Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to all, from our house to yours!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
(Lk 2:11)
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15a).


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Christmas Pageant

Reposting this again this year — because I love it so much! :)

“…work on the 1962 pageant commenced in August of that year with the formation of a Christmas committee and the scheduling of auditions for early September. Mr. Shelton wanted to provide himself with a half dozen wise men, three or four Josephs and angels, and a couple of Virgin Marys so as to protect against any unforeseen occurrences. In the latter part of October the reverend organized a building committee which saw to the construction of the stable and baby Jesus’ manger, both of which were made from shipping crates supplied by an appliance store in a shopping center near Draper. By the middle of November Miss Fay Dull had begun rehearsing the choir, and just after Thanksgiving the ladies from the Tuesday Biblettes set in to making costumes for the wise men out of old chair covers. The reverend’s schedule provided for two practice runs in December before the actual production on the evening of Sunday the twenty-third, and when Reverend Shelton addressed his congregation on the morning of the sixteenth he told them how the Christmas pageant would be an unforgettable affair. Momma said it surely was.

The animals normally used in the pageant were kept from year to year in the basement of the fellowship hall. They were made out of painted plywood and seemed very lifelike if you didn’t look at them anywhere but head-on. But the reverend didn’t think his pageant was suited for wooden animals; he thought it called for something a little more grand and spectacular. The Reverend Shelton had actual livestock in mind, livestock which he borrowed from local farmers who agreed to keep quiet about it until after the performance. He got hold of a half-dozen piglets, a pair of goats, three or four chickens, one goose, and Mr. Jip French’s old blind pony that his boys chased around the pasture and ran into fences. But when he tried the animals out at a full-dress rehearsal the reverend discovered that he couldn’t use the pony because it was given to breaking wind, not very loudly, Momma said, but in near lethal concentrations. So the reverend tried to get another pony but couldn’t and had to settle for Mr. Earl Jemison’s steely-grey hound, Mayhew, which was probably one of the biggest dogs in the county and which the reverend decided to transform into a camel by means of a couple of pillows and a brown rug.

Mayhew did not come easy, however. Mr. Jemison accounted himself a respectable actor and he bargained relentlessly for the part of the voice of God, a part Mr. Jemison said he had always wanted to play. Mr. Shelton had saved the voice of God for himself and he gave it up to Mr. Jemison with severe misgivings since he did not think God talked at all like Mr. Jemison, whose voice Daddy said could pass for an articulate doorhinge. But the reverend had somehow convinced himself he was desperate for a camel and he wasn’t about to lose the services of Mr. Jemison’s dog.

Momma said she and Miss Mattie Gunn did not know just what to think when they entered a sanctuary entirely darkened except for three railroad lanterns hung here and there on a fairly legitimate-looking stable up by the altar. And she said neither Miss Mattie nor herself noticed that the reverend had imported actual animals until the both of them caught a whiff of the chickens at about the same time. Unfortunately Miss Mattie suffered from an allergy to feathers and her eyes immediately teared up so that she couldn’t see past the pew in front of her and Momma had to tell her just how everything looked. Momma said the reverend and his committees had created a most impressive effect with just a few oven crates, some paint, a couple of bales of hay, a handful of livestock, and the accompanying barnyard aroma. Momma said the reverend had strewn hay across the altar, set the stablefront on top of it, hung a few lanterns, tethered the goats, caught up the piglets and the chickens and the goose together in a wire corral, and left the ammonia to drift where it would. Momma said she could have been out of doors for all she knew and every now and then she wished she was.

Momma did not know exactly when Miss Pettigrew made her entry into the sanctuary since the usher seated her a full two aisles over from Momma, who could hardly make out Miss Mattie as it was. But she suspected Miss Pettigrew arrived just after the reverend had presented himself from a niche beneath the choir loft and come forward onto the altar to greet the congregation. Along about then Momma heard a distinct buzzing off to her left that carried the length of the aisle and she said it was probably the sound of people asking each other if that was indeed Miss Pettigrew or telling each other it was indeed Aunt Willa, not because they could make out her features, not even because they could tell she was colored, but because even in the lanternlight they could detect the radical limp Aunt Willa got from being dropped onto a stone hearth as a baby. And Momma said the usher and Miss Pettigrew and Aunt Willa advanced to the front pew with the noise of their passing advancing just behind them. She said anybody knew whoever was with Aunt Willa had to be Miss Pettigrew.

She said the Virgin Mary, as played by Miss Alice Covens, seemed somewhat frightened of the goats and swung excessively wide of them on her way into the stable while Joseph, as played by Mr. Jeffrey Elwood Crawford Jr., lingered outside and delivered a little speech on starlight and poverty and the kindness of men. He concluded to a very short burst of applause that lasted only as long as it took for Mrs. Crawford to get hold of her husband’s hands. Then Joseph joined the Virgin Mary in the stable and the choir took over with Miss Dull’s arrangement of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Mr. Jemison’s big scene followed the music and began with Reverend Shelton playing a flashlight beam onto the angel of the Lord, who was perched a little recklessly on the choir-loft banister. But nothing happened right away, and Momma said the angel clung onto the railing and waited and the congregation waited and the Reverend Shelton coughed and cleared his throat until finally the voice of God exploded out of the darkness like a train whistle and nearly scared everybody to death. Momma said Mr. Jemison told his angel where to go and what to do when he got there, and then the angel sort of saluted, she said, and threw himself off the banister, which caused the entire congregation to suck air. But he was harnessed into a system of ropes and pulleys, and after he swooped back into the railing once, he descended more or less without incident to a point just over the stable roof where he could hover and wait for the wise men.

The Reverend Shelton threw a switch that activated a bulb in a Moravian star suspended somewhere above the angel of the Lord and somewhere below the choir loft, and almost simultaneously the three kings from the orient came forward out of the narthex wearing everybody’s old upholstery and beards made from cotton swabs and crowns wrapped in aluminum foil. One of them bore frankincense and another one bore both myrrh and gold since the one who was supposed to bear the gold had his hands full with the camel, who did not seem especially interested in witnessing the birth of the Christchild but showed a preference for sniffing shoetops along the aisle. Miss Fay Dull led the choir in four verses of “We Three Kings,” which served to carry the gift-bearing wise men on up to the stable but broke off a minute or two before the one with camel had a chance to make the altar. Only the angel of the Lord seemed at all perturbed by the delay, but then he had just grown somewhat harness-weary and thrashed around in an effort to relieve himself.

The baby Jesus had gotten born in the meantime and as the wise men closed in to adore him, the camel, who was supposed to be tethered up away from the goose and the piglets and the chickens and the goats, got loose into the back of the stable and sprawled on the hay where he licked himself through the better part of Miss Dull’s solo performance of “Away in a Manger.” Then came time for reverend Shelton to read a passage from the Book of Matthew, and Momma said that’s when the trouble started. When the reverend turned on his pulpit lamp so as to see the Bible, considerable light was thrown onto the front edge of the congregation, and best as Momma could figure it the Virgin Mary, who had the Christchild in her arms and was flanked all around by Joseph and the wise men, looked up long enough to get an eyeful of a colored woman in the front pew, which would have been a rarity in any pew, and then she looked again and saw it was Aunt Willa and since she knew wherever Aunt Willa went Miss Pettigrew might be, she looked off beside Aunt Willa and found Miss Pettigrew herself, who had already become a kind of local spook.

Momma said the sight of Miss Pettigrew must have simply shocked the Virgin Mary and in her agitation she lost her grip on the baby Jesus and dropped him onto the edge of the manger, where his porcelain head got jarred loose from the rest of him and fell onto the hay next to one of the goats, and Momma said the sound of the baby Jesus’ head hitting the floor startled the one goat, who bucked into the other one who lunged the length of his tether and jolted one of the lanterns off its peg, and Momma said when it hit the floor the glass chimney broke and the hay caught fire. The wise men bolted off in one direction, Joseph cleared out in the other, and the Virgin Mary crept backwards into the stable with her hands over her mouth until she stepped on the camel’s hindquarters, which caused him to jump to his feet and start barking. By this time the angel of the Lord figured things had pretty much fallen to pieces and he set up a fuss to be hauled in right away; he said the harness was making his legs blue. But Momma said he was left to dangle over the stable while two baritones came down out of the choir loft and smothered the flames with their robes before going to the assistance of the Virgin Mary, who had momentarily lost her wits. In a matter of minutes everything was back to order except for the camel who continued to bark and make threatening noises, but he cowed immediately when the voice of God shouted down from the rafters, “Mayhew, shut up!”

Momma said some one of the ushers finally showed the great good sense to turn the sanctuary lights up and everybody along the left aisle leapt bolt upright to see if that was indeed Miss Pettigrew in the company of Aunt Willa in the front row, and when they found out that yes, it was, they told the people beside them who told the people beside them who told the people beside them and the news shot through the sanctuary like electricity. Momma said nobody seemed to care that the reverend’s Christmas pageant had nearly burned the church down or that the reverend himself had fallen into a faint behind the pulpit or that the angel of the Lord had commenced to wail and sob and say how doctors would have to cut his legs off with a handsaw if somebody didn’t draw him into the choir loft straightaway. She said all people wanted to do was look at Miss Pettigrew since they’d been without the chance to in nearly a decade and didn’t know when the opportunity might present itself again. So everybody stood up, she said, and looked. Aunt Willa helped Miss Pettigrew off the pew, and Momma said she tried to lead her on out of the sanctuary but Miss Pettigrew held up and faced the congregation, not seeming at all mysterious or tainted or stern, but just a little wilted and sheepish and fairly human.

Momma said Aunt Willa’s cheeks were all puffy and swollen and her gums obviously gave her some pain when she snatched at Miss Pettigrew’s elbow and said, “Come on h’yer,” but Miss Pettigrew just stood where she was and worked her lips as if she might say something, as if she might say hello. Momma said folks looked at each other and looked at Miss Pettigrew and looked at each other again until Miss Pettigrew finally opened her mouth and said nothing whatsoever.

Then Aunt Willa took her by the elbow. “Come on h’yer Miss Pettigrew,” she said. “Come on h’yer to home.” And Momma said this time Miss Pettigrew let Aunt Willa have her way and everybody watched them down the aisle, watched them into the narthex, watched them even after the angel of the Lord unhooked himself from the rope and fell through the stable roof."

***An excerpt from an absolutely hilarious book by: Pearson, T. R. A Short History of a Small Place. New York: Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 1985.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christ Was Born For This

Christmas is almost here, but “peace on earth” certainly isn't. "Good will toward men" can be found in spots, I suppose.  But like prosperity, "world peace" is just around the corner. And that corner is "the coming of the Prince of Peace" (Isa 9:6-7).  When "the Lord of hosts" returns to earth to take David’s throne and bring peace to earth, "He will be a garland of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people" (Is 28:5-6, 16; 62:1-12).

He came to earth once and was crowned with many thorns. Instead of a throne of peace and glory, He went to a cross of shame and suffering. But there He made peace by the blood of His cross (Col 1:20). "Christ is our peace." He was born of Mary that He might taste death for every man and deliver us from the wrath to come (Heb 2:9; 1 Thes 1:10).  Christ was born for this!

We have just finished up our Christmas concerts at church, and this song was one of my favorites that we sang and played (choir and orchestra). The words and music present so clearly the reason why Christ was born.

Upon a starry night,
By golden candlelight,
Love came down, a Rose so fair
And bloomed within a stable bare.

To the shadows Christ was born,
A gentle Rose to bear the thorn.
Christ was born for this.
Christ was born for this.

And in this world of woe,
This Child would learn and grow;
Teaching all the way of peace,
Reaching out to those in need.

Moving through the weary land,
He touched the sick with tender hands.
Christ was born for this.
Christ was born for this.

Bringing us hope,
Bringing us life.
Christ was born for this.
Christ was born for this.

From heaven's glory Christ came down
And laid aside His royal crown.
On the cross He paid the price,
And gave Himself a sacrifice.

Bethlehem to Calvary,
He came to set His people free.
Christ was born for this.
Christ was born for this.

Bring us healing.
Bringing us hope,
Bringing us life.
Christ was born to bring us healing.

Upon a starry night,
By golden candlelight,
Christ was born for this.
Christ was born for this.

Words by Joseph M. Martin

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Andes Mint Cookies

I have added a new cookie to my Christmas cookie tray this year.  The frosting on these cookies is created with a melted Andes mint.  Soft and not too sweet, they're the perfect blend of chocolate and mint!

3/4 c butter
1 1/2 c brown sugar
2 tbsp water
12 oz chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 3/4 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
24 Andes mints

In medium saucepan, melt together butter, brown sugar, and water, stirring occasionally.  Add chocolate chips and stir until melted.  Add remaining ingredients and combine to form a dough.  Chill dough about an hour.  Then roll dough into balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, leaving ample space between dough balls.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes.  Remove cookies from oven, and top each cookie with half an Andes mint.  Allow mint to melt and then swirl the mint over the cookie with a knife.  Makes about 48 cookies.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rejoice, rejoice, my soul,
Rejoice in sin forgiven;
The blood of Christ hath made thee whole,
For thee His life was given.

For thee His blood was shed,
On Him thy sins were laid;
To bear thy guilt He bowed His head,
And now thy peace is mine.

Rejoice in peace made sure,
No judgment now for thee;
Thy conscience purged, thy life secure,
More safe thou cannot be.

Thy Savior is the Lord,
Who died to set thee free;
Thy trust is in His faithful word,
He liveth now for thee.

Rejoice in joys to come,
The hope of glory near;
He’ll soon return to take thee home,
No cause for thee to fear!

Now, by the Spirit sealed,
Rejoice in God the Lord;
The mighty God is now thy shield,
And He thy great reward.

Thy song of triumph raise;
Exult with heart and voice;
Oh shout aloud His glorious praise!
Rejoice, my soul, rejoice!

Sir Robert Anderson

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A word on the Beatitudes - 3

Isn't there any application in the Beatitudes for us today, then?

Of course there is — because "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 2:16-17). But in order to apply it correctly, we must first remember who the audience is, the circumstances of the particular portion of Scripture, AND that Scripture isn't always written directly to us or about us.  For the Beatitudes, the audience is believing Jews who are still under the Law, and the circumstances are — the kingdom is at hand.

So keeping this in mind, let's look at the following beatitudes:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:4).

We can apply this verse to ourselves in a general way.  Remember, prophecy tells us that Israel will one day repent and turn to Christ and mourn for all the years they didn't, and that this particular verse is referring to that and how they will be comforted when Christ reigns in the earthly kingdom.  However, we can apply this to when we were saved.  We too came to a point when we realized and mourned our sinful state before placing our faith in Christ's finished work on the cross for us.

This verse does not, however, give us permission to constantly dredge up every sin we remember committing between now and when we go home to be with our Lord and mourn over it. Never does Paul tell us to beat ourselves up over our sinfulness after we're saved.  In Romans 7 (cf. Gal 5:17) Paul acknowledges that he (and we) still sins — that a battle continues to wage between his "inmost self" and his "members" — but instead of mourning over it, he concludes that "I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin," and rejoices that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1)." And though continually admonishing us to keep putting off the old self and putting on the new (Eph 4:21-24; Col 3:5-17), he still tells us to — "Rejoice ALWAYS!" (1 Thes 5:16; Phil 4:4; cf Heb 10:1-12) 

This means that we shouldn't be mourning over our sins, then rejoicing, then mourning our sins, then rejoicing, etc.  What a vicious cycle to be in!  There is a difference, of course, between mourning temporarily about a sin we regularly fall into and mourning habitually about our sinfulness. The first is healthy, the second is not. Why?  Because in Christ we have already been forgiven all our sinspast, present, and future.  In Christ we are already clean!  So rejoice always in Christ!  (For more on this see "1 John 1:9" and "Complete in Him" and "I'm Clean!")

I like the way my late brother-in-law use to end his benedictions — "Leave Rejoicing in the Lord!"  Comforting indeed.

Let's look at another beatitude:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt 5:6).

We shouldn't assume that our Lord was speaking of imputed righteousness here, because the theme of Paul's epistle to the Romans was clearly not the theme of our Lord's message to the Jewish disciples.

Let's imagine again that we are one of these Jewish believers so that we can get a clear understanding of His message to them.  Under the rule of Rome, the people of Israel had to bear a lot of injustice and unrighteousness.  They suffered a lot of injustice and unrighteousness from their own religious leaders, too (Matt 23:1-7).  This, of course, caused many to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and in this beatitude our Lord promised that in His kingdom their hunger and thirst will be satisfied.

Jeremiah 23:5 confirms this interpretation of the passage because it says that our Lord, in His coming reign, will "execute justice and righteousness in the land."  Isaiah 11:4 tells us that He will "decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth."  In other words, he will judge in their behalf.  Isaiah 32:1 tells us that under His reign "princes will rule in justice," and Isaiah 26:9 that "the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness."  In fact, Old Testament prophecy is full of promises and descriptions of the righteousness that will prevail on earth at that time.

But in Paul's epistles our Lord goes straight to the heart of the matter and explains that man's case is hopeless apart from redeeming grace. "Scripture," he says, "imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal 3:22), since "none is righteous, no, not one" (Rom 3:10).  In fact, he explains that the Law was given for the exact purpose of demonstrating man's unrighteousness (Rom 3:19) and his desperate need for a Savior.

BUT NOW the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:21-26).

"...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil 3:9). 

Blessed for sure are those who hunger and thirst after this righteousness — righteousness that is not their own — for they will be satisfied!

Okay, last one:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt 5:9).

While the words "blessed are the peacemakers" apply to God's people in every age, the promise which follows certainly does not.  Today peacemakers are by no means always, or even generally, "called sons of God."  In fact, they're often called troublemakers.

But the whole passage does apply specifically to the kingdom which our Lord proclaimed "at hand" while He was on earth.  The  Messianic kingdom will be characterized by the peace that will prevail then.  When our Lord returns to reign, "He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa 2:4).

In Isaiah 9:6-7 it says that Messiah is "the Prince of Peace," and that "of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end..."  But before international peace can be achieved there must be peace among God's people, and this is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount: the peace that flows from sincere love will one day flow from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

This peace we, as members of the Church today, should daily seek to foster (Rom 14:19), not in view of the kingdom being established, but as fellow members of the "one body" (Eph 4:3-6).

While there can be no international peace until our Lord returns to judge between the nations (Isa 2:4), the message that we have been commissioned to proclaim is one of "grace and peace," not peace among men, but personal peace with God, made possible by His grace.

The peace that men will enjoy under Messiah's reign will be largely destroyed again at its close (though the kingdom itself and His people will not be destroyed - Isa 9:7), as we read in Revelation 20:7-9.  But the peace that Paul's epistles proclaim will never be disrupted, because it is the gift of God's grace through the finished work of Christ, "who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 4:25-5:1).

Not only do we by faith have "peace with God," but we also by faith have access to the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" (Phil 4:6-7).

May God help us to fulfil our commission to proclaim reconciliation and peace to a world at war with Him, so that many more may come to know "peace with God" and "the peace of God."

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:14-21).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A word on the Beatitudes - 2

In my last post I talked about how the direct audience of the Beatitudes was Jewish believers.  Now I'd like to go into greater detail about why our Lord preached them.  In Matthew 5:17, a mere few verses after the Beatitudes, He clearly states His objective:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Of course we now know that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law for us in two ways:  He obeyed the Law perfectly in His life, and He took all our sin upon Himself and thereby died as a sinner in order to pay the penalty of the broken Law for us in His death.  Our Lord was most likely alluding to these truths when He told these Jewish believers that He had come to fulfill the Law, but I don't believe they were His main emphasis.  Here's why:

1.  It isn't until much later, in Matthew 16:21, that we read: "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."  So in our Lord's Sermon on the Mount (which includes the Beatitudes), He couldn't have been specifically speaking of His coming death for sin.  Nor should we read into it what Paul later tells us of imputed righteousness, because we are clearly told that when Jesus began to tell His disciples about His coming death and resurrection, Peter rebuked Him for thinking He would be killed (Matt 16:22), and none of the twelve understood what he was talking about (Lk 18:34).

2.  Matthew 5:17 corresponds to the message which He and His apostles had been preaching — "the gospel of the kingdom."  This kingdom, long prophesied and graphically described in the Old Testament, will be based on the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, which was based on the Mosaic Law.  When our Lord reigns as King, and His subjects follow the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, the Law and prophets will be fulfilled.  Not only will God put His Spirit within them and cause them to obey His statutes and ordinances (Ezek 36:27), but the wonderful descriptions of Messiah's reign, called by Peter, "the times of refreshing," will also be fulfilled (Acts 3:19-21; Isa 32 and 35).

Comparing the Sermon on the Mount with Paul's epistles now, let's see what each contains and what each doesn't.  In the first, we find a wonderful way of life on earth proclaimed, but nothing about God's plan of salvation from sin by grace through faith in Christ alone. In the latter we find the message of abounding grace to sinners, but nothing about social reform, equal rights, communal living or anything of that sort. Paul makes it clear that with the rejection of Christ this world was doomed to judgment, but that God in grace delayed the judgment of Israel and the nations so that individuals might find forgiveness and salvation through faith in Christ, who died for our sins (Rom 11:32-34; cf. Eph 1:7; Rom 3:24).

In other words, during the kingdom reign of Christ on earth — when the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes are fulfilled —righteousness will reign (Isa 32:1, 16-17; 61:11; Jer 23:5-6).  But now — though the days are evil (Eph 5:16) and godlessness grows (2 Tim 3:1-9), though righteousness is trampled upon (Heb 10:29) and Christ remains an exile (Heb 1:13; 10:12-14) — GRACE REIGNS!  This is not because He is being lenient, but rather righteous; i.e. the righteousness of Christ is paying the penalty for our sins, so that it is now a righteous thing on God's part to justify the believing sinner.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26).

To those of you who have not yet placed your faith in Jesus Christ's death on your behalf, there is still time to respond. God is patiently extending grace to all who will believe. 

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rom 9:22-24) 

He won't be patient forever, so please take Him up on His offer now while you still have the chance.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).

Friday, November 23, 2012

A word on the Beatitudes

The Beatitudes, which are part of the Sermon on the Mount, can be found most completely in Matthew 5:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5:3-12) 

Many people who read these beatitudes, however, fail to ask the basic questions: "To whom was our Lord speaking?" "What were the circumstances?" "Why did He preach them?"  Applying them to all men alike, they say that this is the way we ought to live.  But emphasizing good works will never reform fallen human nature, and it's a big mistake to think that this was the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount.

So to whom was our Lord speaking?  Was He speaking to all men?  Not at all, because not only was He "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," He clearly instructed His apostles to "go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 15:24; 10:5-6).  He wasn't even speaking to the people of Israel as such at that time, because we read that "seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain" and that there He addressed "His disciples" (Matt 5:1).  All through this sermon our Lord distinguishes His disciples from the world, even the religious world, around them.

He certainly wasn't addressing the members of the Body of Christ because much of what He said doesn't and can't be directly applied to us today. The merciful today don't always obtain mercy; those who mourn are by no means always comforted; peacemakers are not generally called the children of God, and certainly the meek don't inherit the earth. They've never inherited it since these promises were first made.

Actually, the Sermon on the Mount — and especially its Beatitudes — is one of the strongest evidences that the Body of Christ was still a mystery "hidden for ages in God" as Paul so often tells us (Eph 3:1-11; Col 1:24-2:2), because our Lord addressed His disciples, the remnant of believers in Israel, as if the prophesied time of tribulation were imminent and the establishment of His kingdom were soon to take place.

Try to picture the scene back then among the Jewish believers. The prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Messiah had been fulfilled — He had actually come, and the establishment of His kingdom was "at hand." This is why John the Baptist, our Lord, and His twelve apostles all went about proclaiming the same message: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 3:1-2; 4:17; 10:7). Theirs was "the gospel of the kingdom," not "the gospel of the grace of God," and certainly not "the preaching of the cross."

The Beatitudes, then, give us the characteristics of those who will be heirs of the kingdom to be established on the earth one day.  Against this background, let's look at a few of the Beatitudes individually and see how perfectly they harmonize with "the gospel of the kingdom" which our Lord and His apostles preached.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3).

The millennial kingdom will be made up, not of those who are spiritually smug, but rather of those who realize their spiritual need.  Pride will not be tolerated under the reign of Christ.  Rather His kingom will be built on humility and love.  Today, however, we are not asked to be anything to inherit a position in Christ, only to trust in Him who died for our sins.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:4).

This promise is particularly significant in light of Old Testament prophecies and Pentecost, because mourning has a special relation to Israel's latter days. This is clear when we look at the ministry and message of John the Baptist, our Lord on earth, and the twelve apostles. They all came proclaiming to apostate Israel to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

Instead of repenting, however, Israel crucified her Messiah.  In response to our Lord's prayer on the cross for their forgiveness (Lk 23:34), God gave them another chance at Pentecost when Peter offered them the return of Christ if they would repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19-21).  But again, rather than repent they stood their ground, even stoning Stephen to death and waging war against the disciples of Christ.

According to prophecy, Israel will one day repent and mourn.  In that day Israel will finally respond to God's call to repent and turn to Christ, and friends and neighbors, even husbands and wives, will be ashamed to look at each other as they mourn over their long rejection of Messiah. 

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves" (Zech 12:10-14).

Many other Old Testament Scriptures tell us that Israel will not be saved until she turns in repentance to her crucified Messiah (Zech 13:1; Isa 51:11-12; 40:1-2; 61:1-3).  These passages agree with the words of our Lord in Matthew 24:30: "...and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."  They also agree with Revelation 1:7: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen."

But is this how we are saved today?  No, because God interrupted the prophetic program and sent Paul to proclaim to all men that God had enthroned grace (Rom 5:20-21), committing to him "the gospel," the good news, "of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).  Unlike Peter at Pentecost, Paul doesn't charge men with the crucifixion of Christ.  Rather he says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). 

In Romans 5:10 Paul even makes the amazing statement that "we [once enemies] were reconciled to God by the death of his Son."  Whereas, according to the prophetic program, the cross made the enmity between God and man (Ps 2:1-5; 110:1), Paul says that according to God's eternal purpose the enmity was slain by the cross, i.e., He counted that death the payment for our sins, so that He could "preach peace" to us Gentles "who were far off and peace to those [Israel] who were near (Eph 2:16-17).

In Paul's message, our Lord is no longer seen as a victim—even a voluntary victim—at Calvary, but as the victor over Satan, sin, death, and the Law. "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Col 2:15), at the same time He took the Law, "set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col 2:14).  It is He who, at the cross, paid the penalty for our sins and delivered us from the fear of death (Heb 2:14).  Where do we find any of this in the Sermon on the Mount?

Okay, one more:  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).

It's very possible that our Lord chose these words from Psalm 37:11 where we read: "But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace."  Obviously our Lord spoke these words with the kingdom in view because the meek certainly don't inherit the earth today.  When this promise was made the Roman Empire was ruling with brutal force, and during the centuries that followed, tyrants like Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Josef Stalin have acquired large portions of this earth by taking them.  But when our Lord returns to reign, the meek will indeed inherit the earth. 

While it has not been promised to us that we will inherit the earth (see previous post about this here), we have been given a position in the highest heaven in and with Christ.  By grace God has seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6) and has there already "blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing" (Eph 1:3).  Some day, in changed and resurrected bodies, we "will be caught up" to meet and be with Him forever (1 Thes 4:16-18; 1 Cor 15:51-52).  What a wonderful day that will be!

(to be cont)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When Trials Come

Sometimes life gets overwhelming  — money problems, health concerns, family tensions, etc. — but in it all God is with us.  Even more, He is working through all these things to our benefit (Rom 8:28-30).

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told
And there His faithfulness is told
Within the night I know Your peace
The breath of God brings strength to me
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow
As treasures of the darkness grow
I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good
When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in its shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun
One day all things will be made new
I'll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I'll praise your faithfulness of old
I'll praise your faithfulness of old

by Keith and Kristyn Getty


Sunday, November 4, 2012

WWJD (What would Jesus do?)

We often hear that a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ, and that it doesn't really matter what you believe as long as you are following Him. There are few things to keep in mind regarding our Lord Jesus' life here on earth, though.

When He was eight days old He was circumcised (Lk 2:21).

He was born UNDER THE LAW (Gal 4:4) and came to fulfill the law (Matt 5:17-18).

He recognized the authority of those who were in the LAW SEAT while here on the earth (Matt 23:1-3).

When He was thirty years old, AS HIS CUSTOM WAS, He attended the Jewish ‘LAW’ services in the Jewish synagogue on the SEVENTH DAY JEWISH SABBATH (Lk 4:16).

In Luke 12:33 He said, "Sell your possessions, and give to the needy." (For more on this, see Sell Everything.)

In Matthew 10:8 He said, "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons."

In Luke 6:30 the He said: "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."

He said, in Matthew 6:17, "But when you fast, anoint your head and WASH your face." Then in Hebrews 9:10 we are told that the WASHINGS were imposed on the Jews until THE TIME OF THE NEW ORDER.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, however, we are told to be imitators of Paul as he followed Christ. (See also Phil 3:17). Christ was speaking in Paul (2 Cor 13:3). Members of the Body of Christ today are not in the will of God in following Jesus of Nazareth in much that He did and said while on earth. In fact, they cannot intelligently follow Jesus Christ unless they follow the truth revealed by Christ to and through Paul.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Acts 17

It's been a rather overwhelming couple of months.  I haven't been blogging because I've either been out of town, sick, and/or extremely busy.  To jump back in, I thought I'd post this quote by C.R. Stam talking about the seventeenth chapter of Acts.  If you've been following my bible study blog — justme2 — you'll have already seen this.  But because I think it's so good, I'm bringing it over to this blog, too.

"At the synagogue in Thessalonica Paul reasoned out of the Scriptures for three sabbaths (or weeks) with men who were unwilling to listen, with the result that only a few (Gr. 'certain') of them believed, while 'a great multitude' of the Gentiles believed. What Paul preached was new to them and they refused to consider it, letting the Gentiles put them, God's chosen people, to shame ... The Athenisans went to the other extreme. They lost interest in what was old and clamoured only to hear the new. Yet if what they heard did not appeal to them some 'mocked' while others said, more politely: 'We will hear thee again of this matter,' with the result that there too the fruit was meagre ... Significantly, the record of the Bereans comes between those of the Thessalonians and the Athenians. The Bereans possessed the true spiritual greatness to give man's word a respectful hearing, whether old or new, and then to subject it to an examination in the light of God's Word. The result was that 'therefore many of them believed,' in comparison with few of the Thessalonians and the Athenians."

"If there is anything this passage teaches it is that every believer is responsible to examine even the best teaching in the light of the Scriptures, that every preacher should expect his teachings to be so examined and should thank God for those who do this. Indeed, it is a sign of a lack of spiritual greatness when men of God resent Scriptural examination of their teachings by their hearers. The purity of the Church, doctrinally, depends not upon loyalty to the dogmas of the Church, but upon the maintenance of the Berean spirit among the people of God ... Let us never close our minds so as to keep error out, for in doing so we will only shut new light out and close old errors in. Moreover, it is but a small step from shutting out new light from God's Word to engaging in bitter opposition to it ... How this lesson is needed in the professing Church today among preachers as well as hearers! Modernists cast away precious treasures of the Bible, explaining that they are old and out of date, while Fundamentalists, clinging to old truth (and error) reject new light simply because it is new! Modernists vie with each other to keep up to date, intellectually, while Fundamentalists vie with each other to be orthodox, when both should make it their aim to be Scriptural, bowing in faith before the Word of God."

I couldn't agree with him more!  How about you?


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin?

Why do you suppose Peter told the people they had to "Repent and be baptized" for the forgiveness of their sin in Acts 2:37-41?  Does this mean we must be baptized to be saved?  I placed my faith in Christ when I was 6 years old but wasn't baptized until I was 11.  Was I saved at age 6 or 11?  What about those who are never baptized; are they saved?  Isn't all this faith plus works?   

Well yes it is.  And people do all sorts of things to make these verses fit with what Paul tells us later on (Rom 3:21-28, etc.).  Things like, "Repentance is turning from sin and baptism is turning toward the church, meaning that you're publicly identifying with the church when you're baptized."  It is further explained that "conversion is not a feeling" and that "it isn't faith alone plus whatever you feel like doing.  You must act like you've been converted, and this includes being publicly identified with the church."

I guess I can't really blame them since Peter is preaching faith plus works.  I do blame them, however, for not noting to whom he was speaking (Jews!) or the progression of Scripture.  For example, look at the following passages:

In the Gospels we read that John proclaimed "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" so that Jesus Christ might be revealed to Israel.  And don't forget, Israel was still under the law at this time (Matt 5:18-20; 7:12; 8:4; 19:17; 23:2-3; Mk 1:44; Lk 2:22; 5:14; Gal 4:4), which explains the faith plus works he preached.**

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4).

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Lk 3:2-6).

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel” (Jn 1:29-31).

Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel (Acts 13:24).

Peter continued to preach to Israel the kingdom at hand and a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:36-41; 3:19-21).

“...Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:36-41).

In order to correctly interpret the book of Acts, we must remember that it is a transitional book, starting with "to the Jews only" in the beginning chapters and closing with "to the Gentiles and the Jews."  As one author well said, "During the years covered by the first nine chapters of Acts, God's order was 'to the Jews first not to the Gentiles.' Beginning with Acts 13:46 God's order was 'to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles,' until the close of Acts.' Since the judgment of God, recorded in Acts 28:25-28, God's order has been 'to the Gentiles and also to the Jews.'"  Also concerning the Book of Acts, Sir Robert Anderson says this in his book Silence of God: “My contention is that the Acts, as a whole is the record of a temporary and transitional dispensation in which blessing was again offered to the Jew and again rejected.” “The right understanding of the Acts of the Apostles . . . a book which is primarily the record, not as commonly supposed, of the founding of the Christian Church, but of the apostasy of the favoured nation.”

Keeping this in mind, let's look again at Acts 2:38.  Scripture tells us that John proclaimed "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" to Israel.  The only difference between Peter's proposition to Israel in Acts 2:38 and John's is one of historical development; the Holy Spirit had come so Peter could add, "and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

The first part of Acts, then, doesn't present Christianity at all.  It presents Judaism!  No revelation had yet been given that salvation was to be by grace through faith alone.**  In fact, we will not clearly see the "gospel of the grace of God" until Paul comes on the scene (Rom 3:21-28; Eph 2:11-22).

This is why there is such a huge difference between Peter at Pentecost, demanding repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, and Paul later proclaiming Christ's righteousness for the remission of sins (Rom 3:21-28).

**"Faith will most assuredly approach God in God’s way at any time, and to seek to gain acceptance with Him in any other way would, of course, be unbelief and self-will. Thus, while works never did or could save as such, they did once save as expressions of faith…..Does this mean that works will be efficacious in themselves? No! They will avail only as the expression and evidence of faith..."