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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...

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.