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Monday, October 31, 2011

Oh! How He Loves Us!

Oh! How He Loves Us!

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." Philippians 2:1-2 (ESV)

Paul describes the reward, or the conseqence, of being in Christ:

ENCOURAGEMENT: paraklesis (imploration, hortation, solace); from parakaleo (to call near, invite, invoke); from para (near) and kaleo (to call aloud)

COMFORT: paramythion (concrete consolation); from paramythia (abstract consolation); from paramytheomai (to relate near, encourage, console); from para (near) and mythos (a tale, a story of fiction, "myth")

PARTICIPATION: koinonia (partnership, participation, intercourse, benefaction); from koinonos (a sharer, an associate); from koinos (common, shared by all or several, profane)

AFFECTION: splanchnon (the intestine, figurative for pity or sympathy); from splen (the spleen)

SYMPATHY: oiktirmos (pity); from oikteiro (to exercise pity); from oiktos (pity)

Being in Christ means thinking in His mind, acting in His love. Earlier, Paul exhorted the church to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, without fear even in the midst of suffering. (Philippians 1:27-30)

Faith in the gospel means complete trust and dependence upon the sacrificial work of Christ on our behalf, redeeming us from the doom demanded by our sin, presenting us to God as holy, adopted children in Christ.

The work of Christ in redeeming us is overwhelmingly one of grace, involving God Himself coming near to individual humans, calling to their heart, comforting them with words of forgiveness and new life, sharing His own Spirit with them, filling them inwardly with His affection and compassion for us.

Oh! How He loves us!

Image courtesy of sanja gjenero

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Is Sin?

What Is Sin?

How did the Jews define "unrighteousness" or sin? How does society define sin? How would you define sin? How does God define sin?

Paul charged the Jews with knowing precisely what defines sin:

Dishonoring God (Romans 1:21)

Idol worship (Romans 1:23-25)

Sexual perversion (Romans 1:26-27)

Unrighteousness: evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hate, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, disobedience, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness. (Romans 1:29-32)

The Jews knew that the Word of God included Laws:

"All who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law." Romans 2:12 (ESV)

Our society defines "sin" similarly, although it is not called "sin". We create laws to protect people from each other and to maintain social stability. Our human government is woefully inadequate and without integrity, but the definition of sin remains the same for our society as for that of the Jews: Fail to do what is right and you will be punished.

But that which is "right" or "wrong" changes with every people group and every generation. Working on a holy day was sin for the Jews, but not for our society. Homosexuality was once a sin for our society, but in this generation it is a celebrated privilege.

Our society, it seems, creates laws (defines sin) according to the amount of injury suffered or pleasure enjoyed, compared to one's lifetime. If an action causes harm to someone else, that action must be restricted. If an action brings pleasure to someone, it must be allowed. If an action causes harm to some, but pleasure for others, the action must be conditonally allowed. Few, if any, laws are created for future generations or for the society's ultimate good.

My own definition of sin emphasizes one's internal motivation for any action. "Sin" is a deeply held rebellion against God. We all have needs and wants, but "sin" is the human tendency towards satisfying those needs and wants without God. We feel lonely, and we desire to satisfy that need with another person, rather than communion with our Creator. We hunger for life, and we desire to satisfy that hunger with bread rather than God's Word. We are content to play in the mud of humanity than enjoy the excellent richness of Divinity.

How does God define sin?

"Both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." Romans 3:9-12 (ESV)

SIN: hamartia (sin); from hamartano (to miss the mark and so not share in the prize; to err or sin); from meros (a division or share); from meiromai (to get as a section or allotment)

The essence of biblical sin is that of losing something valuable. "Sin", according to God, is any condition or action that results in the loss of something very good. "Sin" is that in a human which makes them ultimately worthless. This "sin condition" results in unrighteous behavior and rejection of God as one's Authority and Comforter.

"The fool says in his heart - There is no God. - They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one." Psalms 14:1-3 (ESV)

The essence of sin is the deeply held conviction that there is no Divine Authority over one's life: There is no God that Matters. The result of this core of rebellion is a life that progressively becomes corrupt, with increasingly abominable deeds.

What is sin?

Sin is a moral cancer.

Image provided by See-ming Lee, http://photoblog.seeminglee.com/

Friday, October 28, 2011

Repent and Turn Again

Repent and Turn Again

"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you." Acts 3:19-20 (ESV)

Paul reaches the climax of his message to the Jews. He has rebuked them for their sin: they had denied, abused and murdered Jesus, the holy, righteous Ruler of all creation. He revealed the root cause of their sin: ignorance of God's message given through prophets. Now, Paul urges them to make a radical change:

REPENT: metanoeo (to think differently, reconsider); from meta (accompaniment, "amid", association, succession) and noeo (to exercise the mind, observe, comprehend, heed); from nous (the intellect, the mind); from ginosko (to know absolutely)

TURN AGAIN: epistrepho (to revert); from epi (superimposition, over, upon) and strepho (to twist, turn quite around, to reverse); from trope (a turn or revolution); from trepo (to turn)

The image is of a person caught in a crowd, rushing headlong in one direction, who suddenly stops and turns around 180 degrees, against the crowd, and goes in the opposite direction.

Paul has drawn a despairing picture of a city-full of Jews who ignorantly persecuted, tortured and executed an innocent Man, One Who was Lord of All in human form. The ignorant, mad crowd had rushed headlong into violent sin, and now Paul was urging them to stop and reverse their course.

Sinful actions are driven by ignorant thoughts. Behavior will never change, not in any lasting sense, until thoughts change. Paul urges the sinners to change their thoughts, and their behavior will be changed as a result.

Many philosophies and religions urge sinners to change behavior only, without requiring them to change their thoughts first. Some counselors with a foundation in psychology look first at behavior, believing that behavior shapes emotions. They prescribe new behavior in the belief that emotional happiness will follow.

Many counselors who understand the process of thoughts driving behavior will ignore the truth of sin and the need for a divine Savior. A sinner, by definition, is one who has missed the mark, one who is separated from God and unable to restore the relationship independent of God Himself. Without a Savior to turn to, our changed thoughts will remain ego-centric, leaving our own dead spirit as the only god.

Paul rejects godless psychological counseling. Paul urges sinners to change their thoughts, including their beliefs, their desires, their emotions. The change is radical, encompassing a heart separated from God and a Savior Who can cross the divide and bring restoration. Paul preaches change based upon the prophetic Word of God.

Lasting change in behavior comes only as a result of changed thoughts and the biblical intervention of God.

Repentance involves changed emotions:

"Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." Matthew 11:20-21 (ESV)

Sackcloth and ashes were symbols of intense grief. Repentance is a change so deep and genuine that it affects the emotions. Suddenly believing that a lifetime of thoughts and behaviors were worthless and sinful should result in emotions of sadness and regret. Emotions are indicators of our deepest thoughts and beliefs. If our emotional response to repentance is subdued or mixed, we probably still have conflicted thoughts, desiring to change yet fearing pain or loss from the change.

When Paul preached, "Repent!" he meant a genuine, whole-hearted change of mind. Until desire for Christ's ultimate best in my life overwhelms my desire for temporary, mediocre pleasure now, repentance is not complete.

I do not say that emotionless repentance is false. I do not wish to imply that repentance is always demonstrated with a certain emotion, for every person the same. Rather, the emotional response to repentance depends upon the person, and especially to what degree they've experienced sin and forgiveness. Jesus pointed out the difference between Simon's dry emotional response to repentance and a woman who was overwhelmed with tears:

Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." Luke 7:44-47 (ESV)

Take special note of the warning implied by Jesus: One who regards his sin as little will respond to repentance with little emotion.

If my repentance is not accompanied by genuine, appropriate emotions, I should examine how I regard the forgiveness I've received. Do I see my sins to this point as small or insignificant?

Repentance is the first step to new behavior:

"[Paul] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. Acts 26:20 (ESV)

Repentance is the first, essential step in a changed life. Sorrow for sin and a desire for change opens the door for our hearts and minds to turn to God, Who then gives strength and ability to live a lifestyle that reflects the changed heart.

Without changed behavior, it is likely that the repentance is not real, or at least it is mixed with conflicting desires. Paul urges complete, undivided repentance for sin, with an expectation of a changed lifestyle.

Joy Motivates Repentance

"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you." Acts 3:19-20 (ESV)

There are times for allowing fear to be the motivation for change. But here, Paul presents joy to his listeners as the reward for repentance:

BLOTTED OUT: exaleipho (to smear out, oblliterate, erase or pardon); from ek (from or out) and aleipho (to oil with perfume); from liparos (fat, sumptuous); from lipos (grease)

REFRESHING: anapsyxis (a recovery of breath, revival); from anapsycho (to cool off, relieve); from ana (up, severally, at, repetition, intensity, reversal) and psycho (to breath, voluntarily but gently)

Paul describes the joy that results from repentance. All of the sins, all of the ignorant, violent thoughts and actions of the past will be blotted out, erased completely.

Roman ink was probably made of soot blended with pine pitch. Pitch and grease are both hydrocarbons, materials made of hydrogen and carbon, and they easily dissolve each other. An easy way to remove ink is by rubbing with grease or oil.

Imagine someone racked with guilt over the wrongful torture and execution of an innocent man. Their intense, guilty grief is an emotional response to a heart that has made a radical change. Imagine their relief and joy in believing that their wicked crimes, once written in stark, black ink, are now entirely blotted out, dissolved and cleansed by the sweet, perfumed oil of God's grace!

This is the joy described by Paul, the joy that results from genuine repentance.

Paul also describes joy as being a gentle breath, an expression of calm contentment. To gently breathe implies a heart that is at peace, glad to simply take in the good healthy air that surrounds them.

Breathing gently is a picture of the refreshing joy experienced by one who repents of their former sinful thoughts and actions. Breathing gently means contentment with that which sustains and enlivens.

Breathing gently means treasuring Christ as Savior, Sustainer and Soulmate.

It is not surprising that the root of the word, refreshing, is the same root for psychology. All persons desire joy. There is no exceptions. All behavior of all persons is motivated by the desire to be happy, or at least to avoid pain or discomfort, which is still a form of happiness. We all long for contentment. We all long to breath gently.

Psychology is the study of how a person's mind affects behavior, especially with the goal of gaining happiness. As a science, psychology can be seen as morally neutral, neither good nor bad. It is basically just the observation and prediction of behavior based upon a person's mind.

However, psychology, like all sciences, places humans at the center of human life. Divine influence or sovereignty is outside of scientific jurisdiction. God has no place in the cause or result of any scientific observation.

If God is real, and really sovereign, as Christians believe, then psychology as a way to gain happiness is critically limited. It is entirely reasonable and utterly biblical even to say that psychology, for a Christian is flawed, fatally flawed. A Christian who believes as the Apostle Paul believed, must regard psychology as a cracked crutch which will fail in the last extreme, bringing mortal injury.

Paul rejects psycholgy and exalts divine Joy:

PRESENCE: prosopon (the front, the countenance, the person); from pros (forward or toward) and ops (the visage); from optanomai (to gaze, as at something remarkable)

APPOINTED: prokerysso (to herald, proclaim in advance); from kerysso (to herald, as a public crier)

Joy, in the form of a cleansed conscience and emotions of peaceful refreshment, comes as a result of a changed mind and the presence of Christ:

Changing our thoughts, from hating and ignoring Christ, to loving and desiring Christ, opens our spiritual eyes to the character and authority of Jesus. Repentance allows our heart to soften, removing a veil or wall that before separated us from seeing Him clearly. Now, with changed thoughts, we see clearly, and we desire intensely, His intimate presence. The gospel, once hated or scorned, now becomes precious. Paul's preaching becomes precious poetry, a song of joy that touches our emotions and desires.

All of the Bible speaks of Jesus:

"Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people. And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Acts 3:20-25 (ESV)

The Jews were rooted in the Old Testament books, written by Moses and the prophets. But until repentance, until they changed their minds about their sin, none of the prophecies held meaning for them.

With repentance, the Bible opened up. The words of Moses became a bright light focused squarely upon Jesus:

Jesus was a prophet like Moses

Jesus was to be obeyed as was Moses

Jesus was to be ignored only at the peril of death

Jesus was spoken of by all the prophets after Moses

Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made by God to Abraham: From your seed, all generations of people on earth will be blessed!

BLESSED: eneulogeo (to confer a benefit on); from eulogeo (to speak well of, to bless, thank, or invoke a benediction upon); from eu (good) and logos (something said)

Jesus is the fulfillment of God's blessing His creation. At the very beginning of time, when God created the heavens and the earth, each new thing created by God was spoken well of:

The light was good.

The dry land and the seas were good.

The plants and trees were good.

The lights of heaven, the sun and moon, were good.

The creatures of the sea and air were good.

The beasts of the earth were good.

The man and woman, and everything that he had made, was good. Very good.

God blessed the man and woman. He gave them a future of fruitfulness and dominion, a life provided with every need and pleasure met.

Sin destroyed the blessing and doomed us to despair.

Jesus Christ restored the blessing and promises us eternal joy with Him.

"God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness." Acts 3:26 (ESV)

Thank God for His blessing!

Thank God for Jesus!

"Ink among the Romans is first found mentioned in the passages of Cicero and Plautus above referred to. Pliny informs us how it was made. He says, "It was made of soot in various ways, with burnt resin or pitch: and for this purpose," he adds, "they have built furnaces, which do not allow the smoke to escape. The kind most commended is made in this way from pine-wood:— It is mixed with soot from the furnaces or baths (that is, the hypocausts of the baths), and this they use ad volumina scribenda. Some also make a kind of ink by boiling and straining the lees of wine," &c. (Plin. H. N. XXXV.5 s25)." http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Atramentum.html

"Resin is a hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, particularly coniferous trees. It is valued for its chemical properties and associated uses, such as the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents; as an important source of raw materials for organic synthesis; and as constituents of incense and perfume.
The term also encompasses synthetic substances of similar properties, as well as shellacs of insects of the superfamily Coccoidea. Resins have a very long history that was documented in ancient Greece by Theophrastus, in ancient Rome by Pliny the Elder, and especially in the resins known as frankincense and myrrh, originating from ancient Egypt. These were highly prized substances, and required as incense in some religious rites." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resin

"The combination of carbons and hydrogens as in hydrocarbons or in the hydrocarbon portion of a molecule with a functional group is always NON-POLAR." http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/213organicfcgp.html

"The oil is a pure hydrocarbon so it is non-polar." http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/554soap.html

Image , courtesy of Roxana P.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Religious Rites and Happy Habits

Religious Rites and Happy Habits

I was asked a couple of simple questions, for which I have no firm answer yet:

What is God saying to you about your heart right now? What adjustments do you need to make to be more real with God and others about your faith?

Here's my response:

There are a few simple habits which I treasure, toward which I look forward, and for which I plan and allot time:

  • Daily, I clean my body and arrange my hair and dress to be comfortable and acceptable to others.
  • Daily, I grind flavored coffee beans and press them through hot water to make a beverage that refreshes me and pleases my senses.
  • Daily, I listen to a wide variety of music, played on a pocket-sized electronic device. The music relaxes, enlivens, encourages and intrigues my mind.
  • Daily, I read and reply to messages and news from friends, my community and my circle of interests and passions.

I do these things daily, without fail, without complaint, and with great enjoyment. I treasure them, in the sense that if I were to be denied any of them, I would feel sad and deprived. I treasure them, in the sense that I look forward to them daily and I allow time for them...without fail. I think about doing them beforehand, I ensure that I have time for them, I enjoy them as they occur, and I look forward to tomorrow's experience with them.

Why do I not have this same heart for prayer and giving?

It's not the small amount of time that I spend for which I'm feeling guilty...I don't feel that God is asking me to spend more time praying, or that I should be giving more money to those in need. It is my "heart" that is missing. I do not treasure the opportunities to pray or to give. I do not look forward daily to praying or giving. I do not set aside specific times in which to pray or give, and I do not enjoy prayer or giving as it occurs, unless it occurs when I am in trouble or unless I am personally connected to one to whom I give.

Is prayer and giving simply a religious rite for which I feel an obligation in order to secure God's favor? What can I do to "muster" a desire for daily, unfailing, cheerful prayer and giving?

Study questions provided by Serendipity House and Lifeway Christian Resources, "Who We Really Are", a study of excellence based on Romans 1-7.

Image provided by Jeff Kubina, http://jeff-kubina.blogspot.com, Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blood and Pain

Blood and Pain

"But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled." Acts 3:18 (ESV)

FORETOLD: prokatangello (to announce beforehand, to predict or promise); from pro (in front of, prior to) and katangello (to proclaim, promulgate); from kata (down) and angelos (a messenger, an "angel" or pastor); from agello (to bring tidings); from ago (to lead, bring, drive, go, pass, induce)

PROPHETS: prophetes (a foreteller, a "prophet", an inspired speaker, a poet; from pro (in front of, prior to) and phemi (to show or make known, to speak or say); from phos (luminousness); from phao (to shine or make manifest)

God spoke through prophets, foretelling of the suffering of Christ, fulfilling the prophecies through wicked, ignorant sinners.

What prophecies foretold of the suffering of Christ? How can wicked, ignorant sinners fulfill the plan of a good God?

Paul previously preached about the paradox of God's plan fulfilled by wicked men:

"This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Acts 2:23 (ESV)

Jesus Himself, after His resurrection, appeared to His disciples and showed them chapter and verse of Scripture that foretold His suffering:

"He said to them, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Luke 24:25-27 (ESV)

The first direct prophecy of the suffering of Christ is recorded in Genesis:

"The Lord God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Genesis 3:14-15

This prophecy describes the enmity (hateful hostility) between the serpent and the offspring of Eve. "Offspring" is Hebrew for seed, one specific individual descended from Eve. One individual, descended from the first woman, would be bruised by one individual, descended from the serpent.

John saw the devil as the descendent of the serpent:

"Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:8 (ESV)

"And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." Revelation 12:9 (ESV)

The enmity and bruising foretold in Genesis was fulfilled in the temptation and suffering experienced by Jesus:

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil." Hebrews 2:14 (ESV)

"Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."
Matthew 4:1 (ESV)

"He himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Hebrews 2:18 (ESV)

Isaiah 52:7 triumphantly predicts future good news of salvation:

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, Your God reigns." Isaiah 52:7 (ESV)

Yet Isaiah, in the same prophecy, foretells of the suffering of Christ:

"As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—" Isaiah 52:14 (ESV)

"He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53:2-5

"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him." Isaiah 53:7-10 (ESV)

Luke describes the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies. Jesus was obviously innocent of any crime, yet people of His own religion, people related to Him by blood, cried out for His torture and execution:

"Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him." Luke 23:13-15 (ESV)

"But they all cried out together, Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, Crucify, crucify him! A third time he said to them, Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him. But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed." Luke 23:18-23 (ESV)

Jesus was crucified and mocked as a criminal:

"Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left." Luke 23:32-33 (ESV)

"And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One! The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! There was also an inscription over him, This is the King of the Jews. One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" Luke 23:35-39 (ESV)

Paul described the prophecies of Christ's suffering as being "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God", carried out "by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23)

"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed — for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." Acts 4:26-28 (ESV)

God planned to have wicked people fulfill the prophecies of the sufferings of Christ.

The sufferings of Christ were necessary. They were part of God's plan, and in that sense, His sufferings were good. Yet the sufferings were the result of wicked, devilish actions by sinful people, and in that sense, His sufferings were bad, horribly bad.

Truth in Tension

We began this study with a seemingly simple verse:

"But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled." Acts 3:18 (ESV)

All of the references and implications of this study support three essential truths that must be held tightly together:

God is sovereign over every detail of every moment of every person's life.

Suffering is always the result of sin.

Suffering is part of God's plan for ultimate good.

Looking at any sin in isolation, seeing sin and suffering for itself alone, it is always appallingly wicked and perverse.

Yet God, and only God, is able to plan and allow, and even orchestrate, sinful actions as the necessary instrument for ultimate good.

We can see an innocent man tortured and executed, and we can rightly condemn the action as wicked. But we can also step back and gain a perspective that spans thousands of years or more. The long-range view sees God deliberately planning for wicked actions on the part of sinful, rebellious humans. The temporary suffering caused by sin is planned for and promoted by God, resulting in gracious blessing and happiness in the end.

Can we see the same ultimate good in other temporary suffering? In cancer? In abortion? In domestic abuse? In genocide? In suicide?

Only by trusting a completely sovereign God can humans have hope in the midst of wicked suffering. Without trust in His sovereign goodness, we have no hope in the face of despair and suffering.

The war between faith and despair is fought in the blood and pain of personal suffering. The resurrection of Christ is our greatest Rock of Hope, assuring us that God's plan for temporary suffering will ultimately end in eternal, wonderful happiness.

Yet a disturbing question quickly arises:

What is the right response to a wicked situation?

If all circumstances are under God's complete, ultimately good sovereign plan, how can we regard any situation as wicked? How can we oppose wickedness if God is working that wickedness out for good?

For it is sure that we are to oppose wickedness, in ourselves and in others:

"You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil." Exodus 23:1-2 (ESV)

"You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." Leviticus 19:15 (ESV)

"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 1:16-17 (ESV)

"Abstain from every form of evil." 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (ESV)

The simple answer to this tension between truths is, Yes!

Yes! Oppose wickedness, in yourself and in others.

Yes! Trust in God's sovereign goodness even in the midst of wickedness and suffering.

Isaiah targets both issues in this command from God:

"Thus says the Lord: Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed." Isaiah 56:1 (ESV)

As individuals, we are to allow God's Spirit to control our minds and bodies, demonstrating justice and righteousness in all we do.

As members of a community or a nation, we are to stand for customs and laws that demonstrate justice and righteousness.

As weak, fallen and limited creatures in the midst of poverty, pain, pollution and perversity, we are to trust in the sovereign goodness of our Creator, depending upon Him to work all things out for an ultimate good and joyful peace.

In those things which we can control or influence for good, we ought and we must. In those things which we cannot, we ought to, we must, trust the One Who Can.

Image courtesy of Thomas Brauchle

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Point of Circumcision

The Point of Circumcision

How did the Jews miss the point of what circumcision was all about?

"But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth - you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." Romans 2:17-29 (ESV)

Circumcision, the physical modification of the the appearance of the body, became in itself equal to righteousness before God. Regardless of individual, specific sinful behavior, the Jew who was circumcised expected praise and favor from God. Being circumcised became the equivalent of justification by God as being righteous.

However, Paul describes circumcision as merely an outward sign of one's deep, inner desire to honor and obey God. Paul goes so far as to say that even without the physical sign of circumcision, a person who faithfully kept all of God's commands would gain God's praise. Essentially, according to Paul, the label of "Jew" identified a person who, inwardly, with all of their deepest desires, considered God as their greatest treasure...someone who was willing to have themselves "cut off" from the world as long as they could enjoy praise and favor from God alone.

In contrast to physical circumcison, how is circumcision "of the heart" acquired, and what does it mean?

"But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." Romans 2:29 (ESV)

INWARDLY: en (fixed position or instrumentality, resting in) and kryptos (concealed, private); from krypto (to conceal by covering)

Being a Jew is an inner, invisible motivating force. Any behavior or actions seen outwardly are merely the result of something that is deeply hidden within the person. Behavior is the RESULT, not the CAUSE, of inward desires or emotions.

MATTER OF THE HEART: kardia (the thoughts and feelings of the mind); from kar (the heart)

Circumcision is a physical, visible representation of the hidden thoughts and feelings of a person, in the same way that a book or letter is a physical, visible representation of the inward thoughts and feelings of the author. Without the written words, without the circumcised body, the hidden, inward thoughts and feelings of a person would not be seen by others, although they still would exist.

The implication is that only God can detect the inward, hidden thoughts and feelings of a person. If those thoughts and feelings tend toward love, honor and thankfulness for God, then the person will be praised by God, and God will give them mercy and grace. If those thoughts and feelings tend toward hate, dishonor and ignorance of God, although masked by outward actions of apparent righteousness, the only mercy and grace that the person will experience will be at the hands of finite humans. God will not be deceived or pacified by mere outward behavior.

"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn." Deuteronomy 10:16 (ESV)

STUBBORN: orep (the nape or back of the neck, or the back) and qasha (to be dense or severe); from arap (to bend downward, to droop or drip)

Physical circumcision requires a person to cut off a portion of their body that covers and protects a vital organ. The act is painful and permanent and outwardly observable by others. The body heals quickly, and the person must adapt to the loss, but it serves as indisputable evidence of the person's social status.

Spiritual circumcision requires a person to put away barriers and arguments against God. The spiritually circumcised person treasures God as Supreme Authority, Sole Savior and closest Friend. All secrets, all passions, all desires, all doubts and all fears are surrendered to God for His judgement, mercy and grace. No defensive walls or barriers are needed, or desired, by the person who allows God to circumcise his heart.

Circumcision of the heart requires a person to become "unstubborn": to make their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and desires tender towards God, willing to allow Him to shape their life as He determines.

The process is painful and permanent, and the person must adapt to both losses and gains, but it serves as indisputable, although hidden, evidence of the person's spiritual status with God.

"And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." Deuteronomy 30:6 (ESV)

At the core of spiritual circumcision is love for God, desiring His care and consideration with every thought and feeling, and every breath.

"Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds." Jeremiah 4:4 (ESV)

EVIL: roa (badness, as marring); from ra'a (to spoil, to break into pieces, to be good for nothing)

Humans naturally tend to feel independent of God, unwilling to submit to His authority and too proud to depend upon His providence. Humans have a spiritual covering over their hearts that shields them from outside influence or control. We tend to stiffen our spiritual necks, refusing to bow in submission, resisting God's care and consideration.

The result of our natural hardness toward God is a life that becomes spoiled, broken into worthless pieces, and eventually becoming good for nothing and no one.

In His ultimate wisdom, God knows that His care and consideration is ultimately best for us, and His ultimate love requires Him to bestow only His care and consideration...nothing at all. His righteous wrath and promise of damnation is ultimately the best thing for a creature that resists His care and consideration. Here on earth we all, believer and unbeliever, experience a huge portion of God's mercy and grace. Despite His unconditional, universal care, some of us will persist until death denying our need for Him. In the end, we all get what we desire: an eternity with Him, or an eternity without Him.

Without God's compassionate care and consideration, an eternity without Him will be as painful and destructive as unquenchable fire.

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh - Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart." Jeremiah 9:25-26 (ESV)

Cutting one's foreskin away or cutting the corners of one's hair accomplishes the same spiritual result: nothing.

Without a spiritual love for God, all the outward expressions of righteousness or religious zeal cannot prevent or pay for our natural tendency toward wickedness and rebellion.

Study questions provided by Serendipity House and Lifeway Christian Resources, "Who We Really Are", a study of excellence based on Romans 1-7.

Image provided by 96488489@N00, Creative Commons license

Friday, October 21, 2011

Only Human

Only Human

"Why do people try to gain salvation through their own merit, rather than accept God's righteousness through Jesus Christ? How strong a role does guilt play in this?"

This was the question posed to me. Here is my response.

From the beginning, angels and humans have inclined toward rejection of God as their ultimate Authority. God told Adam and Eve that they had for their food every plant in all the earth and every tree of the garden, except one. The serpent deceived Eve, pretending, without actually lying, to believe that God had forbade them any tree in the garden. The serpent's argument was that God's authority over them was arbitrary and unfair. The serpent opened a door into rebellion, making it appear good and delightful and wise, and Eve walked through that door. (Genesis 3:1-6)

Adam was beside Eve all this time. He knew that the serpent was pretending. Adam knew that the serpent was usurping authority over God, but he also knew that this was a pivotal moment that would establish whether humans were subject to a higher Power or were themselves Masters of their lives.

Adam knowingly rejected God's authority.

Accepting God's righteousness through Jesus Christ requires one to submit to Someone higher. Acknowledging my condition as sinful and depraved, and gratefully accepting God's offer of forgiveness through the sacrifice of His Son requires one to acknowledge God as Right and Supreme.

Why do humans tend to construct religions that offer eternal joy in exchange for righteous actions? Why do humans gladly accept the notion that their good works or outward behaviors gain them heaven? It allows them to feel in control of their destiny. It allows them to feel at least as "righteous" as God, and perhaps a bit more so. It allows humans to be Masters of their own lives.

A life spent balancing "sin" with "goodness" is at odds with one's God-given conscience. The person will oscillate between guilt and pride. Guilt is good, in that it provides a clear signal that something is wrong with us. However, it is pride that argues for self-justification and against God as Rescuer and Redeemer.

We don't try to gain salvation through our own merit because of guilt, but because of pride responding to that guilt. Pride says, "I know I've done wrong and God has the power to slay me, but I still have sufficient strength and wisdom to escape my doom. I can hide from God. I can atone for my sin through penance or good works. I'm not entirely at the mercy of God's judgement."

Adam and Eve's first response to guilt was to hide from God:

"They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, Where are you? And he said, I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

AFRAID: yare (to fear, revere, frighten)

NAKED: erom (nudity); from aram (to be or make bare, to be cunning in the sense of smoothness)

Adam was afraid of God because he rightly understood that he lacked even the smallest protection in the form of clothing. But Adam's nudity contained an element of rebellious cunning: "I may be weak compared to God, and I may be extremely vulnerable to injury or destruction at His hand, but at least I can hide...at least I can hold to a small portion of autonomy and self-esteem."

Adam felt guilt, rightly so, but his response was prideful. He accused Eve of forcing his disobedience, hoping to still escape God's justice without stooping to ask for mercy.

Adam lived for 930 years and the Bible offers no evidence that Adam ever did stoop to ask God for mercy. Eve apparently did submit to God's authority and appreciated His mercy:

"I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord...God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him." Genesis 4:1,25 (ESV)

Eve honored and thanked God for her children, seeing it as evidence of His mercy and providence. There is no evidence that her devotion bothered Adam...he did not forbid her worship or prevent her from expressing her worship of God. But there is no evidence that he joined with her in glorifying and enjoying God.

Adam was only human, after all.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/chant3/3228273137/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Image, courtesy of Dar'ya Sipyeykina

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Gospel

The Gospel

"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith." Romans 1:8-17 (ESV)

Paul's encouragement

What did Paul do to strengthen and encourage the faith of the believers in Rome?

Paul publicly thanked the Roman believers for their faith in Christ and their witness to others around them. He prayed for them daily, and he told them he was praying for them. He described to them his emotional attachment to them, his desire to see them and his need to be encouraged by them. Paul wanted to see them in person, face to face, and he expressed his frustration in not being allowed to thus far.

And what was Paul's greatest gift for his dear friends? What most did he long to share with them? The gospel.

The gospel? Paul was writing to Christians! Why would he feel the need to preach the gospel to them? Every word written by Paul thus far gives evidence that they were devoted, sincere, grounded Christians. Why would they benefit from the simple gospel message?

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith." Romans 1:16-17 (ESV)

ASHAMED: epaischynomai (to feel shame for something); from epi (superimposition, over, upon) and aischynomai (to feel shame for oneself); from aischos (disfigurement, disgrace)

Have you ever been ashamed?

Have you ever been caught picking your nose? Have you ever found yourself sucking your thumb and suddenly looked around to see if others were watching? Have you spilled food on your clothing or splashed water down the front of your pants?

Paul must have seen Christians act ashamed of the gospel, as if the gospel were something only for children. Perhaps Paul had met people who feared that they would appear ignorant or immature if they spoke of the gospel message.

Paul boldly preached the gospel. Paul deeply loved the gospel and considered it to be vitally important for even the "world-famous" believers in Rome. Paul eagerly hoped to speak of the gospel to his dearest friends.

GOSPEL: euangelion (a good message); from euangelizo (to announce good news, to "evangelize); from eu (good) and angelos (a messenger, an "angel" or pastor); from aggello (to bring tidings); from ago (to lead, bring, drive, go, pass, induce)

For Paul, the gospel was Good News, the Best News. When he considered what would most bless and encourage the believers in Rome, he immediately thought of the gospel.

The Power of God

Paul described the gospel as "the power of God for salvation" (force or miracle that leads to rescue or safety). He saw the gospel as essential for everyone who ALREADY believes in Christ. For the person who relies upon Jesus as Lord and Savior, the gospel is essential, every moment of every day! Without the gospel, without CONSIDERING the gospel every moment of every day, Christians will not experience the miraculous, powerful force of God that can protect them.

What specifically does the gospel message provide? What makes the gospel essential for daily living, even for the mature Christian who already trusts Jesus as Lord and Savior?

"For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith." Romans 1:17 (ESV)

RIGHTEOUSNESS: dikaiosyne (equity of character of act, justification); from dikaios (equitable, innocent, holy); from dike (right, as self-evident, justice); from deiknyo (to show)

"Equity", at its root, means even or equal. The gospel is the Good News of God's righteousness given to us...our moral condition is made even or equal with that of God's. Trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior means that we depend upon God to grant us what we do not deserve: equal righteousness as that of Jesus. Faith (constant reliance upon) this Good News provides the power (the miraculous force) to live (walk, act and behave) in way that reflects the righteousness of Jesus in our daily life.

"The righteous (people granted equal moral status as that of Christ) shall live by faith (constant reliance upon the gospel)." Romans 1:17

Practically speaking, how does a person constantly rely upon the gospel? What habits or routines would remind us daily, every moment of the day, of the Good News of God's powerful salvation granted to us?

Obviously, one tremendously effective habit would be to invite a preacher into your home every day, or at least once week, and ask them to remind you of the Greatest Good News that they can think of. Oh, wait! That's what church is for! At least, partly! Church is also for fellowship, food, and prayer (Acts 2:4).

In addition to regular attendance at a church that preaches the gospel powerfully and regularly, we can also use time at home to remind ourselves of this Great Gospel News. Before jumping into work and chores at home, spend some time in God's Word for yourself, listening to or reading, The Holy Bible. Start a program that will allow you to read through the entire Bible in a year or two, reading a section of verses, or a chapter or more each morning. Read prayerfully, emphasizing how each Scripture connects with the gospel. Pray while you read, and pray after reading, thanking God for His salvation, and asking that the powerful, miraculous force of His Holy Spirit would lead you the rest of the day, protecting you from ignorant, rebellious sin against Him, delivering you into opportunities of joyful service to Him.

Treat annoyances and difficulties as reminders of how great Heaven will be. Thank God for providing circumstances that try your patience and regard the trials as "spiritual exercises" that will strengthen your "spiritual muscles" of compassion for others. Daily dependence upon the gospel leads to the righteousness of God becoming more and more evident in your daily behaviour.

God's righteousness is granted to us spiritually at the moment at which we first treasure Jesus as our Lord and Savior. His righteousness grows and develops in our physical life as we daily rely upon the Good News of the gospel.

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Image courtesy of Terje Skjerdal, www.flickr.com

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Stars

The Stars

What experience causes you to stand in awe of God?

For me, it is looking from high above a valley well after the sun has set. The stars fill the sky so abundantly more than when I look up from my backyard. Thousands, millions, billions of stars...huge, global-sized orbs of flame and heat...pinpoints of power that is beyond even the mid-sized star we call The Sun. If our understanding is accurate regarding the speed of light, the stars are millions of millions of miles away from us!

We think that the nearest star to us, aside from our sun, Proxima Centauri, just over 4 light years away. It would take four years, traveling at the speed of light, to reach this nearest star! The farthest recorded star is approximately 25 billion light years away! (http://www.astronomyexpert.co.uk/howfarawayarethestars.html)

And the number of stars is uncountable! One best guess is that there may be as many as 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in our universe. (http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEM75BS1VED_index_0.html)

And God created this star-studded, immense universe. All that there is, God, through Jesus, created, and sustains:

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 (ESV)

FIRSTBORN: prototokos (first-born); from protos (foremost) and tikto (produced from seed)

IN HIM: en au (in a fixed position, or by the instrumentality of, self)

HOLD TOGETHER: synistao (to set together, to introduce, to exhibit, to stand near, to consitute); from syn (with or closely together) and histemi (to stand)

Paul boldly proclaims Jesus Christ to be The Firstborn of creation, The One Who existed before all else, The One Who created all things, and The One Who sets all things together in Himself.

All things exist only because of the continued existence, and active power, of Jesus Christ, The God-man.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." John 1:1-3 (ESV)

What experience causes me to stand in awe of God?

Looking at the stars from high above a valley set with lights of a city. Each tiny light in the valley represents a family, or even just a single person, living, driving, buying, selling, eating, loving, arguing, fighting, praying, crying, hurting, singing, laughing, and hundreds of other normal human acts, good and bad.

This small valley of people is only one of thousands, millions more across our earth.

And God knows each one, intimately and truly. His mercy aches with compassion for their hurt. His justice burns with subdued heat for their wickedness.

And His grace covers all.

The stars at night brings awe of God to my heart.

Image courtesy of Michael Wifall, http://x.xoque.com:4242/, Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Prayer of God's Righteousness

A Prayer of God's Righteousness

This is so good! I have to re-post it here so I can return to it often.

"In Christ, there is nothing I could do that would make you love me more, and nothing I have done that makes you love me less.

Your presence and approval are all I need today for everlasting joy.

As you have been to me, so I will be to others.

"As I pray, I’ll measure your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection."

"Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel. Focusing on what we ought to do for God creates only frustration and exhaustion; focusing on what Jesus has done for us produces abundant fruit. Resting in what Jesus has done for us releases the revolutionary power of the gospel."

Source: J.D. Greear, http://theresurgence.com/authors/jd-greear

Monday, October 10, 2011

Resurrection Power

Resurrection Power

"[Christ Jesus] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 1:4 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit's power declared Jesus to be the Son of God, resurrecting Him from the dead.

DECLARED: horizo (to mark out or bound, "horizon"); from horion (a boundary-line, a frontier); from horos (a bound or limit)

The power of the Holy Spirit dramatically changed the limits of life. Jesus was no longer bound to ordinary limits of life and death...death no longer could control Him. The boundaries of Jesus now extended even to God.

The Holy Spirit removes boundaries and limits.

"If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." Romans 8:10-11 (ESV)

As with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit removes limitations and boundaries. Ordinary, natural human life is bounded by death. Death is seemingly inevitable and eternal, limiting humans to only a few score years of life. Yet if the Holy Spirit dwells within a person, life becomes unlimited, although not perfectly, not yet. Our mortal bodies may experience decay and death, but God promises resurrection from the dead. Life in Christ extends our borders beyond the grave!

The boundless resurrection power of the Holy Spirit will even have influence upon a person's life before death. Our bodies may experience injury or weakness or disease, yet Christ remains our Lord and His Spirit of holiness remains within us, giving us spiritual power to remain faithful and strong. Even in the midst of weakness or pain, our faith in Christ will be evident, allowing others to share in God's grace and peace.

"He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."

Image courtesy of Kaspar Lyngsie, alias Pacroon, http://pacroon.dk

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Faith in His Name

Faith in His Name

"His name...by faith in his name...has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all." Acts 3:16 (ESV)

The small church in Jerusalem has exploded into a community of believers following the breath-taking miracle of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Inspired by the Spirit, Peter has experienced a radical change, from arrogant fisherman and spineless coward, to a passionate, powerful pastor and preacher.

Peter and John have just seen a man lame from birth healed instantly at their faith-filled command to rise up and walk in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Peter preached to the amazed crowd that witnessed the healing, pointing to God as the One Who glorified Jesus as the Holy and Righteous One and the Author of Life, killed by the very people to whom Peter was preaching, raised from the dead by God three days later.

NAME: onoma (a name, conveying authority and character)

The name of a person, or a thing, represents some outstanding feature of that thing.

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 (ESV)

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)." Matthew 1:23 (ESV)

Two outstanding features of Jesus were that of His salvation and His divine nature.

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)

The Hebrew meaning for "name" is similar to that of Greek:

NAME: shem (an appellation, a mark or memorial of individuality, implying honor, authority, character)

The English word, appellation, comes from the word, appeal, meaning to approach or invoke. A person would approach a ruler or judge, appealing for help or justice, relying upon that ruler's authority or that judge's wisdom.

Jesus was given the appellation, or name, of Immanuel because the name described His outstanding features: He was God, made in human form, appointed Savior.

The sound of His Name, or the letters that represent the sounds, were not the Source of healing. Rather, it was Peter's dependence and trust in the authority and power of Jesus. Calling out by name to Jesus is a demonstration of faith in Him alone.

Could Jesus have healed the man merely upon the inward thoughts of Peter? Could Peter have simply prayed inwardly, silently?

Certainly the power of Jesus to heal does not depend upon human thought or will. But without speaking aloud, without naming the Specific Source of Healing, there would be no glory given to Jesus. The fact that Jesus required Peter to name Him aloud supports the truth that God's chief end is to glorify Himself.

Jesus desires glory. He desires men and women to acknowledge and depend upon and rejoice in His authority and power.

Jesus wants us to name Him aloud.

What do you think? Is there biblical support for God seeking His own glory? Does God do anything secretly?

Image courtesy of Google Translate.