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Monday, December 27, 2010

What Resolutions Mean to a Christian

Step one:
“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” Matthew 12:43-45

Resolutions at New Year's is a tradition, I am told, that extends in history to the Babylonians.  For a Christian, resolutions take on a different meaning, or maybe I just want to propose a different meaning.  I don't really mean some flippant pledge to do better, be nicer, or give to support the ASPCA. 

In Matthew 12:43-45 Jesus talks a little about our efforts to improve ourselves.  He is coming from a rather more destructive viewpoint that I am, but maybe I just don't recognize the seriousness of the situation.  He says that a man may free himself of an evil spirit.  I am taking that to mean that I can rid myself of a bad spirit.  Maybe the bad habit I see is a reflection of the action of the spirit.  I can break a bad habit.  I can quit eating food that is bad for my health.  I can refrain from engaging in troublesome or destructive behavior.  Jesus compares it to cleaning a house and sweeping out the filth and putting the place in order.  I can do that.  We all can. 

The Evil Spirit, however, is not destroyed.  It is still looking for a place to dwell, so it returns to the house and brings seven more spirits with it that will make the place a mess of gigantic proportions.  

That is the result we see in many of the resolutions we make every year.  We can clean up the edges and make it look better.  We can even clean the house, but, until we put in the new tenant and install the alarm system, the Evil Spirit still has access.

Step Two:
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4
We have to make the Evil Spirit powerless to return and reclaim the  house.  This is another step in the Christian life.  It requires us to become identified with Christ at the point of his death.  In God's view this happened at the time we were saved, but for us as humans this understanding comes slowly in pieces and layers. 

 We took communion where we ate the bread that represented his body and drank the wine that represented his blood.  We learned to read his words and became identified with him.  We proclaimed our obedience to him.  

Now we must understand that we enter into his life at the point of his death.  In Romans 6:4 we are told we are buried with him by baptism in his death.  Now we rise in a new kind and quality of life.  Life in the flesh means we can clean the house and evict the Evil Spirit.  Life in Christ means we have a new resident--Jesus  occupies the house.  When we see this aspect of salvation, we can understand that the house has a new resident.  He will help us when the Evil Spirit would come.  We may still see evil around us, but Jesus will strengthen us to avoid and resist it.  He will give us victory.  We have a new year facing us in which we can resolve to grow and learn in Jesus.  Praise God! 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

God is a Farmer

In Isaiah 28:23-29 the writer compares God to a farmer and the people are considered his crop.  He begins with the need to plow the land before putting in new seed.  He must break it up and remove rocks and level it so that the plants will grow and be strong and vibrant.

Sometimes we think of the problems and hindrances we experience in our lives as God's plowing.  Why do we have these difficulties and losses?  Why is God punishing me?  Somebody said it like this:  Let him plow--He purposes a crop.

The scripture examines details of the act of planting.  Where to plant the seeds is a concern.  Some plants need full sun while some may not suffer if there is some shade during the day.  Some will do well in clay soil, but some need sandy loam.  The farmer knows which plants do best in each location. 

God knows what makes us grow best too.  A life of ease will bring a lazy attitude, and the spirit, like the body needs exercise to be strong. 

After the harvest, the farmer knows how to handle the seeds--some are beaten with a rod and some are ground with a wheel.  The cumin and caraway will be used for seasoning.  Retaining the oil within the seed means it will disperse when it is cooked.  The grain like spelt, barley and wheat is ground for bread.  Different strokes for different folks. 

God knows our needs and our potential.  He wants the best product and the best use, and he wants us to be joyful--have fun, for heaven's sake.  The things he doesn't like are those that are dangerous to us.  It's funny we can't see that.  He will bring about correction in our lives.  He will allow us to fail and to suffer disaster.  If we learn the lesson he is teaching, we can return to an obedient and productive life, but we may bear scars of the encounter.  God loves us enough to be stern, but his goal is beneficial for us--he wants us to be happy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas in Isaiah

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  No, it is not just a fun time of new toys for kids, or too much food, or a party for a jolly man in a red suit.  I say it again--it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Most people know that the story is told in two books of the New Testament, Matthew and Luke.  (If you didn't know that, make a note for the quiz.) 

Now let's back up a few hundred years.  The prophet Isaiah wrote at the time of the conquest of the nation of Judah in 586 BCE.  Maybe Isaiah wrote about 700 BCE and disciples or followers of his continued his work for the next hundred or more years.  Anyway, the Book of Isaiah covers that period of time and even to the return from exile. 

So he could not have had any connection with the birth of Jesus, could he?  Well, no; but Isaiah was a prophet; prophets were preachers that did what preachers do today:  they interpreted the scriptures and called the people to repent of their sins, but they sometimes foretold the future.  People that do that today are often thought of as kooks.  Sometimes the prophets of the Old Testament were too.  Some of them were abused, tortured and killed.

Isaiah foretold the future:  he wrote in chapter 9:6 (KJV):

For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Is this confusing?  It may be.  It is a prophesy of two events.  The first is the birth of a child, and, in the same sentence, the proclamation that he will be the head of the government.  He will be wonderful, mighty, and everlasting.  The one most people remember is the Prince of Peace.  Jesus offers peace.  The government will rest on his shoulders and he will be the mighty ruler at some future time that only God knows.

We celebrate his birth this month.  It has already happened.  There is not peace in the world and the world does not recognize him as the head of the government, but that doesn't mean that we can't claim this promise.  For anyone who chooses to believe in him, he will provide wonderful counsel; he will be your mighty God; he is your everlasting Father, and he will bring peace to your heart and mind and life.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Meaning of Bread

I was making bread this morning, and it brought to mind the meaning of bread in the Bible.  Sometimes in the Bible, bread just refers to our daily living needs.  In Genesis 3:19 (KJV) Adam is told that he will eat bread by the sweat of his brow all the days of his life.  Bread means food, but it is taken to mean all the things we need to survive. 

When God called Moses to take the Children of Israel out of Egypt, he gave them instructions for a symbolic meal that represented their salvation.  They were to take a one year old male lamb and keep it and feed it for four days.  For four days the children could brush it and feed it.  For four days it was a pet and they loved it.  Then they were to kill it and roast it and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs and wine.  This meal was meaningful and it was intended to sustain them for the journey.  They were to reflect on it and remember this night. 

Leavening in the Bible is considered a contaminant.  The bread being unleavened symbolized that they did not have time to wait for it to rise, but it also symbolized that this was from God untainted by human efforts.  God delivered them from Egypt.

In the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness, their bread came from the manna which fell each night.  It was small, white pellets about the size of a coriander seed.  They gathered it and ground it like grain and made bread from it.  It sustained them for the forty years they meandered around in the desert. The day after they went into the Promised Land, the manna ceased to fall.  Manna was the provision God made for them to sustain them during that barren time.

Throughout his ministry, we see examples of Jesus eating bread.  On the night before his crucifixion he shared a Seder meal with the disciples.  When they finished eating, he took the bread and broke it and gave it to them.  He said it symbolized his body and they were to eat of it; they were to eat of him, actually, to be nourished on him, to be sustained by him.  Then he gave them wine and assured them this was his blood for the remission of their sins.  

Remember the lamb that was fed and petted for four days?  Jesus was the lamb.  Now his blood would be offered on the altar, poured out and sacrificed for their sin and for our sin.  And now the bread would nourish them and us for the journey and the life he called all of us to.  We should feed on him everyday.  But now we have to see a symbolism again.  We feed on him by reading his words and obeying his command to love others as he loved us.  This is how we are strengthened and sustained.

When we take communion, we remember the symbolism of bread.  His body is our bread.  His words nourish us.  His acts are sustenance to us.   

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Place to Hide

Psalms 139 says that God sees us wherever we are, and the Psalmist goes on to list remote and obscure places where he will find us if we try to hide.

Last Sunday the Sunday school teacher reported that when he was a boy, he felt a little more private in a two-story house because he thought that God's vision might not penetrate through the second story floor as well as the roof.  And he knew he had done things he didn't want God seeing.  One preacher of my acquaintance said when he was a boy, he really hated the old gospel song "There's an All-seeing Eye Watching You."

When we make choices about our behavior, is the matter of privacy the deciding factor?  If I could commit a sin and nobody would know, would it matter?  Psalms 139 and other Bible references say that we cannot escape the view of God.  How much does the fact that God sees me and knows my heart and intent influence my actions?  If that knowledge prevents me from entering into sin, I am blessed.  I still have temptation pulling at us if I secretly yearn to commit an act that only the risk of exposure prevents.

I think there was a time when I thought the Christian life got easier after a while, but I was wrong.  With every victory, I move to harder challenge.  Wouldn't you think I would have figured that out by now?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Becoming a Nudist--Isaiah Chapter 20

God gave Isaiah messages to share with Judah and surrounding nations.  Isaiah was faithful to share them with the people and the court of the king, but he didn't get much response.  He called Judah and all those other nations to repentance, but they disregarded him. 
Judah was trusting in alliances with countries that could not help them, but they did not heed Isaiah's warning.

Isaiah mourned for Judah.  He wore sackcloth and wept before God.  Finally God said "Take off the sackcloth and sandals."  He did so and he became a nudist.  After three years God spoke again.  "Isaiah has been a sign to you for three years.  The countries that you trusted in to help you, the Egyptians and the Cushites, will be lead away stripped and barefoot like Isaiah.  You trusted in them to save you, and they will be shamed and naked.  They will leave you in fear."

Isaiah was a sad example of the failure of Egypt and Cush to lend strength to Judah.  When they fell, Judah discovered she had no place of strength left because she had trusted in other nations instead of God.

Friends that help you commit more sin or go deeper in debt or seek a higher lever of corruption will not help you.  They will fall, and you will have no other resource.

Heed Isaiah's warning:  Trust in God, not alliances that cannot stand in righteousness.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Does God Cause Evil?

Does God cause evil?  Does God condone hate and bitterness?  In Isaiah 6 and 7 God tells Isaiah to prophesy about a time that is coming when there will be devastation from the King of Assyria.  Why does God give this message?  Could God prevent this attack on Judah? 

Judah was the last remaining part of the people of Israel.  The larger Northern Kingdom had already gone into exile.  Judah was all that was left of the House of Israel remaining in the land.  If Judah went into captivity, did that mean that God had failed? And yet that was what Isaiah seemed to be saying.

In Judah there were still high places and temples and altars to Baal and Ashtoreth.  God called the king and the people to abandon other gods, and they had not done it.  God called them to holiness before him, but their stubborn resistance prevented him from pouring out on them the blessings he held.  They were still a stiff-necked people who wanted to go their own way.  King Ahaz, too, thought he had an answer.  He would make allies of Ephraim and Aram.  The prophet warned him not to trust them, and he gave the king a promise that they were not the danger he should fear.  But in his stubbornness he resisted God rather than the comfort that was so tempting, and the comfort betrayed him.  The danger came from Assyria.
It was Assyria God used as an instrument of correction.  He was ready for Israel to be subdued by a foreign power, but Assyria exceeded his intent.  Judah was subdued.  The inhabitants went into captivity.  Did God cause evil? 

God calls us to avoid sin and live in integrity and righteousness.  When we don’t obey, we may face the consequences of our behavior.  Sometimes we face in old age the results of a misspent youth.  Diseases and disabilities may be a consequence of our own making.  Sometimes we appear to have escaped the torments of the damned even though we bear unconfessed and unrepented sin, but in the dark hours of the morning the antidepressant medication will not relieve us of terrors in the mind.
Like Judah, we have a plan to skirt the problems, and like Judah, we fall before God’s judgment.  Does God cause evil?  Does God cause my sickness?  My financial ruin?  My loss of family or relationships?  No!  God gives us a guide to living in teaching us what is right and honorable and good and holy.  We violate that at our own risk.  Sometimes we suffer for the sins others commit. 

God will help us endure, repent, restore, and renew.  God does bring judgment, and judgment can include severe disruption in our lives.  He does not cause evil, but he will use it and the results it brings to make us aware of his presence and his grace.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Jeremiah-The Boy Prophet

The first chapter of Jeremiah records the call of Jeremiah with an amazing statement.  In verse 5 God says to Jeremiah,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (NIV)

Jeremiah flounders and objects to this.  This is really a profound call.  His life was already established before he was born.  God appointed him and he had no choice.  Is that really what it says?

Jeremiah professed to be to young and immature, unlearned, naive, whatever.  God said, "Don't worry about that.  You have my words in your mouth."(Gayle's translation)

Then God began to ask Jeremiah what he saw.  He saw an almond branch and a boiling pot tilted toward Judah.  God said, "That's right.  From the north will come  the troops bringing disaster that will pour over your land."

Jeremiah was very young to be responsible for this kind of prophesy.  He felt overwhelmed.  He received God's assurance that he was able to accomplish what God had called him to do, but accepting that meant a difficult life.  God told him he was not to marry.  For a Jewish man that meant no descendants, no family, no lineage. 

But the call of God was undeniable.  It would be hard, but it would be what God wanted.  Would that be enough?  Did he want to be obedient?  Did he have any other option?  Not really.  He chose God.  After all, God had chosen him.

We are called by God, too.  He has appointed us to ministries, and he has equipped us for them.  Are we obedient?  Sometimes we feel we are in the right place doing the right thing.  Sometimes the job is hard and we want to rest and take our ease.  Is that what God called us to?  Not really. 

Read the first chapter of Jeremiah and find in your life where God has called you to labor, to teach, to be an example.  He gave Jeremiah lots of metaphors and symbols to show the people of Judah what their sins were and how they were to repent.  Has he given you a symbol?  Are you called from the womb to a service or ministry or purpose?

I think we were all called.  Some places are not filled because some people have not yet obeyed the call.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What Is the Cost of Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a big thing in the Christian faith.  The fact that we need forgiveness is central to living a Christian life.  One of the most important issues in understanding forgiveness is, first we must understand grace.  Grace means the unmerited favor of God.  That sounds very clinical or academic.  When I try to take it apart and understand it, I get fewer answers than I started with.  Unmerited means undeserved, doesn’t it?  Does it mean I don’t deserve to be forgiven?  Why would God forgive me if I don’t deserve it?  By what standard does God measure forgiveness? 

Let’s try this again.  Grace is the overflowing love of God poured out on people who believe in him even though he knows they have sinned.  OK so God loves me, maybe like I love my children, in spite of or regardless of their mistakes, faults, or bad judgments.  Pretty close, I think; maybe not exactly, but we’re getting there.  He forgives me, not because I have paid anything or worked in the yard or cleaned my room.  He forgives me just because he said he would.

No!  He forgives me because there is a cost on sin, and somebody else has paid that cost.  Jesus paid the cost by dying.  His blood satisfied God’s righteousness and covered my sin so that all God sees in me is the blood of Jesus. 

Now, let’s move on to how I can appropriate this forgiveness.  Doesn’t it just flow down on my unaltered soul?  No!  It does not. 

Time for an illustration:  Suppose you have money and a desire to spend it.  You want something new.  You look at the want ads in the paper or on the internet.  You find someone who has something to sell.  You call him. 
“Can we make a deal?”  You are very anxious to get the item.
“You bet!”  He is very anxious to sell.

What is the problem with this transaction?  Nobody has shown the item yet.  We don’t even have a description.  The old saying is, “You don’t buy a pig in a poke.”  For those of you who never heard the old men talk, a poke is a sack.  You don’t buy a pig you can’t see.  I get the sense that God may not be anymore duped than the pig buyer.  He wants to know what he is forgiving.  What is the contract?

I John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  This lays out the terms of the contract.  We know our part and he will honor the transaction. 

After we have stated what the sin is, and we acknowledge that we committed it, and we see it like he sees it, he says it is forgiven because Jesus took care of the cost.  Now we can have a restored relationship.  We have a chance to fellowship again.  Try it!  You might like it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hard Teaching and Symbolic Truth

In John 6 Jesus moves into a difficult area of teaching that offended a lot of people.  He multiplied the loaves so that a little bread was ample food for a huge crowd of people.  They followed him and found him in a place where he could not have been.  The mystery of it may have sparked their interest, but he said they just wanted dinner again.

He cautioned them to seek the bread that came down from heaven, the bread that would satisfy their souls, not their bellies.  He said, "... unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you(John 6:53)."  This is difficult to understand.   Are we cannibals?  Should we think of eating flesh and drinking blood as sacramental acts?  It is repulsive.  It is sickening.  Yet he did not soften the command.  In the next verse he repeats it: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."  This time there is a promise of resurrection attached to it. In verse 56 he says it again with the renewed promise of identification with him:  "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him."  He was adamant.  It is symbolic, but it is, nevertheless, real.

Eating and drinking of him is the closest we can get to him.  It identifies us with him.  You are what you eat.  Jesus took this truth and made it real in the meal he shared with the disciples on the night before the crucifixion.  He said the bread was his body.  Eat of it.  The cup contained his blood.  Drink of it.  This marks the dividing line for those who just want the meal and those who want the Lord.  If you cannot deal with the implications of consuming his body and his blood, then don't expect to share in the participation of his joy, his life, or his resurrection.

The followers who heard this teaching and considered it carefully were required to make a decision.  Some of them turned back, but some bound themselves closer to him.  Peter proclaimed him the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Don't be foolish enough to think you can do any less than Peter did and be a disciple.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Go Marry a Prostitute

Would you believe that God told a prophet to go and marry a prostitute?  What a thing to say!!!  And God said it, yet! 

It seems like God would want to avoid that kind of association.  Are you sure that's what it said?  I have heard a very good teacher say that wasn't really what it said.  But I have to disagree with her.  In my Bible God told Hosea to go marry a prostitute.

Surely he reformed her first.  No, that's not what it said.  There is a problem here the Bible doesn't address:  Her name was Gomer.  I get visions of Jim Nabors in drag.  In a more rational frame of mind, I think she was young and beautiful and foolish.  She represented the Nation of Israel.  God wanted to show this prophet Hosea a truth that he could grasp through his relationship with a beautiful, voluptuous  woman. 

Click here or read the first three chapter of the Book of Hosea in the Old Testament.  Maybe God has a message for you in the Bible, too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bible Study--Isaiah 6

My Bible study lesson this week is on Isaiah 6.  Boy, what a vision!  We all yearn for such a revelation.  Who would not want to see God filling the temple with his majesty? 

But there is another aspect to this experience.  For Isaiah it revealed the depth of his unworthiness.  Listen to his words, "I am a man of unclean lips."  His sin and his unworthiness began with the very words in his mouth.  And he also lived among a people who were just like him--their words weren't worthy of God either.  What was he to do when he was in the presence of God and he knew he was not worthy to be here?

There were angelic beings there who praised God and did his bidding continually.  One of the seraphs took a coal from the altar with tongs and cleansed his lips with fire.  The words of the Bible do not indicate that he was burned, but he was cleansed.  He was made worthy, worthy to take God's message to the people.

This passage includes one of the most enigmatic passages in the Bible.  Why does God not want them to hear and understand and be saved?  There is more to this story that I can grasp.  Maybe he doesn't want them to obey without depth, without heart conversion.  Maybe he doesn't want them to fail to understand the level of obedience and change he expects.  Maybe I need to  study this passage more.  It is easy to get caught up in the glory and radiance of the vision and forget the requirements and obligations. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Credit Card

            I dreamed I had a credit card with God’s company.  I charged on it without restraint.  My balance went up fast.  One day Jesus reminded me of the payoff.  The charges on the card represented sins.  He said the card would soon come due and the only payment was my life.  (Ezekiel 18:4 says “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine; the soul who sins shall die.”  Romans 6:23 says,  “The wages of sin is death…”)
            I told Jesus I would quit charging on my card. 
“That is good,” He said.  “But it doesn’t take care of the balance so that you can live.”
“I’ll make up for sins,” I assured Him.  “I like to help people.  I’m really not a bad person, just some bad habits, you know.”
 He was very pleased that I wanted to take action.
“Will my good things cancel out the sins?” I asked Jesus. 
“No,” he said.  “But you have an option that can take care of your problems so you can live.”
“Really?  What can I do besides not adding sins to my account and doing good deeds to make up for the bad ones?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” he said gently.  “Sins require that the sinner dies.  There is no other way.”
“But I would die?  I thought I was supposed to get to live?”
“Yes, that is what I said.”
“Please explain,” I said.  “I don’t understand.”
“Your sins deserve death.  You committed them.  It is right that you die, but if you have an acceptable substitute who takes your place, you will live.  I am that substitute.  I can pay off your card, and you will no longer have a balance.”  Jesus was very persuasive.
“You mean I wouldn’t even have an account anymore?”
“No, you still have an account!”
“So I guess if I sinned again, it would start all over,” I said.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop right away.  I’d really have to work on a few things.
“No, it doesn’t start again.  Once I have taken on your account, I keep the balance at zero all your life.  You are obligated to change, though,” he explained.  “I pay for your sins and you live my life.  The card changes, too.  It no longer represents the balance of your sins, but the balance of my grace.  (Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.) 
“So you die and I live.  I give you my sins, and you give me your righteousness.  I ran up the bill and you pay it. You didn’t sin, and so you don’t have a bill to pay.  Say, Jesus, will you stay with me and help me understand all you have said.  I want to hear the part about grace again.” (Romans 3:24 (we) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.)
“I’ll be there all the way,” he said.  And then I woke up.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Don't Want to Challenge the Preachers

I think preachers have a hard job.  They have their own lives, needs and sins to contend with, and then they take on a congregation.  But...when they are wrong, they are just as wrong as anyone else.  Especially when they are proclaiming their version of the Word of God from an exalted position of authority.

Last week I heard a preacher say that we go to church to find friends, not to find a friendly church.  AARRRGH!!!  I don't go to church to find friends or a friendly church.  I go to church to find God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, worship, and instruction in holy living.
I have made some friends at my church, but when I am not fed the word of God, when my morals and sins are not called into question, when I am not spurred to participate in the Life of Christ, I need to find another church.

I heard another preacher who spoke on forgiveness.  He emphasized the importance of grace in forgiveness.  He said we should not work to achieve forgiveness.  I agree.  But I think we, as Christians, do have a responsibility in receiving forgiveness.  We don't just cruise along with our minds and hearts in neutral.  We don't just go to the covered dish luncheons and sing in the choir and expect to be filled with the remarkable peace that comes with forgiveness.  We need to confess and repent.  We need to do it everyday and every week in every service.  We need to be conscious of the sin that blocks our access to God and also blocks his grace from raining down on us.

These are examples of an easy gospel.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it "cheap grace."  Jesus lived and died to procure for us an expensive, costly, even priceless forgiveness.  It is blood stained and ugly.  One scripture says that he was so marred that none should want him.  Oh, but how great is the price he paid.  How gleaming is the victory, how marvelous is the grace that made me free of sin and gave me the honor of calling him my Lord?


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tomorrow's Sunday School Lesson

Tomorrow's lesson focuses on the behavior of the Israelites when Moses went up on the mountain.  My old King James Version said "they sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play."  And while they were at it they begged Aaron to make them a new god.  He went along with the idea.  Every time I hear this discussed, the conversation always gets around to what our gods are.  I don't know that we need any gods when our attention is turned to eating and drinking and rising up to play.

As long as our focus is not on God, we can make anything or any activity our central theme and we have ceased to worship the God of Heaven and Earth.  We can even still claim to worship God, but it is a lie.  Our interest and our money and our efforts are toward satisfying our own pleasure in food and drink and body sensations.  Just like the Israelites, we sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play, and all focus on God went up the mountain with Moses.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who Listens When We Pray

Prayer is a personal thing.  I don't pray to be heard by others.  Yes, I do.  Sometimes I want other people to know what I am saying to God about them.  I want them to be drawn into my appeal to God.  I am not sure it is a compliment when someone comments on a "beautiful prayer."  Prayer should be between me and God. 

But Jesus prayed and taught the disciples to pray.  We repeat it every Sunday.  Is that really what he meant?  I don't think so.  He meant for us to pray about these things.  We should praise God and give glory and honor to Him.  We should recognize that our daily existence is due to God's goodness.  We should pray for his heavenly kingdom to be fulfilled on earth.  We should pray for forgiveness and realize that only as we are forgiving to other will he be forgiving to us.  We should be aware of sin and pray to avoid it.  Those are the things he wanted us to be aware of and be humbled by and seek God's blessing for.  But. . . is he impressed that we perform it for others giving great effort in the inflection of the voice. 

No!  God wants only the attitude of the heart, mind, and intent to be directed to Him.  I believe that as we turn our eyes and our attention toward Him, we see more of the reality we live in.  Our shallowness of heart becomes evident.  Our minimal efforts are spotlighted by His love.  I pray today that God will reveal to me Himself.  In the Biblical accounts of encounters with God. Moses, Daniel, Paul, and John found themselves prostrate on the ground--they were humbled and totally crushed.  In prayer God removes all the will of a yielded soul to fill it with Himself.  We come, as Paul said, not in beautiful words or human knowledge, but as an empty vessel for Him to use or to set aside, to fill or to pour out.  Therein is our glory--that we are obedient to Him.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Don't be offended--Are you sure about that?

In John 16 Jesus begins by telling them not to be offended.  He is speaking to all of them, and he expects things to happen that will be offensive.  He knows that their lives would be easier, less painful if they did not follow him.  They will suffer attack.  They are to remember his words and rest in the faith they have placed in him. 

He says here that he did not tell them how bad things would be at the beginning because he was with them to support and encourage, but now he will no longer be there to reassure or instruct.  They would have to depend on faith, and they must remember his words.

I never thought of Christianity as easy, but it is becoming a faith of ease.  It is not popular to speak about the cross or the blood anymore.  Sermons often do not mention Jesus.  He has become offensive.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  He said that the time would come when he would be an offense.  It has.

He promised to send the Holy Spirit to be an Advocate for us.  He would speak to us of Jesus.  Does that mean the the Holy Spirit will also be an offense?  I guess so, because he is not mentioned much in church either.  I guess I prefer to be offended if the offense comes from the name and person and purpose of Jesus and his Holy Spirit. 

Maybe I am misstating this.  Jesus is mentioned.  We refer to the Holy Spirit.  We acknowledge God.  I think I know people who worship in the services.  Is this just my griping?  I do it all the time. 

Yesterday's Confession of Faith proclaimed a social gospel and the prayers are sought for healing and financial needs.  I want a confession that proclaims the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allows all the other needs to flow from Him and His righteousness.  I pray for a prayer time that concentrates on the salvation of souls.  I foolishly asked for the church to hold a Prayer Meeting.  I got official approval, but somehow it never happened.  We did have the family night and the music program; it was good music with the advertisement of the man's CD to raise money to adopt a child, but there was no prayer meeting, no testimonies of God's deliverance, no supplication for salvation, no weeping for lost loved ones.

We preach an easy gospel, and Paul predicted it.  The heart of man is not anxious to hear the list of his errors, and less anxious to confess them.  Preachers are charged with citing them, however, and we will confess them or bear them by our own choice.

Jesus tried to warn us that bad things would happen.  Our efforts to avoid the painful criticism of the world led us to a worldly lifestyle.  Somebody in a leadership position told us we should not offend people with ugly things like the wounds of Christ and the blood of the cross, so we favor rainbows and butterflies.  The ugliness and pain of our faith is what brings us salvation.  Of course it is ugly.  It is sin.  It is nailed to the cross.  It should be ugly.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Who Was the Gardener?

In John chapter 15, the gardener idea rises to the top.  John quotes Jesus through the whole chapter.  I wonder if the discourse on the vine was cut into his brain with a laser.  It seems to flow without any thoughts about action or interruption. 

The Father is the gardener.  Jesus is the vine.  What does that make me?  A branch, the fruit bearing part, the leaves and stems that grow because it proceeds from the vine.  It is nourished from the sap, from the root, through the moisture from the ground.  Nutrients flow in the water from the soil to the root to the branches like God's love flows through Jesus and into me.  I am the same kind of substance that Jesus is, and his love flows in me. 

John even says that Jesus promised us the same quality of love and the same kind of results he saw in his own ministry.  That seems beyond reach.  How can I love like he loved?  How can I heal like he healed?  I see such a resistant world, so foreign to his call, so alienated from his methods, so deaf to his message that I cannot have faith.  I am blocked by so much reality and science and sin that the vision lies unrealized.  Verse 21 says that this is our mission because the world does not know Jesus.  When we repeat and reveal and proclaim his words, his truth will grow in the world.  The Advocate Jesus sent will empower even me to proclaim his words.  I don't know that anybody even reads this, but it is my platform to proclaim the Gospel.  I pray that somebody reads it.   

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Meaning of Imputation

I went to church Sunday.  The sermon was on the letter Paul wrote to Philemon about the return of Onesimus.  The preacher concentrated on the culture of the time when slaves were a common factor in civil life.  Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master Philemon.  He visited Paul in prison, possibly in Rome, and Paul sent him back to Philemon with the letter asking for Philemon to welcome him back as a brother rather than as a slave.  The sermon zoomed in on the importance of a second chance. 
The preacher made a casual passing reference to the verse that refers to the word imputation.  I think imputation is probably one of the most important concepts in Christianity.  In verses 17 and 18 Paul asks Philemon to view Onesimus as if he were Paul himself, to welcome him as he would Paul and to charge any debt Onesimus owed to Paul's account. 
This substitution of Onesimus for Paul is the same transaction Jesus accomplished for us.  Jesus took our sin like Paul accepted the debt of Onesimus to Philemon, and Jesus gave us his righteousness like Paul asked Philemon to accept Onesimus as he would have welcomed Paul.  This simple transaction gets confused with the words which try to explain it. 
There is one problem which neither the text nor the preacher explored.  Confession and repentance are not addressed; however, I think they are implied.  The text does not say whether Onesimus was just visiting Paul or whether he was also a prisoner.  In either case, his sorrow over his violation of Philemon's property is implied.  For him to be willing to return to Philemon, Onesimus must have felt profound humiliation.  For him to have sought and received salvation under Paul's instruction must have also included confession and repentance.
A second chance without confession and repentance is pointless.  A second chance is founded on a lesson learned.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

His Distress Continues

I have heard Christians and even preachers proclaim that Jesus knew everything and, because he was God, he was above the normal distress and agitation we experience. Did his understanding of events make him invincible to pain, agony, and depression?

I am convinced that he was fully human and had the same human emotions that I do. I think his victory over sin and death would pale before God the Father, would be incomplete, if it did not include these mundane and ordinary elements. What do you think?

The Book of John notes forcefully that Jesus was in distress and troubled. This book was written thirty or forty years after the Crucifixion, but the distress and uncertainty, and even fear, are still reflected in the words. Verse 13:21 says Jesus “was troubled in his spirit (KJV).” I think this means more than a raised eyebrow or a passing thought.

Many factors contribute to his distress. He had come to Jerusalem for Passover. The sacrifice of Passover was the significant event. He knew that he was to be that he would be the fulfillment of that sacrifice. Luke records that “he set his face that he would go to Jerusalem (KJV).” He did it on purpose even knowing the outcome. He did not manipulate the situation, but he knew the consequences and he did not change his behavior.

Knowing that this would be his last chance to speak with the disciples, he gave instructions for preparation of the supper. He offered them the bread and the wine in memory of himself, a ceremony they would remember forever. He washed their feet. He gave Judas a chance to repent. He prophesied to Peter. All these events weighed on him, and his distress was pronounced.

The following chapters chronicle his actions and the way he dealt with his worsening distress. What is most striking to you?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Does the Bible Forbid Sex?

Does the Bible forbid sex?  No!  The Bible even endorses sex.  Then why is it such a taboo subject?  Because we don't listen.

God created human beings to reproduce, and that process includes sex.  The Bible is not terribly explicit in scientific matters, but suffice it to say that sex appears to be an efficient mechanism for producing the next generation.

But establishing the parents on a firm and sure footing is the first priority in God's order.  The man will leave his father and mother and join to the woman.  They will become one, that is, united in goals and love and attitude.  Although they are still individuals, they will be united (married). 

Children are a blessed event, but not first in God's order.  A child is not intended to be invited into a divided home.  A child needs both of the parents and a family is a unit.  Our society has turned that around.

We can have a little sex and see how we like each other.  If the sex is good, maybe, we can make a habit of it.  Oh, yeah, I'm gonna have a baby. 
Really?  I'm see you around.  Let me know if it's a boy.  Maybe I can send you some money.

Look how things change if the parents are in love and married first.  For nine months they prepare and spend time getting ready for the baby.  Two people are responsible for him.  Two people provide for his needs.  If one is sick the other can take over.  It is a really good plan.

It is really sad that people have taken God's excellent plan and abused it.  It reminds me that God's laws are immutable.  He doesn't tell us that living by his laws is the only way to live, but it is the way that works best. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jesus Was Distressed

A lot of people seem to think that Jesus, since he was the Son of God, knew everything and could not have had any problems.  He was above the day-to-day struggles we face, and he knew the outcome.  He had a close, continuous communication with his Father, and he was assured of a place in heaven.

Well, lets take another look at this.  I think he had all the same kinds of problems I do.  The Apostle Paul said that no temptation has come upon you but those that are common to man, and Jesus faced more than that.  If having fears and distress and depression is a temptation, I think Jesus faced it.  What good is the victory that does not overcome everything?

Chapters 13-17 in the Book of John reveal the most human emotions Jesus displays.  John 13:21 says that Jesus "was troubled in his spirit(KJV)."  I try not to over interpret or analyze a verse, but that means more than a passing annoyance to me.  It was not the raise of an eyebrow; it was a deeply invasive concern.  Jesus' countenance revealed his agony.  They all saw it.  Even though the book of John was not written until thirty or forty years later, his distress was prominent enough for John to remember and comment on it.  How does this statement affect you?