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Monday, December 26, 2011

How Great Our Savior!

How Great Our Savior!

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:23-24 (ESV)

JUSTIFIED: dikaioo (to render just or innocent, to show or regard as as just or innocent); from dikaios (equitable in character or act, innocent or holy); from dike (right, as self-evident, justice); from deiknyo (to show)

REDEMPTION: apolytrosis (the act of ransom in full, riddance or salvation); from apo ("off" or away) and lytron (something to loosen with, a redemption price, atonement); from lyo (to "loosen")

Jesus Christ became our ransom, the payment in full that loosened off the sentence of death required by our sin against God. The Ransom allowed God to declare us to be innocent, equal in character to that of His Son, justified in His sight as entirely right in character and act.

How great our sin, yet how great our Savior!

Image provided by mokra

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's Not Okay to Lie

It's Not Okay to Lie

How would you respond to someone who casually says, "It's okay to lie because all I have to do is ask God for forgiveness and He will forgive me?"

Paul expected a similar question from his Roman readers:

"If our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?...If through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?" Romans 3:5,8 (ESV)

Paul's answer: God is Judge of the world! A judge rewards right and administers punishment for wrong. Were God to forgive sin simply because one asked for forgiveness, God would cease to be a righteous Judge.

God does not forgive because people ask Him for forgiveness...He cannot unconditionally forgive sin and still remain the righteous Judge of the world.

The entire world is held accountable to God for violating His Law (Romans 3:19). Multiple instances of obedience to the Law are unable to cancel out even one instance of disobedience. Human attempts to rigidly obey God's Law in every point are inadequate in the sight of the Almighty Righteous Judge (Romans 3:20).

"There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:22-23 (ESV)

How, then, is God able to forgive anyone?

"The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe...and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith...so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:21-26 (ESV)

Christians are not forgiven of sin because they ask God for forgiveness. No! Christians are forgiven of sin because God made Christ Jesus their propitiation by blood.

PROPITIATION: hilasterion (something expiatory, an atoning victim, figurative for the lid of the Ark in the Temple); from hilaskomai (to conciliate, to atone for sin, to be propitious); from hileos (cheerfully attractive, propitious, gracious)

Expiatory, or to expiate, means to make complete satisfaction for. It comes from a Latin word meaning to seek to appease or purify with sacred rites.

To atone means to agree or make amends for an offense. It comes from "at one".

To conciliate means to gain good will or favor by pleasing acts, to cause to agree or make compatible, to win over or gain the good will of. It comes from a Latin word meaning to draw together, unite, from a word meaning council.

Our work toward forgiveness, including even the simple act of asking for forgiveness, means absolutely nothing in the sight of The Almighty Righteous Judge of the world. Only the work accomplished by Christ Jesus is effective. Only through His perfect obedience and sacrifice for our sin can we hope for forgiveness from God.

The sacrifice of Christ Jesus satisfied the requirement for punishment that we deserve for our sin. The life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ Jesus makes forgiveness possible for us.

God becomes both just (Rewarder of good and Punisher of sin) and the justifier (Forgiver of sin).

This forgiveness of sin is effective, or valid, only for "the one who has faith in Jesus":

"It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:26 (ESV)

FAITH: pistis (persuasion, credence, conviction, reliance upon or constancy in); from peitho (to convince, pacify or conciliate, to assent to or rely upon)

To plan to sin, to allow time and means for sinning, with the expectation that God will forgive simply because one asks, demonstrates ignorance of how and why God forgives anyone. To presume upon God's forgiveness without recognizing the cost He endured for that forgiveness is to ignore the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is a presumption that is faithless.

It is a false sense of forgiveness.

It does not bring God's forgiveness and the sinner remains a sinner, accountable to God for punishment.

It brings death.

Image provided by Ted, Creative Commons License

Monday, December 19, 2011

Right In The Sight Of God

Right In The Sight Of God

Acts 4:19-22

"But Peter and John answered them, - Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. - And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old." Acts 4:19-22 (ESV)

Peter and John stood before the most powerful leaders of Jerusalem, the religious supreme court of the Jewish high priest. In many ways, the religious leaders held more influence and control over the city than even the Roman Empire leaders.

Determined to quickly stamp out rebellious heresy as threats to their power and position, the religious leaders were astonished and speechless by the boldness of Peter and John and the irrefutable evidence of a miraculous healing in the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified carpenter, was at the core of their fear. He had claimed to be the Christ, His supposedly dead body had escaped from a sealed, guarded tomb, and the pitifully few followers left huddled in a small apartment immediately following the crucifixion had swelled to more than three thousand believers.

The Jews had cause to fear.

Without evidence of punishable crime, the court issued a gag order: Do not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is such a gag order possible now, in our country, in our society? Has it already happened in our generation?

"But Peter and John answered them, - Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:19-20 (ESV)

JUDGE: krino (to distinguish, decide, try, condemn, punish)

Peter and John admitted that the Jewish leaders had the power, even the responsibility, to determine the rightness or wrongness of those accused of wickedness. The court was empowered, by human government and by God's sovereign will, to examine the acts of men and determine whether to praise or punish them.

Peter focused on the essential issue on which the court had to judge: In Peter and John's preaching and testimony, were they being faithful to God's will, or were they liars or lunatics?

How could Peter prove that they were faithful to what God Almighty desired? How can anyone presume to know the Unknowable One, The One Surpassing All Human Knowledge?

Peter rested his defence upon two simple, universal sources of evidence:

  • We have seen
  • We have heard

All that Peter and John preached about and testified about were verifiable. The things they had seen and heard had been in public view...nothing had been done secretly. The Scriptures they quoted had been in public view for centuries. The actions of Jesus had been in public view. The words of Jesus had been heard by scores of hundreds of people, firsthand.

If you speak of what you personally have seen and heard, you speak powerfully and irrefutably.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Imagine facing a judge accusing you of attempting to discredit the national religion, the only religion legally allowed in this country. Given your experience to this point, what you personally have seen and heard regarding Jesus, to what could you testify?

"And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old." Acts 4:21-22 (ESV)

The most that the court could do was to threaten Peter and John with imprisonment or worse if they preached or healed in the name of Jesus. The threat was empty because a large part of the city's population were ecstatic over the miraculous healing, and the court feared riots if they punished the ones who were directly responsible, or at least connected to, the miracle.

The singlemost powerful piece of evidence in support of the miracle was a 40-year old man. For forty years, most of the population of Jerusalem had seen firsthand this crippled man survive by begging alongside the road. The public knew this man intimately. They knew his appearance, the sound of his voice, his clothing, and probably even his smell.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Who among us has a long history with our neighbors? Can any of us say that there are people who have watched us grow up, that have personally known us, and known about our circumstance, for as long as 10 years? 20? 30? 40? What do you think God is doing through you in the lives of people who have known you for many years?

Image provided by Konstantinos Koukopoulos, http://kouk.wordpress.com/, Creative Commons License.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unswayed By The Facts

Unswayed By The Facts

"But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name. So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus." Acts 4:14-18 (ESV)

Peter and John, arrested and brought to trial before the Jewish religious court, spoke boldly and decisively. The high priest and the select, inner core of Jerusalem's theocracy were astonished and silent.

What paralyzed these powerful men's tongues? Irrefutable, verifiable truth in the form of a beggar standing with Peter and John.

The beggar had been lame from birth, surviving only through the care of friends and family. After living as a crippled, helpless man for more than 40 years, the man was instantly healed by Christ's power through a miraculous, faithful command given by Peter: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" (Acts 3:6)

Now, the healed man stood with Peter and John before the intimidating Jewish court.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why couldn't the high priest charge them all with lying?

Privately, in executive session, the court debated what to do.

NOTABLE: gnostos (well known); from ginosko (to "know" absolutely)

PERFORMED: ginomai (to cause to be, to "gen"-erate, to become)

EVIDENT: phaneros (shining, apparent, publicly, externally); from phaino (to lighten, shine, show); from phos (luminousness); from phao (to shine or make manifest)

DENY: arneomai (to contradict, disavow, reject, abnegate); from rheo (to utter, speak or say)

Faced with witnesses of the miracle throughout all Jerusalem, the religious leaders had no argument or evidence for their charges against Peter and John. The could not convict them of lying or deception.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Faced with irrefutable evidence, why did not the high priest believe Peter and John's testimony?

The essential fear felt by the Jewish leaders was that faith in Christ would spread throughout the population. The religious leaders had no interest in believing their testimony, whether is was true or not, but it was obvious to them that many people in Jerusalem did believe.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should a leader bow to public pressure? Should a leader join with the public majority despite it meaning they must forsake what they personally believe? Can the Jewish leaders be admired for remaining firm to their convictions?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you consider yourself a bold witness? Is a quiet witness better or worse?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What group of people in our society is similar in power or function as the Jewish court the Peter and John faced?

Image courtesy of Brian Turner, http://www.netvibes.com/steakpinball, Creative Commons license

Monday, December 12, 2011

Where Thieves Break In

Where Thieves Break In

Today I received a letter from friends who work as translators and teachers in another country. They are helping to translate the Bible into a language that has lacked anything written, not even an alphabet!

Their letter described something I always find intriguing, and important.

My friends were translating a verse from Matthew:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal." Matthew 6:19 (ESV)

"Break in" is the English translation of the Greek word, diorysso, meaning to penetrate burglariously, from a word meaning to burrow in the ground or dig.

One of my greatest passions is words, and how words develop, and the literal objects at the root of words for abstract concepts.

My friends live among a people-group who understand clearly what this verse describes:

"In the hot season, people sleep outside and lock the door of their house. Thieves go around behind and dig a hole in the earthbrick wall big enough for someone to pass through. They take all they can pass through the hole. When the residents open the house the next morning, their goods are gone."

"Treasures on earth" means all the things that we own that we consider valuable, things that others might also desire. Jesus told this story to remind us that making things to be our treasure will only result in disappointment and loss. Jesus urges us to make heaven, the presence of God, our greatest Treasure, and we will never suffer disappointment or loss.

Thieves, or time, will steal or destroy anything on earth that we might treasure. But if we treasure most our enjoyment of God and all that He is, nothing can take away our source of happiness and security!

Image provided by Odense Bys Museer, http://museum.odense.dk/, Creative Commons License

Astonished and Silenced

Astonished and Silenced

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 (ESV)

BOLDNESS: parresia (all out-spokeness, frankness, bluntness, publicity, assurance); from pas (all) and rheo (to utter, speak or say); from rheo (to flow, or "run")

ASTONISHED: thaumazo (to wonder or admire); from thauma (wonder); from theaomai (to look closely at, to perceive or visit)

The religious leaders greatly admired the bold, out-spokenness of their speech. Notice that their wonder resulted from seeing Peter and John, rather than listening to them. It was not so much as their words of reason, but their boldness in speaking that caused others to look closely at Peter and John in wonder and admiration.

The astonishment came because of the constrast between what the crowd had expected of Peter and John before they saw them preaching. Notice that the religious leaders SAW their boldness but PERCEIVED their ignorance.

PERCEIVED: katalambano (to take eagerly, seize, possess); from kata (down) and lambano (to take, get hold of)

UNEDUCATED: agrammatos (unlettered, illiterate); from gramma (a writing, letter, note, epistle, book); from grapho (to "grave", write or describe)

COMMON: idiotes (a private person or an ignoramus); from idios (pertaing to self, one's own, private or separate)

The religious leaders thought they had Peter and John nailed down as illiterate and "idiots" living in their own make-believe world. They had assumed that Peter and John were simply two hermits that had made their way into town to beg for food and mumble secret incantations and curses. The expected them to be mystical, secretive and, especially, quiet.

They weren't.

The prejudice and assumptions of the religious leaders disintegrated suddenly, not only by dynamic words of reason, but more from the bold, outspoken way that Peter and John spoke. They boldly accused the Jews of killing an innocent Man, One Who was the Son of God, One Who was mankind's only hope of salvation from damnation by a righteous God.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Read through Peter's message, from Acts 4:8-12. What things did Peter say, that for our society, are politically incorrect or outspoken?

First, the religious leaders were rigid in prejudicial scorn for Peter and John. Then they looked at them with wonder and admiration. Finally, they recognize that they had been with Jesus.

RECOGNIZE: epigniosko (to know upon some mark, to become fully acquainted with, to acknowledge); from epi (over) and ginosko (to know absolutely)

To this point Peter had preached only to crowds of religious people. The inner circle of leaders who controlled the Jews in Jerusalem had not ventured out of their ivory towers. But now, arrested and brought directly into the inner sanctum before the rulers, elders, scribes, priests and high priest, Peter and John had shocked the leaders into wonder and admiration. Finally, the Jewish leaders made a direct connection between these bold, outspoken men and Jesus of Nazareth.

These men had been with Jesus.

What did Jewish leaders know about Jesus?

Read Acts 2:22-24.

  • Jesus performed miracles
  • Jesus was crucified and killed
  • He apparently was resurrected from death

Did the Jewish leaders know Jesus had been resurrected from the dead?

Read Matthew 27:62-66

They had feared his body being taken, they had feared any appearance that Jesus had been resurrected, so they made the tomb secure.

Read Matthew 28:11-15

Despite their precautions, the body of Jesus disappeared. If the guards had been attacked and overpowered, the priests would have declared this publicly. But the priests were forced to bribe the guards, forcing them to lie to the public, claiming that they had simply fallen asleep, hiding the truth: the guards had seen an angel roll the stone back, revealing an empty tomb, and they had fainted from terror.

The guards, and the priests knew, absolutely, that Jesus, whether dead or alive, had left the sealed tomb without any human intervention.

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why is our faith dependent upon the truth of Christ's resurrection from the dead? Would our faith be weakened or changed if we were to be convinced that Jesus were not raised from the dead?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What prejudices have you found in yourself? How have past prejudices changed for you?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What practical ways might God have us change the "color" or "flavor" of our church to reflect the diversity of our community?

Image courtesy of bxtr, image license agreement.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Joyful Despair

Joyful Despair

"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Romans 7:14-24 (ESV)

WANT, DESIRE: thelo (to determine, as an option; to choose or prefer)

GOOD: kalos (beautiful, good, valuable or virtuous, for appearance or use)

DELIGHT: synedomai (to rejoice in with oneself, to feel satisfaction concerning); from sun (with or together) and hedone (sensual delight, desire); from handano (to please)

WAGING WAR: antistrateuomai (to attack or destroy); from anti (opposite) and strateuomai (to serve in the military); from stratia (to encamp as an army); from stronnymi (to "strew" or spread out a carpet or couch)

There is a part of my deep inner self that desires good. This good nature prefers things that are beautiful or valuable. In these good things, my heavenly nature delights, feeling satisfaction and pleasure.

But there is another part of my self that desires to attack or destroy my heavenly nature. This warring enemy is encamped within my soul, its tents spread throughout my being, battling against the good I desire in every possible way.

Sin wants easy gratification and instant pleasure. Every good desire is tempted with offers of something that is cheap and convenient, providing a promise of pleasure that overwhelms caution or consideration. All desires of waiting for the best are pushed aside by warnings of pain or loss. The urge is to experience pleasure now, no matter that it is not the best pleasure, or that the ultimate cost of the pleasure is harmful or destructive. The battle cry of sin is Now! Hurry! Don't miss this pleasure! Immediate mediocre pleasure is better than ultimate excellent pleasure!

The law of sin is the law of Now. If there is a chance of experiencing small pleasure Now or big pleasure Later, sin will battle for Now.

When will this war end? When will my fleshly nature be changed? When will my soul and flesh both desire good and only good?

"We wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:23)

Our spirits were redeemed at the moment of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. Our bodies will experience redemption, renewal and regeneration at the end of this age. This is our hope, for which we wait with patience.

Now we resist, we struggle, we fail, we confess, we rejoice in our forgiveness, and we wait for redemption.

Now I feel a kind of joyful despair. Despair, that here on earth my flesh will ever desire the best, the truly good. Joyfulness, as I hope in the ultimate redemption of my flesh. Feeling my flesh's hungry desire for sin is a reminder of the reason for Christ's sacrifice and a reminder of His ultimate victory over sin.

Image courtesy of tanel viksi

Monday, December 5, 2011

Acting in Ignorance

Acting in Ignorance

"And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers." Acts 3:17 (ESV)

IGNORANCE: agnoia (the quality of ignorance); from agnoeo (not to know, to ignore through disinclination); from noieo (to exercise the mind, observe, comprehend, heed); from nous (the intellect, mind, meaning); from ginosko (to know)

Ignorance means to not know and to not care to know. The root of the word is to exercise the mind, to observe and attach meaning and importance to what is observed.

Peter was preaching to Jews, the religious people who denied Christ's divine nature and hated His condemnation of their lifestyle. The Jewish leaders initiated His arrest and demanded His execution, and Peter blamed ignorance for their malice and violence.

The Apostle Paul described ignorance as having a mind of futility:

"You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity." Ephesians 4:17-19 (ESV)

FUTILITY: mataiotes (inutility, transientness, depravity); from mataios (empty, profitless, an idol); from maten (folly, to no purpose); from masaomai (to chew); from masso (to handle or squeeze)

An ignorant mind may indeed be exercising, but only in vain. Imagine a meal of sawdust. You might season the powdered wood with salt and pepper, and the taste might be tolerable, but you can chew and swallow a plateful of sawdust and not gain any nutrition.

At the core of ignorance is a hardness of heart. The strongest, most inner desires of one who is ignorant depend upon expectations or assumptions that are false. From that false foundation results an obscured understanding of God, a broken relationship with our Creator. As more and more decisions are built upon the false core of belief, the mind and emotions become callous, sensual and greedy for impurity.

Ignorance murdered an Innocent.

Not all ignorance ends in murder or damnation. To believe that wood powder has the same nutritional value as corn meal or wheat will result in minor indigestion. But even minor mistakes, if continued for years without change, can bring illness or death.

Is there a solution to ignorance? It seems impossible to correct something unknown. How does one know what they do not know?

The softness of one's heart seems to be the key issue. A soft heart describes a person whose strongest, most inner desires are dependent upon expectations or assumptions that are true. For example, there is great truth and honesty in expecting to have limited understanding of all things. If I have a strong desire for truth, and at the same time I fully expect to have limited understanding of all things, my heart can be said to be soft: I will be open to correction. I will be quick to exercise my mind in checking the facts and experimenting cautiously with unknown situations.

A soft heart is not too proud to change. A soft heart is willing to admit misunderstandings and mistakes. A soft heart desires to learn and grow.

God, make my heart soft.

Image courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt, www.pinksherbet.com

Friday, December 2, 2011

Abiding in Christ

Abiding in Christ

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11 (ESV)

ABIDE: meno (to stay)

Abiding in Christ's love means depending upon what Christ gives through His love, which includes His commandments.

When Jesus first sent His disciples out to go from town to town to heal and preach, He told them to find a "house of peace" and abide there, eating what they provide. They were not to go from house to house. (Luke 10:3-7)

Abiding in the same house is a good illustration of abiding in Christ's love. Abiding means accepting all that Christ has done for us and given us, with an attitude of thankfulness and dependence. Christ's commandments are given in love, and He promises joy in the abiding.

Abiding in Christ's love means the same as believing in Christ:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36 (ESV)

Not believing Christ means not obeying what He has said. Rather than abiding in Christ's love, the unbeliever abides in the wrath of God.

Abiding in Christ means a physical, emotional, and spiritual connection:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (ESV)

Abiding in Christ is much more than memorizing Scripture or associating with other people who revere or follow Christ. The illustration of a vine with many branches implies a complete connection with Christ, involving a parts of life. Without this complete connection, we can do nothing, including exist:

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. John 15:6 (ESV)

What are the commandments of Christ in which we are to abide? What has He said that we are to believe?

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12 (ESV)

All that Christ did for us, and still does, and all that Christ commanded, and still does command through His Spirit, can be summed up in the commandment to love one another.

Abiding in Christ's commandments means depending upon His love for us, and doing all that we do with the motive of love for others.

And joy is the reward.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11 (ESV)

Image courtesy of Roger Kirby, www.rkirby.com

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Box

My Box

I'm a little boy, holding a little box. On the box is a scrap of paper with a childish scrawl: My Life. I hold that box so tightly, hiding it from others, allowing only a few to peek inside and share my treasures. There are times that I am forced to open my box and share. Many days I take my box to Work and carefully open the lid to my box only a crack, sharing a bit of my strength and skill in trade for food and shelter and perhaps a bit more that I can call my Wealth.

With my closest friends, or those that I wish were my closest friends, I open my box sporadically, quickly, picking out a few treasures that I think might please them. But I'm quick to guard against injury to my box. Even a critical word, or a stony glance or a surprised question will cause me to slam my box shut and I run to the nearest corner to pout or castigate myself.

With my dearest partner, my lover and wife, I share much more of my box. I confront some of my fears and prides and let her open the box herself and share my treasure. Sometimes.

Limited access. That's the phrase that describes the condition of my box called Life. I maintain control of the box at all times, and I decide who sees it, who touches it, who opens it.

I forget that the Maker of the box retains full rights to My Life. Every piece was crafted by His hand. Every treasure is ultimately from Him. His sovereignty and power created my box and His patient graced allows me to carry it.

God my Father, I am so sorry! I treat you no better, and sometimes worse, that I treat my friends and lover. I childishly think that I can hide my treasures from your eye simply by closing the lid. Selfish thoughts stream through my mind without any acknowledgement of You. My grubby hands hold the box that You created. I open and close the lid as if I were the owner of the box. I choose to share and I choose to conceal as if I were the creator.

Lord, I see no hope of changing. But if this moment counts for anything towards change, may You reign supreme in all my thoughts, desires and treasures. Lord, You may open my box at any time. You may add or take any treasure or trial to my box at any time.

I trust you with my box.

Image courtesy of Andrzej Gdula, www.andrzejgdula.com

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sainthood

Sainthood

"To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 1:7 (ESV)

There are many religions which recognize individuals as "saints" or "enlightened ones".

One church reserves the term "saints" only for a member of their church regarded as "holy" who has died. The "saint" must have demonstrated "heroic virtue" or suffered martyrdom. After approval by an investigative panel, the candidate is proclaimed to be "venerable", the first step toward sainthood.

The second stage is called "beatification". It requires the candidate perform a miracle after their death and as a result of specific prayer to the candidate. This miracle proves that the person is in heaven and is able to intercede for the living.

The final stage of sainthood requires one more miracle, allowing the religious leaders to "canonize" the person, proclaiming the saint as holy, in heaven and worthy of honor by all.

Source: http://www.catholic.org/saints/faq.php

The apostle Paul viewed sainthood differently.

Paul wrote a letter to the Christian church in Rome. He was not writing to the Jews or the Greeks...he was writing to "all those in Rome" who honored God as Father and treasured Jesus Christ as Lord. He was writing to all Christians.

Paul proclaimed them all as "saints".

The original language of the letter does not necessarily use the phrase "called to be saints". Rather, the original phrase uses only two words:

Kletos hagios: "called saints". The additional words, "to be", used in our English translation are implied, but not actually written in the original.

The word "called" means to be invited or appointed...it comes from a word meaning to shout loudly from a distance, to urge on.

So, God loves us, He desires to give us what we desperately need and what is best for us. Out of His love He urges us, He calls out an invitation to us.

To what does God lovingly call us?

The Greek word for sainthood used in this verse is hagios, meaning sacred, pure, blameless or consecrated. It comes from a word meaning "awful thing".

Mark used the same word to describe John the Baptist:

"Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man." Mark 6:20 (ESV)

The word used for saint, hagios (holy), is closely connected to righteousness (equitable, innocent or holy).

Luke used the same word to decribe God, as well as Jesus:

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God." Luke 1:35 (ESV)

To be a saint, to be called holy, is to intimately related to God, to share in His power and to be sacred, set apart from common humans.

Sainthood came to the disciples of Christ on the day Jesus gave them His Holy Spirit:

"Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:21-22 (ESV)

Becoming holy, becoming a "saint", did not come as a result of exemplary behavior...Jesus appointed His disciples, He imparted to them His Spirit, making them "saints" in order to empower their behavior.

The numbers of "saints" increased dramatically after the resurrection of Christ. 120 believers gathered together in Jerusalem and experienced a sudden, overwhelming transformation:

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)

An astounded crowd gathered around this church of "saints", shaken by their sin and fearful of God's wrath. Peter exhorted them to change their minds about sin and embrace Jesus as Christ and Savior:

"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)

The resolution of sinful guilt and eternal damnation is to become a saint! The call to become a saint is a promise from God given to all who embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior, a promise that their sins are forgiven and that His Holy Spirit would begin working in them to radically change their lives. From this point on, the writings of the apostles refer to all Christians, no matter their age, race, gender or location, as saints.

The title, "Saint", belongs to anyone who belongs wholly to God:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Romans 12:1 (ESV)

The title, "Saint", belongs to anyone who regards Jesus Christ as Lord:

"To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours." 1 Corinthians 1:2 (ESV)

The title, "Saint", belongs to anyone who treasures Jesus:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." Ephesians 1:3-4 (ESV)

Sainthood comes not through our own work:

"God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace." 2 Timothy 1:8-9 (ESV)

God glorifies Himself by making choosing Christians to be saints:

"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

God does not call Christians Saints because they live saintly...they live saintly because they remember that they are called Saints by God.

God calls us because of His love, his overflowing desire to share with us that which is best for us. His call is an invitation, an emotional appeal to join with Him in freedom from sin or stain. To be a saint of God is to belong to Him intimately and joyously, held closely in His pure and sacred love.

Image courtesy of William Murphy

Monday, November 21, 2011

Scornful or Humble?

Scornful or Humble?

"Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor." Proverbs 3:34 (ESV)

SCORNERS: lis (to make mouths at, to scoff, to interpret or intercede)

HUMBLE: anav (depressed in mind or circumstances, saintly); from ana (to depress)

FAVOR: hen (graciousness, kindness, favor, beauty); from hanan (to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior, to favor, bestow, implore)

The word for scorn is to make mouths at, to exaggerate the sound or appearance of someone for the purpose of insult or shame.

Scorners of God exaggerate or twist His Words, turning His truth into a joke or example of shame, bringing others to laughter and preventing them from taking God seriously.

God allows the scorner to mock...more, God returns the scornful behavior back towards the mocker, describing truths even more incredible and incomprehensible to the scornful mind.

To be humble is to be depressed, to consider oneself to be without strength, influence or wealth.

The humble person approaches God with little or nothing to offer. They pray for mercy for the wrong they have done, and they pray for grace for which they do not deserve. They literally bow their head and bend their knees to make themselves physically lower, matching their estimation of themselves in comparison to the One to Whom they approach.

God matches the humble posture. He bends low, placing Himself near to the depressed, identifying with their lowliness and weakness, placing into their hands what they desire: goodness undeserved and free.

Image of scorner courtesy of Clay Junell

Image of humility courtesy of Montecruz Foto, www.montecruzfoto.org

Friday, November 18, 2011

Contentment in Giving

Contentment in Giving

How did Paul describe stewardship?

Paul devoted the entire ninth chapter of 2 Corinthians to the subject of giving and generosity, ending it by describing giving to others as a gift from God:

"Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" 2 Corinthians 9:15 (ESV)

The wonderful goodness of giving to others was a gift that exceeded Paul's ability to adequately describe.

Today, I want to focus on four elements that makes giving to others a wonderful gift of God. The four elements rest upon each other, forming a triangle with four layers. Our study in God's Word today will explore this triangle, beginning at the top and digging deeper and deeper into God's Word, uncovering what lies beneath, until we see God's grace supporting it all.

At the top of the triangle is cheerfulness:

"Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)

Stewardship, charitable contributions, or giving to others - whatever you call it - becomes a wonderful, indescribable gift of God when it is from a cheerful heart. A cheerful giver becomes the object of God's love, with God's Spirit bringing to the giver feelings of joy and security.

First, notice that cheerfulness in giving is not automatic. Cheerful giving requires readiness. At least three times Paul emphasized being ready to give as an essential element of willing, cheerful giving:

Verse 3: "I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.

Verse 4: "Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident.

Verse 5: "So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction." 2 Corinthians 9:3-5 (ESV)

READY (verse 3): paraskeuazo (to furnish aside); from skeuos (a vessel, implement or equipment)

NOT READY (verse 4): aparaskeuastos (NOT furnished aside)

READY (verse 5): hetoimos (adjusted); from heteos (fitness)

ARRANGE IN ADVANCE (verse 5): prokatarizo (to prepare in advance); from katartizo (to complete thoroughly); from artios (fresh); from arti (just now)

Cheerfulness in giving depends upon preparation and planning. The process of giving, deciding how much to give, and to whom to give is to be deliberate and thoughtful, giving priority to "adjusting" the gift to make it fit for the need. The planning and preparation is to be carried out well in advance of the actual transfer to the beneficiary.

Now, think with me. What is required in order to prepare beforehand a gift? If cheerful giving depends upon prepared giving, how do we "get ready" to give?

Paul describes spiritual readiness:

"I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction." 2 Corinthians 9:5 (ESV)

GIFT: eulogia (fine speaking, elegant language or commendation); from eulogeo (to speak well of, to bless or prosper)

Spiritual readiness precedes physical readiness. A Christian needs to view the gift as an important form of communication. The gift, like a speech or public prayer, must be a thoughtful, compassionate blessing for those who receive it.

How different this is! The world views charitable contributions as a tax benefit, or a social duty. Christians with cold hearts view the offering plate as a symbol of duty or a stimulus to guilt. Paul viewed giving to be a blessing, a spiritual form of communication meant to gladden and encourage others.

Gifts of money, or time, or food, or whatever, all must be carefully considered, just as a speaker must carefully consider the words of a speech or public prayer. The message must fit the purpose and the people listening. The gift must fit the need and the people receiving the gift.

Do you wish to become a cheerful giver? Get ready to give by considering the gift to be a form of spiritual communication, a blessing. Plan and prepare the gift, considering the need and the ones receiving the gift.

The tip of the triangle is cheerful giving, which is supported by physical and spiritual readiness.

Cheerfulness of heart in giving to others depends upon spiritual readiness, seeing the gift as a message or prayer of blessing, leading to physical readiness, planning and preparing the gift well ahead of time.

The next level of support to cheerful giving is not immediately obvious from Paul's writing. We can discover it by looking first at the opposite of cheerful giving:

"I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction." 2 Corinthians 9:5 (ESV)

EXACTION: pleonexia (avarice, greed or covetousness); from pleonektes (holding or desiring more, eager for gain); from pleion (more) and echo (to hold)

The opposite of a willing, cheerful heart, is one of avarice, which means greed or covetousness. Avarice, greed and covetousness are all the rotten, spoiled fruit of one dangerously deceptive mindset: discontent.

The word discontent comes from the Latin word, continere, meaning "to hold together". To be content means to look at what you hold and feel satisfied. Discontent means to look at what you hold and feel hate or regret, or to desire something that you do not yet hold.

Paul was urging the Corinthians to consider as sufficient all that God had given them. He was asking them to be willing, to regard the opportunity to give as an opportunity to bless others, to give cheerfully, because God had blessed them. Paul was warning against discontentment.

How does discontentment affect one's giving? Does it matter with what emotion one gives?

Discontentment at its root is selfishness. The discontent person wants more, regardless of the cost to himself or others.

Ananias and Sapphira were two Christians who desperately desired more admiration and praise and prestige from the community. Their discontent led them to give out of avarice and greed, blatantly lying to the church and the Holy Spirit, with fatal consequences. (Acts 5:1-11)

Discontentment destroys cheerful, willing, generous giving. Discontentment in oneself does little harm to others, but it does great harm, spiritually and physically, to oneself.

Now we can see that physical and spiritual readiness are not in themselves sufficient to make a person become a cheerful giver. Readiness to give cheerfully requires contentment.

Considering what God has given you, are you content? When you look at what you hold, right now, is there something you despise or look upon with dissatisfaction? Or is there something you lack which you greatly desire, no matter the cost to yourself or others? If so, you are discontent, and discontentment will destroy any chance of giving cheerfully, and it will likely bring great spiritual and physical harm to you.

Another example of a Christian facing conflict between discontent and contentment is the apostle Paul. More than simple discomfort, he was experiencing pain. He called it "a thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7).

THORN: skolops (something withered at the front, a point or prickle, an annoyance or disability); from skello (parched)

Thorns surely cannot glorify God? A thorn means something soft and alive has become dried up, painful and dead. Loss of life is never good and death is the furthest thing from perfection. How can God allow this?

In this turmoil of pain and loss Paul was not content. He wanted something different - he wanted something more.

Three times Paul asked Jesus to remove the pain. Three times Paul came to Jesus as the Perfect One, the Complete One, The Only Source for Every Need. Every time, Jesus refused to remove the pain. Paul never experienced relief from this lack in his life. A perfect, completely sufficient, all-powerful God allowed Paul to suffer lack. An utterly content God allowed loss and suffering in the life of one who loved Him. How can this be?

Are any of you discontent? Do any of you lack something? Are you experiencing pain instead of pleasure? Are you experiencing poverty instead of plenty?

Jesus did answer Paul. Jesus did care about the pain Paul felt, and Jesus said something that completely changed Paul's attitude. Without relieving Paul of the painful thorn, Jesus provided a way for Paul to become completely content, even in the midst of suffering painful loss.

What did Jesus say?

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

Now we see the deepest layer supporting cheerful giving. The foundation of giving is God's powerful, sufficient grace.

GRACE: charis (graciousness, as gratifying); from chairo (to be "cheer"ful, calmly happy or well-off)

SUFFICIENT: arkeo (to ward off, to be satisfactory); related to airo (to lift, take up or take away, to raise or sail away)

PERFECT: teleioo (to complete, accomplish or consummate); from teleios (complete); from telos (the point aimed as as a limit); from tello (to set out for a definite point or goal)

Let's clearly understand what Jesus said:

"Everything I give you, including what you may consider loss or pain, is given to gratify you - it is intended to give you happiness. What I give you will ultimately lift you up and protect you from something worse, something eternally harmful or evil. Every situation in which you find yourself feeble or inadequate or uncomfortable is part of my ultimate goal of demonstrating My power in your life."

Discontentment says that my loss or pain demonstrates the weakness and inadequacy of God. Contentment says my loss and pain demonstrates the strength and sufficiency of God.

Discontentment says that the answer Jesus gave to Paul is a lie. Contentment says that the answer is completely true.

Remaining in discontentment is rejection of Christ, naming him liar and imperfect. Exulting in contentment is a joyful glorification of Christ, naming Him Lord and Savior.

Discontentment defines the one who lives without Christ. Contentment defines the one who lives in Christ.

Paul chose contentment:

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

To boast or speak vaingloriously is considered a bad thing for civilized people, and it is bad to brag about being great or superior about something that is not true. But Paul's boasting was in something true: Christ is a great Savior and I am a great sinner! Christ is strong and I am weak! I'm glad I'm weak because then I'm strong, in Christ!

The assurance that every pain and loss that Jesus allowed was meant for Paul's happiness and protection brought a radical change. Where once Paul resented his pain, he now boasted of it. He bragged about his weakness. He looked at his loss and discomfort with pleasure. He enjoyed being weak!

We must, however, be absolutely clear on two things: First, pain and loss are good, only when they point to the power of God. Without seeing His power, pain and loss are bad and without purpose.

Second, it's okay to pray for relief from pain and loss. In fact, it glorifies God to come to Him as a needy child, asking Him for what you want and need. It glorifies God as the One Who Provides, and the Only Source of Life and Healing. But we are to be willing to be content with whatever God does. Jesus did not rebuke Paul for praying for relief, but He told him to be content with His will. Jesus Himself prayed three times, asking His Father for release from certain death, but in the midst of every passionate prayer Jesus was willing to be content with God's will.

So now we see the key to changing discontent to contentment:

I see God's power and it makes me happy!

Paul did not suddenly become happy and content because God used His power to relieve Paul's pain. Paul's pain was never relieved, yet still He saw God's power in his life. How did God demonstrate power in Paul's life?

"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited." 2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)

God powerfully protected Paul from a danger worse than any thorn: conceit.

CONCEIT: hyperairo (to raise oneself over, to become haughty); from hyper (over) and airo (to lift, take up or take away, to raise or sail away)

Paul had become higher and higher in his own estimation. His heart had become like a tower, rising high above all others. The wicked, carnal, fleshly part of Paul's heart rejoiced in the same conceit that controlled the builders of the Tower of Babel.

Unrestrained conceit ultimately leads to a desire to reign as god, to control one's own life if not the lives of others. The devil was showing Paul glimpses of glory that could be his: influence and wealth, unchallenged superiority in knowledge and reputation.

Visions of self-glory collapsed in humility when Paul realized that his painful thorn would never be taken away. This small but unrelenting discomfort was sufficient to bring Paul back from the edge of self-destructive pride. This gracious gift of pain and loss brought health and happiness back to Paul. The power of Christ was sufficient to save Paul from himself.

That is what turned discontent into contentment. That is the key to our happiness. That is the key to becoming a cheerful giver whom God loves.

What do you lack? How are you hurting? Where is your discomfort or frailty? How is your discontent affecting your relationships, with God and others? How is it affecting your giving to others? Believe the truth that your pain and loss is a tool in the hands of a gracious and sovereign Savior. Pray for deliverance from discomfort, loss and suffering, but pray also for eyes to see God's power behind the pain. What danger might God be lifting you up away from? Could it be conceit? What greater joy might God be leading you up to? Could it be humility and dependence upon God?

This is the triangle of cheerful giving. All of it - the cheerfulness, the readiness, the contentment - it all rests upon the grace of God. Undeserved blessing, the power of God upon a humble heart: God's grace!

Christian, you are walking on a road called Grace, which is undeserved favor meant to gladden your heart. This is the right road for you - it is the road that protects you and lifts you up. It is the road on which you are given opportunities to give to others and show them God's love. At every turn of the road, however, you will face your own frailty and lack of strength. Remember, your weakness is an opportunity to rejoice in the ultimate destination of the road: the power and glory and honor of God. God intends for His people to reach the end of His road: Himself.

In this we will boast all the more gladly!

What does the road look like? Can we get down to the nitty, gritty dirt? The hard pavement of our real life? In what real-life examples of loss and pain can we catch a glimpse of God's greater purpose of happiness and power?

1. "I don't have enough money. Every month I have to choose something to do without, something that others enjoy, something that I know that I would enjoy - something I really want. I really do not feel like giving to others."

That makes me happy! That reminds me to depend upon God every month! Lacking something makes me aware of what I do have. I have so much that others do not have. So much of what I have is the result of God working through others, all to benefit me. So much of what I have could be lost in an instant without God's continual protection and providence. I know God is protecting me from treasuring temporary wealth rather than eternal relationships. I can cheerfully give to others because God's grace is sufficient for me!

2. "I cannot get over this temptation. My mind is constantly pursued by conflicting emotions and desires, things I don't want, but things I do anyway. I hurt those close to me, I allow fear to waste good opportunities, I am overwhelmed at times with bitterness and resentment. The thought of giving to others fills me with guilt over my own pitiful condition."

That makes me happy! God's Spirit is surely within me, else I would be completely happy with evil things. My struggle with temptation and relationships is proof that there lives within me something better: the Holy Spirit of Jesus. Jesus is a great Savior because I am a great sinner, there is no doubt of that! Glimpses of what I would be without Christ give me reason to rejoice in His sacrifice for me. Jesus is alive, and He reigns supreme, and nothing, not even my flesh, can defeat His plans for me! Jesus is working within me to soften my heart with compassion for people caught in sin and self-destruction. I can cheerfully give to others because of God's merciful forgiveness and love for me!

3. "I am sick. Much of my monthly income goes toward medication or insurance for health care. I miss out on fun weekends with family and friends. I can't travel, I can't relax, I can't work. I can't imagine giving anything of worth to anyone else."

That makes me happy! Every moment is communion with God. I am filled with prayer: prayers of sadness, pleading for release, sympathy for others who are sick, sharing in the suffering of Christ Himself. I am one of the few people in the world not distracted right now with television, recreation, business or politics. Every fiber of my being right now is concentrated on God: How can I get through this next hour? Why are You allowing this? For what shall I pray? Sickness has brought me to my knees, and all I can do right now is talk to You, and that is all I need! I can cheerfully give because I am content with what God is giving me!

Those are just three general examples of what you might be enduring right now. Contentment is not just a thing that Christians ought to demonstrate. Contentment is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, resting in the grace of God.

Let's close with an encouraging note from Joni Eareckson Tada, from her book, A Place of Healing, written in the midst of terrible chronic pain. Here is what Joni wrote, describing the miracle that God provided when He refused to heal or take away her pain:

"A ‘no’ answer has purged sin from my life, strengthened my commitment to Him, forced me to depend on grace, bound me with other believers, produced discernment, fostered sensitivity, disciplined my mind, taught me to spend my time wisely … and widened my world beyond what I would have ever dreamed had I never had that accident in 1967.

"My affliction has stretched my hope, made me know Christ better, helped me long for truth, led me to repentance of sin, goaded me to give thanks in times of sorrow, increased my faith, and strengthened my character. Being in this wheelchair has meant knowing Him better, feeling His pleasure every day.

"If that doesn’t qualify as a miracle in your book, then-may I say it in all kindness? I prefer my book to yours."

Source: Joni Eareckson Tada, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty, p. 55-56.

Image of gift courtesy of Christmas Stock Images.

Image of thorn courtesy of PLANTS Database, United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Image of winding road courtesy of Horia Varlan

Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Spiritual Sacrifice

Our Spiritual Sacrifice

The Apostle Peter described the Christian life as being one of offering "spiritual sacrifices":

"You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:5 (ESV)

I find myself a bit fuzzy with what "spiritual sacrifice" looks like. After looking a a few (of the many) references to sacrifices, both in the Old and New Testaments, I'm convinced that it means this:

Jesus Christ IS our spiritual sacrifice. Lifting Him up, making much of Him, speaking of Him to the world, depending upon Him and delighting in Him as our greatest Treasure are the expressions of the truest sense of "spiritual sacrifice".

Giving money to charity, singing to others, spending our time and energy, cleaning the church or sharing our food with the needy is only one degree removed from actual, blood-spilling sacrifice of animals. Without love for Jesus, without treasuring Jesus, charitable and religious activities cannot be called "spiritual sacrifice".

Sharing our possessions, our wealth, our abilities and our talents is an expression of spiritual sacrifice only to the degree that they reflect a love for Jesus.

Here's how I got there:

LIVING STONES: zao (to live) and lithos (a stone)

SPIRITUAL HOUSE: pneumatikos (non-carnal, ethereal) and oikos (a dwelling)

HOLY PRIESTHOOD: hagios (sacred, pure) and hierateuma (priestly fraternity)

SPIRITUAL SACRIFICES: pneumatikos (non-carnal, ethereal) and thysia (sacrifice)

ACCEPTABLE: euprosdektos (well-received, approved)

A spiritual sacrifice is one that is not physical, with an essence that is like breath: felt, but unseen. At the same time it reflects the image of a sacrifice, involving the death and spilled blood of a living creature.

The sacrifice described in the Old Testament required blood:

"This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy. In the place where they kill the burnt offering they shall kill the guilt offering, and its blood shall be thrown against the sides of the altar. And all its fat shall be offered, the fat tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys." Leviticus 7:1-4 (ESV)

The sacrifice is to be kept clean:

"If any of the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering is eaten on the third day, he who offers it shall not be accepted, neither shall it be credited to him. It is tainted, and he who eats of it shall bear his iniquity. Flesh that touches any unclean thing shall not be eaten. It shall be burned up with fire. All who are clean may eat flesh, but the person who eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings while an uncleanness is on him, that person shall be cut off from his people. And if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether human uncleanness or an unclean beast or any unclean detestable creature, and then eats some flesh from the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings, that person shall be cut off from his people." Leviticus 7:18-21 (ESV)

A spiritual sacrifice, thus, is that which is the image or "breath" of the death and blood of a living animal, untainted and sacred.

Samuel saw obedience as the essential component of sacrifice:

"Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams." 1 Samuel 15:22 (ESV)

God Himself described Solomon's temple in Jerusalem as "a house of sacrifice" but desired humility, prayer and repentance more than the physical shedding of blood:

"Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place." 2 Chronicles 7:12-15 (ESV)

David echoed the superiority of spiritual sacrifices:

"But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him. Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord." Psalms 4:3-5 (KJV)

"In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." Psalms 40:6-8 (ESV)

"For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Psalms 51:16-17 (ESV)

"Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!" Psalms 107:21-22 (ESV)

Isaiah records God's harsh condemnation of empty, physical sacrifice:

"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause." Isaiah 1:11-17 (ESV)

Hosea tells of God's deepest desire:

"I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6 (ESV)

Jesus Christ is the only One Who could be the Perfect, True Sacrifice to God. Only in Jesus can the shadow of blood sacrifice be completely realized.

Offering spiritual sacrifice, at its core, is not about what we do, nor even what we feel, for or about God. Our ONLY spiritual sacrifice is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus fulfilled all that God requires and desires. Only when we lift up Christ, only when we hide in Christ, only when we exult in Christ, are we truly sacrificing.

That is spiritual sacrifice.

Offering to God our possessions, our wealth, our abilities and our talents can be an expression of spiritual sacrifice only if they reflect a genuine dependence and delight in Jesus Christ as our True Spiritual Sacrifice.

Simply singing at church, or cleaning the church or giving money to the church, even with a pure heart, accomplishes nothing spiritually, unless it is a reflection of a heart caught up in the magnificence of God's mercy shown to us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our Spiritual Sacrifice.

Image courtesy of CĂ­ntia Martins, www.flickr.com/photos/de_lima

Friday, November 11, 2011

Resurrection of the Dead

Resurrection of the Dead

Acts 4:1-12

"And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead." Acts 4:1-2 (ESV)

The resurrection of Jesus threatened the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

ANNOYED: diaponeomai (to toil through, be worried); from ponos (toil or anguish); from penes (starving or indigent); from peno (to toil for daily subsistence)

The Greek word that we translate as "annoyed" means to feel threatened, as if by starvation. In what way did the resurrection of the dead threaten the religious leaders? The religious leaders arrested Peter and John and attempted to charge them with being heretics. They demanded to know by what authority Peter and John healed the crippled man:

"When they had set them in the midst, they inquired, By what power or by what name did you do this?" Acts 4:7 (ESV)

Peter plainly pointed to Jesus Christ as the power and authority behind the healing:

"Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by him this man is standing before you well." Acts 4:8-10 (ESV)

Peter described Jesus as a stone:

"This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone." Acts 4:11 (ESV)

CORNERSTONE: kephale (head) and gonia (angle)

Jesus Christ is the power and authority behind the healing of the crippled man. Jesus Christ is the essential foundation, the cornerstone, of salvation:

"There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 (ESV)

This is what threatened the religious leaders: Jesus, instead of themselves, would become the leader of the people. The religious leaders depended upon their own power and authority to obtain support from the people. Without the people's obedient support, the leaders could face loss of everything, including food and shelter. Without power and authority, the leaders would be forced to work for their living.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Discuss what you know about the religions of the world. Are there any that reject the concept of resurrection? Can nirvana or universal consciousness or anihilation be considered a "happy ending"?

Why was the issue of the resurrection of the dead so critical? Several references emphasize the doctrine of the resurrection to be the most important element in the conflict between Jesus and Jews.

"Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection...He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities - because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection...when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked...Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial...the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit...Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." Matthew 22:23; Acts 17:18, 32, 23:6-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 (ESV)

RESURRECTION: anastasis (standing up again); from anistemi (to stand up); from histemi (to stand)

The healing of the crippled man is a clear illustration of the resurrection from the dead.

The man had been lame from birth...he had never walked. He had always depended upon other people to carry him and support him with food and shelter. He was a beggar, doing nothing productive for society but only living off what others gave to him.

Looking at human history from afar, can anything that we've accomplished be considered good. In so many ways, every step of progress has brought new levels of abuse or perversion or pollution. If placed on a scale, with mankind on one side and all of creation on the other, in what way has mankind benefited creation? In what has our history brought good and not loss?

This image of a beggar is an accurate portrait of all fallen, sinful men and women. Since the Serpent's deception of Eve and the disobedience of Adam, all mankind has been physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually crippled. We may appear to be standing firm at times, but our strength is only fleeting...in 70 years, perhaps a bit more, or perhaps in the next 70 minutes, we will each will die and turn to dust.

Even in our short lifetime we are crippled beggars. We think we are able to stand and earn our own living, but we depend upon many other people and things in order to obtain even our daily food.

The bread and egg which I ate this morning was the result of someone else, planting the seed and raising the chicken, harvesting and butchering, preparing and packaging, delivering and displaying. The money I used to purchase my bread and egg was given to me by someone who counted my labor worthy. The appliance I used to cook my food was provided by scores of people who made the materials, designed and built the machine, and generated the power to use it.

Even an a apparently independent, self-sufficient person depends upon land, plants, and animals of which he himself cannot create nor sustain by himself. The miracle of birth and growth...even the act of breathing and a beating heart...none of us can live independent of power and providence supplied outside of our own abilities.

Ultimately, every day of every man and woman's life is influenced by weather, climate, disease and disaster, providence and protection which no human can completely control.

Compared to the depth of the sea and the distance of the universe, and the finality of death, we are crippled beggars, every one of us.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you describe a time when you felt most crippled or inadequate? What brought you out of that dark time?

The healing of a crippled man is a glimpse into the concept of resurrection from the dead. In the same way that the lame beggar was given strength to stand, so will crippled humans be raised to eternal life after our earthly death.

The truth of the resurrection is essential to salvation and faith in Christ. Paul described the resurrection as "of first importance":

"I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day." Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV)

Paul cited specific instances in which the resurrected Jesus appeared to people. The resurrection of Jesus was an absolute proof of the belief in the resurrection of the dead. If the resurrection of Jesus were to be false, Paul declared that everything else about Jesus would be empty and worthless:

"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 (ESV)

If the dead are not resurrected, then Christ remains dead, and God will surely punish each one of us for our sins:

"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." 1 Corinthians 15:17 (ESV)

Paul is not trying to make the Christian lifestyle appear to be smooth or happy or fun. He is not trying to show that being a Christian makes life on earth a form of heaven. Drawing a line down the center of a page, listing the advantages of living as a Christian versus the advantages of living as an atheisist or a pagan, will not satisfy Paul.

The absolute bottom line for Paul is not what happens to him in this life on earth. Rather, for Paul, the most essential concept that must be true is that of life after death. Without the sure hope of resurrection of the dead, Paul would consider his life empty and worthless.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? It is common to hear a Christian say that life without Christ would be unliveable. Do you agree? Do most Christians believe that God makes life on earth easier for those who trust Christ?

This was the hope of the Sadducees: There is no resurrection of the dead and there is no hope for anyone other than the hope provided by us, the religious leaders. If the people depend upon us for favor from God, we will enjoy their support in the form of food and shelter, prestige and power. There is no life after death, only life on earth, and that we can control.

The resurrection of Jesus threatened the power and authority of the religious leaders.

Why is faith in the resurrection of the dead essential for the Christian? Victory over death does not substantially change our life on earth. On earth, we all will live as crippled beggars, depending upon each other and the mercy of God. We will all experience heavy toil, disease and disaster.

However, trusting in the truth of the resurrection of the dead will substantially change how, and why, we endure this troubled life on earth. Paul endured difficulties and danger every day of his life. He experienced injury from wild animals as well as malicious humans. He accepted the hardness of life on earth in order to serve Jesus. His faith in life after death gave him the desire and strength to remain steadfast and immovable in representing Jesus as his greatest Treasure.

Paul was completely taken by the grace of God shown to him by Jesus. For Paul, Jesus had become his most valuable Treasure, worthy of his utmost adoration and effort. Paul preached Christ with all his strength, not to earn resurrection, but because of resurrection. Being raised to life at the end of life on earth was so real and so wonderful for Paul. He saw resurrection not as a reward for service, but as a gift of grace, given to one who was "the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Corinthians 15:9)

When I lose hope, when I feel like giving up, when living for Jesus seems dreary or too demanding, it's because I've forgotten about the resurrection. Life on earth is too hard, with little reward or reason for living, unless there is resurrection from the dead, unless there is victory over death.

I can endure any temptation or trial, as long as I hold firm to the hope of resurrection after death.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What difficulty are you facing right now? Does it help to consider the hope that God will raise you to life after death?

Image courtesy of Horton Group, www.hortongroup.com/web-design

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Just the facts, ma'am...

Just the facts, ma'am...

What are some of the facts that support Paul's case in Romans 4 that Abraham is said to be righteous solely because of his faith in the promise of God?

Let's go through the fourth chapter of Paul's letter to the Roman church, listing just the facts:

  • Abraham had nothing to boast about.
  • Scripture says that Abraham believed God, and that it was counted to him as righteousness.
  • Our society distinguishes between gifts and wages.
  • David spoke of the blessings of God granting righteous status to even one who is lawless and sinful.
  • Righteous status was granted to Abrahm before he was circumcised.
  • Circumcision is a sign of undeserved righteousness.
  • The promise of power and influence over the earth was given to Abraham and his descendents did not come through keeping the law.
  • Law-keeping requires no faith.
  • The purpose of the law was to reveal God's wrath.
  • Without law, there is no sin.
  • God has the power and privilege of granting life to the dead, calling into existence things that do not exist, and righteous status to the sinful.
  • Abraham was about a hundred years old and childless when God promised innumerable descendents.
  • Abraham demonstrated his faith by giving glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
  • God raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
  • Jesus was put to death for our sin, and He was raised for our justification.

Image provided by James Vaughan, jamesvaughanphoto.com/, Creative Commons License