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March 2008

 
 

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March 2008

March 2, 2008

Life is a battle that ends with either victory or defeat; it is a game that ends with either success or failure; it is a business deal that ends in either gain or loss. Life is an adventure, a journey, a battle, a mission in which man, motivated by loneliness and unhappiness, by frustration and unfulfillment, by illness and crisis, by obsessions and sin, decides to seek the God from which he was separated from in Eden. It is not only the elder people, the sick or the poor that seek God, but all mortals, who, although born in the condition of a sinful being, dream of heaven.

In the Gospel of John 20:25, the writer captures the majesty of man’s reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ when God who is in heaven, looks at the cross, Christ on the cross, and man at the foot of the cross. The cross is the place where the Savior Jesus Christ took away the debt of man’s sins, restoring the spiritual relationship with God. At the foot of the cross we find representatives from the four types of people:

1. The category of moral persons, represented by Mary, the mother of the Savior. Morality is essential, but not sufficient; in other words moral persons need to seek God. When a cake is made of many eggs, it’s enough for one of them to be rotten for the entire cake to be compromised. Human morality means that the majority of eggs are good. Salvation from God means that absolutely all the eggs are good. The place for moral persons is at the foot of Jesus’ cross. The goal of their life needs to be the seeking, following, and serving of God.

2. The category of rich people, represented by the sister of the mother of the Savior. This woman married a rich man, but money did not stop her from coming to the cross to save her soul, seeking Jesus. Money has value in people’s world but not in God’s world. With money, man can buy himself books, but not a mind, medicine, but not health, makeup, but not beauty, a comfortable bed, but not sleep, small crosses, but not salvation.

3. The category of ordinary people, represented by Mary, the wife of Clopa. This woman represents the majority of ordinary people, who do not excel in morality or riches, but still, her place is at the cross alongside those who are moral and rich. God loves the ordinary people- Elijah “one of the inhabitants of Galad” or Lazar, “an ordinary Lazar from Bethany”.

4. The category of sinful people represented by Mary Magdalene. Alongside the moral persons, the rich and the ordinary, at the cross are also the guilty, seeking the savior Jesus with the goal of saving their souls.

Who needs to seek God? Absolutely all people.
Why should people seek God? So they don’t go to hell.
How can people seek God? Through faith in the Savior.
How will people know how to seek God? The Bible is the guide.
What do people gain by seeking God? Eternal life in heaven.

Life is a battle that ends in either victory or defeat, a game that ends with either success or failure, a business deal that ends with gain or loss according to the presence or absence of God in the life of man. It is an adventure, a journey, a battle, a mission, whose goal is heaven. You will lose the earth anyway, do you want to lose heaven too? God can take you there if you truly seek him and repent.

March 9, 2008

Money plays a very important role in people’s lives and the Bible references money over 5000 times, more than any other subject. The Savior spoke about money in ⅔ of his parables. God revealed to Moses that holy services need three things: a place dedicated to God, dedicated servants, and items that have been sanctified for service, and all these things assume a financial bearing.

Throughout history until today, the place dedicated for man to meet with God was, in chronological order, the Holy Tent, the Temple, the Synagogue, and the Church. In the first ones, the accent was on the House of God, in the latter ones, the accent falls on the servants of the Lord. Man’s worship before God is also manifested through giving; in the first three places, the form of giving was tithing, or ten percent of man’s income was dedicated to the Lord.

The idea of worship through tithing is first found in the pagan cultures of the Ancient Oriental world. After approximately 1000 years, it is practiced voluntarily by Abraham and his nephew Jacob. It then becomes obligatory through civil and ceremonial laws for every Jew. Therefore, the concept of tithing in the Old Testament was practiced voluntarily by the patriarchs approximately 450 before it became Law.

In Israel, there were three tithes that totaled approximately 25-30% of income and all of it went to God at the Temple. A tenth went to the salary for the levites and through them the priests, another tenth for the national celebrations, and the third tenth, given once every three years, for the poor of the nation. While the spiritual lives of the Jewish people was mediocre, with the exception of the spiritual revivals, the worship through tithing during the time of the prophet Amos (4:4) was done on the foundation of a sinful life- reason for which God did not receive their worship. The lack of salary for the levites and priests led to the complete degradation of the spiritual lives of the Israelites, but their exile to Babylon and the destruction of the Temple led to the annulment of ceremonial sacrifices, the priesthood, tithing, and worship. After 70 years of harsh slavery, the Hebrews return to their land and through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah and later Nehemiah, God tries to restore their spiritual lives, the construction of the Temple, sacrifices, holy matrimony, tithing…. Approximately 80 years later, the prophet Malachi scolds the Hebrews because they were not paying their tithes (3:6-11)

In the New Testament (Matthew 23:23), the Savior Jesus encourages the Lord’s part through tithing, as well as the practicing of righteousness as a way of life. Despite this encouragement, the ten percent as the Lord’s part is no longer commanded as in the Old Testament and the accent falls on worship through giving abundantly. In next week’s article, I invite you to uncover with me what is the Lord’s part in the New Testament.

March 16, 2008

Going back to the subject of tithing in the New Testament, we see that the Savior approves of it when he chastises the Hebrews for their hypocrisy… “do not leave these undone” (Matthew 23:23). We see also that the principle of tithing in the New Testament is no longer sustained as much and as directly as in the Old Testament. Instead the principle of generous giving is promoted and it goes beyond ten precent: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to the Lord what is the Lord’s”. What (HOW MUCH) is God’s? The apostles and the first disciples gave 100% to the Lord (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32), the poor widow is appreciated by Jesus because she gave 100% (Mark 12:41-44), the young rich man is asked to give 100% (Matthew 19:21), the Christians of Macedonia gave a whole lot (1 Cor. 8:1-3, 5), the Christians of Corinth gave as much as they could (1 Cor. 16:1), the Christians of Galatia gave as much as they wanted to be blessed (Gal. 6:6-9).

Success in the spiritual life in the New Testament is directly tied to the quality of administration of words (James 3:2) and also by the administration of money (Matthew 19:21). The Lord’s part in the Old Testament begins with voluntary tithing (Abraham - Gen. 14:20); Jacob- Gen 28:22) and closes with the tithing being obligatory (Num. 18:20-32; Malachai 3:9-10). In the New Testament the Lord’s Part is not explained practically for the fulfilling of the three basic needs- the Lord’s House, the Lord’s servants, and the objects in the Lord’s House; since Christianity was banned, there were no public places of worship (in order for the need to exist for construction and maintenance). Most of the servants were implicated in missions and evangelism (later there was more focus on pastoring and administration)

When speaking of the servant consecrated by God, Paul accents dedication, efficiency, and complete availability for the Gospel, comparing him with a soldier, and then with an athlete (2 Tim 2:4; Acts 6:4, 20:31). Paul’s teaching about paying servants of the Gospel has its foundations in God’s laws of the Old Testament, “Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:13-14). Although he served in Corinth for 18 months, Paul did not accept any type of salary because the members of the congregations were very worldly (1 Cor. 3:1-3a), some did not know the Lord (1 Cor. 15:34), and others did not love and accept Paul (2 Cor. 6:12). In this situation, Paul financed himself, appealing to the trade of building tents and he was also sponsored by other churches: “… Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you” (2 Cor. 11:7-9). His needs would have been much greater had he had a family, a house, and regular bills to pay for survival.

We will continue next time.

March 23, 2008

Easter is one of the greatest Christian holidays, it is the supreme proof of divine love and sacrifice, it is the point of reference for human hope and restoration. If Christmas is a holiday of enthusiasm and joy, Easter is a holiday of betrayal and pain. Christmas shows God's attitude of giving, while Easter shows men's attitude of killing God's gift. Christmas begins and ends with joy, while Easter, although it starts with pain, ends in joy, because the Savior who was betrayed, killed, and buried, HAS RISEN! That is why the Savior`s Resurrection becomes a lesson of history for all generations:

1. Joy is stronger than pain. The hardening of the hearts of Jerusalem's inhabitants, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the blackmail of the priests, the compromise of the judges, all gave birth to a lot of pain in the Passover week, but they were all covered by joy on Resurrection Sunday.

2. God is stronger than the Devil. Jesus was dead for three days, no one contested the injustice of the trial condemning Him to death, the disciples were hiding scared, everything seemed lost. After the Friday of condemnation, after the Saturday of the cold tomb, came the Sunday of the Resurrection and the Devil lost everything. God defeated him both in the heavenly conflict, and in the earthly one.

3. Love is stronger than hate. The Divine love manifested through sacrifice, mercy, and kindness defeated the evil hatred manifested through blackmail, corruption, and violence.

4. Good is stronger than evil. Sicknesses, troubles, violence, quarreling, death, and many such as these are the forms of evil that the Devil brings to men. Healing, blessings, peace, unity, eternal life and many such as these are forms of goodness brought to men by Jesus.

5. Righteousness is stronger than sin. Although sin corrupted the essence of human nature throughout history, righteousness was victorious on the Resurrection morning when Jesus rose from the dead and together with Him will rise all those who repent of sin.

6. Truth is stronger than lie. The Devil has always used lie as a weapon he hoped to win with, despising the truth and those who live in it. The Resurrection morning confirmed the supremacy of truth and its eternal victory against lies.

7. Hope is stronger than desperation. Starting with the Messianic promise in Genesis 3:15, where we are promised salvation through the "seed of the woman", mankind`s hope was tried. Desperation filled the hearts of most people, sinking them in ignorance and disloyalty.

8. Life is stronger that death. The Devil`s power is death, the death's power is sin, the sin's power is desire, the desire's power is human nature. This chain makes people prisoners for eternity, but it was broken on Resurrection morning. God's power is life, life's power is righteousness, righteousness's power is repentance, repentance's power is the spiritual nature.

Pain, hatred, evil, lies, desperation, and death are methods the Devil uses to manipulate and destroy men, but he and his methods were defeated on Resurrection morning. Joy, love, goodness, righteousness, truth, and life were brought by God through the risen Christ. Whoever follows Christ will rise, go to heaven, and have the eternal life that He offers by faith to all people. Easter is not only a holiday, it is the victory of life over death, the victory of joy over pain, of love over hatred, of good of evil, of righteousness over sin, of truth over lie, of hope over desperation, it is the victory of Jesus against the Devil. Easter is our victory against hell because JESUS HAS RISEN! Easter is not a religion, it is a relationship, man's spiritual relationship with God, a God who sought and found us.

March 30, 2008

A week has passed since the Easter celebration, and we reflect retrospectively on the events of 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. The Passion Week for our Savior presents the contrast between the highest majesty of divine love and the depths of human injustice, God who loves in any conditions and man who is a traitor in any circumstance. Who would wipe away the tears of the orphan, the widow, the one struck by the waves of life, if Christ had not risen? Who would have time for those who are ignored, who would love the unloved, who would forgive the unforgivable, who would feed the hungry, who would comfort the weary if Christ had not risen from the dead? Who would respond to our desperate prayers, who would forgive our pressing sins, who would heal our painful illnesses, if Christ had not risen? Who would the nations seek, who would millions bow down to, to whom would be dedicated hymns and the adoration of angels in heaven and people on earth if Christ had not risen? But Christ HAS RISEN and the majesty of this even remains a lesson of life and death for all generations:

1. God is stronger than the Devil. The appearance of the defeat of the Savior from Thursday and Friday culminated in the victory of resurrection on Sunday. The enemy of people and of God was defeated forever despite the fact that a part of his army included the compromised priests of the day, the hypocrisy of theology, corrupt justice of the Roman government, the forces of order, the ignorance and infidelity of people….

2. Love is stronger than hate. Hate made the Devil lose his place in heaven where he was an angel of light, his friendship with God, against whom he rebelled, the goal of existence, perverted in the criminal wish to destroy the Creator and creation. The inoffensive love manifested by the Savior overcame, remaining the only armor against which there are never any defenses.

3. Good is stronger than evil. Evil is aggressive, threatening, somber, bitter, violent, insensitive, and still, it was defeated. Life is a battle for every being and too often using evil unfortunately seems like the best solution.

4. Righteousness is stronger than sin. It’s strange that sheep survived the so-called process of evolution promoted by Darwin, in spite of the fact that a sheep normally has one lamb a year, while the wolf has many. Why are there still more sheep than wolves? Sin is the shame of nations and righteousness is the honor of God. Sin is the Devil’s sharp weapon used to compromise men before the divine justice. But the righteousness the Savior Jesus has given to men as a gift is the antidote that offers healing and immunity. Sin is a useless luxury and it is much too expensive to be bought. Any person accepts to buy a car by paying interest for 36 months for a bank loan, but who would accept to buy a car at the price of his own life? In such circumstance, of what use would that car be?

5. Truth is stronger than lie. Truth seems vulnerable and a lie looks strong, but Jesus used the truth and He was resurrected, sitting at the right hand of the Father, while the Devil lost in shame and he will burn in the eternal fire, forever and ever. Is a lie really a solution?

6. Hope is stronger than desperation. The Passion Week was filled with desperation, but the Resurrection Sunday brought eternal hope. If today is Thursday, Friday, or Saturday in someone’s life, be patient, wait for Sunday when the eternal victory comes.

7. Life is stronger than death. The Devil wanted life by using the weapons of death. Jesus wanted life using the weapons of life and the Resurrection Sunday confirmed that life is stronger than death.

Just like Jesus back then, we are now in the midst of life’s war, on the stage of the world. Having before us the supreme lesson of the Savior’s life, what weapons do we choose? According to this choice, we will be rewarded on the RESURRECTION DAY.