October 27, 2015

Why Are So Many Christians Jerks?

Yes, the title stings and so it should. Christians are not perfect and some can often be intolerable to be around. I would include myself in the latter group at times as I am still a work in progress. But this particular stigma seems to haunt Christians disproportionately and most times...unfairly. So I would like to look at the those that often are the problem children of the Faith. The Christian brethren that most would agree give Christianity a black-eye. So yes, Christians being jerks is a Biblical principle. God thought enough about it to actually have Paul the Apostle write how-to manuals on how to diagnose the condition and deal with it. The two main diagnostic and treatment manuals were called First and Second Corinthians. 

Being a jerk. It happens today and it happened in the Bible. There was a reason letters and epistles were written to people that ended up in the Bible. Letters/Epistles were written to problem churches and people with problems or encountering problems. If folks weren’t having problems there wouldn’t have been need to write to them, would there?

So why is it that Christians are often the source of the problem rather than the remedy to it? I have to tell you that I often find non-Christian acquaintances easier to get on with than my fellow-believers. Why is it that so often the non-Christians seem nicer, more hard-working and even more honest than the Christians?

I admit that this fact/truth really does hurt. I could just blame this on the fact that some people were idiots before becoming Christian and all they did was bring some of their idiocy and boneheaded behavior over into the Faith but that would be too easy an escape hatch for this post. Even though it is true that some people can come into the faith and bring their atrocious habits with them as the letter to the Corinthians attests to, it is not getting at the core of the issue that Paul labors in depth to get explain to the Corinthian church throughout his letters to them (5 in all, 2 as canonized Scripture). No, there is much more going on here then just stubborn foolish people.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was painfully aware that a person can still be Christian and manifest virtually no signs of it on the outside. They had shown spiritual abilities and manifest spiritual gifts but they had been severely divided among themselves. They had become harshly judgmental and frankly, they had become what many would consider...jerks (also hypocritical and Pharisaical). They had become complacent and conceited to the point of allowing sexual immorality into the church that even the pagan culture deemed inappropriate. They were failing on nearly all fronts: In their marriages, handling of money, legal issues – and even the practice of the Lord's Supper.

Paul was clear that he could not address them as spiritual, but as worldly. They were so much of the world and in the world that had he addressed them in a spiritual manner, it would’ve been lost on them and flew directly over their heads. 

Therein lies the problem. 

This is what gets at the heart of why some Christians can be such insufferable idiots and still be Christian. It is in this very dichotomy that we see how some who are actually Christian can bring such disrepute to the larger body of the Church. The Corinthians were supposed to have been followers and emulators of the purest Person who ever lived and many understood that fact, yet they “...acted like mere men”. 

They were not rising above the fleshly weaknesses of their very human sinful nature imputed to them by the first Adam. First and Second Corinthians patently demonstrates what an unpleasant bunch of people Christians can be when we have only marginally begun to experience the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. In our sin and our flesh we force out the work of the Spirit of God and allow the spirit of the world to rule our lives. We therefore become children of the Devil and tools for the spirit of this age even though we are saved. We learn here that a person can know Christ and still live in the spirit of the world which is sin.

Think about it for a second. There had to have been some in the Corinthian church that had been idolaters, adulterers,  homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, revilers and swindlers, etc. Why else would Paul have written down these specific sins unless word had either reached him that these types were in the church…or he had seen them for himself? Paul clarifies that, “…such were some of you.” They were expected to have changed if they were actually indwelt by the Spirit and still in the Church. So if these things are not working themselves out of the church then the Spirit is not being allowed into the hearts of people in the church as in the case of Corinth. 

I am sure there were many churches in Asia Minor that did not need Paul to write letters and epistles to them and they are the churches that were not having these particular problems as bad as Corinth. Corinthians were literally the pariahs of the ancient world inside and outside of the church. 

What we see in Corinth which had a lot of Christian "jerks" is an immature church. They were not necessarily a young church, just an immature one. We see it then and we see it now both in churches and individuals. A church and people that has not moved beyond the basics. Why? Most likely because they stayed firmly attached to the ways of the world instead of the ways of God's divine Word in Scripture. People and churches that remain of the world remain immature. They had chosen to remain the jerks they were before coming into the faith instead of taking on the new man that Christ offered them in the Gospel and becoming new creations...changed men and women. There is no way a true Christian of the faith can remain a jerk in perpetuity when indwelt by the Spirit of God. More Spirit, less world equals righteousness of Christ.

What we see in churches that were not written of in the Bible (but we should assume existed) is a more mature church that had gotten over some of the hiccups of an immature church. This comes from sound teaching from Scripture from Godly men. In both cases (immature and mature) we see a “work in progress”. It becomes an issue then of sanctification. 

Sanctification is part of the healthy normal process of being a Christian and a Church’s or individual's growth. There will always be grumblers and the trouble-makers in a Church just as there are all different levels of maturity and growth…in a "normal" sinful family. As a matter of fact, no church can possibly be completely pure. No church can ever assume it has no areas for needed growth. The long and short of it? There will always be Corinthians among the brethren. There will always be Christians that are jerks. It is an issue of maturity in the Faith which in reality is an issue of sanctification of the individual and growth in Christ.

Same goes for issues like Christian hypocrites. Most often hypocritical Christians are immature Christians. They are Christians trying to live up to, or have us live up to a standard of works that are not achievable even for themselves. Firstly, any Christian that is a believer in grace and works is an immature one that does not understand what method man is truly saved from his sin. Man is saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8). 

When Christians hold others to a certain level of works or a need to attain something, they are going outside what is being asked for by Scripture. This is Biblical illiteracy, this is also Biblical immaturity. This hypocrisy becomes exceptionally obvious when the standard is only a one-way street away from the one casting unfair judgment. It is where a "self-described" Christian expects things of others but does not have enough insight and tact to see they themselves lack in the same areas. 

This makes all Christians look like jerks.

Conversely, we also must understand that churches like families are always untidy and a little rough around the edges. We need to realize that while you walk this earth and breath, there is always room for improvement. To assume that everyone in a church is perfect or should be actually demeans Christ because it assumes a person can be perfect before being glorified in Christ and that is just not possible in this life even in the best church. 

No...churches are disciple making facilities, not perfect Christ making facilities. Additionally, we must never forget that by judging others as jerks or idiot Christians, we too will be measured against the standard of Christ and none of us can measure up to that standard either. It is better to have grace in those situations and instead of passing harsh judgment. We need to get  alongside of them and help those people along in the correct direction as Paul did. 

So in short, the reason some Christians can be such jerks is because they themselves don't have enough Christ in them. They have not read and understood Scriptures properly. Because of this their growth as been stunted or halted completely. As such, they are not as Christian as they should be or could be. They then appear to the world and others in the church...as jerkish. This is due to their immature un-Christlike behaviors.

October 23, 2015

Tools In The Toolbox V: Church Host or Church Parasite?

The fifth in a continuing series about things a person of God can add to their relational repertoire to properly help themselves and others in the church.

The question in business and other organizations is often asked this way: Are you a giver or are you a taker? Everyone knows that there are some who exist solely to be parasitic. They are there only to leech off of the system. There are parasites...but then there are hosts also. Conversely, there are the opposite. There are those who are there to give of themselves and are critical to the support of an organization. They make it work. That is what we deal with in the post today.

How many of them are actively involved in service, and how many are “ecclesiastical consumers”?

This is a peculiar pair of questions. Why would active service to a church be important if our belief system is not a religion of works? Why would it matter if people are just shopping around for a church that suits them? The answer lies in the question I just asked. Why would it matter if someone shops around for a church that suits them? This question centers on the consumer. It makes what the consumer wants the most important thing. It makes the person that should be worshiping the center of self-worship. Churches and “ecclesiastical” environments run and function best on those that do not focus primarily on self. They function best when those in the service of the Body are looking towards others.

It’s about giving service, not receiving it. If one is focused on what the Church best does for them…they have totally missed the underlying point of even going to the church (or any church for that matter). I believe this is why Paul Tripp has posed this question. When we are focused on others we are facing the very people Christ called us to Christianity for. Those that are either in need or are totally lost.  By facing others with the truth we offer a fighting chance in an otherwise insurmountable spiritual war. By going to others with the Gospel we give them hope. If we turn inward and focus on ourselves we often get caught or lost in our own miseries.

It is much too easy when we’re too tuned into ourselves to see trivial things in our lives and blow them out of proportion. We make mountains out of molehills and instead of worrying about the immediate necessary concerns we focus on a myriad of things that don’t matter. We end up seeing the extraneous nonsense instead of seeing the needs of those that are desperate. The ones to whom our attention would make the most sense. When we center on others we are not giving ourselves time to dwell on our own issues and that is often a good thing.

These are wise words not just for young or new pastors. These are words for all Christians. To show immediate concern for others over ourselves we best show our love for those people. To show an immediate concern for what we want shows people that we are myopic and selfish. Self-serving and self-aggrandizing people is exactly what is wrong not only in the church but society at-large. Call it what you will, it’s annoying as all get-out. You see it in the people who insist on making private cellphone conversations public. I could care less about your shopping trip to the Promenade and the Outlets and the great deals you got on clothes and jewelry. The pretentiousness is fatigue inducing. It shows that most often people want a Lord that will grant salvation but not a Lord that rules in their lives. We desire a Lord that does something for us but not One that we should to do something for.

We see it in the media whores and notoriety pimps who constantly feel the need to put their face in front of a camera. Always hustling to angle for another attention-grabbing stunt. What’s worse is there are plenty of these types right within the Body of Christ. I would normally say that it is best just to ignore these types of people and the problem solves itself but in the church this is the worst thing to do. You don’t want this notoriety in the church with this type of sin. It is way too reminiscent of the disrepute and dishonor brought upon the Corinthian church when there were reports of immorality (1 Corinthians 5) that not even pagans tolerated and at the root of all of their sins…a deep seated arrogance (1 Corinthians 4:18).

In Corinth we get at the heart of what Paul Tripp is asking. Is your arrogance trumping your commonsense? Is what you think is most important, the most important thing? Are you making what you think is most important the paramount deciding factor in your piety and Christian behavior? If so…you have effectively made yourself and your needs an idol that are flaunting themselves in God’s face. You have effectively placed yourself directly outside of God’s will. Thumbing you nose at God. 

Bad idea.

A bad place for anyone to be, especially a Christian.

God calls us to Himself. God calls us to our calling. God calls us to His Church. The actual ministry He calls us into is also at His discretion. It would be a substantial indiscretion to ignore the possibility that the Lord wants us in places we don’t wish to be. As a matter of fact, it will often be in places we hate or are the most uncomfortable in that we will often find God’s will. Said another way, God don’t always want us happy. Happy does not equate to righteousness. A better indicator of one’s status in God’s eyes is often the level to which we stoop to serve others. That’s because in submitting ourselves to service we best emulate and have the mind of Christ. We therefore become a carbon-copy of Jesus who Himself was non-descript in human form.

Isaiah 53:2-3 ~ “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

When emulating and serving others, we in reality are serving Christ. In serving Him we are obeying Him. Therein lies our righteousness. It is us residing in Him. Righteousness therefore salvation is in Him. Our service is just an outcropping of the fruit of said relationship. Lower is better. Lower is the mind of God. Humility is pleasing to God. Exalting and our lifting up is God’s job, not ours. It is better we remain humble and ready to serve rather than lofty and useless. The higher you strive the farther the fall to the ground when you fail. If you have always kept our feet planted firmly on the ground, the probabilities of crashing and burning are greatly diminished.

In the end it looks like this: Those that minister out of or for the desire of their own hearts, are ministers of the Devil, nothing more.

October 17, 2015

Christian Manifesto VIII: Good and Pleasing to God

Declaration VIII: God's Will Is Paramount

I care about what God cares about. What is important to God is important to me. If things please God that means they are holy and righteous. These are the things I care about. I believe I need to align my thinking and therefore my life to God if I expect anything positive to come out of this life. Although my sin will often lead me astray down paths I don’t wish to go, I still have a heart for God. Because my sin will often lead me astray in error I will appear I am being hypocritical, I am in reality succumbing to the flesh and the evil it breeds even in a believer.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 ~ “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.”

Paul urges Timothy that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. Even for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. Paul realizes that the welfare of a nation, a community a family and individual rests first upon God Himself which is the One we petition and pray to. Secondly, the act of petitioning and prayer puts in direct communication with God in a personal manner. This is something that a person walking away from God is not doing. They have no relationship with God. Many of the verse of the Bible that mention pleasing God have to do with the direct obedient relationship to God. Not because he is a demanding ogre but because God knows what is best for the one’s He creates.

The things that God desires of man, the things that make man more like Him are all over the verse that speak to pleasing God. The characteristics reads like the what’s what of righteousness and blamelessness: sacrifice, service, bearing fruit, good work, prayers, petition, thanksgiving and on they go. The focus of one’s mind determines the direction of their walk. The direction of one’s walk determines their destination. The destination can be an immediate destination and a long-term one. Thoughts and actions get you where you are going in the immediate sense and they will determine your end in judgment also. Will you do things morally and ethically correct in accord with Scripture or will you fall away from what you were created for by God which was originally holiness?

Pleasing God comes down to a set of decisions. Some will be easy but others will be excruciating.

Too many times people are content doing whatever they want to do. They do what is right in their own eyes and disregard not only God but also the prosperity of others. We saw the same in the time of the Judges in the Bible. This happened because there was no godly leadership. Not in society and by implication, not in homes either. People had turned their backs to God. In so doing the leadership roles and seats of power that should’ve been filled by godly people were abdicated and empty. Empty like the moral bank accounts of the people in the time of Judges and apparently today also.

We see the lack of godly leadership in today in the racial and economic division, injustice, widespread sexual immorality and in the ethical ambiguity. The people that we do have to choose from as candidates in leadership elections are people with multiple divorces, multiple abortions, Hollywood ideologues, feminists, homosexuals, criminals, etc. They have religious convictions and morality as porous as their morality. We then wonder why these same people have distorted morals and ethics that put them in direct opposition to the bible believing, God-obedient Christian and their value system. We cannot active do things to help them see their error but we can indirectly pray for them in intercession.

Judges 17:6 ~ “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Instead of good leadership that breeds continuity and unity we see just the opposite in society. We live in a society of selfish people, rude behavior and crude sexual images. Here in the Northeast and I-95 corridor, the frantic pace nearly forces us to overlook and bypass our neighbors in favor of manic work schedules and life flow. Epidemic consumerism and materialism are the hallmarks of today’s culture. Racism, classism, feminism and gender confusion, crime and fear seem to reign. Yet, at the same time I must acknowledge that I do not often pray for those that darken the counsel of good leadership. I do not pray for upright thinking in leadership and society in general near as much as I should. I suggest that many of us don’t or things would be different in society, don’t you think?

The discontinuity of unrighteous man vying for control of the world system destroys individual relationships, families and societies. That is why the divorce rate is astronomical and it is an “every man for themselves” mentality in society today. Had people stayed close to the principles of the Bible we would be a well-founded community and families would more likely stay together. As they say, families that pray together, stay together. Things would not be perfect because we like in a fallen world but they certainly would not be as dysfunctional and messed up as they are now. The Bible, Jesus and the Gospel should sit at the center of all lives as a foundation stone of a righteous upright life.

Our job as Christians is to pray to rectify this situation just as it was in Paul’s day. There have always been corrupt leaders such as Antiochus Epiphanes IV, Nero, Caligula, Hitler, Saddam Hussein. We should always be praying as Christians and believers in the One True God that God that the evil of these men be stifled and limited. Whenever and wherever possible, we should pray that they be brought to a genuine faith in God. By being brought to a true faith…these men wouldn’t have been murderous tyrants.

Where there has been no fear of God, there has been little or no wisdom. We need to pray that God causes a revival and a turn back to godly ways or we will continue to meander down a path to national destruction. This is pleasing to God.

Romans 12:1 ~ Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

2 Corinthians 5:9 ~ “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

Galatians 1:10 ~ For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

October 11, 2015

50 Monotonous Shades of Grey

Evil Is Monotonous As Hell. Sin starts provocatively but ends in mundane lifelessness and habitual sin.

That’s the premise for this post. Yes, my title is a play on words based on a so-called sordid bestseller made into a movie of the same name. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but I merely use these parallels to draw out the seedy underbelly of immorality and indecency. I will take no prisoners here. I’m going right for the jugular of this immoral beast from the first sentence. We need to either choke off sin or it will choke us. Seedy romance novels are on many women's viewing/reading lists within the church just as pornography is on men's lists. Many will say it is just harmless fiction but fiction has an uncanny knack for becoming reality because of the seeds it plants.

Many people believe sin and evil is exciting. The whole “dark and brooding” thing taken to the extreme end. There is no down side right?  I believe it has been said that women are intrigued by the “bad boy” image. For men it is the idea of a quick fling with no commitment. This type of evil and sin doesn't just arrive in sexual overtones either. It comes in many faces and by many names.

I got news for people. Evil is old hat. It always arrives in a sharp suit or an enticing dolled-up package but it always ends with prostitution of one's morality or as a skid row junkie. People think that sin will last forever but they have been deceived more than they will even understand…unless of course the deception is exposed a little. There is nothing new and exciting about being wrong. People have been that way since the beginning and the bad guy (or girl) never wins in the end. 

The Bible clearly says that sin will have its day but in the end…it finds you out. Said another way: You might prosper being a jerk for a while but in the bitter end…it will all come back to bite you in a place you’d probably prefer it didn’t and the bite is poison. The grass is not always greener on the other side. If it is greener over there…it most likely is growing over a septic tank or a fresh grave.

Like Habakkuk I grow wearier by the day of sin and evil on all sides of my life. People seem to have no shame. It’s on the news. It confronts me at work. It confronts my family. It even goes after my kids. At times it can be demoralizing. At times I see no hope. That hope has to reside in the Scriptures. If not, all hope is lost. In truth is that evil is a parasite of the good. It wasn’t meant to be this way in the world. Evil and sin are an imposition on the Creation. It is an intrusion of a spiritual disease that has infected humanity thereby affecting everything else in the created order. The entire creation moans to be out from underneath of evil and sin also.

Romans 8:19-23 ~ For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

In short, evil is a counterfeit. It can only mimic what already exists. In this way it has limitations. Like the Devil there is a finiteness about evil in that it can never exceed or go beyond what seems like its ontological opposite which is righteousness, holiness or good. It is, in reality, righteousness and holiness based solely in God that is limitless and infinite. That is because these characteristics are based and find their true being and origin in the infinite and limitless source of God.

The truth is there is no true opposite of God. Good/Righteousness is not evil’s counterpart on the opposite end of the spectrum/continuum. Oh no. that would be likes saying Satan is the opposite of God in his characteristics. That would make Satan infinitely evil and infinitely sinful. He’s not. Satan is even limited in that way in his flaws and fall from God. The moron can’t even be perfectly evil. I suppose that would’ve appealed to his pride anyway. Satan is merely an imitator and liar. So in the embodiment of evil (Satan) we see only an imitator and deceiver. We see a destroyer of the created order in a desire to create disorder and chaos. In chaos...nothing can be ordered enough to make things…only destroy them.

…and therein lies the crux of the issue when it comes to evil and sin.

One cannot create anything of value if their sole drive is to deceive, destroy and is hell-bent on undermining anything of God who is a creator God. God created and maintained up until Genesis 3. After Genesis 3 we see degradation and destruction and the only reversal of this trend is when God again enters the fray and forces the destructive elements to reverse course. He does this either through direct fiat intervention, through the Spirit in believers or by physically entering Creation as a theophany or in the flesh as the Son of God.

God creates, builds and sustains life. Evil and sin remove it. Jesus is the way the truth and the life but the wages of sin (evil) is death. Evil deprives life. Because evil lacks any creativity only deviation from truth, it can only produce a negative. It makes no life, only takes it. It takes and never gives. It can make nothing new. It is an unproductive non-producing wasteland. There is not beauty because sin and evil twists true beauty and makes it ugly.

Beauty becomes sexy, lewd or an object of desire rather than something of value and worth protecting. Beauty when twisted becomes an exaggeration of people’s worst basest perversions. It is like taking colors on a palate and painting a rainbow. Each color serves its proper role as created and it is a beautiful thing, but when hastily mixed together in a sloppy mess it becomes a dull monochrome grey. Once the colors are taken outside of their proper roles and limitations, they become monotonous.

There is no true diversity (in the positive sense) because evil will not allow diversity. That which calls itself diversity today is actually a call to conform to what someone believes is proper but is only relative to the observer's sin. We see it all the time in the media. Screams for diversity but when you do something those that are screaming don’t like, then comes the screams of intolerance. Evil and sin destroys diversity by restricting any positive and productive variation for the good of the whole. It does this by destroying individuality at the individual level. When science, education, medicine, politics and the arts ignore God, decline and confusion will result because there is no absolute bearing, only a relative one. Diversity then becomes hegemonic and draconian. It becomes non-diverse, it becomes uniform and monotonous.

Evil ends in defeat, not triumph. There are no new lands to conquer, nothing new to overcome. Evil ends in a dead-end. It is hard to admire something as it burns to the ground. It is hard to hold a person in high regard as you attempt to try and murder their character by slander. Evil is a philosophy of futility. Monotony is the natural effect of or malaise brought on by seeking gratification found in frivolous things, such as fashionable apparel and goods…better known as idols in the Bible. The chasing of idols to replace God induces a vicious circle of dissatisfaction and the desire for further idols, thereby leading to the increased dissatisfaction and the cycle continues to repeat ad nauseum. I imagine Hell will just be a continuation of this shallow meaningless cycle as its own torment. It is a twisted spiritual version of American Consumerism but instead of buying material goods, men buy into immaterial or spiritual evil.

Evil is has no value because it is an absence of something of value: Righteousness.

I guess in the end, part of the torment if Hell will be the monotonousness of constant wrath leveled against the unrepentant sinner. It will also be the realization that the torturous monotony of constant punishment with absolutely no change for eternity was brought on by their rebellious attitude and belief that evil was “hot”, “sexy” or “desirable” over God’s holiness and righteousness. It just goes to show that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder I suppose. I guess people with ugly minds and ugly souls would appreciate that which is akin to their psyche.

Simone Weil said it best in Gravity and Grace (even though she was a mystic):

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating. Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good; no desert is so monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound and full of charm. ~ Simone Weil, "Gravity and Grace", P.120 (1997)

In truth, fiction or fantasy is a lie. A deception. It isn’t real. So we are then left only with one reality. Only real good in the real world is sweet and perpetual ecstasy. Why? It is based in God’s character. Everything else? It is just 50 different monotonous shades of grey. It is cold, empty and lifeless as skeletons in whitewashed tombs. It might look pretty and dignified from a distance but in truth, inside it is just a rotting bodies of the dead.

A place of death. 

Death which is an absence of vibrant diversified life.
Death...the most monotonous unchanging human condition.  Once you're dead...your only hope is that you gain righteousness through Christ while alive.

October 7, 2015

Abraham Knew Jesus

The Bible says only those who accept Jesus are saved. Some people will say that Abraham couldn't have possibly known Christ personally or even in concept. Abraham is often mentioned as one of those who couldn’t have possibly known Jesus yet he was saved. How were people like Abraham saved? Well, let’s go take a look at the Bible. I suggest there is much more to the story that is seen at face-value.

John 14:6 is pretty plain and easy to understand. 

John 14:6 ~ “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So how can Abraham have been saved but not actually have known explicitly about Jesus? There is a bit more going on in Abraham’s story than what was elaborated on in the early pages of Genesis. There is more to find out about Abraham’s relationship with God and what Abraham actually knew before dying than what lies in the pages of Genesis. Probably more than we realize. We need to dig through the entirety of Scripture to reveal the full truth though. I believe it is a fallacy to say that Abraham didn't really know Jesus personally or understand the concept of the Messiah. Scripture refutes that assertion if examined correctly.

Firstly, Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:6 and Romans 4:22 famously say that Abraham believed God in faith and it was accredited to him as righteousness. So Abraham believed in God and his faith in what God promised for the future and this is what saved him. Faith in what? It was a faith in what God had promised him. What had God promised him? God made a twofold promise to Abraham. The first was a material promise that he would be the father of many nations and that kings would descend from him. God promised him that his progeny would inherit the land of Canaan, an expanse that He defined as stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers. The second and more important promise was spiritual. God promised Abraham that from his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise indirectly pointed to Jesus Christ. Yet this still does not specifically say that Abraham knew of Jesus or the explicit concept of Messiah. So what's the deal?

We need to realize that some of the most startling things in the Bible are hidden in plain sight.

Galatians 3:6-7 is a case in point. Amid the predictable focus on law, grace, and the gospel, Paul blindsides us. It says: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” The hard part to understand about this is how could Abraham have had any concept of what would transpire two thousand years later in the Gospel? It would’ve appeared just as absurd to Abraham as it did to the disciples (the Gospel that is). Furthermore, there’s nothing about a crucified Savior in the stories about Abraham. What is Paul thinking? Paul has to be wrong….doesn’t he? Well, no, he doesn't.

Galatians 3:6-7 ~ “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.”

To correctly understand Galatians, we need to think about the Gospel in different terms and with a different conceptual base. When we normally hear the word Gospel we typically think of the gospel in terms of the crucified Savior, Jesus, dying for our sins. But the work of Christ was the means to accomplish what God sought to accomplish according to a preordained plan outlined in Scripture. 

When we trust in Jesus Christ through the Gospel what we are really trusting in is that God said he would come, die and resurrect and He did. In so doing all would be blessed if they would accept this fact. In other words, even in what seems like impossible circumstances like Jesus’ Resurrection and Abraham having a child at 100 years old, if God said it, it will happen. So if we believe that God will give us eternal life, if we believe in His Son’s Resurrection in accordance with Scripture, then we can trust anything else God has promised also. God is unchanging and immutable and we can count on this fact. He is ultimately trustworthy. 

Abraham understood this about God and His character.  But there is more here. What we see in the Gospel proper is the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus who is fully God and fully human and this was the necessary mechanism to achieve that larger goal. We also see a consistency that is aligned all throughout Scripture. Trustworthiness. The Gospel is God’s plan to become a man so He could have the holy, human family he had preordained. Could Abraham have grasped that? 

I suggest he did. Not only did he grasp it, I believe he knew it in detail.

God’s had decided to produce His Messiah’s lineage through Abraham and it is described in Genesis 12: 1– 3:  “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Paul mentions part of that in Galatians 3: 7: “….be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Paul believed that the resultant lineage of that divine promise/encounter (sons of Abraham) would produce the Savior.

Abraham came away with the knowledge of the Gospel or that through his descendants, all humanity would be blessed. Somehow through his offspring, Abraham discerned that his offspring, which didn’t even yet exist, were a critical part of that plan and he believed it in faith.

Wait, isn’t Paul reading into the text in Genesis? Isn’t he performing eisegesis on the text trying to justify something that isn’t really there to maintain a continuity and coherence in his theology of the Cross? 

No, and here’s why.

Paul like all good Jewish converts to Christianity got his information about the Gospel/Good News where all the gospel writers did. It came from Jesus. He said so earlier in Galatians 1: 12, “For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” If we look at other passages from Jesus about Abraham, we then begin to understand that Paul didn’t just make this up or try to plant it in the text, he drew on a large knowledge base of not just the Old Testament, but also from Jesus’ own words. This synergistic Scriptural combination allowed Paul to make logical deductions about what Abraham actually knew that wasn’t stated explicitly in Genesis. It could be drawn out of Scripture if combined with Jesus’ words though. Because anything Jesus said…was the Word and constituted infallible Scripture.

So what did Jesus say? 

Let’s go to John 8. John 8 shows Jesus being an authority on whom? Abraham. Jesus being present at Abraham’s encounter with God as part of the Trinity would’ve know exactly what had happened in the Genesis account.

John 8:56 ~ “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it [Greek: perceived] and was glad.”

The Jews hearing Jesus say this knew he was not speaking rhetorically, allegorically or metaphorically in the passage. They assumed he spoke literally based on their hostile response to the statement.  They believed Jesus had blasphemed and were going to stone Him.

John 8:57-59 ~ “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Jesus is telling the Jews straight away about the narrative with Abraham, Abraham was given knowledge or a vision to see Jesus’ day or the time in which he would come and he was glad about it. Jesus says it right in there in the text of John: He rejoiced at the thought of seeing Jesus’ day, he saw it and was glad because of it. In Greek He saw is εἶδον or perceived meaning he understood what was shown to him.

If this has been a once-off and forgotten situation I would not have drawn this conclusion but there is a pattern here in Scripture (Analogy of Scripture) that reinforces this idea. Please note that the Genesis 12 passage is a vision or revealing of truth from God to Abram. So too the Lord’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15:1. It would not be hard to follow the same line of reasoning to deduce through Jesus’ very words that Jesus/God would give a vision of who He was to Abraham as stated in John 8:56 also. We just find out about it through Jesus two thousand years after the fact. 

As a matter of fact, a pattern of Scripture would suggest a vision given to Abraham. When we jump forward to Galatians we see that Paul deduced pretty much the same because Paul literally quotes Genesis 12’s language. Galatians 3:8 specifically says: Scripture [God/Jesus] foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” How could anyone foresee something and announce it as fact…unless by a vision? Who has the ability to give a vision? Jesus. How do we know it was Jesus? Because he said so right in John 8:56.

Based on this evidence I’d say that Abraham knew Jesus…literally due to his faith. He understood Jesus in the same way I do. If he was of the Spirit, Abraham would also know Him on a personal level just as any Christian today would through the Spirit.

Paul wasn’t out of his mind. Abraham had met the Word, and through that encounter, he understood the salvation-based plan of God and trusted it on faith. It was right there in front of me the whole time. I just didn't see it until now.

October 5, 2015

Judaism is Not Christianity II: Jesus the Rabbi?

As I’ve already alluded to in the previous post concerning the fact that Judaism is not Christianity, the main difference between the Jew and Christian is quite simple.

Jesus was the expected Jewish Messiah.

The Jews do not believe this but Christians do. This is where my focus will remain because it is the most important issue at hand for salvation of all men. The centrality of Jesus...right in the middle of the Jewish/Hebrew Bible and in the center of Christian Scripture also. The difference is an issue of recognizing the facts or seeing the reality in facts already given. So it is with the subtlest irony that I use the story of Nicodemus and Jesus to make a point because Nicodemus had all the facts given to him by Jesus but still didn't fully understand. This would be the same story for most of the Jews to this day. Here in this most current post I will address the issue of whether or not Jesus was a Rabbi.

Scripture refers to Jesus as Rabbi in a multiple places. He was referred to as Rabbi by His peers like Nicodemus. We see in the evening meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus that Jesus accepted this title also.

John 3:1-3 ~ Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Jesus was a rabbi (teacher) but He also happened to be a unique rabbi. He was One that was capable of opening the eyes of the blind, healing the cripples and sick and invariably, he could raise the dead…including Himself. This was no ordinary rabbi. The Apostles viewed Jesus as a Rabbi. They also viewed Him as Messiah. Jesus wasn’t just a rabbi/teacher He was divine. He is also called Messiah by Peter. Again, Jesus accepts this title without any rebuke of Peter.

Mark 8:27-30 ~ Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus was what amounted to a rabbi when he attended the Synagogue as evidence by His reading of the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4.

Luke 4:14-21~ “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

So was Jesus a Rabbi in the sense of being a teacher of the Mosaic Law? I would have to say yes. The biblical evidence all seems to affirm this. But as we will read later in Hebrews, Jesus was a Rabbi of supernatural origins with a supernatural mission. That too is affirmed by Scripture. Was Jesus a Rabbi in the traditional Jewish sense? Was He an academic scholarly type? Did He study the additional Oral Laws around God’s true law that essentially put a fence around God’s Law so people couldn’t even approach the law (except Pharisees and Sadducees)? No. We see that He is essentially viewed as a country bumpkin even by his peers right in Nazareth. I mean, what happened after He read the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4?

Luke 4:22 ~ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus’ peers were in disbelief. They were amazed by what He had said acting in the capacity of Rabbi yet they could not see or understand the source of the power and authority in His words. They too understood him to be an apt and agile teacher/rabbi but couldn’t understand how an unschooled non-scholarly country bumpkin had become so profound and erudite. It totally baffled them. Had they considered is divine nature, they would've understood.

So, was Jesus a teacher? Yes. Was Jesus an expounder and supporter of the Jewish Oral Law? No. Jesus was more interested in getting people to understand the principles and ideas behind the existing Old Testament Mosaic Laws than obeying legalistic rules that did not get to the heart of God’s Law. That is why we would often hear Jesus say, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”

On the flip side we need to also realize that Jesus is not a Reverend either. A Shepherd? Yes. He said he was the Good Shepherd. A Minister of God’s word. Yes, he ministered or attendant to the spiritual needs of His people? Yes. A minister as a title of a denomination? No. So in a way Jesus was more a Jewish Rabbi than a Christian Pastor to those He taught during His stay on Earth. That's because those that He taught...if they were not Gentile, they were Jewish...even the Apostles and Disciples. So it it better to understand Jesus in the role of a Rabbi.

October 1, 2015

Ezekiel’s Strange Vision Wasn’t So Strange

Of all the Scripture passages we can turn to for strange circumstances, the enigmatic vision that opens the book of Ezekiel in the first chapter might be first on the list. However, once reading this passage with its original ancient contexts in mind reveals a powerful and interesting message not only for its original readers/hearers but also for every believer. The trick is gathering its surrounding biblical, cultural and historical evidences and figuring out where they point in the most reasoned fashion. People do not exist in a cultural vacuum. They are affected by their own culture and the culture of others. I can assure you of one thing. What I believe they do not point at is visions of the demonic or of alien origin (at least aliens from outer space). You are free to disagree.

Let’s look at the context. 

Culturally and historically, it is a Babylonian context. Ezekiel had his vision in Babylon. He was one of the captive exiles. When we do even a little historical study of Babylonian history, astrology and religion I believe this cryptic Bible passage begins to decipher itself. Ezekiel’s vision contains Babylonian iconography and symbolism if one looks at it with Babylonian eyes (see what I did there?). God often gives visions to people in their setting in life in images they can understand so they are easier to interpret and not misunderstand. I mean, what good is a vision or prophecy if no one understands it? 

I believe Ezekiel saw a divine “throne chariot” of the heavens. These chariots were widely described in the ancient biblical world. Just as human kings had chariots, so did deities. Supposedly, god’s (not just Babylonian ones) would traverse the heavens in chariot throne inspecting and exercising authority over it. Also in the vision the throne sits atop an “expanse” (Ezekiel 1: 26), the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 1: 6 for the heavens specifically created by God in the Creation account.

The “wheels” are what supported the chariot throne, along with four unusual creatures (identified as cherubim in Ezekiel 10: 4. Keep in mind Ezekiel is using his known contexts and knowledge to describe a scene to other exiled Hebraic minds here. Each creature had four faces: human, lion, eagle, and ox in Ezekiel 1:10. Adjacent the cherub were four gleaming wheels in Ezekiel 1: 15– 16. They had wheels within them or each one had at least one concentric circle within it. Additionally the outer edge, or “rim,” of each wheel had “eyes”. It should be noted here that Daniel (also a Babylonian exile) described the very same blazing throne with wheels in Daniel 7: 9.

So what’s up with the wheels within wheels and eyes? If we look to Babylonian history, religion and myths we will quickly find that these animals who Ezekiel calls cherubim (because he had no other context) are easily identified. The human, lion, eagle, and ox are the images or icons of the Babylonian zodiac and are also known as a tetramorph. A tetramorph is a symbolic arrangement of four differing elements, or the combination of four disparate elements in one unit. By seeing this, the passage immediately takes on a distinct heavenly and celestial flavor.

Babylonian (and other) archaeological evidence exists showing that early man divided the four quarters of the horizon, or space, later a place of sacrifice, such as a temple, and attributed characteristics and spiritual qualities to each quarter. It is interesting to note that this same type of tetramorph is also outlined in Revelation. Each quadrant or sector equal to one quarter of a circle represented a seasonal constellation in Babylonian astrology. Each face or constellation mentioned here also represented one of the four cardinal directions or quadrants: North, South, East or West. Through observation the Babylonians (like the Israelites) seemed to understand that the heavens and heavenly bodies were often connected to what happened on earth. In other words: Times, seasons, crops, weather, tides, etc. Instead of things like gravitational fields and the like, Babylonians believed their gods controlled those functions.

Furthermore, extensive data about the stars had been laid out on Mesopotamian astrolabes or clay tablets whose concentric circles could well correspond to the “wheels within wheels” imagery (as pictured). This data and these tablets and tables stockpiled in Babylonian libraries is where we would eventually get the idea of “gazerim" or "dividers" or as they are called in our Bible..."soothsayers". Soothsayers who divided the heavens into constellations or "houses" for orientation, astronomical and astrological purposes. It is believed by many learned people that the astronomers of Babylon published a monthly table of the leading events that might be expected to happen. 

We have a similar corollary in today’s world…the zodiac and our horoscopes. As a matter of fact the term zodiac derives from Latin word zōdiacus, which in turn comes from the Greek phrase ζῳδιακὸς κύκλος or zōdiakos kuklos, meaning "circle of animals", derived from the stem ζῶον / zōon "animal". The name is driven by the fact that half of the original signs of the classical Greek zodiac were divided into zodiacal ecliptics and were placed into groupings of stars (constellations/celestial sphere/eliptic) and were represented as animals.

But I digress…

English translations of Ezekiel’s vision though often breaks down and ceases to make sense at the point where the prophet describes “eyes” on the rims of the wheels. The word for eyes in Hebrew occurs a number of places in the vision, but it is not always translated. Taking the ESV as an example, the Hebrew word occurs six times in Ezekiel 1:4, 7, 16, 18, 22, 27. In the vision’s description of the wheels, the word eyes is translated once as “sparkling” in Ezekiel 10: 9. Since ancient Babylonian astronomical texts commonly describe shining stars as "eyes" we can understand how eyes could potentially refer to stars because of their twinkling or sparkling appearance.

So what is the meaning of the vision for the Israelites during their time of exile. Having studied this I have come to the conclusion that even the devout in faith within the body of captives might have easily believed God had abandoned them forever and the Babylonian powers were here to stay. Likewise, the Babylonians could have easily assumed their gods had defeated the One True God and was the one who really ruled the heavens unopposed. Ezekiel’s imagery sends a completely different message to the Jews and the Babylonians that would heed Ezekiel’s vision.

God was not dead nor defeated. He had not turned away from his people. He [God] remained seated in His chariot throne at the center of His domain as seen in the vision and his dominion and rule was the entire heavenly realm and earth as seen in the vision. In other words: Even in the midst of difficult circumstances, we can know that an all-powerful God is active and present in our lives and he is definitely in control.

So we see that Ezekiel's vision might not have been so strange after all. Sometimes the simplest or easiest answer is often the best one. It wasn't alien spaceships or demons in strange futuristic vehicles. It might very well have been God showing Himself to be in total control of both heavens and earth. It is an idea that is clearly more consistent with Biblical principles and other biblical teachings rather than little green men from another planet or the Devil driving a hot rod across the sky.
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