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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...

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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