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Reading Acts 1, I can't help but notice Luke's emphasis on the activity of Holy Spirit. I specifically noticed two things. First, he would give power to the disciples when he came. It makes me think of Paul's comment to the Thessalonians that the Gospel came to the in power and the Holy Spirit. It is hard not to ask the questions, "Exactly what kind of power is he talking about?" and "Is that kind of power present today?" and "Is that kind of power to be the norm for Christians today?" I am really interested in BIBLICAL answers to these questions. I know I kind of danced around these specific questions in our small group's study of the Holy Spirit. I do think that people err either on the side of ignoring these questions or focusing on these questions. I'd rather be neither.
My second observation is that in Acts 1:16 Peter claims that the Psalms are a record of what Holy Spirit speaks through the mouth of the writer. I had never noticed this specific attribution of scripture to the Holy Spirit's work.
Here is the Bible reading plan that I am going to try to follow this year. Some in my small group are trying to follow it with me so that we can encourage one another both in our reading scripture and with the scripture we are reading.
It has two "family" readings and two "secret" readings per day. The "family" readings to to be read with your family, and the "secret" readings are to be part of your personal devotions. I think they are probably set up to be one of each for the morning and evening.
Our family is going to read the New Testament family reading for the day at night together before the kids go to bed. The rest we are going to read as "secret" readings for now.
I am going to be writing entries with reflections as often as possible.
I taught Sunday School this past week. It turned about to be an excellent lesson. The past year or so, I have been slowly working my way through the Old Testament in order. I particularly enjoyed reading the Pentateuch. I found so many verses that really shocked me. I just wasn't prepared for the far-reaching holiness of God.
I decided to fuse this with a little covenant theology and the Gospel. Whenever I teach, I have a really hard time not wanting to just read passages of scripture the whole time. God has so much good to say, and I lack eleqence. However, I do have to say something, so the main body of the lesson was me reading passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy and adding a sentence or two to explain or apply the principle. No doubt several lessons could cover the same material more in depth, but this was just an overview.
My main goal was to show how God's law is so much more all-encompassing than the typical fundamentalist conceives. God governs all of live from how you prepare your food to how you conduct war to how you treat strangers to how you participate in the environment to how you have sex. After reading Leviticus and Deuteronomy together in one sitting, I took one more step in understanding what it means for God to be holy. No one, not the powerful, not the weak, not the smart, not the stupid, not the conservative, not the liberal gets off the hook. All men are deflated before the holy triune God.
Here is the scripture and my comments (forgive the formatting please):
• You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD." (Lev 19:14.)
Did you know that your God is against taking advantage of people for your own pleasure and entertainment. God is against practical jokes that make people feel small.
• Lev. 5:1 “If anyone sins in that he hears a public eadjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall fbear his iniquity
Did you know that your God requires you to be concerned about justice in the world, even when it does not directly involve you?
• Lev. 11:20 “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. 22 Of them you may eat: jthe locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. 23 But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.
Did you know that God thinks it is OK to eat grasshoppers? Boy, this was written to people in a different world.
• Lev. 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but qyou shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you rincur sin because of him. 18 sYou shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but tyou shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Did you know that loving your neighbor as yourself is not a New Testament concept? A good summary of this is being as interested in your brothers happiness as your own.
• Lev 19:28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.
What you do to your body matters. It reflects your values, your idols.
• Lev. 19:29 Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. 30 You shall keep my Sabbaths and ereverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.
These are strange bedfellows. BTW, did you know that there are thousands being sold into prostitution in an international sex-slave trade?
• Lev. 19:32 g“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
Honor your elders and fear God in the same command. Interesting.
• Lev. 19:33 i“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 jYou shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and kyou shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
You thought loving your neighbor as yourself was hard. Now love the stranger that way. And why? So you can share the Gospel with them? No, because you're no different.
• Lev. 25:23 “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for sthe land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.
God is showing hospitality to us by allowing us to live in his land. See, we are to treat the strangers like we are being treated by God. in fact, that is what enables us. We are just sojourners with them.
• Lev. 25:35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 aTake no interest from him or profit, but bfear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 aYou shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 cI am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.
What do we do with the poor in our society? We take advantage of them with rent-to-own programs. We coax them into spending more than they can with easy credit. We deceive them with sub-prime loans, home equity loans, tote-your-note loans and then take their houses and cars.
We despise them and give them empty advice. We send their children to low quality schools. We give them pitiful handouts and that encourage them not to work and then criticize them when they don't. All the while we don't even take the time to get to know them and their real plight.
• Lev. 26:34 Then the land shall enjoy* its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.
There is a certain order to things that God will maintain even at the cost of his people. God cares about the earth.
• Deut. 25:4 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.
• zYou shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
God even cares about justice for the animals. We are not free to treat them any way we want. Do you know what goes on on feed lots and in chicken farms?
• Deut. 22:1 “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. 2 And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. 3 And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. 4 You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.
You must love your brother enough to sacrifice when no one is looking. This is obedience from the heart.
• 15 For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
▼ Deut. 16:11 And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to place his name there.
• God likes parties.
• New Moon - first of every month
• Pentacost - 50th day after barley harvest
• Passover - seven days
• Feast of Tabernacles or Booths - seven days
• Feast of Trumpets - first day of 7th month
• Sabbaths - rest every week
▼ Sabbatical Year - rest for a year every seven years
• no field work
• debts canceled
• no field work
• debts canceled
• land goes back to ancestral owner
• Deut. 17:14 “When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you awhom the LORD your God will choose. One bfrom among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many chorses for himself or cause the people dto return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, e‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
King is equal. Another human called by God.
• Deut. 17:18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by* the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he lmay not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, mso that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.
King to be holy. David, Christ.
• Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. 6 And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not menjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit. 7 nAnd is there any man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.’ 8 And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, o‘Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.’ 9 And when the officers have finished speaking to the people, then commanders shall be appointed at the head of the people.
God does not like tragedy, so he avoids it. He is in control anyway.
• Deut. 20:19 “When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, yyou shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? 20 Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.
Environmental waste does not please God. The resources of the earth are his and are to be used in accordance with his law.
• Deut. 21:18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. nSo you shall purge the evil from your midst, oand all Israel shall hear, and fear.
If that doesn't get your attention, I don't know what will. God is serious about this. He is holy. Discipline your children if you love them.
• Deut. 22:8 “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.
Graciously, God commands us to be responsible for our own consciences. Negligence is a crime.
• Deut. 23:15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.
God doesn't really like slavery. He watches out for even slaves. He seeks their freedom and restoration.
• Deut. 24:6 No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge.
Taking advantage of people who need money is oppression.
• Deut. 25:13 “You nshall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair* weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, othat your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For pall who do such things, all who act dishonestly, qare an abomination to the LORD your God.
Can anyone remember the word Leviticus uses to describe homosexual acts? That's right. It is the same. Sexuality and oppression and dishonesty in business are not that far apart in God's eyes.
• Deut. 26:16 “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.
God wants deep obedience.
• Any observations about any of the commandments?
• Finally, someone read Matt 11:28-30 !!!BY 10:30!!!
How can this be? Do you feel like it is light? Aha! You bunch of religious idolaters! Do you think that by your ability to keep the law you can gain the upper hand on God and earn one smidgen of his favor? It is by Grace we are saved and it is by grace we live and grow from grace to grace.
Christ's life and death for us buys us life in spite of our constant failures to live up to this incredible, but impossible standard. Now, don't you want to know such a God. Don't you want to know what he is like. Don't you want to know what showing your love for him looks like. Then get to know his law and fulfill it out of love and not out of religious idolatry.
I remember the first high school football game I attened after going to college. I kept thinking, "I really used to think this was all a big deal." It is strange how in one context a person, object, or activity can seem so important, and yet in another context seem so worthless.
Lately I have been challenged by the words of Jesus and James:
Mark 9:37 - Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.
Matt 25:34-36 - ...When did we see you sick or in prison...Depart from me you cursed...
James 1:22 - Be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves
James 1:27 - Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
These passages and more make me question what I put value on now. God has given us this instruction for a reason. He cares about us, and he cares about his kingdom. I suppose the questions we have to ask ourselves are, "Do we trust him? " and "Do we care about his kingdom?"
I hate to admit it, but largely my answer has to be "no". There are so many other things that I put my time and energy into before I put it into kingdom work. From entertainment to education to work to family, my mind and time schedule is often too full to look out for widows or orphans. I don#039t even have to to look for them. I know where prisoners are, who Christ specifically told us to visit, and yet I have never set foot in a jail. Instead I go shopping or out to eat or to a movie.
We might think that pouring ourselves into these activities is merely wasting time. Instead, we are setting ourselves up for a great fall. We will do more than just say, "I used to think this was a big deal." We will say, "Lamb of God have mercy on us."
"You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD." (Lev 19:14.) God took precious space on papyrus to write to be kind to disabled people. This is not the kind of thing that you would expect from the king of the universe.
Ironically, it might seem, he later in chapter 21 prohibits any man born into the priestly line with any birth defect from becoming a priest. Moses lists explicitly some defects, but specifically says that the person must have no physical defects. He is to be as spotless as the sacrifice.
The first passage is part of the broader concept of loving one's neighbor only a few verses later. But, why the injunction against birth defects?
The priests and the sacrifice pointed forward to Christ in his sacrificial priesthood. Consequently, they needed to be as perfect of a representative as possible.
This shows that man is a worthy thing because even the disabled are cared for. However, man is not ultimate, so his own glory can be sacrificed for the glory of Christ.
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At work, I am involved in an email discussion group. The most recent topic was baptism. Being the only paedobaptist, I felt I needed to send more than a short email. Here is what ended up being a quick research paper.
My main goal in writing this is not to persuade you that you should baptize your children. Please don't change your mind based on my arguments. I don't want that responsibility. My chief purpose is to show that a valid case can be made for infant baptism. There are many points of theology about which people grow up in the church with very dogmatic yet unproven beliefs. Often their teachers, so-called experts included, have poorly understood the issues at best. Many times this leads to arrogance and self-righteous judgement against the other party.
There are three ways to approach the argument for infant baptism. One is to examine the scriptural evidence and construct a theological case which builds from the scriptural evidence. Then, you can look to how godly men and women of the past and present have taught on this subject. The final resource we have is our own relationship with the Father through Christ by the Spirit. In a theology class, the first order of study is that of theological method. For now, we may just have to make assumptions, challenge, and ask questions of each other along the way. Even the questions we ask of a text are shaped by our own theological history.
New Testament Context
Before we look at the scriptures we should remember the context into which Jesus came. It was a Jewish context. Deut 6:7 says, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." The passing on of stories and of the faith was fundamental to the Jewish religion. In addition, the first official ceremony given to Abraham was circumcision. God commands Abraham to circumcise every male in his household. That would have included children and servants. Of this God says, "it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you." The original promise to Abraham was chiefly about his children and about how God had given them a promise. This idea permeated the Old Testament church for over 2000 years. At the edge of the promised land, God renewed his covenant with Israel that he made at Sinai and found it significant to mention that witnessing the renewal were "your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel together with your children and your wives."(Deut 29:9-13).
In addition, there was already a practice of baptism in the Jewish faith. John was not the first baptizer. Households (children and all) were baptized as part of a conversion to Judaism. In addition, there are various ceremonial sprinklings and washings required by the Old Testament(Lev 14:8-9, 8:5-6, Ps. 51:1-2;7-10). These all alluded to the washing of sin or filth to make something holy. In all likelihood, this was the tradition in which John the Baptist saw his baptism. Furthermore, the word baptizo is actually used of these practices in Luke 11:38, Mark 7:3-4. Here the "washing" as it is usually translated is applied to Jesus, hands, bowls, cups, and dining couches. If we are to understand what the writers of the New Testament are saying, we must "keep the Old Testament in mind" as we read the New Testament. Not doing so would be like trying to understand the Constitution without understanding English common law and the events surrounding the American Revolution.
Baptism and the Covenant
The first sermon of the New Testament Church is found in Acts 2. In it Peter specifically claims that the promise of the Holy Spirit is for his hearers and their children. Consequently, they should repent and be baptized. Now infants cannot repent, but they can receive the spirit. John the Baptist did. (Luke 1:15) We must acknowledge that children must in some significant way be included in the promise in a way that is distinct from just anyone else. We can imagine what this would have meant to the early Christians who would have been wondering about the implications of this new revelation and its connection to the promise to Abraham and the covenant with Israel at Sinai.
From the mere fact that the sign (circumcision) of the relationship or covenant between Abraham and God was to be applied to his children before they exhibited faith shows us that the mere sign has no power. In fact, the sign was applied to servants and livestock. The sign was to show others that they were in a special relationship with God. It signified that they were under special judgment if they did not live up to the relationship God had initiated. Deut 10:16 an Jeremiah 4:4 confirm that God has more in mind for inclusion in the covenant than just circumcision. They exhort the hearer to "remove the foreskin of your hearts." It is also clear from Israel's checkered history that circumcision without faith is of no use. In fact, to those who did not unite circumcision with faith were to be cut off from the assembly. The reason parents were to teach their children was because being circumcised was not enough. It was nonetheless required (Gen 17:14).
Baptism functions as circumcision in the New Testament. It is a sign that one has entered into a special relationship with God. In Acts 8, Peter argues that since the Gentiles have received the Spirit, they should also be baptized. Why?
it is the sign that they now are related differently to God. Paul links baptism to circumcision (Col 2:11-12) in how each functioned to cleanse the believer from sin and points to Christ's death, the curse for sin. Similarly in order to recieve the blessings of baptism one must unite the rite with faith. If not, it becomes a greater curse (Heb 6).
Jesus alludes to this same dynamic when talking to Nicodemus in John 3. It is both of the water and Spirit that one must be born. The outward sign is nothing without faith. Peter also makes the connection in Acts 8:16 when he argues for water baptism of Cornelius' household because they have received the spirit. It almost seems as if it occurs here in reverse order. For the church is not that dissimilar to ancient Israel. It is made of the "wheat and the tares" until the final consummation of Christ's coming. In fact, Paul in 1 Cor 10:1-5 says that all of the Israelites were baptized by passing through the cloud and through the Red Sea. He uses this argument to exhort his readers to persevere in righteousness because although baptized, the Israelites did not persevere in faith. Similarly all those who profess faith and are baptized are not guaranteed eternal life.
Credobaptists rightly wait for a confession for adults. I would argue that this is what is seen in Acts 8:36-37. In addition, these verses are notably missing from early manuscripts and even left out of some current translations such as the ESV. However, we never see any discussion of these issues in the context of child. As the father of young children, there are real issues here. The New Testament is a pastoral book. In a cultural context as I described, it would seem that these issues would be addressed. Instead, we find mentions of household baptisms that in all likelihood contained children. The technical language also reflects that this is a pattern that is repeated and not isolated events.
It is merely confession that entitles adults to baptism in the new covenant. The same was true of converts to Judaism under the old covenant. Children receive circumcision, and if Paul is right, baptism under the Mosaic Covenant. What entitles children to participate in the relationship of God with his people? I would argue that is by virtue of their birth to Christian parents. In a sense, everyone already does this. They just do not apply the sign of the covenant.
The first specific instance of baptism we hear about is the baptism of Christ in Matt. 3:16. Though, John thought himself unworthy, Christ sought to identify his ministry with that of John's. John rightly recognizes Jesus as the point of his ministry. This passage brings up three important points in our discussion of baptism. First, many use the fact that Jesus "came up out of the water" as proof that Jesus had been immersed. If John saw his baptism in line with other baptisms mentioned in the Old Testament, the odds are Jesus was not immersed. Imagine a scene where Jesus and John step down into the water from the bank. John uses bowl or his hands to dip out water and pour it over Christ's head. As Jesus steps up onto the bank the Holy Spirit descends on him.
This brings us to a second point. There are more passages that connect baptism with the Holy Spirit than there are to Christ and his death. (Acts 1:5, John 1:33, Luke 3:16, Mtt 3;11, Matt 28:19, John 3:5, Acts 2:3, Acts 8:16, Acts 10:47-49, 1 Cor 12:13) That is not to say that these are insignificant, but the connection between the Holy Spirit and baptism is rarely talked about outside of charismatic circles. Baptism is connected to the application of the benefits of Christ. The s Holy Spirit unites us with Christ in his death which entitles us to the forgiveness of sins and and in his life to all the benefits of a son of God. God is often spoken of as pouring out his Spirit. Here the mode of baptism by pouring can been seen.
It is in connection to the receiving of the benefits of Christ's death that both Peter (1Peter 1:2) and the writer to the Hebrews refer to the sprinkling clean of the believers heart (10:22). In fact, there is an extended discussion in Hebrews of how the sprinkling in Christ is better than the sprinkling that of the artifacts of the tabernacle and that of Israel by Moses. I would not argue that baptism is required for salvation. The thief on the cross and Cornelius are proof of that; however, I would argue that it has more than symbolic value. I don't think we do justice to the scriptures if we deny that there is some mysterious power connected to the sacraments of the church. As we saw earlier it is a sign of a new relationship to God and his people.
The third point from John's baptism is that this is not Christ's real baptism. If so, what is Christ talking about in Mark 10:38 when he asks, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" What does Jesus mean when he says, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!" Christ's death on the cross is his baptism. Here we can also see the connection between circumcision and baptism. Paul, in Col 2:11-14, connects the cross, circumcision, and baptism. Our baptism is our identification with Christ in his baptism and circumcision. Christ was cut off from God in his death on the cross for us. Our unity with him in his death frees us from the penalty of being cut off ourselves. Having identified with him in his death, we will be raised with him to new life in Christ. This is also what Paul is talking about in 6:2-4. While immersion might be a helpful picture of death and resurrection. It is not necessary for understanding these passages. As noted earlier, sprinkling or pouring might be just as valid a metaphor because of the connection to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit or the sprinkling clean by the blood of Christ.
History of Baptism
I wish I had time to spell out the history of baptism. Suffice it to say that paedobaptism has prevailed for much more of church history. Early church fathers seem to have practiced infant baptism. Conclusive evidence exists in the 3rd century of the practice. Until shortly after the Reformation, credobaptism is virtually unheard of. However, in America, believer's baptism is the dominant position. Internationally, Catholics and Anglicans weight the church to the other side.
I have really only seen paedobaptism practiced in conservative presbyterian churches. I believe it was practiced well. It enhanced the sense of community and the "it takes a village" attitude toward "covenant children." One argument I have often heard is that children will think they can do anything because they have already been saved. I would argue that this attitude is rampant in churches that would make people re-baptize if they were baptized as infants. The churches I was in seem to at the very least exhibit no more of this attitude than baptist churches.
Hours more could be spent in exegesis, historical study, and personal reflection. Currently, I have no more time. I would appreciate your responses.
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In my own reflection, I have tried to think about how I live my life for seen things instead of unseen things. Yesterday, I sensed a slight pain in my chest and arm and hyopchrondiaclly thought it was "chest pains." I think it was because I had heard that morning that prolonged sleep-deprivation increased risk of heart attack, and you can tell by my post times, that I often deprive myself of sleep.
I began to think of my own death. Ironically, today I attended a seminar about estate planning. I have been thinking about what would happen to my family in the event of my death. It makes me very sad. I think I hurt the most for Courtney and the boys and how they would miss me. I know that once I crossed that bridge, I won't care all that much, but they would be here enduring more suffering than I can really conceive.
This all made me think of the saying that we should live as if we were going to die tomorrow. Jonathan Edwards had as one of his Resolutions to "think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death." While I suppose you must plan for the future as the ants in Proverbs 30:25, I can't help but think about the way Christ lived. He was so deliberate about his life, and yet he seems to have perfect peace in every moment. He lives with his death in mind. He knows who he is. He knows his father loves him.
This makes me think of a question I was asked by a seminary professor. "What would you do if you knew you had no chance of failing?" In a sense, this is the life we live. All God wants us to do is to love him and run full speed after what he has put in our hearts. As we get older, and life becomes more complicated, we get weighed down hedging our bets against this and that trying to make the world a safe and pleasant place to live for us and our family. This hedging becomes our life.
It is often in the face of our mortality in an illness or the death of a loved one that we realize that all this hedging is not really living. We wake up to the fact that we have been dead living for the seen things of the world instead of the unseen things of God.
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I am a critical person. I am an open-minded person. For better worse, there are very few thoughts that I have not entertained. This includes serious doubt about my Christian faith. My most recent bout with doubt was probably about a year ago.
In my regular Bible-reading, I read Hosea 11:1. The phrase, "out of Egypt I called my son" rang a bell, so I read more closely. The "son" described was very clearly Israel. It seemed as thought Matthew was employing some fancy hermeneutics that I considered at the time almost lying. I could I trust a this saying when it was so obviously manipulated.
This is when the real doubt set in. What if I can't trust this verse? Can I trust the rest of Matthew? Can I trust any odd-seeming application of OT scripture? If I can't trust these verses, what I can I trust. With this, I was catapulted to a height of doubt I rarely face. The free-fall lasted about two days. I could barely think about anything else. I got advice from friends, but nothing seemed to satisfy my questions. I clung to this one verse, John 6:68, "To whom shall we go, Lord, you have the words of life." Peter expressed my desperation. Everything in me was causing me to doubt, but when I looked beyond Christ's words, there was only an abyss. I had looked other places. There was nowhere to go.
The reality was that his words had changed me and brought new life to my broken spirit. The last three years are a testament to God's grace in my life. I could not ignore this. One night I broke out a commentary and some theology books and decided to see if anyone else had ever faced this.
Not surprisingly, they had. My premillenial dispensational history had influenced my understanding of the limits of he interpretation of prophecy. I obviously had not fully integrated the reformed perspective. I learned that references to the Messiah and Israel were often conflated. In a real sense, the Messiah was Israel. One writer puts it that OT prophecy is not literal but Christological.
My mind was satisfied with what my heart knew. The words of life come from him who lived, died, and lived again for a people that he would draw to himself. Thanks be to God, I am one of those people. Repent and believe, and you will be too.
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For Advent, I am reading the year B readings from lectionary in the PCUSA Book of Common Worship. I am really enjoying reading scripture. It is exciting to see connections between the readings in different parts of scripture throughout the week.
Our small group just finished the study on Galatians from Redeemer Presbyterian Church NYC. It has been a great study. I would recommend it to anyone. It will and should be controversial at times, but the Gospel is controversial.