September 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Hearts I: Contentment in Discomfort

I am going to present two pieces of Scripture that are diametrically opposed to one another. They are going in two opposite directions spiritually. They are two different heart conditions of two different types of people. They produce two different reactions from God and two different outcomes.

Numbers 11:1~“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 

In Numbers 11 we see the murmuring of the people under Moses (God’s) provision and leadership. They didn’t have perfect lives but they certainly were not having a life under horrible subjugation in Egypt. In Egypt they had been slaves and had been suppressed and they wouldn’t have dared complain against Pharaoh. Yet here, in the wilderness we see them complaining against God who is infinitely greater than Pharaoh. It shows that their heads just were not strapped on too tight. Just as in the days of Moses, when we murmur against sovereign God’s provision and will, it actually reveals the lack of grace in our hearts. Complaining to God or sharing our struggle is biblical. We see exactly this in Psalms 6, 10 and 13 and in Lamentations. When we murmur and badmouth God it brings dishonor to Him. Doing things to bring dishonor to God is sinful.

Murmuring in a demeaning way shows a contaminated heart. The Epistle of Jude specifically states that the ungodly pervert or twist God’s grace (v.4) and that, “…these people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.” God clearly shows in this passage that grumblers, complainers or murmurs that pursue their own evil desires are people in rebellion against God. We know it from this passage and we know it from the account in Numbers 11. In Numbers God is angered and sends, “fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.” We see a similar incident in Exodus 17 when Moses strikes the rock for water. We clearly learn that malcontents and discontented hearts are the Devil’s own and we need to deal with them…especially when they are our hearts. If not…we are in rebellion against God. This is never a good place for our hearts to be.

When we complain we are never good witnesses to the Gospel. We show in our behavior that God’s promises to believers are not true. Discontent is the source of our warped outward projection to the world. Instead of shining like a city on a hill, discontented Christians suck the life right out of the Gospel with poor behavior. It just shows that we do not have the truth of the Gospel of Jesus in us. Instead, discontentedness shows that we do not trust in God's plans for us. We do not think that what He has planned for us is in our better interest. To murmur and rail against God in bad situations is to basically admit that we believe we know better than an omniscient God would. This of course is ludicrous and quite foolish.

The inverse of what we see in Numbers 11 is found in Philippians 4. Paul’s conversion is a call to suffering and discomfort but not a call to discontent.

Philippians 4:11-12 ~ “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 

In God’s economy or His way of working, a contented Christian is a discomforted believer. We need to recognize that God works through our hardship. We need to see that our discomfort is often our path to contentment in God Himself. If we look to the things in the world like the Israelites in Moses time did for contentment and comfort we can only be let down. If we look to God for everything which is what Paul eventually tells us to do in Philippians we find that we can even find contentment in our discomfort and trials. Why? Because we are looking past our trials to something eternal and above the suffering we are currently in. So what we find is that there is a huge difference between discomfort and discontent. Discomfort is a condition imposed on a person from the outside. Discontent is a poor internal condition allowed by our own heart and minds on the inside. Discomfort helps shape us into the people He wants us to be, discontent makes us into rebellious men with selfish hearts and godless agendas.

[Concluded in Part II]

September 16, 2014

Superhero Theology V: Alienated Aquaman

It was a toss-up on which biblical character I wanted to use when it came to the water or sea. I settled on Jonah being a biblical Aquaman because (1) There are a ton of theological things going on in the book of Jonah and (2) Noah never really actually went bodily into the water. It is ironic through that it was not Jonah the prophet that had control over the beasts and over the sea but God Himself that did. This is the case both with Noah and Jonah.

So in either story we see God's omnipotence straight up. Either way, Jonah gave me the segue I needed to make another theological superhero post. This one just happens to be hydrologically based.

Jonah 1: 15-17 ~ “So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Aquaman, err, I mean Jonah is commanded by God to go to Tarshish. Tarshish is at the southern tip of Spain near modern day Straits of Gibraltar. This location is amusing…because it is diametrically opposed to Nineveh which would’ve been in the absolute opposite direction in the area of modern day Iraq. (Jonah’s starting point was in Northern Israel near Nazareth). God told him to "arise, and go" instead Jonah "arose, and fled". Foolish man.

There is irony and humor all over this small book. The first irony is that the pagan seaman appear more pious than the reluctant prophet God has called to fulfill his will. Let us compare the "piety" (or should I say the impropriety) of Jonah to the true piety of the pagan seamen in Chapter 1. It is absolutely clear that the other sailors make better spiritual models than Jonah in a few episodes in this story.

Jonah 1:6 ~ “So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

First we see in Jonah 1:6, that although they all call out to their own gods, they at least have enough sense to call on a power larger than themselves when confronted with what appears to be an insurmountable situation or obstacle. The captain even goes as far as to tell Jonah to “call on your God!” Inadvertently, the captain is telling Jonah exactly what he should be doing: Calling on his God, Yahweh to get them out of this current predicament.

Interestingly, I must consider the “casting of lots” a biblical thing to do also. It was used by many in the Bible for important decisions including the selection of Judas’ replacement as an apostle. The idea is that a sovereign God controls all in His creation…and that includes the roll of the dice. In doing this it is not gambling if you are using it to call on God’s Will. 

"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." Proverbs 16:33. 

As would be expected, if every decision is the Lord’s, the lot landed on Jonah the guilty party. In verse 8 and 9 we see the sailors asking the “who, what, and where from” questions which Jonah dutifully replies that, he is Hebrew and he worships the Lord or the God who is “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” What a dufus! "The God who made the sea?". The sailors then have the correct and Godly response, they fear God and are terrified. They then pop the rhetorical question which amounts to “Jonah! You moron, what did you do?"

Even after Jonah gives them a logical course of action when he suggests that he be jettisoned overboard they are aggrieved at the prospect knowing that he is a Hebrew and a man of the Hebrew God (renowned as being powerful at this point judging by their reaction) and opt to row towards shore. When this fails they again petition the Lord for prerequisite forgiveness in the event Jonah dies when they are forced to toss him in the water. These may not be believers in Yahweh but they could very easily have become believers in Him had they been raised in different environments.

The icing on the cake in terms of a spiritual model of these sailors is in verse 16. Once they jettison Jonah and they realize the sea has calmed, their response is impeccable. They offered sacrifices to the Lord and made vows to Him. If some of these men didn’t eventually convert permanently to worship of Yahweh…I would be surprised. Jonah on the other hand is an embarrassment to Yahweh. In this entire story even the plants, weather and the sea obeys God’s will…but not Jonah. It takes until the end for him to bend to God’s will and even then it is a struggle. His natural bend is in the “other direction away from God”. A mediocre prophet at best.

Theologically we learn that God’s will, will be done regardless of whether or not one of His own people work to that end or a pagan does. We see the same in the story of Nebuchadnezzar in the story of Daniel. We also see God work through both the people and the elements just as we will see in the story of Jesus walking on the water. We see God’s long-suffering and patience with recalcitrant people. We see it in God's patience with the people of Nineveh and with Jonah himself. This should be theological assurance for us too.

September 13, 2014

Superhero Theology IV: The Fiery Hammer of God

Jeremiah 23:29: "Is not my word like fire, "declares the Lord, "and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?"

Uh, no, we do not have the hammer of Thor here. For our theological purposes it is the hammer of God. Why? Because Thor is a false Norse / Germanic pagan god and it is also because the picture fits the wordage in the Scripture above and the following post, that's why!

The theology in this Scripture isn't easy to see. The context of Jeremiah 23 is speaking of leaders, ministers, ministries and people that stand in lieu of God to communicate His truths. In context it is also an epilogue of three kings in Chapter 22 and serves as a warning about unrighteousness to Zedekiah whose reign is now beginning. In particular verse 29 is in a portion of Scripture that is drawing distinctions between the true prophets of God and false prophets. God is essentially saying that false prophets are frivolous and dangerous dreamers. It then leads to the verses in the spotlight…

“I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds?  They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord" Jeremiah 23:25-29

In this passage the false prophets are shown the origins of their own lies. Their lies are from the deceit of their own hearts and minds (sin). Their hearts and minds have been divorced from Scripture and God. They are therefore debased and demonic. The effect is to lead others away from God and forget God. That is the clear calling-card of the false prophet. They may at first do things to bring attention to themselves and seek unmerited gain but in the end, they just end up serving as a tool of Satan to deceive people and lead them astray including themselves. They start to believe their own press.

So where is the theology in this post? It is in God’s word through His true prophets in Jeremiah's time (the Bible today) in contrast to the false prophets. A true prophet will align with Scripture and bring men to God, not drive them away from Him with lies and deception. It is as verse 29 says, “like a fire and a hammer that breaks rock to pieces.” It is no laughing matter and later verses will rebuke the people of Israel for deriding and mocking Jeremiah in his call for God. The worst mockery though comes through those that will presuppose God and stand defiantly in opposition to God’s true speakers of His word (prophets, preachers). God nor His word will be mocked without a severe hammering and searing consequences as these verses tell us.

Jeremiah first says God’s word was wheat, because souls are sustained by it. He compares the chaff to the false prophets. As for the fire and hammer? They are images of the word of God and every man called to ministry in the Christian Faith is called to preach the word of God. Are we to water it down? Do we dull its edge? Does a lumberjack purposely blunt his axe before cutting wood? Does blacksmith break the handle of the hammer that will forge hot steel? Listen folks! The word has the ability or power under its own merit to burn impurities off and crush unrighteousness like a mighty hammer to stone! Does not the true word of God build people up and the false word of deceivers harden the wicked? The wickedness then drives them farther down the path of sinners?

The fire and hammer are symbolic. The fire spoken of here has a destroying and refining effect to it. It can raze things to a pile of ash but at the same time it can burn away impurities. It can warm and can sustain life but can also incinerate it. It will consume trash which is akin to saying that the rubbish spewed by false teachers and prophets will not last but God’s word will. 

The hammer on the other hand is a force that can be used to subdue or destroy as in the case of deceit and lies of false prophets. It can also be used to build. Additionally, the hammer used in conjunction with the flame can be used to forge and make things stronger or it can be used to mold things into the shapes that they need for God’s purposes. How many of us have experienced that personally? Quite a few I would imagine. 

The fire and hammer can therefore be viewed not only as images of wrath and judgment but also of love and building of people. The difference? 

Intent of the hearts of the people wielding them.

It was the people’s hearts drifting away from God that would reap them the judgment of the fire and the hammer. It would be their obedience that would bring the positive building, shaping and cleansing of the same element and tool.

It is in obedience to the word that believers are completed (2 Corinthians 10:6). It is by hearing the word that men gain salvation (emphasis mine).

Romans 10:14-17 ~ “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

The word is life giving but it can also be life taking. The word is not only self-sustaining…it can profoundly affect others. It can be despised or loved. Like God it needs neither. It stands on its own. It is absolute just as God is. It gains no benefit from man nor does it degrade in the face of man. It is what man is to be measured to and man cannot stand next to it without faltering. It is food that sustains the righteous and poison (judgment) to those that will purposely revile it. Those that choose to ignore it will remain ignorant and those that heed it will avoid death.

September 10, 2014

No Laughing Matter

I guess I’m going to need to make note of this study and start applying it to everyday life. I am often quick with a joke or an avid practitioner of wit and sarcasm. I figured as long as the joke is clean or doesn’t cause anyone undue duress, all is fair game. After studying the Scriptures, in particular Paul’s comment in Ephesians 5:4, I have come to a different conclusion. The verse in question goes like this…

Ephesians 5:4 ~ “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving“

At face value it appears to say nothing about witty sarcasm. It is also clear that coarse language and profanity should be grouped in under the category of "foolish talk" and "crude joking" as corroborated in Ephesians  4:29, Colossians 3:8. It is often assumed because this verse is bracketed both before and after with mentions of sexual immorality (v.3 and 5), that it too is referring to crude sexual jokes. Here is part of the problem with saying this passage only dwells on sexual humor and therefore justifies usage of sarcasm as fair game. The previous and later verses also speak of impurity or uncleanliness. These impurities can be either physical (sexual) or moral impurity. In other words the jokes don’t just need to be sexual to be wrong.

I have always been one to deliver quick or witty statements to people when the opportunities present themselves. I have been included among those that find sarcasm an acceptable form of humor. The wittier a response the better I appreciate the joke. Sarcasm is a thinking man’s gibe... I have justified myself by saying that sarcasm is acceptable by citing the story of the Canaanite woman’s faith in Matthew 15 as both witty and sarcastic. The Lord got the joke and even seemed to encourage her tenacity.

Matthew 15:21-28 ~ “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The problem is that this exchange was not in jest. It was done in deadly earnest. She was not joking, she was ἔκραζεν/ekrazen/crying-out which means an outcry in grief or pain and she was looking for mercy. It appears she probably was starving because she had to beg for food. She had nothing left to loose so she delivered to Jesus the hard truth of her condition while simultaneously acknowledging who Jesus was, Lord and Master. She saw this approach to the Lord as an all-or-nothing proposition. The Lord knew he could help this woman so the anxiety she felt in her outcry is not reciprocated by Jesus. He merely acknowledges her plight and the truth of her statement and rewards her tenacity and faith when she comes begging from Jesus. There is no sarcasm here as much as it is a plea of desperation peppered with bitter truths.

So this passage really cannot be used to justify sarcasm without removing it from its original context and inserting it in a mere joking manner as mentioned by Paul. So why else has my mind begun to change about the nature of sarcasm and inevitably facetiousness? Let us revisit Ephesians 5:4.

The word Paul uses for course jesting or crude joking could mean inappropriate sexual jokes but it means more than that. The word is εὐτραπελία/eutrapelia means "well-turned" or the ability to turn something around instantly with graceful skill like an acrobat. It is the ability to turn words around or purposely use them in a way not intended to solicit a reaction (good or bad). The problem lies in the context this statement is being made in by Paul. Paul is using it in a negative or bad context associated with immorality. Furthermore it is indeed grouped in with sexual immorality. This means the word then stops being about clean or wholesome wit and becomes something totally different. It becomes course and facetious (and possibly sexual).

Facetiousness as a trait is not about humor. When a person is facetious its not so much about being funny as it is about being dark and malevolent. I would even go as far as saying that being sarcastic and facetious is to be latently hostile and sinister. A facetious person is primarily characterized by a snide and sneering attitude. This gives the sarcastic or facetious person an air of superiority and intellectual arrogance. This is not Christian, it is condescending and mockery. Only God is in the position to condescend. These biting words do not build trust, they foment animosity and distrust. It makes people the butt of jokes.
In the end sarcasm just becomes caustic wordplay intent on demeaning someone. Paul lists facetiousness and sarcasm as just as dangerous to the Christian as sexual immorality and covetousness. Is it really that bad? I would have to say yes, it is. Why? Because of the frame of mind it puts the practitioner of sarcasm in. They are indeed in a condescending position, an ability given rightly only to God. The practitioners of this “course humor” is therefore patronizing their victim and that means they are being haughty. What has the Bible said about the haughty?

Proverbs 16:18 ~ “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Please note that the Bible doesn’t say that you need to be haughty to fall, you only need a spirit of haughtiness.

Laughing and jokes are good things. They are part of the range of emotions given to man who is created in the image of God. Proverbs even tells us…

Proverbs 17:22 ~ “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Joking and humor can foster a relationship of trust and endearment. This changes though when the intent of the joking changes. Sarcasm does not come from a joyful heart, it comes from a highly critical one. If you are doing something humorous and it is clean humor that doesn’t demean and debase someone, you are on safe ground. If your intent is to cut someone up or put them down (even a little), your heart is totally in the wrong place. Think about it for a second folks. Is putting someone down and making them look foolish really that funny? I suspect not. This includes self-depreciating humor or sarcasm directed at one’s self. God made us all in His image. Snide or self-depreciating humor about one’s self ends up murdering or undermining one’s own character. A character that was intended to reflect a divine image.

Instead we are called to give thanksgiving. Instead of cutting other people down we are to lift God up.

I guess a few of us are going to need to re-evaluate what we think is funny…because sin is no laughing matter.

September 7, 2014

Superhero Theology III: The Apostle Flash

This post is probably the most extensively researched post of the nearly 1300 I have written for SoulJournaler. The sheer magnitude of searching Scripture to trace about 20 to 30 years of Paul's life after his conversion was insane. What follows in this post is the biblical travelogue of the Apostle Flash, er…eh, the Apostle Paul. What I have come to realize is that Paul was relentless and tireless in his spreading of the Gospel. He traveled more on behalf of the Gospel two-thousand years ago than most of us would be willing to travel today even with the vehicles we have at our disposal.

At the point of Paul's conversion, Paul is literally flashed or singed by God to get his attention and get him to convert. It is the Damascus Road experience. 

Acts 9:3 ~ “As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him.”

It is ironic that Paul's conversion was on a road. Besides the Lord, it will be roads that will be Paul's constant companions for the remainder of his life. Paul rambled on for the Gospel both verbally and physicallyAfter Paul’s conversion which pretty much came on him like a flash of lightning, it is as if Paul can’t get where he’s going fast enough most of the time. Paul’s normal modus operandi or choice of movement is usually in haste. He is a man on a mission... literally. He was on missionary journeys. He’s here and then he’s there. He is crisscrossing the Mediterranean area like the superhero that Jesus made him into. Paul literally became an evangelizing lightning bolt. Paul made three missionary journeys not to mention his desire to go as far as Spain to evangelize to the "ends of the earth". The Scriptures abound with statements of Paul’s travels.

Galatians 1:17-19 ~ “…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.

Acts 11:26 ~ “…and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

These are just the beginnings of Paul’s travels. The towns and cities he will pass through will boggle the imagination in their number and demographic distinctions. Considering he does it on foot while being incarcerated and beaten is even more profound. The endurance needed to maintain Paul's travel and abuse schedule has to have had supernatural strengthening involved. 

Paul’s first journey sees him set out from Antioch and he passes through Seleucia and then sails to Cyprus. From there he and his companions went to Salamis and Paphos where Paul met Bar-Jesus the sorcerer. (Acts 13:4-6). They then sail to Perga in Pamphylia, which is now southern Turkey. It is at this point Paul parts ways with Mark and Mark returns to Jerusalem.

Next up is Antioch in Pisidia which is not to be confused with the one Paul started out from in Syria. Paul and Barnabas turn their evangelistic efforts to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Paul then turns to Iconium, where they actually slow down a little and stay a "long time" (Acts 14:3). It is then on to Lystra, where Paul is stoned but lives (Acts 14:19), and then Derbe. Paul then doubles-back through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia again (Acts 14:21) in a sort of spiritual geographic hiccup. Paul and Barnabas then went throughout Pisidia, Pamphylia, then to Perga, Attalia, and sailed back to Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:24-26)…thus ends Paul’s first missionary journey.

The second journey begins and Paul takes Silas through Syria and Cilicia or what is now southeastern Turkey. They came to Derbe and Lystra where they find Timothy who goes with Paul and Silas throughout Phrygia and Galatia. They’re forbidden by the Spirit to go enter Asia or Bithynia but do eventually end up passing through Mysia, Troas, the island of Samothracia, and Neapolis in Macedonia. It is at Philippi, God opens the heart of Lydia and the Philippian jailer through the Gospel (Acts 16:14-34). Passing through Amphipolis and Appolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where Paul taught for 3 weeks. After teaching some in Berea, Paul departed ahead of Silas and Timothy and refocused southward into Achaia and to Athens (Acts 17:14-15). Paul then makes his first visit to Corinth where he stays an entire year and a half (Acts 18:1- 11). Perhaps it was burnout from being on the road? It is there, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had just come from Rome, from which Claudius Caesar had banished all Jews. It is now that Silas and Timothy rejoin Paul. First and Second Thessalonians was written from here in about 52 AD (1 Thessalonians 3:1-6).

Paul then leaves by boat with Aquila and Priscilla to Cenchrea. From there they cross the Aegean Sea to Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla stay there, which is where they would later meet Apollos (Acts 18:19-26). Paul sails on to Caesarea and then Antioch in Syria where his second journey ends.

Paul’s third journey begins in Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18:23). Paul arrives at Ephesus where he stayed for 3 years (Acts 20:31). Paul meets the disciples of John the Baptist there. He preaches in the synagogue for three months (Acts 19:8). He disputes every day in the school of Tyrannus for 2 years (Acts 19:9-10). It is from these efforts that the Bible tells us that all that dwelt in Asia heard the Gospel. Although Paul sends Timothy and Erastus ahead into Macedonia, Paul stays on in Asia for a “season” (Acts 19:22). It is at this point Paul foresaw his route of travel for the next four years in Acts 19:21-22.

At some point Paul had rejoined Timothy. I personally couldn't verify where. Paul had come to Troas and continued to Macedonia where he was joined by Titus. This seems to agree with Acts 20:1. After going through Macedonia, Paul came to Achaia where he stayed 3 months (Acts 20:2-3) and he makes his third visit to Corinth. It is clear that Romans was written at this time (Romans 15:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-3). Paul then doubles-back again to Macedonia (Acts 20:1) and Philippi (Acts 20:6). Paul and companions sailed to Troas, where a young man fell out of a window, and Paul raises him from the dead (Acts 20:7-12). Then Paul goes on a six city tour to Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Trogylium, and Miletus. It is then on to Cos by boat, Rhodes, Patara, and then they pass the south side of Cyprus and come to Tyre (Lebanon) where they stayed one week. They go south to Ptolemais and to Caesarea where they stayed many days (Acts 21:10).

The third journey ends at Jerusalem where Paul is beaten by Jews when he preaches to them (Acts 22:1-21) and is brought before the Sanhedrin. Jesus Christ tells Paul that he will go to bear Him witness in Rome. Paul is taken to Governor Felix at Caesarea. Paul then spends 2 years in prison in Caesarea in Judea. When the reign of Portius Festus begins, Paul appeals to Caesar (Acts 25:11). After Herod Agrippa II hears Paul…Paul’s journey as a prisoner traveling to Rome begins in earnest. As a prisoner Paul and his guard sail to Sidon with Luke and Aristarchus (Acts 27:1-2) on the way to Italy. They sail to Myra and then Lasea on large island of Crete. In the Autumn of approximately 60 AD, they reached Melita, a small island south of Sicily. Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake but survives. Paul healed the father of Publius and others. Paul, still a prisoner, spends the winter on the island with his captors.

In the spring, they sail to Syracuse (Sicily), then to Rhegium or the tip of Italy. From there they go to Puteoli. It is then that they reach Rome and Paul spends 2 years in his own house (Acts 28:30) as a prisoner in Rome. It is during this period that Paul manages to convert guards, members of Caesar’s household and also found time he write Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon....just in case you thought he might be slacking off.

After Paul’s imprisonment in Rome it appears that Paul had further journeys. He also wrote the epistles of Titus, First Timothy, and Second Timothy, and possibly Hebrews. There are assorted other clues and hints to Paul’s other travels outside of the ones mentioned that include possible locations such as Colossae, Spain, Corinth (additional  times), Miletus, Troas, Crete, Nicopolis, Philippi (again), Italy, Judea, Ephesus, and Macedonia. This allows for the possibilities that Paul traveled to more diverse places that the Bible doesn't even mention. Since it is nearly impossible to reconstruct the other travels I will only mention them below. They are not in any type of order, they are merely Scriptural mentioning of them.

In Philemon 22, Paul foresaw his release and tells those in Colossae to prepare him lodging. In Romans 1:10, 15:24-28, and 16:1- 5 Paul speaks of aspirations of eventually going to Spain. Did he ever do this in his final years? The bible doesn’t say. After being released from the prison in Rome, Paul went to Corinth and Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20), Troas (2 Timothy 4:13), Crete (Titus 1:5), and Nicopolis for the winter (Titus 3:12).

If Paul wrote Hebrews it was apparently written from Italy (Hebrews 13:24). Timothy had been released from prison (Hebrews 13:23) and was coming to Paul. Paul was apparently at liberty as well, since they planned to then go to visit the Hebrews. Paul told Timothy to stay and teach in Ephesus when he went to Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3).

So…like I said about Paul…after his dramatic conversion, he was everywhere and anywhere. He was wherever the Lord called Him to be and about the Lord's business. The theological point is quite simple. We are commanded to preach the Gospel and take it to the ends of the earth. Paul, a man that is essentially hit by a divine lightning bolt acted likewise...just like a lightning bolt. He struck and moved on, struck and moved on. The man literally became the medium by which he was converted. A bolt of lightning. He was nearly always on the Roman roads preaching the Gospel. He flashed to and fro across the Asian and European continents spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At times he was inexhaustible and unflagging just as one would expect from a man given superhuman support to move quickly and mightily for the Lord. I can only pray we do the same.

September 5, 2014

Superhero Theology II: The Cape of Our Hero

Ephesians 4:22-24 ~ You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

What is this passage telling us theologically? Here Paul is discussing unity and maturity in the Body of Christ. These specific instructions fall under a category that should be considered instructions for proper Christian living. Paul is using the idea of clothing or garments here and for him it is literally a matter of taking off the old man and putting on the new like a piece of clothing. We are to take off or put off old ways of thinking and doing. It is an issue of mindset, heart set and philosophy of life. By ridding ourselves of the old body which is death and putting on new life. Having done this the innermost man has taken a step to be renewed (Romans 12:1-2).

Old “habits” are laid aside never to be purposely or habitually pursued again. In their place we put on something even more powerful and life producing: Christ. Before we can put on our new garment or nature though we must remove the old one. The old decrepit and diseased spiritual man is replaced with a powerful and vigorous one. The new man conforms to the image of the superman Christ. It is as if we actually put on His cape (**). Our sins are atoned for and covered by the crimson blood-stained cape of our divine hero…Jesus Christ. 

From a theological point of view this passage is critical as it shows the true nature and image of God. It was an image which man was created to be like. We were originally created holy and righteous by God but fell in Original Sin. It is clear we need to divest the old sinful self or old life and put on the new man in Christ. In this way we sort of put on the suit or cape of our hero. Christ is indeed a superman or superhuman because He overcame sin, death, Hell and the grave. He did so in a supernatural manner through the power of the Spirit.

So the new man that we take on is essentially more human than human. It is us with God’s Spirit inside. Because of the garment we put on as Paul alludes to here, we become much more that we could’ve been without it. When we take on Christ’s garment, covering or atonement…we become what we were originally created to be…righteous in God’s eyes. In this way, through His Son, God makes all believers super.

(**) Please understand when I say cape I am using the word cape as a metonymy. The cape is symbolic of Jesus' blood which itself is symbolic of His life. Just as His blood "covers" so too a cape physically can over us in a symbolic manner. It's just a clever use of words and ideas.

September 4, 2014

The Victoria Osteen Triple Facepalm Moment

Okay, let’s cut to the chase on this one. Happiness and smiles makes everything better. Your happiness and pleasure is more important than God's.

[Insert sound of pin hitting floor here]

Actually, no, that's wrong.

Even the "everything goes" postmodernists who will say that everyone's opinions are true know that this is completely wrong. The completely chaotic secular world is mocking this on the internet, and rightfully so. This of course says a load about the lunacy of Victoria Osteen's comment. Interestingly, it also says quite a bit about the natural (unbelieving) person's ability to understand the truth of God through general revelation (what can be intuitively known from the Creation) even though many will deny God's existence outright.

Frankly, I'm tired of tiptoeing through a minefield on this stuff. This is especially true when it comes to avoiding the Osteen, Copeland, and Benedictus (Benny) Hinn conversations. Let’s just run through the minefield with big floppy clown shoes on, shall we? The Osteens and those of their ilk do the same things to people spiritually, that ISIS does to people physically. There is no difference. Yes, I'm serious...serious as a heart attack on this one. These type of people are trifling with deeply seated emotional and spiritual issues and putting people's potential salvation at risk. 

Triple Facepalm
When A Double Facepalm Just Can't
Properly Convey The Magnitude of FAIL

When the shallow platitudes or banalities of these “entertainers” are not big enough to cover the suffering of the sick or loss of a family member…it murders a person’s Faith. People sitting on the verge of accepting Christ may walk away in these situations because they believe they were not thinking positive enough, praying enough, believing enough or speaking blessings and good fortune into existence enough. In the end, it becomes a spiritual and emotional massacre for those that trust in the empty words of spiritual motivational speakers. The Bible has a name for these people, they are called false teachers and false prophets. They are also called wolves, demonic and even anti-christs.

One of the philosophical ideologies above can kill a person’s soul (prosperity preaching) and the other kills a body (lunatic Muslims). One does it with a smile the other with a sneer. Which ideology is more dangerous? Both cause a death. Both are the same. Both are wicked. Neither of these are acceptable whether they be intentional or not. I rebuke both for their lack of love, compassion and empathy. Sometimes the satanic things are more palatable served to you with a smile. It is clear normal people are repulsed when they see an ISIS atrocity in the form of a beheading. Sadly, many folks including Christians turn a blind eye, smirk or dismiss as harmless something that might be infinitely more deadly than ISIS when it comes to people's spirituality and salvation.

This is unacceptable. It is also unbiblical.

If you want a serious commentary on this atrocious video, I recommend Al Mohler's blog. I've posted a link below. He seems to have captured the facts and the horrible feel of this travesty very well...and he did so with biblical and theological accuracy...unlike the aforementioned people in this post.

September 3, 2014

One Million Clay Jars

My blog has recently reached a milestone I never imagined it would. It has turned the page counter over 1 million page views. The word "surprised" really isn't really a good word to describe how I feel about it. Humbled is probably more appropriate. I imagine many are return readers but many are new to the blog. One and all are a blessing to me for having visited. The blog was literally started in the library at my college while I was waiting for an evening New Testament class (thanks Pete). 

At first I didn’t know what direction the blog would go in 2010 but early on it seemed to take on a life of its own. It was geared towards a deeper personal relationship with God and a deeper understanding of Scripture. It was also a philosophical journey and a roundabout dance with reasoning, human rationale, logic and theology. At the base of most of my posts is the Gospel, Scripture and mankind. In these ideas and entities reside holiness, sin, redemption, repentance and salvation. They all revolve around One. That One is Christ Jesus. In the four years since it was started I have never strayed from this and it has been reflected in ever-increasing traffics to my site. On average there have been about 50,000 hits per month over the last six months. I have given of myself in these posts over the last four years and the Lord has returned it back to me encouraging me to go even farther. 

The harvest and yield increases monthly. Not only have I been graced with a million visits from you good people,  I have also found myself among people I never imagined I’d be among. Some of the visitors and members of organizations that have dropped by or commented are from RZIM (Ravi Zacharias Ministries), The Master's Seminary, Valley Forge University, Biola University, Liberty University, and Eastern University to name a few. This doesn't even skim the surface of the hundreds of blogs and apologetic websites that I have had the privilege of interacting with over four years. 

All are men and women I respect, appreciate and love as brothers and sister. Among them teachers, exhorters, administrators and many other gifts. All working towards propagating the Kingdom of God. As we look towards two million views I just want to stop and say thank you to all who have stopped and taken he time to read the ramblings of a God-fearing soul who desperately searches and fearfully exegetes the Scripture for God’s truth. Mostly so I will better understand my God but also that I will have something interesting to say to those who will have ears to hear. I pray that God blesses the next thousand posts and the next million people.

I am humbled. The journey continues.

Blessings One and All,

Andy Pierson
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