Jerusalem landscape at sunrise

I Was In the Presence of God/Spiritual Meditations

Have you ever prayed and felt like nobody was listening?  We’ve all experienced this.  However, sometimes when we silently meditate and pray from the deepest place of our souls, we feel the presence of God.  In the following excerpt from his book The Long Road to Eternity, (available on Amazon) Pastor Timothy W. Ehrlich tells us of a time when he not only felt God’s presence but actually saw God’s presence.


My Religious Kicks

Occasionally, I get on a new religious kick. It could be a new spiritual exercise that I discover and use every day for a month, or a certain thing that I lift up in prayer every day for a time. I mentioned in the experience I shared about healing Annalee that I was on a kick of trying to be filled with the Holy Spirit daily. Other kicks I have been on include using transcendental meditation every morning, serving myself communion every morning and so on. Usually, my spiritual kicks last about one or two months before I get distracted and forget about them or find something new; sometimes they become lifelong daily habits, as was the case for reading the Bible a little bit every day.

In 2007 I was visiting a woman in the hospital and she told me, “I wake up every morning and say, ‘Good morning God, thank you for another day!”  Realizing I didn’t greet God first thing in the morning, I decided to do this too. So, for about two months, every morning, upon waking up and before my feet hit the floor, I would say “Good morning God!”   

Shouting Down a Rat Hole

For some reason I expected to receive some sort of response back from God; I was waiting for it, but day after day there was nothing, no response at all, not even a feeling like I had been heard. Most of the time when I pray, I can feel something, a “quickening in my spirit” John Wesley would call it. Paul said the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and I’ve experienced that dozens of times, but this was a dry spiritual time for me. Not only was there no response from God in the morning, but I was also feeling nothing from God at any time.

As usual, one morning in the middle of January, I woke up and greeted God: “Good morning God!” And I got no response for what I estimated was about the 60th day in a row, and suddenly I became either angry or frustrated. I thought, “I always say hello to God, and he never replies. I feel like He either isn’t there or doesn’t care. I am not feeling anything when I pray. Maybe my prayers are just me shouting down a rat hole and hoping there is someone down there who can hear me, but maybe there isn’t.”

I knew that was a terrible thought and I put it out of my head as quickly as I could; then I got up and went about my day.

God Showed Me His Presence

The next morning, I woke up, and just as in the previous two months, I said “Good morning God.” I was not expecting a reply but to my shock and amazement, when I opened my eyes, God was there as a translucent shimmering silvery substance occupying one side of the room.

When the Holy Spirit descended on me in my upper room in Fire Island the physical sensation was very mild, barely perceptible.

(You can read the Fire Island experience @ Her Rejection Forced My Forgiveness.)

This was different. I felt a very strong physical sense of God’s presence. It was overpowering, I was inside His presence; and His presence permeating me entirely, seemingly altering my physiology; going between and separating the very atoms of my body. 

It felt like God’s presence in me had temporarily transformed my body from purely material to a material/spiritual fusion. Like I was a vapor in the form of a body, or even less, a spirit in the form of a body. At the same time, I could feel the power of God’s intellect creating  the power of His presence; extending outward to embrace every atom of my being.  I knew that my every thought and emotion were as clearly known to God as if they were His. I realized then that His presence with me was a response to my thought the previous day: it was His way of correcting me; of saying to me “Your prayers have been heard the whole time!” I was amazed and terrified and very happy all at the same time.

I thanked God and. I closed my eyes and, for what seemed like a whole minute, I basked in the glow of His presence. When I opened my eyes God’s presence was gone, but the effect of His power on my physiology remained; my atoms were still loose. For the brief period that I was in His presence my physicality had been subsumed by the Spirit and I felt like a ghost, like you could have put your hand right through me, and now that He was gone, I could still feel what that had felt like. The feeling or perhaps it was just the very strong memory of the feeling, of having my molecules loosened by the power of being in the presence of God stuck with me for the rest of the day. And as I said, it was scary.

To say that I am an “unlikely candidate,” and “far from worthy of this honor” is putting it mildly  It is amazing that God uses me and has chosen to give me these exceptional blessings of experiences with Him.  This was one of the most powerful moments of my life, and naturally I have revisited it again and again in my mind; in fact, in my daily prayers I thank God for allowing me to experience the awesomeness of His presence.

God Knows You

I learned a lesson that day that I will never forget; God truly and always hears every thought and knows the heart and mind of every person. Everything we say to God is prayer is heard by God even when we don’t feel a thing back. He is always and truly as close as the inside of our minds. I will never doubt that again.

God in Christ Jesus

I now have a much better understanding of how the power of God in Christ must have transformed the physics of His body making Him for a time Spirit in the form of a man enabling Jesus to walk on water or how he could appear suddenly in a closed room after his resurrection and how he could use that power to alter molecular structures to enable him to feed 5000 with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

God the Creator

As a Christian I believe that God is the creator and source of all the energy in the universe. Scientists tell us that, at its deepest level, all matter is just different forms and arrangements of energy in motion and vibration. So, it makes perfect sense to me that God, the creator of all, has the power to transform the energy in matter into its purest form – spirit – or into some amalgam of physical and spiritual.

A Reminiscence

About two years after God came to me in my room, I was laying on the same bed thinking about that amazing experience and the thought came to me, “was there any significance to where God was in the room?” I was going through the event in my mind, second by second, searching for clues. I realized when I woke up on that special morning I was on my left side, and I felt his presence behind me and above me, not at the ceiling but more than halfway up the wall as I turned to face Him.

While remembering this and staring at the wall, lost in thought, I found myself looking at a framed lithograph of 19th century Jerusalem by David Roberts entitled The Old City. In the center of that drawing is the Dome of the Rock, the famous Muslim mosque built over the site which was the holy of holies in the original temple. The holy of holies is the place where the Ark of the Covenant was stored and coincidentally the place where Solomon suggested that God would always hear our prayers.(1 Kings 8:44-45).

Further Reading

You can read about many more spiritual experiences had by Pastor Tim and others in the Spiritual Experience category of this Spiritual Meditations blog.

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7 deadly sins

How 7 Deadly Sins Began as 8 Evil Thoughts

Which of the 7 deadly sins do you find yourself succumbing to? And who determined what they are?

In the fourth century, a Christian monk named Evagrius Ponticus wrote down what’s known as the “eight evil thoughts”: gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sloth, sadness, vainglory and pride.

Evagrius wasn’t writing for a general audience. As an ascetic monk in the Eastern Christian church, he was writing to other monks about how these eight thoughts could interfere with their spiritual practice. Evagrius’ student, John Cassian, brought these ideas to the Western church, where they were translated from Greek to Latin. In the sixth century, St. Gregory the Great—who would become Pope Gregory I—rearranged them in his commentary on the Book of Job, removing “sloth” and adding “envy.” Instead of giving “pride” its own place on the list, he described it as the ruler of the other seven vices, which became known as the seven deadly sins.

“They’re called ‘mortal’ or ‘deadly’ because they lead to the death of the soul,” says Richard G. Newhauser, an English professor at Arizona State University who has edited books about the seven deadly sins. “Committing one of these mortal sins and not confessing, not doing penance and so on, will result in the death of the soul. And then you’ll be in hell for eternity, or your soul will be in hell for eternity.”

Thomas Aquinas Revisits the List

Fast forward to the 13th century, when theologian Thomas Aquinas again revisited the list in Summa Theologica (“Summary of Theology”). In his list, he brought back “sloth” and eliminated “sadness.” Like Gregory, Aquinas described “pride” as the overarching ruler of the seven sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church’s current capital sins are basically the same as Aquinas’, except that “pride” replaces “vainglory.”

The seven deadly sins were a popular motif in medieval art and literature, and this likely helped them persist as a concept through the centuries, eventually entering film and television. The movies Se7en (1995) and Shazam (2019) both deal with the seven deadly sins. Even on Gilligan’s Island, the American sitcom that aired from 1964-1967, each character was supposed to represent a different deadly sin, according to the show’s creator (Gilligan was “sloth”). Here, we take a look at the list that has fascinated people for so long.

1. Vainglory / Pride

Lists of the seven sins often use vainglory and pride interchangeably. But technically, they’re not the same thing, says Kevin M. Clarke, a professor of scripture and patristics at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University who has edited a book of historical writings on the seven deadly sins.

“Vainglory is kind of like that vice that makes us check our ‘like’ counts on social media,” he says. “Vainglory is where we seek human acclaim.” In contrast, “pride is a sin where I essentially take spiritual credit for what I’ve done,” instead of “ascribing one’s good deeds to God.”

There is an extensive array of things of which humans are proud- some understandable. others definitely not. You can find more @ Pride-the Good, the Bad & the Ugly.

2. Avarice

“Gregory the Great wrote that avarice is not just a desire for wealth but for honors [and] high positions,” Newhauser says. “So he was aware that things that we would consider as immaterial could also be the object of avarice.” While some of the sins may vary between lists, avarice or greed shows up on all of them.

Avarice / Greed makes a huge impact on our lives and our planet. This article discusses some and what we can do about them. 10 Ways to Save God’s Priceless Creation.

3. Envy

“Evagrius doesn’t have envy in his list,” Clarke says, but Evagrius did include sadness. “Sadness is closely related to envy because envy concerns really two things: One is joy at another’s misfortune and the other is sorrow at the fortune of someone else.”

Gregory articulated this when he added envy to his list of vices, writing that envy engendered “exultation at the misfortunes of a neighbor, and affliction at his prosperity.”

There are aspects of envy that we can control with the flip of a switch. See when to do it @ Advertising Creates Fear.

4. Wrath

Anger can be a normal reaction to injustice, but wrath is something more. The Catechism says that “If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin.” Medieval artists depicted wrath with scenes of people fighting as well as scenes of suicide.

Unjustified wrath continues today as can be seen in this article on prejudice and how to overcome it. Reversing the Little Known Causes of Prejudice.

5. Lust

Lust is so broad that it encompasses sex outside of heterosexual marriage as well as sex inside of heterosexual marriage. The Catechism defines lust as a “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.”

Of all the sins, this is probably the one on which public opinion has changed the most. Although the Catholic church officially opposes birth control and same-sex marriage, polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center show that the majority of Catholics in the United States believe the church should permit birth control and that same-sex marriage should remain legal.

6. Gluttony

Early Christian theologians understood gluttony to include drinking too much alcohol and desiring too much fine food, in addition to overeating.

“If I just simply have to have the most delicate food, the most expensive food, that can be a form of gluttony,” Clarke says.

If Lust or Gluttony are your downfalls, this article includes a few suggestions on how to overcome them. 3 Ways to Conquer Temptation.

7. Sloth

Sloth has come to mean “laziness” today, but for early Christian theologians, it meant “a lack of care for performing spiritual duties,” Newhauser says. Although Gregory didn’t include sloth in his list of seven sins, he did mention it when talking about the sin of sadness or melancholy, writing that melancholy causes “slothfulness in fulfilling the commands.”

When Aquinas replaced sadness with sloth in his list of capital sins, he maintained a connecting between the two. “Sloth is a kind of sadness,” he wrote, “whereby a man becomes sluggish in spiritual exercises because they weary the body.” 

Some sources theorize that laziness is the original sin as discussed in this article Imprisoned in My Bones.

Reference

A substantial portion of this article was written by Becky Little, a journalist in Washington, D.C. and frequent contributor to the History Channel’s website. . Follow her on Twitter at @MsBeckyLittle.

Jesus healing bed ridden woman with observers

Christ’s Living Water Revives Cancer Victim / Spiritual Meditations

Many of us pray for healing every day.  Some of us are healed by the medical interventions developed from God’s original creation of molecules, radiation, gravity and more.  Some of us continue to suffer and pray, asking “How long must I wait, God“.  And a few of us receive miraculous healings of serious conditions or death. 

Just such an experience is recounted by my friend, Rev. Dr. Timothy W. Ehrlich in his book The Long Road to Eternity available on Amazon.  The following is an excerpt.


In June of 1996 I attended the Annual Conference meeting of the Wyoming Annual Conference that was being held partially at the Elm Park United Methodist Church in Scranton and partly at the campus of the University of Scranton. Little did I know that a minister’s meeting would be the site of one of the greatest miracles of my life.

Pentecost had been several weeks before and the sermon I wrote for that Pentecost had inspired me to take up a new spiritual discipline: for the several weeks between Pentecost and Annual Conference I had been using a daily spiritual exercise aimed at helping me to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In the opening session of the Annual Conference, it was tradition,  after a few preliminary remarks, to stand and sing together the old Methodist hymn that John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) supposedly used in opening his annual conference meetings: “And Are We Yet Alive.”  I was sitting near the back of the huge room which was the campus gymnasium. As I stood to sing, I was thinking how wonderful it was to be with my clergy brothers and sisters: the only ones who truly know how difficult it is to serve as a pastor.

As we began singing, I suddenly could see the Holy Spirit sweeping back and forth across the sea of heads in front of me. It looked like what I had seen it in my upper room at Fire Island – beautiful, golden, shimmering, and transparent except that now instead of a slow steady cloud descending and filling the room, it was washing back and forth just over everyone’s head about a foot high like a little wave. 

(The Fire Island experience can be read at Her Rejection Forced My Forgiveness)

I watched it for only a few seconds when suddenly, as everyone continued to sing, the Holy Spirit swept towards me and up over my head and then it came down on me with such power that it knocked me to my seat. I sat back in my chair as the Spirit washed over me; it was the same feeling of water that I experienced when God saved my sister. But now, instead of washing through me and lifting off again and drifting away, this time the Spirit did not leave. It felt like a heavy physical presence. If you have ever been in a swimming pool, lake, or ocean with all your clothes on, you remember how  your clothes sort of stick to you when you get out; that is how it felt.  But instead of wet clothing, it felt like an inch deep layer of water was sloshing over my whole body.

(You can read how God saved Pastor Tim’s sister at A Miraculous Intervention by Accident)

Though I had never experienced this before I sensed immediately that this was the living water of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was speaking about in John (7:36-39):

“On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said, “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him…)”

So, this was the physical presence of the living water of the Holy Spirit resting on me. But it was also a spiritual presence within  creating a sense of overflowing joy. I sat enraptured, amazed at the sense of water around my body. Then I became self-conscious – everyone around me was standing and singing.  Not wanting anyone to think I was ill; I stood and rejoined the singing; what else was I to do?

As the singing came to an end there was a message on the bottom of the big screen that the words to the music and the conference announcements were given on; “Tim Ehrlich go to the information table.” A call had come in for me: Annalee Bell, who I didn’t know, but whose daughter and her husband attended my Gouldsboro church, was dying from lung cancer. She was unconscious at Moses Taylor hospital. The doctors had just told the family that Annalee’s death was imminent, and they had all gathered in her room and were hoping I could come and pray with them and her before she died.

The hospital was a short distance from the Conference. Driving there, I was still within a layer of the living waters. Walked down the hall to her room, I felt a bit like a walking water balloon as the water sloshing back and forth around me with each step. Closer to the room, I started quieting laughing because I knew what was about to happen.

I entered the room and found over a dozen family members. Annalee was unconscious and her breathing was labored. She had what I have heard too many times – the “death rattle;” a sort of gurgling sound with each breath. It meant her lungs were filling with fluid and she was slowly suffocating. After making very quick customary greetings, we gathered around her bed forming a circle and held hands. I held someone’s hand with my right hand and with my left hand I held Annalee’s hand. As I began to pray, I could feel the living waters running down my arm into Annalee. I continued to hold her hand and pray until I felt the water had all emptied from me into her.

After a short time, I said goodbye to the family and left to get back to the Conference. Two hours later the conference broke for lunch and I went back to Annalee’s hospital room. Most of the crowd of family members was still there and Annalee’s breathing was much better. There was no more death rattle in her breathing, and she was stirring and appeared semi-conscious. I called her name, and she opened her eyes and looked at me.

I told her who I was and asked if she wanted me to pray for her. She nodded and again we circled up and prayed for her. There was no living water still in me, but I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room and within our circle of hands as we prayed. Again, I returned to Conference.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20)

After the last session of the Conference in the late afternoon I drove back to her hospital room once again. This time I found her fully conscious, sitting up in bed eating something off a tray table and watching TV; only two family members were still in her room and they were incredulous at her condition.

The next evening, I visited after the last conference session and this time I found her about to be discharged to go home. Annalee had lung cancer; I visited her at her home a few weeks later and she was back to smoking cigarettes. She lived several more years.

Conclusion

Annalee’s miracle presents a curious theological question: she never attended church before or even after her miraculous recovery; she resumed smoking immediately as if spurning God’s miraculous work in her; and in general, she seemed perpetually cross and negative. So, I often wondered – why her? As far as I can tell there was no special thing about her that would make her a likely recipient of a miracle. I believe that her daughter Pat was probably the one the miracle was intended for.

Pat was a wonderful Christian. The same year that her mom almost died her husband contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease and passed within a few months, so perhaps God provided that miracle to help Pat get through the death of her husband. In any case I have put this experience in the category of: God is sometimes mysterious in His actions, and we must trust that He knows what He is doing.

Other accounts of miraculous healings can be read at:

Family Astonished by Son’s Faith Healing

An Astonishing & Undeniable Spiritual Healing

Walking Miracles When God Heals

A Thought-Provoking Question That You Might Face

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Relevant Scripture

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”(John 7:38)

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? (Matt 5:45-46)

As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. (Luke 7:12-15)

jonah and fish

12 Things You Mistakenly Thought were in the Bible/Spiritual Meditations

You’ve heard these Bible stories and phrases so many times you accept them as authentic.  Some are fictional additions to Biblical events while others sound kind of Biblical but definitely aren’t.   See how many of these 12 things you thought were actually mentioned in the Bible.

1. An apple in the garden

While Western art has traditionally depicted the fruit Adam and Eve ate in the garden as an apple, the Bible is not that specific. Genesis 3:6 merely describes Eve eating some of the “fruit” and sharing it with Adam.


So, don’t blame the Red Delicious sitting in your fridge for the Fall. Maybe it was a lemon or a banana.

2. Three wise men

Once again, we find a specific drawn from limited information in the Bible and popularized by art. While we may sing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” at Christmas, the Bible only tells us that there were three gifts and more than one magi (Matthew 2:1-12).


Oh, and take the wise men out of your nativity scene, too. They arrived much later, when Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had already moved to a house in Bethlehem.

You may be interested in further Little Known Christmas Fun Facts.

3. A whale swallowed Jonah

Despite what Veggie Tales taught you, the Bible never says it was a whale that swallowed the runaway prophet. Jonah 1:17 says that God sent a “great fish” to take Jonah in the right direction. If a grouper can swallow a shark whole, I’m sure God could find a fish big enough for Jonah.

4. Money is the root of all evil.

Close, but the frequently quoted phrase is missing a few important words. 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…” Money is not good or bad, and being wealthy is not a sin; Job was wealthy and described as a man who was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). Loving money, which in the Greek is “avarice” and implies an emotional affection, is the root of all sorts of evil as the desire to accumulate wealth is placed above God and others.

5. This too shall pass.

This could be a misinterpretation of a line from “The Lament of Doer,” an Old English poem. Doer has been replaced as his lord’s poet and calls to mind several other Germanic mythological figures who went through troubled times. Each refrain ends with, “that passed away, so may this.”

Several verses in the Bible remind us that our lives and, indeed, heaven and earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35). But while we can find comfort knowing that our earthly sorrows are temporary, we’re still called to rejoice in our trials, knowing that they will lead to endurance and perseverance (James 1:2-4). 

This phrase is also often confused with the phrase “it came to pass” that appears over 400 times in the King James Version or the sentiment from 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

6. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Despite the strict rules given to the Israelites about uncleanness as a metaphor for sinfulness and ceremonial washing required by the priests (see: Exodus, Leviticus), this phrase is not in the Bible. It originated as an ancient Babylonian and Hebrew proverb but became very popular during the Victorian era after being revived by Sir Francis Bacon and John Wesley.

Is the proverb true beyond the metaphor? A new study shows that people are generally more fair and generous when in a clean-smelling environment. But Jesus also exhorts us to worry more about the sin in our hearts than the dirt on our hands (Matthew 15:16–20).

7. God works in mysterious ways.

This might be one of the most quoted sayings of all time when it comes to God.  The only problem is that it isn’t a verse in the Bible. Yes, God does work in ways we don’t understand, but this saying is most likely a simplified paraphrasing of two verses. 

Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” And Jeremiah 33:3 reads, “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” In this case, it’s not that this saying is wrong, it’s simply not in the Bible. 

Isaiah 55:8-9 also reminds us that God’s ways are different from ours. But no biblical prophet ever uttered those words.

8. Love the sinner. Hate the sin.

Although this is a biblical-sounding admonition, it is not directly from the Bible. It’s a loose quote of something Mahatma Gandhi wrote in 1929, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” Augustine expressed a similar thought back in AD 424: “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The biblical principle backing this up is found in Jude 1:22–23, Matthew 5:43-44, and Psalm 97:10. We are to hate sin—even our own. And we are to show love to other people.

9. Be in the world, but not of the world.

This one may surprise you, but that phrase is nowhere in the Bible. As much as you may think it’s an exact quote from the Sermon on the Mount or another verse, it’s not there. Parts of the sentiment are, however, expressed in various places in Scripture (John 15:19, John 17:14-15Romans 12:1-2). Just don’t try to find that word-for-word as a verse in your Bible.

10. God will not give you more than you can handle.

I think we’ve all said this at one time or another, primarily to comfort another believer or even an unbeliever who is struggling with something or fearful that something bad might happen. But this verse does not exist. And this statement doesn’t hold true. God will often give us more than we can handle so that we will depend on Him to carry the burden for us. You find countless cases where someone faced something they couldn’t handle—but God could and did. If we could handle everything that came our way, we could take care of our sin problem. But we couldn’t and we can’t. That’s why we needed (and continually need) Jesus.

Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV), and Matthew 11:28-30 tells us to come to Him when we are weary and take His yoke upon us so we can bear a load that is too heavy to lift ourselves. 

I believe we get the idea that God won’t give us more than we can bear from 1 Corinthians 10:13 which tells us “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” That verse tells us God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to resist. But He will allow us to struggle beyond our capacity in other aspects of life so we understand what it means to surrender and allow Him to carry the burden for us.

11. God helps those who help themselves.

I’m sure you’ve heard it and possibly even said it to encourage someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get it done. But this verse is not in the Bible. And its premise is not true. To the contrary, God helps those who admit they can’t help themselves. 

Where does the phrase come from? Variations are proverbial statements in ancient Greek tragedies. The earliest recording of this saying is from Aesop’s fable “Hercules and the Waggoner.” A man’s wagon got stuck in a muddy road, and he prayed for Hercules to help. Hercules appeared and said, “Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel.” The moral given was “The gods help them that help themselves.” Aesop was a Greek writer who lived from 620 to 564 BC, but obviously did not contribute to the Bible.

The Quran (13:11) has something similar and an English politician gave us the exact wording, which Benjamin Franklin quotes in Poor Richard’s Almanac

Scripture is loaded with examples of God calling weak, humble people who would have been inadequate for the Lord’s work without His enabling strength. Scripture says that Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness. And Paul states “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV). 

The message of Romans 5:8 is the exact opposite. While we were still sinners and unable to help ourselves, Christ died for us—proving how much God loves us, how amazing grace is, and how incapable of helping ourselves we truly are.

Furthermore, James 4:10 tells us “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” If God helped those who helped themselves, that verse would read: “Show yourself capable and God will come along and help.” Many times those of us who believe we can help ourselves don’t feel we need God and therefore, we don’t rely on Him. God wants us to admit we’re helpless so we can start depending on His strength to get us through situations. That is faith. 

12. The lion shall lay down with the lamb

This phrase does not appear in the Bible. Isaiah 11:6 says, “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.” Similarly, Isaiah 65:25 reads, “The wolf and the lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw like an ox…” The sentiment reads true, however—hunter and prey will be reconciled and live in peace in the eternal kingdom.

Conclusion

God left us the Bible as a written testimony of His Word. His truth is found in the Bible. Some sayings are simple rewordings of biblical truth, but others contradict Jesus’ teaching. Despite how clever or even edifying a quote may be, if it isn’t in the Bible, we have no guarantee that it is the Word of God. And the only way we’ll know is if we read the Bible.

References

What are the most common things people think are in the Bible that are not actually in the Bible? | GotQuestions.org

5 Things You Won’t Believe Are NOT in the Bible – Bible Study (crosswalk.com)

11 Things You Think Are in the Bible, but Really Aren’t by Aaron Earls

What Did Jesus Look Like? / Spiritual Meditation

Jesus Christ is one of the most painted figures in Western art. But what do we really know about his appearance?

Visions of Jesus

Two friends have seen visions of Jesus, one during a coma, the other in an awakened state.  Their descriptions indicate that Jesus was surrounded by a very bright light and had white shining hair and clothing.  He was seen to smile and have compassionate eyes.  One friend, Matthew, said Jesus was much like what is described in the book of Revelation with bronze feet and hands.  You can watch his full testimony at

A Testimony – Witnessing Jesus Face to Face – YouTube.

A description of my friend Timothy’s vision is described in

India Pilgrimage Yields Vision of Jesus.       

Although, most of us will not see Jesus until we enter the pearly gates, Sarah Pruitt shares with us how history and archeology portray Jesus.

For centuries, the most common Western image of Jesus has been that of a bearded, fair-skinned man with long, wavy, light brown or blond hair and (often) blue eyes. But the Bible doesn’t describe Jesus physically, and all the evidence we have indicates he probably looked very different from this portrayal.

What Does the Bible Say About Jesus’ appearance?

The Bible says little about Christ’s physical appearance. Most of what we know about Jesus comes from the first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Because Jesus was a Jewish man born in Bethlehem and raised in the town of Nazareth during the first century A.D., we can assume that he looked like a Jewish Galilean of that time.

We know Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry (Luke 3:23), but the Bible tells us virtually nothing about what he looked like―except that he didn’t stand out in any particular way. When Jesus was apprehended in the garden of Gethsemane before the Crucifixion (Matthew 26:47-56), Judas Iscariot had to point him out to the arresting soldiers, as he was indistinguishable from the disciples―presumably because they all appeared similar to each other.

For some scholars, Revelation 1:14-15 offers a clue that Jesus’s skin was a darker hue and that his hair was woolly in texture. The hairs of his head, it says, “were white as white wool, white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace.”

How Have Depictions of Jesus Changed Over the Centuries?

Some of the earliest known artistic representations of Jesus date to the mid-third century A.D., more than two centuries after his death. These are the paintings in the ancient catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome, first discovered some 400 years ago. Reflecting one of the most common images of Jesus at the time, the paintings depict Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a young, short-haired, beardless man with a lamb around his shoulders.

The restored fresco depicting Jesus and his apostles in the Roman catacomb of Santa Domitilla. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

Another early portrait of Jesus was discovered in 2018 on the walls of a ruined church in southern Israel. Painted in the sixth century A.D., it is the earliest known image of Christ found in Israel, Though exposure to the sun over centuries has reduced the image found in the ancient village of Shivta to little more than faint outlines and smudges of color, discoverer and art historian Maayan-Fanar describe the image as a young man with “short curly hair, a prolonged face, large eyes and an elongated nose.” a depiction that was common to the eastern region of the Byzantine empire―especially in Egypt and the Syria-Palestine region―but disappeared from later Byzantine art.

The long-haired, bearded image of Jesus that emerged beginning in the fourth century A.D. was influenced heavily by representations of Greek and Roman gods, particularly the all-powerful Greek god Zeus. At that point, Jesus started to appear in a long robe, seated on a throne (such as in the fifth-century mosaic on the altar of the Santa Pudenziana church in Rome), sometimes with a halo surrounding his head.

“The point of these images was never to show Jesus as a man, but to make theological points about who Jesus was as Christ (King, Judge) and divine Son,” Joan Taylor, professor of Christian origins and second temple Judaism at King’s College London, wrote in The Irish Times. “They have evolved over time to the standard ‘Jesus’ we recognize.”

Of course, not all images of Jesus conform to the dominant image of him portrayed in Western art. In fact, many different cultures around the world have depicted him, visually at least, as one of their own. “Cultures tend to portray prominent religious figures to look like the dominant racial identity,” explains Robert Cargill, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review.

What Is the Shroud of Turin?

Of the many possible relics related to Jesus that have surfaced over the centuries, one of the most well-known is the Shroud of Turin, which surfaced in 1354. Believers argued that Jesus was wrapped in the piece of linen after he was crucified, and that the shroud bears the clear image of his face. But many experts have dismissed the shroud as a fake, and the Vatican itself refers to it as an “icon” rather than a relic.

A negative image of the Shroud of Turin.  (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

“The Shroud of Turin has been debunked on a couple of occasions as a medieval forgery,” says Cargill, “It’s part of a larger phenomenon that has been around since Jesus himself, of attempting to acquire and, if they can’t be acquired, to produce, objects that are part of Jesus’ body, life and ministry—for the purposes of either legitimizing his existence and the claims made about him, or in some cases, harnessing his miraculous powers.”

What Research and Science Tell Us About What Jesus Looked Like

In 2001, the retired medical artist Richard Neave led a team of Israeli and British forensic anthropologists and computer programmers in creating a new image of Jesus, based on an Israeli skull dating to the first century A.D., computer modeling and their knowledge of what Jewish people looked like at the time. Though no one claims it’s an exact reconstruction of what Jesus himself actually looked like, scholars consider this image—around five feet tall, with darker skin, dark eyes, and shorter, curlier hair—to be more accurate than many artistic depictions of the son of God.

In her 2018 book What Did Jesus Look Like?, Taylor used archaeological remains, historical texts and ancient Egyptian funerary art to conclude that, like most people in Judea and Egypt around the time, Jesus most likely had brown eyes, dark brown to black hair and olive-brown skin. He may have stood about 5-ft.-5-in. (166 cm) tall, the average man’s height at the time.

Conclusion

While Cargill agrees that these more recent images of Jesus—including darker, perhaps curlier hair, darker skin and dark eyes—probably come closer to the truth, he stresses that we can never really know exactly what Jesus looked like.

“What did Jewish Galileans look like 2,000 years ago?” he asks. “That’s the question. They probably didn’t have blue eyes and blond hair.”

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Relevant Scripture

The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Rev 1:14-15)

References

The Ongoing Mystery of Jesus’s Face by Sarah Pruitt What Did Jesus Look Like? – HISTORY

How God Speaks to the Brokenhearted / Spiritual Meditations

Admit it.  Sometimes you think God is unaware of what is happening with you.  You imagine He has big things in the world to contend with and your difficulties are small by comparison.  You are told that God loves you and knows every hair on your head, but it doesn’t always feel like it. This story will give you hope.

The following recounts an experience of my friend Rev. Dr. Timothy W. Ehrlich, excerpted from his book The Long Road to Eternity.  He tells of Gods immediate reply to his hurt and frustration.


I doubt it has changed much, but when I lived in Sherburne a friend of mine used to say that there are more pigeons on the feed store roof than there are people in the town. The town is a cute little upstate New York town that came into existence in the 1820s as a stop on the former Chenango canal which connected the Erie Canal with the Hudson River in the days before the railroad reached central New York. Sherburne’s claim to fame in the region is its annual pageant of bands parade in the summer, which attracts marching bands and fire departments from upwards of forty surrounding towns and counties.

While the Sherburne church was built around 1820 the parsonage at Sherburne was built in 1872. It looked pretty on the outside, but it had been cheaply made: if you slammed the front door the whole house shook. Since it was built before electricity, when the house was electrified all the wires for the outlets and fixtures were laid on top of the walls. If the Sherburne congregation had ever been wealthy in the past, that time ended many decades before I got there. The parsonage was furnished with tables, couches and chairs that were decades old discards from congregation members. Each room’s walls were covered with whatever wallpaper happened to be on sale at that time, so each room had a different pattern, and all of it was ugly.

When we got there the house was in bad repair: the laundry room / half bathroom on the first floor had a six-foot-long gap along the wall behind the toilet where the floor and the wall should have met. The gap was caused by the wood rotting away from many years of a leaky toilet I suppose, and it was wide enough that you could look down into the basement through it. I was only able to convince the church trustees to repair the floor by telling them that our district superintendent (who was a very large man) was planning to visit the parsonage, and that if he used the potty there was a good chance he and the toilet would wind up in the basement. The carpets were all a generation old; there was asbestos covering the hot water pipes in the basement and the roof leaked.

The parsonage was pretty humble accommodations, but the town was really beautiful, and we were happy and our children found it to be a good place to grow up.

One Thanksgiving Day it was time to start getting ready for the meal. Our dining room table was covered with the week’s mail and with other papers related to the running of our household. Anna, my wife,  asked me to clear the table so that it could be set for the Thanksgiving meal. As I was clearing the table, I found a letter from the Norwich office of the New York Department of Social Services; it was addressed, “to the Pastor of the Sherburne United Methodist Church.”

The letter said they were writing to every pastor in the county asking us to pass on to our congregation information about a government food help program that was available to low-income families. They said they thought the county’s pastors would have knowledge of which families might benefit from the program. The letter said something to the effect that they knew how hard it was for low-income families in our area to make ends meet, and the county government was sponsoring a food assistance program for families whose income was low enough to qualify depending on the number of children they had.

As I read the letter, I realized that with my income and our three children our family qualified for government food assistance. This news hit me hard. All I could think of was, “I graduated with a Master’s degree from Duke University that had required a total of 7 years of college. I have been serving God as a full-time pastor for nearly four years, and my income is still so low I qualify for government aid!” I was embarrassed, I was humiliated, I even felt a little sick to my stomach. I thought, “How can I possibly be thankful on Thanksgiving when I feel like a failure and a fool?”

So, I just stopped what I was doing and began to pray. I poured out my heart to God, I said, “God, I am sorry that I am so sad on Thanksgiving Day! I know that I should be thankful, but I am feeling depressed and so sad. I wish serving you was not so difficult.” I ended my prayer, “Please Lord, help me with this terrible sadness because I want to feel thankful on this day. Never-the-less, I trust in you and I am putting all of this in Your hands.” And so, I gave it up to God and went back to clearing the table, but I was still hurting.

Just as I finished clearing the table the phone rang. A young woman was on the line; she said, “I would like to speak with the pastor please.” I said, “This is the pastor,” she asked me, “Are you the pastor of the Sherburne United Methodist Church?” I said I was. She said, “This might sound funny; this has never happened to me before, but I was just in my room praying, and I heard God speak to me. He said, ‘Call the pastor of the Sherburne United Methodist Church and tell him, “I am watching you and everything will be fine.’ So, I am calling you. I know this sounds strange, but that is what happened. Does that message make sense to you?” I thanked her and told her that was just what I needed to hear at that time. I asked her where she was calling from. She lived in a town about 15 miles away.

Do I need to say that my sadness was immediately turned to thankfulness?! This was the second time, and last time so far, that God spoke to someone on my behalf, the first telling Anna to marry me and now telling this woman to tell me to trust in Him. This experience is another reminder that God is always watching us, really hears our prayers, and is as concerned with our feelings and what is going on with us as any loving father is.

Conclusion

This experience also helped me to realize the accuracy of Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” I have found again and again that God responds to us when our hearts are broken for any reason and we turn to God with faith. The Lord truly is close to the sorrowful!

Relevant Scripture

You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD.(Psalms 139:4)

 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.  (2 Corinthians 6)

womans eye with tear

How We Endure Persistent Pain / Spiritual Meditations

Being physically ill and in pain is no small trial. It is a heavy burden that we must bear as long as we live on this planet.

The Emotional Impact of Pain

People who suffer from chronic pain carry an extra burden that healthy people may not fully comprehend. For many, pain is a life sentence. Whether the pain is due to arthritis, fibromyalgia, a car accident, or an old football injury, those who suffer can find the simplest tasks overwhelmingly difficult.

As a result, pain can produce  self-centeredness. When you are enduring a sickness, it so easy to only think about yourself and allow your world to be consumed only with your own personal feelings and struggles.

As you can see, pain is influenced by emotions, and the cycle of pain and emotions are interrelated. Some common emotional responses to pain can include anxiety, depression, anger, feeling misunderstood, and demoralization.

Our bodies are fading, and we can expect suffering, but we must not let our internal joy be governed by our external circumstances.  Believing that you have control over your life and can continue to function despite the pain or subsequent life changes has been shown to decrease depression.

Several studies have shown that spiritual belief can help reduce pain. We have a powerful resource in Christ and he is ever-present, in control,  loves us and will help us endure.

Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain - Robert Gary Lee  

God created everything that goes into medicine and healthcare has made huge strides toward alleviating pain. 

”Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Khalil Gibran

What Scripture Tells Us About Pain

God created everything that goes into medicine and healthcare has made huge strides toward alleviating pain.  Although you must continue to look for remedies, there are some levels of suffering that medicine has yet to reach. Sufferers may wonder if God even cares, so let’s investigate what scripture says about pain.

The briefest glance at the Bible reveals that God is aware of our suffering and is eager to help us (Psalm 50:15Numbers 21:8–9). He made us from dust and knows how our bodies function Psalm 103:14; 139:13–16). He created the nerve endings that communicate pain to our brains, so He well knows how they affect us. We know that God is ultimately in charge of everything, even chronic pain (Isaiah 45:7). Those who know, love, and trust Him need never worry that God is unaware of their suffering or that their requests for relief are being ignored (Matthew 6:31–33Luke 12:6–7).

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He gained renown for healing the crippled and the ill (Matthew 4:23). He sometimes went out of His way to alleviate the pain of an individual, revealing His compassion for the suffering (Luke 13:10–12Matthew 9:20–22). Jesus said that He did nothing of His own accord, but only what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19; 14:10), so from this we learn that the Father also has great compassion on those who suffer and can heal them.

But pain relief was not Jesus’ main mission; nor is it the Father’s. Sometimes pain is the result of sin or foolishness. Sometimes it is merely the fallout from living in mortal, imperfect body. Whatever the case, our suffering is not wasted. God has a purpose in it. This link is to a related post:

Why Did God Make Me ____?

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him about a man born blind, Jesus replied,

It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:1–7).

He then healed the man, but only after the man had suffered from blindness his whole life up to that point. So, Jesus’ attention to the chronically ill shows us that God knows about our pain and cares that we suffer. However, for reasons known only to Him, He often allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.

Many times God brings good from our pain by teaching us to rely more on Him. The more acutely we see our need, the more likely we are to seek His face.

Also, God may use pain to help us learn endurance and patience. James describes a life of perseverance as one “not lacking anything.” With patience, endurance and perseverance, our perspective changes because we have matured. We develop a resiliency born from the discovery of our inner strength.

We then can help other sufferers with what God taught us:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (1 Corinthians 1:3–4).

Yet chronic pain can be an opportunity to learn to suffer well before the eyes of the world. When those with no hope watch the patient endurance of a child of God, they may yearn for that kind of strength. By their silent testimony, chronic pain sufferers may be storing up mountains of treasure in heaven as they refuse to doubt God’s goodness (see Matthew 5:166:6).

Sometimes God miraculously heals people from pain; other times He does not. Neither instance is an indication of God’s love or the worth of the person. God states clearly that He is sovereign over everything and His plan will stand (Isaiah 46:9–11). Sometimes that plan includes suffering, even for those who love Him and serve Him faithfully (Acts 9:161 Peter 4:13).This link provides an example of a miraculous healing:

An Astonishing & Undeniable Spiritual Healing

The apostle Paul was an example of someone totally devoted to Christ, yet he had to suffer many things in order to remain obedient to God’s will for his life (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). It goes without saying that Paul must have lived with chronic pain from his many beatings and imprisonments. We are not told what his “thorn in the flesh” may have been, but it is entirely possible that it was chronic pain of some sort. He pleaded with the Lord to take it from him, and God’s response has become a source of strength for many sufferers of chronic pain: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul’s strength, no doubt, came from his years of prayer and meditation while in prison.  Recent studies have shown that mindful meditation helps decrease stress and pain. It involves focusing the mind to increase awareness of the present moment. This method, to help cope with pain, can be easily done anywhere, even on the bus.

An example of mindful meditation would be to sit up straight, close your eyes, and put aside all thoughts of the future and past. Stay present and focus on your breathing.

This exercise could be done for just a couple of minutes, letting your thoughts come and go while being aware of your current state. Through performing this kind of exercise, you can create a sense of control, which is crucial in making your pain experience more manageable.

This link provides full information on how to meditate:

How to Meditate to Reach Higher God Consciousness

Paul also wrote that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17, ESV). If Paul could call the abuse he suffered “light momentary affliction,” then we can all take heart and follow suit. He seemed to be saying that those who learn to suffer well will be rewarded grandly for all eternity. God is not standing idly by while His children suffer. He promises to draw near and comfort us when we call to Him (Psalm 34:18; Hosea 6:1). Although chronic pain is exhausting and disheartening, we have God’s promise that it will be worth it when we see Him face to face (Philippians 3:8–111 Corinthians 13:12). Our pain is not pointless when our lives are devoted to God’s will. We can rest in the confidence that He is allowing it for His greater purposes (Romans 8:28) and that soon we will be with Him and free from pain forever (Revelation 21:4).

”Pain has its own noble joy, when it starts a strong consciousness of life, from a stagnant one.” – John Sterling
No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.” – William Penn

Conclusion

The solution for your pain may be waiting for you to discover it, so don’t give up.  Continually pray for relief while putting yourself in God’s hands and accepting His will.  Your pain may be meant to strengthen or teach you something that you can use for yourself, for others or that God can use for His purposes.  If you are healed miraculously, it will certainly strengthen your faith. The following link discusses how and when God performs miracles.

Why Doesn’t God Perform More Miracles?

To get everything you need for life, pain, both physical and emotional, is an absolute necessity. Without pain, you would never truly appreciate what hope is. Without pain, you would too easily forget your need for God. Without pain, you would neglect your need for saving and salvation. Pain heightens your senses and gives you a greater awareness of the more important things in life: love, God, family, hope. If you lived a life completely without pain, there would be a void in your life, a void only filled through the experience that pain gives you.

If you found this post interesting, inspiring, informative, or useful, please follow us and share.  Many more posts to feed your soul can be found on the Navigation Menu.  God bless you.

Relevant Scripture

If we are not joyful in God, we will be weak. But even if we our physically weak because of a sickness, when our joy is in the Lord, we will be strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4, NIV).

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, NIV).

References

What Does the Bible Say About Enduring Pain by Mark Ballenger

10 Powerful Principles to Endure Suffering by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

What does the Bible say about dealing with chronic pain?

6 Ways Your Pain Has a Purpose By Josh Daffern

The Emotional Impact of the Pain Experience (hss.edu) by Maris Pasquale, LMSW

justice scale weighing questions marks

You Choose What’s Right-Ethical Relativism / Spiritual Meditations

I believe people are good for the most part.  So how is it that some believe that women should be quiet and submissive while others have women preachers?  How is it that some believe the LGBTQ community is defined by their genetics and should be allowed to choose whom they love while others think they should be killed or imprisoned?

Where we stand on these polar opposites, and everything in between, is based on what our cultures have taught us is right or wrong.  It’s known as ethical relativism.

What is Ethical Relativism

Ethical relativism – In ethics, the belief that nothing is objectively right or wrong and that the definition of right or wrong depends on the prevailing view of a particular individual, culture, or historical period.

Does that raise some major concerns for you?  It does for me but it warrants consideration.

When it comes to determining what is ethical, many of us rely on our religious upbringing or that of our parents.  Why not, what else do we have to base them on?  It is interesting to apply ethical relativism to a few controversial scripture verses and see where it takes us. I encourage you to search your own heart and expand on these thoughts.

Scripture Worth a Modern Review

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this. (Deut 22:5) 
  • This truly depends on the cultural definition of what constitutes men’s and women’s clothing.  Does this include theatrical costumes?
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet (1 Timothy 2:11–12, NIV)
  • Some societies are matriarchal.
  • Some have women preachers with God-given inspiration to share.
  • Some have women CEOs.
  • These do not separate anyone from God.
[In worship] Every man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with no covering of hair dishonors her head—she is just like one of the “shorn women.” If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair; but since it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again. A man ought not to have long hair. (1 Corinthians 11:7) 
  • Praying women internationally have been cutting their hair for centuries.
  • and the long-haired man that comes to my mind is Samson, one of God’s own people. 
  • God cares more about what is in a person’s heart than what they look like; hair length has nothing to do with reverence.
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,  for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine  that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Tim 1:8-11)

Historical cultures exhibit much diversity in what is covered in this verse, but here are a few jumping off points.

  • Have you ever run a red light or parked illegally? 
  • Let us thank God for Jesus the rebel. 
  • Are we not all sinful?
  • God gives us free will to be irreligious or not. 
  • Some societies have practiced human sacrifice as normal.
  • Where people draw the line defining sexual immorality fluctuates between cultures and periods in time.
  • Recent history has not been kind to homosexuals but there were periods of ancient history when it was quite acceptable, and some societies are moving in that direction today.
  • The slave trade in the Southern USA in the 18th and 19th century was common-place and rationalized as acceptable, even by some professed Christians. 
  • I don’t know anyone who doesn’t lie occasionally, even if only to avoid hurting someone’s feelings; some lie to themselves.
There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. …Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. (Lev 11:4,12)
  • Here is an example of the Old Testament law that was retracted by God in a dream to Peter in the New Testament.  Did God change His mind, or did humanity find healthy ways to prepare the ‘unclean’ food?

Time and Place Matters

So, here’s the point-we can’t always apply Biblical statements to every culture but must understand them in the context of the time and place they were written. Then apply that understand to our current time and place.  Too often we cling to our well-ingrained dogma, thoughts, and behaviors, searching in spiritual texts for those fragments that support our position, that of our friends or what is generally socially acceptable.   

Jesus said

“Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.”  (Luke 17:1 NIV)

Leading someone astray from God includes being a poor example in how we correct, undermine, or denigrate their life, behavior or personality, as well as, leading them into addiction, prostitution or numerous other degrading behaviors. 

So, we have a conundrum; do we allow our culture to define what is right and wrong? Do we allow scripture to define it?  Do we just do whatever seems right to us at the time?  My thought is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

As thinking,  believing adults, we need to question whether our heart and actions hurt or undermine another person. As you may have heard, whenever possible, it is better to be kind than to be right.

Scripture to Live By

Following are a few scriptures that remind us to implement kindness in our lives. The principles they express are universally accepted by the 5 major world religions.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:12-14)
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I have heard people redefine who their neighbors are to fit their biases.  However, if we look at the context of this verse, we find that the neighbors of Jesus’ time included Romans,  Greeks, other Gentiles, Sadducees, Pharisees, Samaritans and those of various peoples who were often present in Israel. Our ‘neighbors’ are everyone.

More thoughts related to this topic can be found at these links:

Are You Smart Enough to Judge Others?

Who are Your Neighbors

Relevant Scripture

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy,” (Acts 2: 17–18)

2 intersecting hearts like puzzle

God’s Love-A Rhapsody of Particulars/Spiritual Meditations

How many ways does God love you? There are so many, is it possible for you to count them?  In Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous poem, “How do I Love Thee?.”  she speaks of a deep and everlasting love.  Much of her sonnet could be written by God to us or by us to God.  Yet it only scratches the surface of God’s love for you.

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43) By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 
 I love thee to the depth and breadth and height 
 My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight 
 For the ends of being and ideal grace. 
 I love thee to the level of every day’s 
 Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. 
 I love thee freely, as men strive for right. 
 I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. 
 I love thee with the passion put to use 
 In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. 
 I love thee with a love I seemed to lose 
 With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, 
 Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, 
 I shall but love thee better after death. 

My friend Dr. Frank Leeds III shares an enlightening explanation of the multitude of ways that God loves us as unveiled in the Old Testament. You may never have realized what he reveals but you will surely recognize it.


The Universal Elohim & the Particular Hashem

We have all heard the admonition to love. To love one another. To love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We have all heard definitions of love. What I wish to share with you is what I have learned about God’s love from the Hebrew Scriptures in general and the Torah in particular. It is Rabbinic thinking at its best and most profound to my understanding of the Scriptures.

I wish to use two words that are common in philosophy and are not new to us. They are ‘Universals’ and ‘Particulars’. Please bear with me. When the Bible speaks of the Hebrew word ‘God’ it uses a variety of terms which have different conditions. For example, is uses the term ‘Elohim’ when it refers to the understanding of the Lord as universal. A universal is something that applies to everyone, and equally. An example might be that “The sun shines on the Just and the Unjust alike.” Another example would be Justice. Justice is a Universal. It needs to be applied equally to all people. Whatever your age, sex, nationally, race, etc. “Justice is justice”. Getting a good deal because you are friends with the judge is not justice. It is a perversion of justice.

Hebrew uses another word to refer to God – Hashem. This is God of the particular. It is God being selective. Here we will apply these two concepts, the universal and the particular, to God’s love for us.

Princess Diana Received Only One Kind of Love

Let me give you an example of Universal and Particular love. My wife and I recently watched the TV series entitled “The Crown.” It was about the Royal Family of Great Britain. A great show. I loved it. When it got to Princess Diana, the word ‘love’ can be split into two different kinds. One is universal, the other is particular. Wherever she went in the world, and she did travel extensively, she was universally loved. Everyone in the world seemed to love the princess and at her funeral service she was known as the ‘People’s Princess’.

But she was void of being loved in the ‘particular’ sense of the word. The father of her children did not love her. When she was home, besides her young children, no one cared how she felt. No one appreciated her. No one seemed to care. She was an object to be used, not a person to love. Do you see the difference in these two kinds of love?

Particular Love is Selective

Let me give you another example. Are you married or have ever been married? If you are, or were, you were either chosen or selected by someone to be the special person in their life. Or you were the one who chose or selected someone else to be the special person in your life. Marriage in not universal. One does not marry everyone [although I have some friends that seem to be trying that]. Marriage is particular. It is by design a limiting process. One narrows the choice down in order to love.

Look at the biblical story of Jacob, we see he had two wives. One he chose to marry but his first wife was forced on him by his father-in-law. He second wife, was the first wife’s younger sister. As per the father, it was important that the older sister marry first, therefore Jacob ended up with two wives. The older one Leah and the younger one Rachel. The story also makes it clear that he loved both of them…but…he loved Rachel more. He married Leah out of a ‘universal’ ethical standard. He married Rachel out of the ‘particular of love’.

People tell me the same about being on Facebook. A person has a 1,000 Facebook Friends, but may have no one that really cares one way or the other about them. It is one thing to have a thousand friends, it is another to be blessed with one good friend.

As Jacob’s story develops, he fathers a dozen sons but only one, Joseph, is Rachel’s child. Jacob loves his sons, but Joseph is his favorite. People are often quick to say, “one should not have a favorite child” but that is a distraction to the story. The fact remains, Joseph was his favorite son. He was the favorite for two reasons: He was the son of his old age and he was the son of the wife Rachel whom he loved the most.

Now, if we look at the Song of Solomon, you will notice that the lover notices everything about his loved one. He notices her hair, her eyes, her ears, her neck, etc. Because the lover loves, he notices all things about his loved one. He can recite a Rhapsody of Particulars about his her.

Many years ago, when I was managing a large hospital, one of my elderly board members after a meeting said it was time to go home and “to look his wife over”. That made absolutely no sense to me so I said to him “what does that mean, is she ill?” “Oh no” he said, “I thought I told you the story. When I was a young man about your age, one night a week I played poker with my friends. After one night of playing, poker and having a little too much to drink, I walked into our apartment and said to my wife, who was sitting in a chair, that I was tired and going straight to bed. Shortly thereafter, I received a woman’s scorn that I never want to go through again.

While I was out with the boys, she had fallen and broken her leg. After a visit to the hospital, an ambulance brought her home and she was sitting in a chair with a big cast on her leg, which I failed to notice. So, after that event, as soon as I get home, the first think I do is to check her out! I suggest you do likewise.” I tell you that story because particular love ‘checks her out.’

Our Relationship With God is Particular Love

Our relation to the Lord, and the Lord’s relation to us, is not universal, it is particular. The Lord is interested in “YOU” not merely mankind. How interested in you is the Lord? How checked out are you? The Bible tells us that even the ‘hairs on your head are numbered” which is a metaphor saying God knows all about you. What I am trying to explain in all this is that the love of God is not a floating fog, but a very focused laser that is focused on you.

Appreciating God’s Universal Love

Likewise, our love for the Lord needs to take notice of all that we see and to notice the Lord’s handiwork in all of life, the sunrise in the morning, the food that we eat, the medical experiences that enrich our lives,  etc., etc., and etc., to the sunsets that kiss us goodnight.

Lives Full of God’s Universal and Particular Love

My wife and I have recently moved. It was a move just around the corner. In the first home we saw the sun sets, and now we see the sun rises. And in-between these two universals, we carry with us God’s Rhapsody of Particulars. I now carry my blessings like a bouquet of flowers, ever increasing in gratitude for the way my life has been blessed and that list gets longer and longer, wider and wider, deeper and deeper…and I hope your life is that way too. My hair may have turned gray. My ears do not hear as well. I just had eye surgery to help me see better. The body is falling apart. But the Rhapsody of my blessing is stronger every day.

I hope I have conveyed to you a little of the difference between God’s love as universal and God’s love as a particular. How does our Lord love you? Even the hairs of your head are numbered.

Relevant Scripture

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matt 5:44-46)

The story of Jacob and his wives and children (Gen 29-30)

Solomon’s Song of Songs

man praying

Why Doesn’t God Perform More Miracles?

The recent pandemic has surfaced a theological question that many of us have at least considered.  Will God protect us if we don’t protect ourselves? Are we testing God or trusting God when we ignore recommended precautions and treatments against CoVid19 or other illnesses?  The following is written by my friend Rev. Dr. Timothy W. Ehrlich in his recent book The Long Road to Eternity. In it he lays out the reasoning and experience behind his answer to these questions.


Behold! The Old George Is Gone.

In the summer of 1989, I was invited to provide a communion service at a large nursing home in the nearby town of Norwich. I was to meet with the administrator of the facility at 11:30, get a tour of the facility, and then have time for lunch and come back and perform the service at 1:30. This was to be another amazing mystical day; I woke up that morning feeling spiritually buoyant. Feeling very close to God, I wrote in my morning diary, “I’m ready for another miracle.”

After arriving at the facility and speaking with the administrator, his assistant followed me out of the office to talk about a problem. I counseled her and her husband for an hour and they both thanked me multiple times for relieving their minds. I was happy to be used by God so effectively and marveled at the set of circumstances that brought the three of us together at that time on that day.

The nursing home was located on top of a hill overlooking the city of Norwich. Since I had half an hour before the start of the service and it was a sunny afternoon, I decided to sit outside in front of the nursing home on the side of the hill facing the sun and the city of Norwich to pray and to think about the message I was about to deliver. As I began to pray, I thought about how low my spirituality had been over the previous month and it caused me to begin to cry. I had been so busy moving and doing the Lord’s work over the last month that I neglected the number one job of a pastor – stay close to the Almighty. My tears were because of my failure to pray regularly, and because of my gratitude for the amazing contrast between that low point of the previous month and how buoyant I now felt. I could feel God with me so powerfully at that moment.

As I prayed, I was also praying for my friend George who was the Lay Leader of one of the churches I pastored; he was battling kidney cancer. He also was a saintly person, a salt-of-the-earth, wonderful guy, full of the fruits of the Spirit. Some months earlier he had a small amount of blood in his urine, but instead of getting it checked out, or even telling anyone about it, he decided that faith required him to let God take care of it. Then one day in the end of May there was suddenly a tremendous amount of blood in his urine. He told me what was going on with him as I was packing to move to a new church. I was upset that he waited to seek medical attention, but I was relieved that at least now he was seeing a doctor.

Unfortunately, the blood in his urine was there because George had an aggressive form of kidney cancer in both kidneys and it was spreading rapidly. George was in the hospital and, as I sat overlooked Norwich, I prayed for George and his wife Olive.  “My prayer for George, Lord, is that he recovers if it is your will.” Suddenly, the sun seemed to be extra bright and time froze just for a moment. I had my head bowed in prayer and, looking up, saw the same beautiful transparent golden substance I had seen in my attic room in Fire Island. It rapidly approaching me until it was right in front of me. This time it did not settle on me or pass over and through me. It was like a curtain – about six feet high and six feet wide and a foot thick, transparent yet like a golden shimmering fog. I heard God’s voice speak from the square, “Behold, the old George is gone; the new George is!” and then the golden substance faded away. I looked at my watch; it was 1:10 p.m. I prayed some more and went in and led the communion service for the retirees.

Coincidently my sermon for that service was entitled, “Holy Fire.” When I arrived to preach and serve communion, the altar candles were not lit. No one there was a smoker so I told the group we could not light the candles. A woman in the service said, “You will have to be our fire today.” Little did she know I was filled with holy fire.

That afternoon at about 3:00 I called Olive.  She said, “George died today.” I asked her what time he passed, she said it was about 1:10 in the afternoon. I told Olive what I had seen and heard that afternoon, but she was only minimally comforted as she was already convinced George was going to heaven.

George had been the main income earner in the household and Olive was confronting both the loss of her husband and the economic turmoil she was going to have to deal with. The rapidity of the progression of the cancer caught everyone by surprise – George went from healthy and seeming fine to gone in a little over two months. Heaven’s joy was Olive’s great loss.

The Theological Lessons

God Happily Awaits Our Arrival in Heaven

The theological lesson in this experience is to realize how happy God is about us having and receiving eternal life. God’s choice of words and the way it was proclaimed, “Behold!” showed how happy He is to receive us into His eternal home.

God Will Not do for Us What We Can do for Ourselves.

George’s flawed decision to not seek medical help until it was too late, based on the belief that God would take care of it, is also a lesson. It is a reminder of one of God’s operating principles – God does not do for us those things which we can do for ourselves. So, if we have blood in our urine, or some other ailment we need to get medical attention. God gives us brains and he wants us to use them, both to obtain healing or to get anything else we need.

It is not a part of God’s plan to be a cosmic lifeguard, jumping into action to miraculously save every believer from every situation, especially when He has already made a way for us to be saved through science, medicine, or technology. God will not save us if we can save ourselves from whatever situation we are in and God will not save us if we have chosen to reject an already established path to safety from whatever calamity is facing us.

When We Can’t Do It, How Much Does God Do?

That goes together with another one of God’s operating principles – God always does the minimum possible to bring about His desired results. He will not send an angel to save you if He can motivate a person to save you. He will not motivate a person to save you if He can reach you through other means like your prayers, Bible readings or the words of another person.  These may cause you to alter your path, so you don’t need saving in the first place.

Why Doesn’t God Perform More Miracles?

It is clear that God loves us, cares deeply about each of us and especially appreciates those who truly love Him. Considering the miracles God is performing, why does He not just do a few more and do all the things that I ask Him to? Why does God not save all His people all the time? It doesn’t seem very loving of God at first glance. The answer is somewhat paradoxical: God limits the use of His power precisely because God loves us and wants to allow us maximum freedom to choose to love Him in return. (See Longing to Reciprocating God’s Astonishing Love)  Stick with me here for a moment; it is a complex answer, but I will make it as clear as I can.

  • God wants us to have faith, to trust and believe in God.
  • If we knew that God would always save us or always give us what we want, then our need for faith would be removed.
  • Doubt and faith live in the same place inside us. How do we know? You can’t have faith if you are filled with doubt and you can’t doubt if you are filled with faith.
  • God wants us to love Him, and love is not real love if it is not given in freedom. True love cannot be compelled.
  • If we could not doubt or question the existence of God, if we knew for absolute certain the reality of God, including fully recognizing His omnipotence and omniscience, then it would take away our freedom to choose to love God: we would be terrified not to obey God. And love is not real love if it is not given freely.
  • Faith itself is a choice. We choose to either give in to doubt or to push doubt aside and trust “where we cannot see.” Thus, faith allows us the freedom to choose to love God or not to love God. So, when we love God in faith our love is not coming from a place of fear or compulsion but out of appreciation, respect, and admiration.
  • God creates the freedom we need to be able to love God freely by creating a space or distance between us. This space inside us is where both doubt and faith live. The separation or distance between God and us reflects the reality that God is Spirit and we are matter. There is a natural divide between these two.
  • Sometimes the freedom to choose God means God needs to keep His hands off things and allow stuff to happen to us that we perceive as negative. If He didn’t keep His hands off, if he saved us every time,  we would know for sure with no doubt that He exists in all His godliness, and again that would remove our ability to love God freely. The things that we perceive as negative that God allows to happen  includes allowing us to receive and experience the consequences of our bad decisions, the consequences of the bad decisions of others, the impact of natural disasters, and the weakness or fragility of our humanity.
  • But God allows these bad things because they are of a small significance compared to the blessing of knowing, experiencing, and loving God in this life, and to the promise of eternity with God in heaven in our life to come.

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Relevant Scripture

Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. (Deut 6:16)

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matt 4:7)

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Matt 9:12)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Heb 11:1)