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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, August 31, 2011

Sins of Saul

Map showing states around Israel and Judah. Th...Image via Wikipedia
Saul reigned in Israel for 42 years.  For most of that time he knew that his kingship would not survive him, and his son would not be heir to the throne.  He had an opportunity, but he lost it.  He was brave in battle, he commanded troops, and he followed the instructions of Samuel, but when Samuel wasn't around he did not stay focused on God's goals.

Even from the beginning, he wanted to chose his own path and use his own judgment.  In his first campaign he had a good handle on the situation at Geba.  But Samuel was late.  The Philistines rallied and came to make a good show, but, without Samuel, Saul offered a sacrifice.  His men had become restless and begun to desert.  He felt he had to do something.  What else could he do? 

He could have prayed.  He could have sent a runner to seek for Samuel.  He could have prepared for battle.  But he chose to offer the sacrifice.  Bad choice.  A few minutes more, just a few more minutes and Samuel was there.  Saul lost the kingdom in that first
dramatic error.

There were other bad choices in Saul's life, other times when he should have known better.  When God told him to kill Agag, he chose not to obey.  He wanted to tease and taunt the beaten king.  When he saved the herds of Agag to make a sacrifice to God, he should have known better.  How foolish he was to think he could sacrifice the thing God had already condemned.  When the evil spirit tormented him, it is easy to see the toll of his own guilt.  The attacks on David were the result of jealousy and greed.  David was favored and Saul was endured.

Saul did expel the mediums from the land, but there is no indication when that happened.  On the night before his death, Saul sought out the Witch of En Dor.  He needed a confidante.  He needed guidance.  He needed reassurance.  She did not provide him with any of these; however, she did not lie to him.  Her predictions were accurate.  She did identify Saul although he had sought to conceal his identity.  She did call up Samuel from the dead.  She did share a truthful message.  She did serve him supper before he left.  In all this Saul sinned and failed again to trust the Lord.  Seeking help from the witch was Saul's last transgression.

As predicted he and his sons died in battle the next day.  Saul was Israel's first king.  When he was young and small in his own eyes, he had been God's choice.  When he lost his concentration on God, he became great in his own eyes, and all God saw in him crumbled.  God was long-suffering toward Saul, but Saul was was not faithful to God's call.
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Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Bible in 90 Days

My preacher has asked members of our church to join the program which leads people in reading the Bible through in 90 days.  I have heard about it, but the Sunday school class I attend did not choose to adopt it as a project.  There will be a Bible study group for those whose class doesn't follow it also.

I don't plan to do the Bible study either, but I do plan to do the reading.  I think I can say I have read the whole Bible, but I never did it in one push or one effort.  I always get side tracked and lose my focus.  I find some books or some stories fascinating, and there is where my reading program goes awry.

This morning I have read the first 13 chapters of Genesis.  I should be able to finish Genesis in the next three days.  But here is where I have the weakness:  I don't just want to read it through.  I want to study the references and examine the text for details.  I want to know what the customs of the people were and why Babel was a huge city.  What references are there to Nimrod in other ancient literature?  90 days is a long time to just read and not wander off on a research trip.

In the thirteen chapters there are a lot of what preachers call "preaching points."  The one I found interesting this morning was Abram's interest in building altars.  When he was called to a new place or he heard a new message from God, he built an altar.  He marked those times of change or inspiration by worship, by sacrifice, and by obedience.  Maybe as I engage in this endeavor to read the Bible in 90 days, I can use this writing as a record of the places where God speaks to me like Abram's altars.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Argument in the Roman Courts

Paul was a brilliant and learned disciple who came to faith in Christ after the resurrection. One of the blessings of reading his teachings comes from his acquaintance with the Hebrew scriptures, and another is Paul's excellent use of Roman rhetoric and logic.

Romans 5:12-17 is a passage which uses both of these influences to create and describe a new truth.   Much of what Paul wrote was new.  The Old Testament contained truth that was revealed by the birth, life, teaching, and death of Jesus, but we were not prepared in how to use those teachings.  Paul and the other New Testament writers showed us the lenses through which we should see the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

In this passage, Paul explains how we are taught the meaning of sin.  Paul says that sin entered the world by the fall of Adam.  He set a pattern for men when he violated the first command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Sin, therefore, was present in the world even though man did not have a definition of it until Moses brought the Law.  Death came by sin.  Death reigned even though there was no prohibition; death came on man as a consequence of life.  The penalty for sin was not exacted since the sin had never been defined, but the result was still death.

Jesus came to the earth to eradicate the world's captivity to sin and death.  Jesus died as the acceptable sacrifice that would satisfy the justice of God, and when he died, God proclaimed that his sacrifice was sufficient.  The fact that he rose from the dead proves that the power of sin had been destroyed and sin no longer held mankind captive.

There is another factor to consider in this transaction.  By one man's sin, sin entered the world, and by one's man's sacrifice, sin was removed.  The consequence of the sacrifice was more than the removal of one sin, however.  All men followed the example of Adam's, and all became liable for sin.  All who place faith in Jesus will have their sins removed, but that is the part that God requires of us.  We must believe on him to see the  transaction completed.  It is a gift, but the gift must be accepted.  He will not force it on us, but is available to anyone and everyone

Read the passage from your Bible and claim the gift.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Just Shall Live by Faith

Chapter 2 of Habakkuk makes a somewhat strange claim.  Verse 4 says that the just shall live by his faith.  We must deal with a little human wisdom here to try to sort out this verse.  Don't people who are just live by righteousness?  If a person is just, should not that righteousness be the ground on which he or she stands before God?  Human reason may want to read the verse again.

That's not the way Habakkuk records it.  God measured the earth and found it's people and standards lacking.  Chapter 1 lists the sins and Chapter 2 goes on to list the woes to those who commit sin.  Almost hidden in the middle of this tirade of accusations, Habakkuk has this epiphany:  The just shall live by his faith.  Even when we have behaved righteously, our access to God is by faith.

Read in the light of the New Testament, this makes sense.  We are not saved by righteousness--obedience to the Law--because the Law has no power to save.  The Law can only condemn.  The blood brings the healing, the restoration, the new life.  Faith in the blood saves.  Even the just live by faith. 

Chapter 3 tells of Habakkuk's prayer of faith.  He records the vision of the nation that will attack and demolish his country, but he holds fast to the vision of God.  Habakkuk heard with fear and trembling, and he felt as if his bones would crumble as he waited for God to destroy the invader.  Even if there were no crops in the field, even if the olive trees did not produce, even if the cattle and lambs died, Habakkuk would wait upon the Lord.  His testimony depended on God: 
18. ...yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
   I will be joyful in God my Savior.

 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength...

God calls us to be righteous people.  We have that obligation, but our standing with God and our salvation do not depend on our righteousness.  Salvation is always a matter of faith in him.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is Righteousness Important?

Genesis 15:6   Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness
This simple proclamations is profound beyond my understanding.  I have a hard time processing Abram's simple act of faith and the extremity of its consequence.  He just believed God.  His sacrifices or acts of obedience did not place him in this exalted position, but his belief did.

Let me take this one step further.  This is an accounting term.  In the NIV the word translated as "credited" is "counted" in the KJV.   In accounting terms, when you credit a payment, you take away the debt that has been incurred, and on the other side of the ledger, you add the amount of cash that was received.  God marked Abram's sin account paid because he accepted Abram's faith as equal value to righteousness.

Matthew 5:6   Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Righteousness is not judgment.  Seeking or even being filled with righteousness does not give license to pronounce judgment on others.  Righteousness is its own blessing.  It doesn't make you Superman and it doesn't shield you from temptation.  It puts you in a right relationship to God. 

There are fruits of righteousness.  Things happen as a result of righteousness that don't come any other way.  You have a clear conscience.  You can stand and bear scrutiny.  Your word is sure.

Matthew 17:17-20  In this passage Jesus addresses his disciples as "wicked and perverse."  They had tried to heal a boy, but they couldn't.  They pressed him to explain.  He pointed out that it was not a matter of the size of the disease, but the size of the faith that caused the failure.  Abram had believed God.  Did they believe Jesus?  Do we? 

Righteousness is not a topic that Jesus takes lightly.  We do sometimes.  We neglect it and claim grace to cover us.  We excuse our failures and sins and kick righteousness under the rug.  Jesus is called God's righteousness.  He calls us to be like him in righteousness, to grow into him in faith.  If we are exercising faith, we cannot avoid righteousness.

I heard a preacher say he didn't like to preach about sin.  I don't like to hear my sins deleniated while the congregation silently approves either.  I guess they're not, but I feel the conviction.  I can't see any reason not to preach and teach on the things we know God does approve.  God approves of righteousness.

Matthew 5:10  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What if your persecution is not because of your righteous behavior or attitude?  Maybe you deserve it.  Sometimes persecution is deserved.  You commit an act that causes others to harrass and torment you.  You consider this persecution, but is the harrassment and torment justified?  Make sure you are faultless before you claim God's involvment.  Remember that Jesus says you will be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven, not that your suffering will be relieved.  Your reward may be reserved for a future time.