Monday, November 30, 2009

Good fruit

When John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ appeared on earth, God's people had been under the law of Moses for fifteen hundred years. No wonder John and our Lord looked for fruit among them.

When the hypocritical religious leaders came to join John's growing audience and asked to be baptized, John called them a "brood of vipers" and told them to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt 3:7-8).

The next verse (v 9) regarding "we have Abraham for our father", refers to the common teaching of that day that said Israel participated in the merits of Abraham, which made their prayers acceptable, helped in war, expiated sins, appeased the wrath of God, and assured a share in God's eternal kingdom. So the people were quite startled when John the Baptist (and later Jesus Christ) preached the necessity of personal repentance, with fruit to prove it; "baptizing them with water for repentance" (v 11). (Before John came on the scene, baptism was usual for Gentiles converting to Judaism, but to baptize Hebrews was unknown.) They should have, but didn't, understood that John fulfilled the OT prediction of a type of the coming "Elijah" before the Day of the Lord (Matt 11:13-14; Mal 4:5).

True fruit-producing repentance was the basic requirement of the kingdom. This is evident from John's declaration in verse 10: The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Christ Jesus also looked for fruit among His people (Matt 7:16-20; 21:33-43). We know, however, that John the Baptist was beheaded and Christ crucified. The fruit produced under the Law was meager indeed.

But what the Law requires, grace provides. The apostle Paul's "preaching of the cross" (1 Cor 1:18) tells us that Christ had not died an untimely death, but in infinite love had come into the world to die for us so that we might be saved by grace, through faith (Eph 2:8-9).

God's grace in Christ, when accepted in true faith, always produces good fruit. This is why Paul wrote to the Colossians that "the word of truth, the gospel" was going forth into all the world, adding: "it is bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in your also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth" (Col. 1:5-6 cf. Rom. 6: 21-22).

If we accept God's message of grace, trust in Christ as our Savior, and allow the Holy Spirit (1 Thes 5:19) to work within us, we will produce good fruit.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Musicians are a temperamental bunch and...ummmm...just a bit eccentric. Everybody says so. Just google "temperamental musicians" and you'll find plenty of talk on the subject. Even my close friend — whose father was a professional musician and whose daughter is currently auditioning for various orchestras across the country — when telling me of some musician's recent antic, will often finish with, "But that's musicians for you." There doesn't seem to be any doubt about it; they're an emotional lot. And Berlioz was no exception.

Hector Berlioz (pronounced "BARE-lee-O's") (1803-1869), born near Grenoble France to a well-educated family, was actually slated to be a physician. His father, a physician, wanted Hector to follow in his footsteps. However, once Berlioz got to Paris to study medicine, he decided to dump the medical world for music. What changed his mind? The lure of music itself? Perhaps. Or maybe it was having to dissect a corpse. He is quoted as saying the following:

"When I walked into that horrifying house of human remains, littered with pieces of limbs (quite the alliteration...) , and saw the terrible faces and heads cut off at the neck, the bloody cesspool where we were standing, with its horrible stench, the flock of sparrows fighting each other for scraps, and the rats in the corners gnawing on bleeding vertebrae, such a feeling of terror seized me that I jumped out of the window and sprinted home as if Death and all his evil entourage were behind me."

Anyway, he didn't seem to take to it. So off he went to the Paris Conservatory to study with Luigi Cherubini, a very strict Italian composer. But he hated everything Cherubini stood for. Berlioz wanted to create a new kind of music and couldn't stand the narrow views of those who didn't understand him, and that included Cherubini.

During Berlioz' career, every aspect of music went under his microscope — the rules of melody and harmony, the structure of a symphony, the number of players in an orchestra, etc... If Berlioz thought it helped him express himself, he kept it. If not, he threw it out.

At 27 years of age, Berlioz won the Prix de Rome, a composers' scholarship that gives the recipient four years, all expenses paid, in Rome. He didn't get much musical composition done there, though. He was too wrapped up in exploring the city itself.

Another reason may have been his infatuation with a young woman back in Paris named Camille. When, after four months in Rome, Berlioz heard she had a new boyfriend, he went into a jealous rage, and decided to murder the new boyfriend. So, he bought a gun, dressed up as a woman (Huh???), and took a train back to Paris. By the time the train reached Nice, Italy, I guess he decided that killing the guy was a bit too melodramatic, so he threw himself into the Mediterranean instead.

His suicide attempt was unsuccessful, however. He got fished out. But this was only one example of his emotions spiraling out of the control.

Another time, while watching a performance of Romeo and Juliet in English, he fell madly in love with the actress playing Juliet. (Not terribly subtle, this guy.) The problem is Harriet Smithson didn't speak a word of French. But the language barrier didn't seem to bother Berlioz. He sent flowers, gifts and love notes; he traveled to where she was, hoping to bump into her, but all he succeeded in doing was scaring her to death.

His obsession with Harriet did help him to write a strange, five-movement symphony called the Symphonie fantastique, though. It's based on a story he made up about a young artist who's madly in love with an unresponsive woman. (Surprise! Surprise!) Berlioz wrote a musical theme to represent this obsession and called it an idee fixe ("fixed idea"). This melody appears in various guises throughout the symphony, providing a bit of unity to the work. The Symphonie fantastique was so different from anything that had come before it, however, that Berlioz had to write notes to the conductor, such as: "This is not a clerical error. It's supposed to sound like this. Please don't 'correct' the notes."

Anyway, for Berlioz, the Symphonie fantastique was successful because it actually worked. Harriet Smithson showed up at the premiere performance and loved it. And after the concert they met, dated, and, got married.

Because of the language barrier, it didn't last, though. Even after several years of marriage, Harriet still didn't speak any French, and Berlioz never did learn English.

See what I mean? Eccentric. But I guess that's musicians for you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Always be thankful

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
(Col 3:14-15)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Church hopping

After being marooned on a desert island for nearly 30 years, a man is finally rescued by the pilot of a small plane who happens to be flying overhead.

Upon landing, the man and pilot get to talking.

After a while the the pilot looks around asks, "So you've been here for 30 years, then?"

"Yes." replies the man.

"All alone?" asks the pilot.

"Yes." replies the man.

"Then why are there three huts over there?" asks the pilot.

"Well, the one in the middle is my home, and the one on the left is where I attend church."

"What about the hut on the right?" the pilot asks.

"Oh", says the man, "that's where I used to attend church."

Thursday, November 19, 2009


What is the definition of the word "repent?"

Many think "repent" means "to turn from sin"; but this is not strictly true. It's certainly a result of sincere, faith-based repentance, but it is not the definition of "repent." In other words, stopping bad behavior and beginning good behavior is the evidence that we have repented.

But maybe it's as important to know what repentance isn't as it is to know what it is:

Repentance isn't cleaning up our act in order to be worthy of Jesus Christ (Eph 2:4-6).

Repentance isn't promising God we'll never sin again. God doesn't ask us to do things that are impossible. Paul faced the issue of his sin in Romans 7:14-24, but his response in the next chapter isn't a promise not to sin. It's I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord ... (Rom 7:25). There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus ... (Rom 8:1).

And, repentance isn't a work necessary for salvation (Rom 4:5; Titus 3:5). We do have to trust, and that's our decision, but our ability to trust comes from God (Eph 2:8).

So, what does "repent" mean, then?

The Greek word metanoeo, translated "repent" or "repentance", means lit., to perceive afterwards (meta, after, implying change, noeo, to perceive; nous, the mind, the seat of moral reflection); therefore, it means "to think differently," or "to change one's mind."

In the NT repentance always (except in Lk 17:3-4) involves "thinking differently" or "change of mind" in reference to sin.

In the OT, however, repentance in reference to sin is not so prominent. Usually it refers to a change of mind, out of pity for those who had been affected by one's action, or in whom the results of the action had not fulfilled expectations. And this repentance is attributed both to God and to man (Gen 6:6; Ex 32:14).

In fact, the requirement John the Baptist proclaimed in the NT, that the people had to repent in order for the kingdom to be established, was completely new and became a stumbling block to them — they beheaded John and crucified Christ.

Therefore, to exhort people today to repent only shows we have failed to learn the lesson that God has demonstrated historically; that when given laws to keep we only break them, and when told to repent we only become angry. Only the goodness of God leads to repentance (Rom 2:4). People will think differently or change their mind about their sin, not because we tell them to, but because we preach the glory of Christ’s finished work and God’s love and grace, and the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to see it and their hearts to receive it.

So what is the connection between repentance and salvation, then? Obviously, a change of mind has to take place when we trust Christ. We have to believe that our sin has condemned us to hell and that we are incapable of doing anything about it on our own. We have to come to realize that faith in His death and resurrection is the only way we can be reconciled to God. We have to think differently about sin and ourselves and God because we are making the decision to stop trusting in ourselves or other things to save us and to trust in Him instead.

We have no power over sin before we make this decision, so we can’t stop sinning in order to be saved. But we do need to recognize that we’re sinners in need of a Savior.

Even after we trust Christ, we still live in sinful bodies in a sinful world, so we can't determine not to sin anymore. But, we do learn to lean on the Holy Spirit so sin no longer has dominion over us and the different thinking becomes easier. Every time we make the decision to follow God's will instead of our own, we are "thinking differently."

That's what it means to "repent."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Don't Look at Me

Don't look at me if you're looking for perfection
Don't look at me I will only let you down
I'll do my best to point you in the right direction
But don't look at me
No, no, no
Don't look at me, look at Him

Sometimes I have a fear
That you will see a mirror
And get the thought that it's the main attraction
But all that you detect
Is just what I reflect
Of the object of my own affection

I'll lead you to the One I found
He'll give you everything you need

Don't look at me if you're looking for perfection
Don't look at me I will only let you down
I'll do my best to point you in the right direction
But don't look at me
No, no, no
Don't look at me, look at Him

It's understandable to want a hero
But people can't meet all your expectations
Still some can teach you things about the love He brings
Just know the source of life is in the Savior

I'll lead you to the One I found
He'll give you everything you need

Don't look at me if you're looking for perfection
Don't look at me I will only let you down
I'll do my best to point you in the right direction
But don't look at me
No,no, no
Don't look at me, look at Him

He's the One who lived a perfect life
He's the One who always gets it right
He's the One and only guiding light
He is everything you want to be
He's the answer to your every need
If you follow Him then you will see He's like no other

I'll do my best to point you in the right direction
But don't look at me
No, no, no
Don't look at me
Oh, don't look at me
I'll only let you down
I'll do my best to point you in the right direction
Don't look at me
Look at Him!

by Stacie Orrico

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38-42)

What place should the Word of God have in the life of the believer? I believe it should be first and foremost above everything else.

Certainly the record of Jesus' visit with Mary and Martha shows us this. Commentaries on this passage generally point out that Mary and Martha both had their good points, and this is true. But our Lord did not point out Mary and Martha's good points; rather, He reproved Martha and commended Mary regarding one thing in particular.

What was that one thing? So many times I have heard this portrayed as an example to us to spend more time in prayer, but I don't think that is the main point of this passage because Mary was not praying — she was sitting at Jesus' feet listening to what He said. Mary had chosen what was better and Jesus said it would not be taken away from her (v 42).

Therefore, while prayer, testimony, and good works are certainly important in our lives, hearing God's Word is the most important. In fact, if we are in the Word, all the rest will follow naturally. We must study Scripture prayerfully and with an open heart, however, or we will read into it our own prejudices, seeing what we want to see. And this of course emphasizes yet again the importance of "accurately handling the Word of God."

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15).