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Translating God

There are many unsolved mysteries that have been recorded throughout the history of the earth. Some of these mysteries are detailed in the Bible. Whenever you read something that doesn’t make sense, you have to go back to see what the context is to help you understand what really happened. Unfortunately, there are chapters and verses in the Bible that require further research. This process is often referred to as translating God to extract why an account or story has been placed in the Bible; unveiling God’s nature.

And behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel. Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. The man cried against the altar by the word of the Lord, O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you shall he offer the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones shall be burned on you. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord has spoken: Behold, the altar shall be split and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out. [Fulfilled in II Kings 23:15, 16.] When King Jeroboam heard the words the man of God cried against the altar in Bethel, he thrust out his hand, saying, Lay hold on him! And his hand which he put forth against him dried up, so that he could not draw it to him again, 1 Kings 13:1-4.

When I first heard a sermon on the passage above, I immediately thought of the song U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer. This hit song reached #1 on the Hip Hop and R&B Billboard charts in 1990. Normally, kings would call upon body guards or soldiers to remove an individual from their presence. However, the words of this unnamed prophet from Judah infuriated King Jeroboam so much that he tried to harm this man. In what can only described as a scene from a Science Fiction film, King Jeroboam’s hand immediately shriveled up.

And he went and found the corpse thrown in the road, and the donkey and the lion stood by the body; the lion had not eaten the corpse or torn the donkey. 29 The prophet took up the corpse of the man of God and laid it upon the donkey and brought it back, and the old prophet came into the city to mourn and to bury him. 30 And he laid the body in his own grave, and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother! 31 After he had buried him, he said to his sons, When I am dead, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones, 1 Kings 13:28-31.

The news of this strange encounter and subsequent healing spread throughout the land like a raging wildfire. A wayward prophet, paid off by King Jeroboam to only proclaim positive messages to enhance his reign felt compelled to reach out to this man of God. When his own sons couldn’t alter his course, this desperate man made up a story about an angelic counter to persuade him to stay an extra day. This decision proved to be fatal, killed by a mountain lion on his way back to Judah. Realizing it was his fault, the corrupt prophet has this man buried in his own personal tomb. Although this story has a sad ending, translating this chapter reveals the important of complete obedience to God. Anything less is unacceptable.

by Jay Mankus

Living in a Land of Lions

When you read the Old Testament, certain sections are clear and concise. God’s nature is often revealed by using specific commands to illustrate the importance of obedience. Those who follow the Lord are blessed and those who fail to follow God’s directions are cursed. There is no halfway, it’s either all or nothing.

Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all that the man of God had done that day in Bethel; the words which he had spoken to the king they told also to their father. 12 Their father asked them, Which way did he go? For his sons had seen which way the man of God who came from Judah had gone. 13 He said to his sons, Saddle the donkey for me. So they saddled the donkey and he rode on it, 1 King 13:11-13.

In the passage above and below, a prophet of the Lord is fooled by a lie. Apparently, this liar was paid off by King Jeroboam, persuaded to prophecize good and positive messages to enhance his reign. When news of a miracle performed by a visiting prophet from Judah reach this wayward man, he was desperate to meet him. When his own sons were unsuccessful, this discredited prophet makes up an encounter with an angel to change his mind.

He said, I may not return with you or go in with you, neither will I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. 17 For I was told by the word of the Lord, You shall not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way that you came. 18 He answered, I am a prophet also, as you are. And an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied to him. 19 So the man from Judah went back with him and ate and drank water in his house, 1 Kings 13:16-19.

Taking this man at his word, this young prophet disobeys God by staying an extra day in this corrupt land. Although a loving God would forgive modern transgressions, God’s command was to not eat or drink another meal before leaving. While this doesn’t seem fair, obedience matters to God. Thus, while bending the rules on this occasion seemed okay, a lion was sent to kill this prophet on his way back home to Judah.

And after the prophet of the house had eaten bread and drunk, he saddled the donkey for the man he had brought back. 24 And when he had gone, a lion met him by the road and slew him, and his corpse was cast in the way, and the donkey stood by it; the lion also stood by the corpse. 25 And behold, men passed by and saw the corpse thrown in the road, and the lion standing by the corpse, and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt. 26 When the prophet who brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, It is the man of God who was disobedient to the word of the Lord; therefore the Lord has given him to the lion, which has torn him and slain him, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke to him, 1 Kings 13:23-26.

This story is mentioned in the Bible to serve as a remainder that obedience matters. Making up the rules as you go isn’t an option for a servant of God. While those outside the church may get away with telling a lie from time to time, you can’t fool God as Paul suggests in Galatians 6:7-8. You reap what you sow. Although you probably won’t cross paths with a lion, make sure you’re sowing seeds of encouragement rather than lies of deceit.

by Jay Mankus

Unwrapping the Theology of Christmas

The word theology simply means the science of God. Understanding theology isn’t always easy, but to grasp the true meaning of Christmas you have to make one presupposition. Since Old Testament prophets write about the coming of a Messiah, human beings need to acknowledge their need for a Savior. The presupposition individuals must make is that you can’t save yourself. Without this realization, Christmas is just another holiday as a Savior is not sought out.

As it is written, None is righteous, just and truthful and upright and conscientious, no, not one. 11 No one understands [no one intelligently discerns or comprehends]; no one seeks out God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have gone wrong and have become unprofitable and worthless; no one does right, not even one! – Romans 3:10-12

In the passage above, the apostle Paul drives this point home to members of the church at Rome. Referencing an Old Testament prophet, Paul explains that no one is perfect. No matter how highly you may regard yourself, every day, week, month and year people stray from God’s law. Regardless of what disciplines, focus and safeguards are put into place, sooner or later you will break, cut corners or deviate from commands in the Bible.

For the wages which sin pays is death, but the [bountiful] free gift of God is eternal life through (in union with) Jesus Christ our Lord, Romans 6:23.

The best way I know to unwrap the theology of Christmas is through an illustration I learned from Evangelism Explosion. The passage above is part of a diagram using the Grand Canyon. Human beings are on one side of the canyon and God is on the other side. However, Jesus is offered as a free gift, dying on a cross to save mankind from sin. Those who accept the gift of eternal life through a personal relationship with God have access to cross this canyon by faith. This invisible bridge is in the shape of a cross. The moment Jesus was born, salvation and eternal life was made possible, 1 John 5:13. May these words sink in as Christmas Day approaches.

by Jay Mankus

Denying the Ghost of Christmas Past

In the 1988 film Scrooged, Bill Murray plays a selfish, cynical television executive who is haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.  Bitter, disappointed and frustrated, Murray’s character came to the conclusion that Christmas was a fraud.  Far worse than Ebenezer Scrooge, Murray is visited by the ghost of Christmas past, present and future.  These shocking encounters convict Murray’s heart like the wealthy man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  The only difference is that Murray is still alive while the rich man in the story below died.

So the rich man said, ‘Then, father [Abraham], I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may solemnly warn them and witness to them, so that they too will not come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have [the Scriptures given by] Moses and the [writings of the] Prophets; let them listen to them,’ Luke 16:27-29.

Parables are meant to be analogies, hypothetical scenarios to illustrate spiritual truths.  Within this particular story, Jesus details a conversation between Abraham who is in heaven with a desperate rich man pleading his case from hell.  This man asks to be sent back to his family on earth in the form of a ghost, similar to the concept of the ghost of Christmas past.  Despite this man’s concern to save his family from the same eternal fate he is enduring, Abraham vehemently denies this request.  While Abraham references the importance of listening to and studying the words of Old Testament prophets, his reason for saying no is clear.  You must walk by faith, not by sight.

He replied, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent [they will change their old way of thinking and seek God and His righteousness].’ 31 And he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to [the messages of] Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead,’” Luke 16:30-31.

Every Christmas, pastors, priests, reverends and teachers attempt to share a fresh approach to Christmas, coming up with an unique angle or spin.  Of all of the sermons I have heard at Christmas Eve and or Christmas Day services, Abraham’s exchange with this rich man in hell is not one of them.  Human nature makes individuals think, “if I only saw a ghost, speak to the dead or witness a miracle, then I would believe.”  Yet, in reality, you shouldn’t have to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus to believe.  The author of Hebrews references this in Hebrews 6:1-6, supporting Abraham’s excuse for denying a first century visit from the ghost of Christmas past.

by Jay Mankus

A Heart Check-Up

While the heart is invisible to the average person, emotions can be felt by everyone.  Unless you are undergoing surgery, it’s hard to get a read on someone else’ heart.  Body language can provide some insight into how individuals are doing.  Meanwhile, behavior may indicate good or bad moods.  Just to be safe it’s important to get an annual heart check-up so you know for sure that you are okay.

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of, Matthew 12:34.

During a heated debate with Pharisees, Jesus replies to a rumor started by religious leaders.  Possibly afraid that Jesus was winning over devoted Jews to a new religious movement, gossip began to flow naturally out of their mouths.  Thus, Jesus confronts this inappropriate behavior.  Using biblical principles, Jesus exposes the spiritual condition of these jealous hearts.  Like a scene from A Few Good Men, it appears these religious leaders couldn’t handle the truth.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him, Matthew 12:35.

Today, the amoral, moral and immoral can’t afford to take things for granted.  If the words of the Old Testament prophets are true, no one is perfect.  Thus, everyone has a little bit of darkness within their hearts, Matthew 6:19-24.  Therefore, before you allow your heart to become consumed by evil, taking time for a daily spiritual heart check-up is essential.  May this practice help you shun evil so that goodness will flow naturally out of your heart.

by Jay Mankus

Tiring Hands

If you have to be honest, I think every soul goes through phases of doubt.  These periods are highlighted by an absence of God, with moments of agony, distress and frustration.  Many have come to this edge, on the brink of throwing in the towel, walking away from blind hope.

Like the words of the Asaph in Psalm 77:2, lifting up your hands in faith can become tiring.  When prayers come back unanswered and the wicked prosper, one may sound like an Old Testament prophet, crying out for answers.  Whenever these ruts continue, voices like, “what’s the use” or  “God doesn’t care anymore” creep into your mind.

So what do you do, when your strength to tarry on abandons you?  Why repeat the same pattern with similar unsatisfying results?  As for my faint soul, I cling to the promises of Psalm 77:7-11, restoring confidence and a sense of peace back into my exhausted body.  The path of God, Psalm 77:19 takes my tired hands, breathing life via the Holy Spirit which keeps me holding on.

by Jay Mankus

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