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Crucified Before the Foundation of the World

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

No Peace for the Wicked

I thought it was "no rest for the wicked," but I did a little research and found myself to be in error.  The biblical statement in Isaiah 57:20-21 says "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."  Isaiah 48:22 says almost the same thing: “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.” This verse comes after a description of the things God accomplished for the Children of Israel during their wanderings in the desert.

It is easy enough to see how "peace" got replaced with "rest" in literature and references.  In chapter 57 peace is equated with rest.  The troubled sea cannot rest, and the wicked have no peace.

Sometimes we read this to mean peace of mind.  The wicked have no peace or rest because they are tormented with the evil in their thoughts and intentions.  This torment suggests that at least they have a conscience.  Their greed or lust or lack of control still leads them to evil.  There are multiple causes of evil in the mind of humans, and all of them prevent peace and rest.

Peace can have several meanings:  Political peace among nations, peace of heart and soul, peace within a family, peace to grow and learn.  Rest, too, can mean a time to refresh and restore the body, rest from labor, and after harvest the land is at rest.  In the Jewish calendar the land rested and no crops were planted in certain years.  1 Kings 4:25 speaks of the time when "every man lived in safety under his own vine and his own fig tree;" the picture of peace and rest is easy to imagine.  It does not mean there is no labor, but the work is fruitful and provides grapes and figs and shade in the heat of the day.

Peace and rest are valuable, priceless maybe.  They come to those with a clear conscience who have placed their trust in God.  If you find yourself tormented and unable to achieve peace or rest, maybe you first should seek forgiveness.  Then count your blessings.  What has God done for you?  Even if you have an illness or financial problems, peace can still be in your heart.  As you live obediently, you will find his peace spreading in all the areas of your life.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What Is the Deal with Idols?

I don't think Christians understand the reason for the great anger and retribution God directed toward the Hebrews in the Old Testament.  Much of the text of the prophetic writings and the punishment of the Exile came about because of the worship of idols.  I am afraid we think of idols as cultural oddities or evidence of ancient civilizations, rather than the severe affront to his love and mercy that God saw in the practice of worship of idols.

Idols are a man made symbol of a false god.  They are created by human imagination and effort.  God compares idolatry to adultery.  He says it is like unfaithfulness in marriage.  When we have known and experienced the love and mercy of God and then turn from him to seek peace of spirit in other religions, we have have committed adultery. 

Yesterday I began reading an article about Paul Haggis who is a writer and director and creative person in the TV and movie industry.  Haggis had been very active in the Church of Scientology, but he withdrew from the group when he found them to be in conflict with ideas he thought were morally wrong.  In the process he identified several ideas and ideals that didn't match up with the avowed goals of the church.  In reading the article I found a lot of faults in the belief system.  

  • It places human beings at the apex of power and authority.
  • It seeks to develop people according to human perceptions of righteousness.
  • It never even speaks of God.
  • It charges its members for "classes" to learn how to be spiritual.
  • It uses psychological methods dictated by the leaders to teach their methods while denying people help from independent counselors.
  • It is a system of mind control and a very lucrative one for the Church of Scientology.
The worship of idols is not just an interesting diversion.  It denies people the benefits of true worship of God.  It distorts the mind and the heart.  For all their claims of success in business and professional pursuits, adherents like Paul Haggis found nothing but emptiness and frustration as the foundation of their faith.  

In the Old Testament God punished the Israelites to bring them back to him.  After the return to Israel we don't see any evidence of the golden calf that had been with them since they wandered in the wilderness.  But they paid a horrible penalty for that mistake.  We, too, will suffer tragedy and failure when we turn from God to idols. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Right Hand of My Righteousness

Isaiah 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.  KJV

This quote is from the King James Version.  It still has the old forms like  "thou" and "thee," but it's easy enough to understand.  I use it because I like some things about it.  Sometimes we face problems or life situations  that make us afraid, but God says we don't have to yield to that fear for some very specific reasons. 

  1. He says he is with us.  I have always read this as a personal promise, but it was actually addressed to the people of Judah during the exile.  It was a group promise so I have used the collective in this instance--we and us.  "Fear thou not" may be loosely translated by people who live in East Texas like this, "Hey, y'all don't be afraid."  For those who don't know what "y'all" means--it is a colloquial contraction of "all of you" or "you all."
  2. The reason we don't have to fear is that God is with us.  I can remember that as a child I was not afraid in a storm when I was with my parents.  They knew what to do and reassured me.  Now we can have that same assurance of protection when God is present.  Bad things may happen, but in his presence, we are safe.
  3. Be not dismayed--Dismay is a crumbling of our courage.  We were strong in our faith, but something came along, like an exile, and we lost our reserve of faith and courage.  What are we going to depend on now?  What resource do we have?
  4. Don't you love rhetorical questions?  Not if you don't know the answer, but this time we do.  What resource do we have?  We have the assurance that God himself has proclaimed that he is our God.  He has claimed us and made us his children, his sheep, his possession.  Be not dismayed FOR I am thy God.  Change the "for" to "because."  That's why we don't have to be dismayed.
  5. Now he makes another promise:  I will strengthen you.  We are strengthened by encouragement and nourishment and, sometimes, just by a drink of water.  In this case the strength comes from the action and presence of God.  He adds his strength to ours.  Maybe it's better than than:  Maybe he puts his strength in place of ours.
  6. Yea--a little word, but it means a lot.  I usually read it as "Yes!" It is an affirmation of God's intention to help us.  Sometimes "yea" is a cheer, a shout.  Yea!  Whoopee!  God is here to help, to lend us his assistance. 
  7. Yea, again.  Shout it!  God promises us the right hand of his righteousness.  Other translations say "my rightous right hand."  You have heard people refer to an assistant as a "right hand man" or give accolades for performance from someone who worked as a "right hand."  In some ancient societies, the left hand was less favorable.  In Latin the word that means left hand comes from the root meaning sinister.  The right hand was ususally the stronger hand.  Sometimes parents and teachers tried to force a child to use the right hand even when they were left handed by nature.  At that time nobody knew that this was controlled in the brain and all the force and restriction would not change it.  In regard to God's right hand, we need to focus on what it means in the Bible.  God's right hand is just and righteous.  Jesus sits or stands at God's right hand, and Jesus is the righteousness of God.  God has promised us himself, his presence, his strength, his help, and now, praise his name, he also promises us Jesus, his right hand. (Romans 3:21-22, Phillipians 1:11)
Go back and read the verse again.  Maybe you will want to make it personal like I do sometimes.  Maybe you will dwell on phrases that touch you in a particular situation.  Claim the promises and rejoice that you know the power and love of God's Righteous Right Hand--Jesus.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Are You Salty? Do You Add a Good Flavor?

Ezra 7--NIV
Ezra was in Babylon during the exile when he received a letter from King Artaxerxes.  Some of the exiles had returned to Judah, but the letter informed Ezra that he was to go and take with him the things he needed to help in the ceremony to honor and praise God at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The King gave Ezra all the animals and grain for sacrifice, the musicians, gatekeepers, and temple workers he needed to accomplish the task.  Ezra was selected for this assignment because he was diligent in studying and observing the Law of Moses.

Ezra 7:22 is part of the letter King Artaxerxes sent to Ezra, and it includes this list of necessary items for the sacrifice: up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. (NIV)

This list fascinates me because of the last item:  salt without limit.  I have sought to understand this little entry, and I find it more than a little intriguing.  Salt was required to be used on all the sacrifices.  Salt is a preservative.  It wouldn’t be good for the sacrifice to begin to smell bad or yield to attack from flies and worms.  No!  The salt served a valuable purpose.  Even the meal and grain offering contained salt; the bread had no yeast, but it was made with fine flour, oil and salt.  Maybe in the grain offerings salt served to symbolize that offerings made to God must be uncorrupted.  John Wesley’s definition of the meaning of salt emphasizes that uncorrupted attitudes and motives must accompany our offerings, prayers, and work for God.

There is no measurement we can place on things represented by salt.  The salt was provided as long as it was needed.  There was to be no limit.  What can we call salt?  Is love a commodity that is represented by salt?  Is forgiveness? Is faith?  It is to be offered as long as it is needed.  Love, forgiveness, faith and, maybe patience, peace, and self-control, too, are required of each of us.  And they may be required to extend beyond our human power to produce.  That is when we must go to our source, to the salt mine for restocking.  God never meant for us to be salt without him.  Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”(Matthew 5:13)   We can be the salt as long as we remember where our salty flavor comes from and where we must go to get refilled. 

God wants us to know he has an endless supply of all the necessary commodities to live in his grace, and he supplies us just like Ezra supplied the salt for the sacrifices—without limit.