Thursday, September 29, 2011

I have seen the many faces,
Of fear in the pain.

I have watched the tears fall plenty,

From heartache and strength.

So if life's journey,

Has you weary and afraid.

There's rest in the shadow of his wings.
I have walked through the valleys,

The mountains and plains.

I have held the hand of freedom,

It washes all my stains.

If you feel the weight of many trials,

And burdens from this world.

There's freedom in the shelter of the Lord.

I have seen,
The healing hand of God,

Reaching out and mending broken hearts.
Taste and see the fullness of His peace,
And hold on to what's being held out.
The healing hand of God.

I have touched the scars upon His hands,

To see if they were real.

He has walked the road before me,

He knows just how I feel.

When you feel there is not anyone,

Who understands your pain,

Just remember all of Jesus' suffering.

Cast all your cares on Him,

For He cares for you.

He's near to the broken and confused.

By His stripes,

Our spirit is renewed.

So enter in the joy prepared for you.

The healing hand of God.
And hold on to what's being held out,

The healing hand of God.

by Jeremy Camp

Casting all you anxiety on Him, because He cares for you (1 Pet 5:7).

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Phil 4:6-8).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sell everything!

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys" (Lk 12:32-33).

"So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions" (Lk 14:33).

What are we to make of these verses?  Should we interpret them literally?  I think we should, keeping in mind that although all Scripture is for us, not all is written directly to us or is directly about us.

To me, it seems clear from the context of these verses that Christ's teaching about "discipleship" in general and about "selling your possessions" in particular all have to do with "the kingdom of God". Many times the prophets of the Old Testament told of a future day when a descendant of David would set up a great kingdom of righteousness and peace on earth in which God's chosen people, Israel, would be specially blessed in their land and be a channel of blessing to all other nations (Isa 11:1-10; Jer 23:1-6; Ezek 37:1-28; Joel 2:12-27; Micah 4:1-8; Zech 8:1-23).* Centuries later John the Baptist, Christ, and the twelve apostles in their respective ministries to the Jews, all proclaimed the good news that this kingdom promised by the prophets was finally "at hand" or very close to being established (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7) because Jesus, the promised King, was present on the earth to get everything prepared for it. (In fact, this is the answer to a previous post I wrote here.)  Even after His resurrection Christ taught the apostles for 40 days about this kingdom, and the apostles were eagerly anticipating its "restoration" (Acts 1:1-8).

In order to be one of Christ's disciples and enter the kingdom, the Jews at that time had to turn back to God in repentance (Matt 3:2; 4:17; Mk 6:7-12) and make some challenging commitments. Jesus Christ called on them to obey the Mosaic Law, even "the least" of the commandments, so that their righteousness would "exceed" that of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:17-20; 19:16-19; Mk 12:28-34; Lk 10:25-28; 18:18-22).  See especially Matthew 23:2-3 and 23-27:

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you— but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice" ... "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."

They were also to give up all their possessions (Lk 12:32-33; 14:33; see also Matt 19:21; Mk 10:21; Lk 18:22).

But isn't all this faith plus works?  Well yes.  And most Christians would probably agree that these teachings of Christ apply to us today and need to be obeyed. Yet they also see the obvious difficulty of obeying them literally.  So they say that Jesus must have meant that we need to be only willing to sell our possessions and, especially, to not value them more than Him. The only problem is that this is not what Jesus said. There is no hint in these verses that mere willingness was all that was necessary.

Some find it easier to avoid and skip over such difficult words (passages, books...) altogether.  I remember listening to a sermon from Acts 2 several years ago — the whole chapter, save the last few verses, that is. The preacher was stirring us up, telling us we needed to return to these early days of the church in order to bring about a revival. I thought it rather odd that he stopped short of the end of the chapter, until I read what he left out:

And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:43-47).

Either way, it seems clear to me that Christ expected His listeners to do exactly what He said. This is why the first disciples in Jerusalem really did leave everything to follow Christ (Matt 6:31-33;19:27-29; Lk 12:29-31; 19:1-10). They couldn't let anything hinder them from entering the kingdom, which, at that time, was so near. We see this in the gospels, but even more so when the Holy Spirit is given after Christ's death and resurrection:

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need (Acts 2:44-45).

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.  Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:32-37).

Jesus' death and resurrection had to take place before the kingdom could come (Lk 24:25-26; 1 Pet 1:11).  It was after this that the twelve apostles were given the authority to offer the kingdom to Israel. They promised that, if the Jews would repent, Jesus would return to earth from heaven and bring in "the times of refreshing" and the "period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time" (Acts 3:17-21). In other words, if Israel as a nation would turn back to God and choose to follow their resurrected Messiah and King, they would finally receive their promised kingdom with its glorious blessings.

We know from the Book of Acts that the Jews as a whole continually rejected this message.  Consequently, Christ did not return to earth, and the promised kingdom did not come.  Instead of blessing His chosen nation, God chose to once again turn away from them in judgment and sent the apostle Paul to inform them that He was "turning to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:44-49; 18:5-6; 28:23-28).**

Now God is doing a new work with a new group of people—the Church, the body of Christ — in which "there is neither Jew nor Greek" (Gal 3:28). Because of this change from Israel to the "Church which is His body", some of the things Christ taught while He was on earth do not directly apply to us today. One of these has to do with the Mosaic Law.  Though faith demonstrated by works used to be necessary for salvation (it was meant to show man that it is impossible to earn salvation - Rom 7:13), Paul explains that God is now offering salvation "apart from the Law" (Rom 3:19-4:5; 7:4-6; Gal 2:21; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-7).  On the basis of Christ's death for our sins and resurrection alone (Gal 3:1-3), God is now willing to accept as righteous all those who do nothing more than believe in Jesus Christ.

God's instructions regarding our possessions have also changed.  Far from telling us to "sell our [your] possessions and give to charity," He exhorts us to provide for our families and widowed parents and grandparents so that the church is not "burdened" (1Tim 3:4-5; 5:3-4, 8,16).  This clearly requires us not to give all we have to charity.

Does this mean that today we have it easy compared to the faithful Jewish disciples in the first century? Are we now free to live however we please? No way! Of course God wants us to be wholly devoted to Him just as He wanted the Jews 2000 years ago to be wholly devoted to Him (Phil 3:17-21; 4:10-13; Col 3:1-4; 1 Tim 6:6-10). But our situation is entirely different now. God is not working to fulfill His promises regarding the earthly kingdom like He was then. It is not surprising, therefore, that God wants us to show our devotion to Him in a different way.

So I was just kidding with the title of this post.  Don't really sell everything.  Instead, provide for your family. For not doing so would be to "deny the faith" and be "worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim 5:8).

*Some say that this is only what the disciples thought would happen, that these prophesies were actually fulfilled symbolically, not literally.  But what does one do with the fact that every prophesy in the OT regarding Christ's first coming was fulfilled literally?  I think Sir Robert Anderson said it well: "There is not a single prophecy, of which the fulfillment is recorded in Scripture, that was not realized with absolute accuracy, and in every detail; and it is wholly unjustifiable to assume that a new system of fulfilment was inaugurated after the sacred canon closed. . . . Literalness of fulfilment may therefore be accepted as an axiom to guide us in the study of prophecy."

**It is interesting to note that after the stoning of Stephen "a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria" (Acts 8:1-3; 11:19). Later we see Paul bringing relief to this church (Rom 15:25-26).  No longer could it be said that "there was not a needy person among them" (Acts 4:34). It seems the stoning of Stephen was the last straw, so to speak, for Jews in Jerusalem, the seat of Israel’s government, to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah. It was not long after that that the Spirit came upon the Gentiles (Acts 10).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Apple Cake

We went camping with 10 friends from work this weekend.  You never would have heard me say that several years ago.  Camping was not our thing.  To us, roughing it was staying in a hotel without a pool.  But between friends at work and my brother and his family, we've come over to the dark side. 

My very kind brother broke us in gently by providing us with heated and air-conditioned RV's, complete with stoves, refrigerators, and microwave ovens.  Not so with the people from work.  They really rough it — only tent camping for them!  So now we're campers, of a sort, and owners of our very own tent.  Who would've ever thought?!

One thing we always do on these trips is split up the meal preparation duties.  So we signed up to make dinner for everybody the first evening.  We brought brats that I precooked in apple cider, and everyone roasted them on skewers over the campfire that evening.  Italian potato salad, cucumber and tomato salad, chips, and apple cake completed the meal.

Here is the recipe to the apple cake I brought.  It creates a dense and moist cake that is really quite wonderful.  My friend Holly, who makes it every fall for our small group Bible study, gave it to me — twice.  I lost the first copy.  Thanks for being so patient with me, Holly. :)

4 c peeled and finely diced apples
2 c sugar
3 c flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/4 c vegetable oil or melted butter (I use butter.)
1 c chopped walnuts, toasted (optional )

Combine apples, sugar, flour and cinnamon; toss to mix well.  Add soda and salt.  Beat eggs and add with vanilla extract and vegetable oil (or melted butter).  Mix well.  Grease a 9 x 13 pan and pour in batter.  Flatten down with a spatula.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool completely.  Spread with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with walnuts, if desired. Store in refrigerator.


8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 c butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 3/4 to 4 c powdered sugar

With a mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter.  Add the other ingredients and blend well.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Clear skies

The weather forecasters kept telling us to expect rain all day yesterday, yet we didn't get a drop.  Instead, the sky was partly cloudy, while a gentle, fall-like breeze cooled the air and kept the bugs at bay.  Venturing out first thing in the morning to tackle some chores, we thought it wouldn't be for long before the predicted rain chased us indoors.  We ended up working outside for hours.  Old wood was burned, the gardens weeded, bushes trimmed, and the porch and walks were swept.  It looks rather nice out there at the moment.

While resting in a chair by an upstairs window shortly after we came in, I glanced outside and spotted two White-tailed deer just beyond our back fence.  They were both full-grown bucks with quite a few antler points.  It was rather exciting to see them, because although our property backs up on a forest preserve, we rarely see deer there.

Watching them amble by our property reminded me of a story I heard earlier this week.  Apparently some guy in Sweden came home from work on Tuesday and found a drunken elk (looks more like a moose to me) stuck in his next door neighbor's apple tree.  He said it looked like the animal was severely drunk after eating too many fermenting apples, and that it most likely stumbled into the tree while trying to reach the fruit, getting itself hopelessly entangled in the branches. It seems drunken elk are fairly common in Sweden during the autumn season when a lot of apples are lying around on the ground and hanging from branches in people's yards.  Now that would be exciting to see!    

Saturday, September 10, 2011

No partiality

Is it important to take into account someones nationality, status, background, or even their hereditary behavior, when speaking to them about the glorious message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-19)?  We may try to understand where they're coming from, but in the final analysis, none of this makes a bit of difference.  We are all the same — we are all enemies of God (Rom 5:1-10 NLT).

In Romans 2:11 we read that "there is no partiality with God," and these very words, with slight variations, are found many times in the Bible (Acts 10:34; Gal 2:6; Eph 6:9).  Of course this is because justice is one of God's divine attributes, so it is unthinkable that He should show favoritism.  How wonderful, right?!  And this cuts both ways — not only are there no "big wheels" with Him, neither are there "innocent victims of circumstances or heredity."  We all stand on the same footing before His bar of justice. 

But here's a question for you: If there is no partiality with God, why did He favor one nation, Israel, above all the rest and, for many centuries, bless them above all others? The answer: God made a difference to show that "there is no distinction" (Rom 3:21-26 ESV). He made an artificial difference to show that there was no essential difference, no moral difference. He erected a "middle wall of partition" between us to show that that wall must be broken down (Eph 2:14-16).

So it is that the same God who once said to Israel:

"... you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God ... for you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways" (Acts 3:25-26).

Now says:

"For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." (Rom 10:12-13).

And this same passage goes on to say:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” (Rom 10:14-15).

Friday, September 9, 2011

"The evolution of doctrine due to continued hybridization has produced a myriad of theological persuasions. The only way to purify ourselves from the possible defects of such “theological genetics” is, first, to recognize that we have them and then, as much as possible, to set them aside and disassociate ourselves from the systems which have come to dominate our thinking. In other words, we should simply strive for truth and an objective understanding of biblical teaching.  For this reason the author declines to be called a Calvinist, a moderate Calvinist, an Arminian, an Augustinian, a Thomist, a Pelagian, or a Semi-Pelagian. Accepting such a categorization would leave in its wake a doctrine or position to be defended rather than a willingness to change if the search for truth should demand it. It seems better to seek the truth than to attempt to be the authority."

Anthony B. Badger, Associate Professor of Bible and Theology, Grace Evangelical School of Theology, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 2003

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Interesting tidbit - 11 (Purgatory?)

Q:  What does the Bible say about purgatory?  Is there such a place?

A:  No, there isn't; Scripture says nothing about a purgatory.  This place where men must go after death to purge their sins is an invention of religion.  The word purgatory comes from the word purge, and we are told that Christ "by Himself purged our sins" without any help from us (Heb 1:3 NKJV).

The Lord told the dying thief "today you shall be with Me in paradise" (Lk 23:43).  This is important because Scripture calls this man a thief.  Even his own testimony to the other thief was that "we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds" (Lk 23:41).  In other words, he admitted that he had not been framed or misjudged, but had indeed committed crimes worthy of the death penalty.  If there was a purgatory, certainly this man would have gone there, but we have the Lord's word for it that he did not.

Also, if anyone needed to go to purgatory, it was the sinful Corinthians.  Yet Paul told even these believers they could be "confident" that "to be absent from the body" is "to be at home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pithy sayings - 4

Love is not blind -- it simply enables one to see things others fail to see.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny..."

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength." - Corrie Ten Boom

Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing.

"When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer." - Corrie Ten Boom

When dealing with the insane, the best method is to pretend to be sane.

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.

Love feels no burden, thinks nothing of trouble and attempts what is above its strength.