September 30, 2014

Praying Big To Get Small, Part II: Putting On the New

To follow up on my previous post about struggling to be humble and getting small (less pride), I present Colossians’ answer to those struggles. As I realize with all of my dangerous struggles in life I cannot handle them on my own. I turn to the Bible and prayer to help me through my inner and outer struggles. Getting humble is an internal thing and working through this issue is no exception to my Scripture and prayer rule. As a matter of fact the struggle with getting small is prayer and Scripture specific. The Scripture gives me much of the direct answers I need in the form or Colossians 3, the prayer gives be the strength through my much needed relationship with the Lord when failure and defeat mount unmercifully. I have found the battle with humility is laced with demonic partners of anger, pride and insecurity and these tag-teamed forces have become a protracted and pitted battle. It has been a lengthy confrontation I never saw coming. God has to be in these situations or I fail.

Colossians 3:12-13 ~ Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, [fore]bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

I have needed to divest myself of behavior that was inappropriate for a Christian in the entirety of my life. This included what I did in the privacy of my home life. Humility in public and a false humility at home is leading a double life and is not Christian whatsoever. It is a textbook case of hypocrisy. My emphasis needed to not be stopping the actions but stopping the motives or emotions/feelings that instigated the undesirable actions. This included justifying two-faced behaviors.

Paul had taught this concept in Romans 6:4 too, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

I need to reminder myself that I as a believer had been specially selected and set apart to represent Him not only to the public but especiaslly to those in my family. As a man, i act as the conduit through which grace flows spiritually into my family. Up to this point I have failed miserably. First and foremost I am to project God’s love. It’s hard to do that when I was often sullen and brooding. Colossians 3:12-14 then goes on a roll that hit home to me like a sledgehammer in the head. Because of false humility, I was guilty of not projecting nearly all of these, mostly to those closest to me. I don’t humble well nor suffer well. When I am humble and loving things like compassion, kindness, gentleness, forebearing/patience (v.12-14) should come naturally. I certainly struggle with all of them. 

These are all mentioned together so it should be assumed that to some extent they should all be present in the new person I am to have become as a Christian. Compassion is putting myself in another person’s shoes in an empathetic manner and feeling their pain and having a God-given sensitivity to it. In the Greek it is σπλάγχνα/splanchna meaning internal organs or bowels, and οἰκτιρμοῦ/oiktirmou meaning deep visceral feelings. It’s as if Paul is driving home a near supernatural feeling in the very core of what I am. It literally means a twisting of the guts. I believe it is exactly what we mean today when we say things made our stomach turn. I need to have compassion in love for others that allows me to so acutely feel their pain that it turns my stomach to have to witness and empathize with it.

My kindness is χρηστότητa/chrestota in Greek. This word’s cognate or root comes from xrēstós which means useful, profitable". When used in conjunction with the idea of kindness which this word also means, it comes to mean a kindness that is useful or can be applied. It essentially begs the question, what am I doing for others that I love and are kind to? It is having a sweet disposition and have selfless dealings with people. Yes, I said sweet.

The attribute of humility really zeroes in on the point and pain of my post. In the Greek it is actually ταπεινοφροσύνην/tapeinophrosyne and it means to self-moderate internally based on an honest self-evaluation. I need to be lowly of heart. I must become insignificant and lift others up. It really means I must work to reduce myself and not be self-serving. I cannot be doing things expecting a positive outcome or immediate reward (Kittel, 2-21). 

I should truly be more concerned with the welfare of others. They are not to be treated as if they are more important than my own welfare….they are actually to be more important. This therefore really catches Jesus meaning when He described greatness through service and sacrifice. That means Jesus’ crucifixion is the pinnacle of this humility. He led by perfect example. 

My humility should therefore be created by drawing an honest parallel of myself up alongside of Jesus and see how I compare. I should be striving for his example. I should clearly see my moral smallness and act accordingly. To act large knowing my true sinful shortcomings is just pure sin by pride. Pride must be mortified or killed off in order to put one’s self under another to serve.

Does it mean the other person’s better than me? No. That has nothing to do with it. In reality, many people that I will end up helping are morally and spiritually corrupt. Many will be unrepentant sinners hardened and drowning in their sin. Without my service to them in giving them the Gospel, they may never hear another world from Scripture and die condemned. 

Remember folks, Jesus loved sinners and died for sinners, while they were still sinners and did not recognize Him as the Messiah. We may be required to present the Gospel to people under the same conditions. People may hate us and spit in our faces when we present the Gospel to them. This requires a willingness to serve and possibly be abused for doing so. This is true humility.

It may require that we pursue a hardened family member much of their ungrateful lives just to win them to Christ. This might take an entire lifetime of service to be able to pull it off for just one person. This is where the patience and gentleness comes in too. Some people are not going to be saved overnight. It will take prolonged work in humility. 

Gentleness is πραΰτητα/prauteta and is emphasizing a divine meekness. It means not behaving harshly, arrogantly, or self-assertively but with consideration for others even in the worst circumstances. I must be intentionally reserved in times of trouble or baptisms of fire. This gentleness is critical in maintaining our Christian character. If we mess up even one time and people see it...we come off as hypocritical. Our patience and gentleness must be consistent, therefore it must be real. If we are prone to snapping out. We certainly do not have what the Bible speaks of. I am exceptionally guilty of this one and it appears to be a systemic failure more than anything. I just fail to embody Christ on this one quite often.

Patience/ἀνεχόμενοι/anechomenoi and forbearance/μακροθυμίαν/makrothymia should be seen acting together and this is rather profound from a Greek translation especially μακροθυμίαν. This is a compound word made of μακρο/makro or macro meaning long, large or broad and θυμία/thumia meaning to burn slowly as if to produce smoke. In other words it is a low burning fire that is not prone to burst into raging flame or in the case of our context…an anger that is not impulsive and easy to explode and pepper everyone in earshot. 

In short it is a perfect illustration of long-suffering. I therefore need to not be prone to spiral to high temperatures quickly or become ill-tempered. I am not to be of aggressive temperament. I need to be slow to burst into anger (if at all). I should not blow-up or snap-out on people for trivialities. Understanding this I quickly arrive at the conclusion that my anger is never justified. There is no place in a Christian’s life for explosive and corrosive anger. I am mortified (as are many men) that I often battle with this emotion and behavior.

Forgiving and love are pretty much self-explanatory. I will note that the word for forgive in the Greek is χαριζόμενοι/charizomenoi and means not only to forgive but also to treat another person with grace. Forgiveness with grace is therefore like unto God. Not only would I be forgiving in this context but I would be showing favor to the person forgiven like a true friend…a brother or sister.

I will admit outright that I continue to struggle with all of these, some more than others. The devil wants to convince me that their very presence tells me I am not saved. This isn’t true, it means I am a sinner saved by grace and I am a long way from my own righteousness. It means it is not my actions that save me but Jesus’ work at the cross. My trek towards holiness is a slow progression of the work of the Holy Spirit in me. 

I now realize this process can be horribly slow and depending on indwelling sin, it can sometimes actually go backwards as it seems to be doing now. But I continue to pray, try to embody Scripture and hold out hope in the One that has saved me. I hold out hope that He will continue to do a mighty work in me so that I will be an asset to the Kingdom and not a liability.

Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids (Mich.): Eerdmans, 1995. Print.

September 27, 2014

Praying Big To Get Small, Part I: Putting To Death The Old

I always thought I would need to pray for strength to get through tough things. I always thought I would be able to draw on my physical strength and spiritual strength. I was always one to fall back on bigness and fortitude. I was kind of right. I needed strength of the spiritual kind but not to live up to something…but rather down to it. It is hard for a big man with a chip on his shoulder to get small. I never once imagined I would need to pray profusely over a long period of trials for the humbleness that I now find myself in search of. I am a weightlifter and former powerlifter. I remained single until I was thirty three years old because I wanted to assure I met the right person for marriage and not go the divorce route so many of my friends had traveled. I believed myself to be the picture of self-reliance. I picked myself by my bootstraps and soldiered on. I worked my way up from an entry-level position in drafting and ended up in middle management in a Teir One, Class 8 truck manufacturer. At midlife I went back to school to get a degree in theology and a minor in business. My entire life was a picture of tenaciousness and perseverance.

It all ended up working against me when I needed to become relationship intensive. I never imagined meekness would become such a struggle for me. Humble for me has become my albatross. It is the millstone that repeatedly drags me down no matter how hard I try to surface for air. I had figured what I was doing was humility but it turns out it was a false humility. It was mostly a show and I didn’t realize it. I was behaving like I believed people wanted me to when dealing with anything concerning “church” or “ministry” related but behind the scenes I was really just being the same selfish and arrogant jerk, especially to my family. "I" came first in things. I was still my own idol. In the twelve years I stayed single to try and work through my own issues I became further entrenched in my ways. Sinful ways. Selfish ways. Condemning ways.

I used to be all about getting big so doing the opposite is posing a challenge to me heretofore unseen. It is all alien to me. The more I tried under my own power to go against the forces that were keeping me “big” and self-consumed, the more I realized I was battling something within myself that was, well, bigger than me. It was at this point I saw the full face of entrenched sin. I intellectually wanted to repent of it but my emotions and feelings were clearly getting in the way.

Yes, feelings and emotions (pesky things that they are for men). Primarily anger and right on its heels - a lack of patience. Until this point I did not realize that these two were severely handicapped by the Fall of man. Because my perception (and man's in general) has been morally twisted in Original Sin, I could no longer trust my feelings or emotions without first filtering them through Scripture. If I didn’t and just let certain aspects of these fly, they quickly became angers and frustrations. The truth is that it looked just like real humility in public but when I got around familiar people such as my family… condescension surfaced and then the sin of impatience quickly followed by anger.

I realized I needed to pray for God to help gain control over these sins and inabilities. Because my perceptions have been twisted by sin. I fully realized I am essentially incapable of recognizing and gaining control over my own sinful actions and hypocrisies. My sinful nature was to always deny they were “that bad”. As I said, it was a false humility. It might not have been intentional but it was clear I allowed feelings and emotions too much sway in my life and was incapable of reining them in on own. This is never acceptable and it is unbiblical. The Bible is littered with comments to the contrary. These comments are nearly always accompanied by suggestions on how to deal with these types of issues too.

Colossians 2:18 ~ “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.”

The whole idea above had to do with forms of false worship to God, specifically angel worship which is unbiblical and acetic practices that were self-abasing. In other words, to do things through self-denial (humility) thinking it will gain merit with God. Paul was attempting to get people to not use works related salvation methods. He is essentially saying that false humility in the presence of others serves no purpose and people should specifically avoid it.

Instead he tells his readers to not submit to works or regulations because they are in reality man-made religion and that just doesn’t save people. Instead we are to die to self in this world and walk towards Christ (Chap. 3). We need to put on the new self. We should set our minds on the things of Heaven (Col 3:1-3) because we have died to the things of this world and we should now be in Christ.

Furthermore, Paul goes into specific sins in detail in Chapter 3:5-8 that will incur the wrath of God. Sins that will inevitably be allowed to flourish because of false humility being given free reign. What are they? Anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene speech and lying. When I had false humility it wasn’t uncommon for at least anger, wrath, malice, and obscene speech to rear their ugly heads at least in my private life around my immediate family. This just wasn’t acceptable and was an indicator of my true heart condition. It need to change so I finally truly repented of these specific sins and prayed to God to help me to put them to death. I asked Him to help me put on the new self.

So I have turned to prayer and ask God to help me put on that new man of Colossians 3. Its all about submitting my will and desires to the needs of others. True humility is offering one’s life up in service to another.

[Concluded in Part II]

September 24, 2014

Superhero Theology VI: The Voice of God

Superman: Departure From Krypton
Sculpture by William Paquet 
[DC Direct]
As I tried to type the parallels between Jesus and other superheroes it dawned on me that many of the superpowers in many heroes are embodied in Jesus. In this way Jesus is the perfect superhero or superman. In truth, He is the perfect man. So I narrowed this down to the two most prominent. It seems Superman best represents Jesus and Moses. In truth Moses was merely a predecessor or shadow of Jesus anyway. In reality Jesus was so much more…but I’m getting ahead of myself by saying this. Because there is so much back story to the Superman narrative I will only hit on a few key ideas. Not only am I trying to point out the parallels intended by Superman’s creators but I am also trying to point out the theological stuff that is embedded in the narrative that the creators of Superman hadn’t intended or might not have seen.

In Moses we see a man set adrift in a vessel and pushed into a great unknown. The vessel is used to save his life from impending doom. This is similar to Superman being put on a craft that will evacuate Superman from a dying planet. Both Moses and Superman are found in a rural agrarian setting as infants by their adoptive parents. Moses is found among the bulrushes (reeds). Superman is found in a field. Both end up in a strange foreign world. Like Moses, Superman goes through an exodus from everything in his past only to take hold of a much greater responsibility. Superman or Kal-El is sent as the only son of Jor-El to earth. He looks the same as those around him (Clark Kent) but is clearly different (Superman).

Exodus 2:5-6 ~ The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. 

Ironically, Jesus to would come in a vessel too. He would come in a human body as an infant which would not be used to save His life but to give it up for the sins of those who repent. The reason He would give it would be to save everyone else’s life who were dying from sin on a dying sin-tainted planet. I should say that He gave it for all those who would believe that He came for that exact purpose. Jesus would come into a hostile world that was under the sway of evil and would use his power and influence to change His environment around Him so greatly that it would seem as if another world was forming in His presence (the Kingdom).

Romans 4:25 ~ He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

As Moses grows it becomes more and more apparent that is more than meets the eye when it comes to Moses life. In a similar way, as Clark Kent grows it becomes obvious to his parents Jonathan and Martha Kent that he has superhuman powers. The Kent’s teach Clark to use these powers responsibly to help others. After Moses kills an Egyptian for unjustly beating a Hebrew slave he flees to Midian and it is here that he will eventually come into God’s direct presence with the Burning Bush. From both of these stories we see that both Moses and Clark Kent seem to have been created or made with an acute sense of justice and right or wrong. Their lives become proactive in righting wrongs and correcting injustices.

Like Clark Kent, Moses appears mild-mannered and Moses even seems to fear what he is called to do by the Lord and uses human shortcomings to emphasize this fact. The Bible said that Moses was reluctant to speak because he was slow of speech and of slow tongue. Some people take this to mean that Moses stuttered. Regardless, it seems to be some sort of speech impediment. Yet he still managed to do great things. He did them through the Spirit of God!

It is when Moses begins to do the mighty works of God that we begin to see a shift to a new character. It is at this point Moses stops being mostly Clark Kent and becomes more Superman. The reason this seems to take place is because a new character comes over Moses. It is the Spirit of God (just as it is now in all believers). We see a shift and foreshadowing of Jesus. It is at this juncture also that when we see a shift from Clark Kent to Superman, we biblically can analogize the shift from Moses to Jesus Christ. Where Clark Kent was a mild-mannered but idealized working man, Superman is something more. Where Moses was originally only part of a royal earthly family he is divested of this role to become something much more in a spiritual manner in God’s family. In so doing he becomes an emulation of the Messiah.

Both Moses, Jesus and Superman are associated somehow with the Mosaic Law, a law or moral rectitude. God obviously gave Moses the Law in the Pentateuch and in the form of the Ten Commandments. The laws given at the time embodied moral, civil and ceremonial law. These all of course pointed to Jesus who was an embodiment of the Law given to Moses. 

Although the ceremonial and civil laws no longer apply to the Christian, the moral principles behind the moral parts of the law will always apply because, well, they deal with morality. Herein lies the unique parallel in the Superman narrative. Superman essentially upholds modern civic law in an idealized fashion. Not all, but some of the legalities and law in modern times is morally based. Even much of our Constitutional law is based in moral/ethical and even biblical underpinnings regardless of what revisionists want us to believe. In Superman’s world which parallels our own (sort of), it is the same.

When dealing with Superman as Jesus we see that Superman’s real name leaving Krypton is Kal-El which in a forced Hebrew means “voice of God”. This of course is exactly what Jesus was, not necessarily Superman. Unless of course we believe Jesus to be our Superman in real life because of the fact He has died for my sins and wishes to be my Master (which I do). Not only was Jesus Christ the voice of God, He was God, and the perfect human embodiment of God. A voice which, ironically, gave Moses the Law which Jesus was an embodiment of.

John 14:7-11 ~ “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.  “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; 

One thing I will note is that there are a few serious and major differences not only between Jesus and Superman but Jesus and all superheroes and all men including Moses. Jesus is divine and Jesus is perfectly holy. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Jesus is one Persona in a Triune Godhead. These characteristics cannot be found in any of the aforementioned. Nor will they be found in any future superhero or man. It is due to these characteristics that Jesus would be able to die and atone for the sins of man. This is a critical distinction that needs to be made. It is specifically because of these characteristics that Jesus would be able to die in accordance with Scripture, be buried quite dead and rise again the third day. His rising would be through the power of the Holy Spirit and it would change the course of history forever. Not even Superman can do that.

In short we must realize that I am comparing Superman to Jesus, not the other way around. The concept of Superman as we understand it today would not even exist if Jesus and Moses hadn’t existed first. Why? The creator of Superman was Jewish and there are deliberate vehicles from the Jewish faith (Moses meta-narrative) incorporated into the Superman story line. Even though the creator was Jewish and most likely intended the Moses parallels, God behind the scenes seems to have pushed the story line in Superman even further in real life into Christianity. How? By using Moses in the Hebrew Bible, the creator has inadvertently pointed to the One Moses and the Law would portend: Jesus. 

I find it really neat that God can work through an eighty year old comic book story line to point to His Son Jesus even though this probably wasn’t the original intent of the comic. God has used a child’s comic book to inadvertently bring focus and therefore glory to His Son. So I guess, in a strange quixotic way, we are hearing the voice of God through the character of Superman. We see the sovereignty and other characteristics of God in real life because of a fictional story. Even in the things of this world we can see God shining through. In a story for youth we see Jesus most clearly exemplified.

Matthew 18:2-4 ~ Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Romans 1:20 ~ For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse

Isaiah 55:8-9 ~ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

[Addendum: One last thing should be mentioned about Superman. In the very spirit of what he is about, he is an advocate for men. He helps men do good...this is strangely akin to the work of the parakletos or advocate in Scripture (John 14:26, Galatians 5:16-25) who is the Holy Spirit]

September 21, 2014

A Tale of Two Hearts II: A Story of Thrones

So what do we see in the contrast between the discontent of the Israelites of Numbers 11 and the discomfort of Paul in Philippians 4? The contentment in the righteous behavior of Paul in Philippians 4 is radically different and the polar opposite from the thinking of sinful men in Numbers. In truth it is simply a matter of asking ourselves one question.
“Do we pray to God to move us into situations where we will be content or do we pray to be content in the situation God already has us in?” 
If we pray the first prayer we are discontent and in rebellion against God. It shows we are not willing to follow through with where God has us now…which is clearly His current will for us. This has to be the case or He wouldn’t have us where we are at in that given situation! If we pray the second prayer we are asking God to change our hearts to be content in the situations He wishes us to be in…which is His will at that moment.

Contentment does not come from a change in our external conditions or situations in this life. It comes from the grace and power of God at work within us. True contentment can only be the result of a transformed heart, not a rearrangement or reordering of external circumstances in our lives. If we understand our contentment this way we will abandon the idea that when a situation is bad we will always seek to find a solution to get out of it. Paul did not do this in his Epistles to the Philippians. He found contentment in his current circumstances by turning to God for comfort and contentment. Our focus needs to be on what we are called to now, not where we wish to be tomorrow.

We need to focus more intently on God and what He wants of us. This comes from studying the Scriptures and prayer. In also means reconciling a symbiotic familiarity with our trials, suffering and pain. We need to do this not so we can solve our plight but so that we learn how to live with them and deal with them without becoming self-absorbed. This ability to not become self-absorbed in our own afflictions is critical. Sinful man too often becomes obsessed with their situations in attempts to try and solve them. Sinful man tries to save himself and that is the exact problem. Sometimes our goal should be to learn to live within the trials and learn from them. The answer isn’t always a release from the pain but rather a form of reconciliation with our God ordained discomfort or trial. Discomfort may sometimes be a choice if we chose to do uncomfortable things or subject ourselves to harm but discontent is always a choice.

The only way to gain mastery over our pain or to even learn to live with it, is to stare it down and walk directly into the midst of it. We should never do this alone. We walk towards it letting God lead the way. It may last a day or it may last the rest of our lives. We must never forget that is is God Himself that allows discomfort to enter into our lives. If He is the One allowing it to enter, then it is most certainly He that allows to stay, increase, decrease or leave. Contrary to Victoria Osteen's recent comment, God doesn't always necessarily want you happy. A happy contented heart is often an independent heart. A heart that thinks it will do just fine without God. 

Discomfort and trials makes our hearts malleable and pliable, useful for service. It makes us realize that life is not always an individual effort but more like a communal effort. Discontent makes us bitter, resentful and worthless for helping others. Why does discontent do this? Because it makes us believe our needs are above the needs of others. We become selfish and self-consumed with how we feel, not how others feel

This must be firmly understood… 

To focus solely on ourselves in painful situations will always lead to discontent with our lives provided by God…therefore a discontent with God’s providence. If we begin to focus on others and their pain and discomfort we will begin to realize by comparison that we might not be as bad off as we think. We will be more inclined to serve to help alleviate other's discomfort. We will be distracted from a selfish self-pity and disgruntled attitude. In so doing the discomfort of one is lifted by another. We carry each other's burdens. We might even become thankful that we have it better off than others. We allow other's to sit in our mercy chair to heal rather than constantly and selfishly attempting to seat ourselves in it.

There is no way around this logic. The only way I have learned to avoid this is found in Scripture. We submit our desires to Christ and the Gospel. 

How do we submit our needs and desires to Christ? Look at what Paul did in his trials outlined in Philippians. Its all about the Gospel folks. We put Christ and what He has done first. Paul was given the mercy by God to evangelize his guards. Additionally, even though there were some speaking ill of Paul, they were still pushing the Gospel and Christ forward while Paul was incarcerated. Paul was okay with this fact. Paul had found a contentment in Christ even though his own situation really wasn't that great.

Instead of Paul using his will and tongue to malign God, Paul gave thanks and pushed the Gospel of Christ forward. Even in his discomfort and the uncertainty of his life Jesus took precedent. Christ was above the trials. Christ was above the discomfort. Christ was above it all. Paul did it by turning outward not inward. There was no room for discontent. Paul had more important things to contend with outside of himself. Paul was others focused, not self-focused. He loved his neighbor.

Here is where I think the heart of this post lies. When we murmur or complain unbibilcally against God, we have lost sight of what is important. We have lost sight of God’s holiness. We have totally misinterpreted God and lost the awe of His presence in our lives. We have become irreverent and flippant with God. We have taken God for granted….just like the Israelites in Numbers 11 and Exodus 17. 

The Israelites in Numbers 11 were directly under God who was in the Pillar of Fire. Christian believers have had the veil of the Temple torn and we all have access to the Holy of Holies since we ourselves are the Holy of Holies in which the Holy Spirit of God dwells. Yet I suspect many believes don’t feel the weight of this at all.

We are standing before God in the Holy of Holies in our lives everyday. Yet many do not live like this is the true reality. There was to be immense gravity and reverence when dealing with being in the presence of God. This applied not only to Moses on Mt Sinai but also in the Israelite wilderness wandering and even on the Day of Atonement in the Temple. We seem to have lost this reverence when we turn to our own problems without God. The presence of God has lost the impact in our lives and the effect is to treat God with disrespect. It shows visibly when we manifest discontent instead of reverence in our discomfort. 

When we are in the sanctuary in God’s presence…we need to be God focused, not self-absorbed. We need to love God as we love our neighbor also. Since God’s Spirit is ever-present in our lives as believers, we are always in the sanctuary with God in our lives whether we be in the ICU in the hospital, in a bad marriage, in a lousy work situation or even in the funeral of a spouse or child. I didn't say this won't hurt, I am just saying that a focus on the Gospel puts all of these things in perspective. 

If God is ever-present in out lives it stands to reason then that we are in a constant state of worship and praise in the way we behave and more importantly..the way we live. Even when we are raging against the guy that just cut us off in traffic or when we were wronged and disrespected by someone at church, school or in public.

As Christians we are always in the sanctuary of The Most High. Every minute of our lives is spent directly before His throne. The light and the weight of this should be convictng and our will should meld to God’s thereby dispelling the discontent. The weight of God’s holiness should be driving us not to dwell on our discontent but recognize our discomfort for the mercy that it is. It is a divine reminder to us to confess our sins to God and seek repentance every day, every hour and every minute of the day. We need to humble ourselves before the Almighty God in the Holy place of the sanctuary. We are in His presence no matter where we are...everywhere is holy ground.
Exodus 3:5 ~ "God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
This is what allows us to outlast the storm. It is indeed a game of two thrones. Whatever takes mastery over life sits on the throne only God deserves. Is it your discontent or God’s intentions behind the discomfort in your life? Asked another way...
“Who or what is your God? The One True God of Scripture or the idol you have made your discontent into and the search for a relief from it?"
Once we recognize the sin and the idol that discontent is, the sooner we can repent of it and put ourselves in the same position as Paul when he says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…” Like Paul we need to understand that external circumstance are irrelevant and that God is to be treated with reverence. Our external circumstances are shaped by God but our internal circumstances are our choice. Like every other choice we make that choice can be righteous or unrighteous, sinful or not. 

So i have one more question. Who or what sits on the throne in your life?

September 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Hearts I: Contentment in Discomfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Concluded in Part II]

September 16, 2014

Superhero Theology V: Alienated Aquaman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 13, 2014

Superhero Theology IV: The Fiery Hammer of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intent of the hearts of the people wielding them.

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

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

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

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

September 10, 2014

No Laughing Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 7, 2014

Superhero Theology III: The Apostle Flash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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