December 31, 2012

Totally Biblically Yoked

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30
Study Notes:
Immediately we see an invitation from Jesus and imperatives connected to it ask us to do things in this passage that jump out at us. Jesus asks us to “come”, “take” and to “learn”.

Pharisees always said it was a labor of doing and works based on the Law, Jesus is telling the people listening to him that it is not works. He literally is telling them to “come” to Him. He is telling them to come to salvation through Him. Salvation is not found in the tradition of the fathers but rather it is found in Him alone.

Part of coming to Jesus is trusting Jesus. It seems his invitation is directed specifically to those that are tired from doing works or searching. Under the yoke of the Pharisees that Jesus was referring to here in context, that is exactly what had happened. People of Jesus’ time had been beat down under the Law. It isn’t what you can do to earn salvation, it is what or who you accept. In this case it is Jesus himself, hence the invitation to himself.

The next imperative is "take." This is more than just responding to an invitation. It is a volitional act to take something offered.  It is when we take what Jesus has offered that we get rest from chasing the works and legalism of the world. Since we no longer need to chase after a never-ending string of things to do to gain salvation, we can then rest. What we are truly accepting here is the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is accepting  the fact that Jesus died according to Scripture, was buried and rose again the third day in accordance with Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We are also taking His Spirit, the Holy Spirit upon us. We are taking His teaching.

A yoke is a long wooden beam with two recessed areas on the underside to fit over the necks of a pair of draft animals, usually oxen, to harness them together to pull ploughs or some other load. (1 Samuel 6:7) Yokes for humans were also used. These were simple beams or poles carried across the shoulders with a load attached to each end. With them, people were able to carry heavy loads. (Jeremiah 27:2; 28:10, 13) From its association with burdens and labour, the yoke is often used in the Bible to symbolize domination and control. When Jesus says to take his he is saying two things.

First, Jesus is asking us to become disciples because his path to salvation is vastly easier than forever chasing senseless dead-ending man-made rules. It is also the ideas used by farmers to train young bulls by using the older experienced ones. The farmers would yoke a young bull with an older experience one to (1) have the older stronger one pull the bulk of the load and (2) teach the young bull the proper way to do things by example. It is just another way of saying, “come to me, I will disciple you” in an agricultural society. Hence, to take up Jesus’ yoke simply means to become his disciple.

Interestingly, Paul even alludes to this concept in Philippians 4:3 when referring to other disciples in the Gospel that are saved in Jesus Christ: Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

This, however, requires more than just giving mental recognition to his teachings. It requires actions in harmony with them—doing the work he did and living the way he lived. (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21) It requires willing submission to his authority and to those to whom he delegates authority. (Ephesians 5:21; Hebrews 13:17) It means becoming a dedicated, baptized Christian, accepting all the privileges and responsibilities that come with this.

The implication of taking the yoke makes one realize that they are not a slave to an unwanted labor but rather a willing participant that has made a choice to follow Jesus by taking Him up on His offer which is for eternal life.

An interesting application for the term yoke can be parlayed into the idea of being "totally yoked" or like the title for this post...Biblically Yoked. This is a play on the idea of being totally yoked in today's slang. To be totally yoked in today's vernacular means to actually be very strong or well built. It is a term I hear often around the gym when I lift. I see a real useful bridge here from Jesus' usage in Matthew 11 that can bridge Jesus' time into the youth and young adults of today. If we use the principle I just mentioned and then use it to describe someone as Biblically Yoked, we would be saying that a Biblically Yoked person is a person that is well built and strong in the Bible and attached firmly to Jesus Christ. A clever and useful modernizing of an old idea. I also see the idea of mentoring in this also for anyone that has the time to draw out the subtleties. You know...the stronger we get in the Bible and with Jesus, the lighter the yoke gets...

December 24, 2012

The Epicenter of Salvation

When Jesus' birth is announced, the name given him by command of God seems to be an encapsulating of the whole of His significance. It is interpreted as follows:

"For he shall save his people from their sins” ~Matthew 1:21

The word represented "save" has a very general and all-inclusive meaning, just like the Hebrew word on which the name Jesus is based or יְהוֹשֻׁעַ Yĕhôshúa' /Yahweh is deliverance. Deliverance from sin. The word is in the future active indicative or an ongoing future action. Whatever Jesus would do would be from the present time (of Matthew) forward or more specifically outward. It has a progressive/repeated aspect that will continue over and over from the time of His birth or flesh/incarnation. We see a ripple effect in time like that of a stone being thrown into a lake or in the case of humanity, a Cross being driven into the crossroad of history. 

Jesus Christ’s birth, life, death and Resurrection as foretold in Scripture is the epicenter of salvation. It is God’s righteousness punching its fist into the center of time and shaking loose the grip of sin and evil both forward and backward. Jesus (God) enters history and sets off a seismic ripple-effect throughout not only humanity but temporally/time also. The things that set up this massive and momentous seismic shift are actually many shifts in history caused by God that have built up over time, just like millions of small subtle actions and decisions. All cleverly orchestrated by an omnipotent sovereign God. All set up to come to fruition at the exact right time and the exact right place: the Ground Zero or the Epicenter of Salvation. In Bethlehem and Jerusalem between 6-4 B.C. and 30-33 A.D. This epicenter is both geographic and temporal; spiritual and physical; it is both human and divine.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…” ~Galatians 4:4

What is really interesting is that, repentance and belief in God’s promises culminate in Jesus’ birth, life, death and Resurrection. This ongoing action therefore has a unique significance. It applied in an ongoing aspect in the past also. Those that had a repentant heart (like David) and also trusted in God’s promise of a future Messiah, would also be saved. Jesus didn’t just save into the future, belief in Him saved those in the past also. It was never the Temple sacrifices that saved those performing them but rather the One these sacrifices foreshadowed or pointed forward to. It was the repentant heart that turned towards God that saved the faithful.

Jesus’ very name denotes Him as saving redeemer from the debt of sin. It not only has a negative and preventive sense but a very positive content. The central and most profound meaning implied in Jesus work as savior is the fact that Jesus delivers his people from their sins.

It is the very reason for his coming. It is the very reason we celebrate Christmas.

The same thought is expressed in Zechariah’s hymn which says of the Baptist that he "will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by remission of their sins" 

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him ~Luke 1:76

The remission of sins is represented here as the gift of the fulfillment that began with Christ as salvation. That is why the knowledge of it is described as the coming and the gift of the long-expected salvation of the Lord as God's visiting of his people. It is the gift the prophets foretold of, John the Baptist being the last of them.

The preaching of John the Baptist announcing the kingdom of heaven, is concentrated on the conquering of sins that is to come by way of Christ. His call to the people for repentance resulted in the people coming to him "confessing their sins". Although John in no way will be able to forgive them, the very fact that the people are willing to confess their sins shows they are in a repentant state and prepared for the One that was to come after John.

“Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” ~Matthew 3:6

His baptism itself is indicated as "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins"

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4

“He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” ~Luke 3:3

This "remission of sins" does not mean that those that had been baptized by John had their sins forgiven. Nor did it denote some type of washing away of sins realized by John's baptism but in reality John literally “paved” and “straightened” the hearts of the repentant ones. He made their hearts fertile fields for the seed of the Gospel that was about to overtake them in force by the Jesus Christ when the Kingdom of God washed over them like a seismic wave. A wave of the Kingdom that would lift up the repentant and faithful to carry them along to the shores of Heaven and inevitable salvation. Conversely, the same wave would drowned the unrepentant and wicked, just as the waves of the Red Sea buried Pharaoh. Waves that would start in something as paradoxically simple as the baptism of the Savior and subsequently reaching the shores of a calm Jordan River.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? ~Matthew 3:7

“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” ~ Luke 3:7

John the Baptist exhorts them to repent, to turn away from, to do away with sins, so that those who obey will hear the forgiving and pardoning words of release out of the mouth of the “coming One who is mightier than John”, the One who baptizes with fire, the One that baptizes with the Holy Spirit. The remission of sins therefore is the "salvation of the Lord" that would be seen at the Lord's coming at His birth and more importantly, His death and Resurrection.

To put all this into perspective we must jump forward in time to Jesus reading Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth. It is here Jesus announces the fulfilling of prophecy and the official commencement of the great time of salvation. The King announces the inception or arrival of His Kingdom in force. The shock wave finally strikes land with dramatic effects. Those that have been prepared by John or are already repentant ride the wave inland and are not horribly or adversely affected by the arrival of the shock wave. Those that have resisted or are adverse to the impact are shaken violently to their core and devastated by its arrival.
Because the deliverance brought by Jesus or this divine shock wave is based in remission and acquittal or sins, it will have devastating effects on those that try to resist it, just as anyone that would be foolish enough to stand in the path of a tsunami or an oncoming shock wave from an earthquake.

Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah 61:1-2a: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The whole of the salvation that begins with Jesus' coming is concisely proclaimed as the “acceptable year of the Lord." It is the acceptable year of our Lord that is also to proclaim the LORD's favor. It also proclaims one additional thing. What immediately followed what Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 is directed to the unrepentant and is even more telling. The acceptable year of our Lord will also be…

Isaiah 61:2b: “the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn”.

The unrepentant will be playing with deadly fire and dealing with forces and powers that will absolutely dwarf them. They will not stand a chance. Not then, not now, not ever. The power of God and the Kingdom will ripple and shock wave right over them. What is even more ironic is that these words, “the acceptable year of our Lord” are simple to understand. It is the "year" in which the full plan and purpose of God is accomplished. This "year" being not a literal year as we commonly understand it but rather שְׁנַת־ / shaw-neh or the full cycle – or a finished cycle - of restoration in God’s redemptive plan. This "acceptable year of the Lord," is what Jesus preached all through His ministry, and which He, Himself, came to accomplish. He came for allow us the forgiveness of our debt of sin. This idea is found somewhere else in Scripture…

It is originally found in the “Year of Jubilee” The year of Jubilee obviously tied in with all the other festivals, harvests and feasts also. All of which also foreshadowed Jesus Christ. The year or Jubilee was the year that the debt of the Israelite who had become poor a slave was to be remitted and he himself was to be delivered from the bondage of His debt. Everything that would’ve been his had he not incurred this debt was then returned to him and restored.

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves.” ~ Leviticus 25:39

If, however, he makes a gift from his inheritance to one of his servants, the servant may keep it until the year of freedom; then it will revert to the prince. His inheritance belongs to his sons only; it is theirs.” ~Ezekiel 46:17

All of this of course is a foreshadowing or image or the Messiah’s time of salvation announced by the prophets and beginning with the coming of Christ. It is the coming of Jesus that is marked by our celebration of His birth at Christmas. It is a joyous celebration of the forgiveness of a debt cycle forever forgiven by the payment of the King for our acquittal from the debt of sin we incurred. Jesus fulfilled, or will (continue to) fulfill, all of the feast days, as well as the spiritual intent of the year of Jubilee. As He said in Isaiah 61, He came, "to preach the gospel to the poor; to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised." Every year that unfolds since his arrival incarnate or "in the flesh" in Bethlehem is an outworking of this “acceptable year of the Lord”.

Christmas is the celebration of the inception of this “year” at Christ's birth. Every successive year that comes afterward is like a shock wave or is a ripple-effect of salvation for those that repent and seek His face.

The paradox is that the epicenter of salvation is Jesus Christ and this massive shock wave that would forever change the world…started with in the cries and wails of a newborn infant.

December 23, 2012

A Twinkling of the Kingdom

Every year around Christmastime, I write a post that embodies the sum product of the entire year's trek. It is a summation of the entire year's learning. It is an aggregation of the entire year's trials and pain that has put me in a position to do so. I feel the Holy Spirit has indeed made enormous strides in not only my life but my wife's and even possibly my children's. I can visibly see the change on the surface this year, not just feel it internally. The following is the encapsulation and summation of another year of sanctification to take us home to eventual glory in Christ Jesus. I pray it moves you, as it is as deep and heartfelt as I can muster on the eve of Jesus' birth celebration. 

May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you abundantly in the coming year and turn his face kindly toward you in this coming year's journey

Sometimes the Kingdom of God breaks through in the subtlest of ways

So I listen to the children (including my own) ringing bells in Pottstown Bible Church & Mission this morning in accompaniment with the Christian hymns/carols being sung. Each child had a wreath of silver garland around their heads to mimic halos. The tinsel from the wreaths was falling to the floor like snow as the children manically ring their bells the best they can to keep time with the music being played by the worship band. The children depart and leave behind only individual strands of silver needle-like tinsel lying on the floor. 

I later sat and listened to the pastor speak about being reconciled to God while we were still sinners. Pastor John heralds the Gospel [κηρύσσει ἢ εὐαγγέλιον] and tells us that there is nothing within us that merits salvation. He tells us that we were given a gift that we are to freely accept for our salvation…or deny to our own condemnation. While we rebelled against God and flipped God off, He reached in and pulled us out of our sin. John speaks of the alcoholic and of drug addiction in a room that contained former alcoholics and addicts (like myself) and in some cases current addicts. 

As he speaks I look at the ceiling light reflecting off the garland strands lying on the floor where the children had stood minutes before. From a distance the effect of the garland strikes me odd. It dawns on me that the light plays on fallen garland like so many used drug needles strewn carelessly on the ground. But now…the needles or garland are harmlessly trampled underfoot by the power of the One that we celebrate with these garland wreaths and bells. In the garland or tinsel I see good intentions gone awry and now redeemed, I realize this is the story of all mankind. I also realize that we can  freely trust in the message rung by the bells and heralded by the words of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

…and I hear the bells of the Kingdom and I see the glimmer of the streets of gold.

…and I see the blinding Shekhinah like a million silver diadems glittering in the garland of joyous children two days before Christmas. Like countless star bursts in our King's crown.

It is in this image that I see the Kingdom of God. I see that it is indeed in deliverance from greed and the love of shiny coins and money that gives the surface of the King’s crown its luster. It is in the redemption from the shame of an overtly sinful and fragmented life that the Gospel is heard most wholly. It is indeed in the drug addict’s deliverance from his addiction and from those glimmering and beckoning needles that the sparkle in Jesus’ crown gains its brilliance. It is in the perfect crimson blood that is drawn by the nails driven into Him that bound Him to the cross that the addict is freed from the needle that they drive into themselves and weep their own blood.

So...I look at the children as they go upstairs and I look past the adults in that room to watch them go. When my eyes come to bear on these adults I see someone's child also. Not just God’s child but someone’s flesh and blood child. A child that parents had dreams and hopes for becoming great things. I see a child at one time that might have rung bells in a Christmas service. A man and woman's child that grew into an adult and somehow lost their way, one and all bar-none including myself. All fell away, all reaped the reward of a sinful life. It is such a deadly recompense for sin that inexorably draws us all breath by breath and sin by sin towards the teeth of an open grave. I see men and women who at some point, somewhere, turned to the right or to the left and stepped off God's well-marked path. 

It is then that I realize that it was indeed for these people (me) that Jesus came as a child. Just like the children that stood before me. Jesus came as a child, like all these battle-worn people once were. And like these battle scarred people, so to would Jesus bear scars from life. Just like our sin will put us all in our eventual grave, it put Him in a grave also. The difference though lies in the fact the sin that put Him in His grave was not His own, it was ours and that grave could not hold Him. Sins perpetrated even when we were, of all things, children…because we acted as sinful fallen children that rebelled against our Father.

It was for these He came as a child and this is why my children stood before me today heralding the miracle of His blessed foreordained birth. Jesus’ birth that would lead to a flawless life, a planned death and glorious Resurrection from the grave.

I suppose most do not think on these things in a church service two days before Christmas, but having watched a man die unexpectedly last night after a motorcycle accident, I did think on these things. Having prayed over a life and seen its fragility, I realize humans are such brittle and transient beings. Every single day we have above ground and are vertical, is a gift from the One that breathes life into our souls. Every time we are offered another chance to hear the Gospel and we accept, is a gift. Every breath that turns to laughter as we see our children unwrap Christmas presents that celebrate Christ’s birth, are a gift. Every moment we ponder the shimmering glory that is the Kingdom on earth in our fellowship, is a gift and a promise of what is to come in God’s Kingdom.

All gifts, all given freely because God truly does love us…even when we do not love Him. The same love I feel for my brethren not just this time of year, but always because God’s love has been poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to me.

So enjoy your day as it is God’s gift to you this Christmas, as are all your days…and do not forget to look for those subtle glimmers of the Kingdom that break through into the now for you to see this time of year. Those small glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven, like the one I saw sitting next to my wife in Church today. Sitting with these broken children…broken…just like me. A glimpse of the Kingdom, like the laughter of children 6 and 60 years old and in the ringing of bells that are a herald of the age that is to come…but is already here in part.

It is in our brokenness that the Kingdom comes most sharply and pointedly into focus. 

μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. 
Blessed-the-poor (ones)-to the-spirit-that-of them-is-the-Kingdom-of the-Heavens
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Merry Christmas Brothers and Sisters In Christ. Shine on like the diamond He is shaping you into.

December 18, 2012

Counterfeit Religions XVI: Agnosticism & Atheism


The word agnostic is a compound of the Greek word γνῶσις/gnosis and a negating/negative character “a” which reverses the meaning of the cognate/word it prefaces. Just as the “a” in front of theist in atheist means a person is not a theist or believer in a god, so too the “a” in front of gnosis/gnostic means a person has “no” knowledge because γνῶσις/gnosis is a common Greek noun for the word knowledge. Agnostics therefore are not necessarily dumb people with no knowledge (sometime I wonder), they are actually people who claim that we cannot have definitive knowledge of the divine, of a supernatural being or the supernatural in general. Usually this is because agnostic and atheists look for physical or empirical evidences (a posteriori) evidences to prove the spiritual and/or divine and miraculous (a priori).

In a word…agnostics are cowards. Agnostics do not outright deny God or a divine being exists, they just don’t believe He is positively “provable”. Therefore, most likely, He doesn’t exist. Agnostics do not even have the courage to say whether or not they believe in God so they sit on the fence. What I have found is that this “fence-sitting” is due to the fact that agnostics often wish to remain hip or trendy without denying God’s existence completely. In other words: It is cowardice to make a firm reasoned decision. Many will consider Agnosticism as cool or part of an enigmatic character that makes a their belief system mysterious or mystic. I personally see as being dorkish and an excuse for being too lazy to think through a person’s position or their logic.

Agnosticism will usually claim non-cowardice intellectually and will state that from a philosophical position they are officially proponents of Skeptics or they are officially Doubters. Regardless, I still see it as intellectual cowardice. In reality Agnostics make no specific claim that the supernatural realm or any deities exists. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Soren Kierkegaard were skeptical of any claims for proof of the existence of God. Some even went a far as to call these men Christians (I don’t). It wasn’t until T. H. Huxley in the 1860s that we got the term "agnostic." Because Agnosticism is literally a claim not to know much of anything, it probably shouldn’t even be considered a religion per se but because some people believe really nutty and stupid things (and many don’t even know why they believe it), I felt compelled to rip on them for being so wishy-washy and hammer-headed J. Agnosticism isn’t cool it is dopey. They actually claim no knowledge! That, by definition, is dumb! Since they don’t really “know” anything for certain, it is impossible to quantify what they do believe…which is essentially...nothing.

In a 2007 research survey called the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life indicated that fifty-five percent of self-identified agnostics expressed a belief in God, and seventeen percent suggested they were "absolutely certain" that God or a universal spirit exists. The question then remains: Why consider oneself an agnostic (no knowledge) if they are pretty certain God exists? Why not at least call yourself a Deist? Frankly, they sound like a bunch of spineless and really confused people. So what is said about the people in this survey is that they may clearly believe in God but still consider themselves agnostic by not drawing any conclusions about that God. I have one thing to say to this psychobabble and gobbly-gook buffoonery: Say whaaa?????????

Like I said before…it is intellectual cowardice and an inability to make up one’s mind. They are confused people.


While I’m on the topic of intellectual cowardice, I should also dwell on the idea of intellectual arrogance and intellectual dishonesty by talking about the religion of Atheism. Atheism is nothing new, and yes, it’s a religion. It is a belief system or a religion of no God. A religion being defined as a set of beliefs that dictate a person’s worldview that can include the following characteristics: A material dimension/aspect, ritual/rituals, ethics/virtue, doctrinal beliefs of philosophies, a social dimension, a logical basis and a narrative or meta-narrative.

Therefore, Atheism is not just the lack of belief in a god, but the outright assertion about the non-existence of any gods, spirits, or divine or supernatural beings. It indeed is a philosophy of no God. Atheists in this sense are metaphysical naturalists. They make overarching claims to things they cannot know for sure…therefore they can only arrive at their conclusions through (imagine this)…a faith or belief in something not provable from their standpoint! They make just as much of a Kierkegaardian "leap of faith" as any religious person does. As long as there has been a man around arrogant enough to deny God exists, there has been atheism.

Atheism in a nutshell is a philosophical position which asserts that no supreme, supernatural beings or forces exist. Instead, atheists contend that all phenomena in the universe, including human thought and morality, are products of nature and have no divine origin. We are nothing but the sum product of atomic and chemical reaction slowly drifting through the darkened cosmic void (a la stellar waste). At some point in the extreme distant future the universe will suffer “heat death” and nothing will exist. Because of this, most (hard) Atheists do not believe in the existence of a human soul that survives death nor a “life spark” that makes a person more than the sum of their atom, molecules or cells. How utterly depressing and nihilistic…I must say.

There are some other counterfeit religions like, Buddhism and the Samkhya and the Mimamsa schools of Hinduism that fit nicely into some of these descriptions too. In ancient Hellenistic or Greek culture, Sophists and Epicureans frequently challenged a belief in the idea of a God or gods and divine action in the world. It is even sadly ironic that, at the time of the Roman Empire, Christians were accused of atheism for failing to accept the multiple gods of the Empire as deserving worship. It is from the godless humanism of the Renaissance that the scientific “Age of Enlightenment” arose. In the end it all boiled down to either intellectual arrogance where man tried to supplant themselves in God’s position or cowardice where man refused to take a stand on what he believed.

Modern atheism has been inexorably predisposed and manipulated by the writings of Marx, Freud, and that syphilis riddled nut-job Friedrich Nietzsche. All of these loons saw Judeo-Christian religion/values as a socio-cultural human creation. For the most part they saw the religions as being created out of necessity. In the end they all saw religions as holding humanity back from advancing. Marx believed religion functioned like a drug to keep most people enslaved to the ruling class and called it the “Opium/Opiate of the Masses”. Freud more boldly called religion an illusion, and Nietzsche ignorantly asserted that God was dead.  All of them believed atheism and a focus on the self or humanity itself in some form were necessary to overcome human suffering and to reach a climax of human potential.

Along with Darwinism and the religion of evolution we essentially get the nihilistic and godless barren landscape of the 20th Century that spawned among other things, two World Wars and numerous other atrocities such as the Holocaust, China’ Great Leap Forward and Khmer Rouge--all in the name of Humanism, Communism, Socialism, Social Darwinism and Atheism. Atheism or the New Atheism has now turned aggressively anti-religion (mostly towards Christianity). They are nearly rabid and militant in the forms of Christopher Hitchens (now dead), Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. These four dorks are called, of all things, the Four Horseman of Atheism which in itself is a nod to Revelation in the Bible. These men and their ilk actively attack religions and theists in general. They seek to actively discredit theism of any kind but seem to take an especially sadistic pleasure in maligning and bashing Christianity.

The truth is that both Agnosticism and Atheism initially start under a premise that God either doesn't exist or might not exist. Once the argument is framed this way, finding one's way clear to believe in God becomes extremely difficult and in this way these two are are like estranged cousins. They may claim a difference but at their heart, they are very much alike. They are literally a Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of godlessness.

To exit this brief nihilistic and sad foray into religious denial and intellectual cowardice, it is interesting to note the following. In the cross-section of surveyed population by the Pew Forum, people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion totaled 16.1% of the population at-large. Of this group, only (1/4) one-quarter of these 16.1% described themselves as either atheist or agnostic or 1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively. That means every single time a grumpy confrontational atheist or agnostic complains about a Christmas tree, Nativity scene or the Ten Commandments being in front of a government building or school, we are catering to and coddling 4% of the US population. No matter how much they inflate their totals, this is a ridiculously minuscule minority that has way too much sway when it comes to dictating what does and does not get into government funded institutions and pubic displays. Talk about an over-vocal minority. These Scrooges  that insist on a separation of Church and State (which is not in the Constitution) are really are a good example of the “squeaky wheel gets the oil”. Frankly, I think we should “replace the squeaky wheels” and get someone else’s ideologies in the halls of power to get these godless drones out.

December 16, 2012

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed....

A post while pondering the insanity of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

I considered writing a post on the ungodly shooting in Connecticut but the Spirit within me steered me away from it. I have no heart to speak of such a horrid effect of the Fall and the evil of men. Even I get sick of the depravity of mankind and seek refuge in the Lord to make sense of it all. The times are evil and a prudent man remains silent. I pondered over this for three days since the shooting and this post is the best I could muster in response to the evil and despicable nature of the acts committed against elementary school children. I refused to discuss the guns. I refused to discuss the mental illness. I couldn't bring myself to get sucked into the emotional political ideologies that drive the foolish arguments. none are the outcroppings of the Fall of man. Just like giving airtime to the killer of those children by talking too much about him...neither will I dwell on that scumbag the Devil and his dirty work.   All I could do to make sense of this atrocity was to look backward and to look forward. I fixed my gaze on the One.

So instead of belaboring the unspeakable horror of the last few days event, I offer what I hope is the destiny of all those little children and hopefully their guardians. I offer the destination of all good Christians. Instead I offer just the opposite of the bleak dismal barbarism. I offer you a post on a time/place where there will be no more tears nor will there be any more sorrow. A place in Foreverwhen that is referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God in the Bible. It is not a fairy tale, it is quite real. It is a place where words do little justice as it is often beyond our finite words to full describe it. So much so that it is often referred to in Scripture through parables, even by Jesus. Hyperbole and cleverly painted words do not fully do it justice. It is a place that exists forever in the presence of God because it will be where God dwells forevermore with us. A place where it will indeed be Christmas every day as Christ will be present with all whom repent and seek His face.

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I'm really not sure how I missed it before, but I have begun to realize the reason for God ushering in the Kingdom of God through Jesus at least partially early on but not in-full. It has always puzzled me why the whole “Now But Not Yet” of the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven unfolded the way it did. Why would God allow the hell of this world to continue at least in part. Why does he allow 6 year old children to be shot in the head by a mentally deranged man-child? The victory was assured in Christ but evil and sin are still allowed to wreak havoc.

The truth becomes more evident when I looked at the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 and Mark 4.

Matthew 13:3-13 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand...

The key to me seeing the relevance of this passage comes near the end.

Matthew 13:18-23 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Seeds take time to grow or die. This is not a series of events that happen immediately. God is giving time for flawed humans to come to their senses. Even the ones that don’t take root take time to fail. They will only last a short time…but a time none-the-less. Unfortunately, some that do stay faithful and take root are going to be exposed to the mental and physical anxieties as they are exposed also to the thorns. Thorns that are destined to fail. In the process they will choke others off. Those that do stay faithful to the end will produce seed in their fruits that will propagate and perpetuate further growth. Truth and true faith produces fruit(s). Fruit being and over-abundance of life has within it the source of further regeneration. Seeds (a la 1 John 3:9). Those seeds being the Holy Spirit.

The “Already But Not Yet” of the Kingdom of God is to allow God to get a jump start on His plans while simultaneously allowing mankind to follow its own way and not be damned by their own stupidity. God in His patience and mercy is giving mankind time to make the right decision first before swooping in and bringing final judgment and the Day of The Lord. We know this for sure when we read the Parable of the Weeds immediately following the Parable of the Sower. We see again that immanent nature of the Kingdom and the Now-But-Not-Yet of the Kingdom of Heaven. We see a postponement of judgment until the “harvest”. The servants in the parable want the landlord to separate the tares from the wheat immediately. This would amount to an extermination of the tares with no warning and possibly the extermination of some wheat mixed in with the tares (believers in mixed company with non-believers). The Landlord determines that harvest time is more apropos so to not uproot a good piece of germinating or growing wheat in the act of exterminating the weeds. It is a deliberate postponement in mercy and grace to allow those on the fence all the time possible before judgment which is final and absolute.

The Kingdom comes like a seed. Jesus Christ is the Sower. Jesus Christ will also be the reaper. Therefore the judgment is postponed in mercy to those slow of heart to come to the Cross / Kingdom. There is a deliberate planned delay built into this scenario. One comes sequentially after the other. He that sows cannot reap immediately. In this picture we can see then why the judgment would need to come after the arrival of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ. The literal “Now But Not Yet”.

Within this parable we see the work of reaping or judgment is the sole responsibility of Christ. It is a place where men should not interfere. We are not to pass judgment on others in terms of who does or does not gain access to the Kingdom. This is God’s domain alone. We can help sow the seed through the preaching of the Gospel but we are not to judge the results with certainty. Discerning the fruit on someone’s life on the other hand to see if they are in need of the Truth and the Gospel is one thing, to judge someone as condemned and cease evangelizing them due to your judgment is a dangerous proposition for them and you.

Yet again in the Parable of the Fishing Net (Matthew 13:47-49) we see the same. We see the use of not just any net here like the ones fishermen used for shallow fishing but we see a σαγήνῃ / sagene or literally a dragnet that would drag the entire waters top to bottom. This net is the preaching of God’s Word or the preaching of the Gospel. It is only after the fishermen drag the waters and take the entire catch, net and all to shore that the catch is sorted out. This is an image of how the Kingdom of God comes. The fisherman or “fishers of men” are in the employ of Jesus as preachers and teachers of God’s word and principles. It is not until the catch is on shore and sorted that the final judgment of what is worthy is determined and that determination is made by the ultimate Fisherman/Fisher-God and judge: Christ.

The same principle applies to other parables. We see the mustard seed being planted and needs time to come to fruition. The mustard seed’s growth is not spontaneous, it takes time. We even see it in the leaven. The leavening does not happen magically **poof**. It takes time. It is an almost (dare I say it) organic process of growth. It is a process that seems as if it is purposely designed with an organic being in mind…a human. It is the idea of a growing influence or maturity. It is a maturity that takes time and grace to accomplish it. A growing process like a seed that germinate, pushes outward and displaces whatever is in its way to reach the light. 

So what we see in the interim, because of the extraordinary patience and grace of God is what appears to be an extremely long period of time. Millennia have unfolded since Christ’s birth and death. Even more time since the promises made to Abraham. From a human vantage point it seems like forever. Especially in light of all the killings, suffering and wars. It seems as if God has turned His back on humanity and abandon them. In some cases He may very well have done so (Romans 1) and given some over to their sin. In many cases He has not. He has waited patiently by giving every chance possible for people to seek repentance and find Him.

This interim period also allows for a time of resistance as we all know that trials and tribulations build character. As Paul says clearly in Romans, “...but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Hope pushes us towards the Kingdom to when and where we will need hope no more as we will have arrived at our intended destination.

In the interim period it appears nothing might be happening but in reality it is just happening more slowly and less dramatically than the events that occurred 2000 years ago in Jesus' birth (Christmas), ministry, and death and resurrection (Easter). God does not delay because He hates us and wants to watch us suffer. He delays because of just the opposite. He love us and is extremely long-suffering. On the whole, shootings and death are extremely tragic but on the eternal scale of things and in the context of salvation, it is passing away quickly and giving way to paradise like a puff of steam from a kettle. There one second, gone the next. Ironically, the real truth is that the interim period that we're in temporally and temporarily is not even a delay as Jesus has already ushered in the last days with His ministry here on Earth, His death and His resurrection. Perhaps this is why it drives me so batty when I hear people say, “If God cared, he would come and help us with our problems now! He must not care!” Ugh, what a myopic view of God and the Bible. He has already helped us. This interim period is not wasted time. It is borrowed time. God in His patience, mercy and grace has bought man time.

Additionally, there is, “nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known." Whatever is hidden from us is hidden, not by God, but by the limitations of our own faculty, and will be disclosed as we train our faculty of perception on God an Truth of Scripture. So far as we can see, we may see more of later. Therefore the measure or meter of a man in the Kingdom of Heaven is based on what one hears, understands and accepts now.

The passage then goes on…

For “…he that has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 13:12, Mark 4:25). What man has here on earth in this life in relation to the Gospel comes by hearing and an ability to discern it through the Holy Spirit. In other words, only those that understand the mystery at least partially now will share in the Kingdom’s full revelation later. For the seed of the Kingdom is Jesus and the Word (John 1:1, 1 John 3:9). Salvation and the Kingdom of God are one and the same. It is the Word which came into the world as Jesus Christ...and the Kingdom is most clearly seen through He, Jesus Christ because not only did the Kingdom come with Him, it came through Him and in Him. Where the King is...therein is the Kingdom.

In short…the Gospel.

In the end I return to the idea of borrowed time. The title of this post is a play on an old marriage rhyme. It is ironic that when Jesus comes back to get His church and ushers in the Kingdom in full, it has been likened to a marriage of the Bridegroom and the Bride. The Bible essentially ends on this note.

Revelation 22:17 ~“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

The "Something old" of our old marriage rhyme symbolizes continuity with the bride's family and the past. In this statement we see the security of a covenant God with a plan to save humanity from themselves which He has outworked through people and will eventually culminate in the Kingdom. "Something new" means optimism and hope for the bride's (Church's) new life ahead. We as believers are ever moving forward to that end. We are moving God’s plan forward from time-out-of-mind in the past to the forever future. The reality is that the Kingdom where we are going is actually old and new or “now but not yet”. "Something borrowed" in our rhyme is usually an item from a happily married friend or family member. In a Christian’s case it seems it is the borrowed time we were given to find our way towards repentance. The thing borrowed is also found in the gift bequeathed to the believer upon faith and trust in God’ promise. A promise from the past that stays in effect until the judgment day when all will be sorted out like tares from wheat. We cannot enter salvation or the presence of God in His Kingdom until we repent and seek His forgiveness. In this way we borrow (or more properly) take hold of the work that He has done for us at Calvary. We take hold of Jesus Christ's righteousness.

As for the rest of the verse…I’ll let you use your imagination. Perhaps the blue of the sky as we gaze expectantly waiting for the return of the Bridegroom. All Hail! The return of the King as He ushers in the Kingdom in full. Amen.

December 15, 2012

Mismatched Images

Something I see way too much of often times in the Church is an over-emphasis on the blessings of God and not enough of His wrath. We treat God like a "buddy" instead of the Lord that He is. A King that can bestow great things on those faithful to Him...and He can bring a world or eternity of hurt down on people also. It is this mismatched incorrect image or understanding of Christ that we see pushed or propagated by peddlers of a watered-down or false Gospel. Isaiah wrapped up his prophecy and the book of Isaiah in general and in the space of 10 verse combines the blessings of God and His wrath in a nice neat package. Believers (like the Israelites this originally addressed) would be well-advised to take note...

Isaiah 66:14-24 ~ When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes. See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord. “Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one who is among those who eat the flesh of pigs, rats and other unclean things—they will meet their end together with the one they follow,” declares the Lord. “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the Lord. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the Lord. “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Only God's servants and those obedient to God and His Word will rejoice under His protecting hand. His enemies and the enemies of the Cross will endure His wrath. God's judgment and wrath are exposed clearly in verse 17 and 18:

“Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one who is among those who eat the flesh of pigs, rats and other unclean things—they will meet their end together with the one they follow [disobedience],” declares the Lord. “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.

People were worshiping idols in gardens and performing special rituals. They were eating forbidden meat to purposely demonstrated there firm resolution and disdain for God and His commands and statutes. Because of this disobedience they would face God's wrath. The consequences of belief and rebellion are then neatly wrapped up in verse 22-24.

Those who believe will have a name for posterity or, "your name and descendants endure." Rebellion will ultimately cause death, suffering and everlasting torment. There bodies will be eaten by worms that never die and, "the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” They will end up in Gehenna...Hell. 

Here we see God's blessing and His wrath. It pivots on choices. There is no "happy-go-lucky Christ" here. Conversely, there is no hateful God/Christ here either for exhibiting His wrath and justified holy anger here. There is no "Buddy Christ" here. We see no "Jesus is My Homeboy" here. These images are degrading and frankly, are atrocious ways to view the One that was scourged, spit upon and crucified for you to be able to so casually make callous statements such as these. Its abuse of grace. It would be no different than you or I spitting on Him as He lumbered and staggered up the path to Golgotha. He's better than you and I...infinitely so. We would've never taken those nails in our hands or scourging for our enemies that hated us. We may be co-equals to the Father if we are in Him but make no mistake about isn't because of anything we could possibly muster from that sin darkened core that resides within that we call a soul. 

In Isaiah's closing we see a holy, sovereign, omnipotent and perfectly just God described with the power over life and death, blessing and curse, Heaven or Hell. Christ is indeed our friend as He is a friend of sinners...not not the "buddy" that we can just choose to ignore the way the modern culture paints Him out to be. We do not pray to Him as a Cosmic Santa, but rather the One that will sit in judgment on us from His throne on that great day, the "Day of the Lord".

He is Almighty God, The Great "I AM", He is אבא / Abba, but it is under the pretense that He is to obeyed and respected as a providing Father should be. He is pure light and their is no darkness in Him. He is the Alpha and Omega, not just the Beta, Delta and Gamma. He is the Holy One of Israel. He is the Transcendent One and He is עִמָּנוּאֵל Imanu'el. He is the Ancient of Days, not just the end of days. He is indeed loving and relation but at the same time He is infinite and incomprehensible. He's not your buddy, He's your Lord. He's not your homeboy, He's your King. 

We need to learn respect and a sense of awe for the One who has control over diseases, injuries, demons, the weather, and even death. In our attempts to make Jesus the approachable friend in seeker-sensitive America we often strip Him of His overpowering awe and majesty and make Him a pushover or a doormat. Even though that is how He appeared the first time, He ended victorious anyway. What I know for certain is this...He will not becoming back as a meek slain lamb, He will be returning as the conquering Lion of Judah. Lions  are incredibly powerful, have sharp claws and teeth that can tear meat from bone. 

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