Monday, June 27, 2016

Why Turkey Can Make a Covenant With Many

"And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”   Daniel 9:27    NASB

This circumstance may help explain why Turkey is such a good candidate to be the source of that one who will sign a covenant with Israel initiating the fulfillment of Daniel's 70th week.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Radical Invitation

Has the first word of the biblical salvation message has been lost through disuse? Given the climate and message of today's evangelical church, one has to wonder. Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The Apostles preached, "Repent!" Even when just counseling the woman caught in adultery Jesus said, "Go and sin no more." Let me ask you, is that the kind of thing you preach?

Where is the "REPENT!" in today's preaching? It just isn't part of the evangelical fabric that's in fashion these days. Have we become so afraid that people will not respond to that nasty little word that we have abandoned it and now depend on manipulation and marketing instead? When we rely on such measly human efforts that utilize enticement and stroke the flesh, what sacrifice is any respondent prepared to make?


The discipleship crisis the American church is in today starts with the message that initially enlists today's supposed disciples. Folks that enter thinking they don't have to turn, won't turn after they enter. I'm not a fan of fire and brimstone preaching--faith, not fear, is the only motivation that sustains a life of following Jesus--but to become a Christian a person must embrace their own death and trust Christ to raise them to a new (and better) life. People today, though all-modern-and-educated, must  still hear and respond to the call to repent and follow Jesus, as any disciple in any former age did.

Christianity is about a radical change in direction, a night and day difference in one's life. The result of a new birth cannot be the same old, same old, for birth means leaving an old way of life for a new one, 
or it's not birth at allFor those would who style themselves as radical and innovative preachers in this day and age, the message that actually matches that characterization starts with the word REPENT! Now that's a radical invitation that stands a shot at producing new life.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sugar-coating the Bread of Life

Sugar coating: originally a process in the food industry whereby sugar or syrup was applied in some fashion to the surface of a food product, making the product sweeter and thereby more delectable. Often used in conjunction with food that was less tasty or desirable in order to increase its consumption; e.g., the breakfast cereal industry, or as in a song in Mary Poppins.

Why would the salvation wrought by Christ need to be sugar-coated? In itself, of itself, it already promises knowing our Creator personally, living forever without disease, decay or death, and being free from doing stupid things we will rue but do regardless (among other things). Could there be a sweeter deal? Salvation is an absolute dream come true, but being a disciple of Christ comes at a cost even though it is truly free.

Salvation entails acknowledging that we don't run the show and us bowing to the leadership of Jesus. In this day where willfulness is celebrated and self is elevated, the temptation is to assume that most of the people we're trying to coax into the Kingdom of God won't buy into such a deal. So, repentance is soft-pedaled, sin and judgment is back-pedaled, and continuing on in life with Jesus merely added on is floor-pedaled. Can such a vitamin supplement approach to the gospel actually cleanse the conscience here and now or ready the soul for a welcome in the age to come?


It's not those who call Jesus, "Lord" who are saved but those who actually do as he says.

Buying into the gospel means selling everything else we had before the gospel came into our lives (at minimum, in attitude). Families may ostracize or desert us. Riches may have to be abandoned. Sexual pleasures will not be guaranteed to us. Just because we had a dream doesn't mean that God will buy into it or help us to achieve it. It's the price of Jesus being Lord.

A gospel that doesn't stop us in our tracks is not going to get us on the right track.

I like toast with breakfast. As a kid, I particularly like cinnamon toast. When mom made it, most of the sugary coating was shaken off back into the bowl. When I got my hands on it, I usually found a way to load those tasty slabs of cinnamon goodness with more sugary sweetness. If mom ever saw what I was doing she would never have stood for it, but then she cared about my health and wanted me to enjoy having teeth for the rest of my life. 


Making adjustments to the gospel makes what is adjusted no gospel at all. If we truly care for those we try to win with the gospel and want them to be whole throughout all eternity, we need to stick to the truth that sets sinners free. Coming to grips with who and what Jesus is and following him exclusively is food and drink indeed. If we want to feed the folk we preach to something that can nourish them eternally, we need to stop sugar-coating the Bread of Life.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Who's the Boss?

The central core of Christian faith is it's understanding of Jesus, in particular, its understanding of his authority. Jesus is recorded asking people, "Do you believe I can do this?" Believers, like the centurion, recognized his authority, whereas unbelievers disdainfully asked him, "By what authority do you do this?" That range of opinion represents a nice metric for which to measure the concept of effective faith. 

So what does it take for faith to be effective? I have explored the moment it comes into existence over the last couple of blog offerings. With this article I approach it from a different tack and offer the following postulates, which I believe characterize true faith and which I believe faith must exhibit in order to be effective. In other words, they limn out what is means to believe in Jesus in a way that counts.

1) Effective faith perceives Jesus as the Lord (i.e. the ultimate authority in one's life)
2) Effective faith sees all authority in heaven and earth as given to Jesus
3) Effective faith recognizes that the name of Jesus represents the highest authority
4) Effective faith accepts Jesus' word as enduring in it's authority.

Whether we are talking about salvation or about miracles, faith that produces the desired end is faith that fully embraces the authority of Christ.

By the authority of Christ granted to them to use, the apostles healed the sick and cast out demons. When they were shaky about that authority, they couldn't cast out a demon and were rebuked for a lack of faith. By that authority Peter walked upon the water. When Peter became fuzzy about it he sank into the waves. Apprehending the authority of Christ is the difference between praying hopefully and commanding forcefully.

I wish clarity regarding this was my constant experience, but alas, it isn't. There are moments when the authority of Christ is so clear to me, and at those moments, awesome things happen. Then there are those moments when it's only theory in my head, which I assent to readily, but it's not singular or instant. I have to think about it before its crystal clear. The difference between one and the other is command and request, knowing and hoping.

I wish faith wasn't so elusive. 

Would any of us even break through to effective faith if it wasn't for the Spirit's inspiration? In regard to salvation the answer is any easy "no!" In regard to the miraculous, it's little more complex. By God's design, however, the task of believing in either regard is ours, and that is what makes faith so slippery. 

God has no doubts about who's in charge. When we're certain as well, our experience erupts into a faith moment. Could you do with more faith moments where you're crystal clear instantly about the authority of Christ? I know I sure could. Trees would be flying! But while they remain anchored to the soil, the only real question that matters is, "Who's the boss?"

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Faith Moment: Charismata

How does one have the faith to do miracles? There aren't any mountains or mulberry trees flying by, so one would think that kind of faith is extremely rare. Nigh unto impossible to muster, one might think, but miracles do happen and much more frequently than would be expected given the apparent lack of that quantum-like quantity Jesus called a "mustard seed". So the faith to do miracles does arise, and broadly enough to make it worth asking ourselves how we might engage in it.

It seems to me, the moment when the faith to do miraculous feats arises is similar to that which leads to salvation. Although not strictly necessary (remember the Centurion), for the most part, I think it also requires the assistance of God to distill. Also like that moment, the final disposition of the aimed at goal must come through us, not God. There is nothing irresistible about the grace that stirs true faith into being.

Now there is a charismatic gift of faith through which faith is inspired in an individual for the benefit of the body. That occurs for a specific purpose at a particular time--it is not ongoing, which is the intrinsic nature of a manifestation (phanerosis) of the Spirit. Like anything else the Spirit inspires, it is quenchable. We are not puppets in the hand of God, after all, that would insult the one in whose image we are made.

I once had a Bible college professor, Bill Crew I think it was, who posited that a gift of faith came with along with any other manifestation of the Spirit. His idea was that the faith to act came along with the ability to act under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don't think that is so (it's too speculative without the backing of scripture), but I do think that the stirring of the Spirit that alerts us to the moving of the Spirit is itself a grace-filled invitation to believe. It's that tap on the shoulder we need to get out beyond ourselves and get on the same page with God.

When the breath of God is exhaled across the face of the inner man a moment arises--a moment which awakens faith and calls us to possibilities of moving as the hand of God bringing the miraculous.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Faith Moment: Salvation

How does faith congeal in the soul to become substance

I do not believe that God secretly presses a button he's concealed within us, which when pressed, makes us people of persevering faith. As I understand it, that is precisely what Calvinism proposes. The problem with that is that if God did do that kind of thing for any person, he'd do it for all people. Scriptures are clear that is not the way things turn out, so Calvinism cannot be consistent with the self-revelation of God in them (and Universalism must be seen to bite the dust as well). 


God has made mankind with the capacity for faith, of that there can be little doubt, for people everywhere trust in things they cannot see. I think this general capacity is what separates mankind from angels, particularly in regard to redeemability. Mankind was made in innocence, really ignorance, and therefore was made for faith. Faith exists in that gap produced by unseens and unknowns, but Angels were made for knowledge and sight. 


When angels rebelled they did so in knowledge and sight and are irredeemable as a result (see Hebrews 6:4a for the concept as it applies to mankind). If Romans 12:3 applies broadly to all humanity (as I've always taken it to mean) rather than just the church (as Calvinists in particular take it), then God has in fact dealt each person at least some measure of faith. Of course, true faith, faith that actually has an effect, requires that it be placed in the right object, namely, God and God alone. That means that God has to "show up" for faith to spark into life.


Really, God "showing up" is that enabling help without which no one could truly believe, but I also know that God, no matter what help he gives, isn't going to believe for us. Otherwise, all of his commands to us to believe would be nonsensical. In order to effectively trust in Christ, only a minimal amount and clarity of faith (i.e. less than mustard seed quantities) is required. That may not seem like much of a threshold, yet it remains a mountain to most people most of the time. 


We are called to faith, it is the very currency of heaven. On their own, humans can only answer that call with something less than true faith in the actual God. When the Holy Spirit brings our focus on the person and authority of Christ into clarity, the moment is ripe for salvivic faith to be born. It is not guaranteed, as is attested by Israel's example and the fact that not everyone comes to faith since Jesus was lifted up on the cross.


Nonetheless, thank God that the Holy Spirit is sent to bring us to that moment when everything comes together and Jesus is seen as supreme--the faith moment.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stirred not Shaken

What would it take for you to act upon an impression that you thought might be the Holy Spirit? If absolute certainty is your threshold, you will never move upon any inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Even if your condition to act is merely that you have to apply thoughtful consideration before acting (that seems wise, right?), anything that is of an urgent nature, i.e. that requires an immediate response, will never be done either. We can easily undermine our experience of things spiritual and miraculous in the name of caution and prudence. 

Things of the Spirit (pneumatikos) are anything but certain. According to Christ, it takes faith to cast out demons, heal the sick, and move mountains. In the realm of things the Spirit inspires, there is a gap between what is and what could be that only faith can fill. If we are not willing to strike out in faith on the basis of an inspiration, call it a holy hunch, we will never experience the kinds of supernatural things that are mentioned throughout the New Testament.

Substituting our judgment for the Holy Spirit's is not prudence or wisdom, nor is it faithful--what it is, is a surefire way to quench the Holy Spirit and live a life without the miraculous.

It is a misapprehension to think that a lightning bolt from heaven would strike (or something nigh unto it) if you were meant to heal the sick, or speak a prophetic word, or exercise power against an unclean spirit. Not many, if any, of us are ever going to experience anything like that! Jesus didn't experience that, Peter didn't experience that, and Paul didn't experience that. Elijah learned the hard way not to expect to

We need sensitivity to the intimate voice of God within us to catch the stirring of the Spirit.

When God's whisper falls on our "ear", we have to act in faith or we'll miss the opportunity to do a greater work. If that happens, something Jesus went to the cross and ascended into heaven to make possible ends up being missed entirely. We are not meant to live satisfied with the Cessationist's paltry gospel, which is little more than an academic exercise in criticism, history and philosophy that devolves into endless debates over the meanings of words. What we are called to be is powerful witnesses of Christ to the world after that the Holy Spirit comes upon us

The Holy Spirit has a way of making himself heard to the hearing ear. To those that have one, much more will be given. To those who turn a deaf ear to God the Spirit, what could have been theirs is lost, like a fruitful field of grain that went unharvested. We're partnered with God, someone we can absolutely trust. When that hunch that might be the Holy Spirit stirs within, we must take faith in hand and act or we'll lose the opportunity.

James Bond, despite his iconic instruction concerning his taste in spirits, would be dead wrong in the realm of the Spirit: it's always better to be stirred, not shaken.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I Was in the Spirit

John uses the expression, "I was in the Spirit" twice in the Apocalypse. Once at 1:10, and once at 4:2. That he was referring to the same state of experience both times could hardly be argued against. What that state was we are about to explore, though it is not explicitly developed in the text. The sort of thing it results in, on the other hand, was explicitly demonstrated throughout the Revelation.

In both instances, the phrases are exactly the same in Koine. On their face, they refer to a locus in or among the Spirit. In the way that one can be "in the wind" or even "in the sun", the Apostle John was in the Spirit. What he is communicating by this was that he was experiencing a pointed (and I would say virtually tangible) consciousness of the divine presence.

This was not John's common or moment-to-moment experience of the Spirit. There are clear enough references to the inception of the experience in both occurrences. In the first usage, this something special happened to occur one Sunday on Patmos. In the second usage, the condition was initiated immediately upon hearing the voice beckoning him to heaven. In both cases, it seems clear that the experience as recorded represented a change from what was going on before.

The word used [ginomai] to describe the existence of John's state packs within it the idea of "becoming" rather than simply being. In other words, John emerged into this state (really, was born into it) at the moment in reference. It is not described in trance-like terms, though the word "ecstasy" is often bandied about while commenting on it. It is ridiculous to do so in my mind, for John betrays no rapture, no enthusiasm, no exhilaration nor any euphoria in conjunction with this experience. Really, there is nothing but matter-of-fact reportage associated with it.

More than anything else the state of being in the Spirit, at least from the accounts of John's being so, is about awareness of the very presence of God--not theoretically, not by faith, but in actuality. If we can generalize from John's experience to any of our's (and I think we can), being in the Spirit is like having a light go on in the dark which suddenly reveals things one would otherwise be unaware of. Those things could be revelations regarding heaven or earth or about the activity of God in a moment past, present or future.

If there is anything precedential or paradigmatic about John's experience, I think it can be said in regard to its application to us, that coming to be in the Spirit (really, acting on charismatic distinctives) is about coming to an acute awareness of God's immediate presence and what he is up to. As a result of that awareness prophecy, or healings, or works of power, or miracles are then manifested in this world. Those manifestations do not break into existence because someone exercised enough faith to produce them, but because someone had come to be in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why Leave A Church?

We live in a mobile society. Folks are shifting from one place to another constantly. I wouldn't think, given such a circumstance, that it would be unexpected that folk would be shifting churches in the shuffle. That's fine, it goes with the territory, but folk are also leaving churches they otherwise would not have to, and it raises the question is, "Is OK to leave one's church?"

People leave their churches for all sorts of reasons and in all kinds of conditions. Some leave churches wandering out of a fog bewildered, some surf the edge of the blast wave after a big blow-up, some leave at the end of the left foot of fellowship, and some lose motivation or faith and fall off more than they depart. Some leave because they find another place more attractive, and some just want something new. Everyone that leaves has their reasons, I'm sure.

Although I doubt that many are legitimately motivated when they choose to leave a church, I do think that leaving a church can be the right thing to do at times.
If that church doesn't uphold the Scripture as the infallible rule of faith and conduct;
If that church embraces universalism;
If that church becomes libertine or antinomian; 
If that church adopts legalism...
You get the point. There are practical and doctrinal issues that are so fundamental and non-negotiable, that if a line is crossed there, then we must cross ourselves off the roll. Even if this is the case, I don't think one should leave such a church without a fight. Not that one should seek to win an argument or engage in a turf war, but that one should contend for the faith and for the souls in that body. Don't let them wander off to hell without an effort to save their souls! However, if they won't hear, and won't stand on sound doctrine, then one must leave!

At times, a bone of contention arises between folk that, given the nature of the personalities involved, cannot be resolved. If continuing on together in mission is impossible, separating unto mission is acceptable It is still unfortunate in the grand scheme, but as long as it is done on reasonable terms and doesn't result in an unending grudge it may be the preferable course of action. We can disagree without being disagreeable, even if it means one going one way and the other going another.

At times, folk are being appointed in the body according to the wishes of the Spirit of God, and leaving one congregation and going to another is precisely what God wants! It's easy to discern this if one is moved to a distant place; it's not so easy if this change takes place in the same town. Regardless, each of us is a gift to the body and we must understand that God gets to place us where he wishes. Actually, I wonder how much dissatisfaction people feel in church is actually just the dissonance in their souls caused by not discerning where God wants them.

There are acceptable, justifiable, and quite spiritual reasons to leave one church and go to another

And then there are reasons which are neither expedient nor justifiable.

It is not justifiable to leave a church for selfish reasons. Church is about Jesus being Lord, not about the churchgoer getting what he or she wants. Christians are not customers, the church is not a business and spiritual ministrations are not consumer goods. To treat this God ordained endeavor as if any of that were true is an insult to grace. Leaving a church for greener pastures is unacceptable for clergy or laity.

It is not expedient for those who have been appropriately corrected, or who have been properly spiritually directed to leave a church rather than humbly submitting to that which has been rendered for their spiritual development. The flawed natural constitution of humans beings means that we grow as Christians to our lowest level of incorrigibility, but that cannot excuse a lack of obedience to the Word or to the brethren. Escaping correction or rejecting direction in one body doesn't give one a blank slate to start in another (regardless of whether one is clergy or laity).

There are occasions where the godly will be justified in leaving a church. At times it will be the absolutely right thing to do. However, even if it is, it's never something left merely to our discretion or preference. Jesus is head over the body, so he gets to plant us where he wants. 

As for us, we need to stay where we're planted and blossom.