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Crucified Before the Foundation of the World

"Crucified before the foundation of the world." What does that mean? How could that even happen? Historians and archaeologists ta...

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.