Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More useful generosity

A meditation for the Christmas shopping season

It's hard to buy Christmas presents for your parents. One year, in complete desperation, I bought my mom an electric ice scraper that plugged into the car's cigarette lighter. Did she ever use it? Did she know where it was two months later? No.

So I wasted my money. And my mom felt less than appreciated. ("It's the thought that counts" means "this stinks but I love you anyway".) Who won?

Why buy people stuff they don't need? And I do mean need.

Instead of buying junk no one needs or getting a TV a few inches bigger, what if we give gifts that help everyone involved? This year give your loved ones gift certificates for things they use — for example, hair cuts, oil changes, or meals at local businesses. Lets give people something useful that also helps our neighbors rather than clutter our lives with one more trinket.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good News

Do you ever sin?

Yeah, me too.

If you're like me, that sin makes you sad, angry, and a little disgusted with yourself. "When am I going to learn? When am I going to be better?"

In those moments, it's easy to despair — to think you are all you'll ever be, and that simply isn't good enough. Maybe you worry God will find a loophole to exclude you from heaven.

Here's the low down:

"...by one sacrifice [Christ] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." (Heb 10:14)

"Has made." His people are perfect already. In Christ, God does not count our sins.

And we are being made holy. It's an on-going process. God knows it's a process. He doesn't expect holiness tomorrow. But we will get there. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

I don't know about you, but I think that's good news.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Covenant of One

Illuminating the Old Testament

(This is the first of an occasional series of posts showing how findings from archaeology can explain or help us have a fuller understanding of the Bible.)

Genesis 15 tells of the creation of God's covenant with Abram. God promised him that he would have descendants of his own blood who would possess that land the Lord had led him to, and "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness."

But Abram still asked God for a sign, and one was given to him. In verse 9, God asks Abram to bring him some animals that the texts explains were then cut in half. A firepot and torch, representing God, appeared and passed between the pieces of the animals as God promised in detail what was going to happen to Abram's children.

Animals cut in half. Floating firepots and torches. What?

Archaeology has taught us two things about this scene. First, this ceremony of passing between the halves of the animals was a customary way to seal a covenant. The favorite interpretation says this was to symbolize what should happen to the party who did not keep his part of the bargain. (Nothing like a good visual aid.)

Second, the two parties were supposed to pass through the animals together.

But in this account, Abram didn't walk with God. The message would have been clear to Abram: This covenant does not depend on you.

Many of God's promises are contingent on people keeping their part. The Mosaic covenant was clearly that kind of arrangement. But God was telling Abram his children's possessing the promised land was dependent only on God.

A promise very similar to the one he has made to us.

Photo by Nicola Corboy

Thursday, November 3, 2011