Saturday, May 30, 2009

Romans 8:26-28

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom 8:26-27).

The first thing we see in this passage is that we do not know how to express ourselves so that our prayers correspond to our need. This is referring to what we pray about, not how we pray. Our greatest need is to know and do His will. And even if our prayers are sincere and unselfish, we still don't know what to pray for. Therefore, we should always pray in the Spirit because He helps us in our weakness and intercedes and speaks for us in accordance with His will.

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints (Eph 6:18).

It should be noted that while there is "one Mediator" between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), we have two divine intercessors, one in heaven and one on earth—Jesus Christ at the Father's right hand, and the Holy Spirit within us. Jesus Christ intercedes regarding to our salvation.

Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us (Rom 8:34).

Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25).

Whereas, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us regarding our Christian experience.

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8:16).

Since we do not know how to pray apart from His help, we are instructed to pray at all times in the Spirit (Eph 6:18). But what does that mean? I believe it means to pray in our new nature in the Holy Spirit's power. Our new nature is born of the Spirit, and that which is born of the Spirit is spiritual (Jn 3:6). Although the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is hard to understand, it is what makes us truly alive (Rom 8:10-11). We cannot see the Spirit, but He is there affecting our lives. He does His work through our new nature, interceding, guiding, strengthening, encouraging, comforting, etc... Therefore, when we pray, we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit's power.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Jn 3:6).
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Rom 8:6).

Praying in the Spirit is a choice we make—something we decide to do. But it seems a paradox. On the one hand we are told to do something—pray in the Spirit—and then told the Spirit Himself intercedes for us. At the same time He constantly prompts us to put on the new man. So where does He end and we begin, and vice versa? I don't know. It seems that He provides what He commands and we don't do all that much.

This same thought is seen in other references to our Christian walk, too: Gal 5:16, Walk by the Spirit. Rom 8:13, By the Spirit...putting to death the deeds of the body. 1 Cor 12:3, Say Jesus is Lord by the Spirit. Phil 3:3, Worship by the Spirit of God. In all these things we are supposed to do something. But we are to do them in a way that it is the Spirit who is doing them through us.

The way I see it is, we yield. That is our response. That is the part we do. We yield to the Holy Spirit and put on the new man, and He helps us in our weakness and works through us.

I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness (Rom 6:19).

On the other hand, when we don't pray in the Spirit and pray in our old nature, our prayers are foolish and selfish. But God, who searches the hearts, knows what in our prayers is merely of our own finite, fallible mind, and what is of the Spirit, Who always prays for us according to the will of God.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it (Ps 139:1-6).

When we are guided by the Holy Spirit, we begin to see truth objectively. I suppose that may surprise some unbelievers, because they accuse us of looking at everything subjectively. What they don't understand is that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit and therefore seem foolish to them. They cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is only when the Holy Spirit is within us, helping us in our weakness, that we can get away from the subjectivity of our fallen nature and see the truth through Him, who is the Spirit of truth (Jn 15:26). We see the groaning world of chaos that is the result of sin and know that the same chaos of sin is within us, and we groan in unison with it (Rom 8:22-23). When we go on to read verse 26, we see that in the same way the Holy Spirit is helping us, interceding with groanings which are too deep for words. "In the same way" seems to refer to the Holy Spirit groaning within us, empathizing and sharing our burdens, as we groan in the midst of a groaning creation. In doing so, He strengthens us to bear our trials with confidence and courage, and at the same time directs our hearts toward God.

We've seen from verses 26 and 27 that we don't know how to pray. However, verse 28 tells us something we do know—that all things work together for good to those who love God.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

"All things" here refers to circumstances in general, with special reference to difficult circumstances or hardships. And "those who love God" refers to believers as a class. God works all things with a plan for good. It is not fate or luck. He causes it.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Eph 3:20-21).

Most would agree that the Apostle Paul suffered more than any other believer who has ever lived. Yet he who wrote, "all things work together for good." Romans 8:28 is probably one of the most widely used verse in all of Paul’s epistles. When things go wrong, this verse will probably be quoted by someone. However, in the middle of our difficulties the last thing we need to hear is that what has just happened to us is good. That is not what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote this verse under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Terrible circumstances are not good. They come into our lives because we live in a cursed and sinful world. But God can use them for good. All things don't always work out for our present, apparent good, but they do for our future, eternal good (v 29-30).

I think Donald Grey Barnhouse in his book, God's Heirs, says it well here:

It was the sin of Naomi's son in marrying the Moabitess, Ruth, when the law sternly forbade such a marriage, that ultimately brought Ruth into the fold of God. She would never have had Naomi as a mother-in-law if this sin had not been committed, and she would not have been able to say, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; whither thou goest I will go; whither thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God (Ruth 1:16). The sin of her husband in marrying her brought her to a widowhood which later put her in the line of the mothers of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. She had been chosen by God for this purpose and the Lord caused the events of human living, including human sin, to bring about His purposes.

And one must never be drawn into the logical fallacy of thinking that this makes God a partner in sin, or that He condones sin in any way. God could never have worked with the human race if He had not worked with them as sinners. We are sinners, and the whole pattern of the life of each of us is made by the interweaving of the acts of our Adamic natures and the results of those acts. Even when we have been born again the flesh is present with us, and even after we know that we have been joined to Christ the living Head of our new spiritual relationship to God, we are aware of the continuing presence of the body of death within us.

Does the Holy Spirit's intercession indicate that the Father, Himself, is not willing to keep us secure, or to work all things out for our good? Absolutely not, because our crucified, risen Lord at the Father's right hand effectively pleas in our behalf (v 31-38).

Therefore, we can rest assured that all things will work together for good because God has told us this is so. We don't know exactly how He's going to do that. But we can take great comfort in the fact that the final outcome will be for good, and bring satisfaction to our loving heavenly Father who worked out His perfect plan in our lives to His glory.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).

Monday, May 25, 2009


"Some rich men go in for art collections, gay times on the Riviera, or extravagant living. But they all get satiated. That's why I stick to scientific experiments. You never get sick of too much knowledge." - Colonel George Fabyan

This past week we toured the Fabyan estate, named Riverbank, located in Geneva along the Fox River. George and Nelle Fabyan bought the house in 1905 and hired Frank Lloyd Wright to redesign and enlarge it in 1907. This was my first time to tour a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home, and it really was lovely, with beautiful windows and large, overhanging eaves.

The grounds were interesting to walk through as well. At one time there were some 300 acres that included a working farm with Jersey cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, corn, wheat and a chicken ranch where they raised approximately 20,000 chickens each year. Since Nelle Fabyan was also very interested in flowers and animals, she had an extensive greenhouse system built, which housed exotic pets as well—alligators, monkeys and birds. All these are now gone. But, there were lovely formal gardens, including a Japanese Garden. The Japanese Garden was reconstructed to look like the garden that was on the estate years ago, and it was beautiful!

What fascinated me most, though, was George Fabyan himself. He was interested in a debate over whether or not Sir Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare's plays. So George hired Elizabeth Wells Gallup, a woman who claimed to have found ciphers in Shakespeare's plays, indicating that Bacon was their true author. He also recruited a staff of research assistants to help her, and acquired over 1,500 volumes of early Shakespeare editions and Bacon manuscripts from England for their use.

Bacon was known to have invented and used a "bilateral cipher" which used two different typefaces in each message. Each set of five letters in the printed text represented one letter in the coded message. Using capital and lowercase letters, for example, "Aaaa" might stand for"a," "aAaaa" might be "b," and "aaAaa" might be "c" ... on through"aAaAA" as "x," "aaAAA" as "y," and "AAAAa" as "z." However, the cipher could be subtle. The first line of "Macbeth" - "When shall we three meet again?" - could be printed in a combination of regular and italic letters to spell any five-letter encoded name, like "Elvis." Since the earliest editions of Shakespeare's works were printed in a jumble of different typefaces, Fabyan thought there just might be some truth in Gallup's claims. Although they didn't discover much to support this theory, they did inadvertently contribute to U.S. victory in both World Wars.

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the federal government had virtually no cryptographers, but Fabyan had plenty. So, the Shakespeare/Bacon research developed into code-breaking. William Friedman, a plant geneticist working on the Fabyan estate, with a natural talent for code-breaking, became the Director of Codes and Ciphers. And when the U.S. Army finally established its own Cipher Bureau, its first 88 officers were trained by Fabyan and Friedman at Riverbank.

Then William Friedman married Elizebeth Smith, one of his fellow code-breaking workers, in 1917. And after the war they moved to Washington D.C. and began lifelong careers as code breakers. William went on to head the team that broke the Japanese code P.U.R.P.L.E., which led to the end of World War II. Today, he is referred to as the Grandfather of Modern Cryptology by the National Security Agency.

Elizebeth Friedman did her code breaking for the Coast Guard and the Treasury Department. And she later established a secure communications system for the International Monetary Fund.

In 1955, the Friedmans revisited the Shakespeare question in their book, The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined. And although they thanked Fabyan for encouraging code studies, they concluded that they began their careers looking for something that did not exist.

Happy Memorial Day!!!

And many, many thanks to the brave men and women of the Armed Forces, who risk their lives defending our liberty.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Green Linnet

This morning I hope to finish cleaning up the backyard and plant some green bean seeds and tomato plants. I don't think there's many things better tasting than fresh picked green beans and tomatoes. I believe I can taste them already!

It's a lovely day to be working outside. In fact, the weather has been absolutely beautiful here the past few days—sunny and in the 60-70's. So last night I got the idea to search for a poem that would express them. I think this one suits nicely. And although we don't have Linnets here, we do have plenty of finches.

Beneath these fruit-tree boughs that shed
Their snow white blossoms on my head,
With brightest sunshine round me spread
Of spring's unclouded weather,
In this sequestered nook how sweet
To sit upon my orchard-seat!
And birds and flowers once more to greet,
My last year's friends together.

One have I marked, the happiest guest

In all this covert of the blest:
Hail to Thee, far above the rest
In joy of voice and pinion!
Thou, Linnet! in thy green array,
Presiding Spirit here to-day,
Dost lead the revels of the May;
And this is thy dominion.

While birds, and butterflies, and flowers,

Make all one band of paramours,
Thou, ranging up and down the bowers,
Art sole in thy employment:
A Life, a Presence like the Air,
Scattering thy gladness without care,
Too blest with any one to pair;
Thyself thy own enjoyment.

Amid yon tuft of hazel trees,

That twinkle to the gusty breeze,
Behold him perched in ecstacies,
Yet seeming still to hover;
There! where the flutter of his wings
Upon his back and body flings
Shadows and sunny glimmerings,
That cover him all over.

My dazzled sight he oft deceives,

A Brother of the dancing leaves;
Then flits, and from the cottage-eaves
Pours forth his song in gushes;
As if by that exulting strain
He mocked and treated with disdain
The voiceless Form he chose to feign,
While fluttering in the bushes.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sausage Roll-ups

Years ago a friend gave me a wonderful recipe—sausage roll-ups. Not only did it instantly become a family favorite, it was incredibly quick and easy to make. Here it is:

1 lb kielbasa or smoked sausage, cut into 6 sections
3 slices mozzarella cheese
6 lasagna noodles, cooked according to directions, and cooled
1 jar favorite tomato-based pasta sauce
Parmesan cheese

Spoon pasta sauce into a square baking dish, just enough to cover the bottom. Slit each sausage section, lengthwise and halfway through, and place 1/2 slice of mozzarella cheese folded in half into each slit. Wrap cooked lasagna noodle around each sausage and cheese section. Place each sausage roll-up on top of pasta sauce. Pour remaining pasta sauce over all six sausage roll-ups, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. See? Easy!

But I'm never one to let things be. I always feel the need to experiment and improve things. Well, it's either that or I just don't like to follow recipes. Instead, I'm always adding a bit of this and a dash of that. And if something happens to turn out extremely well and everyone requests I make it again, maybe I can come fairly close. But duplicate it? Never! Many times I'm not even quite sure what all I put in it. So I'm afraid I usually have to say, "Enjoy it now because it will probably never come round again."

Anyway, back to the sausage roll-ups. I love fresh Italian sausage that has simmered all day long in pasta sauce. So I thought, "Wouldn't that sausage roll-up recipe be oh so much better with fresh, simmered-all-day-long Italian sausages instead of smoked sausages?" Well, of course it would! And this recipe variation is actually reproducible! You're only switching out the sausages. All else is the same. The easiest way I've found to do this is to pan-sear, and then slowly cook the Italian sausages in a crock pot all day long the day before I want to make sausage roll-ups, popping them in the frig overnight. That way it's a snap to put them together the next day.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I have started reading another "assigned" book called, The Bible and the Ancient Near East by Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg. It's interesting so far; however, it has referred to cuneiform a couple of times, and since I know very little about it, I decided to do a short study on it. Here's what I found out:

The word cuneiform comes from two Latin words: cuneus, which means "edge," and forma, which means "shape." It was a picture writing invented by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago and was the world's first written language. Cuneiform is similar to but more abstract than Egyptian hieroglyphics. The last known cuneiform inscription was written in 75 AD.

Basic History of Cuneiform

The first cuneiform was drawn in vertical columns on wet clay tablets with a pen made from a sharpened reed. It was formed by laying the length of the reed along the wet clay and moving the end nearest the hand from one side to another. Early on, individual words were merely crude pictures of the object being named. But these pictures were difficult to produce on fresh clay. Two developments made the process quicker and easier---people began to write in horizontal rows, and a new type of pen was used which was pushed into the clay. This produced the more abstract series of wedges and hooks that represented entire words. These word symbols are called ideograms, which means "concept writing."

The clay tablets were routinely recycled; however, if permanence was called for, they were dried or baked hard in a kiln. In fact, many of the tablets found by archaeologists were preserved because they were baked when attacking armies burned the building in which they were kept.

Cuneiform and the Bible World

The main cuneiform literature of the Bible World is Akkadian*. It is sometimes called Babylonian or Assyrian after the two main dialects of the language.

Centuries after cuneiform was invented, it was handed down to the Semitic people when they conquered Mesopotamia. It eventually developed into a syllabic alphabet under the Semites (Assyrians and Babylonians). However, they spoke an entirely different language. In fact, it was as different from Sumerian as English is different from Japanese. In order to adapt this foreign writing to a Semitic language, the Akkadians converted it in part to a syllabic writing system---individual signs represented entire syllables. In addition to this, some of their cuneiform symbols were picture words (ideograms) that represented an entire word. So, the Hebrew people then had a very polished medium for giving their distinctive message to the world.

This complicated writing system dominated Mesopotamia until the century before the birth of Christ. The Persians, who by 486 BC controlled all of Mesopotamia, greatly simplified cuneiform until it represented something closer to an alphabet.

Cuneiform Lost and Found

Knowledge of cuneiform was lost until AD 1835. It was then that Henry Rawlinson, an English army officer, found some inscriptions on a cliff at Behistun in Persia. Carved in the reign of King Darius of Persia (522-486 BC), they were of identical texts in three languages: Old Persian, Babylonian and Elamite. After translating the Persian, Rawlinson began to decipher the others. And by 1851 he could read 200 Babylonian signs.

If you would like to see what your name looks like in cuneiform, click here.

*The Akkadians were Semites, meaning they spoke a language taken from a family of languages called Semitic languages (the word "Semite" is taken from the Hebrew Scriptures---Shem was a son of Noah and the nations descended from Shem are the Semites). These languages include Hebrew, Arabic, Assyrian, and Babylonian. When Sumerian power and civilization ended around 2000 BC, the area came under the exclusive control of Semitic peoples for centuries.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

12-tone music

Do you like this music composed by Arnold Schoenberg?

I know everybody appreciates different kinds of music, but I'm afraid I find this kind of music hard to appreciate. Maybe it's just me.

Anyway, Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was considered the leader of a new group of composers at the beginning of the 20th century that wanted to change music forever. He began his musical career writing pieces that sounded somewhat melodic, similar to those of Wagner, Mahler, and Strauss before him. You know, like where you can almost tell what key they're in? But after years of stretching tonality almost to the breaking point, Schoenberg finally decided to break it once and for all---he started writing a new kind of music that wasn't in any key whatsoever. This kind of music was atonal. Atonal music is dissonant, meaning it sounds like the "wrong" notes are being played. And Schoenberg went even further than that after awhile. He started using rules of math to write his music. Today, this kind of music is referred to as 12-tone music, or serialism.

A while ago, I came across a very funny article by David Pogue, New York Times Columnist and former Broadway music director, and Scott Speck, award-winning music director and conductor, that explained Schoenberg's musical method. It's so good, here it is word for word:

Schoenberg explained---somewhat

If you find middle C on a piano and play all the white notes in order up to the next C, you've just played the seven notes in the key of C. About 99 percent of the world's music has been written in the key of something. That's why so many pieces of classical music are called such things as Symphony in D major or Sonata in F.

But notice something about the key of C: In traveling up the piano from C to shining C, you skip all the black keys. Arnold Schoenberg's big concept was that these keys shouldn't be second-class citizens just because they're a different color. His new kind of music, 12-tone music, used all 12 of the notes between C and C, white and black---equally. Sure, some of the old-fashioned concepts such as 'harmony', 'melody', and 'pretty' went out the window, but that's progress.

Not only did Schoenberg decide that all those previously ignored in-between notes deserved more importance, but he actually instituted the world's first affirmative-action quota system for those notes. He decided that if he wrote the note C on his music paper, he wasn't allowed to use a C again until he'd used all 11 of the other notes first!

After he saw how intellectually satisfying such self-imposed rules were, he went even further. He'd make up a specific order of those 12 notes---for example, C, E-flat, G, A-flat, B, C-sharp, B-flat, D, F-sharp, F, A, E---and force himself to use these notes in that order, over and over again, for an entire piece. He'd permit himself to use whatever rhythms he wanted, and he was allowed to combine the notes into "chords"---but he always went in order.

When things were getting really dull, he made up a couple more rules: Playing the series of 12 notes backward was okay, too. He even permitted himself the luxury of flipping a 12-note series upside-down on the music paper. And for years and years, he had all kinds of fun mixing up these rules to make music (such as playing those 12 notes backward and upside-down).

This new kind of music was dubbed 'serialism', which has almost nothing to do with Schoenberg's passion for whole-grain breakfast flakes.

Weird guy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Feet of clay

Am I better than the next guy? Do I love others more than other Christians love others? Am I kinder and more generous? Do I secretly think, "Jesus loves you, but I'm His favorite" like this article in The New York Times jokes?

We are always so quick to say, "I can't understand how he/she could have done ___________. Is that the way a true Christian would act?" When we should be saying, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Scripture reminds us that, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling." (Proverbs 16:18), and "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not" (Rom 7:18).

And in Romans 1:28 it says that God gave man over to a depraved mind.

The worldly mind knows well how to lie, cheat, steal, gossip; it perverts everything it thinks about. The shocking truth is when we become Christians, this worldly mind still exists and continually harasses our new mind (in Christ). The difference is we now have a choice. We can choose to "put on the new man" (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). And when our new nature is in control, we think as Christ thinks.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5).

On the other hand, if our old nature is allowed to be in control, we are capable of anything.

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin (Rom 7:15-25).

Indeed, there is a battle waging within us---a battle between our old and new natures. From the moment of our salvation, our "new man" and "old man" aggressively compete for possession of our mind, emotions, and body. But we need not be defeated, thinking, "What's the use? No matter how hard I try, I'm bound to fail anyway." There's the mistake right there---relying on the "trying." Because no matter how hard we try to alter our old nature, we cannot change it. For when a person receives Christ, the “old man” is not cleaned up. After all, it is dead!

If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness (Rom 8:10).

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3).

Rather, a new creation is instantly given.

Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Rom 6:6).

But, spiritual growth is needed to strengthen the “new man” in this war. And there is no growth without Bible study and prayer (Eph 1:16-18; Col 3:16).

A relationship with a local assembly of believers is also essential to growth, "…encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).

Therefore, the key to living a successful Christian life is considering our old nature dead (keep it in its coffin!) and letting our new nature rule in its place, drawing on the power of the Holy Spirit.

No, I'm certainly not better than the next guy---I often fail! But as I grow in Christ, I can experience His victory over my sinfulness more and more often.

Two natures beat within my breast.
One is foul, the other blest.
The one I love; the one I hate.
The one I feed will dominate. (Author unknown)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Rich Man

There once was a rich man who was near death. He was very grieved because he had worked so hard for his money and wanted to be able to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might be able to take some of his wealth with him.

An angel heard his plea and appeared to him. "Sorry, but you can't take your wealth with you." The man begged the angel to speak to God to see if He might bend the rules. The man continued to pray that his wealth could follow him.

The angel reappeared and informed the man that God had decided to allow him to take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man gathered his largest suitcase and filled it with pure gold bars and placed it beside his bed.

Soon afterward, he died and showed up at the gates of heaven to greet St. Peter.

St. Peter, seeing the suitcase, said, "Hold on, you can't bring that in here!"

The man explained to St. Peter that he had permission and asked him to verify his story with the Lord.

Sure enough, St. Peter checked it out, came back and said, "You're right. You are allowed one carry-on bag, but I'm supposed to check its contents before letting it through."

St. Peter opened the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind and exclaimed, "You brought pavement?"

Friday, May 8, 2009

Matthew 18:20

A few days ago I sat listening to friends discuss what the Bible meant when it said, "...where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them." One said, "It means that Jesus Christ is with us somehow differently at different times, like during church when we're all worshipping Him. He's with us differently then. He's kind of like arrowing in on us." Another piped in and said, "Oh no, He's not with us differently because He's always the same." And yet another said, "But He's always with us. How can He be with us differently at times?"

So, I went home thinking about what was said.

First of all, no one had mentioned where that verse was found, so that was the first thing I looked up. Matthew. Okay, Matthew. That told me something right there. The vast majority of Matthew takes place before the cross, right? Did that make a difference in this case? I needed to look further. The verse in question was Matthew 18:20. Now, what was the entire chapter 18 of Matthew about? Who was speaking and to whom was he speaking? Jesus was speaking to His apostles about humility. Okay. Does everything Jesus said to them directly apply to us today? No. But did it in this case? I needed to look further.

So next, what were the verses just before talking about, say 15-19? Verses 15-17 were about confronting a brother who was sinning, first privately, then with one or two witnesses, and finally, before the whole assembly.

Then, verse 18 said, "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Now what in the world did that mean and what did it have to do with anything just said?

Well, cross references to this verse were Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matt 16:19).

If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained (John 20:23).

Okay, things started becoming a little clearer to me as to what was going on here. It seemed obvious that this ability/authority had only been given to the apostles and not to us. They were being given special authority to act officially in Jesus' absence.

So then what about verse 19?

Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven (Matt 18:19).

I could only assume that this verse was linked to the verse(s) before it and was directed solely to the apostles.

This verse also parallels verses found elsewhere in the Gospels, e.g., Matt 21:21-22, Mark 11:23-24, John 14:12-14.

Have you ever noticed that the “whatsoever you ask believing” promises are found in only one small portion of the Bible — the Gospels (although they are alluded to in the Hebrew Christian epistles)? Never in the OT or in Paul’s epistles do we find that “all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” I don't think these promises were given to us. I believe Jesus was giving special powers to the apostles to perform miracles at that time. And in fact, in the beginning of Acts, we do see the them performing extraordinary miracles in His name. Of course, miracles were given to the Jews (Matt. 12:39; 16:1; Mark 8:11, 12; Luke 11:16; John 6:30). But when the gospel went out to the Gentiles, these miracles greatly decreased and soon entirely ceased.

So then, it seemed to me that Matthew 18:19 was saying that when two of the apostles agreed on something and asked the Father for it, it was given to them.

Okay, so I finally got to verse 20. Again, I could only assume it was linked to the verse(s) before it. It was only to the apostles; where two or three of them were gathered, Jesus would be in their midst. This was the only interpretation that made sense to me.

Keep in mind, also, that this was before the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. Today, God is always with us (in our midst) because as Christians, He indwells each one of us (Rom 5:5, 1 Cor 6:19, Eph 1:13, 1 Thes 4:8, 2 Tim 1:14). Our being gathered together does not make Him more or less with us, or with us any differently, than when we are by ourselves.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

He Giveth More Grace

Annie Flint accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior at an early age. And whether by nature or through her Christian upbringing, she was generally cheerful, optimistic, had a generous nature, and was always ready to share what she had with others. Annie was also courageous. In fact, when she was a toddler and just learning to walk, she would march across the room with her head up regardless of any obstacle in the way. Annie exhibited this same courage later in her life when she was hemmed in by so many trials. She certainly learned to "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim 2:3).

But Annie was also very human. As a child she had a very quick temper which flared up on slightest provocation, but just as quickly died down. She never claimed entire freedom from this tendency, but she did learn the secret of grace in overcoming it.

Another characteristic was her acute sensitiveness, which made her keenly aware of the needs AND the wrongs of others. In a word, her likes and dislikes were very intense. She readily admitted that if she was accused of something she had not done, she would sulk far longer than her temper lasted. And she would never speak to anyone while in these moods or even try to explain any mistake that might have been made.

But her greatest fault of all, she admitted, was a lack of patience, with herself and others. She did not like to wait for anything. She wanted to see results immediately. But she was also very persistent and refused to give up anything until it was finished. This did help her to accomplish many hard and distasteful tasks, but all through her life the hardest lesson she had to learn was patience.

Annie's life was far from easy. Her own parents had been taken from her in childhood, her foster parents both passed away, and her one sister was very frail and struggling. And then, she herself, was told she would be a helpless invalid for a good portion of her life. She had to completely depend on others for her care.

Annie had many friends who were sincerely interested in her welfare. However, there came times when some would criticize and even challenge her faith. These friends strongly believed that healing of the body was for every child of God in this life. They claimed healing was purchased for us by Christ, and that everyone who walked obediently could claim deliverance from physical infirmities and bodily sicknesses. She listened to what they had to say. But more than that, she went earnestly and prayerfully to search the Scriptures as to God's will. It was only after a most painstaking study and prayer, and reading of the best writers on this subject that she reached the conclusion that, while God can and does heal in this way in some cases, in others He does not. She also saw that many of those who pressed their theory were themselves infirmed, and while telling others that they should claim healing, their own lives showed the failure of their theory.

Annie became thoroughly convinced that God intended to glorify Himself through her. And when she, like Paul, had prayed three time (and more) that this might be taken from her, she reached the place where she could also say with Paul,

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10).

Annie endured much suffering as her disease worsened with each passing year, and as new complications developed. But through it all, her faith in the goodness and mercy of God never wavered. For more than forty years, she experienced pain as her joints became more and more rigid. And although she was able to turn her head, it was in great pain that she was able to write these amazing lyrics down on paper:

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

(Annie Johnson Flint, 1866-1932)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Objective truth

I know I interpret Scripture through my own theological glasses. It is something I need to keep in mind as I study. However, some go so far as to say we can never really know what the Bible says because it says something different to everyone who reads it. But I disagree with these proponents of the so-called radical hermeneutic (an interpretive approach grounded in postmodernism called 'deconstruction'*); who hold we should only talk about the 'core Gospel', and never doctrine, alleging knowledge of objective truth is impossible when reading the Bible. This is utter nonsense! Would God give us a book that was not meant to be understood? And what a sure way of keeping us all 'babes' in Christ who are "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine." newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Pet 2:2).

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb 5:13-14).

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph 4:11-16).

Yes, there may be differences of opinion about what the Bible says, differences that can sometimes be resolved with humble interaction and much time; but among Christians I believe there is never an excuse for avoiding what the Bible has to say, on the false grounds that knowledge of the truth is impossible.

In fact, I believe that John 7:17,

If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.

tells me how certainty (spiritual discernment and assurance) may be arrived at when studying Scripture. Basically, when my heart is right, God will give me the capacity to understand His truth. In other words, if my motive is to know God's will, I believe I will be given assurance from the Holy Spirit that the teaching of Scripture is true, which will be much more convincing than all the logical arguments in the world.

As I study Scripture, these are the interpretive guidelines I adhere to:

First of all, because I firmly believe I should stand by the important hermentical law that the Bible should be interpreted literally, I seek to understand the Bible in its normal/plain meaning. In other words, I look for the intended meaning of Scripture and stay away from allegorizing and symbolizing Bible verses and passages that should be understood literally.

Secondly, I seek to interpret each verse/passage historically and contextually. (Historical interpretation is understanding the culture, background, and situation in which the text was written. And contextual interpretation is always taking the surrounding context of a verse/passage/book into consideration when trying to determine its meaning.)

Lastly, I prayerfully consider all possible interpretations, comparing them against what Scripture says---even the ones that are not the traditional or popular interpretations of today. (I remember Martin Luther...)

*Rejecting "modern" epistemology [the study of knowledge and justified belief] with its insistence on foundations and proper method, postmodernists, sometimes on highly sophisticated grounds, argue that there are no secure foundations, and all methods are themselves theory-laden. The result is that there is no univocal, authoritative "meaning" in the text itself. If one must use the word "meaning" of a text, one should speak of the "meanings" of the text---that is, the different meanings that different individuals or different interpretive communities will find there. Indeed, properly speaking the meanings are not really in the text itself but in the interpreters of the text, as they interact with it. - D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, 1998)

Gimme that old time religion

This evening I had the great privilege of singing in an ensemble that helped lead our bi-annual church Hymn Sing. It was a riot! People had come from all over the northwestern Chicago area to attend, and the place was packed. I would guess the average attendees' age to be around 70, but what great singing! People say you lose your singing voice as you get older, but after tonight, I don't believe it. I suspect many left with very hoarse voices indeed.

Some of the songs we sang I hadn't heard sung in years; like, Shall We Gather At the River, Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus, I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord Forever, and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. We sang several contemporary songs as well; Beautiful Savior by Stuart Townend, a great favorite of mine, was one of them. And to accompany all this great gospel singing were two grand pianos, a large pipe organ, trombone, bass guitar, drums, tambourine, harp, and flute.

This was my first time to sing at the Hymn Sing, but I hope it's not my last. What a wonderful evening. It rather reminded me of my radio days when I sang in the Back to the Bible Youth Choir. Now I have fond memories of both.