Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Grammar Lesson

"For whom He foreknew, He also pre-destined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born of many brethren" Rom. 8:29 NKJV (emphasis mine).

Italicized words in the King James version of the bible aren't found in the original manuscripts. They were added at the discretion of the translators in order to make the final product more legible and easier to understand.

Rom 8:29 is an example. As written, the implication is that conformity to the image of God's Son will be a future event. Someday, in the Sweet Bye and Bye, when we all get to Heaven, we'll be like Jesus. Sans to be, the scripture takes on a totally different meaning. We already are in the image of Jesus, God's Son, and because we are, He has lots of siblings now.

This is how it works naturally. I have an older sister. When I was born she became my elder sibling. I didn't initially enter this world in some alternative state (although I think she would argue that point even today!) and over time evolve into her little sister. Although younger and for a period of time developmentally the lesser, I have always been, for better or worse, part of her family.

Genesis contains this principle also. Adam was created in God's image and likeness. He didn't grow into it, he was made that way. Developmentally, he was never God's equal but He was still the human personification of his Creator.

From before creation, this had always been God's original intent. The fall changed everything. God's solution was to send Christ, as a man, to redeem fallen humanity. Jesus is the first but not the only born of God. He is the elder brother with countless siblings. Developmentally, He'll always be way out in front of us, but He sets the example and pattern for us to follow in order to grow up into mature sons of God.

Romans 8:30 continues the theme. Those who are predestined and conformed are also: called, justified and glorified. Beside being really awesome words there is a single unifying thread - they're all past tense. As an English grammar re-fresher, past tense means it's already a done deal. This is our present position, as far as God's concerned.

We're all too painfully aware of our shortcomings. As much as we try to play God, we should be grateful that He's not like us. Our focus needs to shift off of how we see ourselves and zero in on God's view of us. We keep focusing on the wrong image.

1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, describes the nature of God. He is patient, kind, neither envious nor puffed up. God isn't rude, self-seeking or prone to bragging. He doesn't possess a hair-trigger temper or waste time and energy thinking ill of others. God doesn't rejoice when people fail, He rejoices in the truth. He bears all things graciously and believes the best no matter the circumstances. God never loses hope and because He is love, He never fails.

Now, insert your name in this passage of scripture. If it makes you want to choke, press on. This is what your conformity to the image of Christ looks like. It is who God designed you to be right now. You may miss the mark occasionally but that doesn't disqualify you. If you lose your footing and stumble, get back up where you belong and move forward.

How about you? How does being already conformed to the image of Christ sit with you? In which areas of your life can you use a fresh look into who you really are in Him? What scriptures can help you reframe you vision of yourself and also renew your mind? Why not ask your older brother Jesus for help in following His role model? Remember: "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass" 1 Thes. 5:24 NASB

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Finger of God

"But if I then drive out demons by the finger of God, the kingdom of God has come to you" Luke 11:20

Finger of God is found only three times in the Bible, twice in Exodus and in the verse above. Unable to match the miracles worked by God through Moses, the astrologers and magicians of Pharaoh's court conceded defeat (Ex. 8:19).  Using His finger, God inscribed the Law onto the tablets we call the Ten Commandments (Ex. 31:18).

I think Jesus was being a bit mischievous here. I wonder who, if anyone, caught the irony of His words. Accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub their prince, the rationale of that statement defied logic then and today. Beelzebub is a name for the zodiac sign Scorpio. Other names ascribed to the devil and hell are also associated with this sign. Jesus' critics claimed that He used astrology and magic to cast out demons.

I wonder if the absurdity of their claim forced Jesus to stifle a laugh. We humans invent truly inane explanations for what we dislike and don't understand. Why would any ruler, unless they were naturally inept and incompetent, displace/disarm their own forces and reduce the impact and scope of their rule?

Apparently His detractors had forgotten the history of the phrase finger of God and its previous ties to astrology. In the confrontation with the court magicians, Moses' actions mirrored the Egyptian version of the constellation Serpentarius, a decan of Scorpio. The Egyptian Denderah depicts this decan as a man, with a hawk's head who carries a staff and defeats his enemy, Khu the serpent.

Api Bau, the hawk headed man symbolized an individual of unusual power. Hawks hate snakes and are their natural predators. Api Bau was the personification of an individual who would display superiority over the serpent. The showdown in Pharaoh's court has been the subject of movie making wizardry - mostly wrong. A closer look at the real account explains why.

"But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs" Ex. 7:12

Did you catch it? Snakes eat snakes. There's nothing spectacular about that. Staffs don't eat staffs. What happened that day didn't escape the attention of the magicians and astrologers. In short order they declared the actions of Moses were the direct result of the "finger of God."

Jesus' ability to cast out demons was attributed to astrological witchcraft by people who weren't supposed to have any involvement with this type of activity-at all. His reference to the finger of God should have jogged their memory back to Moses and Pharaoh. In that situation the real astrologers recognized what was genuine when they encountered it. God's chosen people proved clueless and categorized the working of God to the demonic.

Unfortunately, this still happens today. Many Christians attribute anything remotely supernatural to the demonic while those in the occult recognize the power of the unseen realm more readily than His own. There are counterfeiters and charlatans out there, some even claim to follow Jesus which, by the way, He said would happen. Despite this, to dismiss miracles and supernatural manifestations outright is to make the same mistake the Jewish leaders did in Jesus' day.

How about you? How do you react when something of a supernatural nature takes place? What criteria do you employ to determine it's authenticity and legitimacy? Can you discern what is genuine or do you run the risk of mistaking God's power for the demonic? What opportunities to impart into the lives of people are missed if only natural solutions are available and appropriate? What would it be like to have the finger of God work through you?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Great Escape?

"Sitting down, they kept their watch over them" Matt. 27:36

How odd. What exactly were the soldiers expecting Jesus to do, come off of the cross? Earlier He'd completely immobilized the arresting party with a few words of truth, "I AM." Then, after this demonstration of power, Jesus willingly submitted and an uneasy calm settled over His captors.

As events progressed, the apprehension subsided. The prisoner offered no resistance to the continuous abuse from His own people, and the soldiers. Crowned with thorns and robed in scarlet, they mocked the King of the Jews. Scourged and struggling to navigate the streets leading to Golgotha crowded with spectators, the executioners compelled a total stranger to help carry the cross. They couldn't afford to let His Majesty expire before the main event played out.

The condemned man, now securely fastened to his cross, the soldiers sat down and watched. Why? Where was this shredded mess of humanity going to go even it He could get free?

The crowd that gathered posed no threat of taking matters into their hands and trying to free the man hung there. With the exception of a few women and one young man, the crucified's supporters were non-existent. Still this man was different, too compliant even willing. Experience told the soldiers that quiet ones could be the most dangerous. The incident in the garden demonstrated just how quickly things could turn for the worse. No fans of the Jews, and their crazy religious beliefs, these men took no chances. One of them remembered something the King had mentioned in the garden, some remark about legions of angels at His disposal. Not sure what that meant, the contingent of guards remained alert for any sign of trouble.

The day progressed without event. The men relaxed, gambled for the King's robe and listened as the thieves hung beside Him joined with the onlookers and heaped insult upon injury.

Unexpectedly, the weather shifted, a storm began to brew. An unusual, eerie darkness fell. If this was part of an elaborate escape plan, it would be the most unusual and supernatural one the soldiers would have ever experienced first-hand.

Suddenly the ground beneath them rolled and heaved. Cries of the terrified bystanders mixed with the thunderous roar of the rending earth. Graves broke open and those dead walked around. Eager to wrap things up, the soldiers broke the legs of the thieves to hasten their deaths. For the one in the middle, a lance into His side provided the necessary proof that He'd already escaped and was dead. Reality set in that this man was neither delusional nor dangerous, but was innocent and someone extraordinary.

"Truly this was the Son of God." Matt. 15:39

There was nothing more to be said.

Even in death, Jesus proved unpredictable. It pays to keep our eyes on Him at all times. He plays by His own rules and even colors outside the lines- unthinkable. Try to nail Him down to a single position and He'll slip through your grasp.

At His birth, shepherds keeping their watch witnessed the dawning of the Age of Immanuel. While they kept watch, the soldiers also saw the dawn of a new era, the Age of Reconciliation. God and man were no longer at enmity. Did either group understand the full import of their experience? Only if they kept watching.

How about you? When have you lost sight of Jesus, even briefly, and discovered He'd moved on? If so, how did this impact your understanding that God never changes? Which of your beliefs have come into question with your fresh insight into Jesus and how have you resolved them? As you've kept your watch what new discoveries have you found?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

News Feed or Bloodbath

"You shall not be a gossipmonger among your people. You shall not stand aside while your fellow's blood is shed - I am Hashem."
Lev. 19:16 (Tanach- Hebrew/English Old Testament).

I think FaceBook can rename News Feed to Bloodbath. Since joining I've noticed a disturbing trend. News Feed is less of a conduit to stay connected, and more of a forum to bash, criticize and gossip about others publicly. Often the person in the crosshairs is a stranger to the one, metaphorically speaking, pulling the trigger.

The person under attack may or may not be famous or have temporarily achieved a measure of notoriety. He/she, however, has no personal relationship with their attacker. Accusations are leveled based on information found on the internet (so it must be true-right?) or from the accurate, unbiased and truthful news media (that might exist in some other parallel universe).

For those blessed to live in areas that permit free speech it's so easy to blurt out one's opinions without thinking first. God takes gossip very seriously; it's right up there with shedding blood. Most recoil at even the slightest thought of perpetrating violence, but have no qualms when their words slice and dice someone to shreds. Even those they don't know.

"The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit" Prov. 18:21 (NIV).

"Those who guards their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin" Prov. 13:3 (NIV).

"The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell" James 3:6 (NIV).

Ouch!  Where's the nearest burn unit? Our mouths and our words can get us into serious trouble if we're not careful.

Balance is necessary. It is one thing to strongly disagree with some one's beliefs, opinions and actions. It is another matter to try them in the court of public opinion, even if we know them personally and have all the facts, and not just hearsay. I recently heard a minister remark that even though God has clearly stated that He doesn't approve or want human sacrifices, that doesn't stop us from tossing another sacrificial virgin into a volcano!

When tempted to vent about a person or situation, remember the Scriptures listed above. Placing a watch over our words and mouths preserves our lives. "...speaking the truth in love..." Eph. 4:15 (NIV) removes the supposed justification for vitriol. We must carefully measure the impact of what and how we say something on ourselves and on others. When doing so we'll, "grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ" Eph 4:15 (NIV).

How about you? How can your words, in any format, produce life and not death to you and to others? What measures, guidelines and such can you employ when expressing dissent? In the future, how will you evaluate a situation to determine if it is more beneficial to rant, or keep quiet and pray? Is the matter worthy of bloodshed?