The Best Gift

Earnestly desire to prophesy!

When was the last time you received a word of encouragement, one that consoled you during a time of loss or simply gave you a quick “nudge from behind” to keep moving in spite of your discouragement?

Reading the Scriptures, particularly the Apostle Paul’s teachings in I Corinthians, we see clearly that God desires to give us these kinds of messages through the ministry of fellow believers.  He does so by empowering believers through the Holy Spirit’s “spiritual gifts,” which are listed in the following passage:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (I Corinthians 12:7-11).

According to the writer of the Book of Hebrews, these gifts were demonstrably manifested through the believers in the Early Church:

how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3-5)

Have the Gifts Ceased?

In recent years, comparatively at least, many dispensational Bible teachers and their disciples have taught that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer given after the age of the Apostles.  This teaching is primarily based on the following passage:

 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part;10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:8-12).

This seems clear enough according to a superficial reading:  based on Paul’s description of the spiritual gifts in this passage, therefore, it is believed by many in the Church today that the gifts are “childish,” not intended for mature believers, for they are “partial” and imperfect.  As Paul writes, “We see in a mirror dimly” (II Cor. 3:12).  It is believed instead that the “perfect” has come to the Church through the completion of the Holy Scriptures, so we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts to teach us and lead us, and the “partial” has been done away with because the “perfect” Bible has been completed. 

However, we must read all of the Scriptures in their contexts, particularly those written by the apostle Paul.  Consider the following passage:

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [metamorphosized] into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  (II Corinthians 3:15-18)

It seems ironic, therefore, that the Apostles and Prophets of the Early Church who exercised these “childish” and “imperfect” spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit were also the very ones who thoroughly read the books of the Old Testament (“Moses is read”), and wrote the books of the New Testament.  I can only conclude that the dispensationalist interpretation of Paul’s message is incorrect and misleading. 

Looking Into the Mirror

Instead, the “mirror” references in these passages reveal that the  “perfect” that was predicted is not the New Testament itself, but instead is Jesus Christ when He comes again.  He is the “perfect” Who is coming, and when He appears, we all will be instantly transformed and metamorphosized into His image, for we will see Him in all of His glory.  When this happens, we will be “like Him”:

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:51-53)

See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.  For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.  We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.  And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  (1 John 3:1-3)

What is the Outcome, then?

We must not be like those sons of Israel who hardened their hearts and heard the reading of the old covenant (Moses) with a “veil” over their hearts.  We must turn to the Lord, who takes the veil away from our hearts, and He will give us liberty.  Read again Paul’s exhortation:

Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:12-18).

Since “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” Paul further exhorts us to be used by the Holy Spirit through the “gifts of the Spirit”:

So also you since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. (I Corinthians 14:12).

In the Book of Acts, Luke the author and disciple of the Apostle Paul writes this description of Peter’s message to the curious onlookers when on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gathered believers:

 “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39).

In context, therefore, the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us in the same way, for the promise is to “all who are far away, as many as the Lord calls.” When we are baptized in His Spirit, therefore, we will find that we will experience the gift of speaking in tongues, plus all the other gifts when needed, if we continue to follow Him (1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14). These are God’s gifts of power to enable us to accomplish the tasks to which we have been commissioned.

These gifts have been abused by many, unfortunately, even by some in the Early Church, according to the Apostle Paul’s admonitions in the “Love Chapter” (I Corinthians 13).  If the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not operated in love, Paul writes, we align with the following description:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3).

Nevertheless, we should not take lightly the Lord’s words to us provided in John’s Gospel.  Clearly, we need today the “rivers of living water” Jesus promised us:

…Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified). (John 7:37b-39)

Finally, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to “earnestly” desire the best spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:1). 

What are the “best” gifts?  They are those that are most in need at the moment.  We should be open to being used by the Holy Spirit at any time in any way He chooses.  And Paul particularly recommends that we desire to prophesy,

 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. (I Corinthians 14:1-4).

He makes this recommendation specifically because prophecy is a gift that we all need to experience, for spiritual encouragement.  

One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. (v. 3)

In addition, the Apostle Paul also reveals another reason why prophecy is important in the Church:

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.  (I Corinthians 14:24-26)

I experienced just such a moment early in my ministry when, while leading a home group meeting, I was praying and a word of knowledge came to me.  I spoke the revelation with my eyes closed, and when I opened them, a young woman whom I had never seen before was standing in front of me weeping.  “How did you know those things about me?” she said.  I asked if she wanted to invite Jesus into her life to be her Lord and Savior, and she readily agreed, praying for salvation that night.  

We must understand, therefore, that the gift of prophecy is not intended to “predict the future,” as so many believe.  It should not be connected with occult astrology, fortune telling, or divination by any means.

Another Example

Just yesterday in a women’s Bible study and prayer group here in Hopkins, Belize, my wife Jan received a “word of knowledge” and spoke to a young mother who tended to be very shy in the group.  In effect, Jan said to her, “Do not be troubled about what you will say when you are led to speak to someone, for you love Jesus and you only need to let His light shine through you to others.”

The woman was so moved by this message that she began to weep joyfully, for she indeed had been encouraged, edified, and exhorted.  

Final Comments:

Please note that the Apostle Paul does not denigrate the gift of speaking in tongues, for he tells us that he speaks in tongues more than anyone else.  He does so because through the Holy Spirit he is able to pray “in mysteries” when his mind does not know how to pray.  Consequently, he is personally edified.  He only stipulates that this gift must be used properly and in love.  Paul also states that its use in the Church must not be forbidden:

 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. . . .39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (I Corinthians 14:4-5).

Marveling at the Miraculous by Jan Jenkins

A Miracle!

Peter and John are going to the temple to pray when at the temple gate they hear a man calling to them.

It appears that this forty-year-old man is lame and depends on handouts to support his existence in his disabled condition. What the man does not realize is that his condition can actually be changed so that he need not continue to beg.

This story is a reminder that God often sees a greater ailment in our lives that may need changing that is far deeper than what we may be asking or praying for.

Peter stops and tells the man that he does not possess what the man is begging for; however, he does have something far greater. Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” He then grabs the man’s right hand and raises him up.

Luke, the author of the book of Acts writes that “immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened” (Acts 3:7).

Not only is the man strengthened and upright, but he begins “walking and leaping and praising God” (v.8). People who saw him were astounded because they knew something miraculous had happened, knowing that this man was the one who had been carried daily to the temple gate to plead for sustenance.

Peter’s Message

At this point, Peter answers the amazement of the people by preaching his second recorded sermon. He assures his listeners that faith in the name of Jesus has brought strength and healing to this man (Acts 3:16). He then reminds the people whom God’s prophets had foretold of “this Christ” and that by repenting of their sins they may experience His presence and “times of refreshing.” Consequently, this is a reminder to us that we need to repent and make sure we can approach our Savior with a clear conscience and a clean heart.

Next, the priests and Sadducees who have also been listening to Peter, see to it that John and Peter are arrested since this is the only immediate way they can keep them from speaking the truth.

In spite of this arrest, as many as 5,000 men who had heard the message believed! When given the opportunity to testify the next day, Peter again states that the man (who is standing there next to Peter) was made well “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).

Peter tells the high priest and the others of “high priestly descent” that there is salvation only through Jesus. Peter’s words are a reminder that it is through the power of the mighty name of Jesus that we are made whole. Not our good works, our power, our religious knowledge, or our social or political standing.

Peter’s message leaves these educated leaders speechless, and they are unable to reply. They begin to talk among themselves, trying to decide what should be done with Peter and the other men with him. They even admit that a “noteworthy miracle” has happened, and therefore they “cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16). In a feeble effort to control Peter and John, they command them not to do any further teaching about Jesus. They answer by saying that it is impossible for them to stop speaking about what they have “seen and heard.”

It is natural for us to want to share our experiences with others, whether they involve a fabulous vacation, a newborn baby, or career advancement. How much greater is the urge to share the good news of salvation and healing to those who are seeking answers or to those in perilous situations.

So, what did the officials do? They “threatened them further” (Acts 4:21), but their threats were empty. They couldn’t punish Peter and John because of the crowds of people glorifying God! When the apostles were finally released, they went back to their companions to report what had happened to them. Additionally, they prayed together asking to speak God’s word with confidence while He extends His hand to heal in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:29 – 30).

They are absolutely aware that it is the power of God through the name of Jesus that is the source of these signs and wonders.

Finally, when they had prayed, the building was shaken and they were once again filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke God’s word with boldness. Accordingly, the only way we can share God’s message is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

Steps to Growth and Faith

Therefore, what are the steps in the process of growth and faith as evidenced by this story?

  • First, we recognize that God is in control and we are to trust Him to guide us when we speak to other people while knowing that what that person wants may not be all that God has for him or her.
  • Second, making sure we have a repentant heart and a clear conscience so that we may clearly hear the voice of the Lord when He is leading.
  • Third, we learn that it is the power of the name of Jesus that makes us whole. It is not about us and our good works.
  • Forth, it is desirable for us to maintain a close relationship with the Lord through His word and by hearing His voice, so we can share with others the “signs and wonders” that we are experiencing.
  • Fifth, it is God “who works in us both to will and do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
  • Sixth, the only way we can truly share God’s love and His good news to others is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

Wrangling, Part II

A Brief Follow-up

Shortly after posting my last article, titled “Wrangling About Words,” I had a dream.  

I was out fishing with some friends in a boat near where we are currently living in Belize.  One of the fishermen wanted to give a fish to one of his village friends, but he couldn’t remember which fish it was he had caught.  He said something like, “You know, the one that looks like a large trout!”

An argument arose, each man naming the fish by a different name.  After a very intense discussion, I finally held up the fish itself and said, “Surely, we can agree on what to call this fish!”

I was relieved that the argument was over when I awoke from the dream, even though we still hadn’t named the fish.  I lay there in the darkness thinking about the final message, and I was reminded of my recent blog article.  

First, I realized that the fish itself was more than a name, more than just a word.  Instead, it was a vital piece of food for someone in the Belizean village who needed subsistence.  Arguing about what it was called and even agreeing on a name wouldn’t satisfy the hunger of the recipient.

Second, I recalled that Jesus called some of his new followers to be  “fishers of men.”

18Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him (Matthew 4:18-20).

I realized that arguing over the name of a fish will not catch a fish, any more than arguing over Church doctrines will bring people into the Kingdom of God.  Instead, wrangling about biblical teachings only convinces non-believers that Christians are deceiving themselves into thinking that they truly know and understand the Scriptures that we claim to be the Word of God which we have personally received.

Let us all agree to cease arguing over doctrines and teachings.  Surely, we can agree on what to call Jesus: the Messiah and Savior, Who came into the world to redeem us from the bondage of sin.

 

Wrangling About Words

Responding to Critics

Since beginning in Christian ministry in 1973, first as an Associate Pastor (licensed), continuing as a home group leader and Bible study teacher, then as a senior pastor and church founder (ordained), and now as an online blogger, I have been accused on a number of occasions of being a “false teacher,” trying to start a cult and gain followers, or be like so many other prominent televangelists and megachurch leaders who seek to gain fame and wealth.  

I can understand the concerns of my accusers, for the Apostle Peter warned against just such “false prophets” in the following passage:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (II Peter 2:1-3).

It is not in my nature to become bitter and angry when I receive such accusations against my life and ministry, though I am only too willing to respond and explain my background, teachings,  and calling when confronted by those who are willing to listen.  

I fully understand that some of my teachings may conflict with many of the more standard interpretations of the Scriptures obtained from theology texts or consumed in seminaries and Bible colleges.  I also acknowledge my weaknesses, for I am not trained in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek), for example.  However, I  believe my inadequacies are sufficiently compensated for by my willingness to consult expert opinions and translations online, as well as use a Greek thesaurus.

My Qualifications

With a Ph.D.  in literature and more than twenty years experience as a university professor, I believe I am fully trained in recognizing and adapting the genres of literature and written texts, while applying the norms for these genres to biblical texts, a context that is not always followed by many Bible teachers and preachers.  Those who delight in interpreting the Scriptures literally, for example, do not always acknowledge that some passages are nonsensical if interpreted literally.

Christ’s references to the “bread” and “cup” in the Gospel accounts  of The Last Supper, for example, do not mean that the elements of the communion are literally the body and blood of Jesus, although many Christians believe in “transubstantiation.”  An example of taking a metaphor literally.  Surely, Jesus wasn’t condoning cannibalism, as the Early Church was accused of teaching.

Apocalyptic writings in the Bible, mainly in Daniel and the Book of Revelation, are also interpreted literally, even though such writings are obviously made up of dreams, signs, symbols and the extra-textual meanings of these kinds of writings.  In addition, I once heard a Bible teacher relate that the “locusts” in the Book of Revelation refer to the “helicopters” in today’s conditions, which meant that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent given the kind of warfare being fought during the Vietnam era.  And how long has it been since then?  Remember when Henry Kissinger was labeled the AntiChrist?  Or was it Anwar Sadat?  

The Apostle Peter continues in his letter to advise and admonish Christians as follows:

14Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 2:14-18)

Clearly, Peter the fisherman had some difficulty understanding the educated Apostle Paul’s letters, for even he, the “rock,” found them “hard to understand.”

Notice, however, that Peter does not counsel that believers must vehemently argue with and condemn or accuse any teachers with whom we disagree. He instead simply advises believers to beware so as not to be “carried away” with teachings that espouse greed and licentiousness.

Indeed, the Apostle Paul admonishes Timothy, his disciple, not to fight, or “wrangle,” over “words,” or perhaps such acronyms as the “TULIP” of Calvinism.

I, personally, have chosen to teach from the Scriptures rather than a book someone has written, whether in the 1600’s or in the 21st Century.    

14Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers  (II Timothy 2:14).

Surely, Paul does not condone false teachings, but instead says that wrangling and fighting are “useless” and lead those who hear such wrangling to ruin.

Indeed, I have tried to explain certain biblical teachings to some of my opponents, only to see the homegroup meetings or Bible classes disrupted and almost destroyed.  Some people simply will not be convinced in spite of clear evidence in Scripture passages, primarily because they do not like what they have learned to be opposed.  Thus, they rise up in “unrighteous indignation.”

The Holy Spirit’s Teachings

Jesus related to His disciples that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to them, both to empower them to spread the Good News of the Gospel, but also to be their Teacher: “ But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:6).

I have been listening to sermons and teachings since my childhood, yet I am persuaded that I learn only when the Holy Spirit is the inspiration for these messages and He confirms their truths in my heart.  Consequently, while I admire and listen continually to a number of Bible teachers, I am mostly focused on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to live, learn, and grow.

In addition, as a Bible teacher I have been most moved recently by such Scriptures as the following:

  1. Job 12:22 “He reveals mysteries from the darkness And brings the deep darkness into light.
  2. Daniel 2:28:  “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.”
  3. Daniel 2:29:  “As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place.”
  4. Daniel 2:47:  “The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
  5. Matthew 13:11:  “Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”
  6. Luke 8:10:  “And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
  7. 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
  8. 1 Corinthians 13:2:  “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
  9. 1 Corinthians 14:2:  “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.

The Apostle Paul’s defense of his own teachings includes the following:

 “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (II Corinthians 12:1-4).

Thus, Paul’s teachings, which comprise most of the New Testament, were revealed to Him as “mysteries,” which defined means, “the secrets God desires to reveal to His people.”  Consequently, the purpose of this Biblical Mysteries Revealed blog site is to share what I have learned about these mysteries.

Back to Peter

One teaching that continues to be highly controversial concerns “End Times” prophecy, for the reasons stated above, as well as the desire to sell books, perhaps, among other reasons.  Concerning this mystery, Peter wrote the following:

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:3-9)

Unlike so many teachers today, however, Peter does not, in an attempt to sell books, try to pick the “day or the hour” of Christ’s return (which only the Father knows!) nor does he try to locate the “anti-Christ” (who obviously was not the Emperor Nero!).  

Peter continues on to write the following:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. 

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:10-13)

Therefore, even those who declared the prophetic Words of the Lord, following the leadings of the Holy Spirit, did not presume to “serve themselves” by trying to gain fame and fortune by publishing best sellers or make films about the End Times, as is the case today.

It even appears that lately, such false teachers are resorting to astrology to predict End Times events (“blood moons” and Jupiter’s emergence from the “womb” of the constellation Virgo).

Conclusion

It is fruitless to “wrangle” over such teachings, however.  We are only told by Peter and Paul to beware lest we be led astray.  We need only be concerned with keeping our lamps filled with “oil,” so that when Christ appears, we all will see Him in His glory, and we will forever be with Him!  

Have You Ever Been Scammed?

The Most Recent Scam Attempt

I just received an email message that wasn’t clear about what it was about or whom it was from.  I researched a bit and found that others had received it also, saying it was a scam.  The claim was that I had won a lottery type contest, and my winnings were supposedly $900,000.00 and a new Audi automobile.  The Scam reports related that attempts were made to collect money before the awards could be sent, an obvious ploy.

First Example

A much more subtle attempt was made to collect money just before Jan and I resumed our missionary work in Hopkins, Belize last October 17th.

I was attempting to sell a solar generator on “Craig’s List.”  Much as I wanted to keep it, shipping it to Belize would be costly, and I decided we could use the extra cash.  I listed it for $1,000, but immediately was confronted by a rude buyer, who began making demands regarding the money transfer and pickup procedures.  Strangely, every time he contacted me, his name was different.  Before long, he began to claim he was a Christian to gain my confidence.

Briefly, he wanted to send me a money-gram through WalMart for nearly $4,000.  When I received the check, he wrote via text message, I was to deposit it immediately into my bank account, then write a check to the person he claimed was doing the pickup in my area, along with numerous other items he had purchased.  The $3,000.00 to be sent to a woman to reimburse her travel expenditures, as well as pay for her time.

I became suspicious, telling him I couldn’t send out money until I was sure his check had cleared. Using an ungodly obscenity, he said he was a “man of God,” and he would never sxxx on anyone.

After receiving the check, I took it to my bank and deposited it.  The bank teller was even more suspicious than I, telling me to be very careful.  I told her I would wait until I had assurance from the bank that they check had cleared. The note inside of the envelope was hidden, so I didn’t see it until I took the check to the bank.  It insisted that I deposit the check immediately, but that I had to contact him first before doing so to let him know that I’d received the check.  I only texted him after the check was deposited, but he only was interested in knowing how much I could withdraw:

“My bank said part of the money is available to withdraw so how much is available today to withdraw? . . .So please can you check your online phone bank app to confirm the available amount?”

He then asked me to send him a picture of the account deposit slip, but I wrote back, “No way.”

His reply was immediate, Oh no, Charles I’m not trying to scam you and you can trust me, I’m a God-fearing Christian and there’s no forgiveness for me if I try to cheat on you.  Try and cover the account details just to see the balance and you can go ahead and get the shipper money sent through Walmart transfer.”

I wrote back and told him, “Jesus will forgive you for all your sins if you give your life to Him completely (John 3:16.”

He replied, “Thanks a lot I’m glad to buy from you.  So please will you help me to get it sent through Walmart ASAP?”

I wrote again, “I am not at liberty to spend any money on this until the check is cleared.  I will inform you immediately when I know it is cleared.”

“Okay no problem.”

He wrote again the next morning,

“Hello good morning to you and how was your night?  I really need a response from you asap thanks.”

Writing back, I told him I was still waiting for confirmation on clearance and was told it could take a week.  I also wrote that I hoped it would be sooner because “I really want to get this done!”

Later that same morning, I called the bank to ask about clearance and was told that the check had cleared. Therefore, I went right down to WalMart to send the shipping money.

Rebuking the Devourer

Working with the WalMart clerk to send the money was troublesome, but the Lord’s protection was evident from the beginning.  She was rather demanding, telling me what I should already know about filling out the forms.  This was my first time, though, so I admit I was ignorant.  Since I was planning on sending a rather large amount of money, I decided to check again with my bank to be sure the money would clear.  Talking to a very pleasant young man at the bank counter, he immediately related his suspicions that I was being scammed and that I needed to take care.  He told me the check had cleared, however, so I went back to the WalMart clerk to continue the transaction.

When it came time to transfer the money, I found that my credit card would not work.  Rather upset, the clerk told me to try a different card, which I did.  When that card would not work either, I decided to go back to the bank teller and withdraw cash to send in the money gram.

Ironically, even though the man’s check had supposedly cleared, my bank could not release the funds in cash.  The teller renewed his cautious advice that I not proceed to send out the money, even though I eventually was able to get some cash from another (third) credit card.

I decided to consult with my wife, who is very wise and cautious.  She advised me not to send any money because if I did and the check was a bad check, I would have to reimburse the bank with my own money.

I decided to stop the process and come back another time.  Afterwards, a rather contentious exchange occurred with the buyer, who was very upset.  I decided to cancel the transaction altogether, which made him even more upset.

Overall, I became suspicious to the point of wondering whether the purpose he had for the generator might be dangerous to some people.  I didn’t know if he was a terrorist, but I didn’t want to risk any ramifications in closing the deal, not to mention the loss of money and the loss of the generator itself.

My wife ultimately texted him and told him to cancel his check with his bank, and the next day we found that the funds had been withdrawn from our bank account.

The entire situation was stressful and troublesome, but we rejoiced in the Lord’s protection, especially through the good advice given to us by the bank teller.  He told me he was concerned that the original check didn’t look like a true check from the Bank of America, so I believed him.

Conclusion

Some weeks later, I was reminded of the words of Jesus in His “Parable of the Sower,” as found in the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel:

And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-29)

Consequently, I realized that the Holy Spirit had led me away from the thorns and turned me back to the good soil that leads to fruitfulness in my daily walk with Him.  The lack of peace I had felt, as well as the good advice I had received, all during this transaction were indicators that the Lord’s “seeds” were falling on thorny ground, and that I needed to change my heart’s desires to conform to His promises and blessings, not the supposed benefits of worldly wealth.

Which Film Will You Be Watching?

Many Available Choices

When Jesus Christ returns with the sound of the trumpet, after the “tribulation of those days,” (Matthew 24:29-30), what kind of movie or television program will you be watching?

Many people may be watching the latest “blockbuster,” either in a theater, on a DVD player, or using video streaming online.  One of the options might be a film about a single woman who has opened herself to the sexual temptations offered by the film’s hero, the attractive superstar who has never been turned down.  Consequently, the heroine is facing the choice of continuing with her pregnancy and having her baby or taking the advice of Planned Parenthood (what an ironic name!) and destroying the unborn child in her womb.     

More Choices 

On the other hand, a number of people who believe that the Scriptures are the true Word of God may be watching a film about Mary, the virgin who found herself carrying a child after the angel of the Lord had told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her.  The angel said,  “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. (Luke 1:31).  In spite of the possibility of condemnation and scorn from her friends, family, and even her future husband (Joseph), however, Mary said to the Angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (v. 38).  Her faith in the proclamation of the Lord was enough to carry her through the persecutions of King Herod and to comfort her in the events to come, even to the point of seeing her son’s horrific death and crucifixion.

Another film some people might have found compelling and would be watching when Jesus comes again concerns our culture’s current uncertainties about “gender identity.”  In the film, titled Born Again, (rated R for V, N, AC, AL)  a young adult man finds himself confused to the point of suicide. His problems began when he was still in elementary school after being sexually abused by an older teenager.  Because as a child he had often imagined himself turning into a girl when he got older, he, therefore, decided that perhaps he was indeed a girl “trapped” inside a boy’s body, as so many people were explaining in the newscasts and online forums he was listening to.  This path led him not only to seek and endure further abuse, but also to suffer the physical harm he would endure from unnatural sex practices, to the point where he contracted sexually transmitted diseases and extreme mental distress.  In the end, he decided to take medical treatments and surgery to be changed into a woman. His agonies did not cease after his transition, however, and he ended up taking his own life by overdosing on drugs. 

Other people might be watching a film about a woman who awakens to find herself surrounded by a beautiful garden filled with flowers and living streams of water.  She turns and sees a large form beside her, who puts his hand on her shoulder and comforts her in her confusion.  Her fears are quenched by his kindness and tender touch, and she quickly learns how to communicate with him in his language of love.  She realizes that she is like him in many ways, although some of her body parts are very different.  She does not see these as problems, however, for their coming together seems to right, entirely understandable, and satisfying.  When he tells her that she was formed out of a rib in his side, she isn’t perplexed or confused, but instead sees herself indeed as being “one” with him in many ways.  As he had said to her, she was indeed “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).

Films for Families

A father and mother, both of whom were scientists, atheists, and university professors, were watching a film with their children, confident that a science fiction film would be enlightening and entertaining to the whole family.  The science fiction, however, soon turned to occult spiritualistic themes with alien ghosts and demonically evil antagonists.  The children were afraid even to look at the television, with one young girl standing in the room’s hallway so she could quickly escape if the violence turned ugly.  The parents were certain that there was no harm in the film, however, and agreed together that their children could benefit from seeing the evils of religious beliefs and practices, and seeing such an expanded vision of their universe, while learning how to cope with dangerous situations in life.

Another family with three young children was watching a film about the life of Jesus Christ.  One particular scene struck the children immensely:

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

The parents looked at their three kids in wonder and amazement, for they couldn’t comprehend Jesus’ statements about receiving the kingdom of God like little children.  Laughing together, they talked about the messy rooms and hilarious predicaments they continually visualized at home.  But they also were amazed at the love Jesus had for the children, finding their own kids in Jesus’ loving arms. Likewise, they held their sleepy children and carried them up to their rooms.

Keep the Lamps Full

Another possible film might be a depiction of the “Parable of  the 10 Virgins,” told by Jesus Christ:

Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps (Matthew 25:1-4).
Watching a film does not mean that our lamps will be full or not, but the oil in the lamps is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and when Jesus comes again, just as the bridegroom comes in the parable, we must be sure to have our lamps filled with oil.  Our hearts need to be constantly full to ensure that they will be full when Christ appears.  The Apostle Paul exhorted the Church in Ephesus not to “grieve” the Holy Spirit, by whom they were “sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).  And Paul also wrote, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
 
Clearly, we understand that watching a film will not make us drunk in the way that indulging in alcohol will.  However, we must be aware of what we take into our lives that may lead to “dissipation.”  We need to take in what will not grieve the Holy Spirit, who lives and moves in the lives of all believers. 
 
Jesus taught his disciples that they needed to fill their hearts with “what is good.”
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).
As is said in terms of computers and internet technology, “Garbage in…garbage out.” In the same way, we will reveal what is in our hearts by what comes out of our mouths.  We must, therefore, be filled with the Spirit and the Word of God.  Thus, by filling our lamps with the oil of the Holy Spirit, we will bring forth what is good.

My Personal Story

Only one or two years ago, I was accused by a text message sent from a person whom I did not even know, of seeking to start a new cult and raise up to myself a new crowd of followers.  

This person had never even spoken to me, at least that I am aware, so he couldn’t have known for sure whether his accusations were true.  Since he didn’t know me, he didn’t know that I have never tried to be “cool” enough to start a cult, for I have never liked Cool Aid.  I have had no desire to lead a group of “followers,” hoping they would give me either recognition or money.  Instead, I have always tried to set an example of godliness in the churches or groups I have pastored or led, never even taking a salary in the last two churches.  I have sought only to be a giver, not a taker, unlike the leaders of most cults.

In addition, I have sought only to “equip the saints for the work of service and the building up of the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), doing the best I can, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to encourage and exhort, speaking the Truth in love and rightly dividing the Word of Truth.    

Therefore, I hope to be ready when the Lord appears, with my lamp filled with oil. 

 

 

My Apologies!

 

To All My Biblical Mysteries Subscribers and Friends:

My apologies for not being able to post any blog articles of late due to a “500 Internal Server Error” problem with my program.

I am not a digital native, by any means, so even the “solutions” I’ve been given by the server technicians are unworkable for me so far. I spent 3 hours and some money yesterday with another technician, who “cleaned” all my files, but I still need to work with him again soon.  I’ll keep working on solving the issues, but in the meantime, please pray for me.

My wife Jan and I are currently home in Pennsylvania from  Belize, a wonderful place to be. I didn’t  have great internet access there, and my regular computer/server was in Pennsylvania, so publishing articles there was challenging!  Then when we got home, we found that our PC’s motherboard was fried, and we had to get a new laptop.

We had a great time teaching baseball to the Hopkins Village youth (two practices a week!), making contact with many community people at the same time. Jan prayed with four of the players to invite Jesus to come into their hearts and be their Lord and Savior! She is a terrific witness to the players!  We also prayed with three local women, leading them to the Lord and praying for healing.

Our friend Guadalupe is wonderful, and I am working on getting her biography published as an eBook.  In addition, my wonderful former student Jinping Jiao has translated my Biblical Mysteries Revealed book into Chinese, and I am working on getting that version published as well.

Love to you all in Christ!

Charles Jenkins

God’s Protection from a Scorpion by Jan Jenkins

Jesus’ Promise

In Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 10, Jesus appoints seventy of His followers to go out in pairs before Him to every city where Jesus plans to travel. He first instructs them regarding hospitality, healing, and His message that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9). Additionally, He says that anyone who listens to His messengers will actually be listening to Him because they are sent out and will be speaking in His name.

The seventy then return “with joy,” delighting in the fact that even the demons were subject to them in the name of Jesus!

He encourages them further, stating, “I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you” (Luke 10:17-19).  Jesus has given tremendous power to His followers so they may walk in His victory and speak in His name. No wonder they are joyful after completing their mission!

A Belizean Scorpion

We recently had been just one week in our new home in Belize when we ourselves experienced God’s supernatural protection over a scorpion. We have some jungle on both sides of our property, consisting of large bushes, coconut palms, and a maze of mangrove roots. Louie, our dog, was always attracted to this area outside our fence (grass is greener!), and he loved to go there and smell and dig in this wondrous terrain.

Generally, we made sure he didn’t stay there too long, but because initially the fence wasn’t yet completed, it was pretty easy for him to sneak over.

Our Little Hunting Dog!

One evening Charles and I were out raking up the accumulated sea grass on the beach for a little longer than usual. When we finished, we called Louie and came into the house. While I was in the kitchen, and Charles had just settled down on the sofa, I noticed that Louie was playing with something on the living room floor. I thought it was probably a stick or a dry piece of the sea grass. As I watched, though, the stick seemed to move a little, and every time it did, Louie would jump back. I came closer to see what it was, and when I did, I screamed “No!” at Louie. Then I hollered, “It’s a scorpion! It’s a scorpion!” I had never seen one before, except in movies, but I instantly knew what it was when I saw it’s tail curled up. 

Charles hurried off the sofa, fly swatter in hand, and much to Louie’s chagrin, gave the scorpion a huge whack. Evidently, his curled tail caught in the fly swatter, which was now cracked from the hard hit on the floor, and it made the scorpion fly up into the air. It landed behind Charles, and I yelled, “it’s behind you. Don’t step back! Go forward!”

My barefooted husband followed my very loud advice and stepped forward, still holding the broken swatter, ready to use it again on the scorpion. I grabbed a drinking cup from the kitchen cabinet and gave it to Charles who promptly put it over the three-inch long scorpion on the floor. Meanwhile, Louie was both startled and confounded at our reaction to his new “toy.” We had to keep telling him, “No!” because he wanted to get to the scorpion under the cup.

Now, what do we do?

Charles got a piece of cardboard and carefully slid it under the cup, trapping the scorpion. Then he cautiously put the cup, the piece of cardboard , and the scorpion outside the front door on the veranda where Louie couldn’t get it.  

Consequently, all risk of the scorpion’s getting loose in our house was eliminated! We left it out there for three days before Charles went out and took a peek at it. By then it was baked and definitely dead.

After this, we could only thank our Heavenly Father for His protection. First, we recognized how miraculously God had protected Louie, even though he had certainly carried the scorpion into the house in his mouth. How could he have held that thing in his mouth and not get stung?

Second, God had protected us from having a very dangerous insect loose in our house!  It very easily could have escaped from Louie, run under our sofa, and hidden itself from us.

Immediately, we both thought of the verse already quoted above in Luke 10. True, we hadn’t trampled on a scorpion, but more importantly, because we are trusting Him for protection and health while we are in Belize, He used this situation to show us one of the ways his protection was active in our lives. Additionally, since we pray every morning for His continued blessing and safety, we are confident that we are “covered” in every situation.

We don’t go out and deliberately watch for opportunities to prove God’s faithfulness, but by committing our lives to Him as His followers, we are protected. Interestingly, when the Israelites were wandering in the desert those 40 years, God also protected them from scorpions (see Deut. 8:15).

We were so grateful to the Lord for once again showing us His love in this way. We serve a magnificent God who is very much a part of everything in our lives. He abides in each of us to direct our path, for as the Psalmist says,

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!”
For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence. (Psalms 91:1-3).

Who Is In the Mirror?

Entirely Unexpected

I recently finished reading a extraordinary book on Kindle, a memoir titled, “Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard,” written by Laura Bates, a professor and volunteer teacher of Shakespeare in a maximum security prison in Indiana.  

As a retired Professor of English myself, with over 20 years experience teaching some of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as numerous other challenging texts in literature and composition classes (Seriously?  War and Peace?), while also teaching English majors to teach English as secondary education teachers (grades 7-12) for many years, I was poignantly reminded while reading this book of my own struggles to make my classes not only interesting for my students, but also challenging and meaningful, not to mention obtaining tenure and promotions.  

My students were usually very motivated to become teachers themselves, or at least complete their undergraduate degrees. I never considered, however, that teaching Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello would bring significant changes into my students’ lives.  

Professor Bates, however, taught Shakespeare’s plays not only to prisoners, but also to the worst criminal offenders who had been confined in a supermax solitary prison. While doing so, she had to hand out assignments and hold group discussions with only eight students, yet all had to sit in separate cells, conversing through the very small “windows” used to pass meals to the prisoners.    

One of the Worst

One of these prisoners was Larry Newman, known to be the most dangerous prisoner in the Indiana state’s Westville supermax prison” (Bates, 17).  Although he was a fifth-grade dropout and a convicted murderer, with two escape attempts on his record, stabbing one of the prison guards during one attempt, Larry is the focus of much of the book because of his life-changing encounters while reading and studying Shakespeare’s plays.

Larry Newman’s experiences growing up in an abusive home and a crime-filled neighborhood gave him significant insights into some of the problems raised in Shakespeare’s plays, such as the gang-warfare in Romeo and Juliet (Capulets versus the Montagues) or the murders of King Duncan in Macbeth and Othello’s murder of his wife Desdemona because of Othello’s jealous rage. While reading these scenes in Shakespeare’s plays, Newman must confront the decisions he has made in his own life and is forced to challenge his own tightly held positions.  

Consequently, studying Shakespeare’s plays under Laura Bates changed his life, and he became one of the reasons why Bates’ program was so successful with other prisoners, as he participated with her in the classes, continually adding insightful contributions to the weekly lessons and discussions. Ultimately, he even partnered with Dr. Bates in writing a detailed guide to teaching Shakespeare’s plays to inmates, and he even began taking classes to obtain a Ph. D. while in prison to pursue his goal of becoming a professor himself, even though parole would never be possible in his lifetime.

Previously, Newman had spent over ten years in solitary confinement, his only contact with another human being occurring when he was handcuffed and escorted to a restroom, or when he was finally allowed to attend the Shakespeare classes with Dr. Bates.  In the class, titled “Shakespeare in Shackles,” Newman is confronted with such topics as honor, revenge, and conscience, forcing him and the other prisoners to consider their own actions from a new perspective provided by Shakespeare 400 years ago.

A Changed Man

At one point, after three years of partnering with Dr. Bates, the following conversation took place (Bates, 174):

“Where do you think you would be without Shakespeare?”  

Newman responded, saying, “I wouldn’t be anywhere I am today.  I know that.  I’d either be in deeper trouble–tried to escape and been in worse trouble than I was–or maybe I would’ve just that one day developed the courage to . . . you know what I mean?”

“Suicide?” I asked hesitantly.

Heck, yeah,” he replied.  “I was ready to go! I can’t tell you how much I was.” 

After musing on his suicidal thoughts, Newman continued to say,

“But the point is, the being dead part never worried me.  It seemed like a very plausible alternative.  So that’s not even what makes me the happiest.  I like being alive, I like my life, but what makes me the happiest is that I just really feel like I can go anywhere and do anything. I make decisions now ’cause that’s what makes me the happiest.  

Laura Bares is amazed and speechless:

I had worked with this prisoner for more than three years, but I had no idea that Shakespeare–and I–had that kind of impact on him.  I had never had that kind of impact on anyone.  I had never saved anyone’s life before (176).

Finding the Pattern

As both a literature teacher and a student of the Bible, I am always intrigued when I see “patterns” in a text, particularly the Scriptures.  These patterns might also be described as “similarities,” or “repeated phrases,” or “repeated themes,” for these patterns reveal helpful insights into the truths of the biblical teachings, the “mysteries” that the Holy Spirit desires to reveal to us.  

One such pattern is found in the following verses:

  • When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:12).
  • But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).
  • For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:23-25).

Beholding As In a Mirror

By reading these passages closely you will see that they all use the example of “looking into a mirror” to reveal how we are to see ourselves–not as we think we are but as we truly are.
The pattern revealed in these similar passages first highlights the perspectives of looking into the mirror as a “child,” or with a “veiled” face, or by merely seeing the “natural face” that appears.  This image may quickly be forgotten, while the image that appears in the “perfect law of liberty,” or a different kind of mirror, is an image that once adhered to leads to being blessed in all that we do. 
A significant indicator, therefore, of spiritual maturity is the ability to see ourselves consistently not through our natural senses but through the perspectives, we gain by “thinking with the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16), or seeing ourselves as Christ sees us.  

While no record exists of Larry Newman’s encountering Jesus Christ and finding eternal salvation through Him, he did escape earthly destruction by viewing and identifying with human encounters through the examples of Shakespeare’s plays which enabled him to reorder his thoughts and find new directions not based on his previous misconceptions about life and death.  

Ironically, however, Shakespeare’s plays do not provide the same kind of freedom and liberty that the Word of God provides, for His Word is “perfect”:

But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).

Sadly, many representations in our culture today have stated that not only is God dead, but also Truth is dead, as portrayed on a recent edition of Time Magazine (Source).

April 8, 1966

Commenting on these covers, Jonathan Van Maren writes,

As far as our culture is concerned, God is dead, and so is truth. An institution no less respected than TIME Magazine announced their respective departures from the culture. But I can’t help but think of the origin of the phrase “God is dead.” It came from the nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietszche, in his parable “The Madman,” where he wondered with appropriate panic, where morality would come from once God left (Source).

Van Maren continues to expose the latest examples of the opposition of fact and fiction:

We now reject every constraint on our own so-called right to radical self-determination, even if those constraints are biology and reality. That is why a full-grown man can decide to leave his family and live as a six-year-old girl, and the media coverage of this is largely subdued and respectful. That is why there is a new group of human beings who identify as non-human beings—rather, they are “Otherkin,” people who identify as certain animals. This is treated with long-faced solemnity by our cultural elites, because truth is dead and people can be whatever they want, even if they are obviously not what or who they say they are (Source).

Larry Newman found much freedom, not by denying the truths about himself and his life but by acknowledging the truths about his mistakes and misconceptions about himself.  May God give him the grace to see all the way to “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:16).

 

Moving For Purpose, Part III: Belize Baseball?

Kids after school.

Another Purpose in Belize

My wife Jan and I are moving in one month to Belize with a specific purpose and direction, primarily to begin part-time community service and missions work among the indigenous Garifuna people and the many Expats in the Hopkins Village Area.

However, now I am also motivated to work with the numerous Belizean boys and girls by founding a Little League baseball team/league.  

My Experience

I am a retired Professor of English Language and Literature, with both teaching and administrative experience.  I am also qualified and certified as a middle school and high school teacher, so I have worked professionally with young adults from both the middle and senior high school levels, both as a teacher and also as a high school guidance counselor.  

Since Jan and I also have a number of grandchildren who have played (and are now playing!) on Little League baseball teams, I have recently become very enthusiastic about working with young adults in the Belize area in Central America, where we will be living part-time in the coming years. My understanding is that there are no Little League teams in the Hopkins area, so it may be challenging to start a new team and a new league, especially since the players seem primarily interested in playing on soccer teams as part of their culture.  

On our last visit to Belize, last September 2016, however, we talked to a number of potential baseball players, and they all expressed enthusiasm for playing baseball.  Their only hesitation was due to a lack of equipment and supplies.  They were excited about wearing baseball uniforms, especially a baseball cap like the one I was wearing at the time.  

The need is great in the local Hopkins Village area for activities for these young boys and girls since they seem to wander about the village after their school hours and on weekends, and they don’t seem to have many outlets for training, competition, or organized activities.  

My Background in Baseball

While growing up, I played on a number of baseball teams, including softball teams, and I served as an assistant coach for a high school baseball team in Strathmore, California, where I first began my teaching career.

While I do not consider myself to be a baseball expert, I have been a close follower of the sport my entire life, and I have learned quite a lot about baseball by listening to baseball games on the radio and attending live baseball games in Los Angeles!

I especially appreciate all of the help that has been offered already for this new purpose, in particular from The Potter’s Pallette, my daughter Bethany’s ceramic and painting store in downtown Lock Haven.  She has begun coordinating with me to help provide equipment and supplies for Belize baseball, and so far the response has been exceptionally good, with many people pledging their support and donations of equipment.

New Song’s Help 

While in Belize, I will also continue to operate through the non-profit corporation I founded a number of years ago, both for our community service work, but also for the Little League projects.  If you wish to contact me, you may use the following address:

Newsong, Inc.  C/O  Charles M. Jenkins 

P.O. Box 53

Lock Haven, PA  17745

Moving For Purpose, Part II (By Jan Jenkins)

Moving Ahead 

After visiting and sharing with Pastor Herdie, we walked to the CPC Real Estate office the next day, where we met John Stewart, who has lived in Belize for 20 years, but still has a home in Pennsylvania.  John took us to see several houses, but nothing seemed to stand out.

John then told us about some lots for sale along the canal and along the Sea at the southern end of Hopkins, in an area called Sittee Point (pronounced like “city”).  John took us to see some of them and then dropped us off at our cabana.  We needed time to process what we had seen, to pray and listen, and to talk together about all of the possibilities.

On Friday morning, we went out together for an early swim in the sea.  Our morning swim had become part of our morning routine while we were there in Belize since the incredibly warm Caribbean Sea was only about 60 feet out from the front door of our cabana.

We then decided to do more exploring of the village.  We found a wood worker, named Alex, who made beautiful carvings out of the native woods of Belize.  We picked a few small carvings that would fit into our suitcases to bring home for gifts, but when we went to pay, we realized we hadn’t brought enough money.  He pointed to two bicycles that were parked in front of his little shop and told us we could use them to go back to our cabana instead of having to walk.  He even let us take the carvings with us.  We bicycled the six blocks or so and got our money and then returned to pay Alex.

Finding a Lot on the Sea

We went to see John, the realtor, again to ask him about the lots for sale.  He took us for a drive to look at properties, and about an hour later we took our step of faith and made an offer on a lot! We had decided to build rather than purchase a home that could already have upkeep problems.  We had God’s peace and believed that if this was in God’s will to happen, He would make a way for us.  We had the money to pay for the lot, so if nothing else, it would be a good investment.  We found out that the property tax would only be $20 a year whether we built a house or not!  We felt very happy and took another swim in the sea to celebrate!

Sunday came, and as we floated in the water during our morning swim, we shared our thoughts about God’s direction and prayed that He would continue to direct us.  Again, we felt His peace.  We had learned long ago that if we wanted God to direct us, we needed to begin moving and trust that He would keep us on the right path.  Like someone has said, “It’s much harder to move a parked car than one that is already moving.”  Additionally, our God provides a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path” Psalm119:105.

A Wave Hits

We talked to both of our daughters about our plans, and after explaining what we felt God was doing in our lives and feeling they understood, we wired the deposit money to Belize so that the purchase could proceed.  Now there were lots of little “waves” in the water, but in spite of occasional overwhelming feelings about all the decisions ahead of us, we felt peace and we were determined that we would keep our eyes on Jesus.

In May, 2016, I began working on floor plans for a house in Belize.  I looked at a few samples and even measured the rooms in our house here so I could have an idea of room sizes.  This was fun, and I went through pages and pages of drafting paper coming up with various ideas, showing them to Charles for his input, and then making more changes.

By the end of May, I had a couple of rough drawings that I thought would work.  When we were in Belize, our Realtor had introduced us to Dennis, who was about six weeks into a build there.  He gave us a business card for his builder whom he highly recommended.  Additionally, we had heard of a builder who built square or rectangle houses and then moved the house to the property to set up and finish.

I spent a month sending rough plans to these two companies, getting feedback and making changes.  We decided to go with the builder who was building the house for Dennis and who would build the whole house on our lot rather than moving it in.  Communication with R. G. Home Builders was easy, and they always responded quickly.

I emailed Rolando Gonzalez, the owner and contractor of R. G. Home Builders, and told him we would like him to build our house and requested an estimate on my floor plan.  In a couple of days, he sent his estimate.  It was much more than we thought it would be. We felt like we had hit a big wave this time.  Our plan to sell our house here and downsize to something small to rent or buy might not work, we thought!  For one thing, we realized that the first listing price the realtor had suggested for our house here in Pennsylvania was probably too high, so we had lowered our asking price.

We didn’t believe the Lord wanted us to get into debt with this Belize property either, so I sent an email to Rolando asking about changes to bring the cost down.  We still felt peace, however, and we believed it would work out.  Reading I and II Thessalonians seemed so timely, and so many verses jumped out and ministered to us. One scripture became a prayer for Pastor Herdie and the church in Hopkins:

For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?  (I Thessalonians 3:9-10)

For ourselves, we prayed the following prayer:

To this end also we pray… that our God will count [us] worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power.  (II Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Rolando had a few suggestions and sent another estimate.  It was still too high. We had gotten some idea of building prices when we were in Belize, and these estimates seemed so much higher.  Our house hadn’t sold, we hadn’t even gotten an offer yet, but even if it sold, we wouldn’t have enough money to cover this last estimate, along with other associated costs, such as where we would live while home in Pennsylvania.  Charles, in faith, had even written about our calling to Belize in his online blog site.  We had felt sure about Rolando and now we urgently believed that we needed to keep “walking on the water” and keeping our eyes on Jesus.

I went back to my Bible, reading again in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.  In Chapter five I read, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (I Thessalonians 5:24).

A couple of days later, I was looking again at the estimate.  I was stunned when I saw at the top of the column written in very small letters:  BZD,  (or “Belize Dollars”).  Rolando’s estimate was in Belize dollars, not US dollars!  That meant that the house would cost half as much as we thought it would.  I charged out of the house to find Charles and tell him what I had discovered.  We truly believe God sent us a huge blessing that day.

Calm Waters

Suddenly the waves were gone, and the water was calm.  It was easy to see that Jesus was with us.  There was a great deal of praise and happy dancing going on that day!  We emailed Rolando and gave him permission to have his architect look at our floor plan.  Working with the architect, Salim, we spent a few weeks exchanging ideas and came up with a final plan. We then received another estimate which we interpreted correctly and knew that with the sale of our house here we could pay for this home and remain debt free.  Now the build was contingent upon the completed purchase of the lot.

In June we made a decision to sell our camper/travel trailer.  It was only two years old, and we had taken good care of it, but we figured we would not use it enough to keep, and it would be nice to have the money for our move.  We found a large dealership in Bath, NY, that would sell it on consignment, so we took it up there and prayed it would sell quickly.  It didn’t sell quickly, but amazingly it did sell late in August.  By then we had begun to think about bringing it home since it was so late in the summer.  Who would buy the travel trailer when camping season was almost over?  Once again, God showed us who was in control!

On June 11th and 12th we had a huge moving sale at a friend’s house located on a busy road.  We sold a bed, sofa set, table, dressers, and many household items and tools.  It was exhausting, but it felt good to be rid of things we no longer needed.  With assurance, we told anyone who asked that we were scaling down to move part-time to Belize and live in a smaller house here.  We had the Salvation Army pick up everything we had left over.

A month later on July 11th, we received an offer to buy our house.  We were so grateful, and we felt encouraged in our faith journey.  Then, on July 18, we got a congratulatory message saying that the sale on the Belize lot was complete and we were the new owners of number 32, Sittee Point, Belize.  All we could do was thank the Lord for making our path clear.

The next day we contacted the surveyor our builder Rolando had recommended since we needed an up-to-date survey of the Belize lot.  We wired the money, and the surveyor emailed us a couple of days later  to write that he had finished surveying.  We then learned from Rolando that we needed to apply for a building permit.  Both Rolando and our Real Estate Agent in Belize, John Stewart, helped us through this process.  It would apparently take four to six weeks to be approved.

Another Wave Hits

Near the end of July, however, another large wave hit.  Our Real Estate Agent here in the U.S. phoned to say that the buyers had changed their minds and didn’t feel like they could continue with the purchase of our home.  We were too stunned to talk about it, but both of us prayed.  I went by myself into the bathroom and quietly told the Lord I wasn’t going to complain because our plan was His plan and He knew the timing.  This was not easy to do because my feelings of fear hit hard.

We had gone so far with our commitment in Belize, and we were so excited about God’s call!  Charles went outside to do some yard work which I understood was his place to be alone and pray.  There were so many parts to this puzzle, and they all had to be pieced together for this vision to be accomplished.

About four hours later the Real Estate agent phoned and said, “You must have been praying!”  I told her we certainly had been.  “Well, your buyers have changed their minds; they really want your house.”  Wow!  To say we were relieved is an understatement.  The sea had calmed.  We figured we would need to plan another trip to Belize after closing in September so we could meet the builder in person and make decisions about colors, countertops, and the placement of the house on the lot.

The buyers sent a home inspector to look at the house, and we began checking off the list of improvements he felt were necessary.  It was a little mind boggling at first since one of the improvements necessary was a whole new heating and air conditioning system.  We had no idea ours was so near collapse.  Again, though, we trusted that God would get us through this move debt free.  We needed to keep our eyes on Him and not on the waves.  We had already seen God meet our needs so many times when we trusted Him.

Surging Waves Hit

On August 5th the Real Estate agent phoned and said she had bad news again.  My heart felt like it dropped to the floor.  We had made arrangements with our daughter and son-in-law to rent a small house they owned on their property.  It hadn’t been lived in for several years, so we were there cleaning and repairing when we got the phone call.  “The buyers have changed their minds again and they won’t be purchasing your house.”   This was the biggest and hardest hitting wave yet.

Momentarily, we lost sight of Jesus in the midst of the huge wave crashing over us.  Charles and I gave each other a despairing look and again felt too shocked initially to talk much about it.  Our only communication was, “What do we do now?”  We held hands and said a quick prayer and then went back to our work on the house.  So far, we owned the lot in Belize, which had been surveyed, and we had applied for a building permit.  Our house had been scheduled to close around September 5th, and Rolando, our builder, had told us he could begin the build the first of October, providing he received the permit and first installment payment.

All the puzzle pieces had flown apart.  Both of us were praying and seeking God, although the temptation to sink in the water was great.  Many times we had to ask for His peace.  We both decided that if we had gotten it wrong, we would be willing to let go of the vision and be satisfied with having invested in a lot in Belize.  I emailed Rolando and told him to put the plans on hold until we notified him that we had sold our house.

He wrote back, “No worries.  I can do that.”  Yes, if we were truly walking with the Lord and keeping our eyes on Him, we shouldn’t have any worries.  It was a struggle to deal with relisting our house and starting over again, but we signed all the paperwork again, and the house went back on the market.

The Word says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).  We needed to trust and not waver just because we didn’t understand what was happening.  In Matthew 8, Jesus needed to get away from the crowds, and He told His disciples they were going to the other side of the sea (V. 18).

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep.  And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”  He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?”  Then He got up and rebuked the winds and sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:23-27).

I imagine the disciples didn’t understand why Jesus would have them get into a boat and experience a horrifying storm.  Jesus clearly reminded them that with faith they could be overcomers, no matter what they faced.  We only needed to ask Jesus to rebuke the “winds and sea” on our behalf.

After a few days, with humble hearts, Charles and I both felt that we needed to operate in faith again, so we could observe how Jesus was going to rescue this situation.  We notified Rolando that he could continue to plan on building the house in October.  We knew we had enough savings to make the first payment of the build and God would provide.  With this decision made, our spirits felt renewed, and we felt like we were back where we were supposed to be.  It was entirely up to Him to put all the puzzle pieces together.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you (I Peter 5:6-7).

In August Rolando sent us a picture of the lot to show us what the surveyor had done.  When we looked at it, it didn’t look right.  I sent the picture to our Real Estate agent, John, who immediately wrote back saying that this picture was not of our lot!  John went to our lot and notified us that it had not been surveyed.  We contacted Rolando and told him to have the surveyor stop by the Real Estate Office and have John show him the correct lot.

After going to the lot with John, the surveyor emailed an apology and told us he would survey our lot immediately.  On August 22, John sent us an email verifying that our lot had been surveyed.  God had truly protected us again.  With much relief, we thanked him for his help and then contacted Evan at Royale International, Belize, to tell him he could begin the excavating. Without even a deposit, this wonderful company began excavating around September 1st.

Another Trip to Belize

We decided after this experience that it would be a good idea to visit Belize again for a week, so we could meet face to face with Evan, the excavator, and Rolando, the contractor.  We left on September 8th; this time we had an uneventful flight to Belize City airport and then flew in the little Maya Cessna plane to Dangriga, Belize, where our friend Golden picked us up and drove us to Hopkins.  It was fun to see him and be greeted by someone we knew.  Golden’s huge smile is contagious.  In the car he pointed out where several places were and answered our questions about the church in Hopkins.  He was excited because he was getting a license to be able to take people on fishing excursions.

We stayed at a resort called Jaguar Reef, not far from our lot.   We were greeted Belizean style and given drinks upon our arrival and then shown to our little cabana with a palapa roof.  It was beautiful and comfortable, but we were excited to go see our lot.  We unpacked and each got a bicycle provided by the resort and took off.

The lot was only about a mile up the road, but we still had a little difficulty remembering where it was.  When we found it, we were astonished at how picturesque the property looked. The excavators had leveled the lot and removed the mangrove trees and gigantic roots down near the water.  We stepped into the warm Caribbean Sea, and it felt wonderful.  The sense of God’s blessing was so powerful, we were overwhelmed with excitement and anticipation.

We biked back and had a fish burrito dinner at a café near the resort.  Mostly expats were eating there since the café is located near the resorts at the south end of Hopkins Village.  We had Belize style burritos and fried plantain chips, which were fun to try, and we liked the taste.

 

Local Fishermen

The next morning we resumed the routine we had started during our last visit in April and took a morning swim in the sea.  As expected, it was warm and calm.    We were fascinated to watch as several men launched a very heavy looking canoe.  When they go out fishing in Hopkins Village, they must drag or push the boat from the sand out into the water and then jump in since there are no close docks in the village.  Upon returning, they head straight into the sand as fast as they can and then pull the boat up on the dry sand.  If there is a motor, one man lifts it up just as they get into the very shallow water, and the boat shoots up on the sand.

We made plans to meet Evan, our excavator, at the lot a little later in the day, so we bicycled down to the Real Estate office where John Stewart worked, which was also on the way to the lot.  We wanted to thank him in person for all the help he had given, and it was good to see him again, like meeting an old friend.  He invited us to meet him and his wife, Paragi, at a local café called Lucky Lobster for dinner that night.  After a nice visit, we bicycled down to meet with Evan. 

 

It was encouraging to meet and talk to Evan, our excavator, as we watched one of his crew leveling the lot and seeing how conscientiously they did their work.  We asked him about payment, and he said he would send us the bill when the work was completed in about two days, and we could pay him after we were back in the States.  “No worries!”  We were surprised at his trust in us!  Evan piled our bikes in the back of his truck and gave us a ride back to our resort.

We relaxed and cooled off a while in our room and then went for a bike ride around the village.  September is the month when many of the expats and locals who own resorts, cafes, and other businesses take off.  Several of the places where we liked to eat and visit were closed.  We stopped at Golden’s shop to visit a little. It was fun to see the Hopkins kids coming back to school after their noon lunch break.  We found a little bakery located next to a house and bought some cakes to take back to our cabana for lunch.

On Saturday, we biked to Pastor Herdie’s house.  He was not there because he had been invited to speak in Guatemala.  We had a short visit with one of his sons, though, who was very friendly and polite. Charles left one of his books for Pastor Herdie to read.

Riding back, we got pretty hot, so we took another swim in the sea and then had a relaxing afternoon and evening at the resort.  We looked forward to visiting the church again.

Sunday morning, as we were walking along the beach, three young Garifuna boys approached us asking if we wanted to donate money for their soccer team.  We told them we had already donated to the girls’ soccer team, but that didn’t dissuade them.  It’s hard not to support these kids, even though we don’t know if they really are on a soccer team because they have so little.

Unfortunately, because they spot us as tourists, we’re sometimes targets because they think we’re rich, but we do have so much more than they do.  We talked to them for a little while, asking them if they liked to play baseball.  They said they didn’t play because this sport isn’t as familiar to them as soccer.  We asked them if they’d like to play if they had baseball equipment.  One got a little excited and asked, “Can we have hats like that?” pointing at the cap Charles was wearing.  It seemed like they were more interested in caps than in having a ball, bat, or glove.  We would love to have had three caps to give them right then, but maybe we will be able to bring some with us when we go back.

One of the ideas we’ve had is to have a baseball camp where we could show the kids how to play baseball and then have Bible classes with them.  It would be wonderful to have groups come to Hopkins for periods of time to hold Christian baseball camps, too.  The village has a large level park where they could possibly play.

For lunch we ate at the Jaguar Reef Resort, where we were staying.  Part of the meal included yucca (pronounced “you-ka” by locals) fries.  They’re a little more solid in texture and chewy than potato fries, but so delicious.  The Yucca Giganta plant is native to Belize and Costa Rica.  It was fun to try something new.  Interestingly, much of the food there is a variation of Mexican food with which we are very familiar.

We decided to rent a golf cart at the resort to drive into the village for dinner before we went to church.  There weren’t too many places open, but at the north end of the village, we found a small place called Northside Kitchen with a few tables set up outside a house under a carport.  When we stopped, we were greeted warmly by the owner.  She didn’t have a menu, she explained, because she makes one dish and then sells it until it is gone!  Today was chicken.  It was moist and tender and yummy.

While we were eating, we talked to a couple of women who were there visiting the owner.  It was an enjoyable meal and another opportunity to meet a few of the locals.  It was surprising how many people came by for take-out while we sat there and ate.  When we finished, we said “good-bye” to everyone and told them we would be back in February when our house was built.

We wanted to go to the little grocery store to get some snacks, and on the way, we saw two women walking.  We asked them if they wanted a ride, and they were so happy.  They talked, giggled, and waved to friends as we drove to the grocery store.

Coming out of the store, we saw a little boy who looked familiar.  He asked if he could go for a ride on the golf cart. I asked him if he was one of the boys that sell cakes.  It turned out he was one of the boys who would come to our cabana every night when we had been in Hopkins last April.  He told us his name was Brayden.  We told him he could have a ride, but that we were going to church, so we asked if he would like to go to church with us.  He wanted to go, so we had him show us where he lived so I could check in with his parents.

It was a roundabout ride and then a walk through the brush for about a quarter of a block to his tiny house.  It probably wasn’t necessary to ask his parents since the Belizean kids seem to run comfortably around all over the village without supervision, but it was nice to meet Braydon’s mother.  She was a beautiful young woman nursing a newborn.  She told me Braydon could go to church, but he needed a bath.  I told her I thought he was fine, and we could take him “as is.”  I asked her if she wanted to go with us too, but she said she couldn’t because she had just had the baby, even though she liked going to church.

On the ride to the church, Charles asked Brayden if he knew Jesus.  He said yes, but Charles still explained to him that he could pray and ask Jesus into his heart. When we got to the church building, Brayden became bashful; he would sit with us only for a few minutes and then go outside and stand by the open side door near where we sat.

It was a joy to see Pastor Herdie.  It was a little early, so he was setting up the floor fans and some chairs.  After talking with him briefly, he began walking around silently praying like we had seen him doing last time.

As people began arriving, I saw Kendra and walked over to give her a hug.  She looked very pregnant now, but was feeling good.  I had a lollipop for her, and she giggled with delight to see it.  Kendra told me she was due in October.  I told her that the next time I saw her, I would be happy to see her baby.  She seemed pleased.  I told her I had been praying for her, and she thanked me and told me not to stop!

The singing began, and this time more songs were sung in Garifuna than before.  The music blessed us even though we didn’t understand the words.  Pastor Herdie is a songwriter, so I imagine they were singing some of his original music.  Once again, we were aware of the people’s total lack of self-consciousness and their ability to sing “from the heart” during the worship.  The lyrics were all known by the people, and there were no songbooks or projected lyrics.

The same “prayer warrior” came up, and again she again prayed right out of the Scriptures with amazing boldness and power.  What a blessing!  Two ministers from Guatemala were also visiting, and Pastor Herdie introduced them and had each one share a brief testimony in Garifuna.

Since Pastor Herdie had been out speaking during the week, he had a man speak in the service who was originally from the United States.  I think the man and his wife have been living there at Sittee River for around two years.  He shared an excellent Word-based message of faith.

We hadn’t seen Brayden for a while, and we hoped he was still outside or had gone home.  When the service ended, we talked with another couple who had moved to Dangriga from the US, and then briefly with the Pastor, who told us his wife was temporarily in Punta Gorda, Belize.  He looked very tired, so we said goodbye and hoped we’d get a chance to see him again before we left Belize.

When we went outside, we were relieved to see Brayden sitting in the golf cart waiting for us.  We took him home and then went back to the resort.  It was another enjoyable evening and we continued to feel blessed.

On Monday, after our morning swim and sharing time, we went for a bicycle ride to the village.  We had just passed the church when we saw Pastor Herdie along the road.  We stopped to say hi and asked him about his wife.  He invited us to go into the church building, and we sat down together.

He shared that two of his sons and his wife had temporarily moved to Punta Gorda, where she has relatives, and where their older boys could attend school.  They were occasionally able to visit during weekends, but it was a difficult situation.  He never complained, but repeatedly told us they were in God’s hands and He would take care of them in this transitory situation.

He additionally shared with us that his oldest daughter had died about six months before.  The story was heartbreaking, and it was hard to keep back the tears, but again Pastor Herdie was full of trust, for he had obviously received God’s peace and comfort.  While talking to him that day, we saw the hurt and pain evident after 30 years of serving as Pastor in Hopkins, but at the same time, he exudes a quiet joy and peace. 

He made us mindful of Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We shared with him that our house had not yet sold, but God had led us to “get out of the boat” and trust Him.  We further explained that we had told the builder he could go ahead and begin in October.  Even though we were completely out of our comfort zone, we told him we felt we were being led of the Lord to Hopkins Village.

He seemed to understand perfectly our situation, and we had a wonderful prayer time together, praying for all of our various needs.  As we left, both Charles and I strongly felt a release and a God-given confidence.  The burden over our house was gone, and we felt renewed.

For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 1:6)    

We met Rolando and Salim, our architect, in the large lobby of Jaguar Reef later that same Monday.  We immediately had a good first impression of them both, and the more we talked about the building project, the more we felt good about it.  Salim had pages and pages of house plan diagrams from all angles, including all the electrical outlets and plumbing.  We signed the contract to build and signed off on the floorplan.

Rolando then drove us to the property.  We decided where we wanted the house to be located on the lot.  It’s going to be built on nine-foot high cement pilings, and Rolando said he would contact someone who could put the pilings in, which would be the next step.  He assured us that the building permit was coming and that we could go ahead and have the pilings put in.

He then took us to see the house he had just about finished for Dennis.  It was very impressive and well-built.  We got back in his truck and began talking more about why we were moving to Belize. Charles told him a little about our calling to Hopkins, and immediately Rolando told us that he was a Christian.  He told us about his church, and again we felt so blessed.  God had definitely brought us together, and Rolando agreed.  When he dropped us off at the resort, we felt very content.

The rest of our time at Hopkins, we relaxed.  One day we took a drive in the golf cart to the harbor and river area south of Hopkins.  As we drove we suddenly saw about 20 coatimundis run across the road ahead of us. We learned that these cute mammals are part of the raccoon family.  When we were in Belize in 2006, one of the workers at the resort had shown us a coati that was her pet.  He crawled all over her, similar to a ferret.  

On Thursday morning Golden drove us to the Dangriga Airport to begin our trip home to the U.S.  On the way he shared his amazing testimony.  We were reminded how much God loves us and reaches out to those people whose hearts are searching for Him.

Charles with Golden

We took the Cessna plane again to Belize City and then flew home to Pennsylvania from there.  Of course, it was good to see our Pennsylvania family and our dog, Louie.  We took a day to adjust, get unpacked, and get caught up on the laundry, and Charles did some yard work.

Problems With Our Home Sale

We didn’t hear anything from our Real Estate agent for a week, so we discussed whether it might be time to drop the selling price of our house once more and trust that the Lord would continue to provide what we needed for the build in Belize, as well as our housing in the U.S.  Charles, however, felt that we should wait until the following Monday before we contacted the agent.  It wasn’t long after this decision that we received a message from the Real Estate agent saying that someone wanted to see the house on Saturday, September 25th.

On the following Monday, we had an offer!  We both felt it was a direct answer to our prayers with Pastor Herdie that day when we had felt that release.  We rejoiced and believed that this time, everything would work out.  The estate closing was scheduled for October 25th.

Moving Out of Our Home

Some friends had recently moved, and they told us that they had many boxes we could use for our move.  We went over and picked up what we thought would be enough and were grateful we wouldn’t have to look everywhere for boxes.  We had finished fixing up the little house where we would be living, so we began packing and separating things we no longer needed.

Even though we had had a huge moving sale, we were still finding so many accumulated things that we no longer needed since our little rental house had only one bedroom.  It felt good to “scale down.”  We found homes for our futon, large living room rug, stereo/TV cabinet, TV, sofa, dressers, and other items.  The smaller items we donated to the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries.  It kept us busy.

In October we moved a few things to the little house so we wouldn’t have to do it all at once.  Troy, our son-in-law, along with our daughter  Bethany and the grandsons, helped us one weekend by carrying all the heavy stuff.  The little house was starting to feel like home, and we loved it.

 

Meanwhile, we had to wire money to Belize to get an electric permit and then have an electrician put in an electrical pole so Rolando could begin his work.  He had moved a huge container, looking like a train car, onto the lot with all his equipment.  The nine-foot pilings were in, we learned; Rolando had the building permit, and was about ready to begin construction.

On October 7th, we made our application to the Belize Water Board to have water access for our property.  To process this application and get the water hook-up would take four to six weeks.

Meanwhile, the electrical post had been installed; now we had to purchase a permit so we could actually have electricity for the house and for its construction.  This, at least, was a little easier because BEL (Belize Electric Limited) is online and we could set up the account and make the payment directly online.  It wasn’t until October 27th that the electricity was connected and available.  At that time we were still waiting for the water hook-up.

Since we didn’t have much furniture left in our house, it was feeling pretty bare and cold.  With the help of Bethany and the grandsons, we got our heavy latex mattress moved to the little house.  We added a few personal items and moved in on October 8th.

After this, we gradually moved everything over and tried to unpack boxes as we brought them over.  Since Fall weather was beginning, I was able to put most of the summer clothes and small things we would take to Belize in plastic tubs that we stored in the garage below the house.  We enjoyed being in the little house and having the grandsons drop in now and then to see how we were doing.  Our furniture consisted of one sofa, two end tables, one cabinet, one dresser, along with our bed and two-night stands.  We felt so free!

 

Another Wave Hits

Everything during the escrow was going fairly smoothly until the day before closing.  On October 24th, around noon, our Real Estate agent telephoned to say we had a problem.  We could see the wave hitting again, and it was troubling, to say the least.  For some reason, the buyer’s bank had approved the loan for the house before receiving the appraisal.

Our agent told us that the appraisal had just been released, and it was $26,000 less than our selling price!  This news was astounding since our agent had agreed that our price was very marketable.  Did this mean the sale was off?  The Agent assured us she was going to find comparable sales herself to try to convince the buyers the price was reasonable.

(To Be Continued:  Part III in next Blog Post)

Moving For Purpose, Part I (by Jan Jenkins)

                                         20160421_115130 (1)

Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.  Is. 40: 29 – 31

At times the days go by slowly, and at other times they seem to go by very quickly.  Our whole family was together for Thanksgiving, which felt so good, and then the surge of the Christmas season passed quickly.  After the first of the year, 2016, Chuck and I felt apathetic. He had had surgery the previous October, and the recovery took longer than we expected because of some difficulties in the operating room, so we were so thankful when he was feeling much better.  A follow-up appointment in January showed that he was doing very well, and all his following appointments since then have been encouraging.  In fact, we had much to be thankful for, so why the lethargy?  Family, home, health, church, and friends were all a blessing to us.

We began praying that we would know God’s direction and that we would discern the plan and purpose God had for us.  Was retirement going to be settling down, finding some new hobbies, or taking an extended vacation?  Charles retired from the University in the spring of 2014, and for over a year we had reveled in the freedom we had to go on short camping trips in our new travel trailer whenever we wanted.  Now, there was an inner sense that there should be more for us.  Where was our place?  Where did we fit?  We had helped with leadership in the church home groups for a couple of years, but this ministry appeared to have ended since we never received further guidance.  I don’t remember how many times I asked the Lord what our purpose was. 

Getting Acquainted with Belize in 2006

2017-01-24_1006

A number of years ago in 2006, we had visited Hopkins, Belize, a predominately Garifuna community in Central America, and we loved it there.  The tropical sunny climate, the beautiful Caribbean Sea, and the enchanting rainforest with the howler monkeys were a joy.  The history of Belize and particularly the Garifuna people is intriguing. For many years Belize was inhabited by the Mayan civilization which accounts for the incredible Mayan ruins that can still be seen today.  Currently, Belize is home to the Creole, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo (Spanish and Native Americans), Mennonite (Amish) peoples, as well as a blend of many other cultures.   The Garifuna came from the inter-married Arawak Indians and Carib Indians of St. Vincent Island.  After the British tried to subdue the native people, a minority of survivors were deported to Roatan, Honduras.  However, the Garifuna were again forced to flee and landed on the southern coastline of Belize in 1832. 

In a victory over the Spanish in the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798, the British were given control and British Honduras became a British colony.  The name was changed on June 1, 1973, to Belize, and on September 21, 1981, Belize became independent.  In 1954 all adults could finally vote in Belize, and in 1986 the first university opened there. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the Garifuna culture a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2001.  This proclamation was made to raise awareness and protection of the Garifuna culture.  The government in Belize is a parliamentary, representative democratic monarchy.  The prime minister is the head of the government, and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. 

Chuck and I decided to look at airplane fares and reservations to see if another trip to Belize looked possible.  After doing some research, we decided to plan a trip for the following April 2016.  This trip would give us something to look forward to and plenty of time to plan, look for flights, and find a place to stay. 

We chose to go back to Hopkins, Belize, which is a small fishing village on the southern coast of Belize in a district called Stann Creek.  It is a small multicultural community consisting mostly of Garifuna people with a few Mayan people, and a small expat gathering.  English is spoken with a beautiful rhythm and is relatively easy to understand for native English speakers.   Spanish is also occasionally heard among some of the people.  They are a happy, contented people and very friendly to everyone.  The first time we visited Hopkins, we stayed at Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, which is a beautiful resort located right on the Caribbean Sea that specializes in diving, snorkeling, and various tours of the area including the rainforest.  This time we felt confident enough to stay on our own in a location in the village of Hopkins itself.  After much internet searching, we found a small house, or cabana, to rent in the center of the village facing the Caribbean Sea. We made reservations for April 19th to the 26th.     

Seeking Direction    

As excited as we were to return to Belize, we still were grappling with purpose and God’s direction for us here at home in the United States.  We began thinking that maybe there was a higher reason to revisit Hopkins Village than merely a time of vacation.  We were both still searching for that answer.  I began looking at all the activities there were to do in the Hopkins area. 

On our first visit we had stayed for a few days in the rainforest in a beautiful resort called Lamanai Outpost Lodge before going to Hamanasi.  We hiked all around Mayan Ruins, climbed to the top of the magnificent Lamanai Mayan ruins, gone with a guide to hunt and tag crocodiles on the river, enjoyed the Howler Monkeys, taken an all day hike in the rainforest to beautiful Antelope Falls, where we went for a swim, and we had gone snorkeling along the Barrier Reef.  Now in the village area, cave tubing, river rafting, a Jaguar Reserve, zip lining, and sea fishing were available.  Initially, I thought we could plan one activity for each day since when we were there previously we had focused mainly on adventures and sightseeing. 

2017-01-24_1024.png

This time, however, we decided to see if we could find a church in the village to visit. I researched the area and found a church called Ligilisi Lareini Bunjiu, in Garifuna, and in English, “Church of Grace.”  We decided that we would try to find the pastor after we arrived.  With this first decision, it felt like God began speaking to us more about our visit.  Chuck had a vivid dream one early morning in which we were in Belize actively involved in ministry.  He woke up excited to share it with me.  Now we talked more about mixing with the Garifuna people and looking for ministry opportunities

By April, we additionally began to discuss whether, or not, God was actually calling us to a longer ministry in Hopkins Village.  Both of us believed that God had a higher purpose for this visit, and we needed to be in prayer for His guidance and wisdom. 

Meanwhile, our home here in the U.S. began to feel a little uncomfortable.  We had just attended a semi-annual Home Owners Association (HOA) meeting, and when the discussion focused on getting a large bank loan to repair the private road for our community, we became very unsettled.  Our plan since the early days of our Christian ministries, and God’s plan for us, is that we stay out of debt:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who  his neighbor has fulfilled the law.  For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

This loan, however, would put everyone in the association in debt for the next 20 years.  If they were able to get the loan, it would only take a majority vote to commit all the families in the association to this large debt.  The majority at the meeting didn’t want simply to fix the eroded and cracked places, but also to resurface the whole road.    I felt the Lord speaking to my heart saying that we were “unequally yoked,” with unbelievers who were making financial decisions we didn’t agree with. This situation, along with the upkeep on our house on six acres, which was becoming more difficult, made us begin thinking about downsizing.  Maybe it was time to sell the house and look for something smaller.  

Maybe it was time to sell the house and look for something smaller.  Meanwhile, at the very least, we would have a nice vacation in Belize, we could have some time away to think about our situation more, and finally, perhaps, we could come to a decision about our house.

We remembered many years ago hearing a speaker talk about the eagle’s nest.  The parent eagles prepare a comfortable home for their eaglets with soft, downy feathers, and they carry plenty of food to them.  When the eaglets grow their juvenile feathers and become more ready to leave the nest, the parent eagles rough it up so that there are irritating sticks surfacing instead of the soft covering of feathers and other plant life that had made their home so comfortable.  This new discomfort makes them want to leave the nest.  We concluded, perhaps, that because our nest was becoming a bit scratchy, it was time to make a move.  Now we began thinking that if we were able to sell our house and move into something smaller, we might consider having a house in Belize.

On April 17, we made a decision to phone a Real Estate agent and ask her to look at our house.  She was available to come out that afternoon, so we showed her around.  She thought the house was “saleable” and was willing to do a “soft listing” while we were in Belize, which meant that while we were gone she could show the house to anyone interested, as well as to colleagues in her office, to get a feel for the market.  Incredibly, after living in this house nearly 21 years, we felt very peaceful about our decision.

We did some frantic house cleaning, packed, and left for Belize two days later on April 19.  Since we hadn’t flown out of the country since 2006, we had forgotten some of the steps we had to take to get through customs, and we were sometimes mystified at the rude attitude of the TSA officers.  When we boarded the airliner to fly from Miami to Belize City, we felt relieved that we had successfully made it through all the checkpoints. 

At one point, when our plane began to taxi to the runway, suddenly there was a screeching of brakes, skidding, and a loud noise at the back of the plane as the plane came to a stop.  All the passengers were jerked forward, and I half expected the oxygen cups to come flying out!  We looked back and saw that all the metal cupboards in the back of the cabin had flown open and the big bin of ice had sailed off the shelf and hit the flight attendant in the head.  She was bent over in pain, and all the attendants from the front of the plane came running down the aisle to assist her.  Behind them, a woman came hurrying down the aisle saying, “I’m a doctor, let me help.”  After giving the woman immediate first aid, the pilot decided to take her back for medical attention at the airport.  Over the intercom, he explained to all the passengers that this meant a “few minutes delay” while they found a substitute flight attendant. 

Nothing was explained about why the sudden stop was necessary, but later we learned that another plane had been headed in our direction because the tower had neglected to notice that both planes were given clearance and were taxing at the same time to the same runway.  About an hour later we were finally ready for take-off again. 

This was the second time we were flying to Belize, yet the first time we had another unique experience when we were certain of God’s protection.  In 2006 we had a layover at Atlanta.  When our boarding announcement was broadcast, we saw two Arab men hug one another and say their good-byes.  As we boarded the plane, we saw that our seats were directly behind the one Arab man who had boarded ahead of us.  He didn’t have anyone seated next to him so he spread his prayer cloth on the seat and began reading a book. 

I peeked through the two seats and saw the title of the book written in English:  Journey of Death.  This was alarming, but I kept thinking how God was sending us on this vacation and that He surely would protect us.  Even if something horrific happened, I knew where we were going, so I tried not to think about it.  None of the attendants seemed to notice him.  I realized later that I should have said something to a flight attendant, but at the time I didn’t want to call attention to him if he were innocent.  I said a prayer, though, for protection as we got ready for take-off. 

After leaving the runway, I peeked again between the seats and saw that he was asleep.  He slept through the whole flight and didn’t wake up until we landed.  God used this experience to remind me how He protects those who trust in Him.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me. (Ps 23:4)

We had a good flight to Belize City and went through customs.  The Belize International Airport is small and crowded, but it is fun to arrive and feel that immediate immersion into the culture.  There are several small shops that sell souvenirs and snacks around the perimeter of the room, with a tight seating area in the middle. We saw a sign for a restaurant, but never could find it in this small area!      2017-01-24_1029.png

Our next flight to Dangriga, Belize, was in a small Cessna that carried only six passengers, and after only 10 minutes we saw that we were landing again.  When we landed, the pilot said nothing to us, but we looked out and saw that they were loading several large boxes of vegetables onto the plane.  When they finished a couple of workers boarded, and then we were off again!  This time we landed in Dangriga Airport and we were picked up by a driver who took us to our small, colorful rented cabana in Hopkins Village. 

 2017-01-24_1030.pngIn the kitchen we noticed that all the knobs on the stove were labeled in Spanish.  We later found out that many of the “Mabe” appliances are made in Mexico and sold in Belize.  The cabana was pleasant, with a wonderful Caribbean breeze off the sea coming through the windows.  Occasionally, we would spot a gecko crawling along the wall.  We were told they eat bugs, so we left them alone.  We also saw beautiful Frigate Birds flying over the sea.

 We initially had a couple of days of adjustment to the tropical weather and the general environment.  It was hard to believe we were back in Belize, and we were even a little disoriented with all the activity around and the differences we immediately felt as a result of being in a different culture.  We were in the center of the village, so there was noise, and people, and children all around.  Out on the veranda, we would see an occasional small Iguana scamper across the sand.  They were fun to look at because when they run, they stand up on their two back feet.  Later, on a drive we saw one that was almost three feet long.  At night we could hear drumming at one of the nearby clubs.

On one side of the cabana, a crew of construction workers were building a house.  One evening we decided to try to knock off a coconut from one of the trees.  We found a stick but it didn’t reach high enough, so we tried jumping but couldn’t dislodge one.   One of the construction crew was sitting watching us and probably laughing inwardly at our technique.  Chuck asked him in Spanish if he could help us. The man found a longer piece of wood left over in a pile, and he was able to get us two coconuts immediately.  Between our limited Spanish and his limited English, we had a brief conversation and found out his name was Roberto and that he had probably traveled from Guatemala for this job.  After that, whenever we saw him, we greeted him in Spanish, and he would always greet us in English.

            2017-01-24_1034.png

In the Garifuna language, the words for the village, Yugadan, Balisi, are translated “Hopkins, Belize.” In the village are many beautiful seafront properties with very small make-shift wooden homes that have been owned by families for generations. It is not uncommon for trash to be thrown outside on the sand, where it is then occasionally raked up and burned, along with sea grass that washes ashore. 

    

Hopkins is a small village with perhaps 1200 residents, many of whom are employed at the local resorts that have been built up over the years.  Many people own cafes or souvenir shops, or they just set up tables along the main road to sell food daily to tourists or school children for lunches.  One night we bought “burritos” from a woman who had set up a table.  To us, they were more like tostitos than burritos, but they were very tasty, nevertheless.

In the evening of our first night, though, we walked to a cafe called “Innies.”  We ordered a traditional Garifuna dish called Hudut, which is fish cooked in a coconut broth and served with a mound of mashed plantains.  When our bowl of soup, or stew, arrived, along with a plate with a huge mound of mashed plantain, we had no idea how to eat it.  We asked the waitress for help, who giggled and looked at her family gathered in the kitchen; they also thought our question was funny.  She then told us how to take the plantain mash and dip it into the “fish soup.”  This was our first experience eating plantains, and later we also had them fried, similar to French fried potatoes, or “thick chips.”

Since we were last in Hopkins ten years before our trip in 2016, a gracious expat had opened a Humane Society to help with the homeless animals that roamed the village.  Today, veterinarians donate time to provide vaccinations and care as necessary, and the services are all free.  On Sundays, The Lucky Lobster, a local eating establishment, has “Bow Wow Sunday,” a time when they invite customers to purchase a specific dish or drink, with 100% of the proceeds donated to the Hopkins Humane Society.  While we were staying in our village cabana, we had a temporary pet that would regularly come by and sometimes sleep on the veranda.  This dog looked healthy, but we never did find out if she had an owner.  We saw that there was a bag of dog food in the kitchen, so occasionally we put out a little food for the dog, who we named “Sandy,” since she seemed to come to us from the beach.  If she saw us walking outside, she often would come over and walk with us.

While we were staying in our village cabana, we had a temporary pet that would regularly come by and sometimes sleep on the veranda.  This dog looked healthy, but we never did find out if she had an owner.  We saw that there was a bag of dog food in the kitchen, so occasionally we put out a little food for the dog, whom we named “Sandy,” since she seemed to come to us from the beach.  If she saw us walking outside, she often would come over and walk with us.

Holy Family Roman Catholic School

2017-01-24_1037.png

From walking around the village and having conversations with people, we found out that the village school is what we call a “public school” in the US, but operated by the Catholic Church in Belize.  English is taught in the schools in Belize, but Garifuna is spoken among friends and family.  The children wear uniforms and generally walk to school or ride bikes.  For lunch they come back home or purchase food from women who set out tables of food along the road.  It was fun to sit outside at one of the cafes and watch the children go by. They’re somewhat shy, but responsive to a smile or wave.  I quickly found out that they love lollipops!

We learned that at the house next door to our cabana the owner rented bicycles, so we walked over to rent two of them.  All the bicycles we saw were “fat tire” bikes with peddle brakes.  However, now we could do a little more exploring of the village area.  We first biked to the north end of town, the home of the Drumming Center, where Garifuna drummers entertain and teach any willing visitor how to drum.  The Garifuna drums are hollowed out from solid trunks of Mahogany, Mayflower, or Cedar, made into a cylinder-shape, and then sanded smooth.  The skin of a deer, sheep, or goat may be used to cover the top of the drum, with cow skin for the larger drums, using rope and vines to secure the skin to the drum.  Eight pins are used to tighten the rope and these are used also to tune the drums.  The drums sit in the sun to dry and the skin is sanded smooth.  A drum called “Primero” is usually twelve inches or less in diameter providing a high sound, and a “Segundo” drum will be fourteen to eighteen inches or more and providing a bass sound. 

Lessons at the Drumming Center

2017-01-24_1039.png


Chuck was given a drumming lesson when we were in Hopkins the first time, and they had him drumming so long that he felt like his fingers were going numb!  It truly takes lessons and practice to beat the drums correctly.  

It was fun to visit the Drumming Center again and see that it was larger now, and easily accommodating more people that before.  The man in charge was just as friendly and talkative as the first time we visited.

 

2017-01-24_1043.png

We also met a Mayan woman who owns a souvenir shop selling both Mayan and Garifuna items.  She took us around her property showing us various edible fruits, as well as some that are medicinal.  One of the most unique fruits was the noni, which is used to make juice that the people believe kills cancer and many other illnesses.  Juice is made by letting the ripe noni sit in a glass jar in the sun making the juice seep out of the fruit over several weeks.  She says she drinks the juice every day, and she gave us one so we could try it.  The fruit is also eaten raw or cooked.  We tried the juice, and found it had a very bitter taste and the smell was pretty unpleasant.  The “free range” chickens in the village, however, like the ripe, softened noni fruit!

Seeing Golden Again!

2017-01-24_1046.png

We also saw a souvenir shop named “Golden Gifts.”  We remembered that in 2006, when we were there in Hopkins, we had a guide named Golden who took us on a hike to a beautiful waterfall called Antelope Falls.  We remembered him because of his name and because he was so informed about the plants, trees, and animals of the area.  We had a welcoming reunion with Golden, who now owns his own shop and has his own tourist company called “D Golden Tours.”  We’re so happy that Golden has been successful in his business since he was such a good tour guide.  On the way back to the cabana, we saw a woman washing a huge pile of clothes using a large bucket of soapy water and a washboard.  We waved as we rode by, and she waved back.

View From Driftwood Plaza

On another day we went on our bicycles up to the north end of Hopkins Village to eat at a highly recommended café called Driftwood Pizza.   It was a cute place, scenically located right on the beach.  There were tables inside and outside with a volleyball net on the sand and a few hammocks (the first choice for relaxation in Belize).  We ordered pizza from the waiter with several toppings, including coconut.  We saw the cook go out, knock a coconut off a tree and then take it to a place near the kitchen where she cracked it open with ease.  She got some coconut and began grating it to be put on the pizza.  Right before the pizza was done, she brought something rounded and light brown in color and placed it on our napkins.  We thought it might be some kind of a bread roll, so I asked her what it was.  She explained it was a rock to keep the napkins from blowing away in the light Caribbean Sea breeze!  Surprised, I told her I thought it was something to eat!  She and the waiter could hardly stop laughing!  Silly gringos!

 2017-01-24_1050.png

 After a couple of days in the cabana, we started having young visitors every night selling cakes their mother had made during the day.  There were always two or three little boys who would knock on the door or look in the windows to get our attention.  They were lively and always wanted to try on our shoes which we always left outside the front door!  I gave them lollipops which probably encouraged them to come every night, and it was impossible for us to refuse to buy a cake!

 

 

2017-01-24_1051.pngOn Thursday afternoon we went out for another walk and decided to see if we could find the church and Pastor Herdie Castillo.  Everyone we asked knew him, and eventually we found the church, but there was no one there.  The double front doors were locked, and the wooden shutters around the whole building were all closed.  We then began asking for directions to his house.  The people have what for us was an unusual way of giving directions.  They are so familiar with their village and where everything is that they simply list off several landmarks to watch for, and always what you are looking for is “close by.”  Most roads off the main street are made of dirt, so we never could tell if “three roads that way” included dirt paths or dirt roads since most of the roads have no names that we could see.  Finally, after three or four directions, we found Pastor Herdie’s house. 

When we got there, he was watching the NBA playoffs on television, and we were apologetic for interrupting him.  The house was very small and simple, but there was an atmosphere of peace and contentment even though there was truly a whole houseful of people.  He came outside to talk to us.  Young and older children were all around, and he introduced us to several of them who were his children and grandchildren.  They were all attractive with beautiful smiles.  His lovely wife Victoria came outside so we could meet her also.  They told us a little about their ministry, and we told them we wanted to visit the church on Sunday.

2017-01-24_1054.png

We left Pastor Herdie’s house feeling like God might indeed have a ministry for us in Hopkins Village.  Pastor Herdie was a quiet, unassuming man who obviously had much wisdom and love for the Lord, and we were drawn to his humble, godly spirit.  Later, while reading the word the following scripture “jumped out.” 

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony go God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  I. Corinthians 2:1-5

These verses resonated with us because they provided confirmation of some of the things that Pastor Herdie had talked to us about.  He shared that the best way to become immersed into the village is by quietly observing and listening to the people.  One must come into the community with humility and listen as God provides opportunities to share the gospel, while also, relying on the Holy Spirit within us to give us His power without being concerned about our weaknesses or fears. Finally, we could depend upon Him to work through us.

We walked to the CPC Real Estate office the next day, where we met John Stewart, who has lived in Belize for 20 years, but still has a home in Pennsylvania.  John took us to see several houses, but nothing seemed to stand out.  He then told us about some lots for sale along the canal and along the Sea at the southern end of Hopkins, in an area called Sittee Point (pronounced like “city”).  John took us to see some of them and then dropped us off at our cabana.  We needed time to process what we had seen, to pray and listen, and to talk together about it.

Friday morning, we went out for a swim in the sea.  This morning swim had become part of our morning routine while we were there since the incredibly warm Caribbean Sea was only about 60 feet out from the front door of our cabana. We then decided to do more exploring in the village.  We found a wood worker, named Alex, who made beautiful carvings out of the native woods of Belize. We picked a few small carvings that would fit in our suitcases to bring home for gifts, but when we went to pay we realized we hadn’t brought enough money.  He pointed to two bicycles that were parked in front of his little shop and told us we could use them to go back to our cabana instead of having to walk.  He even let us take the carvings with us.  We bicycled the six blocks or so and got our money and then returned to pay him.

On Saturday, when we went out for our morning swim, we talked about Charles’s dream again and whether, or not, we were ready to make a decision regarding a purchase in Belize.  We formulated a tentative plan if the Lord should bring us back to Belize.  After talking with Pastor Herdie, we felt that we would be there initially to Pray, to Listen, and to Watch.  The following scripture ministered to us beginning with Paul’s prayer:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.  Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as though with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person  (Colossians 4:2-6).

Part of our discussion was the connection we felt with the Garifuna people of Hopkins Village because we sensed their need for the Truth to set them free.  The Garifuna people have cultural traditions that remain very strong, so they aren’t necessarily interested in accessing the truth of God’s Word.  When they commit their lives to Jesus, they must disown occult traditions like witchcraft, including the belief in mediation with departed ancestors.  The precious Garifuna Christians, who have let go of those religious customs, have a joy and love that is amazing, but they also deal with pressure and misunderstanding from family and friends who are without Christ and who feel that these Christians have rejected their Garifuna roots.  Charles and I are both trained, professional teachers, and we felt a desire to teach the Word of God so the people might “be firmly rooted and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7), while being mindful that “no one takes them captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men”  (Colossians 2:8).

We also discussed our concerns about our family and being gone from them for longer periods of time.  It would take time and much understanding for them to comprehend our vision.  It was not easy to think about being this far apart from them, and it would be a difficult separation for us.  Furthermore, we couldn’t plan this journey without thinking about how old we are, even though foreign mission work has been something we have always wanted to do. 

We Had Always Wanted to Be Missionaries

When we were first married, we wanted to be missionaries.  We traveled over two hours to Long Beach, California, for an appointment with a representative of the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society.  The representative told us that even though Charles had a bachelor’s degree, as well as teaching certification, and though I was a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), we would still have to go to Bible College, and it would be at least seven years of study before we could even think about going to the mission field.  This news was overwhelming since we were in our twenties, and we were eager to move into ministry.  A while after that, we thought maybe we should apply to join the Peace Corp.  We had Christian friends who were in Africa with the Peace Corp, so we filled out the application.  We never heard back! 

Was it possible that after all these years God was finally sending us to ministry outside the US?

Later, we went to see John, the realtor and asked him about the lots for sale.  He took us for a drive to look at properties, and about an hour later we took our step of faith and made an offer on a lot! We had decided to build rather than purchase a home that could already have upkeep problems.  We had God’s peace and believed that if this was to happen He would make a way for us.  We had the money to pay for the lot, so if nothing else, it would be a good investment.  We found out that the property tax would only be $20 a year whether we built a house or not!  We felt very happy and took another swim in the sea to celebrate!

Sunday came, and as we floated in the water during our morning swim, we shared our thoughts about God’s direction and prayed that He would continue to direct us.  Again, we felt His peace.  We had learned long ago that if we wanted God to direct us, we needed to begin moving and trust that He would keep us on the right path.  Like someone has said, “It’s much harder to change the direction of a parked car than one that is already moving.”  Additionally, our God provides a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm119:105).

Worship Platform and Pastor Herdie 2017-01-24_1059.png                

Sunday Worship Service

Pastor Herdie’s Church service begins at 7:00 PM on Sundays in order to accommodate the many people who work at the local resorts on weekends and are not off until Sunday evenings.  We walked and had to ask for directions a few times since we couldn’t remember exactly where the church building was.  Again, everyone we asked was familiar with the church location.  When we arrived, we saw that the double front doors were wide open, all the wooden louvers were open at the windows (no glass), and all the lights were on.  The chairs were the plastic lawn chairs that are common here in the US.  Ceiling fans were on, and a couple of floor fans were turning.  There was a low stage with the traditional Garifuna drums and a guitar. We were a little early and saw the pastor slowly walking around the room praying.  We talked briefly with him and sat down.  

As the people entered, we noticed the smiles and general joy of the people.  The women all wore colorful dresses or skirts.  The children were shy, but would smile at us.  I had lollipops for a few of them too.  A woman sitting close to me came over and asked if she also could have a “sweet.”  I first assumed that she just wanted one because she saw the kids with them, but she explained that they made her stomach feel better.  She was in the early months of pregnancy and had been very sick.  I gave her a lollipop, and then later in the service, I gave her another one.                     

Now the church was just about full.  I would guess around 90 people.  We were so happy to see our friend Golden come in with his family.  It turned out that he was one of the two drummers who play for worship.  Pastor Herdie played the guitar and led the singing with two women as back up.  Because they have all the doors and windows open and use amplification, the sound carries out into the village.  What a testimony to hear and see these people sing out with all their hearts, each one worshipping as though no one else is there.  The songs were sung in English, and many of them were familiar to us.  They don’t have the words written out, so the songs are memorized.

                     Anointed Prayer                               

Next, a woman who was recognized as a prayer warrior came to the microphone and led us in prayer.  The power of the Holy Spirit in her as she prayed was amazing.  She opened her Bible to Deuteronomy 28:2-8 and declared these precious promises in her prayer for all of us who were there:

All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God.  Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.  Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out.  The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.  The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you.  The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will be afraid of you. (Deuteronomy 28:2-8)

Her prayer was a declaration of faith in the Word of God, and there was no doubt the Lord heard this prayer which was prayed with faith and the agreement of the congregation.  This was truly a lesson in praying and believing His promises in the Word of God, as opposed to praying a “pleasing” prayer that just sounds good for listeners.

Golden on Drum and Pastor Herdie on Guitar

They had a greeting time, a time which always makes me nervous, but as the worship leaders sang and played the drums and guitar, it seemed so natural.  In an unselfconscious way, everyone, including the children, went around to one another for a quick hug and simply saying, “God bless you.”  It was not a time for conversation, but a brief blessing for one another.  There didn’t seem to be any hesitancy about including us in their blessings.  It was wonderful to feel so embraced.

One of the issues Pastor Herdie faces is the occult traditions of the Garifuna people.  He understands the hold the enemy tries to keep on these Christians.  In his message, Pastor Herdie spoke about this struggle and strongly urged the people to cease these practices which include trying to “hear” what their ancestors are saying.  He exhorted them, saying that our Savior, Jesus Christ, gives us the Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us, and He is the only one we should be listening to.  He encouraged people to live in righteousness and to listen to the Holy Spirit. 

At the end of the service, the pastor asked two or three people to come up for prayer.  One of the women was Kendra, to whom I had given sweets and who was truly suffering from morning sickness.  As he prayed for each individual, everyone in the congregation prayed too.  I was so blessed by this prayer time because I had been feeling all through the service that Kendra needed special prayer.  After this, all the people sang Happy Birthday in Garifuna to one of the men.  It was delightful to hear it sung in their language.

As we walked home, we felt spiritually refreshed and confident of God’s calling.  We were so excited.  Later, God gave us the following scripture:

For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face[s], and may complete what is lacking in your faith?  Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you. (II Thessalonians 3:9-11)  

The following Monday morning, we went for our early swim and had our habitual sharing time, believing that God had spoken to us through Peter the Lord’s disciple.  Like Peter, we have always been somewhat impetuous and have never held back from making instant decisions when we felt God was calling.  We have had home Bible studies, pastored churches, and been professional teachers in the public and Christian school systems.  We have moved our family several times when God was leading, and the last big move we had made was from California to Pennsylvania. 

Peter, the disciple, is an ever-present example of someone who is not afraid of making a mistake, but who fearlessly jumps at every chance to be near Jesus.  For example, Peter recognized that he was “all in” with Jesus.

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)  

Peter also made his confession of faith to Jesus when Jesus asked the disciples,

        “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:20). 

Peter didn’t always understand the mission of Jesus.  When Jesus told the disciples that He would have to leave them, 

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord where are You going?”  Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.”  Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now?  I will lay down my life for You” (John 13:36-37). 

Furthermore, Jesus spoke to the disciples telling them that He must suffer, be rejected, and be killed, but after three days He would rise again. 

And He was stating the matter plainly.  And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.  But turning around and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s”  (Mark 8:32-33). 

Again, Peter didn’t understand.  However, Jesus never gave up on Peter even though Peter tended to be impetuous, even cutting off the ear of one of the guards had who come to arrest Jesus (John 18:10-11).  And on the Sea of Galilee, upon seeing Jesus, Peter jumped out of the boat when he and the disciples were fishing. 

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’  So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.  But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net of fish.  John 21:7-8 

Any other disciple could also have easily jumped out of the boat to be with Jesus since they were so close to the shore.

Peter was also blessed to be one of the disciples taken to the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, but not comprehending the significance of the event. 

“And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ –not realizing what he was saying.” (Luke 9:33) 

Peter, as imperfect as he was, loved Jesus. 

He [Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”  Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?  And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” 

As Peter grew spiritually, however, he became a powerful evangelist after he was filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the Father. 

His boldness and power were evidenced in the following passages:

  • At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty person was there together).  (Acts 1:15)
  • “But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them:  ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.” (Acts 2:14) 
  • “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ( Acts 2:38)

In the stories of Peter’s life, we find wonderful lessons about how God loves and directs our lives, both through our wise decisions and even decisions made impetuously without much forethought or prayer.  I have always liked the way Peter was comfortable enough with Jesus that he could make mistakes, speak out, and even question Him, knowing that Jesus loved him unconditionally and would keep him safe.

Finding Peace in God’s Will

While we were in the sea, we saw John, the real estate agent, drive up to the cabana.  We quickly got out of the water believing that he had good news for us.  Instead, he told us that our offer had been rejected because another one had come in sooner.  We were surprised and initially wondered if we had been too impulsive.  John suggested we go out and look again at the lots.  So, we trusted that if the Lord had a lot for us, he would either show it to us, or we would know that we should stop moving in this direction. 

We quickly showered and got dressed.  John then took us for a drive to look at properties we hadn’t taken notice of before, and about an hour later we made an offer on another lot.  A phone call was made to the owner who accepted our offer over the phone while we sat in the Real Estate office.  We were excited but a little overwhelmed.  Our Heavenly Father had actually prevented us from getting the first lot, and we not only got this lot for $9,000 less, but also it was a little closer to the village and partially cleared.

    2017-01-24_1104.png                                      

 

 

 

 

 

Were we really doing this? God spoke to our hearts about Peter again, this time from Matthew 14:23-32.  Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus went away to be alone and pray.  The disciples went out on the sea in a boat.  In the middle of the night, Jesus appeared to the disciples walking on the water.  They were frightened so Jesus said, “Take courage it is I; do not be afraid.” 

No matter what is happening to us, good or bad, at any given moment, we can have courage because we have Jesus in our lives. 

Peter then said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus replied, “Come.” 

Peter didn’t let any distractions deter him as he climbed out of the boat.  I can only imagine what the other disciples were thinking, but Peter was focused and wasn’t about to listen to their concerns.  Peter left his area of comfort and safety and chose to be with Jesus.  He got out of the boat and walked on the water.  He only began to sink when he became afraid. 

The important message in this passage is that when you “see” Jesus and keep on seeing Him, there is no fear.  This was our time to step out of the boat; to step out of our comfortable lives and home.  Our confidence was that we were where Jesus was, and even if we began to sink, he would stretch out his hand and hold us, just like he did with Peter.

On Tuesday, we left Belize and flew home to Pennsylvania.  We made it home at about 3:00 AM.  It felt good to be back, knowing we would soon see and talk to our family.  That week we talked to both of our daughters about our plans, and after explaining what we felt God was doing in our lives and feeling they understood, we wired the deposit money to Belize so that the purchase could proceed.  Now there were lots of little “waves” in the water, but in spite of occasional overwhelming feelings about all the decisions ahead of us, we felt peace, and we were determined we would keep our eyes on Jesus.

 

(To Be Continued:  Part II in next Blog Post)

The Consequences of Hatred

Unfulfilled Desires 

Post-holiday depression is felt by many people, yet rarely has it been so prominent in our daily consciousness as in the present time.  Due primarily to the influence of today’s social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, people are freer than ever to convey their resentments without consequence.  Posts such as, “I hate my life!” or “I Can’t Do This Anymore!”  are common.

Other reasons for the visibility of depression are also probable, however, not just the ability to vent one’s emotions and feelings so freely without any repercussions, events that are extremely contagious in today’s “connected” society.

Since many people have believed the promises made to them in childhood, such as, “You can do anything you set your mind to do!” or “Your dreams can all come true!” they have grown discouraged and resentful when their life goals and desires do not seem to be coming true.  

This despair may lead to expressions and feelings of “hate,” including “hatred” towards others, such as public figures, including politicians and authority figures, whom they often see as the ultimate sources of their depression due to unfulfilled promises.

One reason hatred is increasing in the world today is that some are promoting hatred as a means of obtaining what they feel they deserve or has been promised.  Hatred is seen as the motivator, the “leverage,” that makes one make changes that promote success, fulfillment, and happiness.  Here is how one blog writer validates his hatred:

Finding that sweet spot, where I know what I hate, and why I need to challenge that hatred is central to my ability to succeed with my goals. That is what will spur me to act. Drive me away from pain. Towards pleasure. Ultimately, that is what it all boils down to. Reducing my pain. And increasing my pleasure.

So, the key is to hate the status quo with all our heart. Hate it so badly, that not acting will only take me down the hole even further.

This is also called the leverage. A point in my life where I cannot stand the pain any further. Where the misery of my painful existence is unbearable making my goal the only option to survive.

But for the leverage, I would never push myself to climb out of the pit of agony. . .I turn to my hatred towards the status quo [to] fuel my passion to succeed (Source).

A Story From Long Ago

King David of Israel committed a grievous sin, taking the life of Uriah the Hittite in order to claim the man’s wife for himself, Bathsheba.  Nathan, the prophet, confronts David, admonishing the king and foretelling the woes that would come to the royal family:

“Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight” (II Samuel 11:9-11).

Nathan’s prophecy began to be fulfilled through Amnon, King David’s oldest son.  Amnon was heir to the throne of Israel, one of the privileged few, intent on seeing all of his desires fulfilled, even those that were forbidden by the laws of Jehovah.  Under the Mosaic law, it was forbidden to have sexual relations outside of marriage, particularly with a relative. Amnon desired Tamar, his half-sister, with whom he believed he was in love.

Now it was after this that Absalom the son of David had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her. Amnon was so frustrated because of his sister Tamar that he made himself ill, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her (II Samuel 13:1-2).

It was not only “hard” for Amnon to possess his half-sister, but also forbidden, yet Amnon is so lovesick that he listens to the advice of Jonadab, a counselor to the king.  Jonadab is described as a “shrewd man,” but his advice results in horrendous consequences. We later see this same man’s “shrewdness” brought into the story in the end when King David is faced with his own son’s treachery and Jonadab presumes to counsel the king.  Here is what Jonadab tells Amnon:

But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother; and Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so depressed morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Then Amnon said to him, “I am in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom.” (II Samuel 13:3-4).

Jonadab advised Amnon to pursue his sinful lusts by first pretending to be ill, then requesting that his Father King David send Tamar to him to minister to him, a request that Jonadab knew would be difficult for David to refuse.

Jonadab then said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill; when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat, and let her prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat from her hand’” (II Samuel 13:5).

Amnon assents to Jonadab’s plan, and when King David came to see his supposedly ill son, Amnon asks his father to send Tamar to him so he could regain strength through the food that she prepared for him.

When Tamar arrives and prepares food for Amnon, however, he asks her to bring it to him where he is lying in his bed.  He takes hold of her, demanding that she lie with him.

Tamar refuses his request, saying,

“No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this disgraceful thing! 13 As for me, where could I get rid of my reproach? And as for you, you will be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you” (II Samuel 13:12-13).

Amnon is not moved by Tamar’s suggestion that they marry, and he easily overcomes Tamar’s opposition to his lusts: “However, he would not listen to her; since he was stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her” (II Samuel 13:14).

Once he has taken her virginity, Amnon’s guilt turns his love for Tamar to hatred:

 Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up, go away!” (II Samuel 13:15).

Ironically, Tamar does not feel so violated, for she finds solace in the Mosaic law commanding that a raped woman shall be able to marry the one who has violated her.  Thus, she refuses to leave Amnon. Her response relates to Deuteronomy 22:28 which states that a man who rapes a virgin must marry her.  

“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

In addition, Tamar realizes that no other man will marry her since she has been violated:

“But she said to him, “No, because this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you have done to me!” (II Samuel 13:16).

Amnon calls his attendant, however, to take Tamar away and lock the door behind her so she cannot return.  Subsequently, Tamar goes into mourning; she “put ashes on her head and tore her long-sleeved garment which was on her; and she put her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went” (II Samuel 13:19).  

Absalom’s Hatred

Tamar then stays and lives in the home of her brother Absalom, where she remains in extreme sorrow and distress.  She has no apparent future since Amnon has taken away her promise of a happy life.  

When King David hears what has happened, he is exceptionally angry at Amnon, but perhaps because David realizes how he himself may have opened the door to Amnon’s lust for Tamar by sending her to him, David chooses not to exact punishment on his son, the heir apparent to the throne.

Absalom, however, Amnon’s half-brother, decides to take revenge in spite of his advice to Tamar not to make Amnon’s rape known: 

Then Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart.” So Tamar remained and was desolate in her brother Absalom’s house (II Samuel 13:20).

Nevertheless, we can only imagine the intense hatred Absalom has for Amnon, as he witnesses the sorrow and depression of his sister, Tamar:

But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister Tamar (II Samuel 13:22).

After two years, Absalom hatred grows, until he plots Amnon’s death, enticing him away from King David’s protection through an elaborate plot:  inviting all of the king’s sons and servants to help with and celebrate his sheep shearing. 

When Amnon joins Absalom’s company, Absalom commands his servants to murder him:

Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “See now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then put him to death. Do not fear; have not I myself commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant” (II Samuel 13:28).

Subsequently, King David is erroneously told that Absalom has murdered all of his sons:

Now it was while they were on the way that the report came to David, saying, “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.” 31 Then the king arose, tore his clothes and lay on the ground; and all his servants were standing by with clothes torn (II Samuel 13:30-31).

King David’s nephew, Joab, who is the commander of the king’s armies, intervenes as a peacemaker. He plots with a woman, asking her to pretend to be a widow whose two sons have quarreled, resulting in the death of one of the sons.  Asking for help, she relates to King David that now the rest of her family is calling for the death of her other son.  

David assures her that “not one hair of her son will fall to the ground” (II Samuel 14:11).  

Joab has contrived this pretense, however, to show David why he must forgive Absalom for killing Amnon.  When David sides with the widow, she responds according to Joab’s instructions:

“Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in speaking this word the king is as one who is guilty, in that the king does not bring back his banished one. 14 For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one will not be cast out from him (II Samuel 14:13-14). 

Seeing the justice of his own judgment for the woman, David sees also that he must forgive Absalom. He calls Joab to seek out Absalom and to bring him home to Jerusalem.  The division between David and Absalom continues, however, for many years: “However the king said, “Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face” (II Samuel 14:24).

Ultimately, Absalom becomes the leader of a rebellion against his father’s reign:

But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’” (II Samuel 15:10).

King David flees from Jerusalem as Absalom advances, leaving his house in the hands of his concubines.  Ultimately, in another fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy, Absalom commits his own sexual sins on the advice of Ahithophel, David’s advisor.

Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father. The hands of all who are with you will also be strengthened.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel (II Samuel 16:21-22).

Conclusion

What a story!  The sins of one man, Amnon, led to the sins of many others, all resulting in even more sins and divisions in King David’s family, and finally the dissolution of David’s kingdom, resulting in warfare among the people:

Then the people went out into the field against Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. The people of Israel were defeated there before the servants of David, and the slaughter there that day was great, 20,000 men. For the battle there was spread over the whole countryside, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured (II Samuel 18:6-8).

Finally, Absalom, famous for his beautiful, extremely long hair, is ensnared in the branches of an oak tree, where he hangs helplessly until Joab stabs him with three spears, and ten young men (who carry Joab’s armor) surround Absalom and kill him.  

When King David hears the news of Absalom’s death, he is stricken with grief:

The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18:33).

Hatred is Contagious

Living a life of resentment, descending into depression, and hating one’s life, or having any kind of hatred, leads to more hatred, especially hatred for other people.  

When I was growing up, many years ago, I never heard the term “hate crime,” but this designation is increasingly heard and printed today. Clearly, the causes and consequences of hatred are growing in today’s world.   

In this story of Amnon and Tamar, we can also see how hatred is severely infectious. By pursuing sinful thoughts and lusts, Amnon only ends up hating Tamar, the woman he has supposedly once fervently loved. Even if they were to continue to live together and be married, she likely would only have reminded him continually of his evil plot to take her virginity through lies and deception.

It is also likely that Absalom blames his father King David for Tamar’s rape, for Absalom ends up plotting treason against his own father, attempting to overthrow King David to become king himself.

These stories, beginning with Amnon and Tamar, extending through Absalom’s murder of Amnon and his rebellion against King David, resulting in Absalom’s death and David’s grief, all exemplify why we must follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts” (Romans 6:12).  And we must not allow resentments over perceived injustices to lead us to hatred, a condition that only leads to more sin.

Love, Not Hatred

Of course, the ways of the world are the opposite of what the Word of God tells us.  The Apostle Paul wrote the following admonition in his letter to the Corinthian Church:  

“Let all that you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14).

Rather than hatred in any form, whether spoken or felt, love must be the source of our motivations in our lives.  And our all-knowing God is the provider of true love in our lives, for “God is love.”   

 

The Nature of Discipline

Our Heavenly Father Loves Us

Increasingly in today’s world, far too many people have not received proper discipline in their growing years; consequently, they personally acknowledge the need for more discipline in their lives, and it has become highly common for various “trainers,” “teachers,” or “experts,” often through expensive programs, seminars, or videos, to promote “self-discipline” through meditation, costly seminars, repetitive behaviors, deep breathing, rehabilitation programs, or sheer willpower to gain control over bad habits or destructive actions.  

As Christians, however, we have a heavenly Father who loves us so much that He guides our steps daily in life, while providing us with the power to be overcomers against the many challenges in our lives.  We also have a Father who loves us enough to discipline us as His own children!  

Read what the writer of the Book of Hebrews relates about discipline in the following passage from Chapter 12:

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:4-7)

Nothing is more disturbing than to see a child whose father or mother has not loved him enough to discipline that child.  We Christians, however, have the example of our Heavenly Father as the true disciplinarian: “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (v. 6).  

Learning Discipline

I thank my heavenly Father that my earthly parents loved me enough to show me when I was not being polite, mannerly, or obedient, often in spite of their own grief or embarrassment and my own obstinance. As it is, many children cannot even sit quietly through a performance or meeting without disturbing others around them, most likely because they have rarely sat in church services.

While I didn’t especially appreciate my parents’ love and concern for me at the time, as the following verse describes, I now am most grateful for their loving discipline, for they were teaching me the discipline of God.

11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)

Notice that the word used in this passage is discipline, not punishment.  My earthly father never sent for the school bully to beat me up when I was disobedient!  Therefore, we need to reject the idea that our Heavenly Father, Who sent His own Son to the cross to redeem us from the hands of Satan, the enemy of our souls, would ever discipline or “scourge” us by sending Satan to attack us. Why would the Heavenly Father inflict upon us what He sent His son to bear for us vicariously on the cross? This was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, as Matthew declares: 

16 When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16-17)

Who Is Our Teacher?

Jesus said to His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

Therefore, the Holy Spirit was sent by our Father to be our Teacher!

And the Holy Spirit, obviously, always acts according to the “fruit of the Spirit,” which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).  

Our Father does not want His children to be killed, maimed, destroyed, or beaten down by the enemy, so He certainly would not do Himself what He deplores!  Our Father sent His Word (Jesus Christ) and His teacher (the Holy Spirit) to teach and discipline us so that we might not fall again into the hands of the bully of this world, the one who only seeks our destruction, as Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  

God receives no glory or praise when His children fall into the snares and traps of the enemy, but it is a travesty even to suggest that our loving Father is the one who sends disease, sickness, death, earthquakes, fires, or other tragedies into our lives to “teach us something.”

And while our own lack of discipline, or bad decisions, may lead to such tragedies, the word to “chasten means to “lead toward virtue by correcting mistakes and putting barriers around passions.” And to “rebuke” means “to show a person his fault, or to bring a man’s sin to the light through conviction (which means “to convince of error or sinfulness”).  

The Fear of the Lord

Solomon, in the Book of Proverbs, relates that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7) 

Unfortunately, when Christians hear the word “fear,” as in the injunction to “fear the Lord,” too often we apply the definition for fear that we have learned in this world: “to be afraid or apprehensive, to be alarmed due to impending danger.”  We need not feel terror in God’s presence, but instead we should be filled with awe and reverence.

Therefore, we are not cautioned to be afraid of God, but rather to feel reverence for Him.  We are even told in Revelation 21:8 that the “cowardly” or “fearful”will have no place in God’s Kingdom.

Notice also that, generally, we are not assigned the task of convicting or rebuking others, even though the Father may use us as his spokespersons, at times. Instead, our Father is He who rebukes and brings conviction to our hearts through His Holy Spirit and through His written and spoken Word!  

God speaks to us personally through His Holy Spirit to reveal our errors or sins in order to bring about repentance and receive His forgiveness.  He does so with love and patience, not with anger and wrath. And with the Word comes the faith necessary to be obedient to His will (Romans 10:17).

  • Thus, the first step towards discipline, as Christ’s disciples, is to have reverence for the Lord and to open our ears to hear His Word, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus said, “Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3).  
  • Unless we are determined to be obstinately disobedient, we need not fear the Lord, as I feared the paddle my parents used.  

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    A good understanding have all those who do His commandments;
    His praise endures forever. (Psalms 111:10)

  • The final step, therefore, is to be continually obedient to the Word that we have received in Love from our Father. These commandments are not intended to be harmful or destructive, but instead are given for our welfare and good, just as my parents’ instruction to “Look both ways before crossing the street” was intended to ensure my safety. 

Finding the Truth

The Scientific Method?

One calling of God for the Christian Church is to be a vital channel for Truth in today’s world.  The Apostle Paul wrote, concerning this calling, the following message to Timothy:

14 I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long;15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (I Timothy 3:14-15)

By general consensus, however, our culture today assumes and supposes a scientific basis for all valid knowledge, not seeking Truth from God’s “pillar and support” Instead, the world’s scientific pillar is described as follows:

“a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.” (Source)

This procedure assumes that the resulting conclusion will be the “truth” since it is based on facts that are tested through research and proven hypotheses.
Ironically, however, many influential academics and intellectuals have concluded that “absolute truth” is unknowable and cannot be found because it does not exist, a conclusion that contradicts the basis of the scientific method. Since an absolute truth is always correct, regardless of one’s ability to discern, or discover, any particular truth, those who seek to learn the “truth,” often deny the possibility that it even exists because of their own inability to find it.

An Age-Old Question

This is not a question that has arisen only in the modern scientific age.  Rather, the question arose in ancient times, and it was particularly revealed in the discussion between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman ruler in Jerusalem:
37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, yet another doubter like Pilate, received an answer from Jesus about finding the way to the truth.  Jesus made the following statement about finding the truth in a conversation with His disciples:  

If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas *said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:3-6)

And later, just before His crucifixion, Jesus prays the following prayer for His disciples, both those with Him and those who would be His followers in the future:

13 But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:13-19)

Significantly, when Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth,” He confirmed the first verse of John’s Gospel, a passage where John declares that Jesus is divine, the very Word of God Himself:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

Jesus Christ, therefore, is declared to be the manifestation of God’s truth, the Word of God through whom all things are created.  He is the Light that came into the world.

Unfortunately, even though this Light shines in our dark world, those who live in darkness cannot see the Light for their eyes are blinded.  And since the Light is allied with Life, those who cannot understand the Truth cannot obtain the Life that He was sent to confer upon everyone as a gift of God’s mercy and grace.

Revelation, Not Intellect

This is not to assert that the scientific method is the means Christians should use for gaining God’s Truth.  Instead, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are obtained through revelation, and only those who seek Him will receive these revelations.  Jesus said, 

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:6-8)

Jesus Himself gave His insights to Pilate, as well as other religious leaders, who then turned on Him, trampling the truth under their feet while seeking to tear Him to pieces.  Likewise, we must be discerning, seeking God’s guidance as we seek to fulfill Christ’s commission to spread His Word throughout the entire world.  We must recognize that some will not receive the Truth we have received from the Holy Spirit, and we may experience persecution for sharing the Word of Life, even though we are walking in the Light.

Likewise, we must be discerning, finding the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we seek to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to spread His Word throughout the entire world (see Matthew 28:19-20).  We must recognize that because we find God’s truth through revelation, some people will not receive the Truth we have received from the Holy Spirit, and we may experience persecution for sharing the Word of Life, even though we are walking in the Light. Christians are despised for not being scientific enough, even though this scientific method is denigrated by those who believe they have discovered the truth through its use. Even the Apostle Paul was called a “babbler” (Acts 17:18) because he dared to share the spiritual insights he had through personal revelation:

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. (II Corinthians 12:1-6)

Notice that in this passage, Paul relates that he received the “truth” (v. 6) from the visions and revelations he received from the Lord.  The truth was communicated not through the scientific method, but through “inexpressible words,” or in another word, “mysteries” which cannot be communicated directly, but only through the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Because of Paul’s faithfulness to these secrets, or mysteries, he suffered extreme persecution, as he explained to the Corinthians:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (II Corinthians 11:23-27)

Indeed, I believe that another period of persecution is coming to all who will be faithful to God’s calling, just as the early disciples of Christ faced extreme persecution.

Conclusion:

It may be unsettling to learn this, but our brains are not the source of Truth. Instead, Christ Jesus and His Word is the source of God’s Truth, and we learn the Truth through “revelations” that come from God Himself through the Holy Spirit if we will only seek Him.  

Decades ago, people came to believe that “everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion.” However, such opinions derive merely from what has been heard and decided by the individuals’ brain choices, and not by direct revelation of the Truth from a loving and Holy God. Unfortunately, “majority rules” is likewise not an indicator of Truth.  Many horrible leaders in history have brought terrible disasters upon multitudes of people because their followers were convinced to become like sheep, all gone astray over the cliffs of false teachings and doctrines about what is True.     

People need only read the multitudes of “comments” following controversial articles on the Web to see that people disagree vehemently about the nature or substance of the “Truth.”  Unfortunately, therefore, the “Truth” is rarely discovered because the writers simply resort to name-calling, persecution, and threats. Subsequently, people who disagree are labeled as being a “bigot,” “stupid,” “uneducated,” or lacking in “tolerance.”  More and more, therefore, those who are “outside” the boundaries of what is considered true (from common perceptions derived from media representations or polling questionnaires) will be subject to various kinds of persecutions.

 

Note: For more on this topic, see the following blog article from www.biblicalmysteries.com.

 

 

 

 

Reaching Intellectuals for Christ

(The Traditional site of the Areopagus at the Base of the Acropolis in Athens)

Paul at Athens

Due to the persecutions inflicted on the Apostle Paul, as well as those endured by his friends Silas and Timothy, as they sought to proclaim the Gospel to people in Thessalonica and Berea, many of whom were not at all eager to receive the Good News, Paul was escorted to Athens by those he had been ministering to, where he waited for Timothy and Silas to join him again.

It was in Athens that Paul faced a unique challenge.  Rather than being confronted by hostile Thesallonian gentiles or agitated Jews who opposed his teaching, Paul found a number of ancient intellectuals, Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, who delighted in demonstrating their mental skills to one another and sneering at those who disagreed or couldn’t follow their arguments.  

Here is the story from the Seventeenth Chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke:

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:16-18).

Significantly, Paul first shares the “Word of Truth” in Athens to the receptive Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, those people who were anxious to receive Paul’s message.  Significantly, Luke writes that Paul “was reasoning” with them, not condemning their beliefs or arguing with them.

Nevertheless, a number of Athenian philosophers sought out Paul to discover what “strange deities” he was proclaiming.  This phrase (“strange deities”) is exceptionally ironic, given the context of the culture in ancient Athens, which Luke describes as a “city full of idols,” so many idols that the people even had an altar dedicated to the worship of an “unknown” god (as we will soon see in the passage below).  

The Areopagus in Athens

First, however, the Athenian philosophers brought Paul to their gathering place (click here to learn more about this ancient site: “Areopagus“).  These intellectuals wanted to hear what Paul had to say, for as Luke describes them, these intellectuals used to do nothing all day but attempt to discover new ideas and teachings, a common approach of many intellectuals still to this day:

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

Their request is significant, for they seem to be open and receptive to Paul’s new teachings, even though their true attitudes are soon revealed.

Paul’s Sermon on Mars Hill (at the Areopagus)

Of course, most people today would never believe their homes and cities to be filled with idols, or objects of worship. However, this distinction is merely a matter of definition.  Please see the following poignant site for clarity on our own objects of worship in today’s culture:  http://adam4d.com/religious/

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
Notice that Paul does not attempt to enter into an intellectual discussion or engage in a debate with these philosophers, an approach that they would not only enjoy but also one in which they would be proficient. Instead, Paul commends them for their religious propensities, while raising a provocative question about their lives and beliefs:
“I see that you have an altar in your city that is devoted to an unknown god.  Since you are apparently ignorant concerning spiritual truths, I will reveal to you the secret, or mystery, that has confounded you” [paraphrased].
In order further to engage these philosophers and entice them to listen to his words, Paul tells them that the “unknown god” they worship is the very one he himself has been declaring in Athens.  He then continues to reveal God’s attributes, specifically that God does not conform to their solipsistic  (click to see definition) notions reflected in their many idols throughout the city:
24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
Paul then cleverly appeals to their own Athenian interests and beliefs, at least those of their own Athenian poets:
28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
Paul then provides a significant insight that reveals how insufficient their temples and idols are in worshiping the one, true deity:  God should not be worshiped through the things He has made, reformed images made of gold and silver, or worshiped in temples made with human hands.  And all humans, regardless of their origins, were created by God to seek Him and find Him:
29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Finally, Paul concludes his message by revealing the proof of his claims about God:  Not only is God in control of all things, but also this God may not be found through idolatry, using manmade objects made with natural elements.  Consequently, this same God is calling all men to repent of their idolatry, for all will be judged by His messenger, the One Paul proclaims who was raised from the dead as proof of His divinity.  
According to typical reactions of intellectuals who solipsistically tend to believe as factual only what they see and hear, Paul’s message, one that hinges on the possibility of a human’s being raised from the dead, is the point when the audience divides into two groups: those who immediately reject even the possibility of such a miracle and those who follow Paul’s ideas as worth pursuing and learning more about.       

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”

Did all of the Athenian philosophers become believers in Jesus Christ?  Having delivered his message, Paul simply left the results with God;

33 So Paul went out of their midst.

Having planted the seeds of the Gospel, however, Paul soon saw that a harvest of souls was the result:

34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Conclusions

What may we learn from Paul’s message to the Athenian Philosophers, the intellectuals of his day? And how do we share with those in our midst today who claim to know better than others what to believe?

Clearly, we need to deliver a message of love and hope, just as we would to any seeker.  Messages filled with the fires of Hell or eternal damnation usually only alienate those who may be listening.  And see below how Paul includes the message of judgment, but not in a non-loving way.  

Speaking personally, one of the most miraculous conversions I have experienced from one of my intellectual friends in the academic world came not as a result of debates or arguments, but instead as a result of compassion and willingness to pray with that person.

Here are some additional strategies to consider:

  • Most people, specifically those we label as “intellectuals,” are not moved to change their lifelong, strongly-held beliefs as a result of debates or arguments.  Usually, these strategies only serve to strengthen them in their own beliefs and ideas.
  • We must avoid what are termed ad-hominem attacks when addressing or sharing with unbelievers.  In our society today, these attacks are common, yet they serve only to alienate those being addressed, and to do so is to commit the worst of all logical fallacies: (see ad-hominem fallacy definition by clicking).
  • We must strive to find “common ground,” while also sharing the truths of the Gospel.  Paul does this when he commends the philosophers of Athens for being “religious in all respects”:22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)  
  • Notice in this passage Paul’s declaration that the Athenians are worshiping in “ignorance,” a statement that seems to be an ad-hominem attack.  Instead, however, Paul is merely repeating their own confession of their ignorance, for the altar is dedicated to the worship of the “UNKNOWN GOD,” presumably to ensure that they do not mistakenly leave any particular god out of their lives of devotion.  
  • Finally, Paul makes clear to the philosophers that listening and adhering to his message will benefit them greatly, as he delivers a warning that they need to repent of their ignorance in preparation for the judgments to come.  

Blessed Are Those Who Believe Without Seeing

Peter’s Exhortation for Believers Today

In the Book of Hebrews, faith is described as the “evidence [or conviction] of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  This word “evidence,” or “conviction,” means a firmly held belief, which implies that if we have faith, we strongly believe in spite of what we see.  This exposes the lie buried in the statement we hear so commonly: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

While reading the Apostle Peter’s first letter written to believers today, “those who reside as aliens,” those who are scattered throughout the world yet who have been chosen by God the Father by the Holy Spirit to “obey Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:1-2), I couldn’t help but be amazed that Peter, this uneducated fisherman, was able to write such poignant and exemplary spiritual truths, or mysteries.  

Surely we too may be included in Peter’s audience, for we are among those scattered abroad to the uttermost parts of the world.  And significantly, the theme that strikes me most in his first chapter is that our faith is more precious than gold, a valuable metal which by comparison is perishable, and therefore less reliable than our faith.  In our physical world, we see gold as being solid and refined, more reliable than any other natural metal or form of money exchange.  Yet Peter writes about how our faith is more precious and valuable than gold:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:3-9) 

Peter refers specifically to the solid faith of those Christians in his reading audience who live far away and are scattered abroad, and he sees their faith as more reliable and steadfast than the world’s means of exchange (gold), even though their faith is not based on anything that they have actually seen with their eyes.  This faith will mean that our lives will be saved and our souls will receive God’s salvation, for it is more valuable than silver or gold in His eyes.  

We Must Not Be Like Thomas

Of course, Peter is also speaking from a different experience than ours, for he indeed saw the living Christ after His death, burial, and resurrection.  And Peter likely recalled the confusion of his fellow disciple, Thomas, who refused to believe the testimonies of the other disciples who had seen Jesus after His resurrection.  

Thomas said, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20: 25).  When Jesus appeared again and Thomas was present, Thomas was ultimately convinced, for he saw the imprint of the nails and presumably placed his hand into the side of Christ Jesus.  

When Thomas became convinced that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead, Jesus had something significant to say to him: “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’” (John 20:28-29)

Peter was a true believer, who later saw this living Christ Jesus ascend into heaven after giving His promise that He would return with salvation and be revealed to all.  But Peter must have understood Christ’s message to Thomas, for in his letter he first refers to those who came before Christ’s first appearance, the prophets of old who received insights into God’s plan of salvation for humankind: 

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.  (I Peter 1:10-12)

Even Angels Desired What We Have Received

These prophets were given secrets, or “mysteries,” that they earnestly desired to understand.  How confusing it must have been for these prophets to know, through the Spirit of Christ, that the coming Savior would suffer and die in order to atone and redeem all people  from the sins that so constantly destroyed their lives.  Yet the mysteries were so valuable that even the angels desired to learn and understand the mysteries revealed to the prophets.

This understanding leads Peter to his ultimate conclusion, that all Christians must believe not what they see in the physical realm, but what they see through faith:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (I Peter 1:13-16)

Peter’s exhortation is framed in this context, therefore, and it applies to Christians today just as much as it did to those in the Early Church:  We must look not to the conditions of the world and give up our hope in the final return of Christ by being conformed again to the false deceptions of the world’s beliefs.  

Can it really be true, for example, that some Churches are incorporating astrology into their teachings?  Or are the beliefs in Eastern Mysticism truly compatible with the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles?  If Jesus is indeed the “Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and “no one may come to the Father except through Him” (John 14:6), then we are misguided if we accept the notion that all religious beliefs are acceptable, and we must not judge others for their false beliefs?  No one was less politically correct than the Apostle Paul, who stood before the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens and chastized them for their beliefs in pagan gods, those made of wood and stone:

Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”  (I Peter 1:29-31)

Does this mean we need to become “hateful,” despising and shunning those who seek to lead us into the sins of the times of Noah, or Egypt, or Athens?  No, we still must exhibit love towards all, as Paul did, seeking to lead them to the salvation that comes only through the love of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, through Jesus, who gave up His life for us all.  

Nevertheless, we must fervently oppose the deceptions of Satan, who seeks only to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).  Peter’s advice is as follows:

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (I Peter 1:17-21)

We must not seek happiness or fulfillment in life through money (silver or gold) or through the futile and empty promises of those who promise joy, or contentment, or peace through meditation, yoga, sexual sins, or choosing the correct political party.  Instead, it is our faith in Jesus Christ’s promises that is more precious than what we only see or experience in this life.  Seeing a miracle will not change our lives significantly, at least in terms of obtaining as the outcome of our faith the salvation of our souls.

How to Heap Burning Coals

The Dangers At This Present Time

People only need to look at social media sites or read the responses to internet blog or news sites to see the extreme vitriol (harsh and angry expressions) being written about both the candidates, Republican and Democrat, for the 2016 November election here in the United States.  

Having experienced many elections in the past, I never dreamed that political conditions would be as extreme as they are today.  These conditions call for an appropriate response from Christians, who need to be guided by the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, rather than the advice of the misguided politicians or media commentators of this world.  Learning from history, we can clearly see where the actions of disgruntled people may lead us because even now rebellion, insurrection, and revolution are being advocated if either Clinton or Trump  is elected, all in the name of freedom and democracy.  

Mob Rule and Peer Pressure

I have witnessed firsthand what mob rule and insurrection may lead to, and the consequences would be extremely detrimental to all of us.  (Click here for a pictorial history of the riots in our community in 1970.)  I was present to hear first Jerry Rubin’s and then William Kuntzler’s inflammatory speeches that ultimately led to the riots in Isla Vista, California (near the University of California in Santa Barbara where I was a student), along with the burning of the Bank of America, and I saw how tempting it could be to join in with those who advocated rebellion and violence.  It’s easier to join the violent mob than it is to resist it, especially if stones are skipping by you!

We need only turn to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans to learn what our proper responses should be during and after the election season coming up.  Here is what Paul wrote to the Roman Church, a Body of Christ that eventually had to endure the worst of persecutions and hatred from the Roman government itself:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

Rulers Are Established by God

First of all, Paul writes, even the extremely anti-god government in Rome was “established” by God. This was a government led by the Emperor Nero, the supreme leader who adopted the title of “Caesar” after the first Emperor, Julius Caesar.  Nero claimed divinity himself to solidify his rule and authority.  His power was absolute, even to the point of being worshipped.

What does Paul say about submission to such a ruler?  He writes that resisting the Roman authorities means opposing the will of God and His ordinances.  Paul declares that the ruling authorities are all set in place by God for our good, in spite of what we might think: “It is a minister of God to you for good” (v. 4), one that brings judgment on those who do evil.  Clearly, even a supposedly evil government establishes guidelines that the most wicked and dangerous of people must ultimately obey, a condition that brings protection rather than danger to those who do good to others.  

Those who resist the governing authorities bring wrath upon themselves, therefore, and Paul advises that we do good rather than evil, for doing evil will only call down wrath upon ourselves.  We need to do good, not only because of the wrath that may come upon us, but also for “conscience’ sake.” We must do everything for the glory of God, not for personal gain or power.  This teaching is from the Apostle Paul, who was eventually martyred, decapitated according to tradition.

In my experience, specifically during the protests and riots in 1970 in Isla Vista, those who vociferously called for violence were only interested in gaining followers, notoriety, or power for themselves, and many who were led into these paths of violence were personally injured, arrested, or damaged. One young man was even killed.

Overcome Evil With Good

In fact, in the previous chapter in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Chapter 12), Paul advises that instead of sucumbing to violence we do the following:

Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:16-21).

If we want vengeance, therefore, this is the best kind–heaping hot coals on someone’s head!  And how do we do this? We heap hot coals by being kind, generous, loving, and helpful.  We don’t return angry words or actions, even though we ourselves have been insulted or deprived of possessions.  

Personally, “road rage” is what I am most tempted by.  Just an angry look by some driver makes me angry, and I am tempted to return some kind of angry or evil reply.  Thank the Lord that I have been able to resist this temptation! I’ve further decided that if anyone insults me on the road that I will help down the road if I see that person’s car in a ditch or in need of fuel.  That’s the best way to “heap hot coals!”

The Mystery of Lawlessness

Will The AntiChrist Be Revealed on August 30th?

I recently saw and heard a message by a prominent TV Evangelist, who preached that the AntiChrist would be revealed on August 30, 2016 (today!).  Here is my response to his message:

In his Second Letter to the Church in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul wrote about the conditions of lawlessness that would exist in the world prior to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (II Thessalonians 2:1-2)

Evidently, the Thessalonians believed  that Jesus had already returned to claim his Church and that they had been left behind.

Paul explained in explicit terms, however, that they should not be so deceived in any way, for several events needed to take place before Christ’s actual return:

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (II Thessalonians 2:3-4)

Personally, I believe that many of the prophecies (see Matthew 24 and Mark 13) about the AntiChrist, Jerusalem’s being surrounded by armies, about earthquakes, the great tribulation, and the ensuing destruction of the Temple relate to the events in Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D., when Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian, and the same Titus who eventually became the Emperor of Rome himself, invaded the city with his legions of Roman soldiers, killing many Jews and destroying the Second Temple built by King Herod.  It is believed that Titus did not want to destroy the Temple, but instead wanted to convert it into a Roman temple for the worship of Roman gods (see below). He wanted no rewards for his conquest of Jerusalem, claiming only to be an “instrument of god’s wrath” (Source).  

And while Titus himself tried to divert beliefs in his own deity, in spite of the political advantages, he was clearly complicit in the supposed “deification” of his father, Vespasian:

Vespasian’s curiosity in the rumours that the gods were on his side during his lifetime led to the action of his son and heir Titus to pursue immediate posthumous deification of Vespasian. Titus established a cult institution in the name of his father through the construction of the Temple of Vespasian near the Tabularium at Pompeii purely out of homage to his father and his efforts during his reign, a move devoid of political intentions but likely not devoid of political interpretation.

Despite a personal aversion to deification, appeals to godly ancestry and the apparent slew of omens following him throughout his lifetime, Vespasian utilised provincial interests in his divine right to rule to maintain loyalty to the imperial centre in his living years, and spent less than a year in mortal death before his successor placed his name among the deified Julio-Claudian emperors. (Source)

The Mystery of Lawlessness

Paul, however, wrote the following description of the events to come before the return of Christ, (I again am referring to Paul’s Second letter to the Thessalonians):

Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason, God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (II Thessalonians 2:5-12)

While Titus himself sought to separate himself from claims of deity, he took direct action to ensure that his father, Emperor Vespasian, received divine recognition:

Vespasian’s curiosity in the rumours that the gods were on his side during his lifetime led to the action of his son and heir Titus to pursue immediate posthumous deification of Vespasian. Titus established a cult institution in the name of his father through the construction of the Temple of Vespasian near the Tabularium at Pompeii purely out of homage to his father and his efforts during his reign, a move devoid of political intentions but likely not devoid of political interpretation. (Source)

. . . .Vespasian was said to have possessed numen, which can be received by animals and inanimate objects, through Suetonius’ account of an ox which broke free of its yoke to burst into Vespasian’s dining room and bow its head at his feet, implying the process of freeing Rome from tyranny and submitting to a new welcome ruler. This sign of change heralded by supernatural events emerged frequently (during Vespasian’s rule. . . . Furthermore, Suetonius, however unreliably, also spoke of a stray dog which burst into Vespasian’s dining quarters and placed a severed hand at his feet, a sign to Roman society of divinity and inherent power. . . .In an attempt to maintain his auctoritas within the empire’s provinces, which Tacitus claimed he was lacking, Vespasian’s visit to Alexandria in AD 69 witnessed his public performance of miracles in apparent collaboration with the god Serapis to maintain provincial loyalty, healing two Alexandrians, one blind and one lame, despite his own doubt in his divine power. (Source)

Please note the references in this quotation to the “signs and wonders” attributed to Vespasian.  This description mirrors the one Paul writes about:  “One whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish”  (II Thessalonians 2:10-11). And Vespasian’s visit to Alexandria occurred in A.D. 69, just one year before his son’s military triumph in Jerusalem.

The Apostasy

Paul’s teaching is also clear for us today that the “Day of the Lord” has still not arrived, for a number of events have yet to happened.  Unless we are deluding ourselves, for example, the “apostasy” has not yet occurred, and even though many Christians seem to be losing their trust in God and falling away from the Faith, the Lord’s Church is still growing and increasing proportionally overall, even in countries like Cuba and China, or in Muslim countries, where Christianity is vehemently opposed.

The Apostle John had something specific to say about this question:

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were notreally of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.  (I John 2:18-19)

Nevertheless, Paul also wrote that “the mystery of lawlessness” is “already at work,” a condition that today seems just as prominent, and one that appears to be growing and increasing.  We need to discern what this “mystery of lawlessness” is, therefore, in order not to fall prey to deception ourselves.

What Is Lawlessness?

Paul provides a clue for understanding what the “mystery of lawlessness” is in verse 10 of II Thessalonians, Chapter 2:10-11:  Paul wrote that the “lawless one will be revealed,” who will appear with “all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”

We see from this description that resisting a “love of the truth” is what hinders people from being saved, a condition that leads to “lawlessness.”  In our world today, unfortunately, we are seeing an increasing trend towards lawlessness, which means also that people no longer have a love of the truth and are increasingly inclined to break the laws of the land.

My Experiences with Seeking The Truth

As a high school English teacher, and eventually a university English professor, I prepared with 12 years of college level education classes beyond high school.  My motive was not only to gain the knowledge and skills I needed to obtain a good teaching position, but also to learn about the world I lived in.  I survived any number of classes that I intuitively knew would not help me become an English teacher, such as Calculus and Chemistry, yet I still gained a level of wisdom, having experienced large portions of the world’s history and knowledge that was most likely beyond my reach intellectually. (I had to take an Introduction to Calculus class pass/fail, for example!)  

I can’t say that I loved some of the classes I took, but I loved learning, and I love learning to this day. In 1970, when I began my classes in higher education, I wanted to learn the truth about history, mathematics, philosophy, and music.  And in those days, it was believed that the truth could be discovered by uncovering facts and using sound logic.  

In the fall of 1972, when I began my classes in graduate education, I still wanted to learn the truth about history, mathematics, philosophy, and music.  And in those days, I still believed that the truth could be discovered by uncovering facts and using sound logic or using background information to judge an author’s intentions.  Imagine my surprise, however, when as a post-graduate student in my Master’s program I found that literature professors and experts no longer believed that the written word was definitive; they believed that it could never be deciphered and understood accurately with certainty.  

Imagine my surprise, however, when as a post-graduate student in my Master’s program I found that literature professors and other academic experts no longer believed that the written word was definitive; they believed that it could never be deciphered and understood accurately with certainty.  I was told that the words I was reading in a poem or story changed all the time, just because I was reading them!

I also discovered that even the facts of history were “open to interpretation,” and that the lessons of history were at that time subject to opinion and these opinions could even be revised for propaganda purposes.  I found that many arguments in favor of one political or strategic direction, for example, could be made on both sides of an argument, and people would feel satisfied that they had found the right answer or the correct direction to take.  It was commonly stated that “everyone has a right to his or her own opinion,” a belief that made everyone’s opinion equally valid since there was no way we could ultimately find the “truth” about any matter.  We all were supposed to believe like Pontius Pilate, who said, “What is truth?”  No longer was finding “absolute truth” possible. In academia, it all became a matter of “who makes the best case/argument.”

Today, conditions have devolved to the point where the truths of Scripture and the standards declared in the U.S. Constitution are no longer sufficient to reveal the truth about how we should live our lives. One reason Christians are so despised in today’s culture is that Christians believe that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and that the Scriptures reveal the truth about who we are and what our place is in this world.  Thus, we Christians are declared to be ignorant fools who believe in “fairy tales.”  And many of today’s political leaders no longer feel inclined to follow the strictures of the U.S. Constitution, in spite of their oaths to do so.  

If you want to see the lawlessness that commonly exists in our culture, a lawlessness that is based on the lack of a “love of the truth,” you have only to look at the many comments and replies to articles or posts on the internet.  Instead of sound logic or appeals to factual authority, arguments are most typically made using obscenities or name calling (ad hominem attacks, a logical fallacy indeed!).  

The Results of Lawlessness

I do not mean to imply that we need to become legalistic, seeking only to follow rules and regulations, for “We have been set free from the Law of sin and death”:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:1-3).  

Paul’s message to us today is the same as the one he wrote so many years ago.  We must not be deceived by the “mystery of lawlessness.”

On the other hand, here are some of the consequences in today’s world of lawlessness and the refusal to seek after, and love, the Truth:

  • An increase in “wickedness.”  Believing and practicing what is evil or bad.
  • The increasing rejection and turning away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the educational and political realms, a refusal even to consider biblical claims.
  • A lack of respect for those in authority, whose job it is to enforce the laws of the land.
  • We have been influenced by a “deluding influence so that people believe what is false,” as Paul describes it in II Thessalonians 2:11.

Based on these conditions, I do not doubt that the “man of lawlessness” may soon be revealed for who he is.

However, Jesus was explicitly clear about these questions He replied to His disciples when they asked Him “When will these things be?” (Mark 13:4):

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.

“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

“Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. (Matthew 13:24-33).

Conclusion

I am nearly 70 years old, and I have yet to hear any predictions about the End Times, particularly those that include dates and years, that have come true.  As it is, the sun has now set on August 30th, and I have yet to learn exactly who the Antichrist is.

 

The Mystery of Pain

After enduring pain in my shoulder (rotator cuff) for several weeks, my orthopedic specialist gave me a cortisone shot. The shot was more than just a “pinch,” as shots are usually called by medical caregivers, but I was grateful afterwards, for I could move my shoulder again without feeling like I had been stabbed with an ice-pick!

This experience with pain was in addition to my craniotomy last fall and the onset of migraine headaches.  Physical pain is bad enough, but emotional and mental pain can be just as bad, if not more perplexing and burdensome.

Anyone who has chronic pain of one kind or another is usually moved to ask, “Why?  Why do I have pain in my life?”

Years ago, I learned some answers to these questions by studying the disease of leprosy that appears so often in the Bible.

Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, is an infection caused by bacteria that are contracted  by direct contact or through the air by sneezes or coughs.  Leprosy is highly contagious, therefore, which explains the prohibitions given to lepers in the Bible to prevent the spread of the disease.

(Click here to read Leviticus 13 for a description of the disease and its symptoms, along with some of the restrictions placed on lepers.)

Leprosy bacteria multiply slowly, so the disease may take years to fully manifest, but when it does, the symptoms are very visible, especially on the skin.  Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Skin lesions that may be faded/discolored
  • Growths on the skin
  • Thick, stiff or dry skin
  • Severe pain
  • Numbness on affected areas of the skin
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis (especially in the hands and feet)
  • Eye problems that may lead to blindness
  • Enlarged nerves (especially those around the elbow and knee)
  • A stuffy nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Ulcers on the soles of feet

(Click to see source.)

What About Pain?

When leprosy becomes active, which may take two-three years after initial exposure, it eventually attacks the nervous system, leading to numbness in the nerves on the skin and the loss of feeling or sensation on the hands and feet.

Read a fuller description here:

Many have thought leprosy to be a disease of the skin. It is better classified, however, as a disease of the nervous system because the leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves. Leprosy’s agent M. leprae is a rod-shaped bacterium related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Leprosy is spread by multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person.

Its symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose. (Source)

The worst danger from the bacteria arises, therefore, when a burn or another kind of injury occurs, for example, and the leper does not feel the injury due to the lack of sensation at the site: “The leprosy bacillus destroys nerve endings that carry pain signals; therefore patients with advanced leprosy experience a total loss of physical pain. When these people cannot sense touch or pain, they tend to injure themselves or be unaware of injury caused by an outside agent” (Source).

Pain’s Purpose

Imagine putting your hand on a very hot iron or woodstove and not feeling anything.  You may end up leaving your hand on the heat for quite a while, resulting in a terrible burn.  If you had felt the pain initially, you would have quickly acted to remove your hand.

Consequently, as a result of an inability to feel pain, the leper does not react quickly, so the injury becomes quite severe, leading to extreme damage to the body.

Leprosy: A Metaphor for Sin

Leprosy was so dreaded that lepers were shunned, and they were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden from touching anyone to prevent the spread of the disease:

As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

Leprosy was so dreaded, and the commandments of God were so clear, that lepers were shunned. Lepers were declared to be “unclean.” To prevent the spread of the disease, lepers were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden even from touching anyone else.  Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another.

Incurable by man, many believed God inflicted the curse of leprosy upon people for the sins committed. In fact, those with leprosy were so despised and loathed that they were not allowed to live in any community with their own people (Numbers 5:2). Among the sixty-one defilements of ancient Jewish laws, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness. A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family. The disease was considered so revolting that the leper wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing. Lepers lived in a community with other lepers until they either got better or died. This was the only way the people knew to contain the spread of the contagious forms of leprosy. (Source)

Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another. The consequences of leprosy, therefore, are analogous to the consequences of sin.  When we are infected with sin in our lives, we become “unclean,” and our sin may even infect others with serious consequences.  Sin results in severe consequences in our lives, both physically and mentally.  Like leprosy, these consequences may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.

Like the symptoms of leprosy, the consequences of sin in our lives may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.  Yet, we should dread the symptoms of sin even more than those of leprosy, for the consequences of sin are death and eternal separation from God.

Jesus Cleanses the Leper

Jesus Christ, however, is the answer for both leprosy and sin, along with the resulting mental and physical deformities and anguish:

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus is willing to cleanse us wholly, in spirit, soul, and body.  He renews a right spirit within us and restores our souls.  Like King David, we may pray the following prayer in faith:

Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalms 51:9-11)

Jesus Himself, because of His love for us, is the One who restores our souls and cleanses us from all the consequences of sin.  See what the Apostle Peter wrote about the crucifixion of Christ:

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (I Peter 2:23-25)

While on the cross and before His ascension into Heaven, therefore, Jesus became our substitute, taking our sins upon Himself and cleansing us from all unrighteousness if we will only accept Him.  By faith (which is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1), we may receive His ultimate cleansing in spirit, soul, and body, taking away our pain.

Today, we constantly seek ways to escape our pain, whether through cortisone shots, or pills, or certain “relaxation techniques” that are essentially occultic.  While we do not like the experience of pain in our lives, we should seek the causes of our pain and be thankful to a wise and loving God who gave us nerves that help us feel the pain of dangerous situations, thereby protecting us from further harm and disabilities.  And above all, we need to find our answer to pain in the forgiveness provided  by God and the salvation offered through the sacrifice of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

My New Book in Hard Copy

Just off the press and New to You!

My new book (Astonishing Sparks: Biblical Mysteries Revealed) is available now, not only in eBook format (including Kindle, Nook, and other digital readers) but also in hard copy (paperback).  

The new paperback version may be obtained by contacting me directly.  Please send your request, along with your mailing address and $12.00 (covers my costs for printing and mailing only) to the following address:

Newsong, Inc.

209 Hemlock Ridge Road

Jersey Shore, PA 17740 

Also, you may click on the following links to bring up the order forms for the two most popular eBook versions:

Kindle on Amazon

Nook on Barnes and Noble

 

Sparks Pic

Contents

Forward

Part I:  Introduction:  Seeing Beyond the Literal

Part II: The Spiritual Realm

Part II:  Thinking with the Mind of Christ

Part IV: The Apostle Paul’s Mysticism

Part V:  Engaging in Spiritual Warfare

Part VI: Using Spiritual Weapons

Part VII: Intercessory Prayer in Spiritual Warfare

Part VIII: The End Times

Part IX:  Final Words

About the Author

What Is the Nature of True Confession?

True Humility Versus False Humility

What is humility?  It is the quality or condition of being humble, of having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, status, or rank.  

It is surprising to me, however, how many in the Church, especially those who may lead in prayer or praise ministries, take on a false humility by focusing on their own “unworthiness,” telling the congregation that they, and we, all are nothing more than “ugly sinners saved by grace,” or “dead in our trespasses and sins, not worthy to invoke or receive the promises of God.”

One of the most relevant passages in one of the most significant books of the New Testament, however, declares the falsity of these statements.  In fact, such declarations are fully demonstrated to be examples of false humility by the Apostle Paul.

Paul states to the Corinthian Church why true believers are no longer defined by a sinful nature as they once were before coming to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer from sin:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)

In itself, this verse alone couldn’t be more clear in revealing to us who we are in Christ Jesus:  If we are “in Christ,” we have a “new” nature, for we are now a “new creature.”  

Paul elsewhere describes our former sinful nature as the “old man,” as opposed to the “new man” we have become in Christ:

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. (Colossians 3:9-10)

And Paul exhorts the believers in Ephesus to act on the new standing they have obtained in Christ:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind. (Ephesians 4:20-23)

Being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” simply means that we need to change our minds about who we are in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Teaching to the Romans

Paul further expounds on these truths in depth in his letter to the Romans, as he writes in the following passage from Romans 6:1-18, and 8:1,6.  I have underlined some of the most relevant portions of the text:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!  Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that  though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:1-18, and 8:1,6)

 

Looking Ahead and Not Backwards

I just heard from someone the other day who gave me a very simple guideline for living victoriously.  She said that when we drive, we don’t just look at the rearview mirror.  If we only did that, we would eventually crash!  Instead, we need to look forward to the future with expectant hope, trusting that the Lord Jesus has not only forgiven us of all our sins, but also redeemed us from their curse of eternal separation from God.

Let me be clear.  I am not saying that we have never sinned.  In order to receive Jesus as Lord, we need to confess all of our sins, as the Apostle John writes:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

However, if we have been forgiven and redeemed, we need to act like we have been transformed by His power and consider ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ! Above all, we must not continue in sinful behaviors and practices, then publicly confess to relieve our consciences.  

To those who mistakenly believe that we need to denigrate the finished work of Christ in order to make unbelievers comfortable in our presence, I suggest that they do not go on presenting the members of their bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness by seeing themselves as sinners. Instead, believe and confess that you have been “born again” in Christ’s likeness.  As a result of this rebirth, you are no longer “such a worm,” as the old hymn “At the Cross” suggests (These are Isaac Watt’s lyrics; see this site: Watt.)

My Anchor Holds

20160514_170643

While my wife and I have been on several enjoyable ship cruises, I have been on the ocean in a small boat only a few times.  My horrible seasickness during a fishing trip was enough to convince me that the ups and downs of the ocean were not very pleasant.

However, at one point, we even bought a small boat to use for fishing in the Pacific Ocean, but mainly we bought it to give the boat to my father-in-law, who was a particularly enthusiastic fisherman.  Trying to “fix” the boat to make it suitable for a gift, we learned quickly that a boat can indeed be a “hole in the water that you pour your money into.”

I confess that I am not an expert on boats or naval paraphernalia, including anchors. I have only owned one anchor used for a boat, but I rarely used it since we usually just tied up at the dock and didn’t try to stay stationary in the water to fish (to avoid sea sickness!).  

The use of an anchor in biblical New Testament times is clearly seen in the Bible, however, so understanding how anchors function helps us understand the Scriptural passages that include anchors.

The Apostle Paul’s Mediterranean Cruise

An understanding of anchors is particularly helpful when reading the 27th Chapter of Acts of the Apostles, a passage which includes the story of Paul’s journey to Rome while under arrest by Roman guards.  At one point during the journey, the following events take place as described by Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles:

Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:29-31)

In this story we gain insights even into the minds of experienced sailors as they attempted to escape the dangers of a terrible Mediterranean storm, while also avoiding the brutality of their Roman employers.  Notice also that the four anchors were released from the stern of the ship to keep it from being cast aground on the rocks of the coast.  

Luke’s next account reveals how the anchors were discarded when the boat’s crew mistakenly decided to head for the safety of the beach of a bay.  The boat indeed ran aground, leading to the breaking up of the ship.

When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. (Acts 27:39-41)

We see clearly from these accounts not only the value of ship’s anchors during storms but also their beneficial help in keeping the ship from becoming stuck fast and broken apart by the storm’s waves.

Most of us will never encounter such experiences in our lives, yet we all may experience the “storms of life,” perhaps even on a daily basis.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had anchors to hold us fast on the course the Lord has given us in our lives, as well as anchors to keep us from getting “stuck” and “immovable” when we are seeking to find peace and safety in this world?

In the Book of Hebrews, however, we find that we have indeed been given “anchors for our souls.”  The writer of Hebrews uses an example in the life of Abraham to demonstrate how this anchor keeps us steadfast, even in the worst storms and temptations in this life.

Seeing an anchor as being a beneficial help during a storm is somewhat of a mystery, for anchors are heavy and they usually are used to keep a ship from moving at all.    

Abraham’s Faith and Hope

After first warning Christians about the “perils of falling away,” the writer of the Book of Hebrews exhorts believers instead to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).

. . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:18-20)

This passage is unclear unless we can determine what the “two unchangeable things” are.  God’s promise to Abram is the first unchangeable thing:

For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” And so, having patiently waited, he [Abraham] obtained the promise.

Abraham, therefore, received the promise of God first because of the reliability of God’s Word.  To show the “unchangeableness of His purpose,” God also made an oath, the second of the two “unchangeable things.”

For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:13-18).

These two unchangeable things mean that “it is impossible for God to lie.” Therefore, we may be assured that the promises of God are “sure and steadfast”:  

We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:18-20)

Our ability to look forward to the future with hope is both sure and steadfast because the Word of God is sure and steadfast. Both of these words mean dependable, reliable, true, constant, and trustworthy.  

We must conclude, therefore, that since the Word of God is dependable and trustworthy, we who have received the promise of God may look forward to the future with joyful anticipation, knowing that the promises made to us will be fulfilled.  And this means we have hope, which is the “anchor for our soul.”  

This anchor, in turn, will keep us steadfast and true; in nautical terms, we will “stay the course,” and not depart from the will of the Lord or stray from His purpose for our lives.  The hope we have in the promises of God will keep us steadfast during the storms of life, especially because this hope we have “enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” 

This “veil” is the curtain in the temple was placed between the “Inner Sanctuary” and the “Holy of Holies” where God’s sacred presence was.  When Jesus was crucified, this temple veil was rent, or torn, from top to bottom, signifying that Jesus the Lamb of God was the perfect sacrifice which did away with sin.  And Jesus became our High Priest who as our forerunner became our mediator, the One who allows us also to come into God’s presence. Jesus became the great High Priest who intercedes for us continually before the Father. 

This passage in Hebrews 6 also implies also that we have a choice in whether we will take hold of God’s anchor for our soul, the hope we have in His promises:

. . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:16)

We have been given “strong encouragement” to take hold of the hope we have been given, but the choice is still ours.  The more we learn about the steadfastness of God’s Word, the easier it will be to receive the anchor we need to keep us on the course set before us and have peace in the midst of the storms of this life.  And hope is the anchor that keeps us firmly directed and safe in the many storms that arise in this world.

Hope Does Not Disappoint

Finally, the Apostle Paul summarizes our hope in the promises of God through Jesus Christ:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

Not only do we have peace during times of tribulation, therefore, but we may also exult, which means we may feel a lively and triumphant joy.  We may rejoice exceedingly and be highly elated or jubilant, all because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the gift of His Holy Spirit.  Praise His name!

 

You Better Belize It!

Jan and I just returned from our trip to Belize on Tuesday (April 26th) after spending one week in the beautiful Hopkins Village.  It was our second trip to Belize, our first since being there nine years ago.

Our rented cabana was right on the beach, where we could go for exhilarating morning swims in the warm ocean water.  All of the days were quite warm, and we were having to drink a lot of water, as we ate the enticing food of the Garifuna people and walked along the main road.

school kids buying lunch from street vendor

Belize school kids buying lunch from a street vendor.

Significantly, before we left on our one-week vacation travels, which I knew would be long and frustrating since we had three flights to catch on the way and four on the way home, I received a “vision,” or gained “insight,” into possible ministry in Belize. I saw myself and my wife working with the local churches to establish a Christian school for children, or at least an after school program with Bible teaching. Currently, the school for children in Hopkins Village is run by the Catholic Church, and it includes regular Catholic religious training.

 

Public/Catholic school in Hopkins Village

While in Hopkins, we also met and talked with the warm, spirit-filled Pastor Herdie , who with his wife, Victoria, who had led the “Ligillisi Lareini Bungiu,” or “God Reins Chapel” in Hopkins Village for 30 years.

20160420_182535 (1)

God Reins Chaple in Hopkins, Belize

Due to work schedules, the mostly Garifuna people all gathered at 7:00 p.m. for an edifying time of worship and praise, followed by an inspirational message by Pastor Herdie.

Pastor Herdie leads worship.

In addition, we also want to begin a home ministry with the many “Ex-pats” in the area (mainly retirees from the U.S. and Canada). Jan and I have wanted to be missionaries since the earliest days of our marriage, which is rapidly reaching our 47th anniversary.  We are believing, therefore, that this is our opportunity to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others in foreign lands.  We are in the process of purchasing a lot on which we will build a home that we believe will also provide space for discipleship and Bible teaching.

20160424_114226

Swimming after school.

Kids after school.

Kids after school.

Needless to say, this will be a huge change of direction in our lives, one that will bring tremendous joy, but also sorrow as we leave our children and grandchildren, even if only for part of the year.  We are hoping we can continue living in the Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, for much of the year (how about spring and summer! And maybe fall also!).

Therefore, we ask for your prayers and intercessions for us as we seek God’s wisdom and direction for the future.

 

What Is Truth?

So, Are You A King?

Pontius Pilate, while judging Jesus of Nazareth, asked the following questions, all to determine whether the claims of the Scribes and Pharisees was true: that Jesus was claiming to be a king and therefore committing treason against Caesar:

Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” (John 18:33-35)

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36)

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered,“You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. (John 18:37-39)

Significantly, although Jesus claimed, or at least implied, that He was indeed a king, Pilate found Jesus to be innocent of the accusations of treason the Scribes and Pharisees had cast against Him.

Of even greater significance in this case is the fact that Pilate confessed that he did not know the Truth, even though, ironically, Jesus had stated that He is the Truth.  In addition, like many post-modernists, or existentialists, or atheists in today’s world, who in spite of their insistence that Science is the only way to know the truths about human creation and the existence of the earth and the cosmos, Pilate essentially declares that Truth is unknowable, a very ironic statement coming from one who is in the position of deciding whether someone should be crucified.  

Therefore, many of today’s modernist philosophers say that absolute truth does not exist, all while refusing to listen to the words of Jesus, the One who came to deliver the Truth, as He said:Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” (v. 37) .  

No Absolutes?

I heard a story once, probably fictitious, about a very intelligent man who said, “There is no such thing as absolute truth!”  His statement was followed by what another man said in response, a statement that exploded the first man’s faulty logic: “You say there is no such thing as absolute truth? Are you absolutely sure?”  

As a tenured Professor of English and Literature for twenty years at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, I encountered many speakers and writers who had determined that knowing what a particular poet or playwright meant or intended when writing a poem or play was impossible because of the indeterminacy of language itself.  

Deconstruction and the Destruction of Truth

Building on the ideas of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, for example, the concepts of “deconstruction” entered the realms of literary criticism.  

A philosophical movement and theory of literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; asserts that words can only refer to other words; and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings.  (Source)

To explain this problem further, even as children we found that learning what a ball is, for example, means deciding on multiple factors, not just shape.  We may mistake an orange for a ball, or decide that a ball may be peeled and eaten.  Looking and seeing an animal in a field might have been confusing because we had learned that cows were what lived behind the fences in most areas of the country. Therefore, what we thought were cows that say “Mooo,” were instead horses that say “Neigh.”

Jacques Derrida, while focusing on these difficulties in defining terms or meanings, came to the conclusion that there are too many holes, or gaps, in our words and conversations to lead to complete interpretations, meanings, or definitions.  By “deconstructing,” or taking apart a story or poem, therefore, we must observe the gaps in meaning that cannot essentially be determined, much less re-constructed into a precise statement of interpretation.  

Derrida focused on these difficulties in defining terms or meanings and came to the conclusion that there are too many holes, or gaps, in the definitions of our words and resulting conversations.  By “deconstructing,” or taking apart a story or poem, therefore, we observe the gaps in meaning that cannot be essentially determined.  Derrida and other contemporary deconstructionists decided, therefore, that absolute meanings are impossible to determine.   

The result of this lack of surety not only in the existence of Truth, but also our human inability to find the Truth results in a “Pot-Luck” menu of ideas that counterfeit the Truth, yet are still accepted as Truth.  

And instead of the One Way, Truth, and Life, who has been given to us in Jesus Christ, we have been led astray by many false prophets and antichrists who have gone forth into the world, proclaiming their own false gospels.  Eastern mysticism, for example, has infiltrated our culture today to such an extent that it is not even acknowledged or recognized distinctly when it appears:

  • Just breathe slowly and deeply and you will find inner peace.
  • Merely repeat the same phrase to yourself over and over, and enlightenment will come.  
  • Obtain kundalini, or a spiritual awakening, by perfecting certain hatha yoga postures. [Kundalini is a Sanskrit word meaning either “coiled up” or “coiling like a snake.” There are a number of other translations of the term usually emphasizing a more serpent nature to the word – e.g. ‘serpent power’.]  (Source)
  • Far Eastern Mystical thinking is basically “the belief that the ultimate expression of reality consists of an impersonal life force. There is no God for a person to personally relate to, or one who is able to reveal himself to humankind” (Source).

The Problem: Truth Versus Falsehood

In the Eighth Chapter of John’s Gospel, we read the following story one that perfectly illustrates the conflict between Truth, as manifested in Jesus Christ, and falsehood, as represented by the Pharisees, the group of religious teachers who adamantly believed that their understanding of the Law of Moses and tabernacle worship were wholly correct.  Jesus firmly declares that He is God’s messenger sent to speak the Word and to reveal the will of God the Father.  Jesus then confronts the Pharisees for their refusal to acknowledge the message He has delivered to them:

Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” So they were saying to Him, “Who are You?” Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning? I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”  As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. (John 8:24-30)

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

A number of lessons may be learned from this story:

  • First, those who adhere to falsehood and lies despise the Truth when it appears and will do anything they can to destroy it because it contradicts what they believe to be true.
  • Jesus has come to declare the Truth, and those who believe in Him and continue in His Word will know the Truth that will set them free from the bondages of sin.
  • Even those who have been saturated with lies and falsehoods may turn and come to the Truth that is resident in Jesus Christ and His Word.

As a pagan ruler under the authority of ancient Rome, Pontius Pilate may probably be excused for not knowing the Truth, even though he was confronted with the Truth in the person of Jesus Christ.  Even though he found no guilt in Jesus, he nevertheless handed Him over to the Jewish religious leaders who sought to kill Him.  Here is the story from John’s Gospel:

Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they planned together to kill Him. (John 11:47-53)

From this story we learn that the true purposes of the chief priests and Pharisees was not to receive the Truth about Jesus Christ, but instead to retain their power.  They were the “establishment” of the time, and Caiphas was determined that they should do everything possible to retain that power for the good of the nation as a whole. The times may have changed since then, but the hearts of the leaders of the people have not changed.

The True Way to Peace

In fact, seeking approval and cultural acceptance from the popular culture today, many Christians and churches have opened the door to the false teachings of the occult religions, Eastern mysticism in particular.  Yoga classes are being held in church facilities, and the teachings of Buddha are regularly brought forth in some pastor’s sermons.  Is it any wonder that many Christians today, including church leaders, have forsaken the teachings of the Word of Truth and held to the lies of Lucifer, just as the original sin of Adam and Eve was derived from the temptations of Satan: 

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Thus, seeking the enlightenment promised by Eastern mysticism, many in the church are not praying, but meditating instead, merely seeking to reach a kundalini-like counterfeit peace, instead of the “peace that passes understanding” that only comes from following the Truths of Jesus, who said:  “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).  

And this is how the Apostle Paul instructed the Philippian Church to receive peace in their hearts:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

Instead, many Christians today, like Pontius Pilate, have accepted the fundamental lie of Satan: There is no Truth.

Many Christians assure themselves that there is real virtue in trying to see all the good they can in everyone and that in so doing they are showing Christ’s love. After all, isn’t love the most important virtue (1 Corinthians 13)? But love is meaningless without truth. Showing the influence of Eastern mysticism, a recent poll revealed that 71 percent of Americans, 64 percent of those who claim to be “born-again,” and 40 percent of self-described evangelicals do not believe in absolute truth.  (Source)

May we see the errors in our thinking and truly repent from believing the falsehoods of Satan, the enemy of our souls.

Examining Ourselves Rightly

Introduction

The most difficult role for parents or Church leaders, in a similar context, is the role of one who must bring discipline and correction to the family or to the Church Body.  However, the Apostle Paul found himself in this role, as he describes it in his first letter to the Corinthian Church.  Since what follows is such a lengthy passage, we will examine it separately in parts.

Part I

In the first part Paul describes the problems that need to be corrected.  As Paul describes them, they consist of schisms and divisions in the Corinthian Church instead of solid unity:

But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.  (I Corinthians 11:17-19)

Clearly, Paul understands the sinful human nature, for he writes that these factions and divisions have occurred for an all-too-apparent reason:  those who believe themselves to be qualified to lead (those “who are approved”) also desire to be recognized as being in charge (“so that they may become evident among you”).  

Part II

In the second part of the passage taken from his letter, Paul describes an even more troubling problem in the Corinthian Church, one which was probably more prevalent among the believers as a whole:

Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (I Corinthians 11:20-22)

When the believers in the Corinthian Church come together, Paul writes, they come to eat and drink, not to “remember” the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for their redemption from the consequences of their sins.  Instead, they are only concerned about filling their bellies and soothing themselves with alcohol.  Their desire to gorge themselves is so strong that they even compete with one another, leaving some with nothing, while others are bloated with bread and wine.  

Clearly, this description is nothing like the communion observances we have in most protestant churches in our culture today.  As a child, I was struck by the tiny pieces of unsalted crackers that were passed on a silver plate down the rows of pews by the deacons, along with the tiny cups filled with grape juice. There was no way, under the watchful eyes of my parents, I could have filled myself with such small portions of juice and crackers, simply because there wasn’t enough on the plate for anyone to take more than a minimal amount.  

We knew we weren’t sharing a meal. My mother taught me to gaze at the elements after they were passed, while I prayed and asked for forgiveness for my sins, not allowing myself to be distracted by anything around me or spilling what was in my tiny cup.

Part III

Therefore, in the next part of his letter, Paul describes how the Lord’s supper should be observed:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Their purpose in gathering to partake of the bread and wine, therefore, was definitely not to gluttonously fill themselves with bread and wine, but instead to remember what Christ accomplished as the “Lamb of God” by sacrificing His broken body and His blood, as well as to proclaim the victory of His death and resurrection until He comes again.  

For both elements of this Last Supper, the bread and the wine, Jesus asked that they remember Him, His broken body and His sacrificial blood that was spilled for them. And He asked also that they continue to remember Him as often as they celebrated the Last Supper in the future, thereby proclaiming His death and the results of His sacrifice until He comes again.

Part IV

In this next portion of Paul’s exhortation, the Apostle explains not only the proper attitudes the believers in Corinth needed to have while partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but also the proper behaviors they should have as they drink and eat:

27 So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is unworthy [of Him] will be guilty of [profaning and sinning against] the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But a person must [prayerfully] examine himself [and his relationship to Christ], and only when he has done so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks [without solemn reverence and heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ], eats and drinks a judgment on himself if he does not [a]recognize the body [of Christ]. 30 That [careless and unworthy participation] is the reason why many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [in death]. 31 But if we evaluated and judged ourselves honestly [recognizing our shortcomings and correcting our behavior], we would not be judged. 32 But when we [fall short and] are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined [by undergoing His correction] so that we will not be condemned [to eternal punishment] along with the world. (AMP Version: I Corinthians 11:27-32)

To sum up these admonitions, Paul cautions believers not to eat of the bread or drink from the cup in an “unworthy” manner.  If they do, he writes, they will bring judgment upon themselves for “sinning against” (See above AMP v. 27) the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, resulting in weakness, sickness, or even death (v. 30).

By following and acting upon these admonitions, we will neither incur the consequences of sinning against the Lord’s Body and Blood, nor be “condemned to eternal punishment along with all non-believers” (See v. 32 above):

Instead, Paul’s remedy is that believers need to “judge themselves rightly” so they will not be judged or condemned along with the world (v. 32).  

Part V

Paul’s final teaching on this subject, therefore, entails that believers should “wait for one another,” eating at home rather than using the elements of the Last Supper to satisfy their hunger.  Avoid the temptation, he writes, so that the whole body does not come together “for judgment” (v. 34):  Here is the definitive passage:

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. (I Corinthians 11:33-34)

Eating and Drinking the Lord’s Supper Unworthily

What does the Apostle Paul mean when he counsels believers not to eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper “unworthily,” or in an “unworthy manner”?  (See I Corinthians 11:27 in Part IV above.)  

The secret to solving this mystery lies, I believe, in the consequences and ramifications of the incurred judgments, which are “weakness, sickness, or even death.”  Paul writes that we must “judge” and “examine” ourselves  to ensure that we are not
“sinning” against the Body and Blood of Jesus, a sin that may incur weakness, sickness, or even death.  (I Corinthians 11:30)

Most clearly, since Paul is writing to believers in the Corinthian Church, a person cannot participate fully in the Lord’s Supper unless he or she has become a true believer in Jesus Christ and has accepted by faith what He accomplished as the “Lamb of God,” the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sin that separates us from God, our Holy Father.  

This is why even churches that practice “open communion,” or, in other words, churches that allow even non-members of the church to participate in the Lord’s Supper, will most often still warn everyone who partakes to ensure they have committed their hearts and lives to Him, through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to avoid the results of taking the communion unworthily.  

Paul’s teachings and corrections are definitely directed in his letter to those who have indeed submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, having committed their hearts and lives to Him and become members of the Church of Corinth.  Therefore, we must assume that his injunctions and warnings apply to everyone in the True Church, including all believers in the Church today as well.  

It seems wise to ask, what are we missing from Paul’s message to the whole Church?  Why does it appear that many people today are weak, sick, or even dead?  Are we partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily?  Have we diminished the significance of the communion sacrament and disregarded the implications of not examining ourselves according to Christ’s own guidelines?

I believe the key to discovering the meaning of this mystery is found in the following passage from John’s Gospel:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

This is what Dr. Michael Brown writes about John’s description of Christ’s final moments on the cross:

What did Jesus mean when He uttered the words “It is finished!” in John 19:30?

The phrase actually translates one word in Greek, tetelestai, from the root teleō, which means “to finish, fulfill.”

Significantly, this specific form of the verb, tetelestai, is only found twice in the entire New Testament, both times in John 19.

In fact, the two occurrences of tetelestai are found within three verses of each other: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ … When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28, 30).

Do you see that? Although the verb teleō occurs 28 times in the New Testament, the form tetelestai is found only twice, and those two occurrences are in the same context, right next to each other, making the meaning perfectly clear.

Jesus was saying, “Mission accomplished! Everything that had to be done has been done! It is finished!” (Source: Click Here to View Brown’s article)

First of all, therefore, Jesus asks for something to quench His thirst in order to “fulfill the Scripture.”  See the prophecy in the Psalms:

They also gave me gall for my food
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalms 69:21)

Then, when He has received the sour wine from the sponge held up to Him, He says, “It is finished!” and “gives up His spirit” in death.  

We learn from this passage that, even on the cross, Jesus was intent on ensuring that all of the prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning His atoning death were fulfilled and “accomplished” before He gave up His life.  Jesus then declared that His mission was finished: He had completed all that had been prophesied and that His Father had planned in sending His only Son to be sacrificed.

What is probably missing in our participations in the times for ‘rembrance” during communion, therefore, concerns our inability to acknowledge and receive the fulness of what Christ came to accomplish on the Cross.  These relate to the three conditions that result from our not holding fast in faith to what He “finished”: His triumph over weakness, sickness, and death on our behalf.  

In Remembrance of Him

One passage in the Book of Hebrews states this idea in specific terms:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Clearly, many believers in the Early Church, just as in churches today, needed to be reminded about “remembering,” or the acknowledgement in faith and the appropriation of the magnificent provisions of Christ’s sacrifice on the Church’s behalf.  What does this mean?

Particularly as we “remember” Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, we need to focus on receiving “mercy and finding grace in times of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Since Jesus Himself was tempted just as we are, yet He did not fall into sin, we need to identify with the One who overcame all of the consequences of all sin.  

Jesus could vicariously sympathize with us, when the sins of the world were placed on Him, while identifying Himself as the One who took the punishment for all of our sins, receiving in His own Body on the Cross the consequences of sin as He suffered and died, even to the point of being “forsaken” by His Father because of those sins (see Mark 14:34 and Matthew 27:46).  

While in the Garden praying, Jesus knew not only what He would suffer physically on the cross, but also what He would endure while having the sins of the world placed on Him.  Imagine what He must have experienced, for He was without sin and knew no sin, yet suddenly while on the Cross He felt the sins of a world filled with wickedness placed on Himself, the spotless Lamb of God.

As a result of His willingness to receive this judgment, the consequences of sin were done away with, including weakness, sickness, and even death.  Therefore, Jesus Himself, as our propitiation for our sin, endured weakness, sickness, and death for the first time in His life, suffering not only death and entombment, but also three days and nights in Hell itself.  Is it any wonder why He asked His Father. . . 

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus was in such agony over what He would experience and endure that He suffered from hematidrosa (or “sweating blood”) (See definition of “hematidrosa” caused by extreme stress“). Yet even knowing what He would experience, He was willing to take our place and drink the cup offered to Him.  

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (I Peter 2:24)

And beforehand, during the Last Supper with His disciples, He broke the bread and offered the cup to demonstrate to them how they could remember His sacrifice on their behalf.  Consequently, we today have also been instructed how to identify with Jesus’s offer of redemption through His own death, finding eternal life also through His resurrection.

Conclusion

Whenever I send a package via United Parcel Service, I receive a “tracking number” so that I can determine the progress of the package as it is being delivered.

In the same way, the Lord has given us a means of tracking our own progress as Christians in the ways of the Lord.  We daily need to examine and judge ourselves completely, while identifying with Jesus Christ and holding fast our confession of faith.

However, we also need especially to remember His accomplished work on the cross as we take communion, in order not to be judged and suffer the weaknesses, sickness, and even death that have fallen on some believers. We need to judge ourselves continually and appropriate by faith all that the Lord Jesus purchased for us when He drank the cup that was given to Him according to the will of His Father in Heaven.

Praying in the Name of . . .

  Burns is NOT God!

Not George Burns, and More Than, Like, an “Epithet”

This is how many people would pray the “Lord’s Prayer” today, especially in front of a large group or Church congregation:

OMG in Heaven, hallowed be your name, God.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, God, on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day, God, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, God, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, God, but deliver us from evil.  For yours is the kingdom, God, and the power, God, and the glory forever, God.  Amen

I mean no disrespect to the Lord Jesus, who taught us how to pray, nor to our Father in Heaven, to whom Jesus addressed His prayer.  This is how Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:6-13):

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

“Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
‘Give us this day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]

I merely wish to point out the needless and meaningless repetition of the word “God” in so many prayers, as well as the fact that Jesus taught us to pray to our “Father who is in Heaven,” not some nameless God with whom we have no relationship.

Meaningless Repetition or “Filler Words”

Honestly, I’m surprised that words such as, “like,” or “Dude,” or “Hey!” are not heard in public prayers the way they are in ordinary conversation, especially among young adults.

Hey!  Our Dude who is in, like, Heaven. Hallowed be your name, God, and, like, your Kingdom come, your will be done, like, on earth as it is in Heaven. . .

Having been a professor of literature and writing for many years, I’ve grown accustomed to the ways that “filler words” have crept into the speech, and even the writing, of many young adults.  It’s so much easier to fill the gaps with popular expressions, rather than with meaningful words that are faith-filled and also make sense.

Finally, the expression “Oh, my God!” (and abbreviated as “OMG!”) has become so common that even many Christians use it constantly in social media or in conversation, in spite of its empty (or vain) meaning.  They do so in spite of the third commandment the Lord gave to Israel:  “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7).

Father, Guard My Mouth, Lips, and Keyboard

Instead, I am writing this article merely to exhort every Christian, every follower of the Lord Jesus, to pray the following prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalms 141:3)

And may we have an abiding relationship with our Father in Heaven such that we do not address Him in the form of an “epithet,” but in accordance with the true relationship we have with Him, as our Father, just as Jesus did.  (See a definition of “epithet” below:

1. a characterizing word or phrase added to or used in place of the name of a person or thing.
2. a word, phrase, or expression used invectively as a term of abuse or contempt.

See more at this site:  Source.

 

Marveling at the Miraculous by Jan Jenkins

The Miracle

As Peter and John are going to the temple to pray, at the temple gate they hear a man calling to them.  They see a forty-year-old lame man who depends on handouts to support his existence in his disabled condition.  What the man doesn’t realize is that his condition might actually be changed so that he need not continue to beg.

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.

But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and beganto walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

This beautiful story is a reminder that God often sees a greater ailment that may need healing, one that is far more significant than what we may have been asking or praying for.

Peter stops and tells the man that he does not possess what the man is begging for, although he does have something far greater.  Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!”  He then grabs the man’s right hand and raises him up.  Luke, the author of the book of Acts, writes that “immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened” (Acts 3:7). 

Not only is the man strengthened, but also he begins “walking and leaping and praising God” (v.8).  People who saw him praising God were astounded because they knew something miraculous had happened, knowing that this was the man who had been carried daily to the temple gate to plead for sustenance.

At this point, Peter answers the amazement of the people by preaching his second recorded sermon.  He assures his listeners that faith in the name of Jesus is what has brought strength and healing to this man (Acts 3:16).  He then reminds the people that God’s prophets had foretold of “His Christ,” and that by repenting of their sins, they may experience Christ’s presence and  the “times of refreshing.”  Consequently, this is a reminder to us that we need to repent and make sure we can approach our Savior with a clear conscience and a clean heart.

Persecution

Next, the priests and Sadducees who have been also listening, see to it that John and Peter are arrested since this is the only immediate way they can keep them from speaking the truth.  In spite of Peter and John’s arrest, as many as 5,000 men who had heard the message believed!  When given the opportunity to testify the next day, Peter again states that the man (who is standing there next to Peter) was made well “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).  He tells the high priest and the others of “high priestly descent” that there is salvation only through Jesus.  Peter’s words are a reminder that it is through the power of the mighty name of Jesus that we are made whole–not our good works, our power, our religious knowledge, or our social or political standing.

Peter’s message leaves these educated leaders speechless, and they are unable to reply.  They begin talking among themselves, trying to decide what should be done with Peter and the other men with him.

But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that anoteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” (Acts 4:15-17)

In a feeble effort to control Peter and John, they command them not to teach any more about Jesus.  The apostles answer by saying that it is impossible for them to stop speaking about what they have “seen and heard.”

Sharing With Others

It is natural for us to want to share our experiences with others, whether they involve a fabulous vacation, a newborn baby, or career advancement.  How much greater is the urge to share the good news of salvation and healing to those who are seeking answers or to those in perilous situations.

So, what did the officials do?  They “threatened them further” (Acts 4:21), but their threats were empty. They couldn’t punish Peter and John because of the crowds of people glorifying God!

When the apostles were finally released, they went back to their companions to report what had happened to them.  Additionally, they prayed together asking to speak God’s word with confidence while He extends His hand to heal in the name of Jesus.  (Acts 4:29 – 30).  They are absolutely aware that it is the power of God through the name of Jesus that is the source of these signs and wonders.

Finally, when they had prayed, the building was shaken and they were once again filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s word with boldness.  In the same way, the only way we can fully share God’s message is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

Therefore, what are the steps we must take to ensure our own growth and faith, as evidenced by this story?

  • First, recognize that God is in control, and we need to trust Him to guide us when we speak to others, knowing that what that person wants may not be all that God has for him or her.
  • Second, make sure we have a repentant heart and a clear conscience so that we may clearly hear the voice of the Lord when He is leading.
  • Third, the power of the name of Jesus is what makes us whole.  It is not about us and our good works.
  • Fourth, maintain a close relationship with the Lord through His word and by hearing His voice, so we can share with others the “signs and wonders” that we are experiencing.
  • Fifth, it is God “who works in us both to will and do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
  • Sixth, the only way we can truly share God’s love and His good news to others is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

 

The Marriage Covenant

\

The Genuine Article

The Apostle Paul gave clear affirmation in his teaching letters that God’s design for marriage was not limited to a certain time period, but was the enduring pattern we must continually follow (Matt. 19:4–6; Eph. 5:22–33). The uniqueness of the one-flesh union experienced by a man and woman through sexual intimacy is a gift given to married couples and also a radically beautiful signpost to the union He shares with His people.

This spiritual mystery sounds strange to many people, but it’s amazingly true. In Ephesians 5:30-32 the apostle Paul calls the “signpost” reality of Christian marriage a “mystery” that is a reference to Christ and the Church (followers of Jesus):

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

Even many Christians in the Church today have been misled about the nature of true biblical marriage.  According to the spiritual, mystical understanding that St. Paul gives, marriage is not merely a legal document or just a “piece of paper” that may be thrown into the garbage can when it no longer seems genuine or binding.

Many young adults no longer desire a marital relationship in their lives, having been misled and deceived by our popular culture and the many broken marriages so prominent in the media and in the Church.

Just to use an appealing metaphor, or analogy, consider how the Mercedes Benz or BMW automobiles have become two of the most desired vehicles seen on the road today.  Most people will never drive, much less own, one of these automobiles, yet they are depicted constantly as the most coveted means of transportation, in spite of their enormous cost:

Consequently, numerous copies or imitations exist today in the new car lots, vehicles that look much like the original models in the Mercedes or BMW lots.  

Here is  a Photoshopped creation with a BMW grille and the rest from a Kia (source):

Richard Lentinello, for example, writes the following in Hemmings Classic Car,

I have very little interest in new cars, mainly because they all seem to be made from the same mold — well-made, yes, but boring in terms of design, nonetheless (Source).

Lentinello’s comments appear in a website that develops these ideas further, so it is worth looking at.  I can closely identify with the following quotation that certainly describes the culture I lived in while growing up, especially since my father purchased a 1958 Chevy station wagon:

The high-water mark for individual-looking cars was probably the 1950s and 1960s, when any schoolkid could tell a ’59 Chevy from a ’58. There were indeed a lot of great designs back then. But yearly model changes were incredibly inefficient and mostly happened with very little upgrade to the engineering under the skin. (Source)

Likewise, while young adults today may admire those who have what appear to be loving and solid marriages, they more and more are deciding that such marriages are impossible, for half of all marriages end in devastating divorces. Consequently, they have decided either not to form a marital union with another person at all, or instead merely attempt to form a good “copy” of what they think a good relationship is, usually based on the all-too-observable pleasures of having sex with another person and just living together, or the superficial appearances of what they consider a true marital union.  

Love (and thus, sex), rather than a solid commitment, are the BMW grill and chrome tire rims that are superimposed on a relationship that is extremely lacking in solid covenant commitments.

This propensity is far different from Scriptural admonishions. First of all, by faith, Christians enter into a spiritual union with God, becoming one with Him. This union is symbolized in the covenant we have with Jesus as represented in the communion we celebrate when we come together.  We remember His sacrifice as we partake of the communion meal, eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine, which symbolize His body and blood, while becoming one with Him.   

Christian marriage, like the celebration of communion, is also a mystical picture of this union, and, likewise, sexual intimacy uniquely provides a picture of the oneness that God shares with His people: two distinct and very different beings, joined together as an expression of covenantal love.

God first demonstrated His love for all human beings by making a covenant with Abraham.  These promises were sealed by God in the “cutting” of a covenant, a mystery we studied in another blog article titled  “A Great Mystery” (click to read about David’s covenant with Jonathan and God’s covenant with Abraham).  

The First Marriage

In the Book of Genesis, we read of the first marriage between Adam and Eve.  

The man [Adam] said,

“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:22-24).

The “oneness” depicted in this account is significant, for it describes not only the “mystery” of marriage itself, but also the oneness that occurs in any true covenant.  The two parties become unified as they join together in marriage, a unique unity that only is possible for a man and a woman.  Adam recognized this unity for he realized that Eve was formed from his own flesh.  Therefore, the unity they had was real and vital.

A marriage ceremony, therefore, is more than a “rubber stamp” on a certificate.  Instead, it is the making of a covenant, witnessed by family and friends.  There is no “cutting” or shedding of blood, as with most covenants, yet the vows depict the kind of union that occurs in any covenant relationship.  

“Till death do us part,” or “for as long as we both shall live,” therefore, as parts of most marriage vows, are significant, for they reveal the main components of a “blood covenant” relationship.  It was believed that a covenant could only be broken if one of the parties died.

Today’s Degradations of Marriage

It is not surprising, therefore, that along with the substitutions and “copies” of true marriage relationships in today’s cultures, the ceremony of the marriage covenant has also been degraded into mere parties with raucous and meaningless dancing and alcoholic frolic.

Too often, the man and the woman have already formed relationships with others, becoming “one” with them, to the point where many young women have already had children.  Thus, they may have already been “married” to one or more persons.  

What About Divorce?

Does this mean that divorce cannot ever legitimately occur?  Jesus’ response to His disciples’ questions about divorce seems to say it cannot occur without resulting in the sin of adultery:

[Jesus] said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)

However, I find two places in the New Testament that reveal when divorce may be permissible without sin (for the innocent party) in a marriage).

“It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. (I Corinthians 7:12-15)

These passages relate that the only valid reasons for divorce are adultery (unchastity) and desertion.  Even so, such cases are not absolute, for even broken marriages may be saved through prayer, devotion, commitment, and spiritual warfare.  And in the case of desertion, the Apostle Paul says that a believer is “not under bondage in such cases,” which should be interpreted as follows: “A believer is not prohibited from marrying again after a divorce.”

 

 

Reading the Scriptures Honestly

Rightly Reading and Interpreting

God’s Word

One essential belief of most evangelical churches today is that the Word of God, the Scriptures, must be read, understood, and received “literally,” as in the following quotation:  

Do you approach all of the passages in the Bible from a consistently literal viewpoint, seeking to understand the language of the Bible in a natural and normal way, understanding the language in its obvious sense? May God help us to come to His Word in simple childlike faith and humbly take Him at His Word, letting the Bible say what it says, and not forcing it to say what we want it to say or think it should say!

In other words, we must not seek to read into the Scriptures what we want them to say according to our own beliefs, but instead to take from the Scriptures what they actually say, according to a “normal” reading, not a “solipsistic” (or extremely egocentric) reading.  

(See my recent Blog article that includes a discussion of Solipsism by clicking here).

Examples of Misreadings

Several passages from the Scriptures reveal the importance of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15), such as what John wrote in the Book of Revelation:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The Apostle Peter also makes a similar statement:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.  (II Peter 1:20-21)

We must assume, therefore, that God’s Word is His Word, and He meant what He said, or what He communicated to His servants to write.  

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16)

Recently, I have found that some well-meaning Christians have tended not to interpret the Scriptures according to a normal, or obvious, interpretation.  Typically, they may faithfully adhere to their Church’s Statement of Faith/Belief, or merely repeat what they learned in seminary or read in a famous teacher’s book.  Plus, they may tend to disregard certain verses that may seem to contradict their preferred teachings.

See for example, the following passage:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:11-14).

I was using this passage in a teaching to show that the ministry gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers were given to the Church for a number of reasons, but the timeline is clearly stated: These ministries were given to protect Christians from false teachings until. . .” 1.) we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, 2.) to a mature man, 3.) to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (v. 13).  

A plain, normal understanding of this passage shows, therefore, that these ministry gifts are to be in operation until these conditions have been met, conditions which clearly do not exist in the Church today.  

It must be, therefore, that these ministries need to be fully functioning in the Church, not dismissed or negated, as some recent teachings, such as the following, have proclaimed:

Like the apostles, however, their office ceased with the completion of the New Testament, just as the Old Testament prophets disappeared when that testament was completed, some 400 years before Christ. The church was established “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). Once the foundation was laid, the work of the apostles and prophets was finished. (First Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1984], pp. 322–24) (Source).

Here is the primary passage, again from the Apostle Paul, used to demonstrate that the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the “ministry gifts” (See I Corinthians 12:27-28 below) have passed away and are no longer functioning in the Church:

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Paul continues in I Corinthians 13:8-11 to say,

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” 

This passage, in particular, has been interpreted to mean that the Church has become mature and no longer needs the kind of help a “child” needs, especially since the “perfect” has come, meaning the completed Scriptures, presumably even anachronistically including the rest of Paul’s letters and John’s Book of Revelation.

Since we have the Bible, it is assumed, we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and discernment, in spite of the demonic age in which we live.  We no longer need words of edification and exhortation (prophecy) or the gift of faith.

Frankly, however, having lived and grown in numerous Churches from infancy, I have yet to encounter any local Church that is “mature,” or  no longer needed the “childish things” that the Holy Spirit provides.  In fact, the Lord Jesus gave the following message to His disciples before His ascension:  

 “But before all these things [His Second Coming], they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15)

Jesus, therefore, promised that the words and wisdom we will need when we face persecution will be provided to us.  In fact, Jesus told His followers that through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would be His witnesses to the whole world before His coming again:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11)

We might easily conclude, therefore, that the promise of the Holy Spirit was given not only to the early Church, but also to the Church of all ages until His coming again.  Jesus Himself is the “perfect” who is to come.

The term Apostle, according to the Greek language, means “one who is sent away” to deliver a message or messages.  In some ways, our term “missionary” very much conforms to this idea, and, significantly, this word is based on the Latin translation of the Greek word (Source).  

In a sense, therefore, we continue to have Apostles in the Church today.  Any person who declares that He is an apostle, however, is probably not an apostle, given the abuses such a person usually inflicts on Believers for his own gain.  It is no wonder, therefore, why so many churches have taught that this particular ministry gift is no longer viable today, even in spite of the Scriptural mandates for these ministries.  

The ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to ensure that we believers mature and not be led astray by false teachings.  Not surprisingly, the Church today is weakened constantly by such teachings which declare that ministry gifts such as apostles and prophets are no longer valid in the Church, leading to divisions and strife, as well as a lack of maturity in the Body of Christ.  

Another Example

The following verses from the Book of Hebrews contain a warning, one which would not have been written were it not significantly important.  See if you recognize the warning:

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8)

Understood according to the strictures of literal interpretation, this passage may nevertheless be disturbing to those who have accepted the “once saved always saved” teaching so common among evangelicals today.  Also termed “The Security of the Believer,” this teaching contains an important promise and blessing most Christians accept, providing as it does the assurance that the love of God is “unconditional,” as the Apostle Paul teaches in I Corinthians 13:4-7:

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

This security is for the believer, however, not the unbeliever. Therefore, the passage in Hebrews serves as a warning to the complacent and those who at some point in their lives may not decide to continue to make Jesus Lord of their lives.  The passage in Hebrews makes clear that those being warned are true believers, for they have done the following:  They have 1.) been enlightened, 2.) tasted of the Heavenly gift, 3.) have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 4.) and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.

These conditions refute the proposal that those who “fall away” were never truly born-again believers in the first place, so they were never truly saved from their sins by the blood and Lordship of Jesus.  Therefore, it is said, they have fallen away from what was never theirs.  

Unfortunately, however, this theory does not adhere to the plain language of the passage in Hebrews.  The warning is clear to all who proclaim that Jesus is their Lord:  Do not fall away, or it may be impossible to renew you to repentance, having again crucified again the Son of God and put Him to open shame.  

Although this may be an extreme example, the warning still pertains to all Christians.  In particular, it does not allow for opportunities to engage in sinful behaviors without reaping the resulting consequences.  These sinful behaviors are prohibited precisely because they result in harmful effects in the lives of those who engage in them.  Adultery, for example, devastates the lives of those who choose it, as well as the lives of the innocent children. Fornication and other sexual sins are equally harmful, and true followers of Jesus cannot remain faithful to their promises to Him while engaging in these sins.  

Unfortunately, the “once saved, always saved” teaching, while providing assurance of God’s faithfulness to the Believer, nevertheless tends to imply the idea that sinful lives are acceptable to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Advice for Young Adults About Premarital Sex

RISKY SEXUAL BEHAVIOR REDEFINED:

COUNSELING TIPS for TEENAGERS ABOUT PREMARITAL SEX

by

David Kanski

Pastor at Emmanuel Community Church

Jersey Shore, Pennsyvania

Within the helping professions of social services, health care, and psychology exists a genuine and legitimate concern for what is commonly referred to as “high-risk sexual behaviors” among adolescents. High risk behaviors are usually defined as unprotected sex (sexual activity without condom use), having multiple sex partners, or sexual activity under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These behaviors are risky because they may result in contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or an unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, the underlying assumption is that not all sexual activity by young people is risky, and that by responsible behavior the hazards of sexual behavior are expunged.

However, this paper will attempt to show that any sexual engagement outside of a monogamous, life-time commitment introduces other grave risks which are beyond the scope of much of the current discourse: risks to emotional well-being and risks to a young person’s future ability to form a permanent attachment to a life partner. With an understanding of these emotional and relational risks of sexual activity, parents will be better equipped to help adolescents and young adults avoid repercussions that are often pernicious and far-reaching.

EMOTIONAL RISKS

“For human beings, of course, sex is about much more than the body. Our entire person is involved. That’s why sex has uniquely powerful emotional and spiritual consequences. And there is no condom for the heart” (Lickona, 2004a, p.56).

Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist, has identified numerous dangerous, emotional consequences of premature sexual involvement that, most often, “last a long time, even into marriage and parenting” (Lickona, 2007, para. 12).

  • Regret and self-recrimination are among the most common repercussions sexually active teens experience (Lickona, 2007). Teenage boys and girls can both experience painful regret following a sexual relationship, but girls are usually more vulnerable because research shows that there are gender differences when it comes to sexual scenarios: “Women are likely to have sex to strengthen relationships and increase intimacy, whereas men are likely to have sex to gain physical pleasure” (Davis, 2008, p.468). A girl is more likely to approach sex to prove her love, leading her to experience the terrible pain of feeling used when, after having had sex, the boy is no longer interested in her. “According to a 2000 survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 72% of teenage girls and 55% of boys who have had sexual intercourse say they wish they had waited” (Lickona, 2004a, p. 86). A large number of young people are burdened by sexual regrets for many years after their sexual encounters.
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-respect is another consequence (Lickona, 2007), and sometimes that loss of self-respect makes a person vulnerable to further uncommitted sex, resulting in a devastating downward spiral.
  • The corruption of character is a likely result when we treat others as objects to be used for sexual pleasure (Lickona, 2007). Personal character is deformed when our selfish desires lead us to lie (“I love you”), or use coercion (“I’ll break up with you if you don’t”), to get sex.
  • Damage to the ability to trust can also occur. “Young people who feel used or betrayed after the break-up of a sexual relationship may experience difficulty trusting in future relationships” (Lickona, 2007, para 76).
  • Stunted personal development is another consequence Lickona identifies (2007). When a romantic relationship becomes sexual, teenagers tend to become so absorbed that other important relationships are neglected, and opportunities are missed which may never come again.
  • Depression is one of the most serious consequences of adolescents’ becoming sexually involved (Lickona, 2007). New research in the area of neuroscience has revealed that sexual activity triggers the release of powerful bonding hormones in both males and females (Bush, 2008; see also McElhaney, 2010). When the sexual partners are in a committed relationship, these bonds promote harmony and joy; but for non-committed couples, such bonding becomes the source of pain and despair. When these relationships come to an end, at least one of the partners will most likely experience a profound sense of loss, betrayal, and abandonment.

Most adolescents begin to engage sexually in the context of a romantic relationship because they believe they have found their one true love with whom they will share the rest of their lives. The likelihood is that the relationship will end before long, however, because throughout adolescence and early adulthood, the human personality changes rapidly. The biggest changes in personality traits occur from childhood through the 20s (Dahl, 2014, para. 7). The brain, also, is not fully developed until people reach their mid20s (“Understanding”, n.d., para. 2-3). Studies have shown that the median duration of adolescent romantic relationships is between 12 and 16 months (Karney, 2007, p. 20).

The powerful emotional bonding that occurs when romantic relationships become sexual, together with the transient nature of teenage romances, has resulted in a drastic increase in depression among sexually involved teens. Teenage boys who are sexually active are more than twice as likely to be depressed compared to those who are not sexually active (Rector, 2003). The outlook is even more dismal for sexually active girls, who are more than three times more likely to be depressed than are girls who are not sexually active (Rector, 2003).

A full quarter (25.3 percent) of teenage girls who are sexually active report that they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time. By contrast, only 7.7 percent of teenage girls who are not sexually active report that they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time. (Rector, 2003a, para. 11)

In the two charts below, Rector (2003a, para. 11) breaks down the data taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, Wave II, 1996:

Kanski #1        Kansk;i #2

  •  Lickona also warns about the clear link between sexual activity among teens and attempted suicides (2007). Girls who are sexually active are almost three times more likely to attempt suicide than are non-sexually active girls. Over 14 percent of sexually active girls report having attempted suicide, compared to only 5.1 percent of sexually inactive girls. Boys who are sexually active are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than are non-sexually active boys. Six percent of sexually active boys have attempted suicide, compared to only 0.7 percent of sexually inactive boys who have attempted suicide (Rector, 2003a).

RELATIONAL RISKS

  • Another of the most serious repercussions of teenage sexual involvement is the negative effects on marriage (Lickona, 2007). As detailed above, when people engage sexually with another person, their brains release hormones that cause them to bond and emotionally attach to the person with whom they engage. However, if they unattach from that person and reattach to another sexual partner, once or perhaps even multiple times, the ability to stay attached is significantly weakened, and “it is common for the first bond to haunt all future relationships” (Joy, 1985, p. 59).

Studies have shown that when people have had multiple sexual partners before marriage, they are more likely to divorce because they actually weaken the pathways that are necessary to attach at the deep and necessary emotional level important for marriage. (Bush, 2008, para. 13)

With repeated attaching and unattaching, the brain actually gets molded not to

accept the deep emotional bonding that is necessary for a lasting commitment.

“One huge result for the permissive is that when they do marry, they’re more likely to have a divorce than people who were virgins when they got married” (McIlhaney, 2010, para.13).

Sociologist, Jay Teachman, conducted a study to determine the association between premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of divorce among women. Teachman concluded that “intimate premarital relationships with other men are associated with a substantial increase in the likelihood of divorce” (2003, p. 445).

TIPS FOR COUNSELING TEENAGERS ABOUT SEX

Faced with a cultural environment in which casual sex is the norm, how can we equip our teenagers and young adults to make good sexual choices which will promote happiness and emotional well-being, while protecting their futures and their future marriages? Lickona quotes the rationale of one college senior, who expresses a moral ambiguity common in our contemporary culture, “I got sexually involved because I couldn’t answer the question, Why shouldn’t  I have sex?’” (Lickona, 2004b, p. 5).

In order to abstain from premature sex, young people need internallyheld convictions about why it makes sense to save sexual intimacy for a truly committed relationship, with support from their families and their faith communities to live out these convictions (Lickona, 2004b, p. 4).

Kanski #3

1. Link to personal happiness

First of all, young people should be told that sexual activity in teen years is clearly linked to reduced personal happiness. Teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly less likely to be happy, compared to teens who are not sexually active. The next “Depression and Sexual Activity” table illustrates the findings of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, Wave II, 1996 (Rector, 2003a).

Rector notes that “a full 60.2 percent of sexually inactive girls report that they “rarely or never” feel depressed. For sexually active teen girls, the number is far lower: only 36.8 percent” (2003a, para.13). For either gender, however, the data makes it clear that adolescents who are not sexually active are markedly happier than those who are active.

The impact of sexual activity on personal happiness persists even into adulthood. A report entitled, “The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women,” found the following:
“an inverse relationship between personal happiness and the number of lifetime non-marital sexual partners. The greater the number of non-marital sex partners, the lower the probability of personal happiness” (Rector, 2003b, p. 20).
Fifty-six percent of women who have had sex only with men they married report that they are “very happy, while only 37 percent of women with five non-marital sex partners report that they are very happy (2003b).

The report also found that delaying sexual activity is linked to greater happiness. More than half the women who waited until their mid-20’s to have sex reported that they are “very happy(Rector, 2003b, p.13). The younger a woman was when she began sexual activity, the less likely she was to report high levels of happiness. Only a third of women who began sexual activity as young teenagers reported that they were currently “very happy” (2003b, p.13).

2. The Link to a happy marriage

Most teenagers report that they dream of being happily married someday (Lickona, 2007). In light of this fact, teens need to be told about the link between abstinence and the prospects for a future happy and stable marriage.

They should be taught to ask themselves the following question, before they consider engaging in any sexual activity: 

“What sexual decisions at this point in my life will help me realize my dream of a happy marriage? What problems might this sexual intimacy cause for me or my eventual marriage? What precious gift am I stealing from my future spouse?” (2007, para 14).

The Bible exhorts, “Let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Heb. 13:4). Fornication, or pre-marital sex, is one way the marriage bed is defiled. Many married men and women, report having flashbacks to earlier sexual encounters, along with the tendency, sometimes beyond their control, to compare their spouse with previous partners (McDowell, 1987, pp. 285-288). As McDowell observes, “Our sexual experiences seem to be written in ‘indelible ink’ in our memories, never to be erased” (1987, p. 286).

The following chart illustrates that over 80% of women who never had a sexual partner other than with their husbands were in a stable marriage. By contrast, women who had even one sexual partner prior to her husband were significantly less likely to have a stable marriage. The greater the increase in the number of non-marital sex partners, the lower the probability of marriage stability (Rector, 2003b, p. 18). 

                 Kanski Big Chart

The emotional and spiritual bond that is created between two people through the sexual act is too precious to be exploited for the sake of a transient, uncommitted liaison. “Marriage is essential to provide an adequate protection for the jewel of pair bonding in a relationship” (Joy, 1985, p. 54).

3. Don’t believe the hype

Young people need to be told not to believe the hype that “everyone’s doing it.” Joe McIlhaney, MD, founder of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, excoriates the Planned Parenthood organization for bombarding kids and parents with the distortion that “essentially all high school students will be having sex by the time of graduation” (McIlhaney, 2015). The truth is that “nationwide stats show that the majority of kids in high school are still virgins” (2015, para.6).

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest data: High school students who have not had sexual intercourse are now in the majority (53%), and have been for the past 15 years (“Trends,” 2013). And of those who have had sex, nearly three-quarters of teen girls and nearly two-thirds of all teens admit that they wished they had waited longer before becoming sexually active. (Rector, 2003a).

Young people also need to be told not to believe the hype that virgins are looked down upon or stigmatized by their peers. In 2014, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy conducted a survey of attitudes and opinions of young adults regarding virginity and sexual experiences (“Virginity,” 2015). The survey found that young adults’ attitudes toward virginity are positive ones. Less than 1 percent of young adults say they think less of someone their age who has not had sex, and 46 percent of young adults say they “feel respect” for other young adults who have not had sex. Eighty-six percent say it is important for young teens to know that “it’s okay to be a virgin when you graduate from high school” (2015, para. 2).

4. Explain the benefits of waiting

It’s important to help teens realize the physical and emotional dangers of premature sex; however, too often, we leave them ill-equipped to face the inevitable temptation because we have not also made them aware of the rewards of saving sex for a truly committed love relationship.

  • Waiting will improve the quality of a couple’s relationships because they will spend more time getting to know each other.
  • Waiting will increase a person’s self-respect.
  • Waiting preserves a clear conscience and provides peace of mind, with no guilt,  conflicts, and no regrets.
  • Waiting will help people to find the right mate, one who will value them for the person they are.
  • By waiting, people develop character, and they will be able to attract a person of character, the kind of person people want to spend their lives with.

When a young adult does find the right person, waiting will allow the bond between the couple to grow deep and strong enough to last a lifetime.  Finally, Likona makes the following observation:

  • Waiting results in a better sexual relationship in marriage — free of comparisons and based on trust. By waiting, a person is being faithful to his other spouse even before meeting him or her. (Lickona, 2007)

Professional Counselor, Debra Fileta, elaborates this last point on her blogpost entitled, 5 Reasons Married Sex is Best!:

1.) Married Sex offers Unmatched Emotional Intimacy:

The commitment of marriage provides a safety that allows two people to be totally vulnerable to one another, which leads to great emotional intimacy, and the deeper the emotional connection between two people, the greater the sexual intimacy.

2.) Married Sex Provides An Ongoing Psychological Connection:

The beautiful thing about marital sex is that it’s not actually about the sex; it’s about something so much bigger, and greater, and more meaningful. It’s about a constant connection with another human being throughout the journey of life. This deep psychological connection between two people who truly know, love, serve, and sacrifice for one another spills out into sex and turns it into something more meaningful than anything Hollywood can muster.

3.) Married Sex Thrives in the Safety and Security of a Forever Commitment:

 Like anything worthwhile in life, a deep and meaningful sexual relationship takes time, effort, and a whole lot of practice. The beauty of marital sex as God intended for it to be is that there’s no rush. There is time to learn, time to grow, time to savor, and time to enjoy.

4.) Married Sex Maximizes the Physical Pleasures of Familiarity:

To know and be known is one of life’s most amazing gifts. Within the familiarity of marriage, we are more than free to try new things, but we’re also free to enjoy the same things again, and again. Gone is the pressure to “look perfect” or to “be an expert” because within the familiarity of a healthy marriage you are already known, already loved, already desired, and already accepted just as you are.

5.) Married Sex Involves a Supernatural Spiritual Oneness:

The beauty of sex within the framework of a loving, committed, God-honoring marriage is that there is a love present that surpasses all understanding. It’s an unconditional love between two people that overflows into their life, into their marriage, and into their bedroom. (Fileta, 2015)

5. Parental involvement.

The final tip for parents in counseling their teenagers about sex is, don’t underestimate your influence in their lives. It is hard to believe, sometimes, that you have any impact on their behavior, especially when they don’t seem to care or even want to hear what you say, and may at times seem to be ignoring you altogether, but the research indicates that parents do strongly influence their teens’ sexual behavior (“Parents,” 2015).

In survey after survey, children report that they want to talk to their parents about their sex-related questions, that it would be easier to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents, and that parents influence their decisions about sex more than friends do. (“Tips,” 2015, para. 4)

  • Parental Guidance: Teenagers whose parents discussed the social and moral consequences of being sexually active are more likely to be abstinent, and youths whose parents talked to them about what is right and wrong in sexual behavior are far more likely to be abstinent than those whose parents did not (“Parents,” 2015). Research also shows that teens are significantly affected when parents strongly disapprove of their being sexually active (“Parents,” 2015), so it’s important to be clear and specific about family beliefs and values about sex, and to communicate those plainly. Also, be ready to explain why you have those beliefs and values.
  • Parental Monitoring: Children whose parents monitor them more closely are less likely to be sexually active when they are in their teens” (“Parents,” 2015). Rules and curfews should be clear and lovingly reinforced. Openly and respectfully discuss with your teenagers the standard of behavior you expect from them. And know what your kids are watching, reading, and listening to. TV shows, movies, music videos, magazines, and the internet are saturated with material sending the wrong messages. “Young adults list Mediaas the main source of pressure to be become sexually active(“Virginity,” 2015, para 5).

It is common in our current culture to hear people talk about “safe sex. A recent Google search brought up websites entitled “Safe Sex for Teens,” “A Woman’s Guide to Safe Sex Basics,” and, “10 Ways to Make Safe Sex Fun.” The truth is, however, there is no such thing safe sex outside of marriage. Sex is too powerful to ever be “safe,” because with every sexual encounter we give a part of ourselves to another person.

In the current culture, sex may often seem like a casual thing. But sex is an act that is full of consequences. Sex, as one philosopher observed, is essentially deep. That’s a very good reason to save it for marriage, the deepest and most loving commitment two people can make to each other. (Lickona, 2004b).

REFERENCES

Bush, F., & McIlhaney, J. (2008) “Hooked: The Bonding Power of Sex.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from FamilyLife Web Site:mhttp://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/parenting/challenges/sexua -purity/hooked-the-bonding-power-of-sex.

Dahl, M. (2014, November 24).  “How Much Can You Really Change After You Turn 30?” Retrieved December 9 2015, from NYMag.com Web Site: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/11/how-much-can-you-really-change-after-30.html#.

Davis, S. F., & Buskist, W. F. (Eds.) . (2008). 21st Century Psychology: A Reference Handbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Fileta, D. (2015). “5 Reasons Married Sex is Best!” Retrieved December 9 2015, from True Love Dates Website: http://truelovedates.com/5-reasons-married-sex-is-best/.

Holy Bible, English Standard Version. (2007). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Joy, D. (1985). Bonding: Relationships in the Image of GodWaco, TX: Word Books Publisher.

Karney, B., Beckett, M., Collins, R., Shaw, R. (2007). Adolescent Romantic Relationships as Precursors of Healthy Adult Marriages. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

Lickona, T. (2004a). Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues. New York: Touchstone.

Lickona, T. (2004b). How to Talk to Kids About Sex, Love, and Character.

Retrieved December 9 2015, from The State University of New York Cortland Website: https://www2.cortland.edu/dotAsset/20ec200d-f585-4968-b1d2-c439fb2622e3.pdf.

Lickona, T. (2007). “The Neglected Heart: The Emotional Dangers of Premature Sexual Involvement.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from Catholic Education Resource Center Website: http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/marriage-and-family/sexuality/the-neglected-heart-the-emotional-dangers-of-premature-sexual involvement.html.

McDowell, J., & Day, D. (1987). Why Wait?: What You Need to Know about the Teenage Sexuality Crisis. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

McIlhaney, J. (2010) “Sexually Indulgent Now, Marriage Ruined Later?” Retrieved December 9 2015, from CBN News Website: http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2010/march/sexually-indulgent-now-marriage-ruined-later/?mobile=false.

McIlhaney, J. (2015). “Comprehensive Sex Ed Curricula Distorts Truth.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health Website: https://www.medinstitute.org/2015/07/comprehensive-sex-ed-curricula-distorts-truth/.

Mintle, L. (2011). “Helping Your Young Adult Resist Pre-marital Sex.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from CBN Family Matters Website:http://blogs.cbn.com/familymatters/archive/2011/09/01/helping-your-young-adult-resist-pre-marital-sex.asp.

“Parents Influence on Adolescents Sexual Behavior.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from The Heritage Foundation Website: http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/42/parents-influence-on-adolescents-sexual-behavior.

Rector, R. E., Johnson, K., & Noyes, L. R. (2003a). “Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from Center for Data Analysis Website: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2003/06/sexually-active- teenagers-are-more-likely-to-be-depressed#_ftn1.

Rector, R. E., Johnson, K. A., Noyes, L. R., & Martin, S. (2003b). The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women: A Book of Charts. Retrieved December 9, 2015 from The Heritage Foundation Website: http://s3.amazonaws.com/thf_media/2003/pdf/Bookofcharts.pdf

Teachman, J. (2003). “Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(2), 444-455

“Tips for Parents.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from Office of Adolescent Health Website: http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/reproductive-health/teen-pregnancy/tips-for-parents.html.

“Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors and HIV Testing National YRBS: 1991—2013.” Retrieved December 9, 2015 from YRBSS CDC Website: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/trends/us_sexual_trend_yrbs.pdf.

“Understanding the Teen Brain.” (n.d.). In University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 9 2015, from University of Rochester Medical Center Web Site: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051.

“Virginity Revisited.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from Medical Institute for Sexual Health Websitehttps://www.medinstitute.org/2015/06/virginity-revisited/.

 

The Mystery of Grace

What Is Grace?

The Apostle Paul clearly taught that Grace was a fundamental component of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Here is what he wrote in the later part of his life as he journeyed towards Jerusalem:

And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24)

His ministry, he wrote, consisted primarily of testifying of the “gospel of the grace of God.”

The word “grace” is the English translation of the Greek word χάρις (charis), which means “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune.” (12)

Today, the term has been adapted to mean the prayers said before a meal or to describe the beauty of a ballet dancer’s movements.  Throughout the history of the Church, however, the theological implications of Paul’s teachings have been much debated, and they are equally controversial in today’s Christian world.

Most recently, primarily because of the difficulty new Christians have in living holy lives, due to the extreme sinfulness of the conditions in today’s world, the term “hyper-grace” has been introduced to describe the teachings of those who believe that once Christians have been born-again, they no longer need to repent of their sins because they are automatically forgiven by the Blood of Jesus the moment they are committed” (Source).

You Must Be Born Again

The example of Nicodemus is especially helpful in clarifying this issue, for although he was a teacher and a Pharisee who tried in all ways to follow the Laws of Moses, Jesus told him that he needed to be “born again” to see the Kingdom of God.  Merely attempting to obey the Laws of Moses, or practice holy living, in one’s own strength and power is not enough; instead, one must first be regenerated, or born again, and then to begin living and walking in the Holy Spirit rather than in the flesh.

The Prophet Ezekiel looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s grace, prophesying that all believers would no longer be heirs of Adam’s sinful nature, but instead would be regenerated: 

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

The Apostle Paul also taught the following truths to the New Testament Church:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, (II Corinthians 5:17-18).

In fact, the phrase “new creature” means “new creation,” or a “whole new species of being that has never before existed.”

Indeed, when our Heavenly Father sees us after we are born again in Christ, He sees us as His children, and we call Him “Our Father,” as in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples (See Matthew 6:9-13).  Also, the Apostle Paul consistently taught that we believers need to see ourselves the same way:

Also, the Apostle Paul taught that we believers need to see ourselves the same way, as born again children of God, no longer bound by our prior sinful nature inherited from Adam:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:18)

The Apostle Paul and the other New Testament writers agreed in their exhortations to believers that Christians must not “sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1).

In his teachings to the Romans, Paul also related that we have received abundant grace:

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)

Further, Paul taught that we cannot receive either justification or righteousness by our own works:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).

The Problem of Legalism

It is through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption that we are saved, therefore, not by our own works.  The Laws of the Old Testament, says the writer of the Book of Hebrews, were given to prove to us that we cannot follow them completely.  They were given to teach us about our own inadequacies inherent in our sinful natures.

The Apostle Paul wrote that sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

Some have taken this truth, however, to conclude that they may continue in sin, continue to live unrepentant, sinful lives, so that “God’s grace may abound,” although Paul explicitly denies this false teaching:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:1-3).

Have you ever tried actually to keep your New Year’s resolutions?

How easy is it to follow a diet to lose weight?  Knowing what I cannot eat only means I want it even more because I continue to think about what I cannot have!

Relying on our own strength and will power to conform to God’s standards of holiness and righteousness is actually impossible, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Too many Christians live lives of frustration as they attempt to be holy by using their own abilities and resources.  They resort to legalism, demanding that not only they but also all Christians follow a list of laws that demonstrate their holiness.  When I was a child, these included not listening to the Beatles, not dancing to popular music, and not going to a bowling alley or a movie theater.

It was through one man’s sin that many were made sinners (read the story of the Fall of Adam in the book of Genesis).  In His mercy, God instituted a system of redemption for the Children of Israel  (see the “Laws of Moses” in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible).  By God’s grace, they received forgiveness through the keeping of the Laws of Moses, which entails relying on the blood sacrifices of animals that take the place of the sinners’ subjection t”o the “law of sin and death,” removing the sins of the people and redeeming the Israelites from the consequences of their sin.

In the same way, Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” or so John the Baptist described Him.

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:18-21).

Notice the last part of this passage, which states that “even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).

The Law was given, therefore, to show us what is sinful, not to demand under the New Covenant that we follow absolutely all of the rituals given by Moses. Grace reigns, therefore, and we can rely on the promises of God for His unmerited favor; He is not holding our sins against us because of the redemption we have gained through the sacrifice of Jesus, who took our punishment upon Himself on the cross.

It is difficult to imagine how God’s grace might be amplified even more than the grace provided by the superlative nature of God’s love towards us since while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  However, some Christian preachers and teachers have illogically decided that sinning actually allows God’s grace to work (as if He needs our help!).

In fact, many Christians have concluded that they may continue to live in sin and have never truly repented of their sins, merely continuing in their prior sinful conditions.  Such ideas have led to multiple accusations of “hypocrisy” against the Church and particularly among Church leaders, whose sins are loudly declared in the media.   However, these false teachings  of hyper-grace teachers explicitly contradict the clear teachings of the New Testament:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Significantly, just making a decision not to overeat or not to view pornography makes doing so all the more difficult because the “Law” we impose on ourselves only keeps the temptation before us day and night.  Under the New Covenant, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and made to be new creatures; consequently, we should “have no more consciousness of sin.”

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)

Instead of vainly attempting to follow the letter of the Law of Moses, therefore, God has given us a better way as a result of His grace.

The way of righteousness is not written on tablets of stone, giving us a constant awareness of sin in our lives, but instead, His Laws are written on our hearts since we have been regenerated as new creatures in Christ, having been born again.  See the following passage in Hebrews 10:16-18, quoting from Jeremiah 31:33:

This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:16-18)

Paul gives specific direction on how we can avoid having a consciousness of sin (always thinking about what is sinful): “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Phlippians 4:8).

Jesus taught in the New Testament that we are in the process of being transformed, or “metamorphosized” to become like Him:

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

(See more in this article and the subsequent articles.)

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Therefore, through the Holy Spirit, who was given to the Church as our Teacher and the one who convicts of the sin in our lives, as we “take up our cross” and “follow Him daily” (Luke 9:23), we are being changed into His image from day to day.  This takes place by exercising our free will, choosing to follow Him and not the ways of Satan or the world.  The road we walk is narrow, not broad:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Too many Christians teachers have denigrated the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Believers, declaring that the works and operations of the Holy Spirit ceased when the Apostles passed away.

Once again, false teachings have arisen as a result of over-reactions to abuses in the Church.  Legalism has resulted in the “Hyper-grace” movement, and the excesses of some charismatic, or “pentecostal,” believers have led to a dispensational dogma that opposes, essentially, any and all operations of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit was given by Christ to the whole Church: to as many as the Lord, Our God, shall call (Acts 2:38-40).  Since the Holy Spirit was given as our Teacher, we are also taught not to “quench” the Spirit’s fire in our lives in any way (See I Thessalonians 5:19).  The Spirit instructs us in the ways of righteousness, having begun the work of regeneration in our lives by causing us to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6).

To summarize, I will point to what the Apostle Paul wrote in the Eighth Chapter of Romans:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

This means that we Christians have been set free from legalism (trying to follow the “law of sin and death.”  However, we still must live our lives not “according to the flesh,” or according to the lusts of our bodies, but “according to the Spirit.”  Our continual desire must be to be filled with the Spirit so that we do not follow the lusts of the flesh.  God in His mercy and grace has forgiven us of all sin, but we must choose to walk in the steps of Christ, a narrow road indeed!

 

 

 

Is Jesus Truly Lord of Your Life?

 

In my most recent Biblical Mysteries Revealed article, I addressed the problems of allowing our hearts to be filled with “evil treasure.”  Jesus said that “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34). Consequently, we may know what fills the heart of those we associate with, as well as ourselves.  What goes in will eventually come out if we allow it to remain and grow! And we can know if the Word of God abides in us based on what comes out of our mouths (see John 15:6-8):

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

Many Christians wonder why their prayers do not seem to be answered, yet the words that come out of their mouths, or even are written in the form of “texts” or “posts,” may not be filled with faith, but instead are unholy words of ungodliness.

These words demonstrate that what fills their hearts is not faith-filled, and we learn from the Book of Hebrews that

“without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

True faith comes from the Word of God (Romans 10:17), which is why we need not only to “meditate on the Word of God” continually (Psalms 1:2), but also to speak the Word faithfully, guarding our tongues and following Paul’s exhortation:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:29-30)

Jesus said,

But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:35-37)

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)

 

Obedience Indicators

Not allowing corrupt communications to come out of our mouths takes more than mere willpower, although making a firm decision is definitely important.  Here is Jesus’ warning: 

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well-built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49).

As a child, you probably sang the song that is based on these verses.  It’s a message that is simple enough even for children to understand, yet we should not be offended that the message is also intended for our ears, for Jesus said that those who come to Him must be like little children.

 

What Does Lordship Mean?

Jesus relates this same parable in Matthew’s Gospel, but the context is slightly different:

Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matthew 7:22-24)

We must conclude, therefore, that even though many people may consider themselves to be Christians, having called upon the name of Jesus, or prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer,” they will be shocked to learn that they will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, for they have not truly made Jesus Lord.  Instead, they have “practiced lawlessness,” calling on Jesus as their “Lord, Lord,” and even practicing in a ministry in His Name; however, they still have not made Jesus the Lord of their lives.  They do not hear the Lord’s voice through the Holy Spirit and follow the directions of that voice. They instead choose to follow their own desires or the temptations of the world, filling their hearts with ungodly thoughts and words and believing the lies of Satan who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

 

My Friend Ed Newman’s Music Ministry

http://servantpc.3dcartstores.com/zoomify.asp?catalogid=110&img=assets/images/letyourminddwell_med.png

I want to do my best to let people know about Ed Newman.  What an inspiring man of God!

Ed has a superb music ministry, talented in so many ways, especially playing guitar and writing/arranging new songs.  You can see his web page by clicking on this link:  http://www.servantsongs.com

His music is available for no cost, and it will inspire you!  I recommend the CD he just gave me not long ago called “Let Your Mind Dwell on These Things.”  What a wonderful scripture song!  Click here:  Let Your Mind Dwell on These Things CD Information.  Ed does not charge for his music; you can download his songs without cost, but if there is a charge, just let me know and I will refund you the cost.

You can also visit Ed on Facebook:  Ed on Facebook.

What Kind of Tree Are You?

How-to-Plant-Cold-Resistant-Fruit-Trees-sm

It’s Not What’s In Your Wallet, but What’s in Your Heart!

I just finished watching an episode of “Master Chef Junior,” a competitive cooking program that tests the precocious culinary skills of pre-teenagers, ages 8-13. Astoundingly, one of the phrases most commonly used by these children during the program was, “OH, my God!”

Little do these children realize, of course, that they are using the name of the Lord God in vain, one of the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments.  The word “vain” means “empty,” which means that they are using the name of the Lord God, but not giving Him the esteem and honor He deserves. They are appealing to God with their words, but their appeals are empty, without even acknowledging His existence or presence in their lives.

Even more disturbing are the many times I see the many “OMG” exclamations every day on Facebook, not to mention the many other acronyms that refer to sexual intercourse, excrement, or urine.  

When I was a child, I was taught not to use such words, even though I wasn’t always provided a positive example of what not to say.  Therefore, I didn’t have a very good understanding about why I was forbidden from using such words.  I was just told that they were “bad words,” and I was not to say them.  Unfortunately, such words also appear on many Christians’ Facebook pages, at least in the form of quotations from other posts, or “shares.”

Jesus makes clear in the following passage from Luke’s Gospel, however, that a tree is known by the fruit it brings forth.  Consequently, we can know what kind of tree we are by the fruit that comes forth from our lives, or more specifically out of our mouths, or from our pens, texts, or Facebook posts.  

For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke 6:44-46)

Of course, most Christians are familiar with the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the “Fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23 to inform the Church what kinds of fruit the Holy Spirit brings forth in those who allow Him to live in us fully:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

The metaphorical application of a fruitful tree to a person who is living a fruitful life in the Lord is not unusual in the Scriptures.  One of the most obvious examples is in the First Psalm:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalms 1:1-3)

This passage contains the essential truths about fruitfulness as it relates to our lives as compared to a living tree.  If we truly wish to be fruitful, we must keep these conditions:

  1.  We must not associate with, or be influened by, ungodly people.  Doing so will ultimately fill our minds and hearts with sinful thoughts and habits.
  2. We must delight in the Word of God, meditating on the Word at all times and filling our hearts with the truths of the Word, the primary prerequisite for building faith in our lives, without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God!”  (Romans 10:17).

 

Our Words Reveal Both Our Character and the Faith in Our Hearts

Aligning these Scripture verses together in this way clarifies how the fruit of obedience and holiness arise in our lives.  The ultimate source is the Word of God as it lives and dwells in our hearts, producing the faith that brings obedience, righteousness, and blessing.  In addition, Jesus reveals in Matthew’s Gospel what the source of all good and bad fruit is in our lives: 

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. (Matthew 12:33-35)

We have a common saying today that relates essentially the same truth with regards to computer and internet technology: “Garbage in; garbage out.”  In other words, just as with computers, what comes out of our mouths will either be “garbage” or good fruit, depending on what we have received into our minds and hearts.  As Christians, therefore, we display who we are, or what kind of tree we are, by the words we use.  

The Apostle Paul is also very specific about what kind of evil speaking qualifies as both bad and good fruit:

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)

Any communication that does not “edify,” therefore, is not good fruit.  To edify means to “build up,” or to “improve spiritually, morally, or intellectually.”  In today’s culture, we are so concerned about what we are eating, checking for chemicals in our foods and seeking to eat only natural products.  However, Jesus said that it’s not what goes into our mouths that corrupts us, but instead what comes out.

After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” (Matthew 15:10-12)

Learn a Lesson From the Fig Tree

Another striking example of a tree and fruitfulness  in the Scriptures is the story of the fig tree:

Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.

The leaves on the fig tree hold out a promise of fruitfulness, but this promise is not fulfilled.  Clearly, Jesus is disappointed at not being able to eat, and He sends a strong message of rebuke to those of us in the Church who hold out a promise of fruitfulness that is not fulfilled.  

As Jesus promised, today’s Church is facing persecution in many ways, from many different directions.  However, some of this persecution will be brought about only because Christians are not being Christlike or truly fruitful.  Instead, we are perceived as hypocritical, only preaching godliness but not demonstrating that same godliness in our lives.

We need to be different, not merely mimicking the behaviors of people in the world, but pure and holy in our speech, appearance, and behavior.  Even what we quote in our Facebook posts reflects what kind of people we are and what we have inside of us.  If we are no different from everyone else on Facebook, what right do we have to send a message of forgiveness and transformation to others?  

My New Book

Now Available!

My new book is now available in eBook format, including Kindle, Nook, and other digital readers.  Click here to bring up the two most popular versions:

Kindle on Amazon

Nook on Barnes and Noble

Sparks Pic

Contents

Forward

Part I:  Introduction:  Seeing Beyond the Literal

Part II: The Spiritual Realm

Part II:  Thinking with the Mind of Christ

Part IV: The Apostle Paul’s Mysticism

Part V:  Engaging in Spiritual Warfare

Part VI: Using Spiritual Weapons

Part VII: Intercessory Prayer in Spiritual Warfare

Part VIII: The End Times

Part IX:  Final Words

About the Author

Christian Maturity: Part II

Natural Versus Spiritual Maturity

Natural maturity, being mature as a mental and physical human being, is not comparable to spiritual maturity.

A person’s age does not always indicate maturity in either the natural or spiritual realms, but spiritual maturity is measured primarily by such indicators as the “Fruit of the Holy Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) and other indicators of growth, including true humility and leadership.

For example, the Apostle Peter told Believers to put aside the sins of immaturity, such as malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Instead they needed to grow in respect to salvation by first receiving the pure “milk” of the Word.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (I Peter 2:1-3)

The writer of the Book of Hebrews (whom I believe was the Apostle Paul, or at least one of his disciples) is even more direct:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

The marks of the mature Christian, therefore, are clear. Mature Christians do not engage in sinful behaviors, and they also are obedient in following Christ’s instructions to teach and train new believers to become mature themselves.

Standing Firm

In addition, a number of admonitions from the Apostle Paul declare the power of not just resisting the captivity of sinfulness and temptation but also continuing to stand firm in the face of evil.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness. (Galatians 6:13-14))

Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)

Standing firm means exercising patience and stability in spite of the temptations to give up or turn away from Christ Jesus’ teachings to “take up the cross daily” (Luke 9:23) or walk the narrow and straight pathway to Heaven (Matthew 7:14).

The Apostle Paul, for example, exhorted his disciple Timothy to

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (II Timothy 4:2)
Exercising patience is one of the keys to opening the doors to the promises of God:
. . .so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:12)

Of these two enabling powers, faith and patience, the later is perhaps the most difficult, for it takes time to exercise patience. Too often we pray, “God, give me patience and give it to me now!” Consequently, like a child in the Walmart, impatient believers fall on the floor and cry because they cannot have the toys they have seen and want to take home. 

May the Lord reveal to us His paths to maturity as we seek to follow Him and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit!

*************************************************************

Please view this video of my message from July 13, 2014, on the subject of Spiritual Maturity:  Milk, Meat, or Metamucil?

Christian Maturity: Part I

Christian Maturity

Newborn babies are beautiful when they emerge into this world from their mothers’ wombs, especially when they recover from a difficult entry into the world, cry a while, and finally slip into a restful sleep.  They are so innocent and pure, yet we know that their true nature will become manifest very soon.  They are essentially self-centered, the center of their own universe, and only concerned about themselves.  And since they are innately sinful, they need to be taught how to be mature and sinless through Christ.
 
The Scriptures speak of all humans as being innately sinful, in need of spiritual rebirth:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)
They need to be birthed into the Kingdom of Heaven, not merely the physical realm.  Jesus said to Nicodemus that a person needs to be “born again” if he is to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” (John 3:5-7)
Even Nicodemus, a spiritual leader in Israel, was told that he needed to be reborn in order to be truly spiritual and enter God’s Kingdom.  
This story leads us to the conclusion that even recently born children need to be reborn spiritually, for they have only been born into the natural world. Thus, although Jesus said, “A child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6), their understanding of the spiritual world is lacking, for they cannot see or understand spiritual truths.

Natural Versus Spiritual

Therefore, the first step towards Christian maturity is to be born a second time as a newborn into the Kingdom of God.  Otherwise, spiritual truths will not be understood or made a part of the person’s life and being:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. (I Corinthians 2:14-15
Our lives in Christ must not end where they begin, however, as spiritual infants, for we must grow and mature spiritually.
 
We begin with a hunger for the “milk of the word,” as Peter writes:
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (I Peter 2:1-3)
Yes, infants subsist on their mothers’ milk, but they soon must begin to grow and begin eating more solid foods.  The Apostle Paul’s message to the Corinthians chastises them for not growing beyond the infant stage.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (I Corinthians 3:1-3)
Thus, while we all delight in the infants and babies around us, we are very disappointed when they continue to act like babies into their later months and years of life.  And some older adults even tend to continue acting like babies and children later in life.

Marks of Immaturity

What are the marks of a lack of spiritual maturity? Babies in Christ are like human infants, who are lovable, cute, and look like their parents.  And although  we may overlook and forgive their lack of maturity, they will likely exhibit some of the following characteristics at one time or another:
  • Spiritual babies are still carnal, are governed by their five physical senses, rather than “walking in the Spirit” and moved by God’s Holy Spirit.
  • Spiritual babies, like natural infants, get dirty and soil themselves, easily led into the uncleanliness of sin in the world.
  • Spiritual babies think they know everything they need to know.
  • Spiritual babies are not always spiritually motivated and may lack the spiritual power to live righteously. Instead, they must be motivated by rules, laws, and regulations enforced by punishments and chastisements, rather than being guided by the Holy Spirit.
  • Like natural babies and immature children, spiritual babies are impatient and lack endurance in the midst of persecution, trials, or hardships.
  • Spiritual babies may be self-centered and inconsiderate, yet hard to please, especially when they are older adults.
  • Spiritual babies are easily deluded and deceived, following the latest sensational teaching or television trends without discernment.
  • Spiritual babies may easily take offense, hold grudges, and find it difficult to forgive others.
  • Like the Children of Israel in the wilderness, spiritual babies may be complainers and crybabies.
  • Some spiritual babies are mean spirited rather than exhibiting the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Finally, like the immature children in the natural realm, spiritual babies may engage in bullying, teasing, and other group behaviors that seek to exercise control over others.

  

Stunted Growth Christians

Ironically, not all spiritual babies are young in years like natural children. Instead, some Christians have failed to grow up in all things in Christ:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head,even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Such immature Christians may even have assumed positions of leadership in the Church even though they essentially are spiritual babies, having failed to grow and mature in the Lord.
In addition, too often they have outlasted true spiritual leaders in the local church who may have moved on to other churches.  Consequently, these spiritual babies tend to assume more leadership than anyone else in the church because they have been around longer. “We have never done it this way,” they say, and they try to take control even over the physical facilities and make the building their “church,” rather than realizing that the people make up the true Church.  
 
Thus, Christians who have never fully matured in spite of their many years in the church may exhibit all of the same behaviors of spiritual babies, but they are even more ridiculously pathetic, similar to adults who think they are mature but are constantly drinking from a baby bottle, crying, or complaining.
 
The Book of Hebrews reveals the characteristics of some of these spiritually immature Christians:
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Thus, if they hear a message they have not heard before, or if it seems to contradict the basic doctrines they are familiar with, they will reject it the same way a little child will not eat adult foods. They have become “dull of hearing,” and therefore only hear what they want to hear rather receiving the “solid food” of mature believers.
 
The solution lies with the plans God has revealed through His Holy Spirit and the Scriptures: The ministries of the Holy Spirit have been given to the Church to bring about the full maturity of the members:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Who Are the Mature Believers?

By submitting to, and learning from, these spiritual leaders, the babies in Christ will grow to maturity, learning from the words and actions of the mature leaders in the Body:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Ultimately, the time must also come when the Body of believers in the Church must even move past the basic teachings of the Word in order press on to the fullness of Christ’s ministry in the world.  This is what it says in Hebrews:
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.
 Thus, the mature believers in the Church exhibit the following characteristics:
  • The mature believer is led by the Holy Spirit rather than the flesh, or the natural knowledge that only comes from the five physical senses.
  • A mature believer seeks not his or her own way, but dies daily to personal desires, taking up the cross to allow Christ to live inside.
  • A mature believer shares willingly with others and is not controlling or manipulative to receive acclaim or authority.
  • Thus, a mature believer does not engage in “pity parties” or use unspiritual methods to get his or her own way.
  • A mature believer is led by the Holy Spirit rather than the latest best selling book, popular cultural fad, or the desires of the flesh (five physical senses).
  • A Mature believer is humble and appreciative, giving thanks to God and others believers who do God’s work.
  • A mature believer is a teacher, helping others grow up in the life of Christ.
  • A mature believer is becoming more and more like Christ, being transformed into His image day by day.
  • A mature believer subsists not just on the “milk” of the Word, but on the “meat” of the Word. Thus, even their physical senses are “trained” to discern good and evil: (Hebrews 5:13-14).
We must determine to examine ourselves and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance to discern our own maturity level, seeking ultimately to be diligently prepared and powerful witnesses in the Lord’s Kingdom.

Knowing in Part: Seeing Through the Glass Darkly

 
 
Many Christians avoid discussing or even thinking about theological questions, mainly because they believe the issues cannot always be sufficiently resolved, at least using the mental tools we have.  
For example, how can a God who is the very definition of love make this statement about Rebekah’s unborn twins?
There was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)
How can we quote from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life,” yet also believe that God has predestined some for eternal life, while others will have no chance of obtaining salvation and will spend eternity in everlasting torment?
 
These and similar perplexities  have been the cause of division and strife throughout the history of the Church.
 
While the writings of the Apostles, particularly the Apostle Paul, attempt to clarify for the early believers the theological issues concerning salvation and the fulfillment of God’s covenant with the Church, the New Israel, for example, questions continue to this day over such seeming conflicts between free will and predestination or the “security of the believer” as opposed to the possible loss of salvation.
 
Very recently, for example, Andrew Wilson in the Christianity Today Weekly Newsletter wrote the following:

The paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is not meant to be resolved but rather retained. Scripture indicates that both God and we work in our salvation. (Wilson)

Even this attempt to clarify one of the issues is enigmatic, however, mainly because of the word “paradox” Wilson uses.  If theological issues are paradoxes, how can we determine what to believe?

Logical Fallacies

Helping students improve their writing skills in my Freshman Composition classes included not just studying grammar and style, but also such topics as “logical fallacies.” 

First, however, I had to demonstrate to the students that using logical fallacies in their writing was highly ineffective in convincing their readers (i.e. Dr. Jenkins) that their arguments were solidly reasoned and effectively argued.

For example, to justify their essay’s argument, they might find some esteemed “authority” that they chose to agree with, perhaps a professor or a celebrity, then argue that since “So-and-so” says so in his “tweet,” it must be true!”  Since so many people have become accustomed to hearing and using these fallacies in their daily lives, therefore, convincing students of their inadequacy was especially difficult.  

Post Hoc Fallacy

One of the most confusing of the many logical fallacies, for example, is the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which literally translated means, “after this, therefore because of this.”  In other words, since one event precedes another event, the first event must be the cause of the second.

Here is a typical post hoc fallacy statement:

The number of vaccines given children today parallels the number of children who are being diagnosed with autism. Therefore, vaccines need to be banned because they cause autism.

Vaccines may indeed cause autism, but this simplistic statement needs more convincing proof than the mere coincidental relationship between the two statistics. In this case, the idea that the statement is “perfectly reasonable” is unreasonable.

What Is a Paradox?

A paradox is not “two doxes”!

Paradoxical statements or arguments may likewise cause logical problems in academic or journalistic writing.  A paradox exists when two statements seem equally true, yet they cannot both be true.  Here’s an example of a common paradox found in many television commercials:

Just telephone us right now!  By investing in this product, you will save hundreds of dollars! But this offer won’t last long, so call now!

Just “spend money to save money” might seem to make no sense, but how many times have we fallen for the entrapment entailed in these appeals?

Such is the issue with the theological questions concerning God’s omniscience and the innate human ability to make free choices as a result of personal “free will.”

If we have been chosen and predestined, for example, do we have eternal security and therefore cannot lose our salvation no matter what we do or how we sin? Here is what one author wrote on this issue:

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. (Qtd. on Horn)

Therefore, anyone who does not endure to the end was never truly “saved” in the first place, or so the argument goes.

On the other hand, was the writer of the Book of Hebrews mistaken when he wrote the following:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

This issue has resulted in schisms and separations within the Church, resulting in whole denominations devoted to one side or the other in the debate.  

Here is the paradox:  If God’s omniscience reveals what we will ultimately do, then our choices have essentially already been determined.  If we indeed have unlimited free will, however, then our directions may change at any time and God does not have ultimate, omniscient sovereignty.

In addition, so many theologians and Bible teachers are guilty of the “hasty generalization” fallacy in their doctrines, assuming that from their own limited perspectives they know all they need to know, not acknowledging that only God is omniscient and knows all things.

The problems persist once these complex doctrines are expounded upon from ancient texts, or the spoken words of esteemed preachers are transcribed .  So many people decide that they agree with one particular author or teacher and become “followers” of a particular teaching.  They then strongly oppose anyone who might disagree, to the point that other obvious truths are ignored. Those who disagree are ostracized, shunned, or attacked, while those who agree smugly or proudly pose as the true experts who have been enlightened fully.

Ultimately, new denominations or sects are formed or new leaders ascend to the head of the table, leading to further confusion in the Body of Christ.

Mysteries

Instead, we need to recognize that we are neither omniscient nor omnipresent. And since we are neither timeless nor infinite, facts and conditions that are outside our knowledge or understanding invariably exist.  Thus, we cannot make definitive conclusions, or we will be guilty of the “hasty generalization” fallacy, making an inductive decision of what is true based on insufficient evidence.  

Instead, we need to do the best we can with what we have received, while remaining open to other possibilities that God may reveal to us.

Below is a diagram that demonstrates a possible explanation of the “paradox dilemma,” based on what the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

Untitled drawing

The two points of the triangle at the bottom represent “truths” that we may believe to be true from our limited perspectives, yet they appear to contradict one another.  Thus, they are paradoxical.

How can they both be true?  

Yet they both lead upward to a place beyond our cognizance, above to the unseen world of the spirit.  If we could see beyond the gap between the flesh and the spirit, we could easily see how both contradictory truths ultimately meet.

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

This means that what we perceive as logically sound may not be logical based on what is ultimately true from God’s omniscient, omnipresent perspectives.  

Go Into All the World

Ultimately, arguing about whether a person is one of the “elect,” or whether I am predestined to be saved or not, or whether she is one whom God has called are questions that are contrary to the Great Commission Jesus gave to all of His disciples.  

He sent us out into the entire world to preach His Good News, that whoever desires His mercy may be saved.  We shouldn’t even consider the idea that we are wasting our time preaching to certain people because they might not predestined to be saved from sin anyway.  

We need to operate in faith, trusting that Jesus will send us to those who will receive the Word and desire to follow Him. Jesus said:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Since all authority has been given to Christ Jesus, ours is not to question who or who will not receive His salvation, a salvation that is freely given to “all the nations,” a description that pretty much includes everyone!

 

What Is True Repentance?

In the context of a short story or novel we might be reading in a college English class, I often asked the following questions of my students:  

How many of you believe that all people are innately evil? How many believe people are innately good, but may do some evil things occasionally?

Significantly, most students showed by raising their hands their belief that people were innately good.  Class discussion revealed their belief that it was only the influence of such problems as poverty or a lack of education that made people do evil things. Thus, simply relieving people of their deficiencies in food, shelter, or comfort would mean such acts as theft, lying, or even murder would cease in our world.

The consequence of this belief is that our culture today seems focused on convincing everyone, beginning with children, that they need to “accept” themselves for who they are and that their ideas or thoughts are natural and normal for them, even if not for anyone else.  Self-acceptance is seen as the first step towards normality. Being “assertive” is seen as a positive attribute, even though some behaviors may lead to the point of violating the lives of others.

And feeling guilty for any action is perceived as self-destructive, so every effort must be made just to “be who we are,” accept ourselves and others without demanding change. Any criticism of a person’s appearance or behavior is seen as bigoted or hateful, even if they may possibly be hurtful to themselves or others.

To subtly show my students in a secular environment, at least in a preliminary way, how humans are not “noble savages” but selfish and even evil, I shared my experiences as a parent and as an observer of other parents that a child never needs to be taught how to lie, or steal, or disobey, a point on which the students agreed. On the other hand, I argued, a child needs to be taught from the beginning what is selfish or rebellious, and children need to be shown how to be loving and kind.

Just on an experiential level, therefore, this illustration showed that all human beings are sinful by nature.  In spiritual terms, we all are sinful, not just because we all have inherited Adam’s sinfulness, but also because we do not have the presence of God in our lives, the same closeness Adam and Eve once had with God walking with Him in the Garden of Eden.  This relationship was lost due to their disobedience and willingness to listen to the temptations of the serpent, or Satan.

Having A Conscience

Even so, most people at least have a conscience, an “inner voice” that tells them when they are disobedient or rebellious, one that is imparted at least culturally or through peer pressure.

Recent studies have shown, however, that some people (one in twenty-five is the number estimated) have no conscience whatsoever, and they feel no guilt, shame, or remorse for their selfish or rebellious behaviors. They only feel frustration or remorse if they are exposed or caught in their malicious behaviors, rather than feeling any true guilt or sorrow.  They become more intent on hiding their behaviors in the future to avoid the negative social pressures of being uncovered, the only immediate consequences of their actions.

This condition is labeled psychopathic in psychological terms, or more benignly as “antisocial personality disorder.”  

Even psychopaths may be forgiven, redeemed, and changed, however, for the Scriptures teach that even though “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” all may be saved from the deadly consequences of sin.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

Sin Is Universal

The Apostle John explains the sinful existence of all human beings:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10).

The Apostle Paul, among many others, also taught in his letters that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Paul uses the term “old man” to described the sinful nature that must die in order for the new creation in Christ my fully live.  This new creation, the “new man,”  is what Jesus referred to as being “born again.”

Paul also says that his “inner man” is constantly waging war against the law of sin in his body:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)

Christ Jesus is the Way, Paul says, and the Apostle continues to provide the solution for this warfare:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

Rather than trying to follow the Law perfectly, as many try to do through “will power,” which only serves to worsen our guilt, the Apostle Paul writes that following the rules of the Law legalistically is impossible.  It is a course that is destined to end in defeat and failure. Instead, we must be set free to walk in the new Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, or in Christ’s own words, being “born again.”

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)

In order to become like Christ, consequently, two steps need to be taken.  First, we need to repent of our sins, and second we need to be born again, or to receive the new nature that is the Spirit of Christ.

True Repentance

Although being born again is a gift of God by His grace, repentance is not a gift but a necessity, an obligation. Just as Adam’s sin was the result of an act of the will, or free choice, so repentance is determined by one’s own decision by the grace of God.  

Why is true repentance so difficult?  It means we have to make a decision to die to our old lives first in order to be born again.  We have to admit that we were mistaken or wrong, that we have been traveling in the wrong direction and need to turn around. Paul writes,

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:2o)

Many believe that repentance means just being sorry for the sins in their lives. However, true repentance means that we must turn from the direction we are traveling and go back in the opposite direction.  It’s a complete turnaround, one which says, “I will no longer go in that direction.”

Therefore, unless we are suffering from the evil consequences in our lives, repentance from sin is usually extremely difficult for us, for a number of reasons.  

First, most sins are pleasurable, at least initially before the ultimate consequences are known or discovered.

Second, to completely change one’s habits, lifestyle, or “sexual orientation,” for example, seems to be cruel and contrary to the freedoms we should all be allowed to enjoy.  Anyone who even suggests such a reversal is described at hateful and bigoted, even if the future consequences are certain, if not in this life at least in the next.

Yet how is it hateful to warn someone who is about to walk over the edge of a cliff to certain death or destruction?

Dying to Self

This is why repentance in the Church is symbolized by baptism in water, a symbolic way of dying, as Paul explains our in the following passage from Romans:

How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

When we are baptized, we declare to the world, to Satan, and to ourselves that we have repented of our sins and intend to live a life of freedom from sin.

Clearly, baptism today has been practiced either without true repentance, as in infant baptism, or not at all, for many in the church today have either not been baptized at all, or they continue to live in sinful conditions. Some even have served in church ministry, yet never taken a stand publicly and openly declared both their repentance and their determination no longer to be a slave to sin.

 

*****************************************

Available Now!

My new book is now available in eBook format.  Among other sites, find it in Kindle, Nook by clicking on the following links:  

Kindle on Amazon

Nook on Barnes and Noble

 

Sparks Pic

 

About this Book:

In these pages I share and explain insights into biblical “mysteries,” a word used by both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. I begin with methods of biblical interpretation, including how to “rightly divide” the Scriptures, then I proceed to reveal insights into a number of perplexing biblical “mysteries.” In doing so, I use both historical fiction and autobiographical approaches to help the ideas come alive.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “a natural man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (I Corinthians. 2:14). Consequently, I seek to explain how to search the Scriptures wisely, beginning with some simple methods that help uncover the spiritual depths of the Words of God, not just their literal meanings.

With this foundation, I then lead the reader through a number of lessons necessary for seeing in the Spirit, seeking foremost to define what Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, and others meant by this term “mystery,” a word often used to describe the secrets that God desires to reveal to us: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden” (I Corinthians 2:7).

What Was Jesus’ “Orientation”?

We all have unique perspectives from which we understand our universe, including how we read, examine, and live by the Word of God.  Some philosophers have concluded that there is nothing that can be known outside of the “self,” a very self-centered philosophy indeed! 

This is why Christ gave us the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the true paths of the straight and narrow way.  The Holy Spirit is our Teacher, who reveals the will and purposes of the Father to us.

On a secular level, I often discussed the concept of solipsism in my literature classes as we analyzed a literary text, focusing on the consequences of seeing the world only through a narrow vision of reality.  

Solipsism is the philosophical theory that only the self exists, or at least the only reality that can be proven to exist. Thus, a solipsistic view sees only what appears through the lens of one’s own eye. Rene Descartes originated the idea that “I think therefore I am,” or in Latin, Cogito ergo sum.

In today’s “post-modern” world, the idea permeates our culture that any interpretation of reality is acceptable, for “It’s a matter of personal opinion,” and, “Who is to say that one opinion is right and another is wrong?”  It is wrong to judge another person’s views, it is believed, although doing so often occurs.

Many fallacies arise solipsistic thinking, of course, but my students and I were often engaged by seeing the solipsistic ideas of Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, for example, for his life was consumed and destroyed by his narrow and narcissistic views of his own false perspectives of reality.   

One question that has arisen of late, and it’s one that will bluntly be asked more often and more in the days ahead, is whether Jesus was sexually active, and even more blasphemously whether He was a homosexual.  

Interestingly enough, one website that purports objectively to examine this issue uses the following guideline to oppose Christians who may never have considered the possibility that “Jesus was gay”:

On the other hand, there is an often quoted concept that reading the Gospels is like looking down a well. What you see in both cases is a reflection of yourself. Social activists often view Jesus as a social activist. Spiritual people frequently look upon Jesus as spiritual. Heterosexuals may see at Jesus as a heterosexual. Homosexuals may look upon him as gay, etc. (Source)

This website consists of people who are “a multi-faith group,” consisting of such beliefs as atheist, agnostic, Christian, Wiccan, and Zen Buddhist, and their goal is “religious tolerance,” which essentially means that we can believe what we wish as long as we all get along together.  

Thus, the article from this website on the subject of Christ’s sexuality is clearly intended to introduce the possibility of Christ’s sexuality to those of us who are dogmatic and intolerant, in order to make the currently discussed views of human sexuality both normal and acceptable.  Showing that Jesus was similarly tolerant and even a participant in such sexual activity is likely seen as an acceptable way to change the minds of hating and bigoted people and to make them more tolerant of those in our world who engage in such sexual proclivities.

Consequently, it is believed, there are as many views of what is “true” as there are faces and wells to look down, but as long as we choose not to be intolerant, we may all coexist together without hatred, prejudice, and persecution.

However, while we are all taught today to be tolerant and accepting of those with other beliefs, Jesus Christ Himself seemed intolerant at times.  Witness His views of some of the religious leaders of His time, in addition to His future world-wide judgment that will separate the sheep from the goats  (see, for example, Matthew 23:13-36).

An Example of Solipsism

Rollan McCleary is a British-born Australian who, based on his own homosexual experiences and writings about astrology, has concluded that Jesus was a homosexual:

He uses Jesus’ “astrological chart” — the planet Uranus figures prominently, as in the case with many homosexuals, he says — and argues that there are clues in the Bible to back up his views. In the Gospel of John, the disciple John frequently refers to himself in the third person as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” McCleary thinks this is highly significant. . . .”You maybe have to be gay to read the signals and to see things and research things which other people wouldn’t,” he added.

[Found in:  Rollan McCleary, “A Special Illumination: Authority, Inspiration and Heresy in Gay Spirituality,” David Brown Book Co., (2004)]

In other words, McClearly’s own solipsistic perspectives led him to believe that Jesus was gay. He also relates that his own knowledge of astrology reveals that Jesus’ horoscope included the planet Uranus, a sign that supposedly figures prominently in the charts of many homosexuals.  

It is not clear how McClearly was able to determine the astrological chart of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, for He was “in the beginning” (John 1:1), and His exact birth date on Earth is unknown.

Even if an astrological chart could accurately predict Jesus’ sexual orientation, the task of creating such a chart appears quite impossible. Dr. McCleary told Australian Broadcasting Commission radio, howevver, that 

In the past, “one or two queer theologians” had attempted to show Jesus was gay. “People haven’t taken them very seriously because they don’t have any evidence and they say things so sensationally that people are not really going to listen or just be very angry. What I’m doing is showing a much more theological and also astrological dimension on all this which will make a lot more sense to people.” (Ibid.)

Dr. McCleary definitely must be looking down the well and seeing only what he wants to see.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

Overall, general agreement exists even among those who argue Jesus’ sexual orientation that the Scriptures are essentially silent on the issue of His sexuality.  Still, it is usually implied that the New Testament writers either chose to bury any rumors or suggestions that Jesus was sexually active or that any such passages were deleted by later clerics and clergymen. 

It is further assumed that even Christ’s overt advocacy of opposite-sex marriage and the Mosaic law provides no insight into any personal sexual orientation or practices.  Likewise, it is said, the Scriptures are also silent on whether Jesus was single or married, childless or with children.

Jesus’ views of sexuality, including homosexuality, are manifestly clear in the Scriptures to logical and non-solipsistic minds, however, for otherwise He would have been exposed as manifestly hypocritical.  He would be open to assuming the same role he derided in those Pharisees He exposed as hypocrites and sinners.

Since the Pharisees accused Jesus of being possessed with demons and consorting with prostitutes, they surely would have accused Him of sodomy if there had been any possibility of immorality, a situation that is admitted even by the Religious Tolerance website:

If Jesus were gay, and if the Jewish establishment knew of his orientation, they would certainly have used it against him. Yet there is no record in the Gospels or in subsequent Jewish literature of the topic ever having been mentioned. (Source)

Jesus’ Own Declaration

Jesus taught the scriptural view that God made a man and a woman for the purpose of exclusive marriage.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6)

Jesus then clarified His teaching further in the following verse by saying,

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

Significantly, when Jesus is further queried by His disciples (they wonder why anyone would want to marry), Jesus shows a unique perspective on sexuality, one that most likely pertains to His own life:

But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:11-12)

Jesus Himself is therefore revealing His own sexual nature, yet stating that He chooses to abstain from all sexual behaviors or acts “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”  Therefore, although it was uncommon for Jewish males to remain unmarried, particularly if they were rabbis.  The Essenes were a sect that practiced abstinence, for example: 

There can be no doubt that many Essenes (scholars say that some might have been married) chose to be unmarried. According to Philo and Josephus, they did so because they thought that women had a negative impact on men. There’s no reason to believe that Jesus shared this perspective. But He did join the Essenes in accepting an apocalyptic worldview that anticipated the coming of God’s kingdom. (Source)

More Illogical Interpretations

Today, we witness only the beginning of the efforts to recruit Jesus into the LGBT, etc. army.  These improbable interpretations of the Scriptures range from the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, popularized by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, to the suggestion that Jesus and the “disciple that Jesus loved” were a homosexual couple:

Patrick Goodenough, referring to the passage in John’s Gospel, wrote:

One might argue that Jesus loved all of his followers in a non-sexual way. Thus to identify Jesus’ love for John in a special way might indicate a sexual relationship. The disciple was “the” beloved. He was in a class by himself. (Source)

And quoting Robert Goss concerning the same passage, Goodenough argues that since Jesus and the beloved disciple ate together side by side they must have been sexually intimate:

What’s being portrayed here is a pederastic relationship between an older man and a younger man. A Greek reader would understand. (Source)

A number of passages in John’s Gospel describe the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” including John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, and 21:20.  The repetition of this phrase is seen as proof that Jesus loved John intimately, though this conclusion is illogical.  John was merely using a “third-person” perspective to speak of himself to avoid calling inordinate attention to his own presence.  

Specifically, the story about the Last Supper when one of the disciples whom “Jesus loved” asks Jesus which disciple would betray Him is mentioned.  This disciple, presumably John, is described as “leaning back on Jesus bosom,” and this intimacy is seen a proof that Jesus and John were sexual partners (see John 13:21-26).  

This conclusion is highly illogical, however, a typical example of a “hasty conclusion”‘ fallacy.  The disciples were all informally reclining at the table, as was usual–the reason why their feet needed to be washed.  As they ate and shared the meal together, it was highly likely that they would have touched one another in many ways, just as males today in America may have contact with one another in non-sexual ways such as teammates on a football or baseball team.

Another extreme example of solipsistic interpretations refers to the following passage:

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.  [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”] (Mark 7:14-16)

Someone named “J Richards” has suggested that this passage “shows that Jesus approves of homosexual acts,” for the sentence refers to “dietary laws” and also applies to “blood transfusions, medication, organ transplants, and artificial insemination.” Therefore, Richards suggests, it could apply to homosexual acts as well (qtd. here Source, although the actual source no longer appears online).

This suggestion would be laughable if it weren’t so blatantly blasphemous and horribly unclean.

The Centurion’s Servant Healed

The story of the Roman Centurion’s servant is related in Matthew 8:5-13 and also in Luke 7:1-10, where the story is told in a fuller narration.  

In Matthew, the Centurion speaks directly to Jesus and makes his request that the servant be healed.  In Luke’s version, however, Jesus never actually speaks to the Centurion, but instead some Jewish elders were asked to make the request for healing. The difference is significant, for the reaction of Jesus to the Centurion’s faith is marvelously revealed in these differing circumstances: Whether the Centurion is speaking directly or only through the Jewish elders, the impact is the same, for faith is the result Jesus marvels about.

The following is the interpretation of the events by Michael Kelly, however, as quoted not only in the religioustolerance.org website, but also many others:

One day a Roman Centurion asked him to heal his dying servant. Scholars of both Scripture and Ancient History tell us that Roman Centurions, who were not permitted to marry while in service, regularly chose a favorite male slave to be their personal assistant and sexual servant. Such liaisons were common in the Greco-Roman world and it was not unusual for them to deepen into loving partnerships….Jesus offered to go to the servant, but the centurion asked him simply to speak a word of healing, since he was not worthy to welcome this itinerant Jewish teacher under his roof. Jesus responded by healing the servant [from a distance] and proclaiming that even in Israel he had never found faith like this! So, in the one Gospel story where Jesus encountered people sharing what we would call a “gay relationship,” we see him simply concerned about — and deeply moved by — their faith and love. Source

Kelly further implies that “Jesus’ sensitivity towards the gay couple might have arisen from his own bisexual or homosexual orientation.” (Source)

This interpretation is highly ironic, however, for Jesus neither sees nor talks with either the Centurion or the servant, yet the implication is that, first, there was a homosexual relationship between the two, and, second, that Jesus obviously approved of this relationship since He healed the servant.  This interpretation misses entirely the significance of the story, revealed by the Centurion’s statement that Jesus so approves of:

The centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:6-8)

Jesus instead only marvels at the Centurion’s faith:

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” (Luke 7:9)

Even More Ridiculous

An even more outrageous interpretation concerns the following passage from Mark’s Gospel, the account of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion:

A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked. (Mark 15:51-2)

Although the translations may vary, this is the result according to Peter Murphy:

We don’t know from the sources what really was going on, but we do know that something was very peculiar between Jesus and young men. (Source)

Equally ridiculous and illogical is the perspective taken on the story of the fallen woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. When Simon said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39), Jesus engages him in a dialogue that demonstrates not only Jesus’ forgiveness but also Simon’s hypocrisy.  

However, the point is made that Jesus seems upset that He received no kiss from Simon.  Anyone who assumes that Jesus is asking for a gay relationship with Simon must have drugged, for “kissing” in greetings were common in those days and were not sexual in nature, as Paul wrote: “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16).

Many more examples of solipsistic thinking and interpretation are available in today’s culture, though searching for them and reading them has been nearly as onerous as reading a stack of freshman compositions.  

The Apostle Paul, however, gives some guidelines that reveal how to live our lives and read the Scriptures in non-solipsistic ways.  Since we are neither omniscient nor filled with all godly wisdom, we need to depend on the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all understanding. 

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  (James 3:13-18)

The Kingdom of God, Part VIII

Displaying IMG_20150801_125947.jpg

 

The End of All Things:  Revelation 21-22

Chapter 21 in Revelation begins with a vision of the new heaven and the new earth John sees after the final judgment described in the previous chapter, when death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)

Again, like other images in Revelation, this detail about the sea’s not existing should not be taken literally, although in a new Heaven and a new Earth there may indeed be no more water, as some teachers of Revelation have suggested, even though there is a “River of Life” flowing through the city.

I believe that the sea in verse one refers symbolically to humanity, which no longer exists on the earth, for all of the unredeemed rebellious people have been sent to the lake of fire, and all of the redeemed are seen as the “New Jerusalem.”  

The sea also symbolizes humanity in Chapter 13 of Revelation, where we see two “beasts,” one rising out of the sea and the other rising out of the earth.  The first is described specifically as devoted to speaking blasphemies against God and persecuting the Church.

And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in thebook of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:6-8)

The city called the “New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21 is also depicted as the bride in the following passage:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

The speaker in the next few verses is clearly Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, or the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He is the First and the Last, and the Beginning and the End!

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8)

This symbolic connection between the New Jerusalem and the Bride of Christ is emphasized further in the next passage, for “one of the angels says to John, Come and see the Bride” (21:9), yet the vision John then sees is the holy city, the New Jerusalem:

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:10-11)

 

What follows is an extensive and elaborate description of this magnificent city, including the dimensions, descriptions of the city gates, and the ornate composition of the walls and streets.

We need to be certain not to interpret these details literally, as though they describe a physical city, however.  Instead, the details are all symbolic, beginning with the picture of the “Lamb” and the temple.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)

Even the word “Lamb” is a symbol representing Jesus Christ who is described as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), a description which links Jesus to the lambs of the temple sacrifices of the Old Covenant that were sacrificed for the sins of the people.  Even these lambs were a pre-figured representation of the ultimate sacrifice for sin that Christ completed on the cross of His crucifixion, as described by Peter:

  • He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (I Peter 2:24)
  • For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, (I Peter 3:18-19)

In addition, unlike what I was taught as a teenager, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place where all the saints will live, but instead consists of all of Christ’s saints, those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and are built up as “living stones,” as the Apostle Peter relates:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, aprecious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (I Peter 2:4-6)

Further, John writes this about the Temple that is in the midst of the New Jerusalem, indicating that the Temple is an overall representation of the Church of Christ:

And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only thosewhose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

The Water and the Tree of Life

What follows in the next chapter, Revelation 22, is a description of the river of the water of life and the tree of life in the middle of the New Jerusalem, once again the symbolic representation of the Church, the Bride of Christ:

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
This passage alludes back to the story of the fall of humankind in the Book of Genesis, where the tree of life first appears in the Scriptures.  If you will recall, God told Adam that the Earth was cursed because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and the couple was banished so they would no longer have access to the Tree of Life.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Geness 3:22-24)
Thus, as the passage relates, there will no longer be a curse on the land, and the light will appear not from the sun, moon, and stars, but from the Lord God.

The Final Messages in Revelation

Finally, in Revelation 22:6-21, we read the final messages at the end of John’s visions:

  •  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7)
  • “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. (22:10)
  • Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” (22:11)
  • “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (22:12)
  • I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (22:13)
  • “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (22:16)
  • The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (22:17)
  • He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” (22:20)

Some of these messages seem confounding and confusing, for they seem to be saying that the Lord is coming soon and Christ’s coming is near, in spite of the clear fact Jesus did not come soon.  Even the early apostles and the Apostle Paul implied that Christ’s coming was near.  

However, either His appearing has been delayed for two-thousand years or the Lord’s purposes have a deeper intent than we might suppose and understand.

Perhaps both interpretations may be correct, however, for the Apostle Peter addresses both possibilities about the delay in the Lord’s coming.  Considering that God is timeless, above the restrictions of the linear nature of time’s progress, only two days have passed!

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (II Peter 3:8)

In addition, the Lord will delay His coming until every stone has been added to the Temple, every person has been added to the Body of Christ:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

And finally, Peter says, the Lord will appear suddenly, without warning, much the same way a thief might secretly break into a home when least expected.  

Christ is not a thief, of course, but Peter’s analogy is significant.  As in the parable of the Ten Virgins, we need to be ready, no matter how long it takes, for He could appear at any moment:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)

A Word of Warning

John  adds a final note of his own to his book, warning that some may try to add or take away from the words, and perhaps even the meanings, of the signs and symbols of these marvelously revealed visions.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Unfortunately, some of the most dedicated teachers of Revelation have made the errors John mentions, either by adding their own interpretations to the visions or taking away parts of the visions. 

I heard recently a description of these kinds of interpretations as follows:

It’s like looking into a well and seeing one’s own reflection.  

Thus, some well-meaning teachers only see from their own solipsistic perspectives, rather than finding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to understand the mysteries of Revelation.  This means, for example, that the locusts in the Book of Revelation are not helicopters with guided missiles, and the 144,000 saints are not members of a religious cult that only appeared in the twentieth century.

The Kingdom of God, Part VII

The Seventh Vision: Revelation 20

John’s Seventh Vision begins and ends in Chapter 20.  The previous six visions generally begin with an angelic messenger, but this messenger is different, for he holds a key. He is not given a key, for it is one He owns and has Himself obtained. He owns the key!

Jesus told Peter that “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).  And we have already seen in the first chapter of Revelation the following verses when John saw the glorified Jesus Christ:
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.  (Revelation 1:17-18)

Jesus Overcame Satan

Even before His victory on the cross, Jesus claimed to be the one who had come to bind the devil:  Luke 11:21

If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. (Luke 11:18-22)

Before His resurrection and not long before Christ’s ascension to the right hand of God, the truths of His impending victory were clearly stated to the disciples and future apostles, though they did not understand completely.  In John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus prayed saying,

“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28)

Some in the crowd thought that an angel had spoken to Him, others that they had heard thunder, but Jesus makes clear what they had heard:

Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”(John 12:30-32)

And because the warfare in the spiritual realm is difficult to comprehend, Jesus promised the coming of the “Helper,” the Holy Spirit, who would not only enlighten the saints but also bring about the enforcement of the judgment of the prince of this world:

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:7-11)

Later, the Apostle Paul wrote about Christ’s victory over Satan’s powers:

He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:13-15)

In the Book of Hebrews, we find that even though we live in the physical world with bones, sinews, and blood, we no longer need to fear the devil, who once held the power of death over us, for Jesus became a man with the same kind of physical body as ours to liberate us from him who once held us captive through the threats of death:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Apostle John declared in his third letter that Jesus came to  “destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8).  And this understanding is confirmed in the vision John sees in his revelations.

What John Saw

Much confusion has arisen over the Church’s understanding of John’s vision in these final chapters, but we must realize that the many mysteries in Revelation are given to the whole Church, and the interpretations of these signs and symbols must relate to the whole Body of Christ.  Therefore, the good news of this revelation is not just for those living in what we call the “End Times.”

The “angel” in the following passage is actually Christ Jesus, for the word angel means “messenger,” and unlike the other messengers who are given a key, this messenger has a key already.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.  (Revelation 20:1-3)

During this period of one-thousand years the saints of God are given authority to go forth into all the nations to share the good news of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice and overcoming resurrection, but as we have seen in the other six visions, persecution is always the result.

First, the saints are given authority, the same authority Jesus claimed and delegated in Matthew 28:18-19, when He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

This authority is represented in Revelation 20 verse 4 in the words “thrones” and “judgment”:

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. (Revelation 20:4)

When the Gospel goes forth, however, persecution is always the result, revealed in the following verses:

And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)

The vision continues with the description of the “first resurrection” from the dead, what happens when all who give their lives completely to the Lord Jesus are “reborn” of the spirit, as Jesus related to Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John.

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  (Revelation 20:4-6)

This summation reveals that all who are in Christ Jesus shall not die but have eternal life with Him.  When does this life begin?  Not when our physical bodies die, for to be absent from the body, merely means to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8). Therefore, when we are reborn, we experience the “first resurrection.”

The Thousand Years Explained

Even when Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples continued looking into the sky to see when He was coming back, but the angel told them they had work to do first

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

The Apostle Peter, even in the first few years after Christ’s resurrection explained why the Lord’s second coming had not yet occurred:

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:7-9)

On the other hand, as we shall soon see in Revelation 22, the Lord Jesus said,

And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:10-12)

I come quickly, Jesus said, and He compared His coming to a “thief in the night,” which means it will come suddenly when we don’t expect it.

The First Resurrection

This first resurrection is best understood by seeing what the rest of the Scriptures reveal.  The Apostle Paul, for example, writes that we have been raised together with Christ and seated with Him on His throne:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

And in his Letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote that all the saints have not only died and been buried, but also raised up with Christ,

having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:12-13

In a parallel passage in Romans, Paul describes how we have been baptized as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection so that we might reign with Him:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

Since we have died and been buried with Christ, as well as resurrected in the first resurrection, this is how we are to live our lives:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

We must set our minds where they exist in truth, seated with Christ in the Heavenlies.  Since Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world,”  we must not try to sit on our thrones in this earthly existence, only in the Heavenlies in the spirit.

The Final Judgment 

As in previous visions, specifically the one described in Revelation 16, the final judgment of Satan, his legions, and all on earth who continue in rebellion now occurs.

Just as the persecution of the saints begins when the Gospel goes forth, the time of judgment appears at the end of the visions John sees, this time a final judgment on those who continue to follow Satan, as well as Satan himself with his legions:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  (Revelation 20:7-10)

The Great White Throne

In the final verses in Revelation Chapter 20, we read about the Great White Throne on which the One sits who will judge all of the dead based on their works and deeds in their lives. Clearly there has been a resurrection, for the scene John sees includes those who have died:

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:13)

The “lake of fire” is reserved for those whose names are not written in the Book of Life, and even death and Hades are thrown into the fire as well:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15)

In the last article in this series, we will continue to examine the final two chapters of this marvelously mysterious book.  I pray that your understanding has been enlightened!  As John wrote, “Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”

 

 

 

Sparks Pic

Astonishing Sparks: New eBook Now Available

(Click to see directions and synopsis)

 

 

New eBook Publication

 

Out Now!

My new book has appeared in eBook format, available in Kindle, Nook, and other digital readers.  

Kindle on Amazon

Nook on Barnes and Noble

 

Sparks Pic

 

In these pages I share and explain insights into biblical “mysteries,” a word used by both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. I begin with methods of biblical interpretation, including how to “rightly divide” the Scriptures, then I proceed to reveal insights into a number of perplexing biblical “mysteries.” In doing so, I use both historical fiction and autobiographical approaches to help the ideas come alive.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “a natural man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (I Corinthians. 2:14). Consequently, I seek to explain how to search the Scriptures wisely, beginning with some simple methods that help uncover the spiritual depths of the Words of God, not just their literal meanings.

With this foundation, I then lead the reader through a number of lessons necessary for seeing in the Spirit, seeking foremost to define what Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, and others meant by this term “mystery,” a word often used to describe the secrets that God desires to reveal to us: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden” (I Corinthians 2:7).

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part VI

The Sixth Vision: Chapters 17-19

The Sixth Vision John describes in the Book of Revelation begins in Chapter 17 and continues through Chapter 19. This vision shows only the end of the cyclical tableau of seven visions John is shown. Rather than beginning with the first coming of Christ and revealing the warnings and judgments of the Gospel’s being sent to the world, however, this vision focuses on the end result of the judgments of God against Babylon.

Please understand that our purpose is not to dissect the text and try to understand every symbolic meaning and metaphoric element. Instead, it is more productive to get a comprehensive overview of the entire book to see how it relates not only to the Church today, but also to the Church of the whole Body of Christ that has come before us.

Two overriding metaphors are used in this vision to reveal the ultimate purposes of God.  Two women and two cities appear: first, the Bride of Christ, the Church, and the Harlot, Mystery Babylon; second, two cities also are in evidence, the New Jerusalem and Babylon. Just as the figure of the harlot and the virgin are seen as contrasting opposites, the Book of Revelation also speaks of two contrasting cities: Babylon and New Jerusalem.

The Harlot in Proverbs

John first compares Babylon to a “harlot,” and typical of a woman who sleeps with many men in exchange for money, this “woman” personifies spiritual corruption and contrasts with the purity of the other woman in the Book of Revelation, the Bride of Christ, or the Church.

The book of Proverbs portrays a harlot as a seductress to the vulnerable young man, seeking to lead him astray from wisdom and understanding. She uses the cover of darkness and the temptations of love and sexual pleasure to lead a young person to depart from wise behaviors.

Above all, the harlot in Proverbs is an advocate for false wisdom, a wisdom that leads to destruction rather than blessing. Spiritually, the harlot offers false wisdom as a means of obtaining wealth and power.

Lucifer’s deception in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve  would not die as a result of disobedience, but they would become “like God,” knowing good and evil, and hence become the masters of their own destiny.

This deception has become the basis for all false religions, including atheism and agnosticism, as well as the false religions of both the past and the present, particularly occultism and sorcery.

Harlots in Isaiah and Jeremiah

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both referred to Israel, Judah, or Jerusalem as a harlot or an unfaithful woman who commits adultery, for she was judged faithless and filled with selfish unrighteousness and even murder.

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers. (Isaiah 1:21)

Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:6-10)

Babylon, the Harlot

Since the Bride in Revelation is a clear portrayal of the Church of Christ Jesus, numerous attempts have been made to identify the harlot in Revelation as representing some religions such as Catholicism or Islam, for example.

Unfortunately, many expositors of John’s Book of Revelation typically interpret the mysteries too narrowly, according to their own perspectives, rather than understanding that Revelation was written for the whole Church of all ages.

In this case, therefore, the vision is interpreted by the angel speaking to John himself. Although the angel declares that the  harlot is  a mystery, the angel provides the meaning of the mystery:

And on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5)

The angel further explains the mystery of the woman, saying,

The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.  (Revelation 17:18)

This interpretive key, along with the name of the harlot, tells us that Babylon is related not only to the stories of ancient Babylon in the Book of Daniel, but also to the story of Babel’s tower in Genesis 11:1-9:

 Mystery Babylon

In the original Hebrew texts, the names for “Babel” and “Babylon” were the same, essentially “Bbl,” since no vowels were used.  We can conclude, therefore, that the two cities were the same.  Thus, the Hebrew word translated “Babylon” is bâbel, which is the same word used in the book of Genesis that refers to the tower of Babel.

Using this story as a backdrop, therefore, we see that Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents the great city of historical Babylon, a city that symbolically depicts the attempts of humans to be equal with God and to elevate themselves to the sphere of divine beings.  They had swallowed the lie that they would be like gods, and their hope was manifested by building a tower they believed would reach into heaven.

Thus, Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents both a city and a harlot of false religion, one that supposedly helps humans find the divine from within themselves, rather than finding justification and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

The Tower of Babel

After the flood of Noah, the city of Babel was ruled by Nimrod, under whose leadership the tower was built.  Despite God’s desire that the people separate and inhabit the whole earth, Nimrod collected the people to himself, even building a ziggurat, or tower, to negate the possibility of a future flood in defiance of any future judgment of a flood from God.

Nimrod was the son of Cush, the grandson of Ham, and great-grandson of Noah.  Genesis describes him  as “a mighty one in the earth” and “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:8-9).

Here is the story of the Tower of Babel as it is found in Genesis:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

An interesting article by biblical archaeologist Dr. David P. Livingston attempts to show that Nimrod was a fierce opponent of Yahweh.  Livingston proposes that Nimrod is not the man’s true name, which was a derogatory pseudonym, but that he was the one named Gilgamesh in the ancient epic.

First, what does the name Nimrod mean? It comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “rebel.” Adding an “n” before the “m” it becomes an infinitive construct, “Nimrod.” (see Kautzsch 1910: 137 2b, also BDB 1962: 597). The meaning then is “The Rebel.” Thus “Nimrod” may not be the character’s name at all. It is more likely a derisive term of a type, a representative, of a system that is epitomized in rebellion against the Creator, the one true God. (See http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/nimrod.html)

Another legend concrning Nimrod is detailed by Josephus, the Jewish/Roman historian, who claimed that Nimrod’s city of Babel was constructed in defiance of Yahweh:

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. . . . He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimrod)

Thus, the stories of Nimrod and Babel lead us to the image of “Mystery Babylon” in Revelation, particularly the associations with autocratic governments, rebellion against God, blasphemy, and religious occultism. Consequently, we are able to understand more fully the symbolic images of Babylon, as the great city and the harlot, in the vision that John sees in Revelation.

The Harlot Rides on a Beast

The angel in John’s vision relates that the citizens of this Mystery Babylon will wage war against the Lamb and those who are with Him, those called “chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Revelation 17:8)

This description is uniquely mysterious.  I suggest that it relates to a parallel story about Lucifer.

We understand that Satan became the prince of this Earth after Adam’s sin, for Adam gave him his authority over the earth.  The three temptations of Christ confirm this assumed authority, for Satan the tempter declares that he will give Jesus the kingdoms of this world in exchange for His worship (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Of course, Jesus does not succumb to the lies of the devil, choosing instead to use the sword of the spirit, the Word of God in opposition.

Satan was then ultimately defeated by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the kingdoms of this world were indeed given over to the Messiah, who declared that “all power is given to me in Heaven and Earth (Matthew 28:18-20).  Though Satan fell “like lightning” from Heaven, he will arise from perdition for just a little while, only to be defeated again and finally imprisoned in Hell.  (We will study this in a future chapter of Revelation, specifically Chapter 20.)

Victory for the Lamb

Again in John’s vision, the sixth we have studied, there is a call for repentance and for all who are redeemed to come away from the spiritual domains of the Harlot:  

I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. (Revelation 18:4-5)

The kings and merchants of the earth will mourn over Babylon, the Harlot, for they will no longer be able to access her luxuries or sell their goods to her.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. (18:20-21)

The destruction of Mystery Babylon, the Harlot, is decreed not only because of her corruption and rebellion, but also because of her persecution of the saints of the true Church of Christ:

And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:24)

The Bride of Christ

I’m constantly amazed at how perfectly God’s plans merge together into an astounding harmony throughout the Scriptures.  For example, just as Eve was formed out of the side of the first Adam in Genesis 2, the Bride of Christ, the Church, was formed out of the side of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:45).

The Body of Christ, or the Church, was formed, therefore, as a result of Christ’s willingness to give His life through crucifixion and even to take the penalty in Hell for our sin.  At the time of His death, out of His side flowed water and blood to give us life in Him.

In Chapter 19 of Revelation, therefore, we see the Bride of Christ, the Church, ready to be married to the Lamb, or Christ Jesus.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7-9)  

Our union with Christ as a marriage is a great mystery, wrote the Apostle Paul, for we are members of His body, having been formed from His resurrection. (Eph. 5:32).  We next see in Revelation, therefore, the second coming of Christ, not only to receive His Bride, but also to defeat finally the forces of Satan.

 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, brightand clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8)

Christ appears with His saints, also riding white horses, and the name written on His robe and on His thigh was “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.  From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Forces of Satan Defeated

We then see the forces and powers of darkness defeated, represented by the beast and the false prophet, the symbols of religious and secular opposition to the Kingdom of God.

And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:20-21)

Thus, the sixth vision ends with the destruction of the forces of Satan and the blessed union of Christ with His Bride.

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part V

The Fifth Vision: 14-16

All In Seven Years?

One of the most persistent ideas about the End Times in the Church today is that many Revelation Bible teachers believe that the different outpourings of God’s wrath are successive, rather than describing the same events in different ways or from various perspectives.

I trust that you have seen in these articles so far that this is not the case.  Each cycle covers portions of the period between Christ’s birth and resurrection, followed by periods of tribulation as a result of persecution, culminating in the return of Christ to bring His Church/Bride home to heaven, along with the end of the world.

Although we are currently looking at John’s Fifth Vision, one other problem needs to be addressed.  

Many End-Time Bible teachers believe that a seven-year period of time, usually labeled the “Great Tribulation,” is predicted in Daniel Chapter 9.  And this period of seven years is the same amount of time all of the plagues, wars, beasts, judgments and horrible events in the Book of Revelation will supposedly appear and occur.

This teaching is based on a false interpretation of the prophecy found in Daniel, where the Angel Gabriel brings an answer to Daniel’s prayer of repentance for the people of Israel.  Here is Gabriel’s message:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. (Daniel 9:24)

What follows, then, is a description of how and when these events will take place:

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. (Daniel 9:25)

These two verses show that from the issuing of the decree by Cyrus, the Prince of Persia (the successor to Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon) to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem there would be 69 weeks of years, “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,”or 483 years (69 x 7 = 483).

Thus, 483 years after the decree is issued, the Messiah will appear and then be “cut off”:

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. (Daniel 9:26)

This means that after the 483 years, the Messiah will begin His ministry on earth.  The Messiah will then be “cut off and have nothing,” sometime during the final seven-year period, or the 70th week.  This happened when Jesus was crucified after about three and a half years.

Then, the “prince who is to come” will bring about the destruction of Jerusalem once again, along with the Temple.

Not only Daniel, but also Jesus predicted during His earthly ministry that the Temple would again be destroyed.   

And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” (Luke 21:5-6)

Consequently, Jesus implied also that all sacrifices and grain offerings in the Temple would cease, for the Temple would be destroyed, for He was the Messiah who would cause sacrifices to cease.

This is how Gabriel’s message to Daniel is stated: 

And he [i.e. Jesus] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week [i.e. 3 1/2 years]  he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” (Daniel 9:27)

Therefore, Jesus the Messiah was indeed “cut off” in the middle of the final “week,” or seven years, for He was crucified after three and a half years.  Then after his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus the sinless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for sin, caused all sacrifices to cease.

The common understanding is that there needs to be a new temple built and sacrifices resumed in order for the “prince who is to come” can cut off sacrifices and grain offerings, a condition that denigrates Christ’s ultimate sacrifice as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  

The Apostle Paul raged against this kind of teaching, opposing those who wanted Christians to continue to follow the laws of Moses, which would include sacrifices.  

In the sixth century B.C. during the Babylonian captivity, the sacrifices ceased until the Temple was rebuilt about seventy years later. The sacrifices continued until AD 70 when Titus and the Roman army sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Since then, the sacrifices have not been offered because the temple has not been rebuilt.

This means that there is no 2,000-year gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of Gabriel’s message to Daniel, and no other prophecy predicts a mere seven-week tribulation period.  Instead, Jesus told His disciples that “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).  

This is how the Apostle Paul describes the tribulation to the Church in Rome:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:5-11)

I have written two articles on this problem, posted September 1, 2014, but if you would like to see them again, click here and copy/paste to your web browser: 

  • http://biblicalmysteriescom.ipage.com/2014/09/01/grammatical-misreadings/
  • http://biblicalmysteriescom.ipage.com/2014/09/01/imposed-meanings/

 

The Bowls of Wrath

The Fifth Vision John sees focuses directly on the judgments of God against those on Earth who have refused to turn to the Lord of Mercy in repentance.

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. (15:1)

John then sees a picture in Heaven of those who have been victorious on Earth as they have taken their stand against the temptations of sin:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. (Revelation 15:2)

John then sees this gathering of victorious people with harps in their hands, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. John sees seven angels carrying golden bowls filled with the wrath of God:

After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. (Revelation 15:5-8)

The Bowls of Wrath

Chapter 16 begins, therefore, with the seven angels holding Bowls of Wrath. They are told by a loud voice from Heaven this message:

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God. (Revelation 16:1)

The rest of this chapter continues with the descriptions of the bowls of wrath being poured out upon the Earth.  The first six bowls are poured, including the following plagues:

  • The first angel pours his bowl and it brings a loathsome and malignant sore upon the people who worship the beast and carry his image on their foreheads.
  • The next angel pours the second bowl, and the sea becomes blood.
  • Then the third angel pours out blood into the rivers and springs of water and cries out that God is righteous, “for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (16:6).
  • The fourth angel pours his bowl onto the sun, and it began to scorch the sons of men until they cried out blasphemies, yet still would not repent.
  • The fifth angel pours his bowl of wrath on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom becomes darkened. They cried out in pain because of their sores, and though they blasphemed God, they would not repent.
  • The sixth angel pours out his bowl on the River Euphrates, yet it became dry, leaving a clear path for the armies of the kings of the east.

Now there is a brief pause between the sixth and the seventh bowls to reveal the gathering of the nations in a place called Armageddon, or Har-Magedon in Hebrew.

Armageddon

John sees three unclean spirits coming out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet that are like frogs.  These spirits go out to the kings of the earth to gather them together for “the Great Day of God,” the final judgement of God against those who refuse to repent:

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe. (Revelation 16:17-20)

Thus, the question is not, “What is Babylon?” or “Who is the Beast?” Instead, what should concern us and the Church of all ages is what these terms represent.  

So many have labeled them in twenty-first-century people or places, but they have been represented throughout history in countless different ways.  

 

How Do We Interpret Such Mysteries?

Imagine living in the time of the Apostle John in the first century after the Book of Revelation was written. Whom do you believe is the “Beast: or the “Harlot”?  What does “Babylon” represent?  

Or perhaps you are living during the reign of Nero in Rome, or even Hitler in Germany in the 1940s.  

Is Barrack Obama the Antichrist? Some have declared him to be the one John wrote about in Revelation. Should we try to fit these historical figures into John’s apocalyptic visions, only to be wrong when years pass?  

Today, one site (http://www.christconnection.net/id7.html) declares that Alexander the Great is the Antichrist who will supposedly rise from the dead. Other sites say the Pope is the Antichrist. Wait, I thought Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist!  Oh, no!  

Today, we are told that the “Mystery  of Babylon” (which we will study next in Revelation 17) is Rome, or Jerusalem, or even America, depending on the interpretations of the various Bible teachers. And these places are interpreted literally, not as representations of spiritual significance applicable to all Christians.

Shouldn’t these teachings be modified in case the link doesn’t work out in the light of history, as has happened so often in the past?  

Again, this is the danger of trying to be too specific in terms of identifying the actual persons or places in Revelation and linking them with present-day people or cities.  

On the other hand, if I were alive in the first or second centuries hearing that the Beast arising out of the sea is an evil person living in the 21st century, I’m not sure I would take the warnings of repentance and the consequences of not doing so too seriously.  

Thus, we need to focus our spiritual attention on the meanings of these visions, not trying to take them literally or applying them to specific contemporary people or places. If we are wrong, we will only bring reproach on the Church and Christ Jesus.

Nor should we be focusing on the “signs of the times” to declare that the European Common Market is the Beast with seven heads and ten horns found in Revelation 13 and 17.  It’s been years since I have even heard that term “Common Market” used, but when I was a teenager that was what we were told was the prime indicator of the Antichrist’s coming kingdom.

In the next article, we will consider John’s Sixth Vision beginning in Revelation Chapter 17.

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part IV

jesus-with-a-sharp-sickle-in-his-hand

The Fourth Vision (Chapters 12-14)

Rightly Dividing the Book of Revelation

First a few suggestions for reading and studying the Book of Revelation.  I’ve already written that John’s Apocalypse is a book of signs and symbols. Consequently, it should not be read literally.  

When we see a beast arising out of the sea in Revelation, it does not refer to the  creature living in Loch Ness or to the whale in Moby Dick.  And we know that the creatures in Jurassic Park and other films are not real, even though they look realistic.

In addition, however, realizing that there are many mysteries and secret meanings in the Revelation, persecution from world governments and false religions is a primary theme John is asked to write down.  Therefore, the book is written in a kind of code that may only be broken by using the whole Word of God as a key.  

Those not familiar with the Scriptures will be totally confused by the strange beasts and descriptions of the plagues, for example, but we who have read about the story of the Exodus of Moses or the visions of Daniel have access to the secrets God wants to reveal to His people.

Finally, one more suggestion: We should not become focused on every detail in John’s vision, trying to find direct links comparing what is written with current events or people in history.

Instead, finding meaning is much like seeing a painting by Picasso, trying to understand all of the colors, lines, and distorted features of the portraits.  Picasso needs to be understood wholistically, not focusing on any particular unusual feature in a painting.  Clearly, Picasso was not trying to be realistic in his paintings, but instead only suggesting his ideas through images that convey his ideas.

The following painting, for example, makes more sense when we know it is of a weeping woman. 

However, we do not need to understand Picasso’s every intention to see what the artist is doing overall.  We either like the painting or we don’t, and I have to say that I prefer the works of other artists much more than those of Picasso!  

Thus, we need to see the Book of Revelation as a whole, in context with the rest of the Scriptures, relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance.  

For example, we will see the sickles in Chapter 14 in context with Christ’s Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, a good example of determining meanings in the whole body of God’s Word, for in many ways, the Book of Revelation is equally disturbing in terms of the images and symbols John writes about.  

 

Another Vision

Beginning in Chapter 12, therefore, we again see one more perspective of God’s plan to redeem the world and set free all who will call upon His name in faith. This Fourth Vision begins the cycle of the whole plan of redemption, although some of the seven visions do not contain the entire tableau, as we will see in future articles.  

This Fourth Vision begins with the story of Christ’s first coming:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.  (Revelation 12:1-2)

Most teachers and scholars in the Church believe that this woman represents the true Israel, the crown of twelve stars standing for the twelve tribes.  John’s vision relates to Joseph’s dream in Genesis:

Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” (Genesis 37:9-10)

Clearly, Jacob (whose name is later changed to Israel) interprets Joseph’s dream in the following way: The “sun” represents Israel, the “moon” represents Rachel, and the “eleven stars” represent Jacob’s eleven sons (besides Joseph). (See also Genesis 35:9-10.)

Some Bible bloggers believe this number cannot represent the Church, for it only consists of Jews.  However, the New Testament clearly declares that the Jews and the Gentiles both make up the True Church in Heaven.  See my articles on “The New Covenant with Israel” concerning the joining together of Jews and Gentiles:

The Birth of the Savior

In John’s vision, therefore, the woman, who represents the faithful people of Israel, is pregnant, or “with child,” and she is ready to give birth to the One who will redeem the world out of the control of Satan.

Then John sees another sign in Heaven, a great dragon who waits for the child to be delivered so it may devour the child and destroy God’s plans:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. (Revelation 12:3-4)

In fact, Satan indeed conspired to kill Jesus, the promised Son of God and Messiah, by using King Herod, who ended up committing mass murder of children to rid his kingdom of a potential rival for his throne.

The dragon in Revelation, therefore, represents Lucifer, or Satan, who brought down many angels with him. (Revelation 12:4).

 

Lucifer’s Fall

Ezekiel’s prophecies of this event depict not just the King of Tyre, but also Lucifer, for the prophet relates that Lucifer was in Eden (Ezekiel 28:14); he was the “anointed cherub” God placed on the Holy Mountain (14); he was “blameless” in his ways until unrighteousness and sin were found in him (15); and he was cast as profane from the mountain of God (16).  And according to many Bible teachers, when Lucifer fell, he took one-third of the angels with him.

What follows next in Revelation depicts in just one verse the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven of Christ Jesus, the promised Messiah:

And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. (Revelation 12:5)

 

Michael Again Wages War

Once again, however, we find that when the Gospel goes forth into the world, persecution follows, and this is what happens to the woman, or the true Israel, who has become the True Church, the Bride of Christ: “Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God (12:6).

Michael the Archangel also appears in John’s vision, along with Michael’s fellow angelic warriors,  waging war with the dragon.  This dragon is, a symbol of Satan and his demonic angels, for this symbolism is explicitly revealed by John in the following passage:

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9)

John then hears the voice of victory in Heaven:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:10-11)
The battle that raged in the Heavens, however, is not finished, for it is then waged on earth.  The dragon, or Satan, attempts to persecute the woman who gave birth to the child, but she was protected, able to fly to the wilderness (12:13-15).  Therefore, the dragon turns his persecutions against the Church, or the “children” of the woman:
So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)

 

The First Beast

The story continues, showing how the dragon, or Satan, stood on the sand of the seashore awaiting a “beast” coming out of the sea. This beast is a representation of worldly powers, authorities, and rulers in the form of various beasts and animals:

Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.  (Revelation 13:1-2; see also Daniel 7)

These beasts symbolize the governments and rulers of the world, and they are much the same as those beasts arising out of the sea in the 7th Chapter of Daniel.  These governments also seek to persecute the Church:

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:7-8)

 

Another Beast

Then in John’s vision another beast arises out of the sea, one that represents the false religions of the world, yet a beast that still supports and functions under the authority of the first beast:

Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. (Revelation 13:11-14)

This beast is like a lamb, but it speaks with the voice of a dragon. Thus, this beast speaks the words of the dragon, but it is deceptive, operating like a benign religion while exercising the authority of the first beast.  Thus, this second beast is a picture of the counterfeit church, an alternative to the True Church of Jesus Christ.

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. (Revelation 13:18)

The number 666 represented here in Revelation is a bit difficult for modern readers to understand, but it was common to use letters of the alphabet not just to form written words but also to represent numbers, hence the numeric system we had to learn in elementary school:  Roman Numerals. 

This conversion of letters to numbers system is called a “gematria,” and was commonly used in the Early Church as a code to identify various people who were persecuting the Church without naming them directly and, thus, inviting increased persecution.

John says, however, that the one “who has understanding” can calculate the “number of the beast,” so applying this name to someone two thousand years later seems unwise.  The Emperor Nero, however, seems to be a likely candidate, not only because of the “gematria,” the numbers in his name adding up to 666, but also his extreme persecution of Christians, an important theme in John’s book. Thus, Nero is a symbol for future world leaders used by Satan to persecute the Church.

 

The 144,000 on Mount Zion

Finally, nearing the end of this Fourth Vision, we see a picture of the resurrected Church:

Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1)

The Mount Zion John sees in Heaven is not the same Mount Zion in geographical Jerusalem, nor will it be in future visions in Revelation.  Mount Zion in geographical Jerusalem is where King David claimed the fortress from the Jebusites, making it his palace and the site of the future Temple.

In the New Testament, however, Zion takes on additional symbolic and spiritual significance as the name of the city of the Living God.  First of all, Peter says that Jesus Christ is the “Cornerstone for the foundation,” described in Isaiah’s prophecy.

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,”  (I Peter 2:4-7)

As Peter describes it, Christian believers are part of the Temple, as living stones built upon the foundation of Christ the Cornerstone.

And as the writer to the Hebrews describes it, Christians “have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind” (Hebrews 12:18).  Instead, he writes, you have come to the true Mount Zion in Heaven:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Although, much has been proposed about who the 144,000 are, therefore, it is clear that they are those who have been sanctified and set apart unto God through Jesus Christ, and are a part of the Mount Zion in Heaven, the New Jerusalem.  These Christians are able to sing a “new song” and have the name of Jesus and His Father God on their foreheads. They also have been purified and have lived chaste lives:

These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. (Revelation 14:3-5)

Their number, 144,000, is a combination of several significant symbolic numbers:  3 x 4 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10.  Thus, the total number of 144,000 is made up of combinations and multiples of the prominent symbolic numbers in the Scriptures and represent the True Church in Heaven.

 

Final Judgment

In the final part of the Fourth Vision, we see three angels proclaiming the final judgment on the followers and worshipers of the Beast, those who have a mark on their hand or their forehead. Here are the words of the three angels:

  • Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. (v. 7)
  • And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” (v. 8)
  • “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  (v. 9-10)
We find two bodies of people in the final part of John’s Fourth Vision, therefore: First, the True Church, or the 144,000, those with a mark on their forehead with the names of Jesus and His Father;  and second, those who worship the beast and hold to the false religion of spiritual Babylon.  
Finally, the vision ends with two angels carrying sickles, reaping the “harvest of the earth” in judgment.  The people of God are reaped to enter their final place in Heaven, while those who have worshiped the beast are reaped and, like the “tares” in Christ’s teaching, are doomed to fire and brimstone.

Tares Among Wheat

This part of  John’s vision in Revelation is a reflection of Christ’s “Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.”  

Tares are very similar in appearance to wheat, but they appear first in the ground and steal nutrients from the soil.  They entwine themselves around the wheat so they cannot be removed without destroying the wheat crop as well.  

The tares mature faster than wheat, however, so they may be cut first and destroyed, allowing the wheat to grow to maturity.  

Here is Christ’s parable, along with the interpretation He gives the disciples.  Notice the parallels with the vision John sees in Revelation 14:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then Jesus is asked to explain the parable:

Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Thus, the Fourth Vision repeats the cycle, beginning with the coming of Jesus, continuing with the spread of the Gospel and the subsequent persecutions by the two beasts, and concluding with the final judgment.
 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part III

 
 

The Third Vision (Chapters 8-11)

How A Scroll Is Read

The Apostle John now begins the next vision he saw, the third.
First of all, this is a good time, perhaps, to realize that the chapter and verse designations that appear in modern translations of the Scriptures are not a part of the original documents.  Modern editors have placed these in the text to assist us in finding our places.
 
Nor are the headings that are used to separate the portions part of the original texts.  This means that we readers must be careful not to be influenced by these demarcations, for they are not always accurate, not just in Revelation but also in the entire Bible.
 
For example, the third seal in John’s second vision from Chapter 6 (verses 5-8) is described in the New American Standard Bible’s headings as “Famine,” yet in our analysis we saw that the wheat, oil, barley, and wine are present and available. However, they are only scarce to those who have no money to pay for them: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”
 
     A denarius is roughly equivalent to only a day’s wages, and the money is scarce because of persecution, a persecution that arises for those who do not align with the principles and teachings of the ruling political and religious leaders.
     Second, from the context of the first two verses, we understand that there is a transition between them.  
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (8:1-2)
(Even the heavenly hosts need a half an hour break, it appears!)
     This “pause” may be demonstrating how the scroll with the seven seals opened by the Lamb in the Second Vision was made.  As the scroll is unrolled and read, and each vision is revealed, pages come to the next seal that needs to be broken, where the narrative pauses, also signifying the end of each vision John sees.
 

The Trumpets

At the beginning of John’s Third Vision, an angel appears with a golden censer and much incense.  This incense is added to the prayers of all the saints that have been collected and placed on the golden altar before the throne of God (Revelation 8:3). It’s clear what the incense symbolizes, therefore:  the prayers of the Saints.

This angel, who I believe is a type of Jesus our High Priest, is also a reflection of what the Jewish High Priest did every year on the Day of Atonement, as Moses instructed Aaron:

Then Aaron . . .  shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. He shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die. (Leviticus 16:11-13)

On the Day of Atonement, therefore, the high priest enacted in type a pattern of the ceremony the angel in John’s vision performs.

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:4-5)

This passage also makes clear the results of the incense that arises before the Throne of God. The thunder, lightning, and earthquakes that result are the responses of a Holy God to the intercessions and prayers of His people.

The Seven Angels

The seven angels in the vision then prepare to blow their horns. This ceremony has also been anticipated by the Jewish festivals, or feasts, celebrated every year.

The Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashanah, celebrates the Jewish New Year.  It begins with the blowing of rams’ horns, the “shofar,” calling God’s people together to confess their sins and repent. It is a solemn day of repentance and being reminded of God’s judgment against sin:

The Jewish Talmud states that three books have recorded the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life and they are sealed “to live.” The intermediate class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous; the wicked are “blotted out of the book of the living forever.” (multiple online sources)

Ten days later on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur,  the shofars again sounded to declare a day of judgment. Some descriptions in the Jewish Midrash, or commentaries, even depict God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review.  All the people then pass in front of Him for judgment:

For it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls. (Leviticus 16:30)

It was also a time of self-examination:

For nearly twenty-six hours—from several minutes before sunset on Tishrei to after nightfall on Tishrei—we “afflict our souls”: we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from marital relations. (Multiple sources)

Thus, these trumpets, or shofar, in Revelation had tremendous significance with these Jewish feasts 

 

The Shofar

The Trumpets blown by the angels in this part of Revelation are made of the horns of rams and called a shofar.  Unlike the musical sound of silver trumpets, these shofars produced loud blasts that sent out warnings or an alarm of impending attack or war. They represent in Revelation, therefore, the warnings of God’s judgments coming upon the earth:

And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. (Revelation 8:6)

These blasts from the shofars initiate the judgments of God over the physical universe, even including the sun, moon, and stars, described by the Apostle Paul as longing for the revealing of the sons of God and to be freed from the slavery of sin:

For  consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:18-22)

The first four shofars warn of judgments on the Earth that will lead to Christ’s coming, therefore, while the next three are called “woes” that signify the judgments brought upon those of the Earth who have rejected God. As Peter declares, the heavens will burn and the elements will all melt with heat. These warnings sound to declare the coming of Jesus Christ, bringing with Him the “new Heaven and new Earth”:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (II Peter 3:10-13)

The First Four Shofars Sound

The first shofar sounds, signaling the warnings that appear on the earth and in the heavens telling men to repent:

The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. (Revelation 8:7)

The second shofar refers to “a great mountain burning with fire” an allusion to Jeremiah’s prophecy that describes the destruction of Babylon.

The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed. (Revelation 8:8-9)

This “great mountain” alludes to the mountain Jeremiah prophesied about that refers to Babylon:

“But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes,” declares the Lord.

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
Who destroys the whole earth,” declares the Lord,
“And I will stretch out My hand against you,
And roll you down from the crags,
And I will make you a burnt out mountain.
“They will not take from you even a stone for a corner
Nor a stone for foundations,
But you will be desolate forever,” declares the Lord.  (Jeremiah 51:24-26)

Many Bible teachers have speculated on what this Babylon represents, including the idea that it is the Roman Catholic Church, among religions, and the Unites States of America, among nation-states.  
     Again, I believe that this kind of speculation is unfruitful, for John’s visions are relevant to the Church of all ages, as it says in Chapter 22:7:  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”  And John is told not to seal up the book, for the “time is near” (22:10).
     We will see more about the destruction of Babylon in future chapters of Revelation, but for now, we must conclude that this Babylon is not a nation, but a symbol called “mystery Babylon,” described in Revelation 17.
 
The third angel sounds (verse 10), and the prophecy describes a star that falls from Heaven upon earth. The star’s name is “Wormwood,” which is a bitterness that permeates the waters on Earth:
The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter. (Revelation 8:10)
The fourth angel sounds his shofar, which signifies how one-third of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened:
The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way. (Revelation 8:12)
What follows are the soundings of the next three shofars, but first we see an eagle flying above sending a message to all the inhabitants of the Earth:
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”
This eagle, perhaps, is a symbol of swift judgment descending suddenly from the heavens, the mighties of birds of prey executing judgment on the unwary.

The Three “Woes”

The Fifth through the Seventh trumpets are called “woes,” and they depict the judgments that fall upon those on Earth who do not repent or turn to God:
“Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” (Revelation 8:13)
  

The Fifth Shofar

When the fifth Angel blows the shofar, locusts come upon the Earth.  These locusts mirror the locusts in the plagues of Egypt in the time of Moses.  They represent the consequences of  rebellion against God’s will and Word.  These locusts torment men who do not repent.
Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Revelation 9:3-4)
 

The Sixth Shofar

The sixth angel sounds the shofar, warning of the “Army from the East,” depicted as the “great river Euphrates,” the dividing line between Israel and Babylon:    
Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.  (Revelation 9:14-16)
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.  (9:20-21)
Clearly these warnings are insufficient to bring about repentance among humankind.
 
 

Another Interlude

Again, we have a pause (between the 6th and 7th trumpets) to reveal the condition of God’s people in the midst of persecution, as well as the impending appearance of Christ and the judgment of the rebellious.
 
First, in Chapter 10, we view the moment when John sees another angel who holds a “little book which was open” (Revelation 10:2) This encounter is  at least partially explained by Daniel’s encounter with Michael the Archangel, described as the “great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people” (Daniel 12:1).  
 
In Daniel’s prophecy, we read that when Michael arises at the end of time “there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Daniel 12:1).  
And at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-3)
Daniel is further told, however, to “seal up” the book “until the end of time” (Daniel 12:3)
But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”  (Daniel 12:4)

It seems, then, that the book in Daniel’s prophetic vision is the same book the angel holds in Revelation, and it is the same one that is given to John to eat.

Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard  again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”  (Revelation 10:8-9)

The story does not end here, however, for John is then told to prophesy again to “many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Revelation 10:11).  The words John eats will be sweet at first, for the news of Christ’s coming is good, but the prophecy is bitter in the end, for the final judgment is severe and final.
 
This final judgment will be sweet for those who are on the way to salvation, but it will be bitter for those who have refused to repent and turn to the lordship of Jesus Christ, who will judge all upon His return.  This will be the final “woe.”
We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:17-18)

The Two Witnesses

The final part of this third vision describes what John sees concerning the two Witnesses, also called the “two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (Revelation 11:4). Who are these two Witnesses and what do they represent?

The Apostle Paul uses the example of the olive tree to describe the True Church which consists of both Jews and Gentiles (see Romans 11), and as we have seen, the lamp stands represent the Churches in the first of John’s visions in Revelation (see Chapters 1- 3).

Concerning the Two Witnesses, In Deuteronomy, Chapter 19, Moses declared,

A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.  (19:15)

These Two Witnesses in Revelation, therefore, symbolize the perfect and complete testimony of the truth of God’s Word. Thus, the prophetic Word of God revealed through these two symbolic witnesses irrefutably condemns those who continue in rebellion against God and His Christ:

And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. (Revelatin 11:5-6)

 

As powerful as they are, the prophecies of these two Witnesses are ultimately repudiated, however, by those in rebellion against God. As always happens, when the Word of God goes forth, persecution always follows:  

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Revelation 11:7-8)

The “beast” in this passage represents the persecution that arises whenever the Word of God goes forth, a persecution that arises from worldly powers and authorities.

Thus, those who have rejected the Word of God through His Witnesses rejoice, for no longer do they have to hear the message of repentance.  But even though they lie dead in the street, the two Witnesses are soon raised again:

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. (Revelation 11:11)

After the two Witnesses ascend to Heaven, judgment appears on earth, followed by repentance:

And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Revelation 11:13)

 

Seventh Shofar

When the Seventh Angel sounds the shofar, there is praise and worship in Heaven:  “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
     Thus, the Third Vision John saw in his visions begins with a unique perspective on God’s plan, the “Mystery of God’s Will,” for the people of God. It begins with the going forth of the Gospel, or Good News, but focuses on the persecution and judgment that arises when the powers of the enemy, the world powers, come against the True Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles who have been sealed on their foreheads.

Conclusion

     Please remember that this third vision in Revelation is a message that like a dream is sent in the language of signs and symbols. Thus, it must not be interpreted literally or understood necessarily in terms of current events.
     These visions were given by God through John to the Church of all ages, and it brings both the sweet taste of love and gratitude for God’s love and acceptance, as well as the bitterness of regret for those who ultimately reject this grace of God.
     Next we will study in Revelation the Fourth Vision John saw on the Island of Patmos, Chapters 12-14. 
 
 
 
 

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation Part II

The Second Vision: Chapters 4-7

 The beginning of John’s Second Vision in Revelation is indicated by the following statement:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Revelation 4:1-2)

     In his vision John sees Heaven.  The pattern for Heaven was seen by Moses in the Book of Exodus, when he was told to follow the pattern when building the Tabernacle the Jews used in the wilderness.

     This is a part of what John saw:

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. (Revelation 4:5-6)

     The following scenes depict all that has unfolded since Christ’s first appearance on Earth as the human Son of God, His birth, resurrection, and ascension.  John sees a re-enactment of the scene when Christ appeared before God’s Throne in Heaven after His resurrection:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:18-23)

     John looks and sees a book with seven seals.  This book is not a prediction of the extreme tortures and judgments that will occur some day in the supposed seven-year tribulation period. Instead, John weeps greatly because no one is found who is worthy to open the book and break its seals (5:2), to bring to pass what God reveals as His solution to the problems of sinful captivity.  

     The book John sees, therefore, represents the unfolding of God’s will in redeeming humankind and the Earth from their bondage to Satan.  Only the perfectly sinless Son of God, a human without sin like a sacrificial lamb, could bring about this redemption.

     However, one of the elders around the throne of God tells John, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”  

     This passage alludes to the Word of the Lord given through Nathan the prophet in the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the King from the line of David, whose kingdom will have no end.  Speaking to King David, Nathan says,

When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  (II Samuel 7:12)

This descendant was Jesus.  Instead of a lion, therefore, John sees a Lamb “as if slain”:

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

     Thus, the figure of the Lamb is clearly a depiction of the risen Jesus Christ, revealed as the antitype of the lamb of sacrifice in the Old Covenant.  

     The rest of the Second Vision concerns the breaking of the seals, for Jesus Christ is celebrated as the One who is found to be worthy.

     Unlike the picture posted at the beginning of this article, the book John saw was the kind of scroll that could only be read as it was unwound:

Unwinding was impossible, however, until each part of the scroll was loosed from the bondage of the previous seals in their order.  

     Also, to understand their significance, we must not look for future political events or historical figures, but patterns of what always happens when the Good News of the Kingdom goes forth into the world.

     Nor are the seals representative of future events necessarily, for they do not depict single events during the “Great Tribulation.” Instead, the Book of Revelation is meant to be a blessing to anyone who reads it, so the principles apply to the Church in every age, not just the Church of the End Times.  I doubt very much that those living in the Early Church period were overly concerned with what might happen in two thousand years, or might have been delighted to learn the name of the supposed Antichrist.

     What follows, then, are descriptions of what happens when Jesus Christ opens the seals, not just once for a specific time at the end of the age, but for all times during the Church Age until His second coming.

The First Seal:  

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.  (Revelation 6:1-2)

The rider on a white horse is not a false messiah, or the Antichrist, as some have suggested.  Instead, the rider has a crown who goes forth to conquer.  This is a picture of Jesus the King who, with His Church, goes forth into the world to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  

     To understand this image, we need to see that the white horse should be consistent with the white horse in the 19th Chapter:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. (6:1-2)

Thus, the white horse represents the proclamation of the Gospel, the going forth of the message Jesus has commanded.  The Lamb, Jesus Christ, has been crowned, and He is going forth to conquer and make manifest the fact that all power is given to Him in Heaven and on Earth.  And we in the Church are part of His campaign, for He told us that since all power has been given to Him, we are to go forth into all the world in His name and spread the good news of His Kingdom (see Matthew 28:19-20).  We are not to conquer territory, for His Kingdom is not of this world.  

The Second Seal:

When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him. (Revelation 6:3-4)

    This passage is reminiscent of the passage in the first chapter of Zechariah, another story of a rider on the red horse, written in a similar apocalyptic style:  

I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine, with red, sorrel and white horses behind him. Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” And the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “I will show you what these are.” And the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered and said, “These are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” So they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees and said, “We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet.”

Clearly, this passage is figurative, not literal, but its emphasis is slightly different from the red horse in Revelation, for in that passage power is given to the rider to take peace from the Earth, and men begin slaying one another. Instead, the passage in Revelation depicts what happens when the Gospel is preached.  Immediately, the enemy responds with persecution, depicted as the rider on the red horse just as Jesus declared that in the world we will have persecution.

The Third Seal:  

When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5-6)

     This seal does not depict famine, necessarily, for there is plenty of food.  Only those who are able to purchase it may buy, however. This vision, therefore, depicts another form of persecution, for oil and wine are available if believers will only bow to the emperor or follow the dictates of the secular or state powers.  If not, they will lose their jobs or not be allowed to join the workers union. Thus, if they cannot work, they will have no money and no food.

The Fourth Seal:  

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8)

     Death and Hades are named in this passage, written on an ashen-colored horses.  These names describe the continued persecution against the Church through martyrdom, as well as natural disasters, leading to death, all of which Christians must endure. 

The Fifth Seal:  

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.  (Revelation 6:9-11)

     The opening of this seal depicts the martyrs of the saints seen under the altar.  They cry out saying, “How long, Oh Lord, will you refrain from judgment?” (6:10). The response to their cry is that they must wait until their number is complete.  Thus, God withholds judgment because of His mercy.  God is good if He punishes sin, but He is also longsuffering, withholding judgment until “whosoever will” may come.  

The Sixth Seal:

The kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17)

     The opening of this seal reveals a terrible picture of rebellion against God and the punishments that fall upon the Earth as a result.  In the midst of the earthquakes and terror, men do not repent of their rebellion but only try to hide from God’s presence.  

 

A Pause

     What follows before the opening of the Sventh Seal is a pause, or interlude, that depicts the Church of Jesus Christ in glory, all of its members clothed in white robes and sealed as bondservants of the Lord. The Church is described using two pictures, or representations:

The 144,000

     Before the final judgment, four angels holding back the wrath say, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” (v. 3)

     Therefore, the first picture of the Church appears as those who have been “sealed,” the 144,000, a symbolic number made up of other symbolic numbers (3 x 4 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10) and described in terms of the “tribes” of Israel.  

     These are not exactly the same tribes usually used to describe the Nation of Israel precisely, but instead the numbers come from, and represent, the True Israel made up of both Jews and Gentiles. See these past articles:

The New Covenant with Israel

The New Covenant with Israel

     To show that these are not simply the Tribes of Israel that are described under the Old Covenant, the tribes are mixed in order, and some are even deleted from the Old Testament record.  Thus, Reuben, Abraham’s firstborn, is not listed first, as was usual, but Judah is listed first instead, and Reuben is listed second.  Manasseh is listed, but his tribe does not appear in Genesis the 49th Chapter, where the other tribes are listed, while Ephraim was also a child of Joseph, but he is not listed. 

Therefore, this listing represents the True Israel (the perfect Church), consisting of those who have been sealed.

The Great Multitude:

     The next depiction of the True Church begins in Chapter 7, where John sees a “great multitude” that is uncountable, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues (v. 9).

     At this point, no better description of the True Church exists in Scripture, I believe, as long as the term “great tribulation” is not misinterpreted and described only in terms of seven years:

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  (Revelation 7:13-17)

     Jesus said before His death and resurrection, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  

     The idea that the great tribulation only lasts seven years is based on a misreading of Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, which I have discussed in a previous article which disproves this teaching. (Click here to read:  Imposed Meanings)

The Seventh Seal: 

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (Revelation 8:1-2)

     John’s Second Vision in Revelation ends, appropriately enough, with the statement that there was “silence in Heaven.” This pause of a half an hour signals the beginning of John’s Third Vision.

Next Time:  

In the next article, we will continue to see how the Kingdom of God and His Christ are revealed in the Apocalypse, or Revelation, of John. 

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation Part I

 

The Book of Revelation, written down by the Apostle John, has much to say about the Kingdom of God, but it is primarily this book, unfortunately, that is the basis of the teaching that the reign of Christ will only begin after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This teaching says that Christ will be crowned to set up His throne in Jerusalem, where He will rule on Earth for one thousand years.

     The Book of Revelation was written to the whole Church, however, not just the Church that exists in what is termed “the later days.” What is written must make sense and pertain to the Church of all ages, for as John wrote,

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

The book belongs to all who read it, for the time is near to them also, as Jesus said in John’s vision, “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book. . . .Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Revelation 22:7, 10).     

     In addition, Revelation belongs to a particular genre, or “kind” of writing called apocalyptic literature.  Thus, the book as a whole contains content much like parts of the books of Daniel and Ezekiel that include such strange images, as in the following passage:

Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. (Ezekiel 1:5-7)

Therefore, Revelation is a book that was not intended to be taken literally, for it was “signified” to John, as the word “communicated” is best translated in the Authorized Version, “He sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Revelation 1:1 KJV).  Thus, the visions John saw on the Island called Patmos were revealed to him in the form of signs and symbols, a waking vision.  

     For example, in the first chapter, Jesus is depicted as having a sword coming out of His mouth (Revelation 1:16).  We must not make the mistake of seeing this as a literal sword, however. Instead, it is a picture or representation of the “sword of the spirit,” the “Word of God” described by the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:17) and by the writer of the Book of Hebrews (4:12) 

     This example of the sword reveals that the mysteries in Revelation, the many images and symbols in the Book of Revelation, may be discovered and understood in the context of other parts of the Scriptures.

     In addition, this book must not be read and understood chronologically or linearly.  It is not a “history” of the Church through two thousand years and beyond, but instead it portrays a series of visions that show patterns that are relevant to the Church of all ages.  

     Again, John shows this relevance to the whole Church clearly in the final chapter of the book, where he says of the angelic messenger:

And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place. And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:6-7)

     Therefore, John’s visions are comprehensible only to those believers who have been given the Keys to the Kingdom of God, not to those who are “outside” trying to see inside.  

     The message of Revelation was also important in the Early Church period, for example, so that early Christians did not invite more persecution by revealing what some of the meanings were in difficult times.  Can you imagine what the Emperor Diocletian might have thought of John’s book if he had known its true and unveiled content?  

     Therefore, it is clear that the Scriptures as a whole are the keys that unlock the mysteries of the visions John saw.  We have been given the Bible as a kind of code book which holds the keys to unlocking the enigmas and obscure meanings of the text. These are mysteries that God wants to reveal to His people.

     Finally, the book of Revelation focuses on a revelation, or a “revealing,” of Jesus Himself and His Body, the Church, not just the horrors of a supposed tribulation and His second coming. Based on what this book describes, Christ’s work has been finished, just as He said on the cross, “It is finished.” Thus, there is nothing more to do except to finish, or complete, what has already been decreed.

 

 

An Outline of Revelation

     The book consists generally of seven visions in which the overall plan of God is revealed from seven different perspectives.  In varying degrees of specificity, we see both the entire picture, as well as different details, not necessarily with the same degree of specificity or in the same language.

Also, John sees his visions “in the Spirit,” not with the eyes of the flesh. Even what we see with our own eyes may be difficult to recall and write, but John is charged with writing what he sees in a spiritual vision, no easy task:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Revelation 4:1-2)

     Each one of the seven visions portrays in different ways the story of the coming of Christ Jesus to redeem us from the Kingdom of Darkness, ruled over by Satan, followed by Christ’s victory over Satan, followed further by the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Christ’s reign on earth is then depicted and the final defeat of Satan is accomplished as the Gospel goes forth to the world and the Church is called to Heaven as the Bride of Christ.

     All of the visions John sees are also begun in different ways that show a transition to a new perspective.  Here are some examples:

  • First Vision (1-3): I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see. . .”
  • Second Vision (4-7): After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.
  • Third Vision (8-11):  When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
  • Fourth Vision (12-14): A great sign appeared in heaven. . .
  • Fifth Vision (15-16): Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues.
  • Sixth Vision (17-19):  Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot. . .” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness.
  • Seventh Vision (20-22): Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 

     Here, then, are descriptions of these seven visions with appropriate interpretations and explanations. These understandings are not my own entirely, but they are compilations of the teachings of many Bible scholars and teachers.  The teachings of Malcom Smith have been particularly enlightening and helpful.

 

First Vision: Chapters 1-3

     John’s first vision should not be read or understood literally, for it sets the parameters for the rest of the visions in the book.  First, the vision was communicated, or “signified,” through Christ’s messenger (1:1), and for our purposes in this study, John clearly states that we, the recipients, have been made to be a “Kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1:6)

     What are we looking for?  Significantly, when He appears, every eye will see Him, for He is not a thief, as some have portrayed Him, coming secretly to rescue His followers.  The word “thief” in Jesus’ teaching refers only to the suddenness of His coming, not to the idea that He will not be seen.

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.  (Revelation 1:7)

 

John’s Visions Should Not Be Interpreted Literally

     Two images immediately appear in the vision, the sharp sword out of Christ’s mouth (1:16) and the “Seven lampstands.”  These images are immediately interpreted by John for us as the seven churches addressed. Are these churches symbolic? 

     For example, do the seven churches represent the different “ages” of the church throughout history, as some have suggested?  Some have taught that the universal “Church” of today is represented by the final church addressed in Revelation, the church in Laodicea: “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (3:16).

     I do not believe that this teaching is correct, for these churches represent the different kinds of churches that have existed at any time in the church age since the ascension of Christ.  John makes clear, however, that those people Christ has redeemed with His blood are all part of the Kingdom of God 

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  (Revelation 1:4-6)

And John’s vision also provides for us interpretations of what some of the symbols or images represent.  

He who overcomes, I will make him apillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.  (Revelation 3:120

     We understand, therefore, that the true spiritual Church is portrayed in Revelation not only as parts of a building, the Temple of God, but also as citizens of a city, the “New Jerusalem.”  Thus, our destiny is not to live in geographical Palestine but in a Heavenly city, a spiritual city not made with hands.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

 

Next Time: The next article in this series will focus on John’s second vision and the breaking of the Seven Seals.

The Kingdom of God, Part III

Paul’s Kingdom Message to the Thessalonians

     Believing that they were defending Yahweh from heresies, many of the Jews in Thessalonica were incensed.  After hearing the preaching of Paul for three Sabbaths, many had believed the message and began following Paul’s message about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But the remaining Jews became extremely jealous and decided to attack Paul and his followers.  

     These Jews found some wicked men from the marketplace to help them implement their plans.  They engaged with these men and incited them to form a mob.  They surrounded the house of Jason, where Paul and his followers had been staying, seeking to bring them out to face the mob.

     When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of his friends before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

     Thus, they stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things.  As a result, the new believers gathered together and agreed that they needed to send Paul, Timothy, and Luke away for their safety.  However, everywhere Paul went he preached the Kingdom of God and declared that Jesus Christ is King of the Kingdom.

 

 

A Place Prepared for Us

     The Apostle Paul fully declared that the Kingdom of God arrived when Jesus fulfilled His mission on Earth and when He ascended to His throne at the right hand of God (Ephesians), not in Jerusalem. The moment came when Satan, the accuser of the brethren was “cast down” out of Heaven.
     Notice why Paul says the “eyes of the heart” may be enlightened: 
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
     These are all the result of Christ’s resurrection and coronation.  
These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every  name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:18-23)
     What are the ramifications of these facts about Christ’s coronation?  It means that we do not await a coming kingdom, one whose King still needs to defeat His enemies.  All things have been put under His feet, and since we are part of His body, we also reign over the forces of darkness, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
     This position of power does not exactly fit the scenarios portrayed by the many Bible teachers today who diminish the scope and power of God’s Kingdom reigned over by Christ Jesus.

Our Place in Heaven

     Where will we be when we enter our eternal destiny, therefore? Will it be on Earth for one thousand years, waiting for the final judgment?
     Jesus made clear that our place will be to be with Him in Heaven with God the Father.  In fact, Jesus claimed that He was going to prepare a place for us in Heaven to be with Him:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. (John 14:1-3)

     The Apostle John in this passage also answers the question we have asked.  The term “in my Father’s house” refers to God’s residence in Heaven.  Yes, God is omnipresent, and the Scriptures reveal this pervasive existence:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  (Psalms 139:7-8)

     However, John the Apostle writes in his Book of Revelation about the scene he saw in his vision, a vision of Heaven and Heaven’s throne:

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. (Revelation 4:2-4)

     Jesus also prayed that all of His followers would be with Him in glory, including the Gentiles:

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:20-24)

 

Paul’s Vision

     We know that after being caught up to the third Heaven to see inexplicable things, the Apostle Paul describes in his Letter to the Corinthians the place where we will be when we die:

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. (II Corinthians 5:1-3)
Paul continues to describe this place with Christ in the glory of Heaven, saying it will be our home as we await the final judgment day of the Lord:
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)

Our Destiny as the Bride of Christ

     Our place in Heaven is also revealed in the analogy, or “mystery,” that connects believers with Christ, just as a bride is linked to her bridegroom.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
According to the Old Testament, a bride who was found not to be a virgin was stoned to death:
But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.  (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)
     However, despite the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Christ the Bridegroom has assured that our purity, or “virginity,” has been restored as His bride:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:8-9)
     We as the Bride of Christ do not await the wrath of God.  Instead of being stoned, we await Christ’s coming again to receive us unto Himself, so we can partake of the Wedding supper and enjoy the consummation of our marriage with Christ. Like the ten virgins, or bridesmaids, who went out to meet the Bridegroom with their lamps of oil, we will rejoice at His coming.
     The final event begins when the Bridegroom goes to meet His bride and brings her back to the home he has prepared. The figure of the bride waiting with her companions to hear the voice of the groom when he arrives at her house to consummate the marriage is portrayed in Christ’s parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).
     Thus, the consummation of the Age is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ when we, the Bride of Christ, wait to hear the shout of Jesus and his companions when He arrives. At this time, the faithful still on Earth will be found to be “pure virgins.”  
     The Apostle Paul refers to this moment in the following passage:
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (II Corinthians 11:2-3)
     The final stage in the Jewish weddings of Bible times was the wedding feast, and this celebration is depicted in the Book of Revelation:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God. (Revelation 19:7–9)
 Next Time:  The next and final article on this topic will examine the Book of Revelation’s teachings about the Second Coming, while discovering that this apocalyptic text was inspired and written for the Church of all ages, not just the End Times.
 
 

The Kingdom of God, Part II

The Apostle Paul’s Kingdom Ministry

The primary theme of  the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the spread of the Gospel to the world.  The history of the Church begins with the ministry of Phillip to the Samaritans, even to an Ethiopian man (Acts 8).  

The story in Acts continues with the ministry of Saul of Tarsus, later the Apostle Paul, who began with the Jews scattered across the Macedonian lands, but also specifically ministering to the Gentiles in those lands.   

Paul’s history continues through Acts until the final chapter, when he is arrested in Jerusalem. Paul then appeals to Caesar as a Roman citizen.  Therefore, his appeal takes him on a journey to Rome, where he teaches and preaches first to the Jews:

When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. (Acts 28:23)

While in Rome, Paul also shared the Gospel with the Gentiles and “all who came to him” while he was held captive:
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.  (Acts 28:30-31)
Thus, the Great Commission was given by King Jesus to bring believers of all ages and peoples into His Kingdom, a kingdom that began at His first coming and will continue to grow until He comes again.  

Christ Jesus is King

Writing to the Gentiles in Ephesus, Paul prays for enlightenment so they will know the fullness of God’s plan:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19)
Paul then explains to the Ephesians the results of Christ’s ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension:
These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is Hisbody, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)
Notice that Jesus is revealed as already seated at the right hand of God, above all authorities in both Heaven and Earth. It makes little sense, therefore, for Jesus to be crowned again in an earthly Jerusalem when He has already ascended the throne in the Heavenly Jerusalem, far above all powers in both Heaven and Earth.

Christ the Cornerstone

The Apostle Paul then shares with the Ephesians their place in God’s plan, a “mystery” that includes them with all the saints, both Jews and Gentiles, all as parts of the “holy temple,” another way the Kingdom of God is described in the Word of God:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Paul relates to the Ephesians the reasons why the mystery of the Kingdom of God was kept hidden:  It was to show how God’s wisdom has been revealed through the Church and has resulted in the complete reign of Christ as King:  
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
The mission of the Church continues, therefore, to demonstrate the wisdom of God’s plan even to these “rulers and authorities” in Heaven, and as believers we do it both from here and in the heavenly realms.  

The Riches of Christ

In the following chapter, Paul reiterates his previous points, again mentioning the “mystery” of God’s grace to the Gentiles:
By revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;  (Ephesians 3:3-5)
Paul explains his meaning in the next few verses:
To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. (Ephesians 3:6-7)
Paul then explains his part in the revelation of this mystery:
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities inthe heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
Therefore, Jesus is the King who has already been crowned and is coming soon, not one who will be crowned when He appears in God’s time.

To Be Continued

We will examine this teaching about the Kingdom of God in Part III of this series, looking at two analogies, or metaphors, that describe the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God: Part I

Probably the most common belief about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is that He will come to set up His Kingdom on Earth and reign from Jerusalem on a physical throne.

For this doctrine to be true, the entirety of the Scriptures needs to point to this same conclusion, so let’s see what the Word of God says about the Kingdom of God and God’s plan for the final age to come.

The Mystery of  The Kingdom 

Jesus said that His followers must enter the Kingdom of God like a child: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).

Thus, a child’s simple faith and ability to enter into realms of wide imaginatione are parallel to the believer’s faith, the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), because the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom.  It doesn’t come with “observation,” and flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, just as the Apostle Paul wrote:

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (I Corinthians 15:50)

Thus, the idea that the coming Kingdom is a physical one is illogical given the makeup of the Kingdom Jesus and the apostles proclaimed in the New Testament age.

 

The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You

A number of passages that describe Christ’s earthly ministry reveal that His purpose was to demonstrate and reveal the Kingdom in His person and through His mighty miracles.  For example, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Jesus also said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28)

This Kingdom, Jesus implied, will not begin in another two thousand years, but it actually began in the lifetime of those who were gathered there with Him in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions.  After His Transfiguration, for example, Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see both Mark 1:9 and Luke 9:27).  

After His Transfiguration, for example, Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see both Mark 1:9 and Luke 9:27).  

Such a statement must have raised great excitement among His followers, for they believed that the kingdom Jesus spoke about would be like the one King David ruled.  This is why, both before and after the Resurrection, they repeatedly asked Jesus,  “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:7). Even the Pharisees inquired of Jesus when He would restore the kingdom, although most likely they were trying to entrap Him (Luke 17:20).

After His resurrection, though, Jesus told his disciples, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  (Acts 1:6-8) 

 

Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God

Jesus operated in His ministry as though the Kingdom of God was already present, showing through His works that the kingdom had arrived: 

Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him.  (Luke 8:1)

And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. (Luke 9:2)  
But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:11).
In fact, Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God was not coming with signs to be seen, but that the Kingdom was right in their midst, or in their presence:
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst”  (Luke 17:20-21).
Therefore, since the Kingdom “cometh not with observation” (KJV), the Church’s mandate was not to look for the beginnings of the Kingdom of God, but instead for the Kingdom to be populated, made up of people from every nation and language.
 

A Different Kingdom Than Was Expected

What the disciples of Jesus also did not realize was that the Kingdom would consist not only of the Jews, but also of gentile believers:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16).

Thus, after His resurrection and before His ascension to Heaven, Jesus gave His Great Commission, telling them to go into all the world and preach the good news:   
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) 
We may now see clearly, therefore, what the disciples did not, at least at first:  The Kingdom of God would include people from every part of the world, from every nation and tribe, and would consist of believers and disciples from all times until the end of the age.  It has taken much time for this mandate to be fulfilled, and the time continues to this day.

Believers Are Also Told to Wait

On the other hand, the Scriptures seemed to signify that the Kingdom had not yet come, as in the following passage:
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. (Luke 19:11)
Thus, the disciples must have been confused; before the crucifixion, they were being led by their traditions and assumptions that because Jesus was travelling towards Jerusalem, He would soon assume the throne of an earthly kingdom, one they thought  would be similar to the Roman Empire and would take control over the Earth.  
Indeed, in the next few verses, Jesus even asked His disciples to appropriate a “colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat” (Luke 19:30) in order to ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah, as prophesied in Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  (Zechariah 9:9) 
Thus, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowds “took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13).
However, Jesus cleared up this confusion after His resurrection, when he continued to teach about the Kingdom of God: 
To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.  (Luke 24:25-27)
Jesus then gave the disciples their commission to go into the whole world, sharing the Gospel and bringing with them all who would enter the Kingdom of God.
This same Great Commission continued with the Apostle Paul’s ministry, a mission which led him to preach the good news to both the Jews and the Gentiles.  We will analyze Paul’s mission as it relates to the Kingdom of God in Part II of this series.

All May Prophesy

In Luke’s Gospel we find the following message from a series of teachings that Jesus gives his disciples:

And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it  be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him. (Luke 12:8-10)  

We definitely do not want to deny our Lord.  We need to be prepared to “confess” Him before anyone who asks for our testimony, whether in private conversation or in courts of law.

Jesus continues His lesson to the disciples in the following two verses:

When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.  (Luke 12:11-12)

This promise, given to us by Jesus Himself, is powerful and very encouraging, but it may be difficult for some to believe that the Holy Spirit will speak to them in a time of crisis, especially an extemporaneous word that they haven’t prepared in advance.  

However, as we assemble together, the Lord provides many opportunities to learn how to receive His promise of inspiration in times of persecution as we exercise the gifts He has given us through His Holy Spirit.

 

My Own Experiences

Frankly, aside from being questioned by the school principal one or two times (and exonerated!), I have not been overly concerned about being brought before the “rulers and authorities.”  Recent changes in the world and the increasing numbers of Christians being persecuted for their faith have brought this possibility closer to our lives, however.

The promises Jesus gives in these verses from Luke are exceptionally comforting, particularly for those who may have a strong aversion to any kind of public speaking, which includes most of us.  Studies have even shown that Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is more feared than dying.

The Fear of Public Speaking

When I was a child, the times I had to deliver a book report or even participate in “Sharing Time,” were traumatic, and I rarely wanted to participate orally in classes, especially without writing down first what I would say.  Today, I no longer fear speaking in public, either in large or small groups, but I credit the power of the Holy Spirit in my life for giving me both the confidence and the words to say when I need them.

The Apostle Paul provides many insights into how the Holy Spirit moved in the Churches of his day.  Unfortunately, many Christians do not understand his many admonitions and guidelines, much, to our detriment, for we do not exercise the gifts of the Spirit, and if we do we have the same problems Paul warns about.  

This is what he writes about prophecy, for example, mainly to resolve some of the abuses of the gift in operation:  

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.  (I Corinthians 14:29-33)

Paul lists this spiritual gift of prophecy among all twelve of the gifts in I Corinthians 12:7-11, but it is mentioned here in Chapter 14 in order to correct some of the abuses of these gifts, including selfishly seeking to be the focus of everyone’s attention, or not preferring one another and speaking out-of-turn.  

Above all, the gift of tongues was being exercised in Corinth without the gift of interpretation of tongues. A combination of both gifts was necessary for understanding what was being said. Thus, anyone new coming into the assembly was led to confusion, and disorder was the result:

So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.  (I Corinthians 14:9-11)

In addition, confusion existed in the Corinthian church, for people were interrupting one another or trying to speak all at the same time.  Somehow, they were misguided into thinking that if the message came from God, He had to be obeyed instantly when the inspiration was first received.  

However, Paul relates the following:

You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.  (I Corinthians 14:31-33). 

This exhortation means that Paul’s desire is that everything may be done “properly and in an orderly manner” as the Church gathers together ( verse 40).  

 

Misconceptions About the Gifts

Some major misconceptions still exist about these gifts in the Church today, however, which have led either to their misuse or to the lack of their use altogether.  Many who use this gift have been deceived into thinking that the gift of tongues is used to deliver a message from God to the assembly, leading many Bible teachers today to teach that the gift of tongues is no longer valid or needed, when actually the opposite is true in these later days.  As much as I value the written Scriptures as the final authority on teaching and doctrine, I know personally how few people are able to read even the simplest texts with thorough understanding. This is why Paul says, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted” (I Corinthians 14:31).  

Before His ascension, Jesus again promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5), and Jesus made clear that this promise is for the Church in every age and to the ends of the earth:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  

Later, Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost also clearly reveals that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was for the whole church in the “last days.”  Peter quotes from the Prophet Joel, and in doing so, he connects the gifts of tongues with the gift of prophecy, for particular use in the last days, even until now.   

Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost, however, clearly reveals that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was for the whole church in the “last days.”  Peter quotes from the Prophet Joel, and in doing so, he connects the gifts of tongues with the gift of prophecy for particular use in the last days, even until now.   

“And it shall be in the last days,” God says,
“That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.”  (Acts 2:17-18)

A careful examination of other relevant Scripture passages also reveals that all of the gifts were given to the Church for use in all ages for use in the uttermost parts of the world.  And the gift of tongues is not a message from God to the Church, but a message from the Church to God.  Paul makes clear that the gift of tongues is used for prayer, or to bless God in the Spirit:

Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. (I Corinthians 14:16-17)

If people do not know what is being said in a prayer of blessing, Paul asks, how will they say “Amen” to the prayer?  And Paul continues to place this gift’s operation in context:

I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.  (I Corinthians 14:18-19)

However, not only does the Apostle Paul extol this gift’s use in his own life, but nowhere does he forbid the proper exercise of this gift: “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues” (I Corinthians 14:39). 

 

Prophecy Guidelines

Paul instead advises the use of the gift of prophecy in the church assemblies because its operation needed no interpreter, being delivered in a known language.  Plus, the most significant uses of this gift in the assembly are not to predict the future or warn of a coming Shemitah or Blood Moon. Instead, the word of prophecy’s purpose is to bring exhortation, edification, and comfort to the Church, for God speaks personally to us through this inspired gift. 

Both of these speaking gifts of the Holy Spirit are similar, therefore, because they are both inspirationally received and delivered. In addition, through these gifts God gives believers experience and practice in speaking as the Holy Spirit gives us utterances (Acts 2:4, I Thessalonians 5:20).  

The Apostle Peter reiterates this same point when he writes, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God” (I Peter 4:11).

 

Preparations For Use

It is this same exercise of faith and power through the Holy Spirit that will give us the inspiration we may need if we are called before the rulers and the authorities in days of persecution.  And it is the same giftedness that allows us to give an answer to those who seek to know about our faith in Christ:  

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (I Peter 3:14-15)

Thus, it behoves us to practice the use of these gifts so that we will be prepared to hear the Lord’s voice spontaneously and inspirationally when we are called upon to make a defense of the Gospel.  

 

Exercising the Speaking Gifts

To use these gifts takes faith and trust in the Holy Spirit’s ability to bypass our brains, yet use our speaking organs to speak discernible truths.  We must first be filled with the Holy Spirit and continue to walk in the Spirit, as the following verses reveal:    

  • And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.  (Acts 2:4)
  • And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
  • And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. (Acts 5:18)
These verses demonstrate that God speaks to us through our spirits, not our souls.  In this carnal world we are accustomed to judging and evaluating everything we see and hear through our brains. However, the Word of God comes to us through our spirits which have been reborn.  Even God’s Word is useless to us if we receive it only through our minds, for it must be spiritually discerned, not mentally discerned.  
                 
Above all, we must strive to fill our hearts with the Word of God as revealed in the Scriptures, for Jesus said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).
This is Paul’s meaning in the following passage, where he describes how his teaching comes from the words revealed by the Holy Spirit, not learned in a classroom.  He brings to the Corinthians words of life because they are Holy Spirit inspired:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. (I Corinthians 2:12-13)

In the following verses, Paul continues to make this application clear:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:14-16)

The key to allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through us, therefore, is to begin speaking, not necessarily knowing what we are going to say, but allowing the Spirit to give us the words as we speak, or  “as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:4).

This inspiration takes faith and confidence, of course, for we must overcome our fear of pubic speaking, as well as speaking without preparation in writing:

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has ateaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (I Corinthians 14:26)

This also means that we need to have faith and confidence in one another in order to avoid speaking or hearing false doctrines in the Lord’s name, for as Paul wrote, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” (I Corinthians 14:29).  We must be willing to both correct and be corrected in order to ensure that it is indeed the Lord inspiring the utterance.