Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Blood

Back to the Garden. The first couple fell- and hid. Isn't that what happens on every single cop TV drama? The detective announces who he is and off we go for the obligatory chase scene. It was no different with our foreparents. As soon as they had tasted of the forbidden fruit, they realized their nakedness and sensed that God was after them:
"She also gave to her husband, who was with her and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Now there is much too much in here theologically so to keep it short so I am going stay with  the advent of the fashion industry. "The fall of man and fashion. " I hope to highlight in my short lessons how exquisite and exact the Hebrew scriptures are as they speak to the human condition- so that one may learn to realize that there really is the divine hand behind them." Gen. 3

Now we may infer that with the introduction of  sin into the human world that the innocence of the man and the woman was gone for they knew they were naked. I don't want to get sidetracked but feel compelled to comment on how powerfully this rings true in all of our experiences. That no matter how hard we try, and no matter how many voices teach us how natural the naked state is that we know full well, deep down, that something is amiss when it comes to reclaiming this part of our lost innocence.

The clothing. No doubt Eve picked out wonderful and complimentary fig leave colors and sewed them impeccably for their first outfits.The significance here is that God did not approve:

"The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." Gen. 3:21 

What I am about to explore now is conjecture, but one I believe makes sense in light of all of Scripture.

I believe it is fair to speculate that the animal that gave his life for their clothing may have been the first blood spilled since the Garden was formed. We know that the Lord God promised that Adam that he would die if he ate of the forbidden fruit. Here, perhaps, is the first death- a sacrifice if you will of an innocent animal to hide the effects of sin of Adam and Eve. Since the first sin we have been hiding from our sin(s), denying our sins with  multitudes having shed their blood in wars caused by the fruit of sin. Adam and Eve thought they could get away with fig leaves. There is no death involved in fig leaves! That was the first couples way of "sweeping their sins under the rug" Does it not remind you of the devastation that afflicts an entire family and town when an addict begins with his denials and the family follows suit and enables?

So God slays  an animal. The first blood is spilled. This is the first family lesson that heavy payment will be due to make this thing aright. In a very real sense that animal atoned for their sin. I believe it foretells the righteous covering that Christ provides his children with which costs the very Son of God his own blood. And what is the story of every single religion outside Christianity? TO TAKE FIG LEAVES AND TO COVER YOURSELF. To bring your rags to God one day and say, "Aren't these prettier than the bloody ones"? That is the devils lie- that you can become shameless by the use of your own craftiness and works. Christianity says that blood must be poured for "Without the spilling of blood there is no remission of sins" Heb 9:22. For the Jew the lifeforce is in the blood- it is precious. Think of Jesus' emphasizing his spilled blood of the new testament...

"But now, a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and Prophets testify (remember Genesis is part of "the Law", RDG) . This righteousness from God through faith comes in Christ Jesus to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrificice of atonement, through faith in his blood. Rom. 3
Don't rely on what you are wearing, what you are doing. Come properly dressed before God.

Readings: Hebrews 9

Do You Fear, Dread, or Hate God? You are in some famous company

Before they were "Protestants",  two of the most influential Catholics either hated or feared God with all of their being. I'll let you read of their trepidations from their own respective pens:

Martin Luther:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, "As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!" Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also fount in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.
And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word "righteousness of God." Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise. Later I read Augustine's The Spirit and the Letter, where contrary to hope I found that he, too, interpreted God's righteousness in a similar way, as the righteousness with which God clothes us when he justifies us (Augustine passage included below). Although this was heretofore said imperfectly and he did not explain all things concerning imputation clearly, it nevertheless was pleasing that God's righteousness with which we are justified was taught.

John Calvin:

"O Lord as I had been educated from a boy, always professed the Christian faith. But at first I had no other reason for my faith than that which then everywhere prevailed. Thy Word, which ought to have shone on all thy people like a lamp  was taken away, or at least suppressed as to us. And lest anyone should long for greater light, an idea had been instilled into the minds of all, that the investigation of that hidden celestial philosophy was delegated to a few, whom the others might might consult as oracles- that the highest knowledge befitting plebian minds was to subdue themselves into obedience to the Church. Then the rudiments in which I had been instructed were of a kind which could neither properly train me to legitimate worship of the Deity, nor pave the way for me to a sure hope of salvation, nor train me aright for the duties of the Christian life. I had learned, indeed, to worship Thee as my God, but as the true method of worshiping was altogether unknown by me, I stumbled at the very threshold. I believed as I had been taught, that I was redeemed by the death of thy Son from the liability to eternal death, but the redemption was one whose virtue could never reach me. I anticipated a future resurrection, but hated the thought of it, as being an event most dreadful. And this feeling not only had dominion  over me in private, but was derived from the doctrine which was then uniformly delivered to the people by their Christian teachers. They, indeed, preached clemency towards men,
but confined it t those who should show themselves deserving of it. They, moreover, place this desert in the righteousness of works, so that he only was received into thy favor to Thee by works....When, however I had performed all of these things, though I had some intervals of quiet, I was still far off from true peace of conscience; for whenever I descended into myself, or raised my mind to thee, extreme terror seized me- terror which no expiations nor satisfactions could cure. "

It is a very good thing to be in the place where one is terrified of God and his judgment. First, it implies that one believes there is a god with "whom we have to do." Secondly it means that the Word of God is doing it's first job- which is to bring everyone into dismay over his or her own condition. This is the most emotionally painful place one can ever be - to believe that God's perfection and justice hangs over him like a hammer. There is not a moments rest in that place. Now what Luther and Calvin discovered is the key to any Reformed teaching and that is that ALL of the commands of God are there to lead us to Christ. This is where we find the love of God, when we realize that His "rules" are there as a set-up to bring us to Christ for forgiveness. "The Law (of Moses) was added so that trespasses might increase." (Rom.6:20) The Church at the time had replaced God's plan of offering Christ's free forgiveness to those of heavy mind with even more rules and "merited grace" -an oxymoron of the highest order, and a term still used today. They wanted to control any grace that was being handed out- hence the indulgences and other means of winning approval of the official Church. 

How could anyone not fear and hate a God that provided a bar too high with no relief offered. Once Luther and Calvin, after being released from their horrific bondage by discovering Christ's forgiveness in the word was total and free could not stop themselves from changing the world. Say no to the bondage instituted by men and claim the freedom offered in Christ...."It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery." Gal. 5 

More Reading= All of Romans and Galatians....!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

IF God is good and all powerful why does he allow death and suffering?

Well, someone had to take it on. The most sincerely and insincerely asked theological question of all time. Here goes.

There are a lot questions about the afterlife, namely, what will heaven be like? The scriptures give us some clues but when measured against the fact that Christianity is about the promise of life eternal with God there is very little to go on. One might think that there would be chapters written on the specifics of heaven. My point here is that God decided to tell us tidbits in light of the absolute and overwhelming beauty heaven must entail. What we can be assured of is it is a place and Christians will be going there because he said so. He has given us his word.

Before the Fall, God planted a garden in Eden; where he formed many trees, trees which that "were pleasing to the eye and good for food."  Among the trees was  one called "the Tree of Life" and one termed the "Tree of Good and Evil" . God said "You are free to eat from every tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." We all know that Eve and Adam each partook of the fruit from the tree of good and evil.

Now I am going to skip over a ton of details and theology to get to my point, which is that  God keeps his Word. At the moment they partook they began the process of death. Before the Fall, it appears that Adam was a vegetarian and that there is no mention of the death of anything, so when God told Adam he would die if he disobeyed we do not know what Adam understood by that. Did God have a sit down with Adam to explain the foreign concept of death? We do not know. We do know that no human being had ever died before. God laid down the law, Adam broke it and God kept his word as he always does. So all of today's free will advocates that believe all choices are in your hands and that what you do affects the order of the universe here is your verse. Adam had free will, used it, and brought death and destruction and suffering into the world. Isn't free will the greatest?

So this is why God allows death and destruction in the world, because he is a God of his word and allowed the ramifications of Adam's choice to enter the world. He did not violate Adam's free will. He did not give a day and an hour when death would end on this earth, and so it goes on.  In a sense we got what we asked for. To this day we demand free will because after all God doesn't want a bunch of robots does he? What about our free will then?   You see Adam's choice  killed our free will because we became spiritually dead and enslaved to the serpent now that we knew good and evil. That is what sin does- it begins a chain reaction of pain destruction in it's path. It was within a short time that murder in the first family erupted after all. ..So you see "we" , as human beings, had free will but lost it with the bite of the fruit when sin entered our race and we began to die. Paul says clearly that before God made us alive in Christ we were slaves to sin, and slaves do not have free will: "...the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Rom. 8:7

So just as God didn't tell us much about heaven in scripture and yet we trust it will be more than we can hope for, so he told Adam little about death and let him experience the results of his actions which I am certain was more than he could have ever imagined. And so God has let the course of human beings run until that day when he enters our world and conquers once and for all the ramifications of our collective, fallen, choices .

Unless you have a high view of the fall as outlined in Genesis, namely that it actually happened, you will always be at a loss to understand the horrors and sadness of this world. But if you trust this is what happened that God allowed ramifications of Adam's free will to reign - than it begins to make sense. 

 Immediately after the Fall, God comforts the first couple with the promise of the one that will come from her seed that will destroy the head of the serpent whilst suffering an injury to his heal. How exquisite in love and detail. We know now that the Romans did not nail the foot of the criminal to the cross but rather the heel.  (Gen 3:15). God cursed the Serpent but blessed our parents with the promise of one that would make it all right again:

"For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." Rom. 5:17

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Please Read the Verdict

Forget about the Bible for a minute. Maybe you get hung up on the idea of it's contents being divinely inspired and you can't get pass that. Your professors have told you that a vast majority of the Gospel accounts are "unreliable" and you just don't know anymore what to believe about the historicity of Christianity.

Let's pretend for a moment.

Let's imagine that you turned on the news and there is a huge story about a document discovered , dated 56 A.D, signed by a "Paul". In it he describes his background involving his having been a Pharisee at the time of Christ . He tells of his problem- a very large one, concerning  a group of 500 people that have claimed to have seen Jesus Christ after his crucifixion "at the same time". It has been about two decades and of the original 500 witnesses a majority are still alive, along with the disciples and the brother of Jesus, namely James, a post crucifixion conversion so powerful that he was head of the Jerusalem Church. Earlier on in his life Paul, known then as Saul of Tarsus, had actually persecuted to the point of death some of these very witnesses. While persecuting early Christ believers Saul  had had his own seemingly fantastical conversion  with the resurrected Christ "on the road to Damascus". He is writing then this newly discovered text as a Christian.

Back to Paul's problem- It appears that Paul has to make a choice as he presses on with his spreading of the good news of the great liberation- of the coming resurrection. If he is wrong about one historical fact that happened in space in time (or had not) then he, Paul would have to face God as a blasphemer that had led many to a false Messiah and God. He had had his own experience, he had had much fellowship with Christ's own disciples and he had the remaining eyewitnesses of the original 500 who were adamant what they saw. Paul after all had been a devout Pharisee and Pharisees believed in the afterlife and the judgment of God. So yes, if this whole thing had been an outright lie or  mass hysteria  Paul had a whole lot of explaining to do before  God.

Paul makes his choice, the same as always as he lays out the risk reward he is taking- the economics of his gamble.

If this text were discovered tomorrow and there was consensus of Biblical scholars of it's authenticity it would surely be proclaimed as the greatest Christian discovery of all time. Well it has been with us nearly  20 centuries, it is deemed authentic by the most skeptical biblical scholars and it is indisputably written by Paul. Did your professor mention that? It is commonly called the First Letter to the Corinthians and I have referred to chapter 15.

The question facing Paul should face every thinking man woman and in the world. If I may be so bold, this account has nothing to do with inspiration but rather cold hard facts. It is historical. Maybe you have rejected Christ by definite decision or by decision by indecision. Maybe you are a Christian but when you are doubting you could use a little more knowledge or facts in your arsenal. Well then I urge you to look at this chapter as an "extra biblical source" of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.                                                                          
  So Paul puts this proposition out there. He puts us all in the jury box and asks us to consider "reasonable doubt". The judge has allowed the evidence as authentic, in fact the prosecutors didn't even object.  Imagine yourself in the jury room and someone says there is no way this resurrection thing happened, it is "impossible" . What would you think? When I heard such evidence I knew myself well enough to admit I was done for as far as trying to dispel it in my mind. That is,  I knew I would just come back over and over to this story so why bother with waiting? It had what is often called "the ring of truth." What a world opens up that will allow for the possibility that God brings his own back to life - to live forever in his presence. No wonder these witnesses changed the world.
                                                                                                                                              Like an unsolved mystery the evidence may have been in front of us the whole time, it just got buried and may just need new eyes to see the truth . Tonight, before bed, give Chapter 15 a read. Be forewarned, it may keep you awake- forever.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why God forgives

Our cable company does something very clever and equally annoying. Every time we turn on the box it defaults back to channel 9 which is their very own local news channel. It is a battle for me to dive for the remote and at least mute this station before I hear the obligatory horrific "news" of the half hour. If anyone needs proof of the reformed tenet known as Total Depravity just turn this channel on for ten minutes. Case closed. The crimes against humanity remain the same while the mug shots of the perps change slightly day to day. Why the child abuse, arsons and crack busts are considered news- when nothing they show is "new" is beyond me.

It is at the point that I am angered by their insistence to show this sadness 24/7. WE GET IT. The world is a very sad and nasty place. Enough. It is as though they get pleasure out of showing all of the muck.

This is why God forgives sins. He has said ENOUGH. But we protest that it is because of his love for us, that is, it is about us. No, it is about God. If we as sinners say enough with the ugliness, imagine what the perfect God must think about it.

Isaiah 43:

I have not burdened you with grain offerings
nor wearied you with demands for incense
You have not bought any fragrant calumus for me,
or lavished  on me the fat of your sacrifices.
But you have burdened me with your offenses,
I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.

Here we find that God is sick of our sins, they are a burden for him. It is clear in this passage that he blots them out- but for his own sake. He has had enough.

This follows the pattern that we have been noticing- that God acts on his own for his own reasons and for his own glory.  But because of his purity, and subsequent internal demand to annihilate sin we all benefit. This is where we as believers can be bold in our profession of faith. Our witness is not to be one of many tremblings and murmuring "maybe God will forgive me some day" but rather the proclamation that God no longer remembers our sins!! This is the Gospel, the happy news we are to hold onto and to share. Christians are often reluctant to share the Gospel, imo because it has gotten to be a complicated formula of bringing the incense and tithes to him first and to help him forgive us by our doing something. But in this passage he is past all of that. He says forget about it- we couldn't  even get that right.

He does it all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

How Did I End Up Here part II

You are an agnostic, or a searcher of truth. You believe that through good or bad luck or random choices you have ended up in the spot you find yourself in.

The most relevant story I can point you to is that of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Here Nebuchadnezzar  has to learn the same truth that each of us must learn..that life is not random because God is Sovereign. In the great drama of life it is God who exalts one man and brings another down. 

I follow politics and one thing that has always intrigued me is how some of the dullest most benign individuals can reach a high office while other more charismatic candidates go nowhere. It is inexplicable to me. But then, I have not written this drama called life.

Nebuchadnezzar  had his dream and Daniel had interpreted it. Nevertheless he goes on his merry way full of confidence and power.

Daniel Chapter 5:

"All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" The words were still on his lips when a voice came down from heaven, "This is what is decreed for you King Nebuchennezzar; Your royal authority has been taken from you, you will be driven away from the people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes." Immediately what had been said about Nebuchenezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from the people and ate grass like the cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. At the end of that time, I, Nebuchennezar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored, then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him, who lives forever. ......all the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him""What have you done?"...because everything he does is right and everyone who walks in pride he is able to humble."

Nebuchadnezzar . believed that he was responsible for his own glory- that through his wise choices he had reached the pinnacle of success, that he was his own god. His proclamation is the kiss of death. When he made his bold pronouncement of his "self actualization" he immediately fell into what seems to me to be some kind of psychotic or schizophrenic period. Compare this to Christ who while equal with God, nevertheless  submitted himself to life as a man and was obedient and humble to God the Father, even submitting to cross.

Sanity is defined here. It is the acceptance that God is in total control of the universe and the details of our lives. Insanity is the belief that we shape our own destiny. To become a Christian means first becoming sane- to accept the fact that a loving God is in control and to obtain a foundational peace from this fact. "Because everything he does is right...." Everything!