JESUS’ JEWISH NEIGHBORHOOD–Part 2

GREEK THOUGHT VS. HEBREW THOUGHT In Part 1 we began our study of Jesus’ Jewish Neighborhood by looking at the importance of context when studying the scriptures. We learned that we must never forget that the Bible is essentially a Jewish document. Therefore, studying the Jewish context of the Bible opens up previously overlooked windows of meaning. To expand on that, this time I’m going to examine some differences between how the ancient Greeks thought versus how the ancient Hebrews thought. Greek Thought Beginning around the time of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. to the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C., “Greek thinking” gradually became the dominant influence in the region. Hellenism, as it came to be known, mixed the social and cultural traditions of Greek life with traditions of the various nations which Alexander had conquered. The Greeks were known for their philosophy. To the religious Greeks at the time of Jesus, right belief, or right ideas, was what was most important. They were more concerned with right thought, right mind, right purpose, and right doctrine. To them, knowledge was salvation. One merely had to say the right things and believe the right things. Saying and believing […]

JESUS’ JEWISH NEIGHBORHOOD–Part 1

By Bill Venard Author Ken Bailey is a prominent biblical scholar, known for his insights into the gospels based on his long familiarity with Middle Eastern culture and languages. He was once asked the question, “why is it important to study the Jewish roots of Christianity?” He answered: “suppose I spent my life going to a beach. I’ve seen waves splashing against rocks, ships on the water, fishermen casting lines. One day at this beach someone says, ‘Ken, I have two snorkels. Let’s go.’ Suddenly I see coral, seaweed, and fish. These undersea views in no way invalidate the beauty of what’s above. In my work, I’m looking for the coral and the fish.” As Christians are we willing to dive deep to discover the beauty, the depth and the wonder of what lies below the surface of the Word of God? We must never forget that the Bible is essentially a Jewish document. Therefore, studying the Jewish context of the Bible opens up previously overlooked windows of meaning. Also, I am convinced, will also deepen our faith and strengthen our walk with Jesus. It’s All About Context When teaching believers how to study the Bible I always start by […]

Be The Difference — Lesson 11: “Warning: Deal Quickly With Discouragement”

Elijah was the man of the hour. He courageously and fearlessly confronted King Ahab and the 850 false prophets on Mt. Carmel. He trusted God, prayed and fire fell from heaven. Then he prayed a short time later and skies that had been cloudless, suddenly filled with storm clouds that released torrents of rain for the first time in over three years. Immediately following that, God empowered Elijah to outrun King Ahab and his chariot down the mountain and twenty miles back to Jezreel. He had just experienced a spiritual high like most of us will never experience. At the close of chapter 18 it says, “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah.” That strikes me as being one of the biggest understatements in the entire Bible. That’s a little like someone who just won the Power Ball jackpot saying, “I picked up a little extra spending money over the weekend.” I think we can safely say that Elijah was on a roll. When Elijah came down off Mt. Carmel he was confronted with the harsh reality that one battle won does not mean the war is over. Maybe he started celebrating a little too early, or perhaps his […]

Be The Difference — Lesson 8: Pursue Personal Holiness (excerpt)

God’s Central Attribute The holiness of God is the central attribute of all of His attributes. All of His attributes reflect His holiness. His wisdom is a holy wisdom. His power is a holy power. His faithfulness is a holy faithfulness. His goodness, justice, mercy, and grace are all wrapped in perfect holiness. The apostle John wrote that “God is love.” Yet even God’s love comes from His holiness. Nothing that He does or says in His word has the least bit of sin, wickedness or evil attached to it; not the tiniest spot or shadow of sin. His holiness is so far above sin, that it is not even possible for it to touch Him. Everything is perfect holiness with God. In Isaiah 6:1-7, the prophet experienced a vision that none of us will experience until we stand before the Lord in heaven. He was overwhelmed with heavenly images the likes of which we will never know in this life. No matter how hard I try to paint word pictures in your minds, nothing can come close to what Isaiah witnessed firsthand. His vision was so clear to him that throughout the remainder of his book, Isaiah refers to […]

Be The Difference — Lesson 7: Hate Your Sin (excerpt)

Maybe you have never given much, or any, thought to what it means to hate your sin or why. Let me give you five reasons why you must hate your sin. First, the simple answer is because God hates sin. We must learn to hate what God hates and love what God loves. God hates sin because it is the very opposite of His nature. The psalmist describes God’s hatred of sin this way: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” The Bible describes sin as putrefying sores, defiling filth, darkness and a scarlet stain. Also, some sins that are often winked at separate us from God just as much as the so-called “biggies.” “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” Sin always separates. God hates sin because He hates being separated from us. Second, sin tempts us to focus on worldly pleasure instead of God’s blessings. The psalmist says that those who have their sins forgiven can say, “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” […]

Be The Difference — Lesson 6: Practice Repentance Daily (excerpt)

About one hundred fifty years ago, a man named Charlie Peace was arrested and convicted of murder. He was sentenced to die in Armley Jail in Leeds, England. On the morning of his scheduled execution, he slowly walked behind the prison chaplain on his way to the gallows, as the chaplain rather routinely and sleepily read some Bible verses. Charlie touched the chaplain and asked him what he was reading. “The Consolation of Religion,” was the reply. Charlie was shocked at the way he professionally read about hell. Could a man so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there and yet, dry-eyed, read of a pit that has no bottom into which this fellow must fall? Could the chaplain possibly believe the words that there is an eternal fire that never consumes its victims, and yet slide over the phrase without any emotion whatsoever? Is a man human at all who believes in a literal hell, but can say without tears, “You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings?” All this was too much for Charlie to take. So, he preached to the chaplain. “Sir,” he said, […]

Be The Difference — Lesson 4: Rely On God’s Power (excerpt)

In an article from “Spirit of Revival” magazine, from years ago, the author Del Fehsenfeld, Jr. stated four reasons why we don’t have a divine fire burning in our lives and churches today: Reason 1: Because we don’t think we need it. According to the author, we are content to live without it. We have lost sight of the fact that our greatest need is for God Himself. The author wrote, “We have sinned against God and He has withdrawn His manifest presence from us. But our eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness. We have gotten used to functioning in our own efforts… We have become blinded to our true spiritual condition and need. Like the Laodicean church, we think we are “rich, increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” “As long as we think we are doing alright,” he continues, “we will never be motivated to cry out to God to send fire from heaven.” What fools we are to think that we can “do” church without the power of God, while we’re just busying ourselves playing church games. Reason 2: We really don’t want it. We only want the kind of fire “that will draw attention […]

BE THE DIFFERENCE – Lesson 3: Set God Honoring Goals (excerpt)

It’s been said that of all the great tragedies that occur to men and women everywhere, the greatest tragedy of all is that of a wasted life. There’s a story I came across, which you may have heard, about a man that found an eagle’s egg and put it into the nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All of his life the eagle, thinking he was a prairie chicken, did whatever the other prairie chickens would do. He scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects to eat. He clucked and cackled. And he flew in a brief thrashing of wings and feathers no more than a few feet off the ground for a short distance. After all, that’s how prairie chickens were supposed to fly. Years passed, and the eagle grew old. One day, he saw a magnificent bird, far above in the cloudless sky, hanging with graceful majesty on the powerful wind currents. It soared with scarcely a flap of its strong golden wings. “What a beautiful bird!” said the eagle to his neighbor. “What is it?” “That’s an eagle, the chief of the birds,” the […]

BE THE DIFFERENCE – Lesson 2: Live In God’s Presence (excerpt)

  The following is an excerpt from “Be The Difference” “We should fix ourselves firmly in the presence of God by conversing all the time with Him…we should feed our soul with a lofty conception of God and from that derive great joy in being his. We should put life in our faith. We should give ourselves utterly to God in pure abandonment, in temporal and spiritual matters alike, and find contentment in the doing of His will, whether he takes us through sufferings or consolations.” Brother Lawrence Whenever I read about men and women of faith there seems to be one constant that keeps them grounded. Even though they face incredible hardship, suffering and persecution at times, they remained true to their commitment to God. Elijah was like that. He was an ordinary man with human weaknesses, but who was firmly grounded in his faith. One of the qualities that enabled Elijah to be the difference in his world was living consistently in the presence of God.  Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except […]

BE THE DIFFERENCE – Lesson 1: No Compromise (excerpt)

Excerpt From “Be The Difference” The Gallup Organization has regularly conducted polls on various aspects of religious life in America. In 2017 they asked Americans, “Would you describe yourself as a ‘born-again’ or ‘evangelical’ Christian?” 42% answered “yes.” In 1992 36% answered in the affirmative. So, there’s been a little growth over those twenty-five years. Personally, I don’t think that 42% figure is accurate. I believe it’s much less than that. Here’s why. Jesus said that His followers are “the salt of the earth.” Let’s suppose that 42% of Americans do actually confess to being born again, evangelical, regular church-going followers of Jesus. If you had 42 parts salt and mixed it with 58 parts of ground beef, would that 42 parts, or 42% make a difference in the way the ground beef tasted? You better believe it would! If you took a bite of a hamburger mixed with that much salt in it, you would immediately know it. If 42% of this country were truly born-again Christians, I don’t believe this country would be in the mess it is right now. In fact, if 25%, or just 20% of the people in this country were committed Christians we would […]