Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Closer To You

Closer to me I'm tired and I'm weak
And every breath within me is longing just to be
Closer to You
So I face the road ahead
Cause I know there's no comparing
To what's waiting at the end

So let the rain start falling where it will
And I will run through this valley
Just to climb to that hill
And if they ask why I'm smiling
After all I've been through
It's cause I'm just a day closer to You

Closer to me I hear You whisper on the wind
You say although my life is ending
A new one will begin
Closer to You
And I know I'm not alone
Cause I can hear You in the distance
Saying, you are nearly home

So let the rain start falling where it will
And I will run through this valley
Just to climb to that hill
And if they ask why I'm dancing
Though my days may be few
It's cause I'm just a day closer to You

Closer to me You're in the laughter and the tears
Of the ones I leave behind me
Who have prayed me through the years
Closer to You
And I know it won't be long
Till You're running down the pathway
Just to take me in Your arms

So let the rain start falling where it will
And I will run through this valley
Just to climb to that hill
And if they ask why I'm singing
Though my life's almost through
It's cause I'm just a day closer
I'm just a day closer
I'm just a day closer to You

by Mark Schultz

Monday, May 30, 2016

Interesting tidbit - 25

Q:  "I am a new Christian, and my mother just passed away. Do the dead know nothing?"

A:  While it is true that "the dead know nothing" (Eccl 9:5), this refers to how the dead know nothing of what goes on here on earth. We read something similar in Job 14:10,21:

But a man dies and is laid low...His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not.
Also, Isaiah 63:16 says:

For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us...
Finally, in 2 Kings 22:20, God says:

...I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place...
Having said all that, it must be remembered that while the dead know nothing of what is going on here on earth, this does not mean they are not conscious, aware and even able to speak in heaven, as we see in Revelation 6:9-11:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"  Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Law

In the life of the believer, the Law can be an excellent thermometer, revealing how hot sin is running in his life, but it has no power to act as a thermostat, i.e., it is powerless to regulate sin (Romans 7).

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Interesting tidbit - 24

Q:  What does Paul mean when he says that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin?

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom 14:23).

A:  We know that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17).  The Word of God through Paul says that we can eat all things (1 Tim 4:4), but he who is "weak in faith" (Rom 14:1) doubts this and limits himself to eating "vegetables" (Rom 14:2).  His faith has not yet matured to believe Paul when he says he can eat meant, so "whoever has doubts...if he eats...does not proceed from faith..."

But if he wouldn't eat it "of faith," why would he eat it?  Well, in this passage he might eat meat trying to follow the example of his stronger brother.  This is why Paul encourages strong believers not to eat meat in front of weaker believers (Rom 14:15), which might embolden the weaker believer's conscience to go ahead and eat it (cf. 1 Cor 8:10)?  If he eats meat to try to walk in the footsteps of his stronger brother, rather than eating it because of faith in God's Word, it will cause him to stumble (Rom 14:13, 21) by doing something that bothers his conscience.

So back to the question:  How come "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin"?  It's because "it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean" (Rom 14:14).  God actually adjusts the definition of what is unclean to agree with the weaker brother's conscience.  Since his faith does not yet believe that he can eat meat, his "eating is not from faith," and "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" to him.

But why would a weaker brother be "condemned if he eats"?  Well, the word "condemned" doesn't always refer to eternal condemnation in Hell.  The word "condemned" simply means judgement of any kind.  So when a weaker brother eats meat that he believes is unclean, it is sin for him, and he is condemned by his own conscience, since he judges what he has done to be sinful.

Friday, April 22, 2016


We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Songwriter: LIZ STORY

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor 12:9).

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Does God Send Us Suffering?

"Have you considered that maybe this suffering is from God?"  

This was suggested to me when a decision to change a program in church greatly affected me.  Preference was given to those under 50 years of age, and those over 50 were basically marginalized.  "Oh, but it's for a good reason," we were told.  "We need to attract younger people to this program."  When I expressed discouragement over this, it was suggested to me that perhaps my suffering is from God.

For now, I would like to look past the fact that since both young and old are part of the church, preference should not be given to one over the other.  Instead, for my own edification and to soothe my own soul, I would like to look into whether or not God sends suffering to us today. 

So does God send us suffering?  Obviously the person who suggested this to me believes He does.  But on what is he basing his belief? Specifically, what Scriptures could he be referring to?  

Let's look at some well-known passages on this subject.

Leviticus 26:14-26 tells us that one may be chastened with adversity because of disobedience to God.  First Samuel 13:8-14 also informs us that Saul lost his kingdom when he disobeyed God and that David lost his son because of disobedience (2 Sam 11:1-12;14). While these examples prove that physical disciplining is Biblical, we must take progressive revelation into account.  These passages were to and about people who were under the law.  Under the law, God promised to physically bless His people if they obeyed and punish them if they disobeyed (Deut 11:25-28).

Personally, I believe that physical chastening is inconsistent with this government of grace. Many believers would agree that God is not blessing us physically when we do good since we are already blessed with all spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3).  But if God is not physically blessing us when we are good, then we must also conclude that He is not punishing us when we are bad if we are to be consistent.  Therefore, if we fall into sin today, we need not be afraid that God will give us a disease tomorrow.  

Some may say, "Well, what about 1 Corinthians 11:29-30?  People weren't under the law then."

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

But this reference is from one of Paul's early epistles, written before many other transitional things had been withdrawn (see also Acts 5:1-11), such as the spiritual gifts mentioned in the very next chapters (1 Cor 12-14).  If it is significant that there is no mention of these gifts in Paul's later epistles — and I believe it is significant — then it must also be significant that there is no mention of physical disciplining in Paul's later epistles.

Also, any physical disciplining God might engage in today would be completely ineffectual for the following reasons.  When Saul sinned, the prophet Samuel was there to make the connection between his sin and the loss of his kingdom.  When David sinned, the prophet Nathan was there to connect his sin to the loss of his child.  Without a prophet to make this connection, David may well have concluded that his child died of natural causes. Even the Corinthians had the Apostle Paul to tell them that there was a reason they were weak and sickly.  However, today there are no inspired prophets of God who can link the hardships in our lives, and we will drive ourselves crazy speculating on such things.

Okay, one more:  What about Hebrews 12:3-8?

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 

First thing to notice about this passage is that it is in the book of Hebrews, the name of which tells us whom it was written directly to and about.  Not that we can't take application from it — in fact we should! — but we can't take direct application from it.

So, "what son is there whom his father does not discipline"?  There is an answer to this question, too.  Fathers do not physically discipline adult sons.  If someone is still spanking their adult son, there is something seriously wrong with their relationship. Adult sons are not disciplined with the rod of correction, they are chastened with words of correction.  We who have received "the adoption of sons" (Gal 4:4-5) are considered full-grown sons in God's sight.  The "children of Israel" were often disciplined physically (Deut 11:25-28), but today "all Scripture is given...for correction" for adult sons such as us (2 Tim 3:16; Eph 1:5*). 

What about testing, then?  Does God send that?  For example, what about 1 Peter 4:11-14?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Notice the context here — "If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed..."  Was I insulted for the name of Christ when the program was changed at church?  Of course not. These verses tell us that it is not shameful to be a Christian, and that we will rejoice when Christ's glory is revealed because we have shared in His sufferings.  Nowhere does it say that these sufferings (fiery trials that test us) come from God.  Quite the contrary, it is unbelievers who insult us because we follow Christ, just as they insulted Christ Himself when He walked this earth.

But God does test our hearts for righteousness (1 Chron 29:17; 2 Chron 32:31; Ps 66:10; Prov 17:3; 1 Thes 2:3-5), and those whose works are done in faith will receive a reward in heaven (Matt 5:11-13; 6:2-5; 1 Cor 3:11-14, etc.).  

The motivation to righteousness and blessings received under the law were different than they are today, however (Rom 6:14; 7:4-6; 10:4).  Since under the law God physically blessed Israel when they obeyed Him and physically punished them when they did not, God challenged Israel again and again to obey so that He might bless them (Mal 3:10-12).  But today under grace, God has already opened the windows of heaven and blessed us "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph 1:3), so that we, in response to this great gift, might be moved to live for Him (2 Cor 8:1-5).  Do you see the difference?  God told Israel to test Him with their obedience to see if He wouldn't bless them in response.  But today God tests us by blessing us up front, and then asks us to walk in Him in response.

So no, I don't believe that God sends us suffering today.  He does not cause us to go through difficult situations — such as losing a job, acquiring a disease, or being marginalized for being over 50 — in order to discipline or test us.  Rather, these sufferings come from this broken world around us.

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:2-5).

And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:27-28).

*adoption as sons (Eph 1:5) = to place an adult son —"The apostle here used as an illustration the Roman practice of legally adopting a child, and thus not only bequeathing to him the material possessions of the one adopting, but also giving him his civil status. Thus God takes a believing sinner, regenerates him, and by means of this makes him His child (teknon, a born one). Then He takes this child and places him in a legal position as an adult son (huios). We thus become joint-heirs with Christ, having been raised to a civil status as adult sons, in which we become heirs of God, inheriting jointly with Christ all that He possesses as an heir of God the Father by virtue of His Sonship and work on the Cross. This is one object of God’s predestination. The other is that the believer is to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29)." — Wuest, pages 36-37.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Your Grace Still Amazes Me

My faithful Father, enduring Friend
Your tender mercy’s like a river with no end
It overwhelms me, covers my sin
Each time I come into Your presence
I stand in wonder once again

Your grace still amazes me
Your love is still a mystery
Each day I fall on my knees
Your grace still amazes me
‘Cause Your grace still amazes me

Oh, patient Saviour, You make me whole
You are the Author and the Healer of my soul
What can I give You, Lord, what can I say
I know there’s no way to repay You
Only to offer You my praise

It’s deeper, it’s wider
It’s stronger, it’s higher
It’s deeper it’s wider
It’s stronger, it’s higher
than anything my eyes can see

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Paul's distinctive apostleship

Paul's Spirit-inspired claims for the distinctive character of his apostleship leave no room for doubt. Consider a sampling of these.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry (Rom 11:13).

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-12).

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Gal 2:7-9).

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly (Eph 3:1-3).

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations BUT NOW revealed to his saints (Col 1:24-26)

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2:5-7).

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies,
promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior (Titus 1:1-3).

Monday, January 25, 2016

Interesting tidbit - 24

Q:  In the Book of Acts, Paul goes to the Jews first in every city he visits. Why did he do that if he was the apostle to the Gentiles (1 Tim 2:5-7)?

A:  From the beginning of Christ's earthly ministry until God grants Cornelius repentance unto life in Acts 10 (about 7 or 8 years after Pentecost in Acts 2), God's order is "to the Jews only." Beginning with Paul's ministry out of Antioch in Acts 11 until Acts 28:25-28, God's order is "to the Jews first, also to the Gentiles." After Paul's statement in Act 28:28, "this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles," God's order is "to the Gentiles, also to the Jews" (Eph 2:17).

The Book of Acts records this transitional period of the setting aside of Israel. Throughout the entire book, God's order is either "to the Jews only" (Acts 1-9) or "to the Jews first, also to the Gentiles" (Acts 10-28).  When Paul comes on the scene, God's order changes from "to the Jew only" to "to the Jews first, also to the Gentile."  Paul also became as one under the law to those who were under the law in order to win unbelieving Jews for Christ (Acts 16:3; Acts 18:18; Acts 20:16; Acts 21:18-28; Acts 23:5-6).

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9:20-22).  

As an aside: According to 1 Corinthians 1:22, "Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom." So throughout the Book of Acts (when Paul writes 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans) the sign-gifts continued (1 Cor 12:8-11).  After Acts 28:25-28 — when God's order is no longer "to the Jews first" — credential signs, signs-gifts, and tongues ceased (1 Cor 13:8; cf., Phil 2:27; 1 Tim 5:23; 2 Tim 4:20).

Monday, January 18, 2016

Paul's distinctive apostleship and message

The most important issue in all of the Word of God for members of the Body of Christ is knowing the distinctiveness of the message and apostleship of the Apostle Paul.

Many believe that the Bible words printed in red are the most important because they were spoken by Christ. Of course they are important, as is all God’s Word. And we are to study them. But they were especially important to the Jewish people — who were still under the law — and to whom these words were written regarding the coming kingdom.

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying,"Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."(Matt 15:22-24).

Likewise, all that His apostles said and wrote were especially important to the Jewish people because they spoke and wrote directly to and about them.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matt 10:5-7).

The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, spoke and wrote directly to the Gentiles.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2:5-7; cf.Gal 1:11-12; Gal 2:7-9; Eph 3:1-3; Col 1:24-26; Titus 1:1-3).

Therefore, when we study the New Testament books, we must interpret them in light of the epistles written by Paul because they are Christ's final marching orders for the Church today and have the correct interpretation for the day in which we live. This does not mean we should read Paul back into what Jesus Christ and His apostles said. Rather Jesus Christ and His apostles should be interpreted in accordance with progressive revelation, taking into account the circumstances (Christ hadn't died and risen again yet, and people were still under the law) and to whom they were talking directly to and about (the Jews). For more on this go here.

There is probably no place where Paul sets his apostleship forth in stronger terms than in the first chapter of his epistle to the Galatians, especially in the very first verse. You can almost hear the thunder in the apostle's voice as he declares in his salutation, "Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—" (Gal 1:1).

Paul didn't always open his epistles by asserting his apostleship (cf. Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1; etc.), but the Galatians suffered from the same spiritual problem that plagues many Christians today — they doubted Paul's apostolic authority! So Paul comes out swinging in this epistle by declaring his authority as an apostle of God, and states, "I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles" (2 Cor 12:11). Who were these super-apostles? The Lord's chief apostles were Peter, James, and John, men who are mentioned ten times in Scripture apart from the twelve. Of those three chiefs, Peter was the chiefest of them all, but Paul was "not at all inferior" to him either (2 Cor 11:5).

But if Paul's apostleship was equal to Peter's, and no higher, why should we follow Paul? Surely it's because Peter was the apostle to the circumcision, and Paul was the apostle to the uncircumcision (Gal 2:7-9).

It's important for a believer to know who his apostle is! The governors of all fifty states are equal in authority, but you follow the governor of your state, and I follow the governor of mine. Peter and Paul were of equal authority in Scripture, but we follow Paul because he is the Apostle to the Gentiles. Just as we can't function as citizens unless we know who our governor is, we can't function as Christians unless we know who our apostle is.

Unfortunately, most believers today don't know that Paul is our apostle. And since most of them believe that Paul's apostleship is of no more consequence to us than the apostleship of Peter, James, and John, they are forced to conclude that Paul's message must be the same as these chief apostles.

The problem with this is that they know Paul taught if you are saved, the Lord has already forgiven you "all our trespasses" (Col 2:13). But they also know the Apostle John teaches that the Lord is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins" if we confess them (1 John 1:9). So to homogenize these two opposite and contradictory messages they conclude that believers are forgiven when they get saved, but need just a little more forgiveness when they sin. This despite the fact that forgiveness of sins is something that every believer receives the moment he is saved, along with salvation, justification, and redemption. Most Christians wouldn't think of asking for more salvation, justification, or redemption when they sin, but asking for more forgiveness is the only way to get Paul and John to say the same thing.

Most believers also know that Paul says that salvation is by grace through faith without works (Rom 4:5), but they also know that James is just as adamant that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20; cf James 1:1). So to homogenize these two opposite and contradictory messages they conclude that Paul is talking about justification before God while James is addressing the issue of justification before men, even though the Lord never asked anyone to be justified before men — in fact, He condemned it (Luke 16:15).

And on and on it goes, as futile attempts are made to try to blend Paul's unique message with the teachings of the Lord's chiefest apostles, the other writers of the New Testament. How much easier it would be to just acknowledge the distinctive apostleship and message of the Apostle Paul — and how much more Scriptural.