August 31, 2013

Entertaining Angels Unaware and Sometimes Quite Aware

We are exhorted to show hospitality to strangers in Hebrews 13 if for no other reason than the fact that we might be giving that hospitality to messengers of God. The word ξενίσαντες "have entertained" or showed hospitality below also carries with it a sense of astonishment and startled surprise. This of course should not be unanticipated, as anyone who ends up encountering supernatural beings tend to become unsettled or stunned. I know I did. When in is the presence of God this bewilderment is infinitely more powerful.

Hebrews 13:2 ~ “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

We know encountering angels is not only possible- it actually happened to people in the Bible in their ordinary lives. When it did happen, it most often made those ordinary lives extraordinary just as it would today. When God sends His own personal messengers to you, you had better believe that something huge or momentous is afoot and moving about in your life. When the people encountered the angels in the Bible, sometimes people were aware they were in the presence of the supernatural and sometimes not. Sometimes they initially didn’t know but came to an awareness of the fact in the course of the events that unfolded.

The Angel of the Lord (a theophany of the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ) appears to Hagar after she had been sent away by Sarai. The angel tells Hagar to return to, and to submit to, Sarai. He also told Hagar that her seed would be multiplied exceedingly and that she should call her child Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-12). As a note I do not believe this is the beginning of the Islamic religion as that fake religion didn’t come into existence until 2600 years later. This is nothing more than Mohammad stealing from the Judean/Christian storyline and lying to incorporate it into the Qur’an and Islam.

Two angels rescued Lot, his wife, and two daughters from Sodom. The angels told them to escape to the mountains and not to look back because the angels were going to destroy Sodom. Clearly a city of sexual depravity. I will not even get into the details of the depravity since it will lead us down a trail that will require a post of its own. Archaeological finds corroborate the narrative of the Bible also concerning the condition of this city of the plains. God then cannot find even 10 righteous people within Sodom yet Lot and his family continue to live in the godless and iniquitous environment. God sends two angels to warn Lot of the impending destruction of the city of his residence. (Genesis 19:1-22).

Abraham went up on the mountain to offer his son Isaac as a burnt sacrifice. As Abraham took the knife to Isaac, the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham and assured him that he had proven his obedience to God. The angel tells him to not lay a hand on the boy. It is clear Abraham fears God and it is at this point Abraham looks up and in a thicket he sees a ram caught by its horns. Of course this is God providing the sacrifice which is a type foreshadowing Jesus. The angel spoke again a little later and blessed Abraham by saying that the Lord would multiply Abraham's seed as the stars of heaven, and in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:1-18).

An angel (most likely the Angel of the Lord) appeared to Jacob and wrestled with him all night. Unable to prevail against Jacob, he disjointed the hollow of Jacob's thigh. The angel changed Jacob's name to Israel and blessed him (Genesis 32:24-30).

The Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush. The Lord then told Moses to free the Hebrews from the bondage of Egypt because He has heard their suffering (Exodus 3-4:17).

The Angel of the Lord stood in the way of Balaam and his donkey. Balaam saddles his donkey and goes with the leaders of Moab. God is angered Balaam goes and the Angel of the LORD stands in his way. The donkey, seeing the Angel of the Lord detours and makes a B-line into an adjoining field. Balaam not being able to discern the Angel of the Lord whacks the donkey to turn her back on course. Again the Angel blocks the donkey’s way so it presses against the wall smashing Balaam’s foot which again solicits another whack from Balaam. A third time the Angel blocks the donkey, and a third time the donkey takes evasive maneuvers by lying down. Balaam is incensed with anger at this point and proceeds to strike the donkey with a stick. The Lord then opens the mouth of the donkey and asks Balaam through the donkey, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" I don’t know about Balaam but my first reaction wouldn’t be to answer the donkey but I’d wonder why it’s talking. What is even more amusing is that Balaam answers the animal without thinking twice or hesitating. The Lord then reveals the angel to Balaam and he is grateful that his life has been spared. (Numbers 22:22-35).

Joshua was confronted by an angel who was the captain of the-- host of the Lord. Joshua utters the now famous question, “Are you for us, or for our enemies?” Then comes the angels curious response, ““Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” It is at this point Joshua realizes his error and is struck with terror. Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The angel then gives Joshua instructions on conquering Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15).

An angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and commissioned him to save Israel from the Midianites (Judges 13:1-20). Gideon made a meal for the angel. The angel had Gideon put the food on a rock and pour out the broth he made. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

We see something unique here and we should take heed of it. Gideon realized he was in the presence of a sovereign holy God and he knew what the outcome might be. Things could turn out really bad for him and he knew it. Death could easily result if he treated God too lightly.

Elijah, depressed because Jezebel vowed to kill him, went into the wilderness, sat under a juniper tree, and begged God to let him die. An angel came and prepared food for Elijah. Elijah was so strengthened by those meals that he journeyed forty days without eating again (1 Kings 19:1-8). It should probably be understood that Elijah is supernaturally buoyed here. It should also be seen that Elijah is quite human and flawed here also. For all the miracles and supernatural works that God did through him, he is still quite human and prone to human flaws and foibles.

Of course we should clearly mention the angels before during and after Christ’s ministry on earth. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah and announced that Elizabeth, who was old and barren, would have a son and that he should be named John. This son will indeed be John, John the Baptist the forerunner of the King. He also told Zachariah about John's future ministry. It is also Gabriel that appears to the Virgin Mary and told her that she would give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). There are the angels that met the women at Jesus' tomb and announced His resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:11-18). There is the Angel of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds and was subsequently joined by a multitude of the heavenly host praising God (Luke 2:8-15). As Jesus ascends into Heaven at the end of His earthly stay, two angels appeared to the Apostles and said, ““Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11) So we wait as faithful disciples of the Lord on this exact thing…His return.

We then see quite a few episodes of angels helping the followers of Jesus in the new covenant after Christ’s departure to be at the right hand of the Father. The angel of the Lord brought the Apostles out of prison.
Acts 5:17-20 ~ Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

The Angel of the Lord told Philip to go to Gaza. There Philip met and converted the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39).

An angel appeared to Cornelius, telling him that God had heard his prayers and that he should send to Joppa for Peter. The angel said Peter would tell Cornelius what he should do (Acts 10:1-8).

Peter was asleep in prison while other Christians were praying for his release. The angel of the Lord woke Peter and released his chains. Peter followed the angel out of the prison and through the iron gate, which opened of its own accord (Acts 12:1-19).

Paul, sailing to Rome to be tried before Caesar, was in a storm for two weeks. The Angel of God appears to Paul and tells Paul that he must be brought before Caesar (Acts 27:21-25). The Angel tells Paul not be afraid for he must stand trial before Caesar; and God had graciously given him all the lives of those who sail with him. Paul then exhorts the men to maintain his  courage because Paul believed in faith that things would happen just as God had told him.

There of course are other instances of angels entering into the physical realm but these are the ones that snap to mind as I wrote. I chose not to mention the fallen ones because they do not deserve nor warrant any more attention than absolutely necessary. I am sure you understand. 

August 27, 2013

Ways To Please God VI: Guard Against Evil Like A One Man Army

Give Thanks for Everything

1 Thessalonians 5:18 ~“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

This passage is written in the context of family worship. Ministry must come from this worship of God or we fail as Christians in what we are called to do. Many churches lack this true worship and instead rely on religious entertainment for the people. Worship is for and about God, not the people. The worship is not to cater to what people think is good worship, it should cater to what God says is acceptable. I fear we totally miss the mark here.  Churches most often do what they do to draw in new seekers rather than draw nearer to God. Paul mentions many things in this immediate context (1 Thessalonians 5:17-28) that make up proper worship of God and thanking Him for who and what He is might be one of the most important. There are nearly entire books dedicated to worship of God or retelling or embellishing of the things God has done and will do, they are called Psalms. Psalms literally adds to the meaning and feel of the history books of the Israelites (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles).

As we grow in our understanding of God, so too should our praise. If our knowledge of God is growing we should be that much more amazed and astounded by Him and wish to thank Him all the more for those very reasons. You’d have to be brain-dead not to see the correlation. The more someone understands the wonder of God, the more someone should realize just how much of a wonder it is that He would consider us at all.

God is sovereign over all Creation and beyond. God is indeed in control. When things seem totally out of our control it is reassuring to know that it is going according to His plan. He may not always answer our prayers that way that we want but what we can be assured of and thankful for is that He is always with us, even in our suffering. Often our prayers about our suffering are answered in the form of God’s companionship in our suffering. He goes along in the suffering with us. His answer is to suffer alongside us in our trials. We must realize that God is also omnipresent and it logically follows that the suffering that He allows, He is also present for. If He is merciful and loving He is not there with us to gloat, He is there with us to comfort us and help us endure (2 Corinthians 1).

Don’t Quench the Spirit

1 Thessalonians 5:19 ~ Do not quench the Spirit. 

We must understand that when God is truly taking over our lives it is His Spirit that is doing the work in us. If there is no growth in us there is no Spirit at work. This means we are squeezing Him out through our sin our selfishness. In reality we are quenching the Spirit. The word quench here is σβέννυτε and means “do extinguish” or “do suppress.” It is preceded by a negative participle μὴ / me or not. It therefore literally means to not put out, like putting out a fire. In this case the fire of the Holy Spirit. It is the same Spirit that came on the followers of Christ at Pentecost. Just like some of the severely conservative members of the Thessalonian church were frowning upon some of the more exaggerated gifts, so too I believe non-emotive, stick-in-the-mud church members frown upon the more exuberant of the faith. These more passive members in an attempt to clamp down of what they believe is too much manifestation of the Spirit end up extinguishing the enthusiasm of other members. This is a no-no and Paul says so right here.

Abstain From Evils

1 Thessalonians 5:22 ~ Abstain from every form of evil.

I suppose this command goes without saying but it is worth stating anyway. Anything that is evil is not of God. Anything that latches on to your life that is not holy will potentially prevent you from being fully in the presence of a holy God that will not look upon evil. It doesn’t mean He can’t, it merely means He will not as it requires that He judge it. So logic dictates that if someone wishes to not be judged by God, it behooves them to abstain from all evil. Otherwise God will need to judge the sin or evil. Judgment is never pretty and there is a price to pay. Although Christ died on the Cross to absorb that cost…chastisement for a believer is usually in order and usually comes.

The thing that I really wish to point out in this verse is the use of the plural παντὸς εἴδους “every form, kind or type” of evil as opposed to the previous verse’s (v.21) use of the singular καλὸν which properly understood means things that are worthy, beautiful or good. We are being exhorted to avoid all evil that we can see or come in contact with physically. In other words, if we can see it and recognize it for what it is...we're to avoid it like the plague. It is also in the juxtaposing of these two verses that we see the singular source of all that is good, worthy, beautiful, righteous…holy. That singular source is God. Finding the good should be easy, it resides in One place and can be found through His Word and in His Son Jesus Christ as they are the same.

On the other hand we see multiple sources for evil as we are surrounded with it in society just like Paul was in Thessalonica. Evil of course can come from the demonic and the powers and principalities of this world but we are much more likely to encounter it in the most common of places…in other people. We will even encounter it in those close to us including other Christians that have given evil an opening in their lives. Hence the need to abstain from all evil. We must stay vigilant in our duty to avoid evil and help the body of Christ to do the same. This literally means standing sentinel (or should I say kneeling sentinel)  to protect not only ourselves but also those around us.

August 25, 2013

Blinded By The Light: Being Struck Blind in Scripture

Blindness is a reoccurring condition in the Bible. There are certain instances of blindness that are specific punishments. They are instances where people are specifically struck blind. God punishes people right between the eyes to get them to snap out of a sin or to stop them from persecuting others or in sense, prevent them from persecuting themselves through the act of self-defiling sin. Sometimes the only way to get people to pay attention is to literally or figuratively slap them around a few times or poke them in the eye. These people are the types that are in a hysterical state of iniquity and depravity. In each and every case in the Bible of people being struck blind there was an action or actions of gross rebellion against God or the people of God (or both). There are also instances where people behave as if they’re blind as in the case of Isaiah 59 because of their apostasy. This “blindness” or inability to know the right thing is also a form of striking blind - it too is punishment or being given over to one’s sin individually or en masse as in the case of Romans 1 and its blindness of depravity.

In the passage in Isaiah we see a nation so fallen and depraved in sin they cannot tell right from wrong. In so doing, those in Isaiah’s time are becoming victims to the very evils that they allow to gestate in the bowels of the nation while they are in wholesale rebellion and a slide away from God. Frankly, it is not much different than I see in the world around me today--especially here in falling America.

Isaiah 59:10 ~ Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead.

Isaiah then goes on to tell the reader the exact reason for the blindness of the people.

Isaiah 59:12-15 ~ For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

Again in Genesis 19 we see more of the same, men that have totally turned their back on God and are just hours away from destruction along with their cesspool cities. Again, like the sinners lost in spiritual blindness in Isaiah 59 we see more depraved sinners lost in their sins (like us before conversion) groping blindly trying to continue to pursue their sin.

Genesis 19:11 ~ Then they (angels) struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

We are on the eve of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in this scene. The men of Sodom then begin to threaten Lot by pressing “hard against Lot” to get past him so they can force themselves on the “men.” It is at this point the angels intervene by dragging Lot back into the house and slamming the door. These townspeople were then supernaturally stuck by the angels with blindness. What is exceptionally disturbing in this scene is that these men wearied themselves trying to find the doorway in pursuit of their sin(s) after being struck blind. It was as if the blindness had virtually no effect. It is here we see the depravity and entrenched nature of their sin. If it is not for the supernatural intervention of God of messengers of God, these same people would exhaust themselves in perpetuity pursing their depravity.  They are lost or given over to their sin (Romans 1) to the point that they blindly grope for the doorway in pursuit of it (Isaiah 59:10)

In the end these men will not only be stuck with blindness but all of Sodom and Gomorrah will be wiped from the face of the plains (therefore the earth) in God’s consummate judgment on their sin.

It is in the same frayed sin-twisted mentality that we've seen in Sodom and Gomorrah, that we will see Paul getting struck blind on the road to Damascus. This of course is probably the most visible and well-known example of God punishing someone through a blinding. Paul is mercilessly pursuing, persecuting and killing Christians in an almost psychotic frenzy or orgy of violence. It is in the process of doing this or flailing around violently in wanton persecution that God directly intervenes and basically cuts him off from his heinously sinful endeavors. It is at the sight of the Lord Jesus of God that Paul is brought to his senses and ceases his murderous exertions. In the blinding light of God’s righteousness, holiness and glory even the most hardened sinners (like us) can be snapped to and be drawn out of the darkness. God’s lighthouse can reach even the darkest crevasse of evil.

Acts 9:3-8 ~ As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. 

In our next example we see another battle of evil being waged against God’s people. God’s people are being led spiritually by Elisha. They are being pursued by a hostile Arameans. What the Israelite army would’ve only been able to do through an exceptional loss of life in battle, God ends up doing through one person. Elisha prays and God answers his prayer by striking blind the entire army of Arameans.

2 Kings 6:18 ~ As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.

Elisha then immediately prays to restore their sight or open their eyes and God does this also. God does peacefully what man could only do possibly through acts of war. This is surprising analogous to the hardened person that refuses to see God and His truth and then in one act of blinding truth, brings the hardened person around not only to see the error of their past ways (like Paul and all sinners) but then also shows them the truth of the matter in the larger scheme or big picture.

2 Kings 6:20 ~ After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria.

In the acts of saving His own people, God in His sovereignty and providence also spares the lives of the enemy…some of which could very possibly have converted to the Almighty God of Elisha having been witness (or inability of witness) to the miraculous events that had just happened. In setting feast before the enemy they essentially made a covenant of peace because eating together under one roof constitute a peace treaty in the Ancient Near East and Arameans would now be bound by social custom  to not attack a friend who had extended a gift of hospitality. As such the Arameans stopped raiding Israelite territory for quite a while. In this story we see that God is indeed concerned with war and when possible wishes to avoid it.

2 Kings 6:23 ~ So he (the King) prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.

I will mention one more blinding by God and we again visit Acts and Paul but it is not Paul being blinded this time. It is through something Paul (Saul) does that someone else is blinded. We end up seeing (pun intended) Elymas the Sorcerer being struck blind when Paul spoke the word of God. He is struck because he tries to turn Sergius Paulus from the faith.

Acts 13:7-11 ~ The two of them (Barnabas and Saul), sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

In this Elymas we see a special tool of the Devil strategically placed to try and circumvent the plans of God. Of course this is not possible and he is essentially verbally smacked around by Paul and sent on his way but the confrontation is of interest for Christians today. Why? We need to recognize when we're being detoured from our proper tasks. We need to give the “how-to and the what-for” to those that would attempt to withstand or actively repress our proclamation of the word of God or the Gospel.

We need to realize this passage very much speaks to us today on a few different levels. The forces of evil will stop at nothing to subvert the will and purposes of God. They will even infiltrate our places of worship and gatherings in an attempt to shut us down and silence us. This should only embolden us even more to do what we’ve been called to do by the Lord. 

Again we see someone foolishly trying to work against the sovereignty of God which is a fool’s errand. Overt and foolish rebellion against God is beyond comprehension of a rational man but people totally given over to their stupidity and sin do some really dumb things and end up paying dearly for it. This last blinding is ironic because it is Paul (once blind but now can see) speaking the Word that appears to have mitigated the blinding. It is as if, like all the other blinding incidence, that the truth of God like a blinding light incapacitates those that refuse to see God and His truth. It is as if people, even hardened in their sins and blinder than a bat in the darkness of evil and depravity cannot help but be blinded by the overpowering truth of God or His word.

God does not wish to kill us if there is more for us to do here in this life. It might take startling the living daylights out of us to get us back on track though. There are few things more unsettling than losing one’s sight when it is such a huge part of one’s ability to function in life. Today there are ways to work around blindness but in biblical time blindness would’ve been a virtual death sentence or subjection to a life of poverty and begging. In the following verse we see this and we also see the light of the world. The Fallen nature of the world and sin blinds people but the truth if God through Jesus Christ brings light to even the blindest people and the darkest places…

John 9: 4-9 ~ As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

So the question arises in a person’s life. Has God struck you senseless or blind to get your attention? Has he done it to turn you from a task that He wants you to stop? Have you had a Damascus Road experience in your life where God was at first trying to get your attention subtly but in the end just need to smack you upside the head? Do you think its such a good thing that God has to work that hard to get your attention when you are doing something completely wrong disobedient and against His will? God does not want us as blind spiritual beggars. He wants us as sons and daughters, heirs to the throne through His Son Jesus Christ. Will you wait for that striking of blindness of catastrophic event in your life or will you willingly submit to him without all the drama? I personally prefer less drama in life. We live in a fallen world, life is already eventful enough.

August 23, 2013

Ways To Please God V: Dwell In The Word and Pray Unceasingly

Let Christ’s Message Dwell In Us

Colossians 3:16 ~ Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

The message of course means the Word of God, the Gospel, etc. The truth of Scripture had been infiltrated in Colossae and had been corrupted by false teachers/teachings, traditions and nonsensical religious rules. Paul wrote Colossians to set things straight.

It is not the word of false teaching that brings the Colossians to Christ. It is the word of God or Christ Himself that brings them to Himself. So too is the effect on us. False teachings and the traditions of men save no one. It is the Word of God that brings life and maintains it.

1 Peter 1:23-25 “…since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

If the word of God has transformed us then it will most certainly dwell in us richly.

James 1:18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.

Again we see a Greek word that warrants a closer look. The word dwell is ἐνοικείτω /enoikeito and means to “feel at home with.” It also means to intensify. Therefore when seen together the truth is “at home” in us and by its nature intensifies or increases within us in power and effect. It can therefore be surmised that if truth is life and there is an overabundance of God’s truth growing in us…there will be an overflow of life into an outflowing of the truth…or fruit seen by others. Because what is fruit? It is an overflow of life from a plant that produces within itself the very thing needed to create more new life…seeds.

1 John 3:9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

We must also understand that Colossians is an Epistle or a public letter written to a group of people, not an individual. Paul is telling the entire church at Colossae. He is not telling just individuals to let the word dwell in them but it can also be interpreted that Paul wants the word to dwell or find itself at home in the entire community of believers. Why? The implication is that by all being positively affected by the word the Spirit will also dwell in unity in the believers and they will all be of like mind and Spirit. They will dwell in harmony and in unity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:2-3 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. [In the context of the entire Body of Believers]

Here too we again see the dwelling in peace of Christ through the Spirit (Colossians 3:15)

Pray Without Ceasing

1 Thessalonians 5:17 ~ Pray without ceasing

When I dwell in the Word and in the mindset that was mandated and commanded by God I am in the right place. I am comfortable. It is where I have been commanded to be. This sort of connects to Paul’s pray without ceasing. Paul’s prayer without ceasing is not necessarily “prayer” as we understand it but keeping God at the forefront of things. That is what I believe goes on here when we are not literally praying but dwelling in Him and He in us. I’d say that it is a symbiotic relationship but it’s not, God does not need us. It is a dependent relationship, we need Him.

I pray to maintain a desire for God. Praying this desire to God is not hard for me. The pursuit is within me. I believe it is driven by the Holy Spirit. A spiritual man is driven by the Spirit to spiritual matters. Of like to like. God already knows the desires of my heart but He has commanded me to pray anyway for my own good. God already knows how things will be and how they will turn out. I am not so much praying so things will be different so much as I am praying to keep myself aligned to Him, His will and linked to His holiness. Left to our own devices and abilities we do not have the strength to stay locked into God in a materialistic society.

When Paul said to pray without ceasing he isn't saying get on your knees in a constant manner physically, he meant something along the lines of always having God first. He needs to be the primary and supreme factor in the decisions in your life. When people say you need to rest in the Lord and find that quiet time I believe that too looks different to different people. I personally cannot lock myself away in a closet or small quiet room. Well, at least it wouldn't be my first preference. It would make my kind of batty.

August 20, 2013

Ways To Please God IV: Amazing Joy and Immeasurable Peace

New York South Street Arrival c.1885
John Stobart
Rejoice in All Circumstances

Philippians 3:1 ~ Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! 
Philippians 4:4 ~ Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

There is no joy in death and that is exactly what we are condemned to if we remain unrepentant and unsaved. If we are in the Lord Jesus Christ and saved we have every reason to be joyous. We will have eternal life and death and suffering of the physical body will only be temporary. Circumstances can rob us of joy temporary in this life but Paul is speaking about spiritual things. He will later inform the reader that our citizenship is in heaven not here on earth. To realize this as believers and to look past our suffering requires us to take the long view and realize the sufferings of this life are only temporary. In other words, when we suffer we need to work backwards from the end goal in glory with Jesus and this requires that we see the path backwards from the end having overcome the suffering and work our way back to where we are in our sufferings. In this way we establish for ourselves a righteous anchor point on the far shore in eternity or somewhere outside our current suffering. When we are anchored in Christ there will be no tempest that will be able to shake loose our mooring in the harbor of eternal life with Him. This should cause us amazing joy and immeasurable peace.

We need to not get “wrapped-up” in the here and now. The things of this world are the tangible things anyway…the things that have the highest probability of becoming idols. We should not envy those with materialistic wealth or worldly things as it only acts as spiritual ballast. The “things” themselves are not what is sinful but rather the value instilled in them by people. We know that all which  is created was created good or very good by God. It therefore can only be man that can cause these inanimate objects to become sinful. Sin requires a premeditated volitional act (or lack of) and only sentient beings can perform or not perform these sins as they are acts of consciousness. That narrows the field to humans and spiritual beings/demons.

Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25 ~ “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

We need to seriously sit back and evaluate what we hold dear in this life. What produces pure joy and what produces temporary joy? Are we joyous because of what we “have” materialistically or do we value that which is of more value to the Kingdom of God that is spiritual and holy? Do we do things to prosper us in this life or for the life to come? Do we store up treasure in Heaven or store up rubbish here where moth and rust destroy? What timescale are we thinking on? Do we subscribe to doing only good things in this life when good does nothing or do we do things that are righteous and through Christ that propel the Kingdom forward?

Isaiah and Paul borrowing from Isaiah said it best: Apart from Christ everything else is just waste and garbage.

Philippians 3:7-8 ~ But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Isaiah 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Everything he had done or accumulated to himself was nothing more than rubbish. The word Paul uses here for rubbish is σκύβαλα/skybala or literally: Scraps thrown to the dogs or the excrement of animals (skat or literally: crap based in the context of the passage). We must remember that dogs were not pets in Paul’s time, they were vicious scavengers that wandered the streets and vicinity looking for food. Paul is essentially saying that whatever he had once consider of value was now essentially of no value whatsoever…it was literally crap in today's vernacular. We must think the same because we deal with the surpassing value of the same God that Paul spoke of. Our God, His righteousness and salvation are priceless and to be sought at all costs. Because we know that this is what is of real value, then the sufferings of this life pale by comparison. If suffering and death is trivialized because of this…we should rejoice! This pleases God that we would overcome the pull-down, beatings and persecution of this world only to be joyous taking the long view of our salvation…just like Jesus did in His obedience to the Father…even to the point of Crucifixion (Philippians 2:5-11).

Let the Peace of God Rule in Your Life

Colossians 3:15 ~ …let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Paul is asking believers something here. We can know that the peace of Christ is in us if we are in His will because those in the Church will be of one Spirit, the Holy Spirit. To lose this inner peace is to not obey God. The word βραβευέτω/brabeueto or "to rule" is better understood to “preside” or act as an umpire. In the Greek games which Paul references occasionally, there was an official who was there to officiate and issue prizes to the participants. They would judge to see who was qualified and who was not. Those not fit for the competition would be disqualified. Therefore the peace of God is the umpire or official in our hearts and in the church. It is the peace (wholeness) from Christ that He uses to assure or confirm to a believer that they are living in His preferred-will for them. Are you qualified or have you disqualified yourself?

It is this very peace that acts as the balancer and spiritual mediator and moderator in our churches.

The passage will then go on to say that believers should let, the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

We should recognize Him in us if we manifest these characteristics and desire to do them continually. When we do not have this peace we need to understand that we are not in God’s will and the obvious fallout is that we will not be at peace or we will be spiritually unsettled of spiritually discontent. This discontent is a warning system to tell us we are drifting outside the will of God into apostasy and disobedience. Where there is peace there will be praise to God. Where there is spiritual restlessness we will see that the system of the world has infested us.

August 18, 2013

Being Called Out To Assemble Together

G' Mornin' all. This post was originally only suppose to be a word study that I posted as a single paragraph with Scripture reference in my Greek O' The Week column. As you can see it is clearly larger than a paragraph. This week's word study was ἐκκλησία/ ekklesia and it became so lengthy I had to make it into a genuine post here. There is something profound going on in the meaning of this word that does not immediately come to the surface by just thinking it means church. After digging and rummaging around in the context of the Scriptures that it is found in and referencing the Kittel's Theological Dictionary and some other lexicons I am humbled by its complexity...and its obviously divine origins. When I was finished writing my own post, even as the writer had to sit back an ponder what I had just written in its profundity as it clearly was done through compulsion of the Spirit. 

ἐκκλησία/ ekklesia

The noun (or nouns) ἐκκλησία/ ekklesia is a compound word from the Greek ek/ἐκ meaning “out from” or “to” and the word  kaléō/καλἐο "to call". When combined they form a meaning meant to address a group of people viewed as being “called out from the world”. This can more be more commonly known in modern times as a church but this is a skewed definition as church implies a structure or assembly within a hierarchy of believers. A hierarchy which is not entirely biblical if it arranges one believer over another. The church therefore is more akin to the unity and balance of the members of the Godhead in equity and equality, not one member over another. Although for a time Jesus was "functionally" subordinate to the Father on the Cross, the Triune Godhead is One Being and three equal Persons.

The truth is that there are no etymological links between ἐκκλησία and the word church. William Tyndale’s (1526) English translation originally translated the word as the term "congregation" not “church”. Originally, the New Testament believers met in rented halls and in the homes of people. They had elders/ πρεσβύτεροi/presbyteroi or bishops/επίσκοποι/episkopoi (please note the plural) which were called of God and given the oversight of the local or individual congregations (Acts 20:28). 

hierarchical church government outside the local assembly is not to be found in Pauline writings unless one wishes to use things like the Jerusalem Collection to bridge contexts (This was a collection he took up among the Gentile churches to help Judean believers who were facing harder than usual economic times as a result of a famine during the mid to late 40s).

The ἐκκλησία are to be an assembly of people selected/elected by God and separated from the world in holiness and humbleness. We are not to be separated in self-righteous arrogance as we see in many misguided Christians today that have fallen into the same trap as the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes of Jesus’ time. ἐκκλησία was originally used in Acts to designate a singular congregation, but it now has morphed to encompass the Church universal also.

It is interesting to note that in Acts (and other places), the use of the word was initially used in conjunction or correlation to single local connections or locations.

Acts 7:38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.

Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

The ἐκκλησία whether singular or plural is therefore to be viewed as tied to a temporal or physical geographically decisive point...while simultaneously being a spiritual entity. It is as if by silence the implication is that the ἐκκλησία potentially could be anywhere (i.e.: the Kingdom of God) but simultaneously is tied to a geographic and time-bound historical location through believer's bodies that are the Temples of the Holy Spirit. It appears that in Christian's, God now has a much more efficiently mobile Tabernacle in the form of the believer themselves instead of an edifice or building. But there is even more going on here. The Tabernacle and believers as the Temple of the Holy Spirit is a unique feature of the Christian body (and Christian faith) that shows that God was not only interactive in man’s world…but he still is. This means the ἐκκλησία or what we now understand as a local congregation is anywhere that two or more gather in the name of Christ (Matthew 18:20). The church is therefore singular yet plural, individual but also universal.

The singular and plural characteristics of the church are seen no clearer than in Acts 9:31 [emphasis in parenthesis are mine]…

Acts 9:31 Then the church [singular] throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria [in a plural context] enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers [individuals in plurality].

We also see the interplay of plural and singular aspects of the church in places like this...

1 Corinthians 12:27-28 Now you [plural you; ye] are the body [singular designation of a pluralistic entity] of Christ, and each one of you [singular individuals] is a part of it [the plural Church or body of Christ]. And God has placed in the church [singular designation of a pluralistic entity] first of all apostles [plural], second prophets [plural], third teachers [plural], then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

Finally we have this passage from 1 Corinthians 12. Which if there was any doubt left, will silence any remaining doubts about a universal body made of individuals.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all [plural obviously] baptized by one Spirit [part of a plural Godhead] so as to form one body [singular designation of a pluralistic entity] —whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all [plural] given the one Spirit [singular] to drink.

This is not a contradiction but assuredly it is paradoxical. We as Christians should not be surprised though as God is indeed One Being but Three Persons and it is through the Spirit that his church/churches thrive.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

There is a direct link between the spiritual Kingdom of God and any place living physical Christians gather to obey and do the will of God.

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

To me it is clear that Matthew 16:18 is referring to Christ founding the institution of a universal church but not the establishment of a hierarchical church per se (Roman Catholicism). He is starting the church based on the belief and faith of an individual (Peter) but the entire church is a body of multiple individual's in their individual calls to repentance through faith. The universal church is therefore logical fallout from a unifying of individual church entities but not in a tiered fashion but as one solid single unit. Just as individual families build the local church, so too the local churches create a much large Spirit directed unit.

Implications To The Believer:

We have always been called to gather and assemble ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). It did not matter where in terms of location. We are also to do church around the clock and everywhere that we are geographically and physically at a given moment. Every act of our lives is either an act of worship towards God or an act of desertion or rebellion away from Him. Just like the Israelites in Babylonian captivity praying/worshiping by the Chebar River, it was the heart intent of the believer, not the geographic location. In line with this thought, churches can be quite small and need not be large or enormous congregations of believers. The truth is that extremely large congregations are actually counter-productive to the close knit associations shown in the early church of Acts.

There is something unique about an assembly in that it is something more than the sum of its parts. There is a synergism that cannot be had when one is isolated alone. It is like a hot coal in the furnace. Together with other hot coals it will retain its light and heat longer with others of the same kind. If we remove the hot coal from the cluster of coals it will dim and cool quicker than in a collective.

Additionally, gathering together in individual churches we help make up the universal body of Christ. In so doing we are singular as individual personalities but we also know that each congregation has its own collective “personality”. Some ἐκκλησία are more, “urban”, “rural”, “seeker friendly” whereas others are more “theological”, “dogmatic” or some combination thereof. They are a direct reflection of their individual congregants. Until Christ comes there will always be factions and divisions in the Body due to sin but while we're here some of these categorizations might actually help reach certain types of people (but it is not the optimal situation).

It is in the individual plurality or plural individualism of the modern congregations that we see in the diversity of the body a unique reflection of the Godhead. In this way we better reach the unsaved world while remaining holy and called out from the world. In the ἐκκλησία we see a singular entity with a diversity of individuals that serve different functions. We end up being a direct reflection of God/Godhead individually and plural as in Genesis

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image [singular and plural], in the image of God [singular and plural] he created him [singular]; male and female he created them [plural].

and in a plural manner in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ [functionally singular but part of a Triune Godhead] . For we were all baptized by one Spirit  [functionally singular but part of a Triune Godhead] so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body [singular] is not made up of one part but of many [plural for functional reasons].

Just as a proper biblical marriage between one woman and one man is a direct reflection of the relational aspects of the too is the ἐκκλησία itself.

In the end we’re to ensure we come together as a people to encourage one another and strengthen one another. This is what unites us as a body. What is done on Sunday is not totally what is considered part of this “calling together/ gathering”, it is only part of it (teaching, exhorting, encouraging). The only person doing the talking is the preacher, while everyone listens and do not bother asking questions. What we see in sermons today is only part of what was meant. If you are only attending church on Sunday you are only fulfilling part of the idea of ἐκκλησία and it is a lopsided understanding at best.

Found here: Acts 5:11, 7:38, 8:1, 8:3, 9:11, 1 Corinthians 14:19, 35, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 11:18, Philippians 4:15, Colossians 4:16, etc.
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