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Truth For Now

This Week's Study



a new novel, plays out in the time of Jesus. How does the baker
of the village perceive the young rabbi?


Last updated: 2015-08-24

New studies are put on top. Scroll down for previous ones.


Weekly column in local newspaper


Loneliness and solitude

1. He redeems my life from the pit

Solitary confinement is severe punishment. It is not related to solitude but to loneliness. These prisoners yearn for contact with their friends. They sleep, read, pace, think and plan, but time passes slowly when you have too much of it.

Any unpleasant situation that keeps one captive can feel like incarceration. Missing people, who work as sex slaves, experience this feeling of hopelessness. Others feel imprisoned by their marriage, work or social-economic situation, but they can’t break free because the status quo provides food, clothes and shelter.

The Bible paints a few situations of loneliness. Joseph knew his brothers did not like him because he was his dad’s favorite. However, when they put him into a pit, he really felt the pain of rejection. Twenty three years later they still remembered Joseph’s anguished cries to which they shut their ears (Gen. 42:21).

His dry-well experience was nothing in comparison with the holes he would face in Egypt. As slave, he did his best and was promoted. Then his master’s wife accused him falsely of sexual harassment. It was a hard blow to the self-respect of this God-fearing young man. He was imprisoned with condemned people; it made him feel lonely even among this crowd. On the right time, God exonerated him.

Samson misused his God-given power. He landed in jail without eyes, every day pushing in darkness the heavy millstone in endless circles. His imagination must have replayed his life often, thinking about the incidents where he made wrong choices. He was blind, imprisoned, enslaved and hopeless by his own wrongdoing. In his regret, he projected his anger on his enemies, and waited for the day of revenge.

The prophet Jeremiah was thrown into a pit for proclaiming God’s word to the king and nation. He was an old man already, and standing up to his chest in mud in a dark pit would not have improved his health. Imagine the darkness, silence, loneliness, hopelessness and despair as he prayed for relief of this undeserved misery. An Ethiopian pleaded Jeremiah’s case with the king, and got permission to hoist him out. David used the pit-experience figuratively (Ps. 40:1-3, 103:4)

Jesus was condemned to death at 6 am (Roman time, John 19:14), and crucified on the third hour (9 am, Jewish time, Mark 15:25). He had to wait more than two hours with his bruised and lacerated body. He had blessed those who visit prisoners and give a cup of cold water – did anyone honor him in this way in his loneliest hours? On the Via Dolorosa and on Calvary he was surrounded by friend and foe, and still felt lonely and deserted, carrying the sins of humanity, an act nobody could fathom.


Adrenaline Craving

3. God shifted Solomon's focus

Except for Christ, Solomon was probably the wisest person who ever lived. In the book of Ecclesiastes, he tells us about his search for meaning in life and the source of true happiness.

He started his search on the intellectual level. He asked God for wisdom soon after he became king. It was a wise request which God granted with some additional benefits. Part of his wisdom was to search for more knowledge. It did not satisfy him – the more he knew, the more he realized how little he knew. His studies exhausted instead of satisfy him. He poured his insights into proverbs consisting of thesis and antitheses: this is good, and that is bad. I sorted Proverbs into categories and put it on my website: messiahstudy.net.

Disappointed by his intellectual efforts, Solomon sought pleasure on the physical level. He tried the mirth of wine and food, only to realize how empty it left his soul.

Then he indulged on the material level, having projects of all sorts: houses, dams, vineyards, orchards, pools, channels, herds and flocks. Property and money did not satisfy him either, because the more he acquired, the more his worries increased.

So, he moved to the social level. He got himself male and female servants, singers and musicians. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. But all the people around him did not bring him happiness either. All had a hidden agenda, and his wives led him to idolatry.

Solomon became skeptical about life. Chapters 2-10 tells of his cynical views of life. We should be cautious when quoting from these chapters, because it resulted from his skeptical period.

In Chapter 11, there is suddenly a change of tone: “Cast you bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” Instead of selfishly trying to grab happiness for himself, he discovered that he derived happiness from giving to others. “There is one who scatters, yet increases ever more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:24-25).

His sharing attitude did not originate in his own heart – it came from God: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” Solomon’s final philosophy of life did not rid him of all problems and sin, but it shifted his focus enough to make him realize the difference between adrenaline craving and soul-satisfying endeavors.

He closes his search for happiness by a beautiful poem about old age and death. The body and its adrenaline return to dust, while the spirit returns to God who gave it.


2. Pleasure no substitute for joy of the soul

Exchanging adrenaline pleasures for the joys of the soul seems rather impossible  until one experiences the difference. Playing their first concert before an appreciative audience gives composers an exciting adrenaline rush; however, composing wonderful music in solitude gives them soul satisfaction that is deeper and more long-lasting than temporary applause.

For commercial fisherman at the Sea of Galilee, the daily haunting question was about the next catch. A good catch made Simon Peter’s day. When Jesus gave him full nets, Simon was extremely excited. A fisherman’s dream came true. Then Jesus called him away from his material and physical high to a joy of another kind: “From now on you will catch men.”

It did not happen at once. As Simon grew into his new identity as Peter, he had to learn a lot about Jesus and his kingdom. When Peter eventually stood before the crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost, delivering his first sermon, and witnessing how three thousand people accepted Christ as Saviour, Peter knew the difference between body pleasure and soul joy.

David’s popularity as victorious military officer must have thrilled him. “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands,” the dancing maidens sang. Saul’s envy began persecution that probably lasted for ten years or more. As a fugitive, David had his adrenaline trips when he narrowly escaped Saul’s army. However, David had to depend increasingly on his relationship with God who empowered him in his solitude. David wrote some of his most gripping psalms in this time.

When David became king and captured Jerusalem, he brought the ark to this city. The ark had been separated from the Tabernacle since the time of the priest Eli. The Philistines captured the ark but sent it back when plagues haunted them. Israelites who handled the ark without due respect paid with their lives. Eventually, the Levites got it right and carried the ark on their shoulders into Jerusalem. David danced before the ark for pure joy. He tried to combine body pleasure and soul joy. The Bible neither condemn nor condone his action. One of his wives criticized David; he punished her with childlessness – a sad addition to an important event.

David could not proceed from body-centered pleasure to soul-centered joy. He committed adultery with the wife of a loyal officer in his army. He paid dearly for this mistake, watching his maturing children committing rape, murder, and rebellion.

David was succeeded by his son Solomon, who surpassed his dad by indulging in the pleasures of the flesh. After Solomon, the kingdom split in two and eventually both sections went into exile because of idolatry. Choices have consequences.


1. Adventure Hopping, limited pleasure

We like to be thrilled. It may come unexpectedly: a smile from a person you like, a compliment from someone you respect, or a gift from a person you adore. Often, we create thrills deliberately – a special vacation, new clothing, a new car, a fabulous party or Christmas gifts.

Fun parks compete in going faster, higher, and out-of-this-world. When  activities fail giving enough thrill, some use chemicals to create artificial highs in the nervous system.

Exposing oneself to danger may give a thrill to some: climbing mountains or skyscrapers without a rope; walking tightropes without tether or net; jumping from planes, cliffs, bridges or towers in the hope the parachute will work; or playing deadly games like Russian roulette.

War makes adrenaline flow with its danger, fear, anger, hate, and shock. Some soldiers and war correspondents find it hard to adapt to normal civilian life after the war. While the war overwhelmed them with too much adrenaline, ordinary life provides too little, leaving them bored. Many return to war zones voluntarily to have some more of the thrill-stuff. While some suffer from war trauma physically and/or psychologically, others have adrenaline craving. The latter may become mercenaries or guerrilla fighters to maintain the adrenaline rush.

After David triumphed over Goliath, he became commander over thousand. He excelled as warrior, and the war-thrill got into his blood. In Psalm 18 he cherished his fighting abilities as gifts from God: his speed and surefootedness made him like a deer on the mountains; his arm and shoulder muscles enabled him to bend a bronze bow. He obliterated his enemies to dust, and threw them out like dirt into the street. He boldly stormed any troop, and scaled any city wall.

As his youthful resilience faded, David got into trouble. He was not as fit as before. A Philistine almost killed him, had one of his men not come to his rescue. His mighty men asked him not to go into battle again, “lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”

Somewhere the adrenaline craving has to stop. For most people, the aging process help them to slow down, but some try to catch their second breath in their fifties or sixties. Love affairs, lavish tours, sport scars or motor-homes may come into the picture in an effort to squeeze the last drops of adventure from life.

There are joys that satisfy the human soul on deeper levels: a good book, restful music, and right company at a fire-place, or a barbeque with wise cracks about current events or the good old days, or times of solitude, meditation and prayer. Restful enjoyments do not pump adrenaline, but they feed the soul with lasting nutrition.


Faith Games

3. Adapting in order to blend in

While the devil tries to make some people atheists or agnostics, he himself is not of these persuasions. James depicts Satan and his demons as intellectual believers: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble.” Long before his disciples recognized Jesus as the Son of God the demons shouted this truth in fear (Mark 5:7).

Being in continuous battle with holy angels, the fallen angels know the facts of the supernatural reality very well. They know God is – the great I am. However, this knowledge does not lead to salvation but to damnation, because they stubbornly keep on fighting against the benevolent Creator.

The devil and demons know the majority of humanity is incurably religious. So, instead of swimming against the stream, they go along with beliefs, trying to corrupt them as they go. They try to degrade devotion to fanaticism, loyalty to empty habit, helpfulness to nosiness, gratitude to pride, testimony to bragging, waiting on the Lord to passivity, quality time with God to repetitive requests, and determination to hard-headedness. If they can’t pull us off on this side, they try to push us over on the other side.

In this era of secular governments, politicians have to walk the tight-rope cautiously in order to maintain political correctness. In his eulogy for victims of a church massacre, president Obama said positive things about church, Bible, and grace – without referring to Christ. He wowed the audience but remained politically correct by avoiding the divisive name.

What he said about church, Bible and grace resonated with Christians. No other religion calls its place of worship a church. The Bible (both Testaments) is the holy book of Christianity. Salvation through grace is a profound Christian concept. Church, Bible and grace are inextricably linked to Christ. Sadly, public servants may know it, but they may not say it. 

Christians have to stay on guard against faith compromises. During the 400-year period of Israel’s kings, compromises with idolatry were made. Yahweh was not only worshiped at the temple, but also at the “high places” where other gods were honoured as well. King Ahaz even replaced the temple worship of God with idolatry. He closed the Holy and Most Holy.

Christ warned against deception in the end-time. The False Prophet will persuade people to serve the Antichrist, and take his number on their hand and brow to gain the right of buying and selling.

Christians should not be gullible to the games devil, demons, and unbelievers play to lure them off-track. False belief-systems are like weeds: wherever they find a crack they will gain a foothold. We have to eradicate them continuously.


2. Evading duty with excuses

It is amusing how a big-mouth can be humbled by a great challenge. Moses and Gideon tried in vain to convince God about their inadequacy. In their own estimation, they were the last people God should consider for his high purpose.

In his zeal for his people, Moses had killed an Egyptian, and fled to Midian, east of Sinai. For forty years he had suppressed his feelings about his people, enslaved in Egypt. God knew exactly where he was, and engaged him when the time was ripe. God convinced the fugitive prince to return to Egypt and face the new Pharaoh.

Jacob tried to cheat his way to prosperity. He fled from his raging brother and his disappointed father. After twenty years he had to return to face both of them. David sought refuge with the Philistines, the arch enemies of Israel, to escape the persecution of King Saul. At the right time, God brought David back to become king of Israel.

After Elijah’s dramatic victory over Baal priests on Mount Carmel, his life was threatened by Queen Jezebel. He fled to the Negev desert between Israel and Sinai. Elijah was so despondent about the religious situation in Israel that he asked God to take his life. God sent him back to finish a few tasks, before he was taken up in a chariot of fire.

When God called Jonah to preach to Israel’s enemies in Nineveh, the prophet reasoned that these people may repent and be spared, the last thing Jonah wanted. So he boarded a ship to Tarshish in the opposite direction. He tried to flee from God and from his responsibility. He escaped to the lower deck, into sleep, and eventually into suicide. He advised the crew to throw him overboard. He was scooped up by a special fish, and came to his senses. Vomited out by a fish – look at him now! Besmirched from head to toe, now he was willing to fulfill his duty. However, inside his heart he was not cured of his racism. His book ends with the prophet still mad at God for saving Nineveh.

When persecuted in Damascus and Jerusalem for accepting the Christian faith, Saul of Tarsus returned to his hometown, disappearing for about ten years from the scene. God sent Barnabas to pull Saul out of obscurity. He became the greatest Christian missionary and theologian of the first century.

Dodging duties does not fulfill. Accepting God’s calling to tackle challenges will demand sacrifices, but in the end there is a sense of purpose, satisfaction and meaning in one’s life. Paul rejoiced: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).


1. Trading faith for formalism

It is always sad when something genuine is replaced with a fake – when true love is replaced by lust or boredom, when national pride is replaced by racism, and when true faith is traded for formalism.

Christ echoed the message of Old Testament prophets when he accused Israel of obeying the letter of the law without understanding or practicing the spirit of it. “These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” was a sad refrain for centuries.

Jesus gave examples of a faith that is only an empty shell without substance. The Pharisees gave one tenth of everything, even from small herbs in the garden, but they neglected to help the widows and the poor. Instead of helping their aged parents, they gave that money as offering to the temple.

Doesn’t it sound like the red-tape of our time? Bureaucrats are often so focused on the tiniest detail of the rules that they are not sensitive enough to the needs of the people they are supposed to serve. People in dire straits have to wait for months and years while their application travels from desk to desk without solution.

Jesus used Moses’ summary of the law to show people the essence and heart of the law: love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18). Obeying the law without the right attitude in the heart degrades the law to a set of external rules.

Christians can fall into this trap, too. New believers are usually full of zest for their Lord and his kingdom. They want to move mountains. Gradually, this enthusiasm may wear thin. They still go through the same moves (attending church, reading the Bible, praying regularly, giving offerings, and singing hymns), but the original fire is lacking. Then the living gospel has become a dead religion.

All religions battle against formalism. For those religions which are stuffed with rituals, the fight against formalism is harder. Faiths that are heavy on doctrine may deteriorate to mere intellectualism. Those who depend on emotions may try to recover lost feelings by more music, louder sound-systems, more dramatic speakers, and more tear-stimulating stories.

 We cannot cajole the Spirit to fill us by working ourselves up into frenzy. The Spirit cannot be manipulated. We have to ask and trust the Spirit to bring our hearts regularly back to that humble, dependent, yearning attitude where we are ready to receive what he wants to give us. The gifts of the Spirit differ from person to person. Forget about your preconceived ideas about filling with the Spirit, and allow him to use you and your gifts in a unique way.