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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...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nineveh, that Great City

English: Jonah vomited out by the great fish o...
English: Jonah vomited out by the great fish on the shore of Nineveh. Sculpted capital (left side) from the nave of the abbey-church in Mozac, 12th century. Français : Chapiteau de la nef de l'abbatiale de Mozac représentant Jonas recraché par la baleine sur la plage de Ninive (XIIe siècle). Face gauche du chapiteau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jonah was a prophet who was swallowed by a great fish, some say a whale. But he did more than that; getting swallowed by the fish was just an incident on the way to finding the path of obedience. First, he heard the instruction of God to go the the great city of Nineveh and preach against their sin and corruption. 

Nineveh was the capitol of Assyria. Jonah didn't like Assyria because of political conflict with his own country, Judah, so he resisted the call. The Assyrians were renowned for their destructive and humiliating torture of conquered people. Assyria had already captured the northern kingdom of Israel. Of course, his resistance got him in trouble with God who provided the fish to rescue him when the boat he had taken to escape was caught in a storm. After that he went and preached in Nineveh, and the whole city repented beginning with the king. The destruction God had promised was abated, and Jonah moved on to other calls from God.(2 Kings 14:25)

Restored Adad Gate
Restored Adad Gate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nineveh also moved on. The city was sophisticated and offered many luxuries. There was a library, a zoo, and many gardens. There was a temple there dedicated to the goddess Istar and other dieties. The city had 15 gates, some of which have been restored. Sennacherib was the king who was responsible for much of the great renown of the city because of his building programs. 

A hundred years after Jonah's revival, Nineveh was 

again in the pit of sin and corruption, and another prophet, Nahum, one of Israel's minor prophets, called for repentance there, but this time there was no reprieve: destruction fell. Scholars place the destruction at 612 bce. The Book of Nahum has been described as both prophesy and history depending on the date the book was written. Not all authorities agree on the date. Nahum is one of the Minor Prophets, classified as "Minor" because he did not leave a large body of writing.

In the first chapter of Nahum, the writer establishes God's right to call Nineveh to account. God calls all people to be obedient and to follow his commands even though they may be alien and unlearned in his ways. 

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
    the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
    and vents his wrath against his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
    the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
    and clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum records the destruction that fell on Niveveh including natural events as well as military campaigns. The Tigris River bounded the city on one side, and a storm caused the water to rise and flood the city. The description includes details that may indicate other destructive forces. Nineveh was built on a major fault line and sustained damage periodically from earthquakes.
 The horrors of defeat extend beyond military limits. The city was sacked and burned so that there was no remnant to remind later generations of the site of the great city of Nineveh. There were no survivors. For many years it was believed that Nineveh was a myth or fable until about 1849. Since then many discoveries have revealed the magnificence of the temples, palaces, and gates of the city.

Refined low-relief section of a bull-hunt frieze from Nineveh,

The Bible records the destruction of Nineveh as judgment against the evil of the Assyrian empire and the cruelty of the practices of the government. It should serve as a warning to modern nations that God does not take governmental sins or cruelty lightly.  

Location of the province of Assyria; east of t...
Location of the province of Assyria; east of the Tigris River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lamentations Bring Rejoicing

The book of Lamentations is a short book having only 5 chapters written by or, at least attributed  to, the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is called "the weeping prophet" because of his messages which focus on the sins of Israel and God's judgment on Jerusalem and and the subsequent captivity by Babylon.

The messages are set as poems using an acrostic style in which each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 all have 22 verses- one verse for each letter of the alphabet, and chapter 3 has 66 verses with each letter getting three verses.

All the chapters describe the destruction of the city called her the "Virgin Daughter Jerusalem." Sometimes the descriptions are personalized and the lament is cast in the first person. Chapter 3 opens with this cry of pain:
I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.(NIV)

Chapter 2:1 describes God as the avenger:
How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
    with the cloud of his anger!
He has hurled down the splendor of Israel
    from heaven to earth;
he has not remembered his footstool
    in the day of his anger.(NIV)

The destruction of Jerusalem came from invaders but the punishment is accorded as just punishment for sins committed by Israel with Jerusalem as the errant daughter whose sins have been revealed. The metaphors are graphic and painful.
"Should women eat their offspring
the children they have cared for?"
Jeremiah does not name the attacker as the enemy nations, but only that God has brought this vengeance.
"“Young and old lie together
    in the dust of the streets;
my young men and young women
    have fallen by the sword.
You have slain them in the day of your anger;
    you have slaughtered them without pity.(NIV)

All 5 chapters of Lamentations are filled with the pain and sorrow of the punishment that befell Judah and Jerusalem. It is also a place to review personal sins and failures and view personal punishment not connected with Jerusalem. Righteousness is still God's standard and repentance is still God's requirement.
These verses from Chapter 3 promise God's constant love:
31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What is the Key to Spiritual Success?

How do people become spiritual? What practice or discipline is required for us to be close to God? Is there a secret to getting the "shotgun" position?

John 14:23  Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

Lots of teachers and leaders have some ritual that is supposed to make you more obedient and give you that special trick to become spiritual and blessed by God. Don't put too much stock in those gimmicks. There are reading programs that prescribe how many chapter you should read a day or how many verses. It may give you a program that will keep you on track to read the Bible in 90 days or a year, but that's all it will do unless you add something to the mix. You will be able to brag that you have read the Bible all the way through; You may glean some facts you didn't know before, but to become spiritual is more than facts and bragging rights.

Jesus was sensitive to this problem. In the Upper Room teaching he gave the Disciples before he was taken into custody by the officials, he gave them a way to evaluate their own progress in the spiritual realm. He said the mark of love is obedience to his word. It's not a slavish, nit-picking, subservient obedience, but one in which we rejoice to read his word and immerse ourselves in its truths. Our obedience comes as a continuation of the reading. Reading the words of Jesus and acting on them seals the meaning in the deepest core of our being, and that's where Jesus comes with his Father to live with us and in us and to make us like him.

Read the words of Jesus and the words that tell what he did and where he went. Read the Old Testament prophesies that tell what he would do when he came and those in Revelations that tell what he will do at the throne of God. Shape your behavior and your life to fit with his words, and you will begin to experience his nearness and his Father's presence, and you will know that he lives in you and his peace will settle on your life. Circumstances are not the key to a life of peace and joy and fulfillment, but being in love with God and obedient to his word is.
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Satan Isn't Funny!

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagoni...
Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagonist of John Milton's Paradise Lost c. 1866 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Satan has acquired quite a reputation as the funny guy in the red suit over the years. There have been many depictions of him as troublemaker and adversary in literature, opera, films, and plays. Usually he comes off as the character of comic relief. We laugh at him and feel superior when the hero or heroine, as the case may be, proves victorious and sends him packing.

The sad fact is we are the ones who are deceived. C. S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in which he gave real life examples of how Satan's deception invades our senses and destroys our peace. The Bible is full of warnings of Satan's plots against all of mankind. We need to take these warnings seriously because they hold eternal impact. 

Get Behind Me Satan
Get Behind Me Satan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Job 1:6-8 is a scene of theatrical dimensions. Satan came with the Angels to present themselves before God. Satan couldn't resist a little bragging--he had been roaming the earth, perhaps seeking someone to attack. God cited Job as a man who was faithful and honorable, but Satan wanted to destroy this one who would be God's example of a man of faith and honor.

This example of how Satan works reminds us that when we are doing well and engaged in God's favor, Satan is waiting to attack and destroy our peace and faith. In Job's case Satan attacked, first, his wealth, his children, and then his body. We must not make the mistake of dismissing Satan as a humorous comic character. He is a spiritual being capable of speaking to the mind and heart to destroy, to steal, to kill all that is righteous and Godly.

Satan Is Real
Satan Is Real (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We have defenses that will protect us, but we must be aware that Satan has power and knowledge capable of weakening us so that we may suffer loss. If we sense Satan's attack, we have the Lord to help us in the battle, and never doubt that we are in a battle. And it is not a comic opera--our lives are the prize.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tell Us about the Future

Fortune Teller
Fortune Teller (Photo credit: meeni2010)

The Bible repeatedly warns against seeking knowledge from fortune tellers and mediums.  Saul sought information about future events from a medium who lived at Endor. 1 Samuel 28 tells the story. He had obeyed the Lord and removed all the fortune tellers and mediums from the land, but when he could not get direction from the priests and God did not answer his prayers, he resorted to seeking this help.  He concealed his identity and went at night to visit her. She perceived who his was and feared for her life.

She was successful in calling up Samuel from the dead, but he chastened Saul, too.  He message was one of loss: Loss of his children, his army, and his kingdom. Saul had disobeyed God's command and it didn't do much good to seek God's leadership and direction when the current situation was a result of that failure.  Saul's heart was set to do his own thing, not to obey God.

Seeking knowledge about future events from these strange sources causes problems for a lot of people. Instead, we have God to guide us and the Lord's presence to walk with us as we make decisions and choose courses. We must remember what we are doing and who we represent. Acts 1:7-8 gives a promise that will carry us into the future with confidence and security

7[Jesus] said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
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Friday, July 20, 2012

Dust or Slime? Maybe Mud!

English: The Creation of Adam is a fresco pain...
English: The Creation of Adam is a fresco painted by Michelangelo, the work started at 1508 and finished 1512, it appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It illustrates the Biblical story from the Book of Genesis in which God the Father breathes life into Adam, the first man. Chronologically the fourth in the series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis on the Sistine ceiling, it was among the last to be completed. Français : La Création d'Adam Deutsch: Die Erschaffung Adams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The record of creation that begins in Genesis 2:4 may be the observations or insights of a different writer than the one who wrote Genesis 1.  In this account man is formed out of the dirt, the same substance the earth is made of with the exception that God breathed into his nostrils breath so that he became a living being.  

This account is not compatible with evolution any more than the first one.  God created a shape that he liked out of dirt, or the Wycliffe Bible says, he made man out of  slime.  A child playing with mud may fashion a house, or an animal, or a playmate in the mud, but God went a step further and made the man alive with breath from his own being; the Spirit of God made the man alive.

Since the creation of man, humans have had access to God, being made by him and having an identification with him in spirit.  

All the rest of the Bible and the story of God's dealing with mankind rest on this one fact:  God created us and then, even in the face of our sin and failures, he loved us and provided a way for us to enter into his love and grace.

Read the rest of the story in the Bible.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sabbath Rest

Drupal's Calendar Module
Drupal's Calendar Module (Photo credit: m.gifford)
Genesis 2:1-3 says that God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day and he blessed it and thereby created our week.  When we get to the giving of the Law, we find the seventh day to be called a day of rest still.  In the modern world we still observe the Sabbath or Sunday and call it a day to be hallowed.  It is the day we worship, and it is the day we rest. Even for people who work on Sunday it is still a special day:  It marks the beginning or ending of a week.  Jews and some Christian denominations observe the seventh day.  Many others observe Sunday as the Lord's Day commemorating the day Jesus rose from the dead.

One of the blessings of the seventh day observance is that people need to rest.  The cycles of time give our lives times and seasons.  Rest doesn't mean we should sit and stare at the wall, but it is a time to assess where we are and get a new grip on life so we can go out again.  To worship on the day of rest is the same kind of renewal, and it allows us to see ourselves and our lives in a refreshed light; as we worship, God allows us to see ourselves as he see us.  We have the opportunity to change, repent, press on, or take up a new challenge.

I remember times when my husband's job required him to work without the day of rest.  I saw him become stressed and angry when the times to rest and worship were abandoned.  God calls us to rest and worship.
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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Let Us Make Man in Our Image

Bible: Creation story, l. 6 (detail with expul...
Bible: Creation story, l. 6 (detail with expulsion from the paradise). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Genesis 1:26 begins the most arresting passage for people to recognize--the creation of human beings.  The Bible does not define time periods or give developmental milestones, but Man was the last thing created on the Sixth Day.  Don't panic--male and female he created them. 

It is immediately noticeable that God did not act unilaterally. The scripture says "Let us make man..."  It was a cooperative effort.  God created by speaking and calling forth out of nothing.  The Wycliffe translation says
"And God made of nought a man to his image and likeness; God made of nought a man, to the image of God; God made of nought them, male and female.  ."  Wycliffe's translation repeats the notation that God created out of nothing.

In Genesis 2 there is another account of creation that begins with  man and this one is significantly different in several ways.  The NIV and the KJV report that man was created out of the dust of the earth, but Wycliffe says he was created out of the slime.  In both cases man was not created alone.  He needed another somewhat different companion--woman.  This account gives some details that we need to address later.

Genesis 1:27 says that God made them together.  Woman was not an afterthought, but a part of God's original plan.  When we say "mankind" or "human race." we include all of us together.  Remember that the scripture speaks of God calling himself plural.  As a Christian I claim this to mean God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were in union and agreed on the method and the outcome.  

English: Man Made in the Image of God, as in G...
English: Man Made in the Image of God, as in Genesis 1:26 to 2:3, illustration from a Bible card published 1906 by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Adam and Eve  contributed a few things to the event that will have to wait for another post.
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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Days Three, Four, and Five

Genesis 1:11 records the appearance of vegetation on the earth with seed bearing plants.  If not earlier, at least by this time the Evolutionists are raging.  Biology does not agree with the Bible record about the steps in creation, but the Bible does not claim to be a scientific book.  God's aim in inspiring the Bible to be written is different from the Evolutionists' theories and proofs.  We should not confuse the two.

From the standpoint of what was necessary for man to understand about creation and life, seed bearing plants and trees were primary. This was the beginning of agriculture.  This was the third day.

On day four, God separated the night from the day and set the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night.  God blessed the sequences of days and instituted seasons and time became a factor in how mankind would experience the world.  Stars were to be a part man's experience and they would help count the seasons.

Day five records creation of the life in the sea and the life that flies in the air.  Biology says that life originated in the sea beginning with one-celled animals including amoeba and algae.  The Bible looks at the larger creatures and those that are recognizable by man first and leaves the smaller forms for the invention of the microscope.

Let me emphasize once more the spiritual nature of the Bible--it does not argue about how God created or what the steps were.  The Bible just says that what we see in the natural world came about by God's choice and design.  It is no offense to God to examine his creation or even to postulate how he did it. I believe we commit a grave error when we do not recognize his action and command of natural events.
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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Second Day

Impact of water in a water-surface
Impact of water in a water-surface (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is is strange that God found the water already on the earth?  He didn't say, "Let the water be."  He saw where it was and chose a separation of the water that was on the earth from the water that floated in the clouds.  The Jewish Bible says that God created a "dome" to separate the waters.  The King James Version says he created a "firmament," and the NIV says he created a vault that he called "sky."  

The Biblical record does not go into the combination of hydrogen and oxygen or even emphasize the necessity of water for the survival of life, but it is careful to make the distinction of dry land and sea.  The necessity of water is assumed.  It was important to God's plan than the water be separated and have a location where it formed its own identity in the sea or in the sky.  Again, the Bible does not distinguish rivers, lakes, vapor.  They each have a function and they are different.  God saw the separation of the water from the land as beneficial to his creation and he called it good. This was not completed on the Second Day.  All the creative acts have attendant consequences that continue to the next marker so that the creation is dependent on and results in another phase, another link in the chain of events.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let There Be Light

Most of the Bible translations I consulted record these words in Genesis 1:3:  Let there be light.  The Vulgate is less descriptive:  dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux.  I translate it like this: "And God said, 'Light, be, and light was.'"  It could be translated "Light exist" or "Light, become."  It's like God addressed Light and called him to stand up and be counted.

Light came before the Sun was created.  Perhaps light came from the mere presence of God.  We are told that outer space is dark and light is only present when there is a sun or star to provide it.  In the initiating stages of God's creation, we have no independent observers.  The Word of God only gives us this introduction to creation.  We have no science or wisdom beyond to explain or elaborate.  Here we begin in faith to see God's creation.  There is nothing before this to guide or educate.  

God was before the beginning and He called the light to shine for us.  God created by his Word.  God said, and it was so.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

In the Beginning

Genesis 1 is the story of creation.  I researched several Bible translations and paraphrases to find the meaning of Genesis 1:1.  Most of them say:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  There are a few exceptions:  The Message says "First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see," and the Wycliffe says  "In the beginning God made of nought heaven and earth." 

The arresting and momentous opening of Genesis proclaims God's sovereignty and eternal existence.  There is a quality of peace in the simple proclamation.  Whatever else happened at that time, God was there, and he was always there before there was even a beginning. 

And the the Spirit of God was hovering over the water.(NIV)  Even in the dark and empty void, God was there with purpose and intent.  His Spirit hovered, waiting, creating, planning.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stand Firm and Hold On

English: Grazing near Stottesdon, Shropshire A...
English: Grazing near Stottesdon, Shropshire A public footpath runs along the other side of the hedge and oak trees. Park Wood can be seen on the sky line past the big oak tree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1 Thessalonians 3:8 Paul says this: 7Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

Paul was in Athens after he left Thessalonica because of the mob violence, and he longed to hear from the church there.  So he sent Timothy back to check on them and encourage them.  They were new to the faith and he feared they might fall back to the idols they had worshiped before.  

Timothy returned with a wonderful report of their faith.  He used the words standing firm to describe their position.  He doesn't say they are progressive or modern or updated.  It sounds like an old fashioned position--standing firm.  Paul had planted this church on good ground and their roots had gone deep.  He could rejoice that they were still standing firm. 

In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 he gives them this command again with another injunction:  Stand firm and hold fast.  He expected them to hold fast to the teachings he had delivered to them on his previous visit.  Once they got hold of the truth of the Lord's deliverance, they had to hold on to it.  They could not be deceived by those who would mix their faith with other tales or superstitions or traditions.  They were rooted in good ground and the basis of their faith was unshakable.  They must stand fast and hold on to those truths without regard to the new stuff that flooded around them.  

New thoughts and ideas and philosophies are everywhere, and many of them are appealing or interesting.  But they don't do justice to the old standards of truth and righteousness and salvation that come with the foundation on which we stand firm holding on to Christ Jesus.
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Monday, June 4, 2012

Paul in Thessalonica

Paul preached and taught in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey.  Thessalonia is in Macedonia. He followed his normal custom which was to begin in the Synagogue, and he explain how the life and death of Jesus fulfilled the prophesies concerning the Messiah.  He found some willing listeners there; then he preached also to the pagans who worshiped idols. Again, he found many willing listeners, but eventually the trouble makers, jealous Jews and ruffians,  drug some of the new believer into the street and beat them including Jason, the man who had provided a place for Paul's party to stay.

It seems that Paul was most happy and secure in explaining to Jews that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Jewish scriptures that prophesied the Messiah.  Paul was a Jew and  Pharisee so he was knowledgeable and cognizant of the Jewish dedication to the scriptures.  For him it was a natural progression, but he did not neglect the pagans who had no such history and tradition.  Some of the troublemakers who followed Paul were Jews who insisted that they must become a Jew and obey the Jewish laws and be circumcised to be accepted as Christians.  Paul stood fast on the Christian doctrine that it was the blood of Jesus that saved men from sin, not the Jewish law nor the character of their work.
Remains of the ancient marketplace in Thessalonica

In addition to his knowledge of the Jewish scriptures, Paul was also a skilled rhetorician and skillful in explaining and presenting the Gospel.  He seemed to be the lightning rod that attracted the attacks of the troublemakers.Eventually the difficulties became so intense that Paul left and went to Athens, leaving Timothy in Thessalonica to support and encourage the new believers.  Paul had success there, and there was a growing and vibrant body of believers developing.  He loved them and he did not want to leave them without a leader.   Timothy went to Athens to share the news of their growth with Paul.  Paul wrote the first letter to the Thessalonians and sent it by Timothy on his return.  It is full of expressions of love and encouragement.  He used metaphors that revealed how tender and caring he was toward them.  

Read the story of Paul in Thessalonica in Acts 17 and 1 and 2 Thessalonians
The modern city of Thessalonica is thriving and vital with many Christian  Churches.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

One Key to Joy

Sunday morning the preacher commented on the lack of joy he witnessed in worship.  He recalled the joy he remembered from previous years, but he could not seem to reclaim it.  Joy does not come at our bidding.  It is not something we can manufacture.  His comments provoked me to explore this question.  What is the meaning of joy and how do we achieve it?

The Book of Nehemiah  contains one of the best and most illuminating descriptions of joy and the behaviors that bring it.  After the Children of Israel returned to Israel from captivity in Babylon, they had begun rebuilding the city and the Temple.  During the Temple reconstruction, the workmen found a copy of parts of the Books of Moses.  They were thrilled with this discovery, and they called an assembly to make the words of the Law available to all the people.  They assembled in the street before the Water Gate to hear the document read.  The priests made sure that teachers were present throughout the group to explain the meaning.  The people stood and listened to the word being read from about 6:00 am to noon.

The people were overcome with sorrow when they heard the words of the law.  They began to weep.  Ezra commanded them not to morn or weep because this day was holy.  He told them to go and rejoice and send food to those who didn't have anything.  

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.(Nehemiah 8:12)

Maybe if we listened to the word of God and sought to understand it, maybe if we considered those in need, maybe if we felt conviction and wept, we could find that joy, too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Is Your Definition of Sin?

Jesus healed the man's hand on the Sabbath.
Jesus was criticized as a glutton and a drunkard(Matthew 11:19), but the most serious accusation against him in the earlier part of his ministry was as a sinner.  Any breech of the Law was enough to incite those who wanted to accuse him.  Later his claim of equality with the Father became a focal point.  When the Pharisees and Sadducees and those who were called the rulers of the Temple sought some way to stop his rise in popularity, they fixated on his conflicts with their perception of the Law.

In Matthew 12:1 his disciples were hungry when they walked through a field of grain and they began to eat the green kernels.  The Pharisees saw them and protested that this was unlawful to harvest on the Sabbath.  Jesus defended them citing the story of David and his men eating the consecrated bread in the Tabernacle which was unlawful for anyone but the priests.  This was not harvest for profit, and they were taking enough to be considered stealing.  It was what might be considered feeding the poor or hungry.  Jesus saw it, not as an insult to the owner of the field, but just enough to sustain them as they walked.  The Law ordered that you leave the corners of the field for those who would glean.  It was counted as merciful.

He asked them the meaning of these words: I desire mercy not sacrifice.  He saw those who were charging the disciples as the ones who had an opportunity to offer mercy.  When faced with sin do we help or hurt?  In this case they could be merciful to the hungry disciples, but they chose to use a strict interpretation  that said their behavior violated the law.  Jesus said "The Son of Man is Lord even on the Sabbath Day."  The Sabbath was created for man, to give him rest, to have an opportunity to praise God, to be thankful, not that the Sabbath should be a burden.

Then they went to the Synagogue, and the same men asked Jesus if it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  There was a man there with a withered hand.  Jesus told a parable about a man who would help a sheep stranded in a ditch even on the Sabbath.  Is a man not worth more than a sheep? When he restored the man's hand, the Pharisees held a council to kill him.  Was it lawful to hold a council to plot a man's death on the Sabbath?  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Love in Service

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. John 13:1 (KJV)

These verses are poignant and revealing.  The disciples could not understand what he had in mind.  They were looking for him to establish a kingdom with a government and an army, not a church composed of people of faith.

This supper was intended to set in their hearts a memory of his love for them.  The foot washing and the communion are both acts of cleansing and surrender.  For us who read about it 2000 years later the story still carries multiple messages.  

Three of the gospels tell the story that includes the communion and its elements of bread and wine.  Only John tells of the foot washing and the extended teaching on that evening.  But the whole story of that final night is full of his knowledge that he was leaving them to return to his Father.  He had this last chance to repeat things, to impress on them his love for them, and to establish them as leaders and disciples. 

In the teaching there are times of testing.  After he finished washing their feet he put on his robe and returned to sit with them. Then he asked them if they knew what he had done.  He wanted to be an example that they should repeat to each other and to those who would come later.

In the years since he gave us this lesson we seem to have sometimes lost the message of love and service.  Leaders of the church are called to be servants of humble attitudes, rather than dictators of fashion or masters of repartee. We live in the world and these worldly accomplishments are the product of worldly attitudes.  Jesus calls us to set our minds and hearts on higher goals.  Love and service do not sound grand in the world's scheme, but from Heaven's perspective they are.  This is what Jesus calls us to do.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Do These Stones Mean?

pile of stones
pile of stones (Photo credit: tom_focus)

 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe,  and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites,  to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’  tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.(Joshua 4:4-7 NIV)

I love this part of the story of Israel's wandering in the wilderness because it a message to the future generations that will give them faith in God.  It is important to me to recall the things God has done in my life, and it builds my faith that he will be with me in other times of need.

I have a memorial, too.  Israel had a man from each tribe with a rock to place in a memorial so that when the children asked, "What do these stones mean?" their parents were to tell them of the wanderings in the wilderness and the things God did to bring them through; these stones were to remind them that at flood stage, God held back the flow of the river so that the people could cross over.  

My pile of stones are Bible verses that mark the places of pain, or testing, or loss that I claim by his grace to have triumphed in .  He taught me to give thanks even in the difficult times, not because of the situation, but because of his grace to endure it.  He taught me, like Abraham, that God will provide.  In that place of sacrifice, I have no power to restrain him, but he has the power to restore me.  He taught me that the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a place to walk through.  You don't camp there.

It's not for us to worship the stones, but to use them to build faith for the next test, and to seek in God's word the next promise, the next stone for your memorial pile.
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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Words of my Mouth

 Satellite Picture of the Island of Crete 

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith  and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.Titus 1:10-16

In this text from the letter Paul wrote to Titus we find some of the sharpest words in the New Testament directed against two groups of people.  The "circumcision group" were Jews who were teaching new Christians that they must obey the old Jewish laws and observe the traditions and food restrictions set forth by Moses.  Paul objected to this teaching because, as Christians, we are required to believe, only, in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.  No work or observance is added to that.  Not circumcision or observance of feasts or food laws will make us righteous.

The second group is the people of Crete.  He quotes a prophet of Crete who labels their people as disreputable and unholy.  Paul makes the point that the mind of the inner man is the place the struggle takes place.  When the mind has been corrupted, it takes a severe charge to overcome the errors.  To claim to know the truth, one must show by actions that the mind has changed.  Mere words or mental ascent is not sufficient.  Behavior must also show that the words of the confession are true.

Matthew 12:35     A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him

It's easy to speak good words.  Examine your own heart and make certain that your motives and actions are as pure as the words you speak.  

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