Nothing is too Wonderful

Amen to this:

God has made wonderful promises to us, too. All the promises have their “Yes” in Christ (II Corinthians 1:20). But like Sarah the wait wears us down. Do you, like me, have prayers unanswered? Do you wonder if God hears? HE DOES. So let’s encourage and remind one another: “Nothing is too hard, nothing too wonderful for God to accomplish.”

Jean Fleming: Live the Mystery

blog-phone

The story is familiar and moving. A couple longs for a child. They try and try again. Year after year. They pray. This prayer percolates up, bubbling to their vocal chords. The wife wakes with the prayer already in her mouth. Her prayer catches the rhythm as she kneads bread or stirs the pot. The prayer lies heavy on her chest before she falls asleep. Leaden. Futile? An exercise so well established that she can’t give it up. But hope ebbs. Too long hope is deferred. Prayer unanswered.

This is how I imagine Sarah, now old, past child-bearing, worn out by the wait.

God has promised a son. In fact, a nation. The promises God made lit up the sky and lay in the sand at their feet. Promises too great. Promises so expansive and glittering. Promises so wonderful—and impossible.

Time had run out for them. She was past child-bearing…

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Note to young and old

A timely reminder for all who are lonely, hurting or depressed with the world and wondering where God is. Hold firm, keep the faith. If we all took Psalm 23 to heart we would be greatly comforted by Jesus:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

atimetoshare.me

 PROVERBS 2:29  “The glory of young men is their strength,
    but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.”

I’ve talked about how important it is for kids to know they have value.  The same is true for us old fogeys.  I think we forget that somewhere in middle age, because we’re so busy building a life – raising a family – making time for everything that has to be done.  When we’re on the outer edges of life (beginning and end) we tend to lose faith in our abilities.

I have a concern for our teens and their gnawing desire at times to end their existence because they just can’t take it anymore.  Life can be overwhelming when you’re going from one stage in life to another.  The same is true for us seniors as we see our lives melting away, our strength being sapped, our dependence on…

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Bound but unchained – don’t confuse biblical slavery with the American version

by Peter Barnes, p7, “Australian Presbyterian”, Summer 2014/15

It is not uncommon to say that the Bible is a vicious book because God ordains slavery in the Old Testament, and the slavery of the American South, at least until the tragic Civil War of 1861-1865, showed how brutal and unjust slavery can be. Hence Sam Harris, a rabid atheist, declares that the books of the Bible are bursting with “obscene celebrations of violence” and they condone the practice of slavery whereas “the entire civilized world now agrees that slavery is an abomination.”

However, there is considerable difference between the God-ordained and regulated slavery of the Old Testament and that which prevailed in the Confederate States of North America in rather more recent times.

Chris Wright maintains that the Hebrew slave was more a bonded worker than a slave. In the first place, a Hebrew slave could normally obtain his freedom after six years: “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing” (Exodus 21:2; see Deut. 15:1-18). There were no life-long slaves unless the slave wished it in which case he went through a ceremony which bored his ear with an awl to signify his lifelong attachment to his master (Ex. 21:5-6). Otherwise, six years was the maximum. And if the Year of Jubilee rolled around, as it did every 50 years, it was further reduced (Lev. 25:39-41). Much later, Jeremiah was to denounce King Zedekiah of Judah for not releasing slaves when he had promised to do so (Jer. 34).

A slave whom the master injured in some way was to go free (Ex. 21:26-27). An escaped slave was to be well-treated:

“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: 16 he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.”
(Deut. 23:15-16)

This probably only referred to a slave who had escaped from another country rather than a Hebrew who had jumped the fence. In the Code of Hammurabi, anyone who harboured a slave or helped him to escape was to be put to death. Israel, on the other hand, was to be a place of refuge for a slave on the run.

Another significant difference is that Old Testament slavery was normally linked to punishment for stealing. The law was that “If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (Ex. 22:1-3).

Under the law of Moses there were no jails. Instead, a system of restitution plus compensation was to operate in dealing with robberies. Most of the Hebrews who were slaves in the Old Testament period were debt slaves – they owed money and were paying it off, or they had stolen something and could not pay it back with the added compensation, so they worked it off. This is neither cruel nor an abomination, but eminently sensible.

Old Testament slavery did not consist of one nationality oppressing another nationality as in American slavery in the 19th century. Nor was it part of some arbitrary caste system. It was part of a very fair and effective system of justice when it was applied rightly.

One of the more startling differences between slavery in the Old Testament and that in the southern United States is that the Bible condemns kidnapping as a capital crime (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7). Before the law of Moses was given, Joseph’s brothers trampled all over this principle, which was written on their hearts (see Gen. 37:25-28). It is instructive that the law against kidnapping is repeated in the New Testament (1 Tim. 1:8-11). The NIV has “slave traders”, the ESV has “enslavers”, and the NKJV has “kidnappers”, the King James has “menstealers”. Whichever translation is used, it would condemn the African slave trade and the existence of slavery in the southern states of the USA in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Perhaps something like 14.5 million Africans were brought to the New World in chains, but many others died on the way. Almost all of them were kidnapped from their homes in Africa. In 1787 John Newton condemned this as “a commerce so iniquitous, so cruel, so oppressive, so destructive”. It was a special horror to him: “I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”

Olaudah Equiano was a former slave who obtained his freedom, became an evangelical Christian, married a well-to-do Englishwoman who bore him two children, and published his life story in 1789. He claimed that “Tortures, murder, and every other imaginable barbarity and iniquity, are practiced upon the poor slaves with impunity”.

(1 Timothy 1:8-11) would condemn the African slave trade and the existence of slavery in the southern states of the USA.

Far from seeing slavery as something that is natural, the God of the Old Testament commands the death penalty for kidnappers.

Finally, the Old Testament declares that all peoples, being in the image of God, are to be treated with fairness and compassion. In defending himself, Job declared:

“If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:13-15)

How do we understand all human beings on this earth, and our relationship with them? We are created in the womb by God. We share that commonality; we are all united in that sense. When John Newton wrote against the slave trade that he had once participated in, he cited the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12.

The church can easily descend into a kind of Pelagian racism. During the 19th century, one American Presbyterian preacher apparently proclaimed: “You slaves will go to heaven if you are good, but don’t ever think that you will be close to your mistress and master. No! There will be a wall between you; but there will be holes in it that will permit you to look out and see your mistress when she passes by.”

Against that kind of theology and practice, Calvin cited Isaiah 58:7 about not looking down upon our own flesh. He explained: “By that he means we cannot look upon another human being without having before us a living representation of our own selves, and if we deny him our help, it is as if we were refusing it to ourselves”. Indeed, he added that even the pagans have recognised “what is so difficult for us to get into our heads”, namely that there is “a universal kinship within the human race”.

The Old Testament has a temporary provision for slavery, usually for stealing; kidnapping was a capital crime; and Hebrews, because of their understanding of God as the creator of all mankind, were enjoined to treat all human beings with fairness and compassion. That is why Confederate slavery was so wrong.

Shrek

Such a timely and thought-provoking post. I am one who has wandered away from the Lord in the past and it has resulted in carrying extra burdens that only He can help us bear…

Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert  September 12, 2012 Vintage Dilbert September 12, 2012

A long lost sheep, Shrek, became famous several years ago when he was found after hiding out in caves for six years. Of course, during this time his fleece grew without anyone there to shorn (shave) it. When he was finally found and shaved, his fleece weighed an amazing sixty pounds. Most sheep have a fleece weighing just under ten pounds, with the exception usually reaching fifteen pounds, maximum. For six years, Shrek carried six times the regular weight of his fleece. Simply because he was away from his shepherd.

This reminds me of John 10 when Jesus compares Himself to a shepherd, and His followers are His sheep. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think Shrek is much like a person who knows Jesus Christ but has wandered. If we avoid Christ’s constant refining of our character, we’re going to accumulate extra weight in…

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How much power does Satan really have?

By Mark Altrogge

And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
(Job 1:12)

Satan afflicts believers. Don’t underestimate him. He’s not an imp in red tights with a pitchfork. But don’t give him more credit than he’s due.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul said a messenger of Satan was given him to afflict him. Satan was behind Jobs’ suffering. The enemy can afflict us physically. He tempts us to sin. But his greatest weapons are his fiery darts – his lies about God that he launches against our faith. We are in a serious conflict with the powers of darkness.

Yet sometimes I hear Christians talk as if Satan were all-powerful. “The devil has really been having a field day in my life lately.” “Satan’s really been kicking me around this week.”

When I first became a Christian I thought demons were everywhere. (I’d definitely watched too many episodes of Twilight Zone and Outer Limits). In my early Christian years I spent lots of time rebuking and binding demons of lust, demons of fear, and demons of unbelief, anger, self-pity, and sickness. Pretty much everything bad in life was caused by a demon. I probably rebuked demons of bad coffee.

Then I found out just how limited Satan’s power really is.

He’s powerful, but not all-powerful. He is the god of this world. Unbelievers are significantly under his power, though they don’t realize it. He has blinded their eyes. But once Jesus opens our eyes to his glory and saves us, we come under his ownership. We’re no longer slaves of Satan. We’re new creations in Christ and share his victory over the enemy that he won on the cross.

When Satan afflicts believers he must get permission to do so, even as he did with Job. God determined the parameters of what Satan could do to Job. Each time Satan requested, God said you may do this and this but not this. He could only do what God allowed.

Lots of people seem to think the devil is the equal and opposite of God, like the dark side of The Force. But Satan is a created being. God is infinite. Satan is less than a speck compared to the infinite One.

If anything, Satan might be compared to Michael the Archangel, another created being. A.W. Tozer said we tend to think of created beings in a hierarchy, for example on the bottom are amoebas, then above them garden slugs and above them fish, then dogs. Above dogs are monkeys, then humans, and slightly above them are angels and then slightly above angels is God. But God is infinitely exalted over his creation. The most glorious Seraphim in heaven is closer to a caterpillar in it’s being than it is to God.

Satan is a tool of God, and when he allows him to afflict a believer it’s for God’s glorious purposes – to make that believer rely on Christ, become like Christ and display the power of Christ in him (see Stephen’s post yesterday).

So remember you have an enemy, but fix your gaze on Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords.

The painting at the top of this article shows Satan pouring plagues onto Job. It is by William Blake.

What does it mean to truly follow Jesus?

By S. Michael Houdmann, Supporter of Got Questions Ministries

In the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Jesus’ command to “follow me” appears repeatedly (e.g., Matthew 8:22; 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27; John 1:43). In many cases, Jesus was calling the twelve men who would become His disciples (Matthew 10:3-4). But other times, He was speaking to anyone who wanted what He had to offer (John 3:16; Mark 8:34).

In Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus stated clearly what it means to follow Him. He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Jesus’ bringing a “sword” and turning family members against each other can seem a little harsh after words like “whosoever believes on Him shall not perish” (John 3:16). But Jesus never softened the truth, and the truth is that following Him leads to difficult choices. Sometimes turning back may seem very appealing. When Jesus’ teaching went from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11) to the coming cross, many who had followed him turned away (John 6:66). Even the disciples decided that following Jesus was too difficult the night He was arrested. Every one of them deserted Him (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50). On that night, following Christ meant possible arrest and execution. Rather than risk his own life, Peter denied that he even knew Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75).

To truly follow Christ means He has become everything to us. Everyone follows something: friends, popular culture, family, selfish desires, or God. We can only follow one thing at a time (Matthew 6:24). God states we are to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7; Mark 12:30). To truly follow Christ means we do not follow anything else. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” There is no such thing as a “halfway disciple.” As the disciples demonstrated, no one can follow Christ by the strength of his own willpower. The Pharisees were good examples of those who were trying to obey God in their own strength. Their self-effort led only to arrogance and distortion of the whole purpose of God’s Law (Luke 11:39; Matthew 23:24).

Jesus gave His disciples the secret to faithfully following Him, but they did not recognize it at the time. He said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing (John 6:63). And “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (verse 65). The disciples had walked with Jesus for three years, learning, observing, and participating in His miracles. Yet, even they could not follow Him faithfully in their own strength. They needed a Helper.

Jesus promised many times that, once He had ascended to the Father, He would send a “Helper” to them-the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26). In fact, He told them that it was for their good that He was going away so that the Holy Spirit could come (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit indwells the heart of every believer (Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:16; Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20). Jesus warned His followers that they were not to begin testifying of Him “until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). When the Holy Spirit came upon those first believers at Pentecost, they suddenly had all the power they needed to follow Christ, even to the death, if needed (Acts 2:1-4; 4:31; 7:59-60).

Following Jesus means striving to be like Him. He always obeyed His Father, so that’s what we strive to do (John 8:29; 15:10). To truly follow Christ means to make Him the Boss. That’s what it means to make Jesus Lord of our lives (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Corinthians 4:5). Every decision and dream is filtered through His Word with the goal of glorifying Him in everything (1 Corinthians 10:31). We are not saved by the things we do for Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9) but by what He has done for us. Because of His grace, we want to please Him in everything. All this is accomplished as we allow the Holy Spirit to have complete control of every area of our lives (Ephesians 5:18). He explains the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:14), empowers us with spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), comforts us (John 14:16), and guides us (John 14:26). To follow Christ means we apply the truths we learn from His Word and live as if Jesus walked beside us in person.

See http://www.gotquestions.org/follow-Christ.html

What should we learn from the life of Peter?

By S. Michael Houdmann, Supporter of Got Questions Ministries

Simon Peter, also known as Cephas (John 1:42), was one of the first followers of Jesus Christ. He was an outspoken and ardent disciple, one of Jesus’ closest friends, an apostle, and a “pillar” of the church (Galatians 2:9). Peter was enthusiastic, strong-willed, impulsive, and, at times, brash. But for all his strengths, Peter had several failings in his life. Still, the Lord who chose him continued to mold him into exactly who He intended Peter to be.

Simon was originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44) and lived in Capernaum (Mark 1:29), both cities on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. He was married (1 Corinthians 9:5), and he and James and John were partners in a profitable fishing business (Luke 5:10). Simon met Jesus through his brother Andrew, who had followed Jesus after hearing John the Baptist proclaim that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1:35-36). Andrew immediately went to find his brother to bring him to Jesus. Upon meeting Simon, Jesus gave him a new name: Cephas (Aramaic) or Peter (Greek), which means “rock” (John 1:40-42). Later, Jesus officially called Peter to follow Him, producing a miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-7). Immediately, Peter left everything behind to follow the Lord (verse 11).

For the next three years, Peter lived as a disciple of the Lord Jesus. Being a natural-born leader, Peter became the de facto spokesman for the Twelve (Matthew 15:15; 18:21; 19:27; Mark 11:21; Luke 8:45; 12:41; John 6:68; 13:6-9, 36). More significantly, it was Peter who first confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” a truth which Jesus said was divinely revealed to Peter (Matthew 16:16-17).

Peter was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, along with James and John. Only those three were present when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37) and when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain (Matthew 17:1). Peter and John were given the special task of preparing the final Passover meal (Luke 22:8).

In several instances, Peter showed himself to be impetuous to the point of rashness. For example, it was Peter who left the boat to walk on the water to Jesus (Matthew 14:28-29)-and promptly took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink (verse 30). It was Peter who took Jesus aside to rebuke Him for speaking of His death (Matthew 16:22)-and was swiftly corrected by the Lord (verse 23). It was Peter who suggested erecting three tabernacles to honor Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Matthew 17:4)-and fell to the ground in fearful silence at God’s glory (verses 5-6). It was Peter who drew his sword and attacked the servant of the high priest (John 18:10)-and was immediately told to sheath his weapon (verse 11). It was Peter who boasted that he would never forsake the Lord, even if everyone else did (Matthew 26:33)-and later denied three times that he even knew the Lord (verses 70-74).

Through all of Peter’s ups and downs, the Lord Jesus remained his loving Lord and faithful Guide. Jesus reaffirmed Simon as Peter, the “Rock,” in Matthew 16:18-19, promising that he would be instrumental in establishing Jesus’ Church. After His resurrection, Jesus specifically named Peter as one who needed to hear the good news (Mark 16:7). And, repeating the miracle of the large catch of fish, Jesus made a special point of forgiving and restoring Peter and re-commissioning him as an apostle (John 21:6, 15-17).

On the day of Pentecost, Peter was the main speaker to the crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14), and the Church began with an influx of about 3,000 new believers (verse 41). Later, Peter healed a lame beggar (Acts 3) and preached boldly before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4). Even arrest, beatings, and threats could not dampen Peter’s resolve to preach the risen Christ (Acts 5).

Jesus’ promise that Peter would be foundational in building the Church was fulfilled in three stages: Peter preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Then, he was present when the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8). Finally, he was summoned to the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius, who also believed and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). In this way, Peter “unlocked” three different worlds and opened the door of the Church to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles.

Even as an apostle, Peter experienced some growing pains. At first, he had resisted taking the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile. However, when he saw the Romans receive the Holy Spirit in the same manner he had, Peter concluded that “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34). After that, Peter strongly defended the Gentiles’ position as believers and was adamant that they did not need to conform to Jewish law (Acts 15:7-11).

Another episode of growth in Peter’s life concerns his visit to Antioch, where he enjoyed the fellowship of Gentile believers. However, when some legalistic Jews arrived in Antioch, Peter, to appease them, withdrew from the Gentile Christians. The Apostle Paul saw this as hypocrisy and called it such to Peter’s face (Galatians 2:11-14).

Later in life, Peter spent time with John Mark (1 Peter 5:13), who wrote the gospel of Mark based on Peter’s remembrances of his time with Jesus. Peter wrote two inspired epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, between A.D. 60 and 68. Jesus said that Peter would die a martyr’s death (John 21:18-19-a prophecy fulfilled, presumably, during Nero’s reign. Tradition has it that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, and, although such the story may be true, there is no scriptural or historical witness to the particulars of Peter’s death.

What can we learn from Peter’s life? Here are a few lessons:

Jesus overcomes fear. Whether stepping out of a boat onto a tossing sea or stepping across the threshold of a Gentile home for the first time, Peter found courage in following Christ. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Jesus forgives unfaithfulness. After he had boasted of his fidelity, Peter fervently denied the Lord three times. It seemed that Peter had burned his bridges, but Jesus lovingly rebuilt them and restored Peter to service. Peter was a former failure, but, with Jesus, failure is not the end. “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Jesus patiently teaches. Over and over, Peter needed correction, and the Lord gave it with patience, firmness, and love. The Master Teacher looks for students willing to learn. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go” (Psalm 32:8).

Jesus sees us as He intends us to be. The very first time they met, Jesus called Simon “Peter.” The rough and reckless fisherman was, in Jesus’ eyes, a firm and faithful rock. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

Jesus uses unlikely heroes. Peter was a fisherman from Galilee, but Jesus called him to be a fisher of men (Luke 5:10). Because Peter was willing to leave all he had to follow Jesus, God used him in great ways. As Peter preached, people were amazed at his boldness because he was “unschooled” and “ordinary.” But then they took note that Peter “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Being with Jesus makes all the difference.

See http://www.gotquestions.org/life-Peter.html