Hebrews 7:25 Jesus Christ of All Dominion

26 04 2013

jesus compassion

 

“Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25 (NRSV)

Currently I’m working on a further foray into Molinism and the Lutheran Confessions.  The Molinist approach to soteriology addresses the subjects of God’s sovereignty, omnipresence and omnipotence in a bit more depth than the Confessions, but doesn’t contradict the Confessions in any way that I can discern, at least not so far.  I’m not a theologian, so I have to trust and pray as I dig, as well as engage in critical thought.  Faith does not require one to check one’s brain at the door, but to be open to being informed and enlightened by the Holy Spirit in study and prayer.

Proverbs153

I am consistently put in awe of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God.  I know that it’s hard to wrap one’s consciousness around God being everywhere, in and through everything, at all places and times, at the same time.  Yet Scripture upholds the completely pervasive totality of God.  I don’t claim to understand the mechanics of the cosmos- I’m baffled at any sort of higher math beyond basic accounting, percentages and ratios.  I  understand the mechanics of the Creator even less than I understand the mechanics behind His creation.  Yet I have faith that He is Who He says He is, and that He continually makes intercession for fallible and fallen sinners like me.

Then Job answered the Lord: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:1-6 (NRSV)

In literature and drama there is a device called deus ex machina: literally, “the god in the machine,” which writers use to save their characters from impossible situations.  The Indiana Jones movies make use of this device quite frequently- someone makes an impossible save at the very last moment, and saves the hero from certain death.

milling machine

Old machinery is fascinating to look at, but as far as there being any sort of sentient entities living in them (though the concept of malevolent, sentient machines makes for a good horror novel, i.e. Stephen King’s Christine) I’m not buying it.

Yet God is thoroughly present in and through His creation (and by proxy one would even have to include man-made machinery) which makes the reality of evil even more difficult to understand.  God is God, but He doesn’t always move in with that last minute save like in the Indiana Jones movies- at least not in the physical world that we can see in these temporary bodies. He left the apostle Paul with a thorn in his side, and Paul didn’t understand that either.

Yet God is the One in control.  Especially when we don’t understand.

We get a little bit of insight into the incredible scope of God’s involvement with creation on the most intimate levels in His discourse with Job. (Job 38-42)

God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4)  Of course, Job wasn’t anywhere around, because he hadn’t been created yet.  I know I question God (and I do it often) but there are many times He answers me in the same way He answered Job:  “Where were you?  Who are you to criticize Me?”

lord-answering-job-out-of-the-whirlwind-blake

I don’t think God has a problem with us asking questions, but just as He expected of Job, we have to be prepared for answers we may not like or that we may not understand.  We are compelled to seek understanding, but also to embrace the mystery at the same time.

The Gospel of John explains the Who behind creation and the infinite dominion of Christ most eloquently:

“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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

 

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Matthew 22:17-22 Obey God, but Give Caesar His Due

15 04 2013

Withered-Hand-man

(DISCLAIMER: Contains some political/social perspective that may be controversial to some)

“(The Pharisees asked:) Tell us then what You think about this: Is it lawful to pay tribute [levied on individuals and to be paid yearly] to Caesar or not? But Jesus, aware of their malicious plot, asked, Why do you put Me to the test and try to entrap Me, you pretenders (hypocrites)?  Show me the money used for the tribute.  And they brought Him a denarius.  And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and title are these?  They said, Caesar’s. Then He said to them, Pay therefore to Caesar the things that are due to Caesar, and pay to God the things that are due to God.  When they heard it they were amazed and marveled; and they left Him and departed.”- Matthew 22:17-22 (AMP)

I sort of wish Jesus would have told the Pharisees that it was perfectly OK not to bother with taxes, and while they were at it, that it was also perfectly OK to “go off the grid” and have nothing to do with the rest of society either.  That’s not what Jesus said, though.

Jesus didn’t tell us to agree with the government (important point) but He did teach that we should obey the government, even when the government is illegitimate and corrupt.

“Then Jesus said to the multitudes and to His disciples, ‘The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [of authority]. So observe and practice all they tell you; but do not do what they do, for they preach, but do not practice’.” Matthew 23:1-3 (AMP)

Most people of Jesus’ time were expecting to see the Messiah as someone to set them free from the Roman oppressors, not as someone who would suggest that it’s a good idea to keep on sending money to Caesar.  It seems almost contradictory that Jesus would talk about abundant life in Him, but then recommend the people to keep right on sending tribute to Rome.

The issue Jesus has is that His Kingdom isn’t about money or material things.  Let Caesar have it, because his picture’s on it anyway.

lady justice

Civil government is also put in place by God to do God’s will here on earth- to do justice and keep order.  The function of doing justice and keeping order in society includes imposing punishments (up to and including the death penalty) for crimes when offenders break the law.  When government does not faithfully serve the functions of doing justice and keeping order, society falls apart, and anarchy prevails.

The dilemma that Christians have- and that the Jews of Jesus’ day faced as well- is what should believers do when government is thoroughly corrupt and unjust?  Obviously Jesus told His contemporaries to pay tax and to obey the law.  He did not advocate anarchy or civil war.

But what is a Christian’s response when:

Government places undue tax burdens upon those least able to bear them, but rewards those who refuse to work?

Government spends tax money irresponsibly and to the detriment of its citizens?- i.e. money spent in “foreign aid” that is being used to build up countries hostile to our own, and money squandered on trivial and unnecessary things.

Government overlooks and denies its citizens’ God-given natural rights?

Government makes and upholds appalling and unjust decisions (i.e Roe v. Wade)?

I don’t have solid answers for these questions.  Some believers would disagree with me on what would constitute frivolous government spending, or on what is the definition of a natural right.  Christians are called to live peaceably. Even so there are times when circumstances call for those who believe to take action.  It was right when people opposed the Nazi regime.  It was right for people to fight communism.  But what are we supposed to do when our government turns on us?  Does our silence toward injustice and corruption imply consent?  Are we just supposed to pay Caesar and shut up?

too_much_to_think

We are NOT called to check our brains at the door.

The argument that some would give is that since God works in and through even the most corrupt and vile leaders, that even these consequences of bad leadership are God’s will.  I have serious objections to this argument, because it would imply that it would have been wrong to fight Hitler or Stalin, because “God put them in charge.”  I find that line of thought hard to just comply with.  Even though God must have had a purpose for even these most evil of leaders, I don’t think that He expected or planned for His people to simply let these despots go unchecked.

boot-of-government-copblock

If anything, could it be that evil leaders and corrupt governments are put in place precisely to put believers to the test and put us in a position where we have to (whether we like it or not) make a stand and choose to live as people of God?

Could it be that we get the government we deserve based upon how attentive we are to it?  I can say much about the current government (and not much of it good) but here in the US (at least in theory) we have the mechanics available to fix the system when it breaks.  It is a believer’s obligation to be involved in government, and it is a believer’s obligation to shout it out from the rooftops when government is broken and officials are corrupt.

My answer must agree with Jesus- pay Caesar, because his picture is on the money.  But I will not be silent about the erosion of our civil (natural) rights, the egregious overtaxation and exploitation of the low-to-middle working class, and the behavior of dishonest scoundrels who have usurped their ways into the very highest offices in this country.

Obama's Work

I am not going to accept that despotic and corrupt leaders have the last say.  Christian people are called to hope for and to envision a renewed world and a healthy society, not to blindly accept the efforts of those who strive to tear down society and destroy our world.   We know how the story ends- Jesus wins!

Yes, I gave Caesar some of his portraits back, so to speak, not necessarily because I wanted to, but I continue to pray that the American people will wake up and see what we have done to ourselves- through our own greed, apathy, and abysmal choices in leadership on both sides of the fence.  I also continue to pray that God can work the impossible and turn the hearts of wicked people around (me included!!!) to seek Him and desire His way.

“If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (AMP)





1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Throw Out the Old Dough

2 04 2013

fresh bread

“Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NRSV)

As part of the Jewish observance of Passover, (Exodus 12:1-28) everyone is supposed to clear out all the leavened bread (including bread starters) in their kitchen, which sounds like a weird thing to do- why would God tell people to throw out food?- but it has a symbolic significance.

Most people today don’t bake their own bread.  Those of us who do (and then only for special occasions) generally buy powdered yeast to mix in with the dough so that it will rise, and the whole batch of dough is used at once, but in ancient times there was no powdered yeast.  In order to keep the yeast cultures going, ancient bakers kept a bit of the dough back from the previous batch of bread to leaven the next batch, in the same way that people might make and use starters for sourdough bread today.

Anyone who has ever dealt with sourdough starters knows when a starter has gone south.  A pink or slimy appearance or a bad smell can indicate that the starter is contaminated with bacteria or mold, and then it needs to be thrown out, and then all the utensils and such that touched it need to be thoroughly washed.  If one uses a contaminated starter, any bread baked with it won’t taste good, and the finished bread (if it did actually rise) could also contain rather disgusting things such as salmonella, other bacterias and fungi that aren’t healthy to be consumed.

It was a good idea from time to time for people (especially in the days before refrigeration) to clear out the old bread and starters and start fresh.

Our lives are sort of like that baking cycle too.  Every once in awhile, we need to go clear out the kitchen and get rid of the stuff that’s potentially dangerous, that might make us sick, the stuff that clutters up the cabinets and gets in the way.  This is what the apostle Paul is talking about, only in spiritual terms.

I need to examine my thought patterns and confess that I don’t always bring them captive to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)  More often than not, I resort to the old ways of doing things- letting my anger seethe instead of finding loving ways to disagree, pursuing passive-aggressive revenge, and then I wonder why the only result of sticking to those old patterns is the same old rotten bread.

The rotten stuff, the contaminated thought patterns, have to be thrown out.  We occasionally have to take out the spiritual trash.

take-out-trash

In the Lutheran tradition, we sort of take a dim eye toward the practice of confession, even though selling indulgences is no longer in vogue.  I don’t think that it is always necessary to seek the sort of formal confession that is practiced in the Catholic Church (although there is nothing wrong with the way it is practiced today,) but I do see the value of it in certain circumstances.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NRSV)

The sort of confession that is one believer to another, in a context of forgiveness and prayer, is a good first step in throwing out that old starter and bad bread.

Lord, help me to search and be willing to throw out all the things in my heart and mind that are not of You.  Help me to pray for and with believing friends, so that we may think and behave as Your followers should.

IF

“(Jesus said:) For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)





Proverbs 16:25 The “Right” Way? (Holy Week Tuesday)

26 03 2013

choice

There is a way that seems right to a man, and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death.” Proverbs 16:25 (AMP)

It’s easy to malign Judas.  After all, he betrayed Jesus to the high priests for what would (roughly) be about $42.97 in today’s money.

The Author of the Universe, sold for less than fifty bucks.

It’s no wonder there are no pretty stained glass windows with “St. Judas” in them.  Nobody is naming their kids “Judas” either – it would be as bad as naming them “Pontius Pilate,” or “Hitler” or “Stalin.”  The name Judas equates to evil and treachery because of the deed he committed.

But before I’m too critical of Judas, I need to listen to what Jesus said to the Pharisees and others who were itching to stone a woman caught in adultery:

“When they kept on questioning him, (Jesus) he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.” John 8:7-8 (NRSV)

writing on the ground

Some scholars and theologians speculate that Jesus might have been writing names and deeds on the ground- calling out the would be stone-throwers to be mindful of their own sins.  Others suggest that Jesus might have been simply doodling on the ground.

If Jesus was naming names and deeds, perhaps He was saying something to the effect of, “Hey, Jack- I know what you did in Vegas,” or “Hey, Cindy, what about that money you embezzled from your employer,” or “I know every single sin you’ve committed since you first drew breath!”

If most of us were confronted with a frank and all-encompassing assessment of our sins, (known and unknown) we would be dropping the stones too.

As far as Judas goes, it’s hard to say what his motivation was in selling Jesus down the river for less than what a full tank of gasoline costs most people today.  Perhaps he feared the power of Rome, as the high priest and Pharisees did.  Maybe Judas disagreed with Jesus’ methods.  Or maybe his motive was more self-serving than that?  Perhaps he needed money to support a gambling addiction, or to satisfy a taste for fine wine.  Scripture doesn’t spell out Judas’ reasons, although it does tell us that Judas did occasionally pilfer a bit from the treasury box.

Maybe Judas thought that surrendering Jesus was the right thing to do, which is even more troubling.  Maybe it was poor judgment rather than malicious intent or a love of money that motivated Judas.

How many times have we done what we thought was the right thing at the time only to find out later that it was a dreadful mistake?  How many times have we rationalized a wrong choice, and told ourselves that the end justified the means?

The sad thing about history is that it tends to repeat itself.

hitler

Millions of people thought following Hitler- and going along with mass genocide- was the “right thing to do.”

Like Judas, and like all the people in the world remembered for their evil deeds, we make decisions that cause harm to myself and others.  The irony of this is that that those who are remembered for their evil deeds often thought that they were doing the right thing.

It is guaranteed if the only thing we do is “look out for number one” that we are going to make bad choices.  It is guaranteed that if the only thing we do is follow “common” wisdom and just do what everyone else is doing that we are going to make bad choices.

Even if we try to do the right thing, there are times when our judgment is going to prove dreadfully wrong.  There are times when following the crowd turns out to be a fatal mistake.  There is not always strength in numbers.

The only way that we can make good decisions and have good judgment is by submitting our heart and minds to God’s will.

I pray that the Holy Spirit would guide us when we have difficult decisions, and keep us on God’s path.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 (NRSV)





Matthew 16:21-23 To Suffer and Die

19 03 2013

 

jesusgarden

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”  Matthew 16:21-23 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

How is your mind’s focal point reflected in your attitude toward suffering and death?

I don’t think anyone (other than  masochists) looks forward to suffering or dying.  Even when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed that God would take the cup from Him.

“Then he (Jesus) said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.'” Matthew 26:38 (NRSV)

jesus-in-garden-of-gethsemane

If Jesus, the Son of God, was so distressed by the prospect of His own bodily suffering and death that He sweat blood, then how are we ordinary, weak, fallible people supposed to take it?

(As Jesus was anguished in the garden of Gethsemane)

“Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.  In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.'”  Luke 22:43-46 (NRSV)

This isn’t the reaction of a guy heading off to summer camp.  This is unspeakable terror.  Given what would happen to Jesus as He suffered and died, His reaction was more than understandable.  He knew exactly what He was walking into.

The fact is that those of us who follow Christ will also follow Him (in varying degrees and manners) into suffering and bodily death.  While one need not be a Christian to either suffer or die, for the Christian there is a purpose in suffering (even when we don’t understand it) and there is hope beyond death.

The key to that purpose is in what Jesus says in Matthew 26:38: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’

That’s the very same conundrum we face when we pray the Lord’s prayer: “thy will, (not my will) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I don’t know what God’s purpose is in either suffering or death.  I have to wonder why suffering is necessary at all.  Is it merely to build people’s endurance and character? There should be an easier way to do that.  If suffering is meant to build human endurance and character, why do animals suffer?  Is it part of the curse brought on as the punishment for original sin?

And what about physical death?  If God’s all about this Kingdom business, why not start now and forgo the preliminaries?

The only answer that even begins to make sense to me is God’s answer to Job. (see Job 40-41) In synopsis, God is saying to Job, who are you to question Me?  Where was Job when God created the universe?  Where were we when God brought animals to life?

Doubt is part of faith.  When we question God, He does answer us, just not always in the manner and timing that we expect, which is exactly the point.  God is God, we are not.  He is the One Who did the creating.  He is the One Who brings that mysterious process of life together in the secret depths as the psalmist tells us:  “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” Psalm 139:15-16 (NRSV)  

He is the One Who keeps that slight electrical charge that causes one’s heart to beat going.

It is His prerogative as to when to turn off the switch, because He is the One Who turned it on to begin with.

 

 





Vanity and Knowledge vs. Innocence and Humility

13 03 2013

king-solomon-800px-sheba_demin

 

“I, the Teacher,when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

 What is crooked cannot be made straight,  and what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said to myself, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.” Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 (NRSV)

jesus_w_children_600

“He (Jesus) called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-4 (NRSV)

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  At first it seems rather depressing and despondent, but I can see and feel where Solomon’s coming from.  When I was growing up my family always had high standards, and the pursuit of education was especially prized.  Failure and mediocrity were not tolerated.
Because I had unusual gifts, my parents placed higher expectations on me (at least academically) than on my older sisters.  I didn’t always appreciate the dog-and-pony show that accompanied my precocious reading ability- “Oh, show Mrs. so-and-so how well you read the dictionary!,” got old very quickly.   I got tired of hearing how I should help my sisters (the same ones who would beat me up and take my stuff the minute there were no adults around) with their homework because they struggled with spelling and writing.
I got noblesse oblige and self denial pounded into my head as a child, and I didn’t like it.  I felt as if I were expected to show up on stage 24/7, give what I didn’t have, and then give some more.  I did, too, partially out of fear of my parents’ wrath, and partially out of the fear of hellfire, because not fully utilizing one’s gifts was a Grave Sin.  I kept up that impossible pace until my early 30’s when my physical health crashed.  Me- the unwilling, doing the impossible for the ungrateful.
innocent-child
This is how “normal” kids see the world.
terrortrex
This is how I saw the world when I was a kid.
Nobody understood how completely terrified I was of virtually everything- especially of being deemed inadequate and unworthy.  I spent my entire childhood being the geeky little nearsighted poor kid with the bad clothes who everyone used as a punching bag.  I was bound determined not to spend my adult life being the rest of the world’s doormat and sick joke.  But behind my carefully cultivated professional façade of impenetrability and capability, the little geeky kid was looking around the corner for the next beating. Nobody understood that my mind is always going a million miles an hour and that it drains every ounce of energy I have when I am around people- just to filter out the noise around me.  I don’t read body language well at all, and what comes naturally and subconsciously for most people is an acquired and conscious skill for me.  I can interpret and (usually) send the proper non-verbal signals when I interact with other people, but it is an energy draining and somewhat “artificial” process.
I have, and can acquire the necessary technical knowledge I need to function, but I am a poor navigator when it comes to relationships and the complexities of dealing with other people.
IgnoranceIsBliss
I don’t know what “normal” is.  I know that I’m not normal and most of the rest of the world is. One thing that I wish that people would understand about “abnormal” people like me is that usually when a person is given an exemplary gift in one area, that person is likely to have a profound deficit in another.  I am more than aware of my deficits, and they are limiting and severe.  I may know a lot of things, yes, but in my knowledge I know all too well just how inadequate and unworthy I am.
Some of the happiest people in the world are small children and those with cognitive deficiencies, which is telling. They haven’t been burnt enough by the world and the malice of others to become cynical and jaded and wary.  Ignorance may just be bliss in certain circumstances.
dejavu
The quest for the knowledge of good and evil led humanity to the first sin: wanting to be as God. (see Genesis 3)  The problem with that is that humanity, while made in the image of God, is not God.  We are finite and limited both in our physical presence and in the knowledge we my attain.

“Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.'” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 (NRSV)

I can’t help but to think of all my atheist and agnostic friends who say things to me such as, “Don’t you know anything about science?  Why do you believe creation stories that involve some guy in the sky and a chick and a dude and a snake?”

God, I trust.  The Bible, I trust.  Science is valuable but…the only problem I have with putting faith in science is that our knowledge is limited and fallible.  Science does not have all the answers, and sometimes what is taken as scientific fact today is disproven tomorrow.

One has to have a lot of faith to believe that something arose from nothing for no reason at all.  I don’t see how creation was possible without some sort of sentient Force or Designer behind it.  For me it is far less a leap of faith to believe in a Creator God than in random chance.

Faith is a gift of God. It is purely of God to be able to surrender to Jesus and follow Him, especially when the rest of the world thinks you’re touched in the head for doing so.