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Posted 9/4/14 at 3:45 PM | Diane Castro
This week’s Epistle reading in church was Romans 12:9-21. These thirteen verses contain some thirty (count ’em!) directives about how we should live. As in all his epistles, Paul is presenting kingdom values—the standards for living in the Kingdom of God—which are usually at odds with worldly values.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus taught the true ways of God, which often meant unteaching the false ideas held by the people. We see this correction clearly in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus’ pattern is “You have heard…, but I say to you…” Over and over He states a commonly accepted idea and then proceeds to give the true understanding of that concept. He is not at all abolishing the Law; rather, He is fulfilling it and teaching what it really means (Mt. 5:17).
Posted 7/28/14 at 3:22 PM | Diane Castro
Our Bible study lesson in Revelation took us to a passage in Jeremiah about the heart:
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart (Jer. 24:7).
It made me wonder, “Does God give them a heart to know that He is the Lord because they have returned to Him with their whole heart? Or do they return to God with their whole heart because He has given them a heart to know that He is the Lord?”
Later in the book Jeremiah makes some similar statements about the heart:
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart (Jer. 29:13).
I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them (Jer. 32:39).
Do they find God because they have sought Him with their whole heart? Or do they fear God because He has put it in their heart to do so? Who bears the responsibility? Who takes the credit? Who gets the blame? FULL POST
Posted 7/18/14 at 2:00 AM | Diane Castro
The other day I was reading some library books to my granddaughters. One of the books was Gargamel the Great, about the evil wizard who is the archenemy of the Smurfs. The vain and wicked Gargamel has a magic show and uses trickery to try to get his audience to admire him. In one scene, he forces the crowd to bow to him:
Gargamel looks at the crowd.
“Get on your knees and bow,” he says.
The crowd laughs.
“I said BOW!” Gargamel shouts.
Gargamel waves his wand at his fans.
He puts them under a spell.
They all fall to their knees and bow.
“That’s better,” Gargamel says.*
As I read those words I thought, This is not so different from what many Christians believe God will do to His enemies: He will force them to bow the knee and say Jesus is Lord against their will. For example, the notes in the NIV Study Bible say of Philippians 2:9-11, “Ultimately all will acknowledge him as Lord (see Ro 14:9), whether willingly or not. [emphasis added] FULL POST
Posted 7/4/14 at 11:38 PM | Diane Castro
Some friends and I are doing a summer Bible study in the book of Revelation, and this week we were talking about the wrath of God in chapter 14. The image there is one of severe judgment:
If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name…. The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes, and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia [about 180 miles] (14:19-20).
Later in Revelation, seven bowls of God’s wrath will be poured out on the earth. These are terrifying pictures of what God will do to His enemies!
Do the descriptions of God’s wrath represent one personality, while the descriptions of His love show another, very different one? Sometimes it seems that God has two opposite natures: On the one hand, He can be abundantly compassionate and forgiving, even going to the extreme of sacrificing His own Son. He lavishes love on His children and tenderly cares for them. On the other hand, He can be exceedingly wrathful, not only toward His enemies, but even toward His own children. In fact, it’s not hard to see why some have maintained that the God of the Old Testament is different in character from the God of the New Testament. FULL POST
Posted 5/26/14 at 2:53 PM | Diane Castro
Second Peter 3 contains Peter’s last written words to us. He wrote both of his letters to stimulate his readers to wholesome thinking and to urge them to recall the words of the prophets and the command given by the Lord through the apostles (2 Pet. 3:1-2). He speaks of the last days (3:3ff), when the heavens and earth as we know them will be destroyed (3:7, 10-12) to make way for “a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells” (3:13). Since the time is coming when all that is corrupt will be destroyed and Christ’s reign of righteousness will be ushered in, we ought to be living holy and godly lives now, as we look forward to that day (3:11-12). We should be making every effort to be found blameless and at peace with him (3:14).
Next Peter refers to “our dear brother Paul,” who also wrote with the wisdom that God gave him (3:15). Paul’s basic message was the same as Peter’s: “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters” (3:16). Then Peter says of Paul, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (3:16). FULL POST
Posted 5/22/14 at 11:48 PM | Diane Castro
…until they know how much you care.”1 This statement appeared in the commentary for our Bible study lesson on 2 Peter 1. Peter is coming to the end of his life, and he wants to transmit to his readers as much knowledge as he can. But he understands that knowledge alone is not what really counts. What really matters is that lives be transformed—Peter’s life and the lives of his readers. Peter wants his readers to see how much God has transformed him and how much he cares about them, so that they will be receptive to his message and in turn will be open to allowing God to transform them.
Do you have knowledge that you want to impart? Whether you are a parent, a pastor, a teacher, a boss, a blog writer, a commenter, or a friend, you have knowledge that you want to communicate to others. If you want them to receive it, let them know how much you care about them. You may be intellectually brilliant or theologically astute, but if you come across as arrogant, callous, or uncaring, your words will fall on deaf ears. FULL POST
Posted 5/19/14 at 1:27 AM | Diane Castro
Second Peter graphically describes the corrupt character of false teachers and sternly warns us about the destructive effects of their life and teaching. One insidious way they deceive is by promising freedom while in reality causing people to be entrapped. As explained in the commentary from our Bible study:
False teachers promise freedom…. Every tyrant and impostor since the serpent’s devious discourse with Eve (Genesis 3) has promised freedom—an appeal to the latent human desire to assert ourselves over God. Not surprisingly, false teachers “promise…freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption” (2 Peter 2:19). Jesus said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34); “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved,” writes Peter (2 Peter 2:19). 
As I read those words about being a slave, I thought of friends who are smokers. Yes, they are free to smoke, but they are not free not to smoke. The smoking slavemaster can interrupt what they are doing at any moment and force them to put a cigarette between their lips. At the office it drives them outside in the dead of winter just for that precious drag. It holds them in its death grip and doesn’t let go unless met with a stronger power. Willpower alone is seldom enough; as one friend put it, “It’s easy to quit; I’ve done it a hundred times.” FULL POST
Posted 5/1/14 at 11:12 AM | Diane Castro
If you had three minutes to describe the attributes of God, what would you say? In our study of 2 Peter we discussed this verse:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Pet. 1:3).
Our lesson asked these questions:
What phrase identifies the means by which we can experience everything we need for life and godliness? How would you explain this concept to someone who asked you what it meant?
Peter says that we have everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us. So I asked myself, What is it that we need to know about God in order to live our lives the way He intended?
I believe there are two essential qualities that we need to understand about God: that He is good and that He is sovereign. Our lesson took us to Jeremiah 9:24: FULL POST
Posted 4/29/14 at 4:56 PM | Diane Castro
Last year at this time the city of Boston was reeling from the terrorist attacks that left four dead and more than 260 injured. I wrote about that awful day in “Terror at the Marathon,” and about how the city and the world rallied with love and support in “United We Stand.” Many selfless people courageously stepped forward to help the victims right after the bombings, and millions of people worldwide provided support in countless ways in the months following. The One Fund collected over $60 million for the victims in the first 75 days. People were also inspired to reach out and help others with needs of all kinds. For example, my daughter and others came together to do the whole Marathon route carrying 40-pound packs to raise money for veterans. FULL POST
Posted 4/4/14 at 12:33 PM | Diane Castro
As we have been working our way through 1 Peter in Bible study, I have been taking a closer look at familiar passages in hopes of finding what God wants me to learn this time around. I have been both encouraged and challenged—sometimes comforted and sometimes made very uncomfortable.
The instructions to wives in 1 Peter 3 can be a stumbling block to women of the twenty-first century, particularly verse 6, which says, “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” I have often heard this verse explained with reference to Genesis 12 and the similar story in Genesis 20, where Abraham told Sarah to say she was his sister, not his wife. Abraham’s plan is generally seen in a negative light. The explanation of Genesis 12:11-13 in the ESV Study Bible notes is typical:
Fearful that his life will be endangered because of Sarai’s beauty, Abram devises a ruse, based on a half-truth (see 20:12). Abram’s selfish actions imply that he thinks God is unable to protect him. Yet when the plan backfires, it is the Lord who rescues him (12:17). FULL POST