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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Who's in Control?

The greatest commandment, how many of us can say it, “to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul, and all our strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  This is the command that God charged Moses to teach the Israelites he led out of Egypt.  God also gave 10 others, known as the 10 Commandments.  From these came the 613 laws the Israelites, the “Children of God,” were to live by, they are called the Halakhah.  These 613 laws were not mandated by God but by man.  They were rules to live by, to govern a Jewish person from birth to death about everything they could and could not do and still be people of God.  Notice that they are manmade laws, yes, originally taken from the 10 Commandments, but still they govern ones actions.  What did Paul say about these laws, this righteousness striven for by these manmade laws?  He said, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

Following rules of actions is not something new to humanity with the Israelites.  From the first temptation of Eve by Satan in the Garden of Eden, the must do's and must not do's have been in place to govern a person’s actions, to determine a person’s worth, to determine a person’s rewards.  They were a caste system, if you like, that Satan introduced into the mind of humanity because it seemed rational.  God created each of us with free will; it is how we choose to use it that determines if we are followers of Christ.  This is not to say that God mandated that we had to do things to earn salvation but that we must choose who to follow, our selves or God.  God never said we had to do anything to earn salvation; on the contrary, He stated that it is not by works that any man should boast but by the free grace of God (Ephesians 2:9).  Salvation cannot be gained through works or good deeds on our part.  To this end, Paul anguishes over his people, the Israelites/Jews.  He says in Romans 9:4-5, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption (God chose them from whom to raise up the Messiah), the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all.”  God gave them everything to live by, to worship by, and to have eternal life through, yet, they still could not believe in the Messiah being Jesus Christ. God chose the Israelites to be His adopted people and they could not understand how to “Love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength” without creating 613 laws to tell them how to be children of God and how to earn “salvation,” eternal life with God. 

Yes, the Israelites did not understand.  They were rational beings and this Jesus of Bethlehem, a carpenter’s son, could not, in their understanding, be the Messiah foretold to be given to the people of God.   Paul reminded them that God foreknew that Esau would serve Jacob and He chose to have mercy and compassion on Jacob and his descendents.  Romans 9:16, “So, it does not depend on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.”  Salvation does not depend on anything we do; it depends on God’s mercy.  Up to this point, God had made covenants with His people, a two-sided agreement consecrated by the halving of chosen animals and the offering of them in sacrifice to God who then made tongues of flame walk between the halves and consume the sacrifice.  From the point of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, two-sided covenants were not necessary; Jesus became the once and for all sacrifice for humans to be able to be in relationship with God and to have eternal life with Him in heaven (Hebrews 10).  God did not want burnt sacrifices any longer or works of good deeds; those were only put forward from the manmade laws, an elaboration by man of God’s intention when He chose the Israelites to be His people.  These sacrifices which God ordained in the Old Testament were just a shadow of things coming; they were not the realities themselves.  Christ became the once and for all sacrifice; He became the sacrifice offered by God for the cleansing of humanity from all their sins.  All previous sacrifices were insufficient; no sacrifice was sufficient to cleanse from all sin, otherwise sacrifices would not have had to been made over and over, year in and year out.  This sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the final sacrifice needed for our sin; it is God’s final covenant of salvation for humanity.  It is not a two-sided covenant as in the past, in the Old Testament, because man could not offer anything greater nor anything near sufficient enough to atone for the unimaginable amount of sin than that of Christ’s blood.  Man could not save the souls of men or else why would there have needed to be sacrifices over and over?  Could the created make an eternal covenant with the Creator?  No he could not change one hair on his head, how then could he contribute toward his own salvation?  No, this covenant is one-sided; God is the only one who is bound to it.  It is his mercy and compassion, His love that seeks us out.  His love and sacrifice is all-sufficient.  Nothing else can surpass the greatest of all sacrifices, that of the life of the Son of God.

It is not just for the Israelites that the Messiah has come, but as they were adopted from the days of Abraham, a people who were not His people, so are the Gentiles now, in the past, in the present, and into the future, also called to be adopted children of God (Heb. 9:25-26).  Isaiah foretold that only a remnant of the children of Israel will answer the call of salvation and be saved by the power of the Creator and Redeemer God. 

We come back again to works salvation.  The Jews, the called children of God, could not earn salvation; therefore, none of humanity can work for their salvation.  The Hindus cannot.  The Muslims with their 5 pillars cannot.  The Mormons cannot earn their salvation; they cannot work themselves up to a level to become a god.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot.  No religion, dogma, doctrine or cult can work to earn their salvation.  All humanity is created by God, thus, it is only by the hand of the Creator that we can be redeemed, cleansed from what we have made ourselves into.  Does not the potter, when a creation begins to go wrong, provide more clay and more molding pressure to put the creation right?  How can we say that I will do this and that and I will become a better person and surely I will earn eternal life in heaven?  How can we say that we can reverse all our previous evil deeds by doing good for the rest of our lives and, thus, be able to enter the heavenly realms where the holy God lives?  God cannot be in the presence of evil, so how can He be in our presence unless our evil is removed from us?  Evil and God cannot share the same space.  What is sufficient to remove the evil that we have chosen to do?  Can we really truthfully believe that anything we, the created, do is significant enough to put us on the same level with the Creator?  Are we really so vain as to believe we can be on the level with the all-powerful, all-knowing, always-present God?  It can never be. 

When Christ came, the Jews of the time either chose to follow Him or challenge Him.  One day the people asked Him, Lord what is the greatest commandment?  What did he say?  “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Mark 12:30).  Is this not the same commandment God told Moses to tell His children in Deuteronomy with the one addition, to love the Lord with your mind?  It is.  Interesting how God knew it was our logic that would most lead us astray.  What is in your mind becomes played out in your actions.  We want to be our own “kings” or “queens.”  No one has the right to tell me what to do or believe or say or feel.  Isn’t that what we hear in our minds and through the actions of others?  God wants to be the Lord of your whole being, your spirit, your logic/reasoning, your emotions/love, and your physical body.  If one of these is left in your control, then you will lead yourself astray and will show that you have not firmly believed.  He does not want to be your Leader so that He can lord it over you as human kings, presidents, and dictators have done and will do; He wants to be your Lord so that your life is complete, so that it’s absolute potential is fulfilled.  Why then do we run away or argue away God in our lives?  We want to use one of the four avenues of humanity, physical body, logic, spiritual sense, and emotions to make decisions.  We don’t know about one other avenue available to us, or choose not to hear of it; it is faith, a gift from God, our Creator.  He does not ask you to dig up within yourself faith but He gives to you, when you ask, the faith you need to accept His “happily ever after” ending, the gift of love and mercy that is free to all.  Faith is all that God requires. Faith, not actions.  Faith, not reasoning.  Faith, not self-reliance.  Faith is the gift from God that you can receive when you give yourself into His hands completely.  With this faith, you are saved, saved from your wrong logic, wrong actions, and wrong beliefs.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  What is getting in your way to receiving God’s gift of faith, love, compassion and mercy?  Is it your reason and logic?  Is it your self-sufficiency?  Is it your strength of body?  Is it your strong-willed mind?  Is it your emotion of fear?  What is it you are afraid to give up to receive eternal life, eternity with the always loving God, in heaven?  You will not get to heaven by any good works or deeds but only by the gift of God’s salvation.  Where do you stand, running an un-winnable race of futility in your own strength or choosing to believe, allowing God, the Father and Creator, to apply His sufficient, once-for-all sacrificial blood to cleanse you, and winning the race?  My prayer for you is for you to have faith.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Father, Into Your Hands...

                                                         Father, Into Your Hands…

        The next day that I have not looked forward to has come, the day I take our second child to college and leave her there while I return to another continent.  When they were small, before elementary school, I dreaded the day they would start school and no longer be at home with me all the time.  I told myself not worry about what is not near, “don’t worry about tomorrow for today’s cares are sufficient unto themselves” or something similar to it.  I put that to the back of my mind, with practice, and lived each day and school year and marveled at each child’s learning and maturing and gifts. 
        Next I was saddened as each child began high school (I now have 3 who have started high school) but I came back to the not worrying quote.  I tried not to think about it.  I don’t know, maybe it is the ostrich method; I choose to think it is the Biblical method of living.  God knows what each day will bring and what His plans are so why worry about what may not come to pass, just live each day as it unfolds with the grace and strength God gives you. I know how quickly the high school years are finished and find that I look forward and dread the day that our next child will finish high school.  I must train my mind to look back on that old promise given to me; do not worry about tomorrow…
         I now have two that have graduated from high school with one in college and one a day away from college.  When I brought the first child to start college, I was not looking forward to the day that I drove away and left him at college with me flying to another country.  I cried the first two hours after I left him and the heavens seemed to also cry as the rain poured down on the road as I drove on that dark night.  With the imminent departure/move in of our second child, a daughter, I was dreading the day of her departure but God had a plan to make the transition smooth for my family and me.  A list of the things God put in place for us include her having an internship for the first six months post-high school in which she was only home one weekend out of a two week period, having family in the immediate area where she will be attending school, having certainty that this is where God wants her to go to college, having a certainty that she has learned what she needs to know to go out into the adult world and be able to handle most things, and finally and foremost, having the knowledge that she has a continuing relationship with her Abba Father and His Son, Jesus, throughout each day.  It helps that we have been down this road before with her being the second child to go to college but the biggest thing that helps us with this transition is knowing that God prepared the way for her to attend this college and has prepared her for this path.  We know that He has her in the palm of His hand and will protect her and that she will have loving, caring family to go to when she needs to be with family.
        When I return to our home after taking her to college, I am sure that it will cross my mind to think that I have less than four years left before our next child leaves home to go to college.  With this certainty that I will think about it is also the certainty that God has given me the promise that He has everything under control and that I do not need to worry about it.  He will give us the peace when it happens and He will grow our child to be mature, spiritually and humanly, so that he can take that step into independent adulthood with the certainty that he will be safe, cared for, and guided with the kindest and wisest Heart.  No wonder that Jesus could say, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  These may have been the seven last words Christ uttered before His crucifixion but they were also the seven first words that He spoke when He took that last breath before becoming our Savior. That is what we must do with each day and each tomorrow though it may seem hard at the time; we should go forward not thinking that this is the last but that it is the beginning and to go into those steps knowing God is leading, preparing the way, and protecting.