised from the dead.

The Sadducees did not believe in the doctrine of resurrection, and therefore denied the resurrection of Jesus. They did not want these two followers to proclaim the name of Jesus for fear they would lose their control over the people. Furthermore, they didn’t want the people converted to him since they denied that Jesus was the Messiah sent to save them..

This led to so much brouhaha that they arrested Peter and John and put them in jail. They were already afraid of the amount of people who had already converted to Christ and now, after this episode with the healed beggar, the number rose to 5,000 not including women and children.

So the next day, Peter and John were hauled into the Jewish high court or council, also known as the Sanhedrin. They acted as the ruling government of Israel. This court consisted of seventy members plus the presiding high priest.

Peter and John were harshly interrogated about the incident. “By what power or what name did you do this?” they inquired. Obviously, they couldn’t deny that some kind of miracle had taken place. The healed man was also present.

Again, Peter took advantage of the situation. He went into another sermon about Jesus, the one they had rejected in the first place. Metaphorically speaking, Peter said the “stone was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone,” implying that Jesus is the true Messiah, the one who will build the Kingdom that God promised. Peter reiterated what he said before: It is in the name of Jesus the man was healed.

The Court Order (Acts 4:13-18)

The court was beside itself. Furious that they couldn’t deny the miracle, and even worse for them, was that “everybody in Jerusalem knows about it,” which led them to wonder what action they should take. They tried to stop the Jesus followers from spreading their “propaganda” by issuing them a strict warning: “DO NOT EVER AGAIN SPEAK TO ANYONE ELSE IN JESUS’ NAME!”

Ordering them to never again speak or teach in the name of Jesus, or else suffer legal action, was an attempt to scare them into submission. If they did not obey the court, they could be beaten with rods, with even more punishment forthcoming.

The Response (Acts 4:19-31)

But Peter and John could not agree to their demands. They plainly told them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.”

Peter and John were among the ones closest to Jesus when he walked the earth. They were eyewitnesses to his miracles, his teachings, his suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus was the Good News they were willing to proclaim as the Messiah, the Anointed of God, who came to save his people and who will return to fulfill God’s promises of the coming Kingdom. It was too important for them NOT to be silent but to share it where ever God gave them the opportunity even if it meant paying the ultimate price of sacrifice, giving their own lives for him.

What else could the court do? Seeing how they could find no legal grounds for punishing the followers of Jesus, and on account of how they won the favor of the people, they were released. And when they returned to their fellow believers they lifted their voices in praise to God for what took place. They all united in prayer to thank God for being able to share Christ with the authorities and to ask him for courage to speak his Word with all confidence and power.

The Second Arrest & A Jail Break (Acts 5:17-25)

As the Good News continued to spread and huge numbers were being won to Christ, the Jewish court would not let up on its persecution of the church and their leaders. They refused to accept the miracles worked by the followers of Jesus and their testimony of Christ.

The high priest and his court members once again put them in jail. But God intervened and sent an angel during the night, opened the gate to the jail and led them out to escape. The angel instructed them, “Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the message of this Life.” The next morning, there they were once again sharing the Good News of Christ and his Kingdom.

As you can expect, the officers came in and brought them before the court. The high priest said, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

The Defiance (Acts 5:26-42)

Speaking for the other believers, Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our Fathers raised up Jesus whom you had put to death by hanging him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The whole court was enraged to hear this and wanted to kill them on the spot. But a respected member from the Pharisee sect, Gamaliel, calmed them down. He advised them to be careful what they were planning to do. If what the Jesus followers were doing was from God, they’d only be fighting against God and the court wouldn’t be able to stop them. On the other hand, if it wasn’t from God, then the efforts of these Jesus followers would fail.

So, the court decided to take his advice and calling them in, they beat them just as they threatened if they didn’t stop preaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18, 21). And the court, again, gave them the order to speak no more in the name of Jesus. Then they were released.

This only emboldened the followers of Christ all the more. They left rejoicing that they had been worthy to suffer shame for his name. And they went out “from house to house to keep on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

The Lesson

In this day and age of censorship, cancel culture, and political correctness, there’s a lesson we can learn in all of this: The Good News is too good for us to keep silent even though the world would like us to do just that. Now is the time to be as bold and obedient and passionate as Peter, John, and all the followers of Jesus in their day. Go, stand, and speak the message of the Life in Jesus Christ for it is Good News at the time when Biblical values are being challenged and the world is spiraling out of moral control.

We ought to obey God rather than bow to human authority regardless what it is because our message is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). There is no name other than his through which we can be saved to receive eternal life (Acts 4:12).

This Sunday Christians will celebrate the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus. His resurrection gives us hope. It’s a hope no one can prevent us from believing and sharing with others.

A day might come when we’re hauled into a modern court to testify of that hope we have in our hearts. We are his witnesses. too, because of our hope. It’s a living hope because Jesus is our living Savior. Our hope is real and personal because Jesus is real and personal.

Therefore we, like the Jesus followers in Bible times, cannot hold back our testimony no matter how we might be pressured and prosecuted and commanded to refrain from it. We cannot and we will not keep silent. Even if it’s out of defiance due to our unyielding love and devotion to God and His Word, we know where our true loyalty lies. And it’s all centered in the One who lives forever more!

Good News to YOU!
And Have a Blessed Easter!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here’s a re-enactment of the scene in Acts 3-5. May we be as bold and faithful as Peter and John and all the followers of Jesus in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to the world: Peter and John Teach the Gospel (Acts 3 – 5) – YouTube

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Palms, Praises, and Prophecy in Perspective

Palm-Sunday

Palms

There’s a cute story about a little boy who was sick on Palm Sunday and he had to stay home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, Dad?”

“You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor Him, so we got palm branches today.”

The little boy replied, “The only Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up!” (selected)

Did you ever wonder…What would that first Palm Sunday be without the palms? It’s not hard to figure out: There would be no Palm Sunday. And if there was no Palm Sunday, then something very significant would have been missing on that day Jesus entered Jerusalem: Symbols of praise fit for a King!

Let’s go back to that first Palm Sunday according to John’s account:

On the next day, when the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, indeed, the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13, New American Standard Bible, NASB).

The crowd of people who were present to welcome Jesus into the city included mostly those who witnessed his resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-46). Undoubtedly, they were excited after Jesus performed this marvelous miracle. They were convinced this was a sign that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen One of God to deliver Israel from Roman oppression and be their King as the prophets foretold (John 11:45). The spreading of the palms on the street and waving them in the air as he passed by was their way of rejoicing with this hope in mind.

Praises

Shouts of praise and the presence of palms meant they believed their time had arrived. The King on the donkey brought joy to their lives as they raised their voices in triumph: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the, even the King of Israel!”

When they shouted, “Hosanna!” they were in effect proclaiming, “Praise God!” Indeed, their praises were sincere just as their palms were sincerely being waved. But did they really understand what it was all about? Did they fully realize how much this whole scene would be only a taste of the glory that it is yet to come?

Of course, the Jews were familiar with the use of palm tree fronds during special holidays like the Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles. The palms were signs of rejoicing over God’s shelter of the Israelites during their forty days of wandering in the wilderness in Moses’ time, (Leviticus 23:40; Nehemiah 8:15-18).

Also, they were familiar enough with the scriptures that they sensed Jesus was indeed their Messiah, therefore demonstrating their jubilation with date palms, a common sight for them. The palm trees themselves adorned the earth with breathtaking beauty as they stood majestically high under the bright blue sky—a sight fit for representing the grandeur of royalty. As each palm was raised in praise of their king, Psalm 118:26 comes into mind word for word as the crowd declared, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” (cp. Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13). That is why it’s known as a Messianic psalm.

And it goes right along with the whole atmosphere of rejoicing as described by Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” (Zechariah 9:9).

Prophecy

Gospel writers Matthew and John are quick to point out how it all falls into place with Jesus and the prophetic sign that he is the true King promised to Israel. Zechariah 9:9 is referenced in Matthew 21:4-5; John 12:15. So—from the background of prophecy, history, and tradition—it is most fitting that the palms be an integral part of that joyous occasion on that first Palm Sunday.

But wait! The story doesn’t end there. And this is what they didn’t get at the time. Unfortunately, it’s also what many don’t get even now. So, you might ask, “What’s that?”

It all has to do with what has NOT happened. And it once again has to do with Bible prophecy. For just as the palms were significant that first Palm Sunday, there will be another time when the palms will truly be a complete and final fulfilment of the Messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem.

For, you see, what happened when Jesus entered the first time into Jerusalem was only a dress rehearsal, you could say, for something even more grand and glorious coming in the future: the second coming of Jesus Christ our King. He will return in splendor to complete his role and do just what Israel expected that first Palm Sunday, but on a greater scale than what they could ever imagine at that time (Revelation 1:4-8).

And the palms will once again be waved and strewn on the pathway in praise and honor of the King. It will be the real thing this time and God’s people from around the world will rejoice in wonder and awe. Here is the way John envisioned it in Revelation 7:9 and 10,

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all the tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they *cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

In perspective

Now, here’s a summary of what this means for Israel as well as for followers of Christ:

+ Even though he was hailed as King when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Jews ended up rejecting Jesus just days later. They said to Pilate, “Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar,” (John 19:15).

+ But their rejection provided an opportunity for all people to be saved including Gentiles, as well. And that’s Good News for everyone (Romans 11:11). Now, through Jesus Christ, we may all be reconciled to God through faith, repentance, and baptism (Ephesians 2:8; Acts 2:38-29; Romans 6:4).

+ Therefore, believers anticipate the day Jesus returns to establish God’s eternal Kingdom, when God will enthrone him as King of kings (Psalm 2:6-9; Luke 1:32-33; Revelation 17:14; 19:11-19) and he will save his people Israel as foretold in the scriptures (Romans 11:26; Isaiah 65:17-25; Ezekiel 36-39).

+ Israel will repent of their rejection of him, accept him as the true Messiah, and he will exalt them above all nations of the world (Isaiah 61:4-6; Jeremiah 31; Zechariah 12:10-14). Then there will be great rejoicing just as the prophet Zephaniah recorded, “Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem,” (Zephaniah 3:14).

Would it not be for the first Palm Sunday we would not have reason to believe in the Good News concerning that Great Day to come. The leafy palms remind us to raise the palms of our hands high in praise to our coming King! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

Good News to YOU!
And have a blessed Palm Sunday!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here’s the Maranatha! Singers with “Hosanna—A Palm Sunday Song,”     https://youtu.be/YApEIjvE6S4

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Learning From Others’ Mistakes

Wile E Coyote_Failing

It’s said the best advice you’ll get is from someone who made the same mistake himself. When we listen to others who’ve made mistakes, we hope we’ll never make the same ones they did. If we’re wise, we will learn from them and avoid the consequences they must have suffered. In fact, you could say that you’d be making a major mistake if you did not learn from the mistakes of others.

Of course, we must admit everyone makes mistakes. That’s why we keep having political elections. But will we ever learn from them?

When you see mistakes being made, you naturally want to avoid the failure that results from the mistakes. Ironically, however, it’s out of those failures that you can find success. That’s how you learn to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. Otherwise, mistakes will come with a price of some kind.

Not learning from others’ mistakes can even lead to lost lives. Pastor Stuart Strachan Jr. tells the sad story of a doctor who refused to learn from the mistakes of other doctors and how it allegedly cost the life of a United States President:

Joseph Lister was a British surgeon and the founder of anti-septic medicine. That may sound incredibly boring, but the effects of his discovery were profound. Prior to Lister, surgeons had virtually no awareness of the importance of their own hygiene around the body, with surgeons coming straight from the bathroom, or the lunch room right into surgery, no washing of hands, with utensils that were often not washed from previous surgeries.

The results of this were devastating…some 45% to 50% of surgical patients died from bacterial infection after the surgery…after Lister’s discovery, that percent fell to about 15%. Just think about how many lives were saved from that discovery alone. The problem for Lister, was this, almost no doctors believed him, not at first…many reveled in their lack of hygiene. The reason I know all this, is because of a wonderful book called “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” which chronicles the rise of two young men…one would become the president, James Garfield, and the other a madman, who would eventually shoot Garfield, which would ultimately lead to his death.

Now what is so interesting about this book, among other things, is the way in which Garfield was treated after the shooting. His doctor, like many American doctors at the time, had rejected Joseph Lister’s theory of sepsis and stuck his unclean fingers right into the wound in an attempt to locate the bullet. Garfield cried out in terrible pain, with the doctor failing to find the bullet. After 3 months, Garfield died. What makes the story so heart wrenching is that the bullet itself was most likely not a fatal gunshot, but the constant poking and prodding by the doctors did him in as the bacterial infections worsened over the last few months of his life.

Over time of course, Lister’s theory of sepsis would become accepted in all countries where modern medicine was practiced, but if it had only been accepted sooner, if only doctors everywhere would change their minds on the issue of bacterial infection and the importance of sterilization…so many lives would have been saved, including the most important one, or at least the most powerful one in the United States. (The Pastor’s Workshop)

As Christians, our aim is to learn from others’ mistakes as well as our own. For we know the value of having our minds changed when wrong choices and decisions have been made. Because of our sinful nature, there will always be mistakes that need to be confessed. But it’s with a sincere desire that we let Christ be the change agent in our lives. That is the only way we can learn from others’ mistakes as we deal with the mistakes we make ourselves.

Indeed, learning from others’ mistakes does save lives—not only in a physical sense but spiritually, too.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul recalled the mistakes—that is, the sins—that certain Israelites committed in the wilderness when they were on their way to the Promised Land. They made the mistake of indulging in sexual immorality, bowing to pagan idols rather than the one, true God, and a complete disregard for decency and order as set forth in the law. As a result, the people perished by the thousands as God could not tolerate their bent toward such evil. (1 Corinthians 10:1-33)

Paul urged the Christians not to make the same kind of mistakes or sins their ancestors did as he said, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12, New International Version, NIV).

The warning to be careful is tantamount to saying, “Watch out! If you think you’ll never repeat the same mistakes Israel did long ago, then think again. That would be your biggest mistake! You can learn from their mistakes and, instead, do what is right and good, constructive and rewarding as the Lord instructs.”

For sure, this warning applies to us in our day as much as it did in Paul’s day. We must not take for granted that we’ll never make the same mistakes of others who’ve lived before us. That would certainly be a big mistake.

Instead, learning from others’ mistakes will keep us from falling into the same trap they set for themselves. And it will surely lead us toward the goal of pleasing God while enjoying the many blessings he wants us to experience. So, when temptations do come and another mistake is about to be made, remember, “God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it,” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV). And this way, you’ll be on your way to victory in Christ, (1 John 5:4-5)! Make no mistake about it!

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. When we hear someone confess their mistakes, we can also identify with our own mistakes and the need to draw closer to God. Here’s Unspoken singing “Mistakes”: https://youtu.be/m5mhB6qInVk

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The Necessity of Kindness

kindness-mattersTwo neighbors were having coffee. “You know,” said one, “I was telling my husband that even after twenty years of marriage your husband is still a gentleman. I always see him get out of the car, walk around to your side and open the door for you.”

“Well,” said her friend, “what you don’t know is that every time he does it, he says he is going to have that blasted door handle fixed tomorrow if it’s the last things he does.” (Reader’s Digest)

Kindness might not always be as it appears. Most of the time, we expect it to be sincerely shown out of compassion and courtesy. But, while some people may appear kind, it might not be for the right reasons.

Indeed, kindness is a necessity for persons to get along. But it ought not to be a forced kindness. If it’s merely intended to get something back in return—such as, “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” or with a quid pro quo aim for which politicians and business people are known—then it’s the kind of kindness that it insincere and misleading. It’s said, “Kindness always pays but it pays most when you don’t do it for pay.” (Roy B. Zuck)

A true act of kindness must contain the element of love. You can’t be genuinely kind without love and you can’t genuinely love without being kind. It’s written, “You can no more have love without kindness than you can have springtime without flowers. The greatest thing a man [and a woman] can do for his [and her] heavenly Father is to be kind to some of His other children.”  (Guy King)

Like the Bible says, “Love is kind,” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love and kindness are among the ingredients produced by the “fruit of the Spirit” in followers of Christ (Galatians 5:22). And, as we’re told, it’s to be shown to everyone even those who despise us as Christians. This includes being friendly, generous, and considerate regardless the way they treat us. This is only possible through Christ in us.

Jesus links loving one’s enemies and doing good to them with the kindness our Heavenly Father shows to us through his never ending love and mercy  (Luke 6:35; Matthew 5:44-48). Love and kindness were included with the instructions given to the church (2 Corinthians 6:6; Colossians 3:12).

Love and kindness are so connected that they meld into one word: Lovingkindness. David declared to God, “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name,” (Psalm 63:3-4, King James Version, KJV).

God’s lovingkindness is to be reflected by Christians as they are being transformed through Jesus Christ.

In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul instructed his associate to remind believers how “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, ” (Titus 3:3-6, English Standard Version, ESV).

So, it is on account of God’s lovingkindness toward us that we are careful to engage in “good deeds.” Paul says that good deeds—deeds of kindness—“are good and profitable” for everyone (Titus 3:8).

Followers of Christ know the necessity of kindness. More and more we find ourselves living in a self-centered world—a world of materialism, secularism, hedonism, and too many other ungodly “isms” plaguing society today. Kindness can and will go a long way toward changing lives and making lives better as we submit to Christ working in us.  

So, let me ask…What act of kindness are you willing to do for someone today? How willing are you to show others the lovingkindness the Father shows to you each day? How will you pass that lovingkindness on to others who need it in their lives?

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here’s an oldie but goodie hymn sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford about the day we look forward to when Christ comes and those who’ve sown “seeds of kindness” will enter the Harvest with rejoicing, “Bringing in the Sheaves” (Psalm 126:6): https://youtu.be/u67Lb1RyXTU

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The Good News about ‘Amen’

amen-clipart-2

When the 117th U.S. Congress officially kicked off its first meeting in Washington D.C. last January 3 many were ticked off at the opening prayer. A fresh controversy started brewing when Missouri Democrat, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who is also an ordained Methodist minister, closed his prayer with the  following words:

Now may the God who created the world and everything in it bless us and keep us. May the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious unto us. May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace — peace in our families, peace across this land and, dare I ask, oh Lord — peace even in this chamber, now and ever more. We ask it in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and A-Woman.

A lot of the criticism the congressman received was when he finished with, “Amen and A-Woman.”  Multitudes of voices mostly from the conservative side loudly objected. They were quick to point out that “amen” is a gender-neutral term, and how dare this representative, a minister no less, make it sound otherwise! Many asserted this only demonstrates how far certain people will go toward pushing political correctness on everyone.

When he was questioned later about adding “A-Woman,” to the prayer, Rep. Cleaver defended his use of it saying,

I concluded with a light-hearted pun in recognition of the record number of women who will be representing the American people in Congress during this term as well as in recognition of the first female Chaplain of the House of Representatives whose service commenced this week.

At the same time Cleaver hit back at his critics remarking how he was, “deeply disappointed that my prayer has been misinterpreted and misconstrued by some to fit a narrative that stokes resentment and greater division among portions of our population.”  He also said there were many who approached him after the meeting to express their appreciation of his prayer.

Nonetheless, the outcry against Cleaver’s insertion of “A-Woman” has been magnified since there are certain House members claiming they want “equality.”  In essence, they have sought to change House rules concerning gender-related words. Their intent has been to remove all gender-specified terms like mother, father, son, daughter, aunt uncle and replace them with gender-neutral terms like parent, child, sibling and parent’s siblings.

To add fuel to the controversial fire is something else Cleaver said in his prayer: “We ask it in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths.” A lot of people are still scratching their heads over that line. In reference to his inclusion of Brahma, a Hindu deity, and god known by many other faiths, some have even called this a blasphemous prayer.

No matter how one views this whole situation, one thing’s for sure: It has led people to consider the use of prayer, in general, and “Amen” in particular. And when we understand what prayer and “Amen” are actually all about, then we can appreciate the Good News that comes with all of it.

First, prayer in general.

For Christians, prayer is sacred. Whether it’s conveyed silently or verbally, privately or publicly, no matter the posture, it’s about talking to God our Heavenly Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. In short, prayer is focusing on God.

I like what Dr. Alva G. Huffer wrote about centering prayer upon God:

Believers who recognize their redemptive relationship with God through Christ do not center attention upon themselves; they center attention upon God. They do not have their eyes on their own praying; they have their eyes upon the one to whom they are praying. They are not self-centered; they are God-centered. They become not prayer-conscious; they become God-conscious. (Systematic Theology)

I believe this agrees with the instruction Jesus gave on prayer. He instructed that public prayer, for example, is not to impress others, to appear pious, or for making a flowery speech. To resist this temptation, Jesus said you’d be better off going into your inner room to pray because God won’t answer prayer if it’s merely to be seen by others. (Compare Matthew 6:1-6.)

Jesus also said that prayer is not meant for using “meaningless repetition,” (Matthew 6:7-8). Jesus was indicating that babbling useless words such as an incantation is something that unbelievers do. He instructed his followers, “Do not pray like them.”

Prayer isn’t to be based on repeating words over and over again like people do who worship idols or gods of their own imagination. Instead, it’s addressing our prayers in a sensible manner to the One, True God, “Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9). Thus, prayer is not to be addressed to any other “god” regardless the diversity of those gathered to hear it.

And one more thing… Prayer is offered to God through the name or authority of Jesus Christ, his Son. Jesus said, “And whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it,” (John 14:13-14). In prayer, we seek God’s will to be done and leave it with him to answer according to his wisdom and grace. And, that’s Good News because finding God’s will through prayer gives us abundant joy (John 15:16; 16:23-24) as long as we do not ask with wrong motives (James 4:3).

Second, “Amen,” in particular.

A simple Biblical definition is that “amen” literally means, “So be it,” or “So let it be,” according to both Greek and Hebrew renderings. Synonyms of “amen” are, “verily,” “truly,” and “surely.” Thus, it’s a word of assent (Deuteronomy 27:15-26).

According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, “amen” comes to Christianity via the way it was used according to Jewish custom:

It was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues into the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed had offered up a solemn prayer to God, the others in attendance responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own.

All one has to do is examine various passages where “amen” was used at the closing of prayers in the Bible:

  • 1 Chronicles 16:36, “Then all the people said, ‘Amen,’ and praised the LORD.”
  • Nehemiah 8:6, “And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands…”
  • Psalm 89:52, “Blessed by the LORD forevermore! Amen and Amen.”
  • Romans 16:27, “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”
  • 2 Timothy 4:18, “…to him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
  • Hebrews 13:21, “…through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
  • 1 Peter 5:11, “To him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
  • Revelation 22:20-21, “‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

Also, in Revelation 3:14, Jesus calls himself, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” Jesus not only has the final Word as God’s only begotten Son, he IS “the faithful and true Word” affirmed as “The Amen” in all that God our Father has spoken and promised. This instills in our hearts and minds the Good News that we claim in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

From what we find in the Scriptures, it is correct to say that “amen” is not a male gender word just because it has “men” in it. You can find a lot of words this way (mental; amend; testament, etc.) In fact, it’s been reported there are at least 5,883 English words containing “men” in them. (The Free Dictionary). As far as the Bible is concerned, we can conclude it’s nonsense to add, “A-Woman” with “Amen” for being gender-inclusive as well as for making a “light-hearted pun.”

Instead, it’s with a firm “Amen!” that we can truly call upon the “only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be the glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen,” (Jude 24-25).

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Revelation 19:1-9 points forward toward the Day of Christ’s return when shouts of “Amen, Hallelujah!” will be offered to our God, the Almighty and his Blessed Son. AMEN and AMEN! Here’s Audio Adrenaline presenting, “Sound of the Saints,” https://youtu.be/zemjJhquxH8

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