A Servant Girl

God’s heroes aren’t always mighty warriors.  More often than not, they’re just ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.  When all is said and done, it may not be the personality who stands in front of thousands and has a world-wide ministry who gets the “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It may be the bed-ridden saint who prays for him.

An example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things is found in 2 Kings 5:2, 3, only two verses out of more than 31,000 in the Bible, but extraordinary for all that.

And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel.  She waited on Namaan’s wife.  Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria!  For he would heal him of his leprosy.”

The “master” was Namaan, a mighty and successful warrior for one of Israel’s enemies, Syria.

We’re told nothing else of this girl, probably in her teens, though we don’t know.  The Hebrew word could mean “young woman.”  Any way, what’s important isn’t her age, but her attitude.  No doubt, she had seen or heard terrible things in the forays of Syrian raiders into her homeland.  Perhaps she had seen her parents or friends or neighbors slaughtered.  Maybe, if she were a young woman, she had been taken from a family of her own.  She had been dragged into an enemy country and made a slave.  Who knows what indignities she herself might have endured.

And we’re not told what prompted her remark. Perhaps it was in the closeness of daily household activities.  Maybe his wife was lamenting his condition.  Perhaps the wife’s remark wasn’t even addressed to her, she just overheard it.  However it came about, something happened and she had to respond.

How easy it would have been for her to be vengeful, to think, “Good!  He deserves it!”

To say nothing….

But she didn’t.

She had compassion on him, and on his wife, and told of a place of cure.

An ordinary girl, doing an extraordinary thing.

What a lesson for us!

What an example of Matthew 5:44, where our Lord said, “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”!

After all, isn’t that what He did with us?

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A Girl Named Rhoda.

In our reading Sunday, my wife and I were in Acts 11 and 12.  When we read Acts 12, I had to chuckle at what happened, and yet also reflected how often what happened then happens now.

In ch. 12, Herod had decided to persecute the church at Jerusalem.  He put to death James, the brother of John.  Because this greatly pleased the Jews, with whom the Herods pretty much always had uneasy relationships, he also imprisoned Peter.  V. 5 tells us that constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.  What happens next always impresses me:  on the night before Peter was to be brought out, probably to be executed, that night Peter was sleeping…. (!)

“Sleeping”….

I wonder what you and I would do under similar circumstances.

Well, Peter is miraculously released, which ultimately cost the lives of 16 Roman soldiers and went to where many was gathered together for prayer.  This is where Rhoda comes in.

So excited was she to hear Peter’s voice on the other side of the door that she didn’t open it, but ran and told the others, “Peter’s outside the door!  Peter’s outside the door!”

Their response? –

In the vernacular of our day, “You’re out of your mind!”

“No!  He’s outside, he’s outside!”

“No way!”

“Way!”

“It must be his angel.”  This from one of the more spiritual brothers.

Well – finally – they opened the door, and the Word says that they were…

…”astonished”(!)

Oh, my!

(Looking in the mirror) – how often we are “astonished” when the Lord answers prayer unexpectedly, as He did here.  I don’t know exactly what the believers were praying for when they prayed for him, but it evidently wasn’t that he would just show up at the door!

How often – too often – we’re like the man in Mark 9, who came to the Lord about his son and said, “…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  I think the Lord was very emphatic in the first part of His reply when He said, “If you can believe – all things are possible to him who believes.” 

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:17-24.

Aye, there’s a prayer for us poor believers!

“Lord, we believe.  Help our unbelief!”

Cornelius

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is one of the most important people in the New Testament.  His conversion, along with that of his family and friends, recorded in Acts 10 and 11, was a watershed event in church history.

How so?

The early church had a really hard time accepting that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews, and Peter perhaps more than most.  That’s why Peter received a special vision in Acts 10:9-16.  Three times he saw a sheet lowered from heaven, filled with all kinds of animals:  clean and unclean.  Three times he was told to rise and eat.  After all, he was “very hungry,” v. 9.  Three times, he said, “no,” that he’d never eaten an unclean animal:  no bacon, no rattlesnake, no kalimari.  Three times, he was told that what God had cleansed, he must not call unclean or common.

“What in the world?” thought Peter.

Just then, in God’s perfect timing, there was a knock at the front door, so to speak v. 17.  Three men – Gentiles – wanted to talk to Peter.  Now he understood.

Though a Roman centurion, Cornelius was what was known as a “God-fearer.”  Cf. Acts 13:16, you who fear God. These were Gentiles, like Cornelius, who had come to see the God of Israel as the true God.  They had not become “Jews” by being circumcised, but they still recognized and followed the God of Israel.

Cornelius was called a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms to the people, and prayed to God always, Acts 10:1.  For all that, he and his household still needed something.

God sent Peter to tell him of that something.

Several somethings.

1.  God acknowledged what Cornelius was doing, but it was not enough.  Lest some use these verses to say that we can be saved by our own works and doings, Peter said that there was someone else involved, vs. 34, 35.

2.  This someone else was the Lord Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He then went about doing good and healing, vs. 36-39a.

3.  In spite of all the good the Lord did, they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, v. 39b.

4.  God raised Him from the dead, vs. 40, 41.  Jesus showed Himself to selected witnesses, among them Peter, who confirmed that He did indeed rise from the dead.  There are those who teach that He only rose “spiritually,” that His body remained dead, and is preserved somewhere, but He Himself proved His bodily resurrection by appearing to His disciples, telling them to touch Him and saying, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” Luke 24:39.

5.  Jesus commanded His disciples to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.  To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins, vs. 42, 43.

Peter never got to finish his sermon.

In thinking about current practices and teaching, it strikes me that Peter never did several things we do today.

1.  He never told Cornelius to “make his decision for Christ.”
2.  He never told Cornelius to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”
3.  He never told Cornelius to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins,” (even though he had indeed said that to an earlier audience, Acts 2:38).

With regard to that last “omission,” when I was just a new believer, I worked with a lady who belonged to a group who insisted that baptism was essential to salvation.  They’re still around today – I see them on facebook quite often.  Even though I had pleased the little old ladies in my grandmother’s Sunday School class because I knew that “sanctification” means “to set apart” (though it means more than that), I really didn’t know much about the Bible.  I did know the story in Acts 10; I just didn’t know where it was.  I looked and looked and finally found it.  (Didn’t have my trusty Strong’s Concordance, then. 🙂 )  When I showed Acts 10 to this lady, she had no answer, though she wouldn’t receive what it said.

Play close attention to what the Holy Spirit wanted us to know about what He sent Peter to do:

While Peter was STILL SPEAKING these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were ASTONISHED, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out ON THE GENTILES ALSO.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?” Acts 10:44-47, emphasis added

It seems to me that, unless one is willingly to believe that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Cornelius and his family and friends puts to rest forever the false teaching that baptism is essential to becoming saved.

Having said that, it is essential for those who ARE saved – it’s their “profession of faith,” not walking an aisle or raising a hand.  It’s just never how you “get saved.”

“…that the Scriptures might be fulfilled…”

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a brother about a course he was taking at a local Christian college.  He mentioned that the professor teaching it believes that all the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.

This is a common viewpoint.

In its introduction to Matthew, The Reformation Study Bible  says, “[Matthew’s] citations are not presented as isolated predictions and fulfillments, but as proof of the fulfillment of ALL the expectations of the Old Testament,” p.1360, (emphasis added).

Elsewhere, we’ve referred to the church bulletin insert which said that Ezekiel 40-48 were “fulfilled in Jesus.”

I’m sorry, but I cannot agree.

Jesus did indeed fulfill many prophecies during His first coming.  Matthew himself lists 19 such prophecies by text and two others with a general reference to “the prophets.”  It seems to me, therefore, that these prophecies clearly demonstrate that prophecy must be fulfilled “literally” [and, yes, I know how some folks view that word!] and not just “spiritually”.

For example, looking at Ezekiel, in our Bibles there are 9 chapters with some 270 verses of extensive and exact detail, even down to a priest’s haircut and whom he may or may not marry.

Keep in mind that Ezekiel was a priest and would not have dared to come up with something like this on his own.  Besides, God instructed him to “look with your eyes and hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you; for you were brought here that I might show them to you.  Declare to the house of Israel everything you see,” Ezekiel 40:4.

To say that his writings can be lightly dismissed because of the the fact that one or two words which Ezekiel used were also used by the Lord Jesus of Himself seems to me to be going too far.

We grant that there are some difficult things to understand in these chapters.  For example, some are troubled, even offended, by the references to various sacrifices, believing they deny the final sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.  I freely admit that I don’t understand them myself.  However, without meaning in the least to be irreverent or flippant, I expect that, since God told Ezekiel to write them down, He will take care of it.

I have no doubt that, when all is said and done and this world is over and regardless of our views of prophecy, we will all discover that we didn’t have everything “figured out”.

There were many prophets in Israel.  It wasn’t to be taken for granted, though, that they all spoke for God, even if they said or thought that they did.  If Israel were to ask how they could tell which were true prophets and which were false prophets, God gave them two simple tests.  These tests still work.

The first test is found in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, where God gave this instruction to Israel,

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods,’…you shall not listen to the words of that prophet….for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul.  But that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death….  So shall you put away the evil from among you.” 

Even though New Testament believers do not have the right or the authority to kill false prophets, still the lesson is clear, all messages must be faithful to and judged by the Word of God.

The second test is in Deuteronomy 18:21, 22,

“And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ – when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

In other words, the thing prophesied has to happen!

I don’t believe that Israel would have accepted the idea that a prophecy could be fulfilled “spiritually.”  They were told certain things would happen and they expected those very things to happen.  Now, it’s true that they didn’t always understand everything that would be involved, any more than we do today.  And there might even be a “spiritual” element involved.  Still, there was a definite thing or things expected.

For example –

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:  ‘In those days and at that time, I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth.  IN THOSE DAYS JUDAH WILL BE SAVED, AND JERUSALEM WILL DWELL SAFELY.  AND THIS IS THE NAME BY WHICH SHE WILL BE CALLED:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’  For thus says the LORD:  “David shall never lack of man to sit on the throne of Israel; nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually,” Jeremiah 33:14-18 (emphasis added)..

God said He would keep His promise to Israel and Judah.  To say that this was fulfilled during the return from Babylon or that it’s fulfilled in “the church” and the Lord Jesus is sitting on David’s throne in heaven is to miss the point of the prophecy.  Jerusalem hasn’t dwelt “safely” since its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and certainly not after the return from Babylon.  Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi testify to that!  She still doesn’t!  Judah isn’t “saved.”  Jerusalem is still called Jerusalem, there being nothing “righteous” about her, since she is in part inhabited by those who call the Cross “a monstrous falsehood.”.

There are many other OT portions we could look at.

Zechariah 14 is one of them.  Read it.  When has the Lord returned, there have been catastrophic geological changes to the planet and a moral and spiritual revolution taken place so that everyone who is left of all the nations…shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles”?  To say that some of this refers to the “eternal state” as the Reformation Study Bible does is to ignore the plagues and punishment Zechariah describes.  How would they even be necessary?

Jeremiah 33 and Zechariah 14 certainly tie in with Ezekiel 40-48.

The Church is unknown in the Old Testament.  It didn’t come about because Israel rejected her Messiah and so God instituted “Plan B.”  The Cross was part of God’s eternal purpose, Ephesians 3:11.  Israel’s rejection of the Lord Jesus was part of it.  It doesn’t say much for our view of God if we believe He had to go to Plan B.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to do that with me, He’d be way beyond “B.”  No, no.  The Church is “Part B,” if you will.  But that probably is another whole post.

To deny even the possibility of a “literal” fulfillment seems to me to cast doubt on the truthfulness of God’s Word.  If He didn’t mean what He said, then why did He say it?Why didn’t He say what He did mean?  And what else in His Word can we not trust?  So, it seems to me that there’s a lot more involved than just fussing over some marginal issue.

The few words of this post won’t lay the discussion to rest, by any means.  I just hope it might give some food for thought.

The Scripture must be fulfilled!

The Bible: GPS or Road Map?

I admit it, I’m old (my “inner child” is 47 🙂  ).  I remember as a teenager getting a transistor radio, and thinking I really had something.  I paid 8 dollars for it.  Now there are all kinds of electronic gadgets and two and three-year-old kids know how they work.  And the gadgets don’t cost $8!

For about 18 years, I drove for a living, even had my own delivery service for a while.  I’m not a typical male who doesn’t ask for directions.  When time is money, well….   The map book I used had about 50 pages, and it was well worn.  But I’ve also used GPS to get from here to there.   And looked directions up on computer sites.

What’s my point?

The thing with GPS or computer directions is that they may get you there, but not always with the best route.  For example, my wife and I went to one of these pick-it-yourself farms.  Looked up how to get there on the computer.  Well, we got there, twisting and turning and going through what my grandmother would have called, “Robin Hood’s barn.”  If we had come back the same way, it would have required a right turn from the farm.  I asked one of the folks there if there were a better way.  Sure enough.  Turn left!  About a mile up the road was a highway that brought us back home in about half the time!  If I’d looked at an actual map, I might have seen that for myself.

Plus, GPS isn’t always accurate, especially in rural areas.

On the other hand, maps aren’t always right, either.  My wife and I were on a trip – I was navigating.  (My navigational skills are legendary! 😛 ).  The map clearly showed that if we took this little side road, we could cut across a corner and save some time.  *sigh*

Anyway.  The thing with a map is that it gives you a larger picture.  In looking for an unfamiliar place, you can see how it hooks up to places that are familiar.  GPS doesn’t do that.

So, what does all this have to do with the Bible?

A lot of folks have their Bibles on their phone.  And there are apps which will give you a whole library of reference works, different translations, etc.  You can punch in a verse and voila! there it is.  No thumbing through pages.

But, again, there’s no “larger picture.”  Especially in the study of Scripture, context is vital.  That’s where the cults and most false teaching comes from:  a verse or two here and there.  I don’t know how many times in church or my own reading that I’ve seen something new in another verse on the same page.

I don’t expect to stem the tide of electronic gizmos.  And I may be all wet in my thinking. I just want to encourage folks to go “old-school” and read and study a Bible that’s a physical book, not an app.

 

God’s Blueprint for Believers

No doubt, there are many things that could be said about this.  The most important one is the verse which says that we’re to be conformed to the image of His Son, Romans 8:29.  Without doubt, perfect Christlikeness is the ultimate goal of our salvation, 1 John 3:2.

Paul also had something to say about it.  In 1 Timothy 1:15, 16 (NKJV), he wrote,

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (emphasis added).

What??

How can we be like Paul?  Travelling all over his world with the Gospel, starting churches, writing a lot of the New Testament…how can we do that?

I don’t think that’s what Paul had in mind.  True, there are those today who are successful at church-planting, as well as those who claim that they, too, receive direct revelation from the Lord.  For those who plant churches, I thank the Lord that He uses people and that His Word accomplishes what He sends it out to do.  As for the others, well, I’m not the final judge on such things, but I think they are misled.

Paul wrote that he was to be “a pattern”.

We get our word “schematic” from the Greek word translated “pattern”.  A schematic shows how something’s put together so it’ll work the way the designer wanted it to. Though they’re a little different, it’s the same thing with a blueprint.

So Paul wrote that he was an example, “a pattern,” of how salvation is supposed to “work.”

How so?

  • Pattern of Great Sin. 

Paul never forgot that he started out by trying to stamp out the name of Jesus, Acts 26:9-11.  He was exceedingly enraged against those who confessed that name.

It’s probable that very few, if any, of us have gone to that extreme, but the Scripture is still true that says, …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

It doesn’t matter how far “short” we have fallen, either.  I was talking with a fellow and somehow we got around to the Grand Canyon.  I made the comment that it didn’t matter if you could jump 10 feet off the rim, or only one foot, you would still plunge to your death.  The fellow said he saw someone he had to meet and rushed off.

I might add to that and say that if you could take the pole a pole-jumper uses and propel yourself 20 or 25 feet from the edge, you would still die.

Compared to the holiness and righteousness of God, the Grand Canyon isn’t even a crack in the sidewalk.  You can step over that.

There are a lot of people who’ve got their “poles” all ready for the “jump”.  They’ve been baptized or joined the church or take the Eucharist (communion/mass) or any of a hundred other things that folks say can be done to get us to the other side.  Doesn’t matter.  We’re still gonna “fall short” and die.

A lot of people use the “pole” of “Well, I’m not so bad.  Look at so-and-so,” as if another sinner were the standard.  But the Lord Jesus is the standard, and He said, “I always do those things which please the Father.”  That word, “always,” condemns all of us ’cause we can’t say that.  If anyone could, as I’ve remarked before, then they could go up to the throne when they get to heaven and say, “Move over, Jesus.  Now there are two of us.”

  • Pattern of Gracious Salvation.

A lot of people believe that God must be very careful when approaching sinners about being saved.  Unless they are “willing,” God can’t do anything.  They have to take that first step, do “their part” before He can do “His part.”

Really?

How does that work with Paul?

What do you suppose would have happened if, on the morning of his trip to Damascus, some Christian had asked him if he would like to “accept Jesus”?

The last thing on Paul’s (Saul’s) mind would have been that, before he got to Damascus, he would be a disciple of that One whose very name he was trying to destroy.  He was breathing out threats and murder against Christians.  It may be that he was being convicted by the testimony of those he persecuted, but up until the second that the light struck him down, he thought he was serving God.  He wasn’t asking God to show him the right way; he thought he already had it!  Jesus didn’t come to him and ask him if he’d like to be saved.  The Holy Spirit didn’t try to “woo” him, or to “cooperate” with Saul’s will.  Saul’s “will” was to kill Christians!  That was his “decision.”  According to Acts 26:11, 12, it was while thus occupied and being exceedingly enraged against them, that the Lord appeared to him.  He didn’t even know whose brightness it was which knocked him to the ground: “Who are you, Lord?”  

Modern religion entirely misses the point on this.  Apart from the grace of God, we’re not the least bit interested in what God really says or wants.  We might have religion, or even a (great) knowledge of Scripture, like Saul.  We might talk about God, even “believe” in Him, but we don’t know nor love the God of Scripture,  or we might be strenuously opposed to Him and His Word, like Saul.  This brings us to our next point.

  • Pattern of God’s Sovereignty. 

Oh, this is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where the Word sticks in our throats.  The very idea!  That God could act like God!  I don’t know of another doctrine that makes us angrier or arouses our opposition more quickly or vehemently than the doctrine that God is sovereign in salvation.

This is already a long post, so we won’t get into the discussion of all this.  Just hear what Paul said about it in discussing his life before Christ, when he persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it: … But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace,… Galatians 1:13, 15.

It pleased God…. 

As much as modern Christianity tries to deny it, Paul didn’t take the first step…

God did.

  •  Pattern of  Grateful Service. 

From that moment on, Saul was completely different.  Eventually, he became known as Paul.  In Galatians 1:23, he wrote of his early experiences as a Christian with the churches in Judea:  that they were hearing only, He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy. 

God doesn’t call every believer to be a preacher or missionary, yet at the same time He does.  The world needs godly janitors and godly auto mechanics.  It needs people everywhere who demonstrate that this world isn’t all there is to life.  It needs godly teachers, godly politicians (no, that shouldn’t be an oxymoron).  Our Lord taught that believers are salt and light.  No matter where we are, the world needs what we have. That doesn’t mean it wants it, just needs it.

Paul was a pattern for those who believe on the Lord Jesus for everlasting life.  If the “building inspector” came around, would we be “up to code”?  Do we match the blueprint?

The Charles Schulz Philosophy

This is so true!! Love the peanuts quote at the end.

Morning Story and Dilbert

Morning Story and Dilbert Vintage Dilbert
January 3, 2003

The following inspirational quiz is often called the Charles Schulz Philosophy or sometimes Charlie Brown’s Philosophy. It’s not actually written by him, although the quote at the bottom is from a peanuts cartoon. Enjoy the following quiz.
1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America.

4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

6. Name the last decade’s worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here’s…

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