Thursday, July 21, 2016

Saved by… obedience?

For years I've heard (and sometimes said) that salvation comes “by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” So I was a little surprised to read in Hebrews 5 that Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (emphasis added)

What's this about obedience? Does that contradict "by grace alone"? Maybe not.

Suppose you're in the middle of the ocean, after a plane crash or something, and can't see any land. A boat comes along, offering to save you. Sounds like grace to me! But when someone says, “Grab this rope,” you gotta obey and grab it.

If you instead say, “Wait, obedience? I thought this was by grace alone,” then you won't be saved. Silly, I know. But earlier in the letter, we read that faith and obedience come to the same thing.

[T]o whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
Hebrews 3:18–19 NIV (1984)

So no, we aren't saved by obedience; it really is by grace alone through faith alone. But if I'm unwilling to obey, that's not a disconnected random bit of information; it speaks to my lack of faith. And without faith … hey, without faith it's impossible to please God! Without faith, grace doesn't do me much good.

So it's not a paradox or a contradiction after all.

Update: the next morning

I opened my reading plan in the "Bible" app, where I read this:
... But the Hebrew word for 'faith' - emunah - is less about KNOWING, and more about DOING.

'Emunah' literally means "to take firm action", so to have faith is to act.

How about that! The Old Testament writers weren't confused at all about this the way we modern evangelicals sometimes are. Guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thoughts on the 3rd lap

It struck me on my third trip around the jogging track how similar the first parts of these verses are:
Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling… (Hebrews 3:1)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved… (Colossians 3:12)
Ignoring the context for a bit, I find it wondrous to think of myself as holy, chosen by God. How did this ever happen to me, of all people? Or you? Yet we are told this over and over in the Scriptures: Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you….” Paul says that God “chose us… before the foundation of the earth that we should be holy” and “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ.” There are many, many more like this. The word “holy” means, basically, to be set apart for some purpose. We’re chosen, in other words, for a purpose.

I’ve heard this many times in sermons as well, but it still takes my breath away, because I know that I’m weak and easily distracted, my mind cluttered with carnal thoughts. I often see myself as a child, tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there, wishing I were more grown up. So these passages remind me that God has indeed set me aside for a purpose. Besides being deeply loved, I “share in the heavenly calling,” so I’m not rudderless. God has called me heavenward; he is working in me to fulfill his purpose as I seek him. Good news!

In both passages, this astounding good news of our identity as beloved holy brothers (male and female) is mentioned in passing, an “as-you-already-know”; the authors are about to tell us something even more important. What could that be? And is there any overlap in what follows?

Well, there’s not a lot. Hebrews chapter 2 ends with the encouragement that our brother Jesus knows our sufferings and temptations and can help us; then in chapter 3 we’re told, “therefore,” to consider Jesus, to fix our thoughts on him, and how he’s greater than Moses, worthy of greater honor. The author loves to tell us how great Jesus is: greater than the angels, greater than the priests of the old sacrificial system, and so on.

In Colossians, this reminder of our identity stands in the midst of a list of exhortations to live a holy life (3:5–17). In this letter, Paul seems fond of giving us lists of five: put to death sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (3:5); to put aside anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech (3:8). And then:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
Colossians 3:12–13
There’s more after that, but what I wanted to notice from these passages is that the implications of our identity (as holy, chosen, beloved, called) involve our attitudes and actions (Colossians 3) and also how we focus our thoughts (Hebrews 3). Turning that around, when I remember I’m holy, chosen, beloved, called, then I’m better equipped in my efforts to fix my thoughts on Jesus and to live a holy life.

In other words, it’s not just the good news itself, but also the remembering of this good news, that enables me to become a good man.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Stockholm, random notes 2016-07-09 Saturday.

We heard yesterday in Helsinki (where prices are lower!) that one can take a ferry overnight to Stockholm, spend a day here in S-town, and take the ferry back to Helsinki. And, I suppose, the reverse.

Certainly one could travel Helsinki to Tallinn and back -- probably just a few hours each way. On arrival in Stockholm we had a choice of transportation:

  • excursions organized by the cruise ship line (which are more expensive but you get preferential treatment: first off the boat; they'll hold the boat if you're late getting back; if you can't dock in port, that portion of the tour fee is refunded)
  • hop-on hop-off tours:
    • bus: 300 SEK (or SKr?) -- at $1=8.5 SEK, that's about $35
    • boat: 180 SEK or about $21
    • bus+boat: bus+boat, 400 SEK or about $47
  • The above options are offered by red sightseeing and also by the green outfit. Price and itineraries are basically the same, EXCEPT
    • first few departures of the RED boats from cruise ship dock go directly to the Vasa museum. This is a deviation from the published route (wherein you'd make 5? stops before getting there). I don't know if the green boats go there; I suspect not.
    • According to one of our fellow-passengers, the green boats were smaller and fuller -- that is, you might not be able to board!
  • According to one of the guys, boats come every 15 minutes. i don't think this is true: Carol swears we waited 30 minutes at one point. I'm not sure it was quite that long, but it was definitely more than 15 minutes. But every time we saw a green boat, a red boat was not far behind.
  • Decided to get on the red boat. Because of price we went for boat-only. We got red by pure dumb luck, and went to Vasa museum. Admission 180SEK each, I think. We took the [free] English-language tour; guide was excellent.

    The Vasa was commissioned in 1625 and construction completed in 1628, taking 2+1/2 years to build. King Gustav II Augustus (I might have that name wrong) wanted to have 72 cannon on board--never been done before. The shipwright/architect said it would be unsafe, but as the king wanted that, he got it. Due to the unprecedented weight, the ship was built with very strong+heavy timbers belowdecks (this was usual) but also above (this was not usual) to support the heavy armaments. Turns out only 64 of the requisitioned 72 were ever delivered...

    Vasa was the eldest of four sisters: two big and two smaller vessels. The king was annoyed because Vasa took so long to build: usual construction time was well under two years. Construction of Vasa's sister (whose name I've already forgotten) was halted while all hands were on deck so to speak to complete Vasa.

    Vasa sailed on her maiden voyage, and the 2nd gust of wind tipped her a bit too much, and water rushed into her gun ports. The listing to one side was exacerbated by [1] all the cannon being on one side of the ship (I guess port side but am not sure) to fire a salute to the king, who was not even there to hear it; and [2] ballast in the stern (I think rocks) which shifted to the side, accentuating the list. Water entered the ship through the gun-ports and she sank in 20 minutes, killing we think 30 or 40 souls. Fifteen skeletons were found inside when she was raised in the 1960s; others escaped the ship but were drowned (couldn't swim).

    Vasa's sister was given a hull one meter wider and I think with fewer cannon. She sailed for 30 years (vs 20 minutes), so i guess they did learn something.

    The Vasa was discovered in the late 1950s (1956?) by some guy who was looking for it with a coring tool. After finding black oak in quite a large area, he understood that he'd found Vasa, but it took several years to rescue her from the bottom. Steel cables were placed under the keel, and affixed to pontoons floating on either side. (This was attempted shortly after she sank, but with ships anchored on either side. This is why many anchors were found atop Vasa when she was eventually raised.) The wood began to warp (etc) and they began spraying her with polyethelyne glycol (sounds like Saran Wrap(R) + antifreeze). They replaced her bolts with iron bolts (today most of these have been replaced yet again with stainless steel bolts). Once they got the water out of her, she floated! She was made of wood, right?

    btw she sank in very cold and brackish waters, which contributed to her survival. also there weren't any shipworms (i guess these things eat ships).

    About the sculptures around the boat; the bow has the lion, representing Gustaf ii adolphus/augustus/whatever. Near bow, on starboard side, is a man hiding under a table, supposedly for fear of the lion. The Swedish king was younger brother and protestant to the king of poland, who was Catholic. But Swedes didn't want to be Catholic. Other statues near the bow are the likenesses of Roman emperors; Gustav identified with them.

    At the stern, Gustav is seen (did i take a pic of this?) leading and protecting his people.

    Back to the Saran Wrap + antifreeze stuff; they've stopped spraying that. instead Vasa is kept in a temp/humidity-controlled environment. On many places the ship has reflectors. They want to preserve her for another 100 years (she was underwater for 333 years!) so want to be able to measure when she's deformed by gravity, by the wood's compression as it settles, etc.

    Something like 98% of the wood in Vasa was preserved; there are a few places where it was replaced. The bowsprit is one; the stern-most mast is another. You can tell by the color of the wood (new=lighter). Not all of Vasa is inside the museum; there are three masts visible outside the museum, indicating the full height of the original ship.

  • Afterward, we walked to Skansen, enjoying the beautiful Stockholm weather along the way. We entered Skansen by the not-main entrance (Hazelius?) and walked in. We saw King Oscar's Terrace and the rose garden, then turned to Makaloes (oe=o-umlaut) and followed the path to see reindeer and elk and some other domestic & wild animals.
  • Then we took the 15? minute walk to the hop... boat around to the first stop moderately close to Gamla Stan. The "Miss Behavin'"(?) Bar was right there, and we had 3 hot dogs (the "alex wiener") for SEK175; a cobb salad (another SEK175) and a beer (SEK75? 85?). Yeah, that's like $20 per entree, and about $10 for a beer.
  • At about 2:25 we boarded the boat, arriving at the pier about 3:10. We were on board well ahead of the 3:30pm deadline.