World Religions: Buddhism

Buddhism is the fourth largest of the world’s religions.  It numbers about 488 million (Largest Religions in the World, worldatlas.com).  Most of these live in Asia (List of religious populations, Wikipedia).  There are an estimated 1.2 million Buddhists living in the U.S.A. (Wikipedia).

Founder

The origin of Buddhism is found in 6th century Nepal/India.  Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B.C.) was born in what is today Lumbini, Nepal.  His father, Suddhodana, was the ruler of the kingdom of the Sakyas (located is what is now Nepal and India).  The story goes that soon after Siddhartha’s birth a prophecy was delivered by a group of Hindu priests.  If the prince remained at home, he would become a universal monarch.  However, if he left home, he would become a Buddha (enlightened one).  [Note: There is no record of this prophecy until hundreds of years later.]

Siddhartha remained at home for many years.  He married a neighboring princess, his cousin, Yasodhara.  They were both 16 years old.  The marriage produced a son, Rahula.  He lived with his wife 13 years.  They lived a sheltered life.

When Siddhartha was 29 years old, he ventured out of the palace grounds.  He saw four disturbing things.  (1) He saw an old, feeble man.  (2) He saw a sick man, suffering in pain.  (3)  He saw a funeral procession, and a dead corpse.  (4) He saw a Hindu monk begging for bread.  Yet, the monk had a tranquil look upon his face.  Siddhartha had been sheltered from much of the suffering which was so common to man.  He wanted to understand how to have tranquility in the midst of so much misery.

The prince left his home and family, and roamed seeking enlightened.  “For six years the ascetic Gotama wondered about the valley of the Ganges, meeting with famous religious teachers, studying and following their systems and methods, and submitting himself to rigorous ascetic practices.  The did not satisfy him” (Walpola Rahula, What The Buddha Taught, p. XV).  He became thin.  He is self-described in one ancient text, “My back-bone protruding like a string of balls; my ribs like rafters of a dilapidated shed; the pupils of my eyes appeared deep in their sockets as water appears shining at the bottom of a deep well” (Britannica, 1979, Vol. 3, p. 370).

Then, while in meditation beneath a Bodhi tree – in modern-day Bihar, India – the prince supposedly found enlightenment.  He was 35 years old when he became a Buddha.

The prince never returned to live the palace life.  He spent the next 45 years teaching his doctrine.  He died at the age of 80, in modern-day Uttar Pradesh, India.

The Teaching

What did Buddha claim was the answer?  What do Buddhists believe?

(1) The Middle Path.  One should avoid two extremes.  “One extreme being the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses… the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of asceticism” (Rahula, p. 45).

Note, extremes do lead to strong temptations.  See: Proverbs 30:7-9.

(2) The Four Noble Truths.

(a) The truth of suffering (Dukkha).  Suffering exists.  “Birth is painful, and death is painful; disease and old age are painful.  Not having what we desire is painful, and having what we do not desire is also painful” (Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 307).

(b) The truth of the cause of suffering (Samudaya).  The cause of suffering is desire.  “It is the craving desire for the pleasures of the senses” (McDowell, p 307).  “The natural tendency is to blame our difficulties on things outside ourselves.  But the Buddha says that their actual root is in the mind itself” (Four Noble Truths, thebuddhistcentre.com).

(c) The truth of the end of suffering (Nirhodha).  “To be free of suffering one must give up, get rid of, extinguish the very craving, so that no passion and no desire remain” (McDowell, p. 307).  “We cannot change the things that happen to us, but we can change our response” (thebuddhistcentre.com).

Note, it is true that one can be content even with difficult circumstances surrounding him.  Consider: John 16:33; Philippians 4:11-12.

(d) The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (Magga).  The Eightfold Path is the way to free oneself of suffering.

(3) The Eightfold Path.

(a) Right Understanding (Samma Ditthi).  One must accept the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (McDowell, p. 307).

(b)  Right Thought (Samma Sankappa).  “You must renounce the pleasures of the senses; you must harbor no ill will toward anyone and harm no living creature” (McDowell).

(c)  Right Speech (Samma Vaca).  “Do not lie; do not slander or abuse anyone.  Do not indulge in idle talk” (McDowell).

(d)  Right Action (Samma Kammanta).  “Do not destroy any living creature; take only what is given to you; do not commit any unlawful sexual act” (McDowell).  One should not “Kill, steal, lie, (he is) to avoid sexual misconduct, and not take drugs or other intoxicants” (buddha101.com).

(e)  Right occupation (Samma Ajiva).  “You must earn your livelihood in a way that will harm no one” (McDowell).

(f) Right Effort (Samma Vayama).  “You must resolve and strive heroically to prevent any evil qualities from arising in you and to abandon any evil qualities that you possess.  Strive to acquire good qualities, and encourage those you do possess to grow, increase, and be perfected (McDowell).

Note, effort is needed. Consider: 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 1:5-11.

(g) Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati).  “Be observant… alert” (McDowell).  “Right mindfulness means being aware of the moment, and being focused in the moment” (buddha101.com).

Note, we should live in the now. Consider: Matthew 6:34; Philippians 3:13; James 4:13-15.

(h) Right Meditation (Samma Samadhi).  Four stages of meditation are to occur.  “in the first stage… passionate desires, and unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill will, languor, worry, restlessness, and skeptical doubt are discarded… Then, in the second stage, all mental activities are suppressed… In the third stage, the feeling of joy… also disappears… Finally, in the fourth stage… all sensations, even of happiness and unhappiness… disappear” (The Noble Eightfold Path, tricycle.org).

Note, it is important that we think on the proper things. Consider: Psalm 1:2; 63:6; 77:12; 119:15, 23, 48, 78, 148; 143:5; 1 Timothy 4:15; Philippians 4:8.

(4) Buddhism compared with Hinduism.  Buddhism rejects the caste system. Buddhism has no animal sacrifices. Buddhism like Hinduism believes in karma and nirvana.  Many Buddhists believe in reincarnation.

(5)  Man is his own savior.  “Man’s emancipation depends on his own realization of truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a god or any external power as a reward for his obedient good behavior” (Rahula, What The Buddha Taught, p. 2).

This is very different from Christianity.  Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).  Again, “(I) not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

As an ethical system Buddhism does set forth some good principles. Consider: (a) “Ones should not pry into the faults of others … one should rather consider what oneself has done and left undone.” (b) “As  beautiful flower that is full of hue but lacks fragrance, even so fruitless is the well-spoken word of one who does not practice it.” (c) “One may conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men, yet he is the best of conquerors who conquers himself.” (d) “Conquer anger by love, evil by good; conquer the miser with liberty, and the liar with truth.”  ( This is from The Dhammapada, specifically verse 50, 51, 103, 223). We can find agreement in the Bible with such sayings (Matthew 7: 1-5; James 1:22;  Proverbs 16: 32; Romans 12:21). However, it is an ethical system without God, without grace in a Divine or cosmic sense, and without a Savior.

(6) Some Buddhist believe that truth is found within self.  Buddha reportedly told one of his followers, “You must be your own lamps… take refuge in nothing outside yourselves” (McDowell, p. 306).  Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki wrote, “If I am asked… what zen teaches, I would answer, zen teaches nothing.  Whatever teachings there are in zen, they come out of one’s own mind.  We teach ourselves; zen merely points the way” (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 264 – quoting Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, p. 38).

The Bible warns, “It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).  Our feet should be directed by the word of God (Psalm 119:105; John 12:48).

(7) God.  Buddha had little to say about God.  Nothing in Buddhism requires that one believe in God.

Christianity is different.  It is about seeking the Lord (Acts 17:27).  It is about coming to know Him (John 17:3).

Types of Buddhism

(1) Theravada (way of elders).  It is practiced mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  The goal is individual enlightenment.  Such is attained by renouncing the world and living as a monk.  (2) Mahayana (greater vehicle).  It is practiced throughout Asia, for example: Nepal, China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam.  The goal is to not only help self, but to help others achieve enlightenment.  Such is attainable by members of society.  One need not become a monk.  (3) Vajrayana (thunderbolt vehicle).  It is practiced in Bhutan, Tibet, and Mongolia.  It is similar to Mahayan Buddhism, but it adds emphasis to rituals and mantras.  (4) Zen Buddhism (meditation).  It is popular in Japan and America.  It is a form of Mahayana Buddhism.  It emphasizes meditation.

Things to Consider

The goal of extinguishing desire seems impossible.  Ravi Zacharias has pointed out that even the Dalai Lama desires the freedom of Tibet (Would You Compare Buddhism and Christianity? John Ankerberg Show, YouTube).

Is a lack of desire good? Even God has desire (Hosea 6:6; 1 Timothy 2:4). Not all desires are wrong; some are good (Psalm 19:10; 27:4; Proverbs 8:11; Romans 1:11; 10:1; 1 Corinthians 14:1; Philippians 1:23; Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:1; 2 Timothy 1:4; Hebrews 6:11; 11:16; 1 Peter 2:2, etc.).

I have never met the one who does not have to daily bring himself into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27).  Have you?

One last point. Buddhists believe that Buddha’s cremated bones have been found (Have Archaeologists Found Buddha’s Remains? By Tim Collins, dailymail.co.uk).  No such remains are claimed by Christians.  In Buddhism, Buddha died and his bones are still with us.  In Christianity,  Jesus is risen.  What a difference!

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World Religions: Hinduism

Hinduism is the third largest of the world’s religions.  It numbers about 1.05 billion.  Most of these live in South Asia (Largest Religions in the World, worldatlas.com).  More than 3 million live in the U.S.A. (Wikipedia).

Origin

The word ‘Hindu’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shindu’ which is the local name for the Indus River.  The Greeks used the word ‘Hindu’ or ‘Indu’ to denote the country and people who lived beyond the Indus River (wikibooks).  It appears the Greeks actually adopted the word from the Persians.  In time, the dominate religion of the sub-continent became known as Hinduism, and its adherents Hindus (This is how this article will use these words).

The origin of Hinduism is unknown.  Ron Clayton has written, “Hinduism is the only religion in the world without a definite founder… It has no clearly identifiable date as to its beginning, no geographic center as its starting point” (Editor Don Simpson, The Light Shineth In Darkness, 1998 Ft. Worth Lectures, p. 326).  “Most Scholars believe Hinduism formally started somewhere between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. in the Indus Valley” (Hinduism – Facts & Summary, history.com).

Beliefs

What do Hindus believe?  This is difficult to answer.  The religious beliefs vary from individual to individual and village to village (Simpson, p. 326).  However, here are some major points of belief:

     (1) God.  Some claim to be mono-theistic.  The claim that there is one God, Brahman.  This God is personified in three forms (Trimurti): Brahma (creator); Vishnu (preserver); and Shiva (destroyer).  {This may have been borrowed from Christianity [See – God: One or Three (Part 5) by B.H.]}.  In reality, Hinduism is for most very poly-theistic.  There are wives and offspring to the three forms.  There are many avatars – (or incarnations) of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva – and their wives.  There is the worship of ancestors.  There is worship of animals (e.g. the holy cow, The Temple of Rats – where it is considered a blessing to eat food which was first gnawed on by a rat, Nag Panchami or Cobra Festival).  Some say that there are as many as 300 million gods in Hinduism.

    (2) The Caste System.  The Hindu word is ‘Varna,’ meaning ‘color.’  The Hindu caste system appears to have been originally based on skin color (Simpson, p. 327).  Ron Clayton has written, “According to Hindu mythology, Brahma… issued from himself four groups (classes) of offspring.  From his head came those who would be most in his image… These were Brahmins.  These became priests, the teachers of Hindu practice, and the scribes.  Next, came the Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors, fashioned from the shoulders and upper arms of Brahma.  The third caste was called Vyshyas, from the thighs of Brahma, and destined to become merchants and tradesmen.  The last caste was from the feet of Brahma – these were the common laborers, called Sudras… But beneath the feet of Brahma were those without caste, who had no standing – the untouchables.  These outcasts were left to do the filthy and ‘unclean’ tasks of society such as sweeping streets and cleaning latrines” (Simpson, pp. 327-328; Also see: What is India’s Caste System? bbc.com).  Other teach that these caste were created by Brahma from the head, hands, thighs, and feet of the first man, Manu (Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, pp. 289-290).

     (3) Karma (actions) and Samsara (reincarnation).  The atman (soul) is eternal.  What one’s standing is in the next life depends on the balance of good and bad karma (not only in this life, but the sum total from all lives previously lived).  One may improve his standing (e.g. attain a higher caste).  One may worsen his standing (e.g. attain a lower level caste, or even become an animal, or a plant).  If one accumulates enough good karma, reincarnation ceases.  Moksha (liberation) and nirvana (blowing out) is achieved.

     (4) Salvation.  In Hinduism man “saves” himself.  Salvation can be attained in one of the following ways: (a) Karma Marga (the path of action).  “In Karma Marga, a person is expected to avoid nisiddha karma (sinful actions) and perform nitya karma    (obligatory daily actions) without selfish motives” (hindupedia.com).  (b) Gyana Marga or Jnana Marga (the path of knowledge).  “It is Hindu asceticism” (hindupedia.com).       It involves coming to know “one is actually a part of the ultimate Brahman and not a separate entity” (McDowell, p. 293).  It involves “the use of meditative concentration preceded by a long and systematic ethical and contemplative training – to gain a supra – intellectual insight into one’s identity with Brahman” (Britannica, 1979).  (c) Bhakti Marga (the path of devotion).  It involves love and obedience to a particular deity” (McDowell, p. 293).  “The act of Bhakti or devotion can take on several forms such as listening and singing the glories of God, ritualistic worship, repetition of the divine name” (hindupedia.com).

This love of God is to manifest itself in love for others.  “If one has supreme love for God and also loves his master as God, then the light of this teaching shines in a great soul” (Svetasuatara Upanished, Part 6).  It also affects behavior.  “Let the lover of God attain renounciation” (Mundaka Upanished, Part 1, Chapter 2).

Note, our love for God should affect our behavior (John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 1 John 2:5; 5:3), and our relationship with others ( Matthew 25:31-46; John 13:34;  1 John 4:7-9, 20).

Things to Consider

It must be difficult.  It takes many reincarnations for most, is the general thinking.  One source says that one receives a human body only after his soul has traveled through 8,400,000 species (Reincarnation, hindufacts.org).  I have yet to meet the person without sin.  I have not met the one with consistently perfect actions, the perfect mind of God, or consistently perfect devotion to God.

How different Christianity is.  It is by God’s grace and mercy – and not our own perfect works, perfect thoughts, or perfect devotion – that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5).  There are no do overs after this life (Hebrews 9:27; Luke 16:25-26).  God is distinct from creation (Romans 1:25; Ecclesiastes 5:2; Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:1-2; Acts 12:21-23).

 

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The Investment of Time

Have you head of the “10,000 hour rule”?  The theory is that to excel in a thing (e.g. sports, music, technology, business, etc.) 10,000 hours need to be invested in that thing (e.g. study, experimentation, practice).  This theory was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers.  He wrote of a study by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson at Berlin’s Academy of Music saying, “The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any ‘naturals,’ musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.  Nor could they find any ‘grinders,’ people who worked harder than anyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.  Their research suggests that once a musician had enough ability to get into a top school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works” (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, p. 39).  He offered up life stories of Mozart, the Beatles, Bill Joy, and Bill Gates as evidence of the 10,000 hour rule.

    This theory is not without its critics.  First, the number 10,000 is totally arbitrary.  Ericsson’s study had 10,000 as an average not a threshold.  Second, the 10,000 hour rule focuses solely on the quantity of time spent and not the quality of time.  (The Great Practice Myth, Debunking the 10,000 Rule, 6seconds.org).  Johnny Ramsey used to say, “Practice does not make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect performance.”  The quality of practice matters.

Few will deny that to excel in a thing, usually an investment of time is needed.  This is not to say that all who invest time will excel; but it is to say that time is needed to excel in most things.  This is why individual athletes and sports teams practice.  This is why performers in plays rehearse.  This is why SWAT teams train.

The exceptional have usually invested a great deal of time honing their skills.  If you see an outstanding gymnast or golfer, you are no doubt seeing someone who has invested a great deal of time.  Experts in a field (e.g. law, medicine, engineering, mechanics) have invested time.

How are we using our time?  The number of hours in a day is the same for all of us; likewise, the number of days in a week.  Are we using our time to do good?  We are the salt and light of this world (Matthew 5:13-16).  Are we using our time to become more knowledgeable in God’s word?  He wants us to grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).  Are we using our time to become better proclaimers and teachers of God’s Word?  We all have this responsibility (Hebrews 5:12; Acts 8:4; 1 Peter 2:9).

We cannot be experts in everything and excel in everything.  There is not enough time.  This is one of the reasons that there are specialists (physicians, veterinarians, engineers, lawyers, etc.).

However, we all should be investing our time in the work of the church and spiritual matters.  We should each seek to become more and more proficient in the use of God’s word.  We should live it.  We should strive to reach others with it.  Redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5; John 9:4).

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Give Thanks This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving celebrations, on American soil, predate the Pilgrims.  Spanish explorers celebrated a day of thanksgiving in 1541 (Palo Duro Canyon, Texas), and again, in 1598 (El Paso, Texas).  French Huguenot colonists did so in 1564 (Saint Augustine, Florida).  English settlers did so in 1607 (near Jamestown, Virginia) and in 1619 (Berkeley Plantation, Virginia).  Other celebrations could be mentioned (David Barton, Celebrating Thanksgiving in America).

However, the first Thanksgiving, we usually learn of, is of Pilgrim’s celebration in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, in 1621.  This harvest festival/thanksgiving lasted three days.  It was observed by 53 pilgrims (survivor of the original 102 Mayflower pilgrims).  They were joined by 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe (The History of The First Thanksgiving, historyofmassachusetts.org).

Other thanksgivings occurred.  Make no mistake; thanksgiving was offered to God.  In 1623, William Bradford, Governor of Massachusetts declared, “render thanksgiving to… Almighty God for all His blessings” (The History and Legacy of Thanksgiving, patriotpost.us).

President George Washington proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in 1789.  He wrote, “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God… I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next be devoted by the people of these states to the service of the great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.  That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks…” (William J. Bennett, Our Sacred Honor, pp. 386-387).

President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving in 1863.  He wrote, “I do invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” (Thanksgiving Proclamation, abrahamlincolnonline.org).  Thanksgiving became an annual day of Thanksgiving, an official national holiday, beginning with Lincoln.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1939, moved the observance of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday (there were five Thursdays that year).  This was done to give merchants a longer Christmas shopping season (Thanksgiving and Black Friday: Why FDR changed the Holiday, time.com).  He made the change official by law in 1941 (ibid).

Is it acceptable for nations to have such a day set aside for giving thanks to God?  I believe that it is.  Consider: (1) In the Old Testament, the King of Nineveh called for the city’s residents to fast, pray, and repent (Jonah 3:6-9).  God accepted this (Jonah 3:10).  (2) Some kings, and leaders among the Jews, did similar things.  Here are a few examples.  (a) Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast (2 Chronicles 20:2-4).  (b) Josiah called a special assembly for the reading of the Book of the Covenant (2 Chronicles 34:29-30).  (c) Ezra proclaimed a fast, and the people fasted and prayed.  Moreover, God answered their prayer (Ezra 8:21-23).  Other such examples could be given.  (3) Jesus seems to at least tolerate the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah (John 10:22-23).  There is no indication that He was displeased.  Remember that this national holiday was instituted after the close of the Old Testament canon, during the period of prophetic silence.  (4) Is it ever wrong to be thankful?  I find nothing to indicate that it is.  We are to “be thankful” (Colossian 3:15).  We are to give thanks “in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Whatever we go through in this life, should not stop our thanksgiving to God.  He makes possible a peace which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7; John 16:33; Romans 8:18, 35-39; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).  We are to give thanks “for all things” (Ephesians 5:20).  This does not mean that we should be thankful for everything done (e.g. sins against self, sins against others, sins against God).  It means that we should be thankful for everything, for which it is appropriate to be thankful.  However, let us remember that even difficulties and hardships can be used for good (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; James 1:2-4; Romans 5:1-5; Genesis 50:20).  Let us remember: “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  The Christian, especially, has reason to be thankful – and should ever be.

Do not forget to be thankful this Thanksgiving.  Enjoy the family, friends, food, and maybe some football; but, remember to be thankful.  Moreover, take time to give thanks to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, do not stop there.  Live each day in thanksgiving to God.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

 

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Thoughts From The Prophets: God Hates Divorce

You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.  Yet you say ‘For what reason?’  Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant… For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garments with violence” (Malachi 2:13-16).

God hates.  Some imagine a God who hates nothing.  However, the Bible is clear that there are things God hates (e.g. Deuteronomy 12:31; 16:22; Proverbs 6:16-19) and considers  an abomination (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:25; 17:1; 18:9-12; 27:15; Proverbs 6:16-19; 11:1, 20; 12:22; 15:8, 9, 26; 16:5; 17:15; 20:10, 23).

It is important that we learn to view sin as God does.  The Psalmist wrote, “You who love the LORD hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10 cf. 119:104, 128).  Solomon wrote, “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and ignorance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).  Paul taught, “Abhor what is evil.  Cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).

God hates divorce.  His intention is that marriage should be for life (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:3-6; Romans 7:1-2; 1 Corinthians 7:39).  When divorce occurs, at least one party is wrong.  God hates divorce because: (1) It is a breaking of vows.  John Kackleman Jr. comments, “God says, ‘I am a covenant God and I expect people (all people) to keep the covenants they make.  All are to honor covenants.  I hate divorce because it reveals that either one or both partners ARE NOT committed to keeping their covenant vows!’” (Kackelman, Studies in Malachi, p. 98).  Notice the word “treacherously” (NKJV) or “faithless” (ESV) appears five times in the immediate context (Malachi 2:10, 11, 14, 15, 16).  (2) It covers one’s garment with violence.  Meaning?  The E.S.V. Study Bible suggests, “The expression… is probably a figure of speech referring to the defiling of one’s character with violent wrongdoing (see the similar image in Psalms 73:6; 109: 18; Revelation 3:4; and see the opposite in Job 29:14; Psalm 132:9; Isaiah 59:17; 61:10).”  John Kackleman Jr. comments, “Those who casually divorce and live for selfish reasons do not wear robes of righteousness but have put on garments filthy with sin!” (Kackleman, p. 99).  (3) It causes much sorrow.  It brings “weeping and crying” (Malachi 2:13).

When one mistreats his spouse there are consequences.  It hinders one’s relationship with God (Malachi 2:13; 1 Peter 3:7).  Homer Hailey comments on Malachi 2:13, “The expression is a metaphor in which the rejected wives were covering the altar with their tears, weeping and sighing to such a degree that the fire was extinguished and the sacrifices were never received but rather rejected by Jehovah.  The tears of these mistreated wives stood as an impenetrable barrier between the worshipper and Jehovah” (Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 416).  Does God care about how you treat your spouse?  Absolutely!

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Thoughts From The Prophets: Is It Useless To Serve God?

 “ ‘Your words have been harsh against Me’ says the LORD, “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’  You have said “It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinances, and that we have walked as mourners before the LORD of hosts?  So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free” (Malachi 3:13-15).

Many of the difficulties that Israel suffered at this point were of their own making (Malachi 3:8-12 cf. Leviticus 26:14, 20; Deuteronomy 28:15, 38-40).  Yet, they blamed God.  “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD” (Proverbs 19:3 ESV).  Some people are like this.  However, one should not blame God for things one has actually brought upon himself.

They noticed that the wicked, at least sometimes, seem to prosper and go unpunished in this life (Malachi 3-:15).  Centuries earlier, Job noticed this same thing.  He said, “Why do the wicked live and become old, yes become mighty in power?  Their descendants are established with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes.  Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them… their children dance.  They sing… and rejoice.  They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.  Yet they say to God, ‘Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways.  Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him?  And what profit do we have if we pray?’… How often is the lamp of the wicked put out?  How often does destruction come upon them, the sorrows God distributes in His anger?” (Job 27:7-17).  Asaph also noticed this (Psalm 73:1-9).  The wicked do not always receive punishment in this life.  Justice does not always come in this life.

However, they are told of “a book of remembrance” (Malachi 3:16).  God knows and remembers the righteous.  One day it will be evident that it is not useless to have served God (Malachi 3:17-18).

May we keep the end in mind.  Asaph said, “My feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm.  They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued as other men.  Therefore pride serves as their necklace… Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than the heart could wish… When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me- until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understand their end” (Psalm 73:2-17).  Things are not always as they appear in this life (Luke 16:25).

Do you have enough faith to serve God, with or without apparent blessings in this life?  Ed Matthew comments on Malachi 3:13, “The reluctant say that it is ‘futile’ to serve Him.  There is no ‘gain’ in keeping His commandments, Malachi 3:14, 15.  Those people believe religion ought to pay big dividends now.  It ought to bring great reward immediately.  The general feelings is that folks surely will not serve God for nothing, Job 1:9.  In spite of that sentiment, the faithful may live a lifetime without seeing a reward, Hebrews 11:13” (Randal Matheny, A Lifetime Without Seeing A Reward, Microblog).  Job’s faith caused him to say, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him” (Job 13:15).  Again, “For I know that My Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know that in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).  May we serve Him with such faith.

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Thoughts From The Prophets: Robbing God

Will a man rob God?  Yet you have robbed Me!  But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’  In tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8).

The children of Israel had returned from captivity about a century earlier.  Many things had been accomplished.  The temple had been rebuilt, about 80 years earlier.  The walls and gates of Jerusalem had been restored a decade earlier.

However, spiritual complacency and lethargy had developed in them, as time passed.  They were giving God their “leftovers” and unwanted things.  They offered in sacrifice to God blind, lame, and sick animals (Malachi 1:6-8; 1:11-14).  The law required that only the best was to be offered in sacrifice to God (e.g. Leviticus 22:17-24, esp. v. 22; Deuteronomy 15:21; 17:1.  Note: The words “without blemish” and “without spot” occur 37 times in the Pentateuch).  Furthermore, they were not tithing and giving as they should (Malachi 3:8-10).  “Will a man rob God?” Who would be so bold as to do this?  Yet, this they did by not giving their full tithes.

There were consequences.  First, their worship was vain (Malachi 1:10).  Homer Hailey comments, “It is better to lock up and stay at home than to be guilty of their practices.  No worship at all is better than one that rejects the divine honor and insults God with contempt.” (Hailey, A Commentary on The Minor Prophets, p. 409).  Second, they had profaned the name of the LORD, instead of honoring and magnifying Him (Malachi 1:11-14).  Homer Hailey comments, “The Jews, the people of God in the midst of heathen nations, who should have been a living example of faith in Jehovah and of devotion to Him in worship, were actually making a mockery and scandal of their exalted responsibility.  This was their reaction to Jehovah’s love; they held both the altar and the offering in contempt” (Hailey, p. 410).  Third, they were cursed (Malachi 3:8-9 cf. 2:1-2; Haggai 1:6, 9-11).

Change was needed.  God wanted to physically bless them.  He challenged them to try to out give Him.  He instructed them, “ ‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that they may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.  And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,’ Says the LORD of hosts; ‘And all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:10-12).

Will a man rob God today?  Many, I am afraid, still do.  This hinders the work of the church.  Wayne Jackson asks, “A sober question that all of us must consider is this: Is it possible that some Christians rob God today by not giving generously into the treasury of the local church upon the first day of each week (1 Corinthians 16:2)?  And if 10% was the minimum under the law of Moses, what should be the response of those who live under the better new covenant (cf. Hebrews 7:22)… Failure to support God’s work is robbery” (Jackson, Notes From The Margin of My Bible, Vol. 1, p. 181).

Questions to ponder: (1) The Jews were required to give a minimum of 10% of their increase.  Am I giving at least this much?  Is there Biblical evidence that God will accept less?  (2) If every member gave the same percentage of their income as I do (note: I am talking percentage, not dollar amount) how would the local church be doing?  Would it be better off or worse off?  (3) When I miss a Sunday morning due to illness, travel, or some other reason, do I make up my contribution?  Whether one is present or not the work continues.

Money is not the only way that one can rob God.  Roy Deaver suggested, “Men rob God: (1) by failing to use their time properly and wisely, to the glory of God (cf. Ephesians 5:15); (2) by failing to present their members as instruments of righteousness unto God (Romans 6:13); (3) by failing to present their very bodies as living sacrifices unto God (Roman 12:1-2); (4) by failing to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4); (5) by failing to give as they ought to give, keeping for themselves that which actually ought to be ‘given’ to the Lord’s work; (6) by failing to labor constantly in the Lord’s work (cf. Mark 13:34)” (Editors Thomas B. Warren and Garland Elkins, The Minor Prophets, Power Lectureship, p. 326).

May we not be guilty of robbing God.  Let us strive to give God our best.

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