A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


December 5, 2016

Facing Darkness: A Story For The Ages

Like my review on the new movie, Hacksaw Ridge, I feel compelled to point you to another inspiring true story... this one more recent.  And again, it is being portrayed on film, and is worthy of our attention; especially considering the largely perverted and exploitative entertainment industry. I will continue to praise and encourage the efforts of film-makers who accurately, and appropriately, promote our faith.    

      Even though Americans are now focused on the upcoming holidays, the news around the world reminds us that we are still in a physical and spiritual battle.  Fires rage in Israel; the Middle East is still in turmoil; mass graves are uncovered in Mexico; earthquakes in Japan and Central America remind us that the earth "trembles"; and our nation remains divided, as tens of thousands take to the street in protest. But even in the midst of these disheartening headlines, there is a story that will lift you up and inspire you.  While it is another story ripped from the headlines, it speaks to all of mankind through history.
     I'm sure none of you have forgotten the fear that struck the world in late summer of 2014 when the Ebola virus broke out in West Africa.  And I'm sure you still recall the image of Dr. Kent Brantley -- the first person infected with the deadly virus on U.S. soil -- being walked into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, after being flown from Africa in a desperate move to save his life.
     His story, and that of his wife Amber, is a moving tribute to their faith in God while in the heart of darkness.  And now, there is a gripping documentary, titled Facing Darkness, from Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse.  The film has not only won the Accolade Global Film Competition’s Award of Excellence, but has also received the Best Feature Documentary Premiere Award at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival.  The film festival celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and featured more than 130 independent films out of 250 entrants. It is not affiliated with Christian nor conservative organizations, and is an independent nonprofit arts organization, with a mission to "inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film." Heartland selects films that "inspire and uplift, educate and inform, or have the ability to shift audience's perspectives on the world."
     And with its powerful message of faith, we can only hope that Facing Darkness will have such an impact upon the world audience.  In a statement to the press, the festival's director of programming and marketing said the film was "a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of conviction and hope in the face of despair."  Isn't that the real story of the human race?  Aren't we all in a battle to find hope in a world that is doomed to judgment and destruction unless we surrender to the power that is faith in Jesus? And isn't our mission here on earth to serve others in the likeness of our Savior; even to the point of death, if that's where it leads?
     That is the story of Dr. Kent Brantley and hygienist, Nancy Writebol, both missionaries working for Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization that provides aid to people in physical need as a key part of Christian missionary work.  The organization is run by Dr. Franklin Graham, who serves as President and CEO.
     The film was shot in Liberia and the U.S. where the events took place. The story highlights the lives of heroes who risked their own health and life in an effort to stop one of the deadliest epidemics this century. Ebola infected more than 28,000 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and 11,000 lives succumbed to the disease. Think how easy it would have been for Dr. Brantley, and the others who worked with him, to simply ask to be evacuated, leaving the problem of Ebola to the people and authorities in Africa.  But that's not who they were. They put others before themselves, in a true example of Christian concern for the sufferings of others.  "Samaritan's Purse workers were holding the last line of defense in a crisis the world was largely ignoring," said Graham. "Hundreds were dying and it was only growing worse. When the disease struck Kent and Nancy, we knew we had to get them home for treatment. It was their only chance, yet it was something no one had ever done."
     But the film is about more than the advances in science and medicine that made their eventual cure possible.  It is about facing the fear and the darkness of despair and the absence of hope.  "Faith is not something that makes you safe," Dr. Brantly is quoted as saying when describing his decision to stay in the country and fight the disease. "You had to face death in the eye and decide, 'Who am I going to be today?'" And when you think about it, that is a decision we each have to make -- every minute of every day. But do we make that decision consciously and deliberately, or do we go about our day only responding to those things that affect us? Are we aware of who or what image we are displaying to the world? Do we act like Christ lives in us, or do we react from our own fleshly desires?  Those may sound like pointless and existential questions, but isn't that precisely what God asks of us?
     Dr. Kent Brantley took those questions seriously.  And his testimony is a reminder to us, that if we proclaim to be a Christian, we have a responsibility to the One who saved us: "Even when I was facing death, I remained full of faith. I did not want to be faithful to God all the way up to serving in Liberia for ten months, only to give up at the end because I was sick... We have to choose compassion over fear. We cannot let fear be the motivating force for the decisions we make in life, for the way we treat other people," he said. "There are a lot of big things going on in our world right now and in our country. I think this story can help us navigate those other experiences as well, as we wrestle with the challenge of choosing compassion over fear, and treating other people out of a sense of respect and love, and not out of a sense of fear and self-preservation". Sounds a lot like how Christ lived His life, doesn't it?
     To further emphasize this point, Franklin Graham says, "I think when there's a crisis, God wants us to be there. He doesn't want us to run away. God put us there [in Liberia] for a reason, and He expected us to do something about it." This is the same story of Jesus's three years as God in the flesh. The existence of God's chosen people, the Jews, had come to a crisis. And God wanted to be there, in the flesh, to convict them and to cause a change in how they viewed Him. God chose to do something about the state of those He had chosen, and ultimately, all whom He has created. So He came in the flesh, as His Son, Jesus; fully man.  And as that man, He did not run away.  He did not ask to be "evacuated", even though, like Dr. Brantley, He could have asked to be rescued from His impending death. Instead, He stayed and served.
     There are other similarities between Kent Brantley's story and our commission to serve as Jesus did.  Brantly’s decision to stay was particularly heroic, especially considering the fact that escalating native opposition added to his perils. “Complicating the situation – after years of civil war – the people of Liberia deeply distrusted any authority and went so far as to blame the aid workers for spreading the disease,” the documentary’s release explained. “Hospitals and people were attacked. Yet the Samaritan's Purse team continued to serve.” In His day, Jesus's message was controversial, too, and eventually, those He came to serve began to blame Him for the increasing pressure from their own Jewish officials and the Roman authorities.  Yet He continued to offer hope and to attend to those He came to serve.
     So this inspirational story brings me to this conclusion:  What is the crisis in your life -- whether large or small -- the crossroads where you get to choose how you are going to act towards another person? Do you automatically weigh how your decision will affect you -- or do you selflessly consider only how you can make another person's life better? Dr. Brantley faced true darkness ... despair in the face of an agonizing death.  Like our Savior, He was willing to sacrifice himself, in the desire to show compassion to another human being, while offering the possibility to save a life.  While Kent Brantley only offered life in this world, Jesus offers it for eternity.  And all He asks is that we love our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourself ... whether that neighbor is next door, or a world away. And no matter how big or small our neighbor's crisis may be... that we simply answer the call and choose compassion over fear in service to others. In doing so, we will be facing our own darkness, and triumphing in the spirit of Christ!

Facing Darkness will be released on March 30, 2017 in select theaters around the country.  You can watch the trailer here.  Thanks to The Christian Post and One News Now websites for their reporting on this inspirational story.  

Isaiah 41:10   ‘Do not fear [anything], for I am with you; Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation].’





   


   

December 4, 2016

"I Have Run The Race and Won My Crown"

2 Timothy 4:7-8:   I have fought the good and worthy and noble fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith [firmly guarding the gospel against error].  In the future there is reserved for me the [victor’s] crown of righteousness [for being right with God and doing right], which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that [great] day—and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved and longed for and welcomed His appearing.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27:   Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.


     If you have been following this blog for very long, then you know that I love history, and especially Biblical history.  You will also know that our Home Church group is studying the Book of Acts.  We have arrived at Chapter 9 in our study and worship of God and the Bible, and although this chapter features the important event of Saul's conversion, I found myself curious about where one of the seemingly minor verses led me.
     In Acts 9:30, Scripture tells us that the Brothers in Christ sent Saul off to Tarsus after his preaching in Jerusalem won him some enemies among the Greek Jews (Hellenists) who then tried to assassinate him.  Initially, I wondered how far from Jerusalem Tarsus might be.  When I discovered that it was 356 miles, and then remembered that this was Paul's home town, I wondered if this was some form of encouragement from the Brothers for Paul to soften his approach in his preaching by removing him from situations that could harm the growing Church.  
     You see, we don't really hear from Paul again for 14, nearly 15 years.  He informs us [in Galatians, Chapter 1] that immediately after his conversion, he went to Arabia for an undisclosed time and then went back to Damascus.  He then tells us that three years later, he went to Jerusalem and stayed with Peter for 15 days.  In Galatians, Chapter 2, he informs us that he taught and preached in the regions of Cilicia (where his hometown of Tarsus was located) and Syria, before returning to Jerusalem fourteen years later.
     So what was he doing during those 14 years, and what does it have to do with the verses I chose today?  We are all familiar with these verses which bring to mind athletic competitions, running races, and winning prizes.  But I was fascinated to find that during these particular 14 years that Paul was absent from Jerusalem, the Olympics were held in Antioch in the year 44 A.D.
     This sporting event affected all of the Roman Empire. It gathered representatives from far-off cities, created new trade links and promoted the cultural life of the time.  It is very possible that the commercial "world exhibitions" connected with the Olympics also tied Paul's family business of tent-making to the Antioch exhibition. At the same time he may have followed the Olympic competitors' sports performances.
     It certainly appears so, from the references in 2 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.  It is apparent that Paul is comparing an athlete's race to that of a Christian's; with both earning the prize of  the victor's crown at the successful completion of the race.  I know that some people have a problem with the idea of Christians and  "rewards", falsely assuming that this promotes a doctrine of "works for salvation".  But there are five heavenly crowns specifically mentioned in the New Testament that will be awarded to believers.  Jesus, Himself, in His message to the Church in Philadelphia, says, "I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown".
     And Paul knew there was a crown of righteousness waiting for him in heaven, and he was ready to receive it. He was certain of it.  He plainly states it in 2 Timothy 4.  Some people may wonder if we will walk around heaven with crowns on, and everyone will notice who has the bigger and better crowns. But in Revelation 4:10, the elders surrounding the throne of God take their crowns and cast them before Jesus - giving any trophy or reward they have received right back to Him. I have a suspicion that we will do the same; acknowledging that His work on the Cross made it possible for us to receive the crown in the first place.
     But I want to point out that there is another reference to an actual sporting event in the verses in 1 Corinthians 9.  Every other year in the city of Corinth, they organized the famous Isthmus Games outside the city. They were second in prestige only to the Olympics. At them the sportsman had to swear that he had trained for the games for ten months and was ready to compete according to the rules.
     So, you can see in these verses that Paul is careful to stress "self-control" and the possibility of being "disqualified" -- terminology that refers to his spirit mastering his flesh, and the possible loss of his reward [not salvation]. In the terminology of sports, "disqualified" signifies a person who has been rejected by the judges of the games, as not having deserved the prize. So Paul is concerned that he might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God.  All this points to the fact, that as a Christian, we must take our entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God seriously; not everyone will complete the race; and how we run the race truly matters.
     In the end, both 2 Timothy 4 and 1 Corinthians 9 point to the imperishable crown that we will receive at the judgment seat of Christ, where believers are rewarded based on how faithfully they served Christ.  How well did I perform the Great Commission?  How victorious was I over sin?  Did I obey the Lord when He prompted me to act on His part, or did I only consider my own desires?  This is the Bema Seat Judgment, reserved for Believers.  And it is a promise for all of us - but only if we will set our focus on heaven and on Jesus, who both walked the earth and now reigns in heaven, who is waiting to receive us .. ready to congratulate us on participating in a race well-run.  
         



December 2, 2016

Ruling The Tribes of Israel: Democracy or Representative Republic?

   
     In this season of political malcontents, we are seeing a deliberate attempt to disqualify our Presidential election results.  We hear complaints that the voice of the multitudes should be the deciding factor, since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.  "We are a Democracy, and democratic rules should apply", they scream. Others are shouting, "No, we are a representative republic!"  Which is it?
     Here's what everyone needs to understand:  Terminology is very important. A common definition of “republic” is, to quote the American Heritage Dictionary, “A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them” — we are that. A common definition of “democracy” is, “Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives” — we are that, too.
     The United States is not a direct democracy, in the sense of a country in which laws (and other government decisions) are made predominantly by majority vote. But we are a representative democracy, which is a form of democracy. But we are also a constitutional democracy, in which courts restrain, in some measure, the democratic will. And the United States is therefore also a constitutional republic. Indeed, the United States might be labeled a constitutional federal representative democracy.
     Our problem in understanding our form of government is inherently a problem in education.  I'm afraid our schools do not teach the truth about the founding of our form of government, and they certainly do not teach the Biblical foundation upon which our government was structured.  That's right! We can look to the Bible to see how God structured governing rules for the Tribes of Israel. And then we can decide if that was the model our Founding Fathers had in mind.
    The republican form of government, as we know it, is representative (not democratic) so that a selected group of leaders make national decisions. Those leaders may be selected by popular consent, but decisions about specific laws are not voted on by everyone. Thus, in a republic, it is not a single king or ruler who decides policy, nor is it a vote of every man, rather it is the vote of representatives of the people who make decisions for the nation.
     And we can see that model in God's revealed plan for human government through the Hebrew republic founded under Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament. For instance, when Joshua presided over the division of Israel (described in Joshua 18:4-5), where seven tribes had yet to receive their tribal lands, the people were to select three men from each tribe. But Joshua was to “send them”, words which seem to indicate a consecration, a sending, as the men went forth to represent their respective tribes. The governmental work of dividing up the land was not done by Joshua alone, and it was not done by democratic vote. It was accomplished through representatives under the authority of an executive (Joshua) and the election of the people. This is an example of their republic in action.
      There are many other references to the chiefs of the people, or of the princes, and how they interacted on behalf of the people. All of these were a model for American thought during our founding period, helping to keep us from the despotism of a too strong central authority, or from the mob-rule of a democracy.
     Ancient Israel also provided the original example of ‘We the People’ through their covenantal oaths at the outset of their national experiment. Though they were twelve tribes, God treated them as a single nation traveling together in a single cause in a united land.  We the People, is a term used to describe that uniting of individual free states under a Godly, covenantal structure.
     We the People who established the nation or exercised its highest powers. Those pagan nations were never able to maintain an advantageous combination of representative government with an executive head. The citizens forever found themselves caught between the oppressions of violent, lawless monarchs or the tyranny of anarchy.
     I'm pretty sure that when our Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution, they did not have the Roman or Greek Empires in mind.  In those governments it was not
     No, it was the Hebrew republic that defined and gave an example for a righteous civil government. Just read the opening lines of our Constitution:  We the People, of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Can you see the example that the Hebrew covenant with their God and their fellow tribesmen provided?
     During the founding era of our nation the broadly accepted law commentary was Blackstone’s.  These were Commentaries on the Laws of England, an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769.  Sir Blackstone assumed everywhere in his commentary that the law of Moses was entirely valid and still the only right basis for any nation. God’s law was assumed as the foundation for common law rulings. It was the law of the people and the law of our land in the early years. As we became more atheistic and godless we traded God’s law, the law of the Hebrew republic, for man-made statute law. Now we are oppressed by an unending myriad of statutes that bind us hand and foot while they wind their way through Washington.
     So, it's time to stop the rants and tirades, demanding that we need to abide by our "democratic" principles of government.  That is not the basis for our form of government. We must recognize that God's precepts for government, civil authority, justice, and liberty are the foundation of this nation.  And as I view the ridiculous demands for endless recounts and demolishing the Electoral College, I would remind all that the Hebrew republic was united under a single system of unchanging law. We would do well to look to God's model for government, trusting it, and remaining in it. Nations come and go, but God's form of government never changes.  Let us not veer from His path.

Thank you to Don Schanzenbach for his article, "Biblical Plan for Representative Government".

Deuteronomy 16:18-20  "You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you."

November 30, 2016

Thoughts on Heroism, Discipleship, and Loyalty To God

   
Desmond Doss
     My last post focused on Desmond Doss, an Army Medic and real-life hero of WWII, who vowed to serve both his country and his God, no matter the cost.  As he told a military tribunal who tried to court martial him for his refusal to carry a weapon, "With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don't [sic] seem like such a bad thing to me to put a little bit of it back together."
     As I stated in the prior post, Doss single-handedly saved at least 75 men during one of the most horrific battles of the War, on the island of Okinawa.  At times, it may seem as if those kinds of heroes are vanishing, as we lose the last of the Greatest Generation.  But what Desmond Doss stood for will never be lost as long as there is one man or one woman willing to take a stand for their freedom of conscience... the right to follow our own beliefs in matters of religion and morality.
     As Stephen Greydanus, a writer at the National Catholic Register, expressed, "Desmond Doss is a hero for our own troubled times".  And as fellow writer Eric Metaxes expounds, it isn't only in the arena of war where freedom of conscience needs to play a part ... "Times in which florists and bakers are being hauled before civil rights commissions, being fined, losing their businesses; times in which pharmacists in Washington State can lose their licenses for refusing to dispense abortion pills; times in which churches in Massachusetts can run afoul of "public accommodation" laws requiring gender neutral bathrooms — we do indeed have a model in Desmond Doss".
     And Metaxes, as a writer, is very familiar with another hero of that time, Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In his masterful book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Metaxas tells us of the challenges Bonhoeffer faced in reconciling his faith, his moral ethics, and the politics of the day, which were quite diabolical in Nazi Germany. How does a committed Christian deal with the prospect of conflict with the Enemy on the battlefield?  While Doss and Bonhoeffer ultimately made different decisions on how they would be obedient to God, they both followed their consciences according to what they discerned was their instruction in the Bible.
     Doss determined that he would serve his fellow man by putting him first; willing to endanger, and even sacrifice, his own life in order to save another's.  He would save lives, rather than take them, choosing to live out, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  Bonhoeffer, however, was faced with how to stop the demonic actions of Adolph Hitler, the anti-Christ of his times. Like Doss, Dietrich knew the 6th Commandment, Thou shalt not kill.  But he faced the moral dilemma of doing nothing to stop the murder of 6,000,000 Jews.  He finally came to the conclusion that he trusted God to understand his motives in becoming involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler.  To Bonhoeffer, it had come down to God's admonition to Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Both men exercised their freedom of conscience, and they took their accountability to God not only seriously, but solemnly.
     So, are we all capable of being as heroic as Doss or Bonhoeffer?  We may not find ourselves in the midst of a gruesome battlefield, or at the immediate center of a moral and ethical dilemma, but, as Christians, we are all in a battle with our culture, and the increasingly compromising positions of our Churches and governmental officials.  And like Doss and Bonhoeffer, we must decide how we are to act, as we find ourselves inside the collective drama.  We cannot, and must not, separate ourselves from the world.  But it is going to take courage to be and maintain the image of Christ, while all around us, the darkest impulses of the human will try to overwhelm and defeat us.
     If we are true to our faith, we know where our citizenship lies.  In fact, we are already there with Jesus, in spirit.  We just have to conform our mind, emotions, will, and these temporary bodies to the heavenly conviction of our spirit, and then let our actions show who we are.  It is not enough to pray... although we should not abandon sending our petitions heavenward.  We must be totally committed to our Biblical morals and completely loyal to God; acting on our faith, not just believing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
     And it will cost us.  Discipleship in the Name of Jesus will not be a road easily traveled.  We can look at the lives of all the Apostles and see what it cost them. And in the cases of Doss and Bonhoeffer, we can see how loyalty to their God resulted in very different outcomes -- one's actions led to a hero's medal; the other to execution by hanging. I know that there will be those who say that Bonhoeffer's path was wrong and can never be accepted nor forgiven by God.  But my thoughts turn to King David, and his actions in having Uriah killed so that he could lie with Bathsheba.
     As theologian and Hebrew scholar, Michael Heiser, so eloquently writes in his fantastic book, The Unseen Realm, "King David was guilty of the worst of crimes against humanity in the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite.  He was clearly in violation of the law and deserving of death.  Neverthless, his belief in who Yahweh was among all the gods never wavered.  God was merciful to him, sparing him from death, though his sin had consequences the rest of his life."  The lesson here, is that personal failure, even the worst kind, as exhibited by Bonhoeffer, will not separate you from God's mercy. Although Bonhoeffer was not spared from death [as King David was], he never disavowed his loyalty to God, nor doubted YHWH's loyalty to him.
     In the final minutes of his life, before being led to the gallows, he led a short service for fellow prisoners, praying, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Then he asked that a message be delivered to Bishop Bell in London; the message reading that "this was the end, but for him also the beginning of life, and that the ultimate victory of their cause – a universal Christian brotherhood rising above all national interest – was certain".
     The prison doctor, who witnessed the execution recorded this impression: "Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God".
     So, how will we, as modern day Christians, exhibit our loyalty and discipleship to our Lord?  We have seen in the examples of Desmond Doss and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the very picture of heroism -- two entirely different men, but both committed to acting out their faith. Neither set out to become a hero, and I wage that neither welcomed the mantle. Each man simply followed his heart; a heart set on being obedient to the will of God. Not a simple thing to do in this world.  But ultimately, I believe that we can all be heroes to someone in need of the image of Christ in their life... a bright light in the midst of the darkest time in their life. And I know in my spirit that God will honor our actions on His behalf. He's just looking for willing participants.

Isaiah 50:7-8:  "But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near..."
   

November 28, 2016

Movie Recommendation: Hacksaw Ridge

     I was intrigued by the movie trailer of Mel Gibson's new movie, Hacksaw Ridge.  As Director, how would he incorporate God into a story of the hell that is War? His movie, Passion of the Christ, had moved me over a decade before, depicting both the tragic human story and the glorious divinity of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  As it turned out, he stayed true to the real-life account of his movie's hero, and this man's story is enough to inspire all of us who love the Lord.
     I have to admit that while watching the carnage of the battle to capture the Maeda Escarpment, an imposing rock face the soldiers called Hacksaw Ridge, tears streamed down my face, as I thought, "How much God must be grieved by war; to see the brutality that His creation can heap upon one another."  But I can say that there were an equal number of tears at the depiction of the man who unfailingly and ceaselessly displayed Christ in the midst of that hell on earth which was Okinawa in World War II.
     Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, an Army medic who, as a Seventh-Day Adventist, served in WWII as a conscientious objector... and won the Medal of Honor!  That's right ... Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor, which is the United States of America's highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.  And he did it without ever carrying a weapon or firing a shot!  
     Doss was certainly heroic on the battlefield, dodging a barrage of gunfire and explosions, as he crawled on the ground from wounded soldier to wounded soldier. He dragged severely injured men [who had been abandoned as the Americans retreated] to the edge of the ridge, tied a rope around their bodies and lowered them down to other medics below. And then he returned to the battlefield again... and again ... and again. He repeatedly ran into the heat of battle to treat a fallen comrade and carry him back to safety; all within a 12-hour period. In his customary modesty, Doss estimated that he saved 50 soldiers.  The Army estimated 100; so the official record settled on 75.  In Doss's own words, he says: "I was praying the whole time. I just kept praying, 'Lord, please help me get one more.' "
     While his performance on the battlefield defied the odds -- one veteran of Hacksaw Ridge said, "It's as if God had his hand on [Doss'] shoulder. It's the only explanation I can give" -- it was how he conducted himself prior to going into battle that inspires me and causes me to take the measure of my own commitment to my faith.  Desmond took the teachings of the Bible seriously and literally. He fervently believed in the 6th Commandment ... Thou shalt not kill ... and was convinced that he could meet the moral obligation he felt to serve his country [defending not only freedom, but religious liberty] by becoming a medic, and as he put it, “be like Christ: saving life instead of taking life.”
     The movie realistically portrays the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse Desmond faced at the hands of his comrades and military superiors.  At each step of his very real persecution, he never disavowed his faith or his determination to serve his God.  At one poignant moment in the film, as the slaughter of American GI's surrounds him, he kneels and asks, "God, what would you have me do"?  And at that moment, in the midst of fleeing and retreating soldiers, he hears the cry of the wounded left behind, and he never hesitates.  He charges into the face of hell, willing to die so that another might live.  There is no higher calling for a Christian than to give his life for another, and Desmond Doss fit that profile, perfectly.
     His official biography reads [partially] as follows: "Eventually, the Americans took Hacksaw Ridge. Okinawa was captured inch by bloody inch. Several days later, during an unsuccessful night raid, Desmond was severely wounded. Hiding in a shell hole with two riflemen, a Japanese grenade landed at his feet. The explosion sent him flying. The shrapnel tore into his leg and up to his hip. He treated his own wounds as best he could. While attempting to reach safety, he was hit by a sniper's bullet that shattered his arm. His brave actions as a combat medic were done. But not before insisting that his litter-bearers take another man first before rescuing him. Wounded, in pain, and losing blood, he still put others ahead of his own safety. He would choose to die so another could live. After all, that's what he read in his Bible. Such was the character demonstrated by Jesus Christ".
     As one magazine article characterized him, "Private Desmond Doss walked into the bloodiest battle of World War II’s Pacific theater with nothing to protect himself save for his Bible and his faith in God".  And I think it was his confidence and trust and unwavering belief in the God of the Bible that so moved me.  He took the assaults on his physical body and his character as a badge of honor; to suffer for Jesus was his due.  He took the words of the Bible in 1 Peter 2:20-21 seriously and personally:  But if when you do what is right and patiently bear [undeserved] suffering, this finds favor with God.  For [as a believer] you have been called for this purpose, since Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in His footsteps.    
     From the time he was a child and gazed upon a large framed picture of the Ten Commandments in his home, he felt God telling him, "If you love Me, you will not kill".  He stayed true to that conviction through brutal and sadistic hazing in Boot Camp; through attempts by the Military Command to prove him mentally unstable (due to his faith); and through the courage he displayed as he charged into certain death to save another man ... this latter description depicting the simple truth of Jesus Christ.
    While there are some who are criticizing this movie as American war propaganda, it is obvious they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The movie certainly depicts the ugliness and terror of war; spotlighting the blood and guts and gore that can be inflicted upon the human body.  But at the heart of this movie is one man's love for, and obedience to, his God.  It is about unfaltering, relentless, and unquestioning faith in the face of human injustice and diabolical brutality.  The simple, sincere way in which Desmond Doss practices that steadfast faith is beautiful to watch on screen.  If you are a Christian, he will make you jealous of such ardent and passionate faith.  Desmond Doss will move you to tears, and make your heart swell with respect and admiration for him and for the film.  To watch a movie that doesn't shy away from promoting such fierce faith -- and to make it authentic and honest as the central storyline, without pandering for the "Faith Dollar at the Box Office" -- is both encouraging and heartening.  The young actor, Andrew Garfield, who played Desmond Doss, is outstanding and portrayed Doss's sacrificial faith with a genuineness that cannot be faked.
     I highly recommend that you see this movie.  It glorifies the life of a true Christian hero.  But more than that, it is a film that displays what the power of Jesus Christ in one man can do to change the lives of so many others.  I have no doubt that Desmond Doss received crowns in heaven, and this film is a crowning accomplishment for Mel Gibson as its Director. I could watch it again and again -- it's that inspiring.

Isaiah 40:31   "But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] will gain new strength and renew their power; They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun]; They will run and not become weary, They will walk and not grow tired". 

November 27, 2016

Isaiah 12

And on that day you will say, “I will give thanks to You, O Lord; For though You were angry with me, 
Your anger has turned away, And You comfort me.

“Behold, God, my salvation! I will trust and not be afraid, For the Lord God is my strength and song;
Yes, He has become my salvation.”

Therefore with joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation.

And in that day you will say, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name [in prayer]. Make His deeds known among the peoples [of the earth]; Proclaim [to them] that His name is exalted!”

Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done excellent                                                                                      and glorious things; Let this be known throughout                                                                                    the earth.

                                                                             Rejoice and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
                                                                             For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

     The Amplified version of the Bible calls Isaiah, Chapter 12, "Thanksgiving Expressed", and I found it so suitable as we end a week of Thanksgiving festivities.  So let's break it down, and see exactly how the Prophet expressed his thankfulness.
     In the previous chapter, the Prophet Isaiah spoke powerfully of the reign of the Messiah as King over all the earth. Chapter 12 expresses his praise that comes from the heart of one who has surrendered to the Messiah as King, and enjoys the benefits of His reign.
     How many of us can say that we still praise God, even when we sense His anger or disappointment with us?  And how many of you believe that under the New Covenant, God no longer gets angry, but is simply a God of Mercy and Grace?  True, we might feel that all the anger and wrath of God against us was poured out upon His Son on the cross. In this sense, there is no more anger from God towards us, because His anger has been “exhausted.” But I think there is also a sense in which we receive chastening or discipline from the LORD, which certainly feels like His anger.
     While we can acknowledge this anger, and it certainly feels unpleasant, it really shows the fatherly love of God instead of His hatred. So how dear and wonderful is that comfort that comes after the discipline?  Especially when we know the chastening will come to an end?
     I love the passion with which Isaiah expresses, "Behold, God is my salvation"!  He feels this so deeply that he says it twice in the same verse.  To say God is my salvation is also to say, “I am not my salvation. My good works, my good intentions, my good thoughts do not save me. God is my salvation.” 
   "I will trust and not be afraid" ... The place of peace and trust and “no fear” comes only from seeing our salvation in God, and not in ourselves. Here, Isaiah is not just experiencing feelings of trust, he is deciding to trust God.  That is an entirely different scenario.
     "The Lord God is my strength and my song" ... When the LORD is our strength, it means that He is our resource, He is our refuge. We look to Him for our needs, and are never unsatisfied.  When the LORD is our song, it means that He is our joy, He is our happiness. We find our purpose and life in Him, and He never disappoints.
    "Therefore with joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation" ... This means there is something for us to do: You will draw water from the fountain that provides everlasting life. God doesn’t meet our needs as we sit in passive inactivity. We must reach out and draw forth what He has provided. At the same time, it is His water, His well, His rope, and His bucket that we draw with!
     Isaiah then encourages the worshipper to give thanks to the Lord, praise the Name of Jesus, and to make His deeds known; to proclaim Him!  If you have received salvation and drunk from the waters that provide everlasting life, then you won't be able to stop talking about God’s greatness and the great things He has done.
     In addition, the Prophet exhorts us to sing praises to the Lord, and to rejoice and shout.  First, the LORD was the song of Isaiah, in verse two. Now, he sings this song of the LORD to whoever will listen! It's as if he is saying, if the LORD has become your song, then sing it!  The invitation to rejoice and shout our praise indicates that our worship of the Lord should never be mechanical.  It should be spirited and excited praise for all He has done in your life!
     Finally, Isaiah reminds us ... For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. This gives two reasons for great praise. First, because of who God is: the Holy One of Israel. Second, because of where God is: in your midst. Each of these gives everyone reason to praise God and express our thanksgiving!

Thank you to StudyLight.org for providing quality Bible resources for this post on Isaiah, Chapter 12.





     
     
      
     


November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Week: My Personal Thoughts

      It's the day after Thanksgiving, and I find myself in a reflective mood.  As for most of us, this is a sentimental time of year.  We have fond and emotional memories of celebrating the holiday season with friends and family; childhood memories that stir something in our souls and provide a connection to those we love.
     But as the Lord has drawn me closer to Him, I find myself looking for significance and meaning in those celebrations that point to Him.  I no longer am satisfied with the sentiments that thrill my flesh. I want to celebrate these "holidays" as true "holy days", and I want to be consciously seeking my Lord as my spirit is renewed.  That doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy the bountiful blessings of spending time with my family yesterday, or marvel at the provision the Good Lord has given us.  It's just that I wanted Thanksgiving to be more than family fun, mouth-watering food, football games, and going to an afternoon movie.
     Since Thanksgiving is a particularly American holiday, I wanted to know more than I'd been taught in school about the origins of that historical event.  Surely, there's a deeper message in the Thanksgiving story than Squanto, corn and succotash, and the fall harvest.  Turns out there might be...
     Thanksgiving became associated through the centuries with giving thanks to God for the harvests of the land. Thanksgiving has always been a time of people coming together, so thanks has also been offered for that gift of fellowship between us all. Surprisingly, I found that the true nature of Thanksgiving has less to do with the part history/part myth story that developed around the Pilgrim's and America's "First Thanksgiving", than it does with the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles, or as it is also known, The Feast of Ingathering, or Sukkot.
     It is interesting to note that, prior to making their way to the New World, the Pilgrims, themselves the victims of religious persecution, spent several years among Sephardic Jews in Holland.  Perhaps the Biblical perspective of the Feast of Tabernacles was the root for their own expression of thanksgiving after that first harsh winter.  Whether this is true or not, I couldn't help but think that Jews celebrate Sukkot by recalling God’s providence toward Israel during the forty years of wandering in the desert.  And it commemorates a future time when the harvest of souls will bring about peace and harmony upon the earth.  Simply put, it is a time to feast and a time to pray.
     It was at that moment that I realized that I could do that -- that I could enjoy the gathering of my family, and honor the Lord who is protecting us and providing for us each day.  I could be prayerful throughout the day, praising Him as the Holy Spirit brought impressions to my mind, among them ... How grateful I am that my extended family is healthy and thriving; that I could pray for the safety of my nephew serving in Iraq, while enjoying the laughter of his wife and two small children who are living here in Texas while he is deployed.
     I can trust the Lord with the safekeeping of three other nephews who are serving their communities as law enforcement officers.  I am thankful that He has given them hearts to love their neighbor, and that I know He hears my prayers concerning their safety each night.  I am also so appreciative that He has restored a connection to more distant family members, who like myself, went their own ways after college.  It is amazing to see how He brought us together after 30 years, through the seemingly random transfer of their son to a college here in Texas.  I am astonished at the spiritual connection that my husband and I have with this young man, and how quickly he integrated into our family and accepted our love.  This is the second Thanksgiving he has spent with us, and that very fact is evidence of what an amazing God we serve.  I will be forever thankful for the renewal and restoration of old family ties, and the creation of new family relationships.
     In fact, I see Him growing all my relationships, and our common love for the Lord is translating into unselfish love for each other. Neighbors are dearer to my heart; our Home Church is growing in relationship and faith; we are seeing friends come to a life-changing faith in Jesus, and being baptized.  This world is fading away and I am seeing glimpses of His Kingdom coming!
     But perhaps the greatest reason for my thankfulness is the journey that God has taken my husband and me on this year.  I have so much gratitude for how He is growing my husband into a spiritual leader who has so much passion to know Jesus and to obey His every command.  He has a heart that bursts with a desire to see others reborn, and his heart grieves when he sees the suffering of those in bondage to satan.  He has been on a transformative and healing journey of his own, and he is making it his mission to see others freed by the Power of Jesus, just as he has been.  No wife could be prouder or made more humble by the evidence of compassion and mercy in her husband, than I.
     Yes, this Thanksgiving was truly a season of gratitude; of adoration and praise to a merciful and gracious God.  And it is my prayer that I will continue to express my indebtedness to the Almighty God of the Universe each and every day.  I know that difficult days are forecast, but I also know that His love endures forever.  That is the thought that I will take captive and nurture in my heart.  I hope your Thanksgiving Week has brought you closer to the God who created you, and it is my prayer that all your days be full of thanksgiving and praise!

Psalm 9:1    "I will give thanks to You, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonderful deeds."

November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Week: The Giving Kitchen

   
     For some, the Thanksgiving holiday is all about the food.  For others it is all about family; reminiscing about old memories and creating new ones.  But it is also about inspiration and gratitude. But if you watched CBS Sunday Morning last weekend, you saw a story that combines the best of all these aspects.
     Chef Ryan Hidinger was well known in Atlanta, having worked at some of the premier restaurants in the area. In addition, he and his wife, Jen, had gained quite a reputation for their unique supper club, called Staplehouse.  They ran it for several years, in anticipation of opening their own restaurant with the same name.
     Then out of left field, Ryan received a devastating Gallbladder Cancer diagnosis.  Doctors told him it was stage-four and he was given six months to live.  Needless to say, their dream of opening a restaurant suddenly seemed out of reach.  But friends, those within the Atlanta area, and the restaurant industry came together and held a charity gala that raised $275,000.  That money not only paid the Hidinger's medical bills, but became the seed money for The Giving Kitchen.  
     The Giving Kitchen was formed as a 501(c)(3) to fill the need for a crisis grant program in the restaurant community — as a way to do for others what the community came together to do for Ryan and Jen.  The organization provides emergency assistance grants to cover basic living expenses, care-related travel expenses, and funeral expenses for those who meet defined criteria; to families of chefs, restaurant owners, servers and restaurant staff. The Hidinger's research showed that there are over 200,000 restaurant workers in the City of Atlanta. At any given time, 1-2% are facing unanticipated crisis. The Giving Kitchen is committed to trying to meet as many of those needs as they can. 
     The idea for the Giving Kitchen originated with the compassion shown the Hidinger's during Ryan's illness.  In the business world, it models a unique hybrid structure as a nonprofit with a for-profit subsidiary. The for-profit subsidiary is Ryan and Jen's original dream, Staplehouse — the casual fine- dining restaurant they opened in a turn-of-the century brick building in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. After all the bills are paid, the staff is paid, taxes are paid, etc., 100% of Staplehouse’s net profits are channeled back into its nonprofit parent, The Giving Kitchen, as an ongoing stream of support.
     The testimonials on the website are proof that The Giving Kitchen is meeting the needs of those in the restaurant industry.  Bartenders, servers, and families of restaurant workers who are enduring the anxiety of unexpected medical crises and bills become recipients of Funds set up in their names, and supported by restaurant patrons, other restaurant employees, and profits from Staplehouse -- all donated in the spirit of assisting others who need a helping hand. 
     This is a unique story and so appropriate for this Thanksgiving season.  The CBS presentation didn't reveal whether Faith played any part in the Hidinger's decision to start The Giving Kitchen.  But their motivations are certainly pleasing to God.  For He tells us to share generously with those in need, and to help those in trouble.  He tells us our giving should be motivated by a sincere desire to help others, and that is evident in Ryan and Jen's story.  Ryan died from Gallbladder Cancer in January of 2014.  Since that time, Jen, along with Ryan's sister, Kara, and her husband, Ryan Smith (who now serves as Staplehouse chef), have labored with love to keep Ryan Hidinger's memory and dream alive.
     While Staplehouse has been a project of passion since the beginning, it has become a lasting testament to Ryan and Jen's desire to not only give back to the community who helped them, but to pay it forward.  As the website bon app├ętit proclaimed, "Staplehouse is about love, and it is about family. It is inspiring, and it is humbling. Staplehouse is an example of what good a community can do. This is why [we named] Staplehouse as the Best New Restaurant in America".  And from the reviews I've read, they did not receive the award out of sympathy -- the service is outstanding, there is a palpable spirit of joy and love, and the restaurant's food is leading the pack towards the next step in modern Southern cooking. 
     But it is the quote from Ryan Hidinger, himself; written on an exposed wooden beam, that sums up the intrinsic nature of this story ... “Anything long-lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.” That speaks to my experience as a human being and as a Christian.  I think we can say that The Giving Kitchen exemplifies the spirit of Thanksgiving with its story of love and family and giving to others.  And perhaps, most of all, it shows us how to live out Jesus's command to love our neighbor as ourselves. May it continue to prosper and be blessed.

Luke 6:38   "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."
     
     

November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving Week: Stories of Prayer, Immigration, and Assimilation

     I'd like to spend this week in a true spirit of giving thanks.  We've just finished a hotly contested and divisive election season; the war in Iraq has been revitalized; world powers are readjusting and realigning, and it's too easy to get caught up in our anxieties and fears about the future.  But this week, let's concentrate on the stories that bring us together; our common humanity and the lessons we can learn from Biblical history.
     This first story comes to us from Erbil, Iraq. Last Friday, November 18th, more than 20,000 persecuted Christians gathered to pray for Iraq and victory against ISIS. The six-hour prayer event marked the end of 50 days of fasting, and for many Christians, hopefully the start of a new life without ISIS. Think about that! In this country that has been torn apart by war for more than thirteen years, this is a remarkable show of faith in the wake of some of the most horrific and wicked persecution the world has ever seen.
     Those that gathered were specific in what they wanted to accomplish.  They prayed for the presence of God’s Spirit to envelop the meeting and that every person would clearly hear what God wanted to say to them.  They prayed that leaders of the event would preach, worship and pray under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  They prayed that those who were Unbelievers would be touched by the Holy Spirit during this time, and come to know His Truth, as Son of God and Lord of all. They prayed that this gathering would be a time of encouragement to those who were struggling to stay steadfast in their faith because of the persecution they had suffered; and a time of breakthrough for those struggling to know Jesus for the first time.  Finally, they prayed that God would indeed hear from Heaven, answer the cries of His people, and bring healing, renewed hope for the future and peace to the people of this region. It is an ancient prayer that people of the Bible have prayed since Genesis.
    While Iraqis are hopeful that the defeat of Isis and the liberation of their towns will continue, they still face violence by local militias, regional conflicts between key players like Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the distrust between the different religious and ethnic groups of the Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, and Arabs.  It is the same old world story, but at the heart of it is the continued power of prayer and the hope of God's promises.  I am thankful for this current reminder that God is still sought after as the ultimate answer to the world's chaos.
     This second story has an ancient Biblical connection.  Remember the story in Acts, Chapter 8, when Philip, the Evangelist, encounters the Ethiopian eunuch on his way back from Jerusalem?  Philip overhears the Ethiopian reading the Book of Isaiah; specifically, Chapter 53 [which identifies our Lord as the Suffering Servant], and offers to help the traveling eunuch understand what he is reading. First, we need to understand that it is nearly 1600 miles from modern Ethiopia to Jerusalem!!! This man traveled a long way to gain knowledge, and how did he come to be seeking wisdom about the coming Messiah?
     Well, scholars speculate that Ethiopia was the land where the Queen of Sheba had come from, who saw the glory of Solomon’s kingdom and professed faith in the God of Israel (1 Kings 10:13). It’s possible that pieces of the Jewish faith were passed on through the centuries to men like this servant of the current Queen. And after Philip's instruction, and his confession of faith and baptism, this Ethiopian eunuch most likely returned to his homeland and helped launch the Christian faith in that ancient land. Here's an additional interesting note: The Coptic Christians – greatly persecuted today in Egypt – trace their spiritual heritage back to this Ethiopian official.  So, what does all this history have to do with giving thanks this week?
     Daniel Sahalo is some of the fruit that was borne from that divine appointment between Philip and the Ethiopian. He was born in the farming village of Gaina, Ethiopia. In 1984, when Daniel was 4 years old, his family decided to immigrate to Israel, along with a group of other Jews seeking to flee the famine and political unrest in Ethiopia. For eight weeks, Sahalo and the rest of his group traveled barefoot at night under the eclipse of darkness. They contended with many threats, including robbers, hunger, wild animals, and the bitter cold of the desert nights. Sadly, more than 4,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community died on the way to Israel, including Sahalo's 23-year-old sister and 2-year-old niece.
     After waiting nine months at a Red Cross refugee camp near the Sudanese and Egyptian border, the announcement finally came that the group would be flown to Israel. Sahalo would go on to finish high school, enlist in the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) prestigious Paratroopers 101 battalion, and become the only member of his family to earn an academic degree [in International Relations and Latin American Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem].
     But perhaps his most important accomplishment has become his involvement with the Megemeria Jewelry Collection, as their Sales and Marketing Manager.  You see, the experience of Ethiopian Jews in their new homeland of Israel has o theften been a difficult one.  Most Ethiopian Jews were farmers in their native country and now have trouble finding work and integrating into Israeli society. That's where Yvel comes in; they are a company in Israel that makes and sells fine jewelry.  Founded by Argentinian immigrants to Israel, they started a social business enterprise, called the Megemeria School of Jewelry and the Arts. "Megemeria" means Genesis in Amharic, the native language of Ethiopia.
     The school teaches Ethiopian immigrants to Israel the art and science of jewelry design and manufacturing, along with many other skills, such as math and the Hebrew language. Students study for free, receive a monthly stipend to help with living expenses, and upon graduation from the school, many are hired to work at the Megemeria social business. All jewelry is designed and manufactured entirely by the school's students and graduates, with all sales revenue reinvested in the project. What a beautiful Biblical picture of how God instructed the Israelites to love the "sojourners" and "aliens" in their land, remembering that they were once sojourners themselves.  It also shows the respect of the new citizens of Israel by learning the native language and becoming productive citizens.  This story of Aliya (the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel) turned from one of struggle to one of thanksgiving.
     In these two stories, we see the history of humanity.  They encompass the stories of refugees, asylum-seekers, the internally displaced, and those moving to other countries as immigrants. They cover the reality of being human as well as being a Christian or a Jew. They remind us that we are all made in the image of God.  We are all representatives of God on earth, and we all have worth in His eyes; each of us was made by God and Christ died for us.
     In this age of war, global politics, and Elitist domination, it is sometimes hard to imagine that God cares about each individual.  But from the beginning of the human race, nothing has changed. Just as God "saw" Abram in Mesopotamia; Ruth in the land of Moab; Daniel in Babylon; and each of the Disciples in their lonely journeys to Asia Minor, India, North Africa, Persia, and beyond, He "sees" each of us. He hears each prayer, as in Erbil, Iraq; and like the Ethiopian Jews, He desires that each person seeking a better life in a strange land would be welcomed, and charity and compassion be dispensed.  The stories presented here mirror these Biblical principles, and are the perfect way to begin our Thanksgiving week.

Thank you to the Christian Broadcasting Network for reporting on these two inspirational stories.

Psalm 103:13   Just as a father loves his children, So the Lord loves those who fear and worship Him [with awe-filled respect and deepest reverence].

November 20, 2016

Acts 20:27

“I did not shrink from declaring to you
 the whole counsel of God.”



     What exactly is the whole counsel of God?  In this passage of Acts, Chapter 20, the Apostle Paul is declaring his role as a Representative of God's Word.  With a clear conscience, he can say that he has presented the unabridged version, so to speak, of God's teaching.  He has not dodged the difficult questions; nor has he tried to add or subtract from God's Word to make it more acceptable to his listeners.  In fact, he has presented God's Word in order that he might help believers to grasp the whole counsel (purpose and plan) of God, so that they would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently and comprehensively.
     But how many of you believe, or have been told, that we are under God's Grace, not the Law; therefore the New Testament is our primary source of God's teaching, and that's the only "counsel of God" we need?  Or, that the Old Testament is a nice bit of history, but it has no real significance to us "New Testament Believers"? As a serious student of the Bible -- the whole Bible -- I find these opinions unsound and inaccurate.  
     First of all, it is important that we understand the original meaning of the word, "counsel".  It comes from the Greek word boulomai, and according to Strong's Concordance, it "expresses strongly the deliberate exercise of the will".  In other words, Paul is saying that he did not shrink from declaring God's deliberate exercise of His will throughout history, and he revealed the whole of God's revelation about His purpose(s) in relationship with His creation, man.
     Keep in mind that the New Testament had not even been written when Paul made this statement, so some may ask, "How can we make it a Law vs. Grace, Old vs. New Testament argument"?  In fact, this is actually what I am saying.... I believe that Paul was given Divine revelation in relating God's plan that covers the entire spectrum of history: Law, Grace, Judgment and Redemption.  The entire Bible is God's counsel! There is history of redemption throughout the Old Testament that points to The Redeemer in the New Testament.  Paul related God's explanation of man's origin, fall, and rescue [in the Old Testament], which leads to a worldview [in the New Testament] and points out the need for a Savior and Deliverer.  There were commandments of old to be obeyed and accepted wisdom to be pursued, and those would be expanded upon in the life of the Incarnate God.  And those commandments and wise counsel were not to be discarded, but rather they spoke of the transforming power to come; of age-old promises to be trusted and hopes to be anticipated.
     But here's kind of a synopsis of what I think Paul was saying ... God's counsel cannot be limited to one concept such as Grace or Law.  Remember, the word "counsel" is speaking of God's deliberate exercise of His will. Can we agree that the "whole counsel of God" centers around the idea of His Sovereignty in all matters?  Can we see that His counsel is bigger than Grace, for example?  After all, Paul certainly experienced the Grace of God, yet he did not limit his teaching to that doctrine.  He did not shy away from explaining how God exercised His deliberate will by punishing the rebelliousness of the ancient Israelites; nor did he neglect to point out God's Judgment against those who refuse to repent. 
     We are in need of the whole counsel of God ... the grace, the law, the discipline, the love, the forgiveness ... The fullness of His Character reveals His Sovereignty; and His whole counsel is for the purpose of establishing Christ's Kingdom on earth.  It may not be a perfect picture... but we need to hear it all!