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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jacob Blesses His Twelve Sons - and curses some of them



 

Jacob Blesses His Twelve Sons

(and curses some of them)

 

 

Jacob knows that he is dying. All 147 years of his busy life he has followed his God – the God of his father and grandfather, Isaac and Abraham.  But now the end is near. Jacob calls his twelve sons to come together so that he can prophesy over them, bless them, curse certain ones, and give each one a prediction of future events for themselves and their descendants. Jacob prays and trusts that God will guide his words as he begins.

 

The year is approximately 2000 B.C. and it was the custom in ancient times for the first-born son to inherit special rights and privileges that the younger sons would not be given. After the twelve sons are assembled, Jacob begins by calling his first-born son, Reuben in to receive his special first-born blessing.

 

But Jacob cannot completely trust Reuben to act as a family member should act.  Reuben’s place as the favored firstborn will be given to Joseph.  His privileges as priest are to pass to the sons of Levi.  And his right to be the head of the tribes of Israel, or his kingly right as a first born, will go to Judah. Reuben will no longer be treated as special.

 

Years earlier Reuben had dishonored his father.  Now the elderly father bending over his first born son speaks these words: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength.  The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power.  Unstable as water, you shall not excel.  Because you went up to your father’s bed: then you defiled it.  He went up to my couch.”  (Genesis 49:3-4) 

 

Instead of an extra blessing for being the firstborn, now Reuben seems to receive a rebuke, or a curse! Jacob tells him that he –and his descendants will not excel –after telling him that he had dignity and power.  but, even so he will not excel!  And in the future Reuben’s’ descendants would become a pastoral people living east of Jordan. (Num.32:1-33)  And no king or great leader came out of the tribe of Reuben some Biblical authors believe. 

 

Jacob had been so proud of Reuben, and had held so many expectations for this baby boy of his, this first born! Surely Reuben would learn to love God the way he did and grow up to walk in God’s ways. Jacob would teach him to follow God. Back then Jacob had been the big strong Daddy, the young shepherd, the gallant warrior, the one who made everything happen. And when Reuben was little he loved and respected his wise and powerful Daddy.

 

But the years passed by and Reuben grew older and stronger and soon could lift heavier loads than his Dad.  And as more time went by he even owned more sheep than his father. Jacob’s hands were beginning to shake and his hair was turning grey as each year he was becoming weaker and less powerful.  While Reuben grew up tall and good looking and each year he was becoming stronger and more powerful. And the famine in the land had left Jacob a poor and desperate man, hardly able to feed his large family.

 

And it was at about this time while Jacob was away tending the sheep that Reuben walked into his father’s tent and raped Bilhah, his father’s concubine.  So what was the big deal? Reuben asks.  Dad had lost the wealth and power he once had.  He had no wealth or lands left to leave to his sons.  So why should he still get respect or honor from Reuben?

 

Reuben leaves after his father’s prophecies and Jacob, trembling a bit calls to his next two sons, Simeon and Levi, and the two men come in and kneel before their father as he leans on his cane and begins prophesying over them.  He says: “Simeon and Levi are brothers, Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place.  Let not my soul enter their council: Let not my honor be united to their assembly:  For in their anger they killed a man.  And in their self will they hamstrung an ox.  Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce.  And their wrath, for it is cruel!  I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”  (Genesis 49:5-7)    

 

These sons of Jacob were brothers in violence.  Jacob could not forget their cruel massacre of the Shechemites, - a whole village of people years earlier.  It was so horrible and blood thirsty.  Jacob had not taught his sons to behave this way!  Now their father was telling them that they were not to have territory they could call their own, but would be dispersed among the other tribes.  In Canaan this was fulfilled: the children of Simeon were later swallowed up into the tribe of Judah and the Levites had no territory assigned to them but they served as ministers of the sanctuary and teachers of Israel. 

 

Jacob calls in his fourth son, Judah, who receives praise from his father.  Judah would carry the hope of Israel upon his person.  He would be feared by his enemies because as a lion he would have power.  Judah’s land would be divinely blessed.  Jacob tells Judah “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, or a lawgiver from between his feet.  Until Shiloh comes: and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Genesis 49:10)  Jacob’s prediction was fulfilled in the fact that Shiloh (the peaceful One – or the Messiah, Jesus) was to come from the line of Judah.  Both Mary and Joseph could trace their lineage through Judah and so of course Jesus also. 

 

Two more sons, Zebulun, son number five  and Issachar, number six are blessed by their father. “Zebulin shall live by the haven of the sea and become a haven for ships …”  (Gen.49:13) Jacob declares.  And it seemed to happen that way as the future unfolded.  And then to Issachar, son number six, Jacob describes him thusly: “Issachar is a strong donkey.  Lying down between two burdens:  He sees that rest is good….He becomes a band of slaves.”  (Gen.49:14-15)  Was Jacob predicting that Issachar would submit to Canaanite invaders who would force them to become slaves?  This was to be their fate in future years.    

 

Then Jacob calls for his seventh son Dan.  “Dan shall judge his people…Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path…”  (Gen.49:16-17a)  Later the tribe of Dan lived in the northernmost point in Israel and they were a strong defender of their own people.  And they were feared by their neighbors.  After Dan Jacob calls Gad, son number eight  to himself and says: “Gad, a troop shall tramp upon him, but he shall triumph at last.”  (Gen. 49:19)  The strong bravery of this son would also live in his descendants.  The tribe of Gad would be a strong help to all of Israel in keeping their many enemies at bay.  Gad would be continually attacked by desert tribes but they would be victorious and able to drive their enemies away. 

 

Next Asher, son number nine, comes to his father for his blessing.  Jacob speaks these words.  “Bread from Asher shall be rich.  And he shall yield royal dainties.”  (Gen.49:20)  In the future his tribe was prosperous!  Son number ten - Naphtali came next to his father to be blessed.  All Jacob said to him was: “Naphtali is a deer let loose: He uses beautiful words.”  (Gen. 49:21) 

 

Next it is Joseph’s turn.  Joseph, the eleventh son, receives the highest praise from Jacob of all the sons.  Joseph has always been loyal to God which pleases his father so much.  Joseph has forgiven his brothers for selling him into slavery in Egypt.  He told his brothers that God had turned that bad act around for their good.  Now the whole family is living in Egypt  since the severe famine has driven them there.  Jacob tells Joseph that he is a fruitful bough. (Gen. 49:22-26)  That the archers have bitterly grieved him and shot at him and hated him.  But that his arms and hands will be made strong by Mighty God and that God will bless him and keep him through his many persecutions. Joseph was very close to God but because of this he also had many persecutions!

 

And the last son, Benjamin, son number twelve finally comes forward and bows before his father.  Jacob predicts that Benjamin will be a ravenous wolf.  Ehud, Saul and Jonathan were among the later descendants of Benjamin who were great warriors who fought off the enemies of Israel.  When Jacob is finally finished blessing and sometimes  rebuking each of his twelve sons, he speaks to all of his sons telling them where he wants to be buried. and then Jacob climbs into his bed and dies. 

 

 This passage in Genesis allows us the privilege of peeking into the personal life of Jacob- the patriarch who God re-named Israel, the man who wrestled with God, the dying father, as he says goodbye to his sons. We can see that parenthood four thousand years ago wasn’t all that different from what it is now.  There are thrills and heartaches, joys and pitfalls in this job of being a parent. And having twelve sons, Jacob is so proud of some of them, happy with others and disillusioned and disappointed with several more.

 

Were the words that Jacob spoke over each son words from God or just Jacob’s observations as a father?  Or both?  Did his prophecies come true or were they just a father’s guesses?  We don’t have all of the answers. 

 

Jacob seemed to curse several of his sons – Reuben would not excel, Levi and Simeon would not have territory they could call their own. What does this mean?  Was God behind those predictions- those prophecies?  Or was this part of Jacob’s anger?  Jacob and his sons lived during the strict Age of the Law. This was the legalistic age when “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was the way things were done. The age when a lamb was slaughtered often for the sin of the people. The age when prophets foretold doom on sinful kingdoms.  People could not come near their holy God.  Men of God often gave blessings on some and cursed others. Blessings and cursing.   

 

But now we live in a totally new age - the Age of Grace.  We have passed from the Age of Law.  We have new freedom through Christ.  Jesus the perfect Lamb of God has died and risen again.  He has taken away our sin, paid the price for us, the curtain in the temple has been ripped in half.   We can now come into the presence of  God.  We have grace upon grace. Everything is different now because of Jesus Christ!

 

As children of God in this Age of Grace we are instructed to bless but not to curse. Romans 12:14 says: “Bless those who persecute you, Bless and do not curse.”  Like Jacob, parents today still hope to leave their children with good life lessons – a good foundation to build on. We hope to leave them good memories and we leave them our love.  But if we can’t go along with the choices that some of our children have made, we are not to leave them a curse but we can leave it with God.    

 

 


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Love Your Enemies?




Love Your Enemies??

 

Jesus commands us to love our enemies, and we are finding this hard to do!  The heart of Jesus’ teaching is love and He invites us to follow His loving lead.  He walks ahead of us joyfully with a light heart full of love and He turns and asks us to follow.  There is music and freedom on his peaceful path and we are drawn to be with Him on this glory road. . We say “yes” and start out with excitement but after we take just a few steps we become out of breath and must slow down!  What is wrong?  Why can’t we move along easily on this joyful road? 

Jesus turns and beckons for us to catch up and walk with Him on this path called “love”.   He gives us His personal invitation.  “Come, take My yoke upon you and learn of Me for I am humble and gentle in My heart and you will find rest for your souls,” (Matthew 11:29-30)  We want to follow this humble gentle Jesus, drawn to His love and yearning for the promised rest for our souls.  We are so tired and worn out with life’s struggles!

 We get up and try to follow Him but stumble again and can’t keep up. We are carrying a heavy load of hurt.  Could that be slowing us down?  And also our heart is burdened with anger.  Jesus looks back and waves to us again to walk with Him but our resentments are too heavy to drag along and we fall down under the load.

Jesus comes back and stands in front of us looking concerned.  “We want to follow You but we are too burdened down,” we tell Him.  “We want to walk on this gentle glittering road after You..  But how can we love our enemies?  They are too unfair – too mean! Can You help us?” 

“Yes, of course I can help you.  All you need to do is be willing to give your enemies to Me,” Jesus smiles, holding out His hands.  “Give me your hurts and your anger.  They are too heavy for you to bring on the trip. There are so many delights to enjoy along the road with Me but you need to travel light”

We want so badly to walk this road with Him but we are still weighed down with anger.   “This person who hates us, who is saying terrible things against us had once been close and dear to us,” we tell Jesus.   “We love this one so much and now we feel so lost and betrayed!.  How can we give You our hurt and anger?”  With tears and sighs we look down at our feet.

  “I know,” He answers lovingly.  He is still holding His hands out to us.  “Come on, give this one to Me. I will carry her for you.”  We kneel before Jesus and with tears running down our faces we give Him this loved one who hates us, and already we feel lighter.  It was so much work carrying all of the broken expectations, the sorrow and the anger-like poison to the soul.  And now we feel light as a feather – free- able to follow Him.

We finally start again down the narrow road following Jesus and the comforts and joys of this Jesus journey are all around us.  We are traveling light and we are loving it.  Let’s hope we aren’t tempted to take back any of those old burdens again.

. But then we hear that the one who hates us is spreading more lies about us, influencing others close to us to quit speaking, tearing down our reputation.  We have given Jesus our confusion and anger to carry- our fear and insecurity  – but now we could lose even more!  We must fight not to be misunderstood, not to be lied about!  We must protect our reputation mustn’t we?

Jesus can see that we are slowing down yet again.  We aren’t following Him as closely, - lagging behind!  “What’s wrong?” He asks as He turns and comes back to us. “Our reputation!” we moan.  “Our reputation and our respect!  This one who hates us is criticizing us and causing even some of our family members and friends to think badly about us.  We must fight back to protect our reputation- our very selves! ”

Jesus puts His arms around us and says He understands.  He has been through this Himself, He was misunderstood and maligned and He invites us to follow in His footsteps. “No we must not fight back.  We are to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)  He says.  He holds His hands out again gently and with tears in His eyes asks that we give this up also.

  “Give what up?” we question.  “Give up your reputation, your ego, give up being understood.” He answers.   We hardly know what to say!   “But members of our family are being influenced against us!” we cry.  “I know,” He says.   “I will take care of it.  You are not to worry about your reputation.  It’s too heavy a burden for you to carry.  Your reputation is My problem.”  He keeps loving us and holding His hands out as He pleads, “Come on, give Me your reputations.  They are too heavy for you to carry on this spiritual journey.” 

We want to keep following Him on His amazing road, so with tears running down our faces we kneel and hand Him our reputations- our egos – all that we are proud of, or at least we try to.  Following Jesus is not as easy as we had thought!  First we gave Him our anger and resentments and hurts.  Then we gave Him our friends turned enemies.  And if that wasn’t enough now we are asked to give Him our reputations- ourselves!.  People are saying unkind things about us, turning loved ones against us and He tells us not to respond! Turn the other cheek. Not stand up for ourselves!  Not fight back!  He will deal with it, maybe when we are in heaven.  No wonder this road Jesus is taking us on is a narrow road!  Without His help – His strength – His guidance – the Holy Spirit beside us - we could never follow.

But this is the very road- the faith road- that Jesus invites us all to take with Him.  And we can’t take this trip on our own – not without Jesus giving us the ability to do it.   The passage in Galatians  perhaps describes this somewhat:  “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.  And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) 

 

Let’s read Jesus’ words in the Bible where He commands us to love our enemies!  “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek turn to him the other also.  If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  …Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  And then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father in heaven is merciful.”  (Luke 6:27-31 & 35-36)

Jesus also spoke about what might happen to His follower’s reputations.  “”Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy because great is your reward in heaven.  For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.”…”But woe to you when people speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”  (Luke 6:22-23 & 26)  When we follow Jesus sometimes things appear to be backwards, don’t they? 

In order to follow Jesus on this impossible road we need to live by faith.  But what does it mean to live by faith?  Galatians 2:16 says: “Knowing that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law:…”  This scripture verse reads that we are justified “by faith in Christ Jesus” but another translation of the Greek reads that we are justified “by the faithfulness of Christ Jesus”. 

The narrow road is impossible for us to walk without Jesus doing it for us- living in us..  But we have to allow Him to live in us.  Scripture says He emptied Himself for us. And He asks us to follow Him and empty ourselves too.  He prays for us.  He is there waiting for us.  To walk by faith is to receive forgiveness.  to receive grace upon grace  to be open to Him, to live in Him and He in us, To give what you have first received, And yes, to live this rich life of faith is to love your enemies. That’s part of following Jesus.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Lord's Prayer




The Lord’s Prayer

 

 

 

“Teach us how to pray,” one of the disciples asks Jesus.  And that is when Jesus sat down and gave the disciples - and us “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Christians have been praying this prayer – The Lord’s Prayer- down through the centuries.  Let’s read The Lord’s Prayer as is found in Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2

 

“Our Father in heaven.

Hallowed be Your Name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts.

As we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation.

But deliver us from evil.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Amen..

 

Many Bible scholars believe that Jesus was showing the disciples how to pray and not intending for them to just memorize the words of the prayer and pray it exactly.  Of course it is fine if we pray this prayer exactly as it was given. But many scholars believe that Jesus intended more. Jesus’ prayer is believed to be a general pattern or an outline with seven petitions or topics. We can personalize the prayer by praying our own requests and feelings from our hearts. 

 

Jesus starts out in the “Lord’s Prayer” by teaching us to speak to God or address Him as “Our Father”, or “Our Daddy”. The Israelites in Jesus’ day never called God their “Father” when they prayed. But now Jesus is inviting his followers to relax and come to God as beloved children and call Him “Abba” or “Daddy”.  By His death our sin has been removed and Jesus has opened the way for us to come into the presence of God our Father.  And now our prayers can be very personal and intimate, an emotional experience between us and our loving “Abba or Daddy” or “Father”.

 

Secondly, Jesus teaches us in the “Lord’s Prayer” to always come into God’s presence with praise and reverence.  You notice that right after Jesus addresses God, - “Our Father in heaven” (Matt.6:9a) he praises and worships and glorifies God with, “Hallowed be Your Name.” (Matt.6:9b)  When we come before our heavenly Father we are always to worship Him in a spirit of humility and devotion and praise and reverence.  Scripture says: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” (Psalm 100:4)  Also Psalm 22:3 says that God comes to us in the praise of His people.  When a group is praising God either in song or in prayer often the sweet heavy presence of God can be felt as it settles in over the group.

 

Next in the “Lord’s Prayer” Jesus teaches us to pray that Gods’ kingdom and Gods’ will come here and now.  The prayer reads: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  Scripture says that everything is good and right in Gods’ kingdom.  But that is not the case here on earth.  So Jesus urges us to ask that Gods’ will be done in our life, our children’s lives, and in the lives of our loved ones and our church and our nation.  We can hold up anyone or anything in prayer and intercede that Gods’ will be done and know that God answers prayer. Without our prayers, earth’s circumstances will only become more desperate.  Prayer changes things.

 

Jesus continues his lesson on how to pray by encouraging us to ask that our daily needs be met.  Matthew 6:11 reads: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Jesus, the need meeter, asks us to pray daily, asking Him to supply all of our needs. I don’t think Jesus is telling us to only pray for  “bread”.  I think by “bread” He means that we should pray every day for the things – anything- that we need.  Sometimes I pray for the ability or strength to do a job and sometimes for guidance in what to do or say. I ask for healing of an illness or a good attitude when I have a bad one. Peace and calm when I am feeling nervous and faith when doubts come around.  

 

Jesus moves on with: “Forgive us our debts (our sins), as we forgive our debtors (those who sin against us).  (Matthew 6:12)  If we are followers of Jesus we have already been forgiven our sins.  But Jesus’ followers still sin and we need to confess our sins. These sins do not keep us out of heaven but they may keep us from enjoying as close a relationship with our Father God as we could have.  And of course because God extends grace to us and forgives our sins, we are to extend grace to those who sin against us and forgive them also. We are called to walk in love. Even when we don’t want to! In this prayer, isn’t Jesus teaching us that we do not have the luxury of not forgiving others?

 

Next Jesus teaches us to pray: “Do not lead us into temptation.  But deliver us from evil.”  (Matthew 6:13)  Because the lure of temptation is ever near and evil is often disguised as good - Jesus is teaching us that we need to pray for Gods’ help in keeping us and our loved ones from sinking into the miry pit of sin.  And we need to ask God for the courage to fight wrong when we see it.

 

Jesus finishes the “Lord’s Prayer” with: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.”  Jesus ends the prayer with more praise to God.  We begin and end this prayer with praise to God.  Jesus is teaching us here that we should be reverent when we pray to God.  Bow down and worship Him with prayers of sincere, heartfelt devotion.  Become lost in praise for Him. We are changed when we praise God. 

 

Christians for more than two thousand years have loved and prayed this prayer that Jesus gave us - the Lord’s Prayer. It is the prayer that teaches us how to pray.    

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Why Doesn't God Stop Evil and Suffering?



Why Doesn’t God Stop Evil and Suffering?

 

 

 

September 11th 2001 will go down in U.S. history as a dark and evil day. It was the day that two hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. As the world watched in horror the burning buildings exploded and later crumbled down taking the lives of over 3,000 desperate people who were trapped inside.

 

Johnny was one of the firefighters on the 82nd floor of the burning building that September morning trying to save as many terrified people as possible. Johnny was just twenty-four and he had his whole life ahead of him. He and Cindy had been married three years and they had a baby girl, Gina who was crazy about her Daddy. 

 

Johnny’s father, Sam, paced the floor and watched the burning buildings on television that morning knowing that his son and the other firefighters were there.  “Please God, don’t let my son die.  Please God Please.”  Sam bargained and pleaded with God that awful day.  But Sam’s prayers were not answered the way he wanted and Johnny never came home that night.  Johnny died a painful and violent death with all the others that morning, just doing his job, just being a hero. 

 

In the months and years that followed, Sam still went to Mass every Sunday, but he just went through the motions. He hurt so badly and missed his son so much. Where was God when Johnny died?  Why hadn’t God answered his desperate prayers?  Why hadn’t God done something?  If God is loving and just then He must not be all powerful!  He would have stopped the planes from hitting the buildings if He was all powerful, wouldn’t He?  Or if God is all-powerful, then He must not be loving and just! Or He just didn’t care! Johnny was too young to die!  And all those other people too! The unfairness of it all! Maybe there is no God after all! The doubts and disappointments and questions went round and round inside Sam’s head. 

 

And then Johnny’s wife Cindy was also going through her own grieving and her own hell!  Listening to her own doubts and fears and questions.  How could God take Johnny away and leave her so alone to raise their baby all by herself?  Johnny had been her best friend, her lover, her everything. And now he was gone!  It didn’t seem real.  One minute she was in his arms and the next minute he was gone – gone forever! She was so lonely without him- so lost.  How could she keep on going? And the baby keeps crying and asking where her Daddy is. What can she tell the baby?  How can she make up this loss to little Gina?  Johnny had loved her so.  It was all too cruel!  Why God, why?

 

Cindy’s friends tried to comfort her, to say something to make her feel better.  “It must have been the will of God,” they whisper to her hoping those words might help.  But those words don’t help Cindy, not at all, they only made her angrier with God! Were her friends saying that God wanted this to happen?  And her cousin insists that, “Everything happens for a reason,” making Cindy wonder what reason God could have to let Johnny and the others in the World Trade Center die such a violent death.  

 

 Cindy had given to the church and prayed to God and volunteered to serve others.  She read her Bible and loved God.  Since she tried to be a good person, shouldn’t God have taken care of her and blessed her and not allowed her husband to die and leave her alone like this? Wasn’t that the way God was supposed to work?  Why was God punishing her? She felt so angry now at God and so lost. 

 

After Johnny’s death Cindy and Sam both lived through a crisis with their Christian faith.  They both wrestled with questions trying to reconcile their beliefs in a powerful and loving God with the unfairness and suffering that happened on that terrible day.  And with all the suffering that happens in our world.  And all of us at some time in our lives may find ourselves in the same quandary – the same painful place of wondering why God is allowing us to go through what we are going through. 

 

Perhaps without realizing it we too may, like Cindy and Sam, have misguided ideas about how God is supposed to work in our world. What does the Bible say about these issues? For starters the Bible does not teach that if we try to be good people God will stop all bad things from happening to us! Instead the Bible records that down through the ages most of God’s people endured hardships and persecutions but refused to let go of their faith in the face of their suffering. 

 

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt and later imprisoned. He never held a grudge against his brothers and stayed true to his God. The Israelites who were God’s people spent 400 years as slaves to the Egyptians. Job lost all of his children and his wealth and his health and he refuses to give up his faith in God.  Steven was stoned for his faith in God. And nearly all of the apostles who followed Jesus were persecuted and ultimately put to death. Jesus even warned his followers that in order to follow Him they would need to take up their cross.

 

There are several basic ideas that provide the foundation for reconciling God’s goodness with the suffering in our world. First of all, God has given people “dominion” over the planet.  He has made us responsible to manage and oversee His creation. Scripture says: “God blessed humans and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”  (Genesis 1:28) 

 

So the Bible tells us that God works through people.  When God wants something done in this world, He most often calls people to do it.  He gave us humans “dominion” over the earth and it is our responsibility to take care of the earth and to look out for one another. God promises to be with us in all that we do and sustain and help us.  He gives us his Holy Spirit to guide and comfort and He gives us His peace. And He answers our prayers and gives us our talents and abilities. But the responsibility to make a better world is ours - the buck stops with us!

 

When the hungry need food, God sends people to share and bring food.  When the sick need to be cared for, God sends people.  When life is unfair and justice is needed God calls for us humans to pay the price and to fight for justice and fairness.  We are the “body” of Christ – We are His hands and feet.  When God wants to bring hope and help to others, God sends people.  Much of the suffering in our world is because we do not answer God’s call to go and do what He calls us to do.  The natural disasters and all of the poverty and hunger in our world are a call to action for us.  Will we heed the call?    

 

 

And the second idea is that God gave humankind the freedom to choose good or evil, and to make choices. God created humans in His own image and since God has free will He gave us humans the gift of free will also.  We are not robots or puppets.  God deemed the freedom to choose to be an important part of our human existence.  But that freedom comes with the possibility that we may choose evil and cause suffering in our own lives or in the lives of others.

 

God does not take our freedom away from us when we misuse it nor does He miraculously deliver us from the consequences of our actions or the actions of others.  Much of the suffering in the world comes from people using their God given freedom to make sinful selfish choices.  The lives of over three thousand people who happened to be in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 could have been spared if God had just stopped the terrorists who were planning the attack.  But most of the time that isn’t the way God seems to work.  He seems to allow us humans to be free to choose evil. Actually what would your life look like if God made it impossible for you to ever do the wrong thing?  Our freedom to choose seems to be important to Him. As His followers we have to have faith that He knows best.

 

But suffering never has the final word for the Christian.  That is the overwhelming message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scripture says that: “the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.”  (Romans 8:18)  God promises to walk with us through our sufferings.  And He promises to eventually work our sufferings together to our good.  “All things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are called according to His purposes.”  (Romans 8:28)  

 

In the end we will be victorious through Jesus Christ.  Our sufferings are not the end of the story.  Good eventually triumphs over evil and the forces of light in time will defeat the forces of darkness.  Life will conquer death.  Scripture proclaims: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  (Psalm 30:5)  We may not live to see the problems in our lives taken care of – the wrongs righted – our hopes fulfilled.  But with the eyes of faith we can believe that what God has promises in his Word, He will do.  And God promises that we will be “overcomers” through Christ when we reach the other side.  We don’t need to try to figure out how God is going to wipe away our problems or overcome our deep sorrows.  We just need to believe it.  We serve a God who works in mysterious ways and we just need to learn to live with the mystery.      

 

 

Many of these ideas were taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, Why?

 


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Who Is Jesus?



 

Who Is Jesus?

 

 

The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day held a lot of influence over the Jewish people.  In God’s name they burdened the people with hundreds of strict religious laws.  Jesus was not pleased with the Scribes and Pharisees when He saw them taking the people away from God.   

 

 The Scribes and Pharisees were threatened by Jesus and tried to find a way to kill him!  They watched nervously as Jesus healed the sick and taught the people about God and His love.  They could see how the crowds loved Him and they were afraid that the people might listen to Jesus instead of to them?   They might even lose some of their power and control over the religious community.  They must find a way to bring Jesus down!

 

The Scribes and Pharisees followed Jesus around trying to get Him to say something that they could use against Him in court so that they could have Him killed.  One day as Jesus was preaching to the crowds the Scribes and Pharisees demanded that Jesus show them a “sign” - something supernatural - to prove that He was the Messiah.  (Matt. 12:38-42) 

 

Jesus refused to give the “sign” they asked for or to fall for their trap. He told them that the only “sign” they would have was the sign of Jonah.  Jesus said: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt.12:40)  Jesus was speaking about his future death, as He was three days and nights in the grave before He rose from the dead.

 

Do we ever want a “sign” like the Scribes and Pharisees did, or some kind of proof to know for sure that Jesus is the Messiah and the Savior?  The Scribes and Pharisees knew that the Scriptures promised that a Messiah or Savior would come.  But they still missed their Messiah – Jesus - when He did come probably because if they had believed in Him they would have had to change their lives around, and they did not want to do that.  Their minds were closed and so they missed Him.

 

 We also have the Scriptures promising a Savior.  And if we believe the Scriptures and believe in Him our lives will be changed too.  Are we open to that?  What do the Scriptures say about Jesus?

 

The Scriptures say that Jesus is much more than we can imagine.  Jesus is not some kind of “superstar” or a special “holy” man or an extraordinary magician that can “perform” for us – show us a “sign” - like the religious leaders demanded in order for us to believe in Him.  In fact Jesus is so much more than that! Let’s see what the Scriptures say about who Jesus really is.  

 

When we read the Bible we find that Jesus is the energy that gives life to everything – through Him everything is created and given life and one of His names is the “Word of God.”  Scripture says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… Through Him all things were made: without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of people.”  (John 1:1-3a)  Scripture is saying that everything has been created through Jesus Christ.   

 

 

The Bible also says this about Jesus: “…in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:2b-3) 

 

More about Jesus: “He (Jesus) is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  And He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church: He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything He might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all his fullness live in Him, and through Him to restore to Himself everything on earth and heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  (Colossians 1:17-20)  These verses are saying that God is putting the world back together through Jesus. 

 

I Corinthians 8:6 reads: “…there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom all things came and through whom we live.”  The heart of the Christian story is that God became man - Jesus.  Some people feel that since they have never seen or understood how God could become a man they can not believe it!  The world is not limited to what we can understand.  And there are realities and mysteries of the universe that are way too complex for our human minds to grasp?  Do we have to understand or see or experience something before we believe that it exists?

 

We see in Scripture that Jesus transcends whatever labels we try to put on Him.  He tells us in John 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Myself.”  And in John 6:51 He speaks about his body and says: “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”   

    

And Jesus said this about Himself. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No person comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is saying that He is the only way to God.  There are not many ways to God or many truths.  Just one – Jesus. He does not say that those coming to the Father through Him will all know that they are coming through Him.  Scripture says that everything that God is doing in the world to save and redeem and restore the world is happening through Jesus. Everything! People may be coming to Jesus in all sorts of ways.  Some may bump into Him and not realize who He is.  Scripture says that Jesus is the “Truth” and people who is looking for the truth are looking for Jesus.

 

People may be blessed by Him and not know it was Jesus who blessed them?  Some may say “yes” to the light that is given to them, and not know that that light is Jesus!  That reminds me of another Bible story in Exodus 17!  Remember when Moses and the Israelites left Egypt and traveled across the desert on their way to the Promised Land.  The desert was hot and dry and there was no water anywhere for the Israelites to drink – just hot dry sand as far as the eye could see! 

 

Scripture says that the Jewish men started grumbling and fussing and soon they were panicking and shouting and waving their fists at Moses and the women were sobbing and crying and wringing their hands. “Why did you bring us out here in this wilderness to die of thirst?” they screamed.  “Our little children will die out here in this dreadful place, and our animals too.  It’s all your fault!  We should have stayed in Egypt!  What are you going to do about it Moses?”

 

Moses is in a bind so he cries out to God, “What am I to do with all these people?  There is no water anywhere and we are so thirsty!”  And God as always answers Moses and shows him a nearby rock in the desert and He tells Moses to strike it with his staff.  This rock is just an ordinary looking rock.  It looks like all the other rocks there in the desert and everyone knows that water doesn’t come out of a rock!  But God has taken care of the Israelites this far along their journey so Moses tells the people that God has spoken and God will provide water somehow.  

 

Moses obeys God and he strikes the rock with all the people watching.  And would you believe it, out of the rock comes water!  Lots and lots of water gushing out everywhere! Enough water for all of the people and animals and little children to drink – and to bathe in and to pour into storage jars. The Israelites drink the water and bathe and laugh and are jubilant and the children run around singing songs about God giving them a drink out of a rock and they try hitting other rocks to see if water might come out of them too.

 

This is an unusual story and a very unusual rock and Scripture doesn’t say anything more about the rock that gave out water to a thirsty nation until more than a thousand years later when Paul mentions the story about the rock and he says that the thirsty Israelites  out in the desert “drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ Jesus.”  (1 Corinthians 10:4)

 

Did you get that?  Jesus Christ was the rock! –the rock in the desert that gave out all the  water!  Jesus Christ was present with those thirsty people in that moment, and He was providing the water they needed to survive.  Jesus was sustaining and giving and taking care of their needs all along and they didn’t even know his name. And Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that the spiritual rock -Jesus- was accompanying them.  Jesus was going with them on their journey across the desert and they didn’t even know his name!

 

If Jesus was in the desert with the Israelites and they didn’t know, then where else has He been present and folks didn’t know?  Is He with people today who have never heard his name giving them water when they are thirsty and they don’t even know it is Him?  Has He been with you or with me disguised as a rock or as someone else and we didn’t know?  Jesus Christ is everywhere.  He is God the Son.  He is as narrow as Himself and as wide as the universe!

 

Some of the ideas and scriptures in this blog were taken from Rob Bell’s book:  Love Wins,  Chapter 6 “There Are Rocks Everywhere”, pp. 139-163.