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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...

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Seventeen

At the tax collector
At the tax collector (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those whopersecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect,therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus speaks about love in more depth than we usually do. He gives examples that seem extreme to us. Loving enemies is kind of over the top. It's easy enough to love those who are our family members, but if that's all we do, our love doesn't cost us much. We love them anyway. God calls us to love beyond the easy steps, to go the extra mile. He does it and he wants us to follow his example. 

But really, love the tax collector? Love the criminal? Love the mean child? Yes, the one that bit my son. God looks at this love as a challenge to our normal way of behaving. It could be easy. If I just had to love the people at Church, and the kids on our team, and the nice people I work with, I'd be very loving and generous. But does he really want me to love those other people that look down their noses at me and insult me on the bus. 

What's so great about being perfect, anyway?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Third Sunday in Lent--2016

One day when Jesus was teaching crowds, his mother and brothers came looking for him, but he did not leave to join them. Instead, he posed a question, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" Then he stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, that person is my brother and sister and mother." Does this seem strange to you? It does to me. 

He claimed those who obeyed the Father as his relatives. He was not interested in genealogy or blood lines. He only wanted kinship by obedience to the Father. He was committed to the Father's will and equally committed to those who obeyed him completely.

Are we, likewise, committed to brothers and sisters in the Faith? Let us love and cherish one another in Christ so that we become one family with one attitude of love and joy shared with all.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Sixteen

Matthew 11:2-3 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples  and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (RSV)

John was in prison and Jesus did not send him word about what was going on, so John inquired. John knew that the deck was stacked against him, and he could take whatever came, but he wanted to be sure he had put his trust and confidence in the right man. He had proclaimed to his disciples and those who followed him that this Jesus was the One they should follow. Was he right? He wanted to be sure.

The answer was enough. It satisfied his desire to be sure. Perhaps the friends he sent to find out what was going on heard the speech Jesus made about him. "I assure you: among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared." 

We are half way through Lent and Easter is on the horizon. Do you ever question if things are going well? Does the Father have a handle on this? John is the Elijah who is to come. Anyone who has ears should listen.

This message still rings in the heavens.

Lent 2016--Day Fifteen

Yoked oxen at Old World Wisconsin. They finall...
Yoked oxen at Old World Wisconsin. They finally got them yoked up to work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Matthew 11:28 "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

This scripture is consolation for the one who has traveled far, for the one who has labored in the heat of the day, for the one who is burdened with cares. Its promise of rest is a blessing. It promises no more struggle. It says he is able to take your load and dispatch it; It implies that nothing is left undone.

The next verse describes the rest: "All of you, take my yoke and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

It does not say there will be no more work or labor, but it promises that Jesus will share it with you. A yoke does not make the work more odious or painful. It means you have someone to share the load. And we have to learn how to share the load. There is a learning process to working in harness. He wants to make the work more productive and to ease your stress. He wants to walk in step with you, be at your side. This is a blessing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Fourteen

English: Icon of the Resurrection
English: Icon of the Resurrection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Lent is not quite half over yet, and I am running out of steam. How can I be so slovenly in my approach to Easter? Of course, I am aware there are many days left till Easter. Is it really so hard to find inspiration to write? Jesus had 40 days in the wilderness. I wonder how he felt even half way through. How hungry do you have to be to see rocks as bread?

Jesus didn't fall for the temptation. He kept his eye on his Father's truth. He told the Disciples, "You will all run away," but he also knew they would return and rejoice. They would not understand the resurrection, but when it happened, they would welcome him and feast with him. Forty days with him would seal the deal. Then there would be a new age, a new experience in grace.

Now, it's still hard and we don't see the end yet. Just hold on, the time is coming.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Thirteen

Luke 12:35-48 instructs us to be ready for work with our lamps lit, and to open the door when our master calls no matter what time, even if it's very late, almost daylight. We've waited all night and he arrives when we had almost given up. You won't expect him, but if you are ready, you are blessed! The time won't matter. The lateness won't be a hindrance. He is coming with rewards for those who are expecting him. Don't let the lamps go out. He expects to serve those he finds waiting. It will be a day of joy! 

I never thought about him serving the ones who are waiting, but read it again. He will have them recline at the table and he will serve them. Is this the Wedding Feast of the Lamb? It sounds like the descriptions I heard before until I find that he is the waiter. I guess there are things I don't understand, but I'm willing to believe and wait and be amazed.

Lent 2016--Day Twelve

Healing of Peter's Mother-in-law, drawing
Healing of Peter's Mother-in-law, drawing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In Matthew 8:1 Jesus came down from the mountain after preaching the Sermon on the Mount. He is met by a leper who sought healing. Immediately, he healed him but he cautioned him to tell no one but the priest. When he got to town a centurion seeking healing for his servant, but he did not even expect Jesus to go to the servant, but just speak the word, and Jesus was amazed at his faith. Jesus and the disciples were going to Peter's house where Jesus might receive rest and time alone, but Peter's mother-in-law was also ill. Jesus healed her. They continued to bring people to him to receive healing all evening. This work was exhausting, and Jesus sought rest. They boarded a ship to go home, but there rose a great storm. They found him asleep. "Help us, they cried." Jesus rose and calmed the storm. "You of little faith," he said. No rest yet. People followed him seeking healing, relief from demons, and peace where ever he went. Even his own home offered no rest. Isaiah prophesied "He himself took our infirmities and bore our sickness."

Never seek his blessing, healing, or forgiveness without also knowing the cost to himself.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Eleven

Matthew, also called Levi, was called to come follow Jesus and be a disciple, apparently, without prior relationship. Maybe he had observed Jesus and his disciples in the market or the Synagogue. His booth for collection of taxes was certainly convenient to the public, so he could have seen Jesus on several occasions. He could have been acquainted with them through business. He does not seem to have hesitated when Jesus called. Indeed, it appears he called them to eat at his house. Other tax collectors were there and people who the Pharisees took offense at ate with them. 

Jesus took this opportunity to emphasize the nature of his call: He was not interested in looking good for the critics. He agreed these people were in need of reformation, but he did not intend to insult them. He said, "I am come to call the sinners to repentance."  Jesus was associating with those who needed what he provided. Of course, we all need what he provides. 

Did you ever think you would want to be counted with the tax collectors? I didn't, but maybe I was wrong. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Second Sunday in Lent

English: By Rembrandt.
English: By Rembrandt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It seems like our modern world wants to remove the idea of punishment and pain from the Bible. Jesus didn't shy away from those subjects even though he preached love and forgiveness. He mentioned them often. I don't suggest we 'go to seed on them'(as the old saying goes), but they deserve a passing glance. In Matthew 8:10-12 he praises the faith of the Roman officer who seems to have correctly assessed the criteria for admission to the Kingdom. 

We should all be aware that we may, like the audience he spoke to, misjudge and be found wanting at the time of judgment. We should not assume that we have superior knowledge or righteousness, but be eager to hear his words and learn of him.

Lent 2016--Day Ten

Beatitudes-sermon-on-mount (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The ministry of Jesus was plagued with erroneous perceptions. Even the Disciples misunderstood his message and actions. It was difficult because it was unexpected. They sought a king who would behave as human nature dictated, and he changed that. He wanted the Disciples and the followers to see the world as God saw it: He wanted us to learn how to love the unforgiven and bring peace to the belligerent. He did not seek recognition and acclaim for himself, but he only wanted honor and glory for God the Father.

His reputation attracted people to him, but he wanted their love and commitment, rather than their money and power. He criticized those who prayed to be seen by others. He said that was all the response they should get. When they learned to pray in private to God alone, their prayer would be heard by God and their needs would be met.

He also  criticized the way they fasted. He said fasting should make you closer to God, not showing how pious you were. The fasting wasn't a way to show how good you are. It should be done in private, and others would not know. It you were praised for it, that would be all the reward you would get.

Read it again. Get your standards straight. Use the right ruler. God wants us to do things his way. He just wants us to act in righteousness and love.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Nine

 The story of  the man who was delivered of a great number of demons has several points of interest to me.(Matthew 8:27-35) The man  inhabited the graveyard. The presence of demons cost him normal human companionship. Jesus called the spirit to come out of him. There were many spirits in the man, and Jesus sent them into a herd of pigs. The herdsmen of the pigs went into town and reported what had happened and a large crowd gathered. They saw the man who had been wild, clothed and sane. They were frightened because he had great strength and could break the chains they tried to restrain him with.

The man asked Jesus to let him go with him, but Jesus gave him a mission: Go home and tell your family and friends the wonderful things God has done for you. 

He started off to visit the Ten Towns of the region to tell his story, and they were confounded by the things that had been done. Jesus went on to continue his ministry and the man who was delivered of the demons also went on to a more productive and joyous life.

Have you spread the story of Jesus' love to you?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Eight

Healing of the Lepers at Capernaum
Healing of the Lepers at Capernaum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Matthew 13:56 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. KJV

It's sad that the town that was his home did not see much evidence of his power. Maybe that's why he moved to Capernaum. He preached there once and they looked at him with amazement. "He grew up here. Where did he get all this learning?" Their familiarity was a deterrent to their belief. 

He only asked for faith. He did not demand money or adoration. Only believe that he was capable, and they would see the result. But they discounted him as 'that kid down the street.'

Where is our faith today? Do we still fail to see his works because of our unbelief.     

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Seven

Jesus and Saint Peter, Gospel of Matthew 4.18-...
Jesus and Saint Peter, Gospel of Matthew 4.18-20 Français : Jésus et Saint Pierre, Évangile selon Matthieu 4.18-20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Matthew 14:23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray and when the evening was come he was there alone. (KJV)

This verse reveals again the efforts Jesus put into being alone so he could commune with his Father. We should not be surprised that this close connection brought about a mighty power in him. He preached to the crowds and healed them, and fed them, and then he went to his Father to be strengthened and renewed.

When he rejoined them, he walked on water to get to the boat. The Disciples were greatly impressed by this display of his power. Peter attempted to meet Jesus, but he was intimidated by the wind and waves. When they got into the boat, the turmoil ceased, and they worshiped him. The boat landed in the land of Gennesaret.  His reputation preceded him, and the men of that country called all the were diseased, and he healed them. 

Spending time alone with God in prayer and contemplation, not telling him what to do or how to heal, but listening with your heart open is time well-spent. He did it and He was our model.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lent--Day Six

John Baptist
John Baptist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
John the Baptist was an important figure in the life of Jesus and his early ministry. John's mother Elizabeth was a a relative of Mary. The boys may have been acquainted when they were children. John loved God, even from a child, and he lived in the wilderness from the time he was a young man, perhaps because his father and mother died. They were both advanced in age when he was born. 
Luke 1:80 records that John "grew strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel."

John lived in the wilderness on the banks of the Jordan. He went from place to place preaching and baptizing many for the repentance of sins. He knew he was appointed a mission from God. He was to proclaim the One on whom the Spirit descended in the form of a dove as the Lamb of God. He gathered a following and his disciples were looking for the appearance of the Messiah.

Did John have a sudden vision of Jesus as the Lamb? When he approached John and asked for the baptism, John protested recognizing the power already evident in Jesus, but Jesus saw this as righteous, and John agreed. When Jesus came out of the water the dove descended on him and John's faith was rewarded.

John got in trouble with Herod because he criticized him for taking his brother's wife. Herod finally put John in prison and executed him.(Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-27, Luke 9:9) Jesus paid tribute to John calling him the messenger who would precede the Christ and prepare the way for him.
John completed his mission, proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God, and paid a price for his faithful service. He is an example of service we would do well to follow.

Lent--Day Five

Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 In those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God. Luke 6:12 (RSV)

Jesus prayed alone all night. What did he pray about? Maybe the recent challenges he experienced with the scribes and Pharisees were a big concern. Recently they criticized him because his disciples had eaten grain as they walked through a field. They had been charged with reaping on the Sabbath. Then he had healed a man with a deformed hand on the Sabbath in their presence, and they became enraged. They seemed to have more regard for the Sabbath than for people's needs.

Perhaps he was praying for what he was about to do. When they got up, he called them together and selected 12 of his followers to be his apostles. They came down from the mountain and stopped on a level place and he preached to them. Many in the crowd were touching him because healing power went out from him and they were healed. There was a large crowd from all over Judea, Jerusalem, and the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon. This became know as the Sermon on the Plain.

Examining our circumstances and anticipating our challenges are points where we also benefit from prayer and communion with God. I often find that there are times when I pray to one or another of the Trinity. Jesus prayed to the Father, and the Spirit was often upon him. Sometimes I feel Jesus who was  human and lived in our world is the one I seek when I'm in need. Sometimes it's the Spirit who strengthens and comforts me. Sometimes it's the Father who brings peace to my troubled soul. Maybe it doesn't matter what I envision when I pray. Trinity means three in one--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united and all are participants. And when I pray, I'm blessed.  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

1st Sunday of Lent

Sundays are not counted in Lent. Lent consists of the 40 days before Easter not counting Sundays. The Sundays have a special significance: My preacher said they operate like a mini-Easter. We recognize that he is risen, but it's still a time of preparation for the real thing. Pray, serve, love, and forgive, and continue to fit your heart for Easter.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lent--Day Four

Jesus sought out John and asked him to baptize him. John was hesitant and initially refused, but Jesus was persistent and persuaded him. When it was over, Jesus came up out of the water and a cloud descended on them and a dove lighted on Jesus. All four of the gospels agreed that the dove was a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. There are some facts on which all the writers don't agree. 

Matthew 3:17 says: And there a came a voice from  Heaven, 'This is my my beloved Son. I take delight in Him.' Mark 1:11 says: And a voice came from heaven saying, 'You are my beloved Son; I take delight in you. Luke 7:22b: And a voice came from Heaven: 'You are my beloved Son. I take delight in you.' John 1:29 "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said. 'Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'

The account in Matthew indicates that the voice from Heaven seemed to be speaking to those who were watching the ceremony and pointed to Jesus by saying "This is my beloved Son." In Mark the voice from Heaven addresses Jesus directly and says "You are my beloved Son." Luke uses the same address Mark does. Most scholars agree that, even though there are differences, many details are copied from the same source.

John takes a different view than the other three. He is speaking to a group of his disciples and points Jesus out as "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." 

All agree that this is the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Only John recognizes him as the Savior. The praise of the Father is assurance to Jesus that he is on the right path. Each of these introductions is significant for Jesus. I can only imagine the joy of knowing His Father's pleasure in him. It is John's announcement that challenges the Jewish leaders. They heard about John's statement and realized this was someone they could not ignore.

Lent--Day Three

The title page to the 1611 first edition of th...
The title page to the 1611 first edition of the Authorized Version Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. KJV

All of the Gospels refer to the Baptism of Jesus by John, but only Mark refers to the Spirit as "driving" him into the Wilderness afterward. Matthew and Luke both use the gentler word, "led." In different translations, the milder words are often used. The KJV and the RSV, the Holman, and the Apologetics translations all use "drove." The Vulgate uses expellit which is translated as "drove, expelled, or banished." 

There are many translations available, so we can chose the wording we prefer, but the use of "drove" does add a more demanding tone to the Spirit's work. We seem to try to make the Spirit mild in his approach to ministry, but with the use of "drove" in this passage, he is more insistent and demanding.

I have experienced his "driving,"  and I value the need to see the subtle shift in focus on the Spirit in this reference.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent 2016--Day Two

Pogača (or Poğaça), a type of bread eaten in B...
Pogača (or Poğaça), a type of bread eaten in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Satan came with the solution to Jesus' most immediate need--food. He had not eaten for 40 days. That is probably the limit of endurance, but Jesus was confident that physical food was even less important than Spiritual sustenance. For that he drew on the Word of God. "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."(RSV)

It's easy to dismiss the first temptation. Jesus is the Son of God. He didn't have to listen to the Tempter. All that was offered him was rocks turned into bread. It doesn't even sound good. But if you hadn't eaten for over a month maybe it was enhanced in your mind. Starvation can cause people to hallucinate,  become hostile, rage against their environment. In a state of deprivation, people may lose a grip on their very senses. What would we resort to if we hadn't eaten anything for 40 days? Jesus resorted to the Word of God.

The second temptation was a sign that would silence his critics. But Jesus saw it as a trap. The devil wanted to bring man to Jesus because of the signs rather than his identity with God as his Father. The followers often asked for a sign, but Jesus' message was, then, and still is today: He is the Son of God, the Savior.

The third temptation was one humans still see as a goal. Power is the ultimate source of control for many people.
To have nations and kingdoms bow down is heart thrilling. Jesus saw through that strategy, too. He wanted those nations and kingdoms to come to him because of their faith in him and not as an avenue to rise above others in power or prestige.

 If you are new to Christian faith, you may not know what the resources are, but if you are a long-time Christian, you have had exposure to the Word of God for a while. You have had time to memorize verses that address challenges and obstacles. 

It you haven't done so, start now. Hide his word in your heart. Spending time learning scripture is never wasted. It will bless you in times of loneliness. It will reassure you when trials come. It will sustain you when you feel abandoned. It will protect you from the devils wiles. It worked for Jesus, and it will work for you.

Lent 2016--Day one

The Temptation of Christ, 1854
The Temptation of Christ, 1854 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Matthew 4:1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit  into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.(KJV)

Most of the time, when Jesus goes in response to the Spirit, he is going to minister to the crowds that followed him. Sometimes, he goes to the city streets or to the marketplace, but this time he goes to be alone in a wilderness where no crowds follow and he has yet to choose disciples.

He was going to be alone. The Spirit knew he would be tempted by the devil. This was a test of his resolve, of his personal discipline; it would seal, in his experience, the person of the enemy he faced, Satan. He had just been baptized by John and heard the words of God  proclaiming his Father's satisfaction with him. Was that enough to sustain him in the face of this challenge? 

He had  no disciples yet to talk to him, no crowds seeking healing, no one here required his council. He was hungry and alone, and his mind, tormented with Satan's suggestions, could only rely on the words that echoed from the banks of the Jordan--This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.