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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...

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.