And The First Commandment?


I can’t get the ongoing discussion prompted by Pastor John MacArthur’s Social Justice and the Gospel statement out of my head. What the discussion has reminded me of is a question I’ve asked myself from time to time

You see, I’ve heard any number of great messages about the second command, as Jesus labeled it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These are excellent, Biblical, needed.

What I don’t recall hearing much are sermons about the first command:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38)

My thought is, if this is indeed the greatest command, shouldn’t we hear sermon after sermon about how we can actually love God with all of who we are?

Maybe that’s embedded in particular messages.

For instance, I heard one pastor whose sermons are on the radio, preach about abiding in Christ. Just recently I heard a message about being filled with the Holy Spirit, and a different pastor preached about the need for revival, in the Church but in our hearts first.

I’m not sure those are the same thing as the First Commandment. Isn’t loving God with our heart, with our soul, with our mind something we should do intentionally along with abiding in Christ and being filled with the Spirit?

Maybe having our relationship with God revived would address how, or to what extent, we love God. I’m not sure. The pastor made a good point that revival is for believers. You don’t revive dead people, and unbelievers are spiritually dead. We the Church need revival. The rest of the world needs to hear the gospel and respond for the very first time.

I’m thinking now that perhaps the angelic addresses to the seven churches in the book of Revelation were calls to revival. And to one of them the angel said, You have left your first love. In other words, you don’t love God with all your heart, soul, and mind any more.

Makes me think of what the prophet Joel said to the people of Judah:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

The chapter goes on to describe what can only be stated as sorrow for sins. Repentance.

So one part of loving God, I think, would have to include keeping short accounts with Him. Short and shorter. And when we sin, instead of just making it right with the person we have sinned against, perhaps above all we should make it right with God.

Not that our sins are somehow undoing our salvation. But they harm our fellowship. I don’t know how it works. God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. Not just past sins, but all sins. Then how can they harm our fellowship with God? I don’t know. Maybe because we remember them, because we need to bring them to the cross to know that yes, that too, God has forgiven. All I really know is, repentance restores my soul. It simply does. It’s not a psychological thing. Not a trick of the mind. When my sins are removed, the are removed! And it’s something that only other Christians understand.

What else does loving God with heart, soul, and mind entail? Jesus said we love Him if we keep His commandments. That’s kind of interesting. Usually we think of keeping commandments to be a physical thing: do this good deed, make this sacrifice, give up this thing, stop doing that thing. But the command to love God with our heart, soul, and mind, would seem to be saying that loving God starts inside. So extrapolating on that, keeping Christ’s commandments starts first in our hearts, souls, minds.

Now I know that the First Command is recorded in other gospel accounts, like Luke 10:27, which add “strength.” So yes, we’d have to say there is a physical component in loving God.

That makes me think of the parable that Jesus told about the King, after He separated the sheep from the goats, said for those on His right to come into His kingdom. Why? because they had fed him, give Him a drink, clothed Him, visited Him when He was a prisoner, taken Him in when He was a stranger, came to Him when He was sick. When did we do that, the people asked. The King answered, “‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matt. 25:40b).

And therein lies social justice, I think. It’s tucked inside our love for God. We care for the lest, the lost, the left out, because we love God.

But we can’t leave out our heart, our soul, our mind. Loving God starts inside. It doesn’t start by what we do. Nor is what we do, the sum of our love for God.

Loving God isn’t measured by how high someone lifts their hands in worship, and it isn’t measured by how much food they provide for the homeless ministry. There’s more. And I want to learn what all that is.

Years ago, Christians talked about “practicing the presence” of God. I never really understood what that meant. Just like I’m not sure what it means to abide in Christ or be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In all this rhetoric, I keep thinking, it shouldn’t be that hard. I just want to be with God, to cling to Him, to depend on Him, to please Him, to rejoice in Him, to celebrate Him. I don’t want to fight Him or ignore Him or stray from Him. I don’t know that these things come naturally, so I wouldn’t mind hearing a sermon or two on the First Commandment.

Advertisements

Blowing Leads


The LA Dodgers, which is the first sports team I supported and cheered for, the baseball team I still follow and get behind, are going through a bad patch just now. They were ahead in a game against Colorado a couple nights ago, and lost. Then the following night, the Rockies earned a walk-off win when one of their players hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. It gets worse. The Dodgers came home to face the Giants last night, only to lose another lead in the ninth inning and once again lose the game.

These were all winnable contests. LA had the lead. The starting pitchers had put the team in position to win. But the offense stopped scoring runs and left runners on base, and the bull pen didn’t get the job done. In one instance there were two outs and the opposition onslaught started with a walk. In my way of thinking, the manager made some bad decisions, too.

My poor Dodgers.

But in truth, they remind me of America, and before it, Europe. And the Middle East. They remind me of the churches singled out in the book of Revelation. Those all started well, but there was this problem—not necessarily the same one for each. The warning was that they wouldn’t survive if they didn’t take care of their issue: “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place” (Rev. 2:5b).

As it happens, the seven churches are located in the region we now know as Turkey. Though Christianity took root and flourished in what was then Pontus and Galatia and Cappadocia and Bynithinia, the warning of Revelation proved to be prophetic.

For more than a 1000 years the region was a bastion of Christianity . . . Even as late as 1900, Turkey was still 22% Christian. But by the end of that century the number of Christians had declined to 0.21%. Today Turkey is estimated to be about 97% Muslim.

Scholars have studied this change from one religion to another, but the bottom line is the warning of the angel to the churches: repent or your lamp will go out. Do what you did before.

I’m not one who thinks we should go back to “the good ol’ days,” but I was a coach and I did play sports and I do follow sports. There’s one thing that’s true of all sports teams: their players practice. They don’t practice fancy new trick shots in basketball, or new ways to field a baseball or creative concepts connected with throwing the football. No, actually even at the pro level, they practice the basics, the fundamentals, the right way of doing things, so that in a game they will instinctively do the right thing.

The fundamentals are important. When we’re talking about Christianity, we’re talking about the things those churches in Revelation were warned about. Things like not leaving their first love or being faithful unto death or not tolerating false teachers or holding fast to the truth until Christ comes. And most of all, repent.

How do we hold fast, avoid false teachers, remain faithful? I think it all starts by embracing God’s word and keeping it close. Reading it regularly. Memorizing it. Thinking about it, Talking about it. And mostly, doing it. I don’t know of one other thing that will return us to our first love faster than steeping ourselves in God’s word. Everything we need for life and godliness is there.

The Poor Church That Is Rich


In Revelation Jesus delivered messages to the angels of seven first century churches. He generally began by confronting them regarding some problem area. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He precedes to reverse the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich.

This could possibly be a comparative statement similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to Warren Buffett or Bill Gates we would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual condition of the church versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who are in Haiti or Indonesia or Sudan don’t have a lot of the world’s goods.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church in Smyrna was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them. So like our experience today.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers, for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have two promises for that faithfulness: 1) the crown of life; and 2) if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know that we who are in Christ will be like Him. So, are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ, already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

This article is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in July, 2014.

Published in: on July 27, 2018 at 5:02 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,

God And Revelation


I know this thought is not particularly profound, but I am struck by the necessity of, the utter dependence on, the helplessness which we have without the revelation of God—His character, His purpose, and His plan.

There really is no way we can reason ourselves to God. We might have a sense of intuition that opens us up to God’s existence, but that inner tug would not actually bring us any closer to God. In truth, God has to be the initiator if we are to have a relationship with Him. The lesser can’t move toward the greater.

Think about it this way: does a puppy pick out an owner or does a human pick the puppy he wants for a pet? Does the child choose his parent, even in cases of adoption? Does an individual choose his ethnicity? None of those happens because the lesser is not in charge, even to the point of knowing what life will be like in relationship to a particular owner or parent or ethnic group.

Rather, the greater chooses the lesser, or defines him.

When it comes to God, He is so transcendent, it’s hard to imagine that a human would ever come up with the idea of God—perfect, all powerful, present everywhere, unchangeable, infinite, knowing everything, and more. I mean, the human experience is sort of the opposite: fallible, temporal, moral, limited, without power, fickle, and more.

Sure, there are some qualities of God that we humans also have, in a limited capacity—things like love and forgiveness and kindness and wisdom—so it’s foreseeable that someone who wanted to invent a god would give him those traits. But who would conceive of something we humans don’t have? And not just humans, but which no creature in existence has.

Yes, it’s possible for imagination to take us to that which we have never experienced, such as unicorns (though we know what creatures with horns look like) or vampires (though we know what fangs are, what blood is) or hobbits (though hairy feet are not so different from hairy faces). But making something up and understanding that it is imaginary is something completely different from making something up and saying that is real.

Beyond God’s obvious qualities, there are the mystifying aspects of His nature such the trinity. God is one, and yet He is three. Who would make up such a difficult concept? Jesus is a man and Jesus is God. How would we ever conjure up such an impossibility?

Where would we get the idea that God breathed His life into humans and that sets us apart from all other created things? Where would we get the idea that God’s Spirit breathed inspiration into the written word, so that it is the work of individual people but also the exact word of God? How would anyone come up with the idea that justice and mercy are compatible qualities God exhibits?

Furthermore, who would invent sin? Why would anyone purposefully doom the entire human race? And then conceive of a rescue plan that cost only God?

I could go on. The point is, what the Bible tells us about God—His person, His working in the world, His long range objectives—is a bit outlandish and beyond the realm of human thinking. Except for revelation. God needed to tell us what He’s like. And He has.

Published in: on May 29, 2018 at 5:15 pm  Comments (14)  
Tags: , ,

What Makes A Church Lukewarm?


In the book of Revelation, John starts out with messages to seven specific churches located in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. One of these was Laodicea. While God delivers a mixed message to most of the churches—here’s what you’re doing well, but I have this issue with you—He doesn’t have anything good to say to the Laodiceans:

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

When I was growing up we played a game that involved the person who was “it” telling players who were searching for an item if they were cold or hot—hot being they were near to the item and cold being they were far from it.

Naturally, when I read this passage in Revelation 3, I translated the “cold” and “hot” terminology based on my understanding of the words—from the context with which I was familiar. Consequently, I was confused. Why would God ever say, I wish that you were cold? Wouldn’t He only and always want believers who were close to Him, who were hot?

The problem is, John was thinking of the Laodicea context. This city situated on a trade route was far from a water source, so they build an aqueduct to bring water from the mountains. At the source, this water was ice cold, but by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it was tepid.

In contrast, in the nearby valley there were three hot springs, but water transported from them would cool and by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it also would be tepid.

So the Laodiceans would be familiar with cold water that was no longer cold like it had been in the mountains, and with hot water that was no longer hot as it had been in the valley. How they might have wished for cold water to drink or hot water to bath in. But what they had was only room temperature water that was not good for either purpose.

In short, I think the Laodiceans understood that God wanted them to be useful, not ineffectual or purposeless.

In some ways, I think the church in America got caught up in the ways of the Laodiceans. We simply forgot what we were supposed to do and why we were to do it.

We’re still trying to find our way, but the problem is that we think, too often, that what people need is what we have—the good life. They need three square meals a day (though we rarely eat that way any more—maybe the better way to state it would be, as much food as they want each day, when they want it). They need a roof over their head and clothes on their back. They need safety and freedom, a job, and a government that will protect them.

I’m not saying those things are wrong or that we shouldn’t readily give them when we are able. But is any of that why Jesus came? Is any of that what Jesus told us to pass on to others?

Actually, no. Jesus came to preach the good news. He told us to make disciples. By the way, disciples are not brainwashed fools who go mindlessly along doing what they’re told, but they are actual followers who want to grow more and more like the Savior who rescued them from darkness, and transferred them into His kingdom of light.

I think we’ve gotten confused. On one hand, we thought “disciples” meant “converts,” so we were happy with people coming to the front in an evangelistic meeting and “giving their life to Christ” even though they might take it back a year later because they didn’t really know what this “Christian thing” was supposed to do for them.

On the other hand, we thought we could make disciples by handing out lunches to the homeless on skid row, and by supplying clothes for the used goods store, or buying a present for the child of a prison inmate or many other very necessary activities.

Please understand: converts are good; activities that help others are good. But they should not replace “making disciples.” They are lukewarm. They don’t satisfy the thirsty man and they don’t adequately wash a dirty one. They aren’t bad, in and of themselves. And if they get a little ice or get heated on the stove, then they can do what they were intended to do. But alone? Lukewarm.

And Scripture says, lukewarm is destined for one thing. Some translations say, God will spit them out, some say spew, some say vomit. The point is, lukewarm is worthless.

The great thing about this message to the church in Laodicea, I think is verse 19:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

God doesn’t want His Church to stay in a place of uselessness. Because He loves us. Loves us! Yes, He loves those He’s sending us to as well, but He loves us. He doesn’t want us as tools, but He understands our need for purpose. He wants us to be involved in His business, to get on with advancing His kingdom. That’s a high and holy purpose—one that requires us to be hot or cold, just not lukewarm.

Published in: on January 23, 2018 at 5:32 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , ,

The Difference Between Knowing And Understanding


I know a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean I understand them. I know my car does this piston thing, burning fuel to make it run, but I couldn’t explain much more about the workings of the engine. I know less about my computer and a tenth of that about the Internet.

Still, though I don’t understand them, I use those basic tools. I know how to drive, how to enter information into my computer, how to access any number of sites and services on the World Wide Web.

I know, but I don’t understand.

Quite frankly, I’m fine with things the way they are. There are mechanics, tech guys, and webmasters who understand these things and take care of fixing them when they break. I trust their expertise and don’t feel like I need to kibitz—they’re quite capable without my input.

There’s an idea in our culture, however, that seems to treat God differently. He, the thought goes, is a mystery and we’ll never know Him because we will never have true understanding of Him. He is, after all, so far beyond mankind that we shouldn’t expect to understand Him or to know what He’s like. Here’s an example of this kind of thinking from a comment to another blog:

For me, I find that looking for the answers is satisfying enough, even if I never find ultimate truth. Omniscience is a beautiful, holy ideal. I know I will never attain it, but why stop trying? My brain is wired, therefore, with a strange dilemma: there is no ultimate truth, yet I’m going to search for it.

Rather than critiquing or responding to that comment, I want, instead, to take what I hope is a Scriptural look at the mystery of God.

First, the Bible makes it clear that God is indeed far beyond Mankind, that He doesn’t do or think like us:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor 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 (Isaiah 55:9-9).

Such a situation seems to lend itself to belief that God is in fact a mystery. However, God has shown from the beginning of time that He had no desire to be a mystery.

First He made Man in His own image, after His own likeness. Just by looking at people, even in our fallen state, we can know something about God.

Second, God was engaged with Man, walking and talking with him rather than withdrawing and watching from afar. Even after man sinned and suffered the consequences, God interacted with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, Solomon, Daniel, and many others.

He also gave His Law and for forty years gave a visible indication of His presence with the people He chose as His own. He stayed with them, fought for them, fed them, kept their cloths from wearing out, disciplined them, and fulfilled His promises to them.

Still, there was a mystery — something God kept in reserve that all those people only caught a hint of. That mystery was Jesus Christ:

Of this church I [Paul] was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:25-27 – emphasis added).

All throughout the New Testament, then, the mystery is mentioned in light of its unveiling.

Mat 13:11: Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven …

Rom 16:25 … according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,

Eph 1:9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him

Eph 3:3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery …

[emphases added]

Furthermore, we learn from Scripture that Christ is the image of the invisible God, that it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. Hebrews spells out succinctly God showing Himself to Man:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:1-3a).

Is God a mystery?

How can we say that He is when He says He is not?

Does that mean we understand everything about Him? Not by a long shot.

But remember, understanding and knowing are not the same thing. We cannot let the thinking of our time push us off of the sure knowledge of God that we have — not because of our great intellect, which is nothing in comparison to God’s infinite knowledge, but because of God’s kindness and love which spurred Him to reveal Himself to us.

What He has told us, then, is sure knowledge, the testimony of omniscience. We can know what He has revealed, though we may never understand it.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

Published in: on July 20, 2017 at 5:44 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,

Revelation


The Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye attracted attention to eschatology—the “part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” (Oxford English Dictionary). They are by no means the first writers to depict the events cataloged in the book of Revelation and other passages of prophecy. Back in 1972 A Thief in the Night, the first of a series of four feature-length films, made it’s way into theaters.

There was also a badly written novel—the title escapes me—that encapsulated the entire story of The End . . . in about 250 pages. I’m sure there were others. Certainly there have been since Left Behind. In 2010 Scars: An amazing end-time prophecy novel came out. In 2011 an author announced he was beginning work on The Revelation: a new end-times novel as part of NaNoWriMo.

Years ago, before Revelation became a subject of fiction, churches favoring a dispensational view of Biblical history, held prophecy conferences, complete with charts and time lines.

All this to say, there has been a fascination with Revelation and what it says about the future. But of late, perhaps in reaction to the so popular Left Behind books, there’s been a bit of a backlash against end-time fiction. Some publishers, for example, state in their guidelines they do not want end-time stories. Some bloggers make repeated references to the “bad theology” of the Left Behind books.

I suppose the main struggle with the book of Revelation is to know what is symbolic and what is literal. In some instances, an angel tells John, and therefore us, what the visionary language means.

As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)

These passages are not nearly as common as the pictorial, symbolic language filling most of the book.

That we struggle today to know what John saw that was figurative and what, literal, should be no surprise. The disciples struggled to understand Jesus, too. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, He told them. Oh, no, the disciples said, we forgot to bring bread. I’m going up to Jerusalem to die, Jesus said. Who gets to sit on Your right hand and left hand when You take over, the disciples asked.

When was He talking in parables, when was He speaking plainly? If they couldn’t tell, it should be no shock that we struggle a bit with the same issues when it comes to the revelation Jesus gave to John.

But there are some things we can know. So what is good theology when it comes to the book of Revelation? What is this book recording John’s vision of angels and trumpets and bowls of wrath and seals and beasts and the harlot Babylon, all about?

As my former pastor said as part of his introduction to a sermon series over the book, the one clear truth is that Christ wins. That being said, I think there are some additional key themes that run through Revelation which, I believe, Christians on either side of the theological divide, agree upon.

First, Jesus Christ is the Lamb that was slain, making Him the only one qualified to open that which God has held secret from past ages and generations.

In addition, He will return as the Conqueror and the King, defeating Satan and assigning him eternal punishment.

Revelation also portrays divine judgment on those who follow Satan, who do not repent and give God glory.

Throughout, the book shows God as righteous in His acts, even those that come directly from His wrath. Here’s an example:

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev 16:5-7)

Another key theme is God’s provision of a new home—a new heaven and a new earth—for those whose names are written in the book of life.

One more, though undoubtedly there are others: there’s a clear warning to the churches to hold fast to the truth, to love God and obey Him, to resist false teaching or the lure of riches or complacency.

Revelation is a rich book because it shows us more about who God is than it does about what will happen someday. It shows us what He cares about and what His wrath looks like. It shows that He is worthy to be praised for His justice as well as for His redemption, for His majesty as well as for His righteousness. It shows that He is the Lamb who is Worthy.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

But The LORD


While we live in the physical world, we simultaneously live in a spiritual world. For starters, we have spiritual natures. In addition, whether we recognize it or not, God is not the only supernatural person. Other spiritual beings exist all around us. This is why Elisha could say to his servant in 2 Kings 6:16, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The “those who are with us” consisted of chariots of fire filling the mountain which the servant couldn’t see until God opened his spiritual eyes.

In talking about creation, Paul refers to rulers and authorities, thrones and dominions, the latter being part of the invisible world he mentions in Col. 1:16.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Who all these spiritual beings are is of interest to a good many people, but the truth is, the Bible tells us very little about them. We know there are two basic camps, however—those who do God’s bidding and are good, and those who stand in opposition to Him and are evil.

These spiritual forces have real power. Two angels, for example, were involved in the destruction of Sodom. Satan himself apparently decimated Job—destroying his property, killing his children, and striking him with disease.

Of course these beings are not operating independently. The angels are carrying out God’s commands, and Satan is doing only what God has given him permission to do. He was, for example, expressly forbidden to take Job’s life.

But still, Satan is active and so are any number of evil spirits. The New Testament records one man with evil spirits who had supernatural strength so that he could break free of chains meant to restrict him. Then there was the girl who had an evil spirit which made it possible for her to tell fortunes. Others caused a person to be mute or to lose control of their body so that they would be thrown into the fire.

The fact that we don’t see overt manifestations of evil spirits as a part of normal life here in North America doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t active.

The Bible tells us we need spiritual armor, so my supposition is that much of the spiritual activity we face has little to do with the physical, though possibly there is far more than we recognize as coming from spiritual causes. But that’s going astray from the point I want to make in all this.

Men and women throughout history have worshiped, but many have chosen a god instead of the LORD. For much of their history, the Jews dabbled with polytheism, though the LORD had specifically told them to have no other gods before Him. Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome—they all worshiped various gods. They were religious, and they recognized the existence of power that was beyond the physical.

The problem was, they credited created beings with supreme power and authority—whether Zeus or Baal or Molech or some other idol.

Interestingly, Isaiah wrote a stirring passage about idols being nothing but a man-made construction with no power. In chapter 44 he describes the process of cutting timber, burning half for fuel or for a fire to cook over, then fashioning from the other half an idol he bows to and worships:

No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” (v. 19)

So which is it—are idols blocks of wood or are they evil spirits with actual power? I suppose spirits can inhabit the blocks of wood, but why would they? The wood itself, as Isaiah pointed out, is blind and dumb. Regardless, I conclude the physical idol, whether possessed or not possessed, is nothing but a chunk of matter. The people who worship idols however, are indeed worshiping a spiritual being—a false god.

So I came across this verse, and I thought, here’s the line of demarcation, the point that clearly separates false gods from the One True God:

For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens. (Ps. 96:4-5—emphasis mine)

Creation, as Romans 1 states so clearly, points to the One True God. It is in what He has made that His invisible attributes can be seen:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (v 20)

As I realized anew the significance of God’s creative work, I understood more clearly why Creation is such a battlefield. To discredit God, Satan aims to distort the work that inexorably points to Him.

There are a few key issues like that—the Bible as God’s authoritative word, the person of Jesus, and creation. Isn’t it interesting that these are the critical means of God’s revelation of Himself to Mankind, creation being the first and Jesus being the final and ultimate revelation, with the Bible being the authoritative source that explains both.

Praise God for loving us so much He has made Himself known.

This article with some revision is a reprint of one by the same name that appeared here in February 2012.

Published in: on March 2, 2016 at 6:35 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Where Are We Looking?


glass half fullI had a discussion with a good friend last night about looking at the glass as half full or half empty. Some people see life in all it’s darkness and gloom and hopelessness. Others see it as full of hope and promise. What makes the difference?

Some say it’s temperament—some of us are simply born with a propensity to look on the negative side while others can’t help but see the possibilities, even in the deepest pit. Interestingly, one of my favorite bloggers touched on this subject in her response to a comment at another site.

Apparently the commenter made reference to life being sustained by death. As he explained it,

all life on earth depends on the death of other creatures for its sustenance, from plants who use the decayed remains of animals and other plants, to the animal kingdom, where some kill plants to live, while others kill the plant-eaters to survive.

InsanityBytes, the blogger in question, had made the point that our focus determines our understanding. Those looking at death, see dead animals and dead plants instead of nourishing and delicious food. In the same way, those looking at the temporal are blind to God’s grandeur.

It’s a good point I think.

But I suspect there’s also the matter of our measuring stick. If we measure all things by the standard of humankind, then we shrink the world into manageable explanations and theories—physical things we can verify with our physical senses. All else, we simply reject.

Demons? Don’t be silly, there are no such things as demons? I know because I can’t see them, and my perceptions are the measure of what is real! No ghosts either. Or angels. And certainly there is no God! No heaven. Or hell. Or afterlife of any kind. Those things simply can’t be proven in physically verifiable ways, so someone had to make them up.

As soon as we recognize that humankind actually isn’t the measuring stick, that there might be things in existence that we don’t know or haven’t experienced or can’t comprehend or dissect or explain, then the world opens wide. Now there are spiritual possibilities we hadn’t conceived of, given our limited focus.

No longer are we locked in to the temporal; we can lift our eyes to the eternal.

But how can we?

This is where revelation comes in. It’s true that, by definition, the finite cannot know the infinite. We who are limited are incapable of understanding limitlessness. What is it like to live before time? To have no beginning or end? To never grow weary or tired? To have infinite power and wisdom and love and mercy and justice?

We need a snapshot, a story, an explanation—a revelation—to open up that which is beyond our ability to apprehend on our own. Even then we will be peering through a darkened window and glimpse only shadows of the reality.

But those shadows grow sharper the longer we look, the keener our eyesight. We focus. We stare unrelentingly at that which we know to be true though we can’t manipulate Him—for what we’re looking at is God—and we can’t force Him to act in ways that are more to our liking.

At some point we realize that the image of God is Jesus and He isn’t as murky as we first thought. We realize that He is the standard by which all is measured. In fact, no glass is half full or half empty. All are empty until filled with Living Water, and then they are never empty again.

Sadly, some people will insist on making humankind the measure of all things. They’ll never lift their sights any higher, never realize that humans don’t control the wind or the waves or the sun, moon, and stars.

Humans don’t dictate what is right and what is wrong; the moral code embedded in our hearts is not of our creation. We can ignore it or corrode it, but we can’t remove it any more than we can erase God by saying He doesn’t exist.

To those who refuse to look beyond humankind as the arbiter of reality, the glass will be leaking. Death does sustain life, but for how long? What happens when death overwhelms life? What happens when death overwhelms me? The adage is true: one out of one dies. But those of us who look to God and not to humankind know the last part of that statement: and then comes the judgment.

It’s a warning, not a condemnation. We have all already failed. The sentence has been delivered: guilty, destined to die, both physically and spiritually.

But Jesus stands in the gap.

He’s changed the Valley of Weeping into a spring, covered the dry ground with the waters of the early rain. He has done what we need in order that we might be restored to right standing with the Father, in order that we might walk in the newness of resurrection life instead of the deadness of our sinful condition.

Half full or half empty? Truly, the answer lies in our focus.

Published in: on November 3, 2015 at 5:33 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Revelation, The End Times, Eschatology


Book_of_Revelation-John on PatmosI’m currently reading in the book of Revelation which has one section that recorded letters to seven churches contemporary to the Apostle John and another section related to the coming and yet future judgment of the world (though a segment of Christians believe the judgments of Revelation were fulfilled in the first century).

As the popularity of the Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye would seem to indicate, a good number of people are fascinated by the latter subject, even those who don’t actually believe. You see this every time someone makes a prediction about when this judgment will take place. It’s like people can’t help but pay attention and wait for the approaching zero hour, then laugh a little (or a lot) when nothing happens.

Some people react almost as if they’ve cheated death. See, they seem to be saying, I can do whatever I want, and the world isn’t going to crumble around our heads. This judgment stuff is a crock.

Which is precisely what Peter warned about in his second letter:

in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3b-4)

Interestingly, Peter connects the end times judgment with the water judgment of old, saying that those who scoff at the coming wrath have missed the lesson of history:

For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. (vv 5-6)

All this relates to Revelation, to the end times, to eschatology (“the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” – Oxford American Dictionary) because God told Noah He would never again destroy the world with water, that judgment would next be delivered by fire.

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (v 7)

It is this coming judgment which both fascinates and frightens mankind.

Christians take seriously the admonition to be on the alert, to be ready. Many are looking for Christ’s return, not to reign but to take believers out of this world before the disastrous things John prophesied come to fruition.

Some are looking for the Antichrist—the one who will rule by Satan’s power and will make war against God’s people. They’re mindful of the “mark of the beast” which non-believers will accept and believers will avoid.

And many believe the end-time events will take place during a seven year period, though there’s debate about whether Christians will be on the earth during any, part, or all of the prophesied judgments.

Interestingly, Peter reminds his readers that God doesn’t reckon time the way we do:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

In this light, I think it’s somewhat humorous that so many who study the Bible are certain about the seven years of tribulation. What if it’s seventy years or seven hundred years? Maybe we’ve been experiencing the tribulation for centuries. What if the first fourteen hundred years after Christ were the things Jesus said in Matthew 24: “merely the beginning of birth pangs”? Then come the end times—seven hundred years of them.

It’s rampant speculation on my part, but no more so than those who have the times all figured out, since they do not take into account that God can reckon time however He pleases. But the really significant point I think is why He didn’t immediately bring judgment on the world after Christ’s resurrection, why He continues to “delay”:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

It’s such an amazing truth—made more so by those who mock, saying He’s not coming back because He never came in the first place or never ascended to heaven; and by those who accuse God of not loving the people who are off somewhere out of earshot of the gospel.

These are the kinds of things we can expect in the end times—people listening to lies instead of God’s word. Truth is, He’s coming, but He hasn’t come yet in order to make provision for every single person who will come to repentance.

Amazing that the dark days of Revelation are as much a proof of God’s love for humankind as any bright day of blessing. He waits and warns and gives signs and prophecies. But in the end, some will refuse to acknowledge God even in the face of destruction. Perhaps the saddest couple of verses in Scripture say

Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory . . . and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.(Rev. 16:9, 11)

How many times have I heard atheists say something like, if that’s your loving God, I want nothing to do with him. It breaks my heart. Can they not see there is an eternal destiny at stake?

Years ago, before personal computers, tablets and cell phones, children had activity books which often included mazes: Help Dorothy reach the city of Oz, or help Timmy find Lassie—some great prize was waiting on the other end of a twisted, tangled, branching set of pathways. Often there were three or four starting places and little known to the unsuspecting child, if you chose the wrong starting place, you could try all you want, but you were not going to get to the prize.

So too with real life. There is only one way, but if we’ve headed off in the wrong direction, we have the option of backtracking—of repenting—and changing course to follow the Light, to traverse the Way.

That’s what God wants, and that’s why He patiently waits.