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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, June 29, 2011

Faith Comes from What We Know

In the first nine verses of Romans 6, Paul takes pains to lay a foundation defining what we know.   In verse 3 he says that we know we have been baptized into Christ.  We are not casual followers or hangers-on.  We are not just acquainted with him.  We have taken steps that placed us IN HIM.  Baptism was not a nice little ceremony:  It was a profound judicial action. 

We define baptism as a outward and visible expression of an inward and invisible grace.  It takes place in the spirit of the believer and in our church with the preacher, but it also takes place before God in spiritual realms that are invisible to us.  By God's decree, we are placed in Christ.

 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3, NIV)
Verse 3 makes it clear that we enter into the life of Christ at the point of his death.  Knowing that is the foundation of our life in him.  Our life is a life of resurrection. 

Paul says it again:  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. (Roman 6:6, NIV)  It may take a long time to rid ourselves of the habits and evidence of sin, but by God's decree it has been accomplished in the spiritual realm.

In verse 9 Paul emphasizes that as Jesus lives by the Spirit, we also follow him in a spiritual life.  Death no longer has any dominion over him.  We will indeed die in the body, but the Spirit has already secured us in Christ for eternal life.  We KNOW these things, and our faith rests of knowing his truth.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

David--Honorable Before God

National Cathedral_King David (Parmelee window...Image by catface3 via FlickrDavid walked a fine line in his journey to the throne of Israel.  He was committed to Saul, but he knew from the time of his annointing by Samuel that he was destined to be the king (1 Samuel 16:12).  Samuel feared that Saul would kill him for this act of obedience to God.  

David first came to the court of Saul to play the harp to soothe him when the evil spirit came upon him (1 Samuel 16:15-21).  When Saul realized that David was popular with the people and accomplished in war, he feared his rise to power and assualted him with a spear in his tent (1 Samuel 18:5-11).  David escaped and   Jonathan Saul's son brought peace between them.  Again the evil spirit came upon Saul while David played the harp, and Saul tried to pin David to the wall with a spear.  David fled from Saul's presence and  lived in the desert with men who believed in him.

David taunted Saul by cutting off the hem of his robe without him knowing.  David did not cause harm to Saul, but he wanted him to know that he could have (1 Samuel 24:5).  Then he was conscience striken because he had humiliated him, and he refused to allow his men to attack.  David said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’

David spared Saul's life a second time when he refused to kill him during a raid on his camp, again saying, "I would not lay a hand on the Lord's annointed." (1 Samuel 22:23) 

Saul attempted to take David's life twice and twice David refused to take Saul's.  When Saul died in battle, David executed the man who brought the news because he rejoiced over the death of Saul.  David mourned for him and honored him in. 

This seems like a strange paradox.  Saul was mad, perhaps in the girp of a psychotic depression.  He was powerful, and David was only acting in self defense.  David was committed to Saul, not necessarily because he was the king or even because he was his friend's father or because he was his father in law, but because he was God's chosen man.  He honored Saul as his master and as God's annointed.  He would not hasten Saul's death even though he knew God had called him to be king.  He fled and lived in fear and torment in the desert.  God tested David during this time, but he never deserted him. 

Even when Saul failed, David did not doubt God's promise or provision.  Can we be so faithful to God during a time of testing?  Have we secured our promise to God with cords of love and obedience so that human failures do not disturb our peace with Him?
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Cross and The Flame

Acts 2:1-13 describes the scene in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers in Christ who were gathered as he had instructed before he ascended into heaven.  It is not a lengthy passage.  The rest of the chapter, another 34 verses, describes Peter's sermon and the early coming together of believers to form the Church.

I belong to the United Methodist Church.  The Cross and the Flame symbolize the United Methodist Church around the world.  The cross attests to our faith that Jesus is the Savior, the Lord of the universe.  He died to redeem people from sin.  The flame represents the action of the Holy Spirit in empowering the church to carry the message of Jesus.  The symbol reminds the members of the centrality of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to our lives.  There are other symbols that remind us who we are in Christ, but this one speaks to who we are as a Church.

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  This day comes fifty days after Easter.  For Jews it marked the day they celebrated in honor of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments.  That is why there was such a large gathering of people from all over the world in Jerusalem.  That is why it is so important that this huge body of people witnessed the descent of the Spirit.  The miracle of language that allowed the believers who were inspired by the Spirit to witness to the visitors of foreign lands planted seeds of faith in far-flung places.  The Church grew exponetially from that time. 

As I study and pray and work in my church, I am impressed that the Holy Spirit was not a phenomenon for an ancient sect.  It is still the power of God for a new generation.  The Holy Spirit does unexpected things in expectant people.  Praise God!
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Friday, June 10, 2011

Caleb--A Man of Honor

HebronImage by Oregon State University Archives via FlickrYou might think of Caleb as a minor Bible character, but think again.  Caleb was the kind of person God calls us all to be.  We find Caleb first in chapter 13 of the Book of Numbers.  He was chosen to accompany Joshua and 10 other leaders to go into the Promised Land to scout it out. 

Caleb was an honorable and trustworthy son of Jephunneh from the tribe of Judah.  When the 12 men returned from their trip into the Promised Land, they assured the Children of Israel that the land was everything they had hoped for.  They spent 40 days exploring and viewing the land.  It had vineyards and orchards with fig trees and pomegranate trees and well-watered plains.  They said it "flowed with milk and honey." 

Then the opinions were no longer unanimous.  Joshua and Caleb assured Moses and the people that they should go up and take the land for they were well able to do it, but the other 10 spies pointed out the strength and power of the inhabitants.  They lived in fortified cites: the descendants of Anak lived in Hebron; the Amalekites lived in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites lived in the hill country; and the Canaanites lived near the sea.  There was no place where they could settle that they would not have to fight a strong, settled population--it would be foolishness to try to take the land.  "We looked like grasshoppers next to them," they said.   

That night they wept because the land was good but they were weak.  The people discussed choosing a new leader and returning to Egypt.  For the second time Joshua and Caleb wept and tore their clothes in an attempt to persuade the people to obey the Lord, but they would not listen.  Joshua and Caleb were in danger of being stoned with Moses and Aaron.

The Lord appeared to the whole assembly at the Tent of Meeting.  He told them the penalty for disobedience--they would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  The ten spies that brought the evil report were struck down by a plague.  All the people who were 20 years old when they left Egypt and were counted in the census would die in the desert except Joshua and Caleb.  They would wander the desert as shepherds, a year for each day of the spy trip.  The next day they decided they would enter the land and they marched out to meet the Amalekites and Canaanites, but neither the Ark of the Lord nor Moses went with them.  God had given them a new command which they disobeyed in presumption, and they were defeated.

Caleb lived to enter the land.  Joshua gave him Hebron in the Hill Country. 

Caleb exhibits the kind of character we admire but don't see much.  He stood firm in righteousness against personal insult and attack.  His strength is an inspiration to us today.  May we be open to receive his example.
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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Opposites Attract, Repel, or Define

I have been reading Rob Bell's book titled Love Wins.  He asks all the questions I ask and comes up with some of my answers.  He corrects one of my mistakes when he emphasizes that we may not be able to answer the hard questions, but we can, should, must respond to them.  My daughter asks some of these questions:  What did I do to deserve Rheumatoid Arthritis?  How am I serving God in this painful and crippled existence?  What now?

On pages 58 and 59 Bell tries to get at an understanding of time and existence that human beings have difficulty with.  He views eternity, not as a physical, endless expanse into the future, but a different plane of existence altogether.  I take that to mean that eternity can be a very present reality.  I agree with Bell.  I find reality in heavenly things and understanding; truths that I cannot grasp in a physical realm are easy and common in a spiritual state.

Here may be the hardest place for me to connect with Rob Bell.  In Mark 10:25-31 the Bible records the words of Jesus:
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
 28  Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
   29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (NIV)

Rob Bell insists that heaven is here.  I agree that we are connected to there, to heaven.  Our hope is there, but it begins here.  This is the hardest concept for me to master, to have faith in the realities the Bible promises while my experiences are confined to the physical and tangible.  Well, not altogether.  Sometimes I have been in tune with heaven and rejoiced in its splendor, but it was a brief sojourn, and the jarring reality of earthbound activities returned with force.

So how can I as a physical and fallible human ever understand and appreciate the promises of heaven and eternal life?  I am afraid  that trying to fit heaven into an earthly reality deminishes the prospect. and perhaps I am missing some part of Rob Bell's argument.  I may need to give the book a closer read. The truth is I don't want heaven to be here.  I want the promises to be only a reflection, a hint of what heaven will be; these hints are just something to spur me on to the full reality of God's glory.

One theory found in the field of literary theory is called binary opposition.  We define things as black or white, up or down, heaven or hell, life or death, time or eternity.  Opposites are used to define the subject by what it is not.    Heaven is defined in terms we use as earthly surperlatives--choirs of angesl, crystal sea, golden streets.  In one passage Bell suggests that heaven and hell is like the celebration with the prodigal son and the sadness of the older brother.  If hell is not punishment and torment, is heaven still joy and exaltation?  All our metaphors collapse when we examine them too closely.  Heaven and hell will be revealed in that other dimension, and now we only throw darts at the target hoping to get a bull's eye.

I am afraid my attempts to grasp this idea have only muddied the water.  I may need to start over.