Are We Making The Most Of God’s Gifts?

Salvation is a free gift that we cannot earn, but which we can lose or refuse because God always gives people a choice. Adam and Eve had access to a close relationship with God, but they also had the option to choose sin and death instead. Ancient Israel was asked to choose between “life and prosperity, and death and evil,” and implored to pick life (Deut. 30:15, 19). The Lord is not willing that any should perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but He also won’t force you into His kingdom. You need to choose, and then act on your choice.

We also can’t say “I choose life” and then keep living as if we chose death. We will be judged by what we do with the gifts given to us by God, and for those in His church today this judgement has already started (1 Pet. 4:17). God is watching us now to see what we do with all the gifts He gives us.

As we think about our relationship with God and examine ourselves as Christians, we all need to ask if we’re doing what God would want us to do with the gifts He’s entrusted us with. That includes examining how we respond to salvation, how we heed and use His Spirit inside us, and whether or not we’re truly following the example of Jesus Christ.

The Parable of The Talents

Shortly before His death, Jesus told a parable that illustrates how important it is for us to do something with the gifts we’ve been given. He compares His absence from earth between His first and second coming to “a man, going to another country, who called his own servants, and entrusted his goods to them” (Matt. 25:14, WEB).

This man divided his goods between his servants, entrusting each with a certain number of talents (a “talent” is  measure of weight, typically used for silver, that is equal to 30 kg or 66 lb). This pictures the time that we’re in now as servants awaiting our master’s return. Like the servants in the parable, we’ve each been given gifts “according to his own ability” and must now decide what to do with them (Matt. 25:15). Read more

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Good and Bad Fruits

As Christians, we’re asked to find a balance between being too judgmental and an “anything goes” mentality. We must not condemn others, but neither should we ignore sin. We have to exercise discernment, “judge righteous judgement” (John 7:24), and make decisions about right and wrong in our own lives, and in the lives of people we choose to associate with.

When we’re deciding that teachers to listen to, which groups to fellowship with, and who to count as our closest friends, God gives us guidelines for making decisions.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matt. 7:15-20)

A parallel scripture in Luke 6:43-45 shows this principle applies to people in general, not just leaders. It also applies to us. Before we can recognize good and bad fruits in other people, we have examine ourselves. We must remove the plank from our own eye before we can clearly see the speck in our brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5). This is especially important as we approach the Passover season, traditionally a time of reflection and self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28-31).

Bad Fruits

When we’re trying to discern good and bad fruits, what should we be looking for? The Bible outlines many good and bad traits that individuals may have, but today let’s focus on a list given in Galatians. We’re very familiar with the fruits of the spirit, but leading up to that there is also a list of undesirable traits and actions.

 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

Credit:  oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr
Credit: oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr

This is serious stuff. Those who have these “bad fruits” in their lives will not be welcomed in God’s kingdom. It’s easy to just read over lists like these, pick out a few traits that seem particularly bad, then pat ourselves on the back because we’re not practicing witchcraft or murdering people. But let’s take a closer look. We need to be able to recognize these sort of bad fruits in church congregations, in leaders, and in ourselves.

Does a church congregation overlook sexual sins among its members or ignore them in society? Is that teacher impure in his deeds? Am I allowing an absence of restraint to characterize my life? Does this church group put anything before God on their priority list? Do they teach that it’s okay to dabble in the occult?

Is a minister acting out of hostility or hatred? Am I stirring up debates and contentions? Are we jealous of others, or easily made indignant? Are the people in that congregation known for their anger? Does their leader encourage strife and divisions, or teach things contrary to sound doctrine? Do we envy each other, or hate someone so much that we’ve wished them dead? Am I lacking self-control and moderation, or engaging in riotous conduct?

Christ made it clear in His sermon on the mount that the laws of God are still in effect, and operating on a spiritual plane. Even a longing to sin is a sin (Matt. 5:17-30). We need to be on guard against bad fruits showing up in our lives, as well as being wary of associating with a church or following a minister who is producing bad fruit. God expects better from us than that.

Good Fruits

God expects us to bear good fruits for His glory, and to associate with other Christians who are also bearing good fruits. We do this by developing a strong relationship with Him and with Jesus Christ.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:4-5, 8)

Credit: net_efekt, CC BY, via Flickr
Credit: net_efekt, CC BY, via Flickr

If an individual or church group has a strong relationship with Jesus and the Father, it is made visible in the kind of fruits that show up in their lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Let’s ask ourselves the same kinds of questions about this list. Is that church congregation characterized by active goodwill and godly love towards all? Is this minister filled with joy and gladness, and encouraging that in his brethren? Do I “live peaceably with all men”? (Rom. 12:18).

Do the people of our church congregation show self-restraint before acting, and choose to suffer long rather than taking vengeance? Does this teacher have a “grace which pervades the whole nature, mellowing all which would be harsh and austere”? (Zodhiates, G5544). Can God look at me and say that I am actively practicing goodness?

Is this church group defined by their faithfulness to the Word of Truth? Is that minister a humble man who calmly accepts God’s will in His life? Do I have self-control that lets me moderate my desires? If we can answer these questions with a “yes,” then we can be assured that our churches, our leaders, and we ourselves are bearing “good fruit.”

Examine Yourself

We’re less than three weeks away from Passover, and whether or not you observe it as part of your Christian walk this is a good season to take a close look at ourselves and what kinds of fruits we’re producing. When John the Baptist was preaching, he warned the Pharisees about how important it was to produce good instead of bad fruits

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:8-10)

A sense of complacency will not get you in to the kingdom of God. Jesus told the Jews near the end of His ministry, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matt. 21:43) We don’t want that to happen us us as individuals. We must abide in Christ and bring forth good fruits while getting rid of bad fruits in our lives.

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:24-26)

That’s the concluding thought at the end of the “works of the flesh” and “fruits of the spirit” lists. We belong to Jesus – there should be no room in our lives for evil fruits. We have to battle against that fleshly, rotten side and truly walk in the spirit as we follow Jesus

Summer Cheesecake Bars

I’m re-sharing two recipes today that I’ve already posted because they’re just way too tasty to only share once. I’ve been making these fruit cheesecake bars for most of our get-together this summer, and they’re always popular. Both need fresh fruit, so this is the best time of the year to plan on enjoying them.

Peach Cheesecake Squares | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Click here to visit the recipe page for Peach Cheesecake Squares

 

Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake Bars | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Click here to visit the recipe page for Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Peach Cheesecake Squares

peach cheesecake bars recipe marissabaker.wordpress.com
The finished bars, cooled and cut

There’s an Amish family not far from my home who sells fresh produce. When peaches are in season, my family buys them by the crate. Usually they get eaten quickly, but if they are a bit older when we buy them, sometimes you have to bake with some. As is, this recipe turns out great, but the peach flavor was a little too subtle and it only used 2 peaches. I think I’d try doubling the amount of peaches next time.

Peach Cheesecake Bars

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2 cups ripe peaches

2 teaspoons cinnamon and sugar, mixed

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 cup butter, cold

1 (8-oz) package cream cheese, softened

1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Peal and thinly slice peaches. Place in bowl and toss with cinnamon/sugar mixture. Let fruit set.

In large bowl, mix flour and powder sugar. Cut the cold butter into the mixture. Reserve 2 cups for topping. In a 9×13-inch ungreased baking dish, press remaining mixture and bake for 15 minutes.

peach cheesecake bars recipe marissabaker.wordpress.com
Just out of the oven

Beat the cream cheese until fluffy, then slowly add the condensed milk, baking until smooth. Add egg and vanilla.

Place peaches and juice on baked crust. Top with cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over the top. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the top is slightly brown. Chill and cut into squares.

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Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake BarsThe oven is back! As of last Wednesday afternoon, I’ve been able to bake. I promptly made bow-tie pasta, chocolate chip cookies,  easy bread sticks, and now I can finally share these cheesecake bars. The crust came from this recipe, and I borrowed the filling from this Annie’s Eats recipe. The first time I made it and took it to church, I received several compliments on the flavor. In particular, people liked the shortbread crust as an alternative to graham cracker.

Warning: do not attempt to substitute wax paper for parchment paper. It refuses to come out of the pan. Aluminum foil would work much better, I think.

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

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 Shortbread Crust

1 cup butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepared a 9”x13” baking dish with a parchment paper sling. Cut the butter into the flour and confections sugar and press into the baking dish (I use the bread hook attachment on my hand-held electric mixer). Bake 20 minutes or until light brown. Let cool on wire rack.

 Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake Bars batterFilling

2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened

½ cup sour cream

¾ cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 pint fresh blueberries

Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and sour cream with an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Add in the sugar and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in vanilla, salt, and lemon juice. Fold in blueberries gently with a spatula until evenly incorporated. Pour mixture over the shortbread crust.

Bake for 35 minutes or until just set and the center no longer jiggles when the pan is tapped. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before removing from pan using parchment paper. Cut into bars and serve.

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cooked Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

No-Bake Blueberry Cheesecake

No-Bake Blueberry cheesecake recipeThis is one of my favorite summer dessert recipes. As soon as the blueberries start getting ripe, I start stocking up on cream cheese so I can make this wonderful little cheesecake. It will not work with frozen blueberries, so this is the only time of year we get to eat it. Aside from tasting great, it is ridiculously easy to make. Just make or buy a crust, beat cream cheese with sugar, toss the blueberries in sugar, put it all together and pop it in the refrigerator.

Usually, I just make a graham cracker crust for this cheesecake. This time, however, I didn’t have enough graham crackers and found a substitute crust. It stuck the the pan, but I’m hoping that can be overcome because the taste was better and it didn’t fall apart. I’ve included it in this version of the recipe.

Fresh Blueberry Cheesecake

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cheesecake crust
this new crust worked up much better than just graham crackers and butter

Crust

½ cup flour

½ cup graham cracker crumbs

5 Tablespoons butter, melted

3 Tablespoon brown sugar

Mix all crust ingredients in bowl and press into a greased, 9-inch pie pan. Set aside.

 

No-bake fresh blueberry cheesecake filling
cream-cheese filling

Filling

2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened

¼ cup brown sugar, packed

In small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and brown sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Spread the filling over the crust in the pie pan.

 

No-bake fresh blueberry cheesecake
The finished cheesecake

Topping

2 cups fresh blueberries

2-3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

In a bowl, toss the blueberries in sugar and lemon juice. Spoon blueberries over cheesecake. Place finished cheesecake in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours before serving.

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