Saturday, December 22, 2012

God's Sovereignty and Man's Freewill

If asked, "Is God in control?" my answer, as I understand it from scripture, is absolutely, he most certainly is! In fact, God wouldn't be God if he wasn't in control over what he made. If his will can be frustrated, then ultimately, he's not omnipotent; if he can be surprised then he's not omniscient; if he's subject to time then he's not eternal. If any of these are true then he's not holy (separate from creation).

Is it possible for God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal, to not thereby bear ultimate responsibility for everything that occurs? If he's capable of speaking the worlds into being, then, minimally, he is capable of stopping anything he wants to, anytime he wants to, with a word! Since nothing happens that he was not aware would happen, then, maximally, he is the cause of all that does happen. God is sovereign, and therefore God is responsible. 


Why then do things occur that are specifically stated in his word as being outside of his desire and will? It would seem that it must be his will for things to occur that are not in his will. What kind of mechanism would make that kind of doublespeak possible without making God hopelessly divided against himself? Namely, independent will would, created by God, for God, and allowed under his governance to express itself as it, rather than he wills.


It makes sense even if it is counterintuitive, seemingly contradicting God's omni characteristics. If will wasn't independent it couldn't actually be will, it could only be instinct or some such like. When God created wills other than his own, independence or autonomy in their expression is what he willed for them in creating them. And evidently, having created them, he is not willing to contravene the exercise of them (at least not for a while). 


So, in his sovereignty, it is God's will that we express ours. That is real, God-given freedom. I take this to be the very core and substance of being created in his image. Because I see things this way I find that Arminianism, rather than Calvinism, more fully encompasses the truth concerning God's sovereignty. The truth is that God is sovereign, and that humans truly have free wills.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why Do People Get Sick?

With this post we enter a series on the subject of Divine Healing. Before we get started, here is a list of pertinent scripture verses regarding sickness that you may want to read in conjunction with this article: Isaiah 53:3-51 Corinthians 13:9-10Romans 8:10-11Ephesians 1:13-14John 9:1-3Luke 10:1-12Mark 16:15-18I Corinthians 12Matthew 9:28-30Mark 9:23-24Mark 6:1-61 Corinthians 11:27-32James 5:14-20Revelation 22:1-3

First, we need to understand where sickness came from. I have no doubt that sickness was not part of the pristine, sinless creation that God called "good". The atonement of Christ included a provision for healing, so it would seem that when things are put right with God, sickness is taken out of the picture. The Apocalypse clears up any doubt on the subject by revealing that in the eternal age to come, trees will provide leaves which keep the body well.

So, sickness must have come into being as a result of the negative impacts that came upon mankind due to not being right with God. That would leave, it seems to me, two possible instigating agents for sickness: God or the Devil. There are scripture passages which attribute illness to God, and passages which attribute it to the Devil, so maybe sickness is a tag team effort.

I don't believe that to be the case, but let me ask you a clarifying question that may help us discover what is the case: "Did bacteria, amoebas, and worms exist before the Fall?" My answer is yes, they most certainly did. God alone is shown scripturally to have the ability to create life, so the Devil cannot be given the credit for their existence. Yet, most of what we experience as sickness is the direct result of creatures such as these infecting our bodies.

I'm led to wonder if our body's God-given equipment (namely our immune system) worked as well as it must have by design specs called "good" by God, would humans or any life form ever get sick? If the virulence of tooth and claw existence that resulted from our separation from God, from death, and from antagonism resulting from a justified curse upon sin did not exist, would there be anything to get sick from?


Even though I could see viruses, prions, cancer and genetic defects as being the result of some devilish ingenuity manipulating what God had created, would these types of things have any ill effect (let alone exist) if we were still in the pristine physical condition we had before the Fall? No, it seems clear to me that sickness exists because of the justified curse of death upon Adam and his race as a consequence of sin. In fact, it seems quite clear to me that disease actually results from death, rather than death resulting from disease. 

Our bodies were stricken with a curse which has them decaying toward death, really, from the moment they come into being. Everything in creation was stricken by God so that it opposes us and our physical existence--the ground, plants, animals, and even our bodies themselves. Our bodies do not work up to original design specs; they are infirm; they don't recover like they could; they age, and then they die. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and genetic anomalies are a problem now, because of enmity imposed by the curse, and by our immune systems and the replication processes in our cells not working perfectly as they did in Eden.

Now that is not the Devil's doing, at least not directly by authority, it was God's doing, and God's alone. He had the authority: he spoke the curse. Does the Devil play a role in illness? Peter seemed to think he could. The Evangelists often referred to exorcism in terms of healing. It certainly appears that illness and physical affliction are tools in the Devil's arsenal against the human race (remember Job) in his antagonism toward them.

That is not, however, the same as saying disease is caused by the Devil and his demons. Disease, by general principle, is the result of the Fall, and therefore, in a very real respect, is the God-given, natural lot of life on this fallen planet. And all life is subject to it. That the Devil uses what is available to him to exacerbate our condition and to increase misery should not be surprising to anyone. But to see the Devil behind every bush, or every sniffle, is a mistake, and frankly, gives him far too much credit.

Why do people get sick? Simply, because they live in decaying (dead) bodies. The Devil and his roam about seeking to add misery and to steal days from us while we're in this condition, but they are merely the exploiters, not the authors of it. If the Devil and his minions were deep-sixed today, sickness would still be a possibility tomorrowUltimately, to solve the problem and possibility of illness, the curse of death has to be removed from our physical being.

So what's a body to do in the meantime? That, and a few other issues in the posts to follow, starting with this one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Convinces Us We Need God?

For many of us, life unfolds in the midst of having some worthy goal. We are working steadfastly toward its achievement, hitting the mile markers on the way which tell us we are doing well. We're getting the recognition of peers or consumers, we are achieving. We're together, at the top of our game and feeling good about it.

If we hear a preacher or someone witnessing for Christ who tells us we need God, our response might be, "for what?" Believe it or not, it is even possible for someone to self-identify as a Christian and slip into the same stream. Oh, these are not antagonistic toward God, or anything, it's just that they (even if they would never admit it) think God would be proud of them. If someone needs help, they figure God needs theirs.

When people are self-satisfied, they feel no need for God.

When our thoughts are invaded by the stupid, the silly, the sinful, or the absolutely debauched, a hint arises within us that maybe we're not quite so altogether as we had assumed. There's something in us we don't quite understand, itching to make us blunder and look all too much like the rabble of the unwashed masses. It's not so easily put under reins either. Maybe we don't have this life thing mastered.

It is the imposition of an unwanted thought, an undesired desire that arises within us embarrassing us as it sprouts into consciousness, which breaks the illusion of our self-control. Perhaps it is an irrational fear, or a secret prejudice that shakes our self-reliance. At some point, the failure that such things inspire breaks out in the open. In those moments we discover that we can't do this life thing by ourselves after all. We're less than we thought we were, we do need help, and from someone greater than ourselves--we need God.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Living Is a Gift from God

Since none of us has called ourselves or the space we live in into existence, our very existence, and any and every moment of our existence, is something that we receive from God. Life comes from his hands. If our lives at their most basic levels are what amounts to gifts from God, then everything that we hope will come our way in those lives gifted to us is a gift as well. The most fundamental description of our relationship to God, then, is that we are receivers of his gifts.

It is true that the nature of our present existence, even as given by God, makes some effort on our parts necessary in order to attain some level of and quality in life. We do eat by the "sweat of our brows" after all. But it seems to me that the necessity of earning at that level tends to makes us self-centered--we tend to think of living in terms of my effort, my reward, my ambitions, my desires. In the unending swirl of all that self-centeredness, one can forget (or even never awaken to) the fact that our very life, our very breath, is a gift from God.

According to the record of scripture, we only need to work so in order to get because of a curse imposed because of sin. Sin is in the world, sin is in us. If it was not for sin, however, we would not have death over our heads and we would not have to sweat to get our bread. Take sin out of the equation and we would have freely what God freely, liberally, gives us and it would be crystal clear that all was a gift from God.

This can be difficult for us to embrace. It is almost as if our sweating for our bread, the toil of scratching out a living separated from God all the while dying, plays a trick on us. Even if we happen to be aware of God's part in the big picture, we tend to project the concept of earning upon any blessing we could get from God. We think we have to earn whatever blessing we may be seeking from God, even as we have to earn to eat.

Even if we ask God for blessing we do so as earners, not as gift recipients. We seek his favor by making promises to him or by citing our rewardable behaviors. We try to find some valid reason for us to receive the reward we seek. Even if we haven't earned such a blessing in the past, we assure God we will do so in the future should he make that blessing ours.

All such boasting is antithetical to the purposes of God, and let's be clear, what that is, is boasting. Even more than that, it is living by the principles of the present darkness, it is living by sight. Sight, in effect,  says "give me what I deserve", but faith says "give me what you're willing to". Perhaps the greatest threshold faith must cross is getting over the boastful notions of humankind, borne of the reality of this present existence, that can only see life through the prism of getting what you've worked to gain.

Thankfully, God is willing to give us a lot without earning a bit. Most importantly, he is willing to give you what you could never earn by your efforts--everlasting life and standing in his eternal kingdom. All this is predicated upon us embracing, as a matter of faith, a new perspective which puts us in the mindset of receiving everything we receive from God as an undeserved gift. Living starts, really, when we see it as a gift from God.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tempting the Christian

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.    Genesis 3:1-7 NASB
Can one generalize from the Serpent's action in Eden the Devil's technique in tempting those who are in relationship with God now? Perhaps so, let's have a look and see.

Note that between Adam and Eve, the Serpent targeted Eve for temptation--did he see her as the weakest link? If he did, I don't think it had anything to do with her created nature, but I do think it was possible that she did not have direct instructions from God concerning that singular prohibition in the Garden. We know Adam received it straight from the source, and Eve may have too, but it isn't recorded if she did. If she did, she must have gotten slightly different instructions than did Adam, for she added the extra warning, "or touch it", to the proscription Adam had received in her response to the Serpent's question.


I can't imagine God giving them different instructions, so I'm led to the conclusion that Eve probably heard the rule second hand from Adam. Perhaps he, trying to be extra cautious or even just incautiously paraphrasing, added the "do not touch" provision when he passed it on to Eve. There are reasons we are warned not to add to nor subtract from the word God speaks to those he choses to entrust his word to (e.g. Moses, Proverbs, John). Adding to God's word, it seems to me, gave the Devil the opportunity to undermine what God actually did say.


Which brings us to the Devil's technique. He began his assault by attempting to becloud God's word. To what was clear and straightforward (even if indirect for Eve), he attempted to inject doubt into, to raise issues of subtleties and nuance about. His aim was obfuscating the word of God. When a child of God is in the position of uncertainly questioning what exactly God said, that one is off balance and susceptible to the further deceit of the evil one.


Then he went after God's character. When it comes to God, faith is everything. Faith not only believes that God is (Adam and Eve had "sight" in that area), it also believes that God is good and fair, one who reliably rewards us. When the Devil tempted Eve, he sought to cast aspersions on God's motivations, to accuse God of petty selfishness, of holding out on Adam and Eve. When a person is the least bit shaky on the trustworthiness and goodness of God, they are nothing more than a wobbling boxer, set to go down by any blow from Satan.


Then the Devil appealed to the flesh. Christians, I think, often expect the attack of the Devil to start with the flesh, but I think Christians in good stead with the Holy Spirit are generally prepared for such frontal assaults. However, fog up the word, call the character of God into question, and suddenly the flesh is much more vulnerable to attack. What looks tasty and feels good, what appeals to pride (like being in the know), what promises power are the sources of itchiness flesh unrestrained by faith can't resist scratching.


If you are a follower of Christ, one who is a companion to and child of God, you will be assaulted by the enemy of your soul. Hopefully, this examination of the Devil's techniques might help you foresee, forestall and resist his temptation.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Letter to the Tolerant Church

Throughout time, churches in various places find themselves in the midst of a society which labels as acceptable, or even good, that which the church should clearly see and forthrightly eschew as evil. The pressure to affirm the practice of the broader, surrounding culture can be immense at those times. In such places and times there will be those Christians who endeavor to hold the core of the faith, even while compromising to some degree on what they'll call tangentials. That may not seem unreasonable, but what happens when reasoned compromisers lose sight of who actually holds the straight edge?

In his message to the Church in Pergamum, Christ takes to task a church that was trying to stay true to the fundamentals of the faith while compromising on the practice of morality. It appears, according to Christ, true, obedient Christianity is not maintaining historic, biblical Christology while softening stands on sexuality and idolatry. This seems to me a letter rife with application to the church today. I think we, in the Western world in particular, need to see the line Christ drew regarding these "tangentials"--there is a lot at risk!

It is possible for one to say the right things about who Christ is and what he has done, even to the point of martyrdom, but if one is soft on sexual license or the fixations and substitutions which are idolatry, that one has failed Christ. What a bracing thought! The cost of such failure is being being treated as an enemy of Christ, at war with him and subject to the judgment of his word. The benefit of repentance and success is being treated to a special intimacy with Christ, something shared with Christ that is the victors' alone.

That should be an easy choice, but never undersell the flesh's power to cloud our moral vision, even when the risk is huge!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Coming Temple

As I have said elsewhere, the reference to an earthly Temple in Revelation 11 cannot be used to say anything about the date of the prophecy's writing. I accept the traditional dating of the Apocalypse as 95 CE, which I think is consistent with scripture and history. Of course, if that is so, then what does the reference to an earthly temple mean in chapter 11? The most straightforward answer would be that at the time the prophecy envisions, there will be a Temple in Jerusalem.

There are Jews and Christians who are looking for a third Temple. Daniel's prophecies make one necessary at the advent of the final King of the North. Revelation 11 makes one necessary at the advent of the two witnesses, and 2 Thessalonians 2 makes one necessary at the advent of the man of lawlessness. Suffice it to say, these passages are speaking of the same thing--at the end of the age, when the Antichrist is here, there will be a Temple in Jerusalem.

If one walks back from that premise, it means that before the Antichrist can reach the epitome of his wickedness, the Jewish temple must be rebuilt. For that to happen the Jews will have to have control of the Temple Mount. For that to happen some kind of agreement would have to be reached with the Muslim powers that be in the area...

Though there is not one there now, make no mistake, in the days to come a temple will be in built in Jerusalem.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Temple A Temporal Clue?

Though the temple is mentioned many times throughout the Apocalypse, the only reference in the entire prophecy which could even remotely be taken to refer to the earthly Temple in Jerusalem is in the beginning of chapter 11. Generally, temple references in the Revelation have everything to do with God's abode in heaven and nothing to do with the earth or Jerusalem. However, since both Temples are mentioned in chapter 11 (see 11:19), I think it is quite clear that the earlier reference is definitely to the earthly Temple in Jerusalem. Does that help date the prophecy in anyway? No, I don't think so.

The language of Temple measuring in chapter 11 is reminiscent of Ezekiel's, which was written many years before. That prophecy was made 14 years after the destruction of the first Temple (586 BCE) during the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon. Though Ezekiel's descriptions are vivid, down to measurement and dimensions, there was no such Temple in Jerusalem when he wrote it--not then, not since (even though a Temple was built by Zerubbabel in Jerusalem and remodeled by Herod the Great). In other words, by biblical precedent, a detailed reference to a Temple in Jerusalem in biblical prophecy is not proof whatsoever that such a Temple existed at the time of its writing.

Since all other references to the Temple in the Revelation clearly refer to the heavenly Temple, there is nothing about any Temple reference which could justifiably be used to infer that the earthly Temple was still standing because of those references. In fact, at the end of the prophecy, perhaps as what could have been an ameliorating salve to those concerned about the earlier loss of the earthly Temple, we are told that no Temple is necessary in the grand scheme of things. I would think that the last treatment of the Temple in the work would be at least as significant in pointing to a post-destruction dating of Revelation, as the middle treatment could be in suggesting a pre-destruction dating.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Most Important Prayer

What is the most important prayer anyone needs to pray? How about, "God, I have sinned, for Christ's sake please forgive me"?

If that prayer is answered by God, anything else answered is gravy. If that prayer is not answered by God, no other answer (really, nothing else) matters.

The good news is that this is the one prayer certain to get answered if asked.

The underlying basis for answering this prayer is already laid, demonstrably, tangibly in history. He who knew no sin became sin for us, and died in our sin that we might be forgiven. This basis for forgiveness is proven, because having taken our sin and incurring our death, Jesus rose victorious over them.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.     I John 1:8-2:2 NASB

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Less Perfect Union

Our founders, in the name of the people of the United States of America, endeavored to form a more perfect union. Technically, the phrase was not meant to establish a continuing mission going forward so much as it was commenting on what existed under the Articles of Confederation. Nonetheless, the phrase has been adopted by populists ever since as the validation for efforts that have expanded the size and scope of government far beyond anything the founders could have imagined. As much as the growth of population and the urbanization and industrialization of America has made the worldview of those founders irrelevant to the situation needing governing today, the fact that they were not actually seeking perfection in governance is something we should not lose sight of.

People are not perfect. They never have and never will be. If they have power, they will abuse it. If they see wealth they will want it. If they have the opportunity to get ahead of the other guy in the contest for resources and rewards, they will take it. Capitalists are that way, progressives are that way, politicians are that way, voters are that way. The founding fathers made government sufficiently weak in relation to the individual in order that the force of human imperfection would be blunted in the exercise of government, even that done collaboratively.

This election tells me there is no gas left in the tank of the founders vision. America has turned a corner from which I do not believe there is any turning back. We are no longer the land of pioneering opportunity, but have crossed a threshold and have become the land where everyone's hand is in every other one's pocket. The individual is no longer strong relative to government, but now is saddled with the wants, wishes and demands of everyone else with a vote. Every place the individual goes and everything the individual does, he has unnamed masses standing on his shoulder looking to get a slice of his pie for themselves or to keep him from having a piece they don't want him to.
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.
Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage."   from Ronald Reagan attributed (probably in error) to Alexander Tytler

Saturday, November 3, 2012

It's All About Knowing God

When it comes to God, relationship is the thing.

Righteousness is of utmost importance, but righteousness is not being a better you for God. God alone is good, God alone is righteous.

All we can do is fellowship with God as he lets us, as he accepts us. Walking with him, in fellowship with him, takes us to the places we need to be. Righteous places.

Life is a grinding lesson. Through friction and fracturing, Solomonic truth seeps into our stiffened brains and hardened hearts. Nothing that we think matters really matters at all. We have to lose stuff in this process. Conceits crumble off us. Cohesiveness is a casualty. Those who don't lose don't learn.

All that does matter is actually knowing Christ, our Savior. Pulling that off means relinquishing all fidelity to anything that had it and ceding it to him.

We have notions--things have to be a certain way, we have to have certain things, we have to have certain experiences.

Our notions are just potions.

What we need is to know him, truly, for what he is, as he is.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Antipas, the Antedater

Who was Antipas? With a name so rife with meaning, perhaps he was more symbol than substance. The name commonly was a contraction which meant "in place of father", but if uncontracted, it meant "against everything" (which could be taken to mean "against the world"). Certainly, such a meaningful name could be metaphorical rather than refer to a singular, actual person. And yet church tradition does record the story of one martyred Antipas in Pergamum, which makes me wonder if Antipas is not the key to dating the writing of the prophecy.

Bishop Antipas of Pergamon was supposedly martyred by local pagan priests in a brazen bull. Irenaeus mentions this as occurring during the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE), Eusebius concurs, citing Irenaeus. The Orthodox Church outside of America (a movement both ancient and very reliant on tradition) pegs the date in 92 CE, but the Orthodox Church in America places the event within the reign of Nero, sometime in 68 CE. The difference is irreconciliable. Who's right?

By my own prophetic hermeneutic, my first impulse in understanding who a named individual in prophecy is and what significance he or she may have in fulfillment would be finding that one referenced in the rest of scripture. Unfortunately, we have no such record within the scriptures that aids us in identifying Antipas, even though his martyrdom is spoken of in the past tense in the Apocalypse. That occurrence, however, may be telling in itself. It implies that he came to prominence and was martyred after everything was written in the NT other than the prophecy mentioning him.

If John's epistles were actually written in the earlier part of the range conservative scholars suggest for their writing, let's say by 90 CE, but before the Apocalypse, which is suspected to have been written ~95 CE, then a past tense reference to Antipas' martyrdom in Revelation and an absence of reference to him in the rest of scripture makes perfect sense. At least by my hermeneutic! That tradition which points to 92 CE for Antipas' death would be harmonious with what is found (and not found) in scripture. That's a lot of ifs, I understand, but it does makes sense.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Letter to the Struggling Church, Part II

In his letter to the Angel of the church in Smyrna within the Apocalypse, the Lord Jesus Christ comforts a body of believers that are getting it handed to them on three fronts. They are suffering tribulation and poverty, they are suffering human opposition and persecution, and they are being acted against by the Devil himself. Rather than any of those conditions being used as evidence that the church needed correction, rebuke, or instructions about getting it right, Christ speaks empathetically concerning them with encouragement. A similar observation could be made in the case of the church in Philadelphia.

Apparently being a suffering, struggling church was not a mark of disfavor or disobedience.

Jesus' approach strikes a discordant note with much of what is offered as appropriate church evaluation today. Now, when finance, influence and size of constituency mean so much, churches are measured on the scales of name recognition, market infiltration, traffic through the door, and cash flow. Is it possible that we are judging church differently critically than does Christ? We would have no trouble saying no if this modern approach actually made disciples, but then, has anyone ever had a felt need for repentance!

The church in Smyrna was experiencing tribulation--the situation of being between a rock and a hard place without viable alternatives. They were in poverty as well. The combination of being without and having no way out is very distressing indeed. Perhaps we hope that such a condition would never be visited upon faithful Christians, but that is exactly the condition these faithful Christians were in. Christ was fully aware of it, and yet he neither rebuked them for being in it nor promised them that he would alter it.

The church in Smyrna was subjected to blasphemy from those who said they were Jews but were not. It seems to me that this blasphemy would have been twofold: folk were reviling Christ, and they were reviling those in Christ. I don't like being subjected to abusive language, and it makes me cringe when I hear some one so much as using the Lord's name in vain, so it is evident to me that more than sticks and stones can cause injury. That the source was Jews not believing in their own messiah puts me in mind of the some of the rot that comes out of Sam Harris or Sigmund Freud.

The church in Smyrna was about to be attacked by the Devil himself. Whether or not the Devil was going to use physical prison or spiritual prison is hard to tell. Christians have been thrown in jail at times, that much has precedent in history--was it the Devil? Maybe. Could the Devil spiritually hem Christians in and set "guards" on them? I think so. Regardless, Jesus' counsel was to not fear what was about to be suffered. That may be easier said than done, but it is the necessity of faith, even today.

There is much speculation about the nature of the 10 days tribulation. The suggestion that it refers to Polycarp and a long since elapsed historical period is much bantied about. Even though periods of time throughout the Apocalypse tend to be literal (according to my interpretation), the seven churches are representative and symbolic. Therefore, all that this needs to be understood as communicating is that at some point, churches like that in Smyrna are bound to experience momentary, intense periods (ten days) of oppression instigated by the Devil.

What does a suffering church need to know? Well, beyond not interpreting their suffering as the disfavor of Christ or the misapplication of methodology, the suffering, struggling church must recognize that enduring suffering is part of being faithful to Christ. There is a crown of life awaiting for those who do endure, so be faithful unto death. Those who overcome will be eternally blessed.

Part I

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Alpha and Omega

Was Jesus a mere man? His self-description, particularly as found throughout the Apocalypse, says absolutely not! Whether describing himself as the Alpha and Omega (basically, the A and Z) or the first and last, or the beginning and the end the effect is the same--Jesus possesses the all-encompassing nature of God. Human history, really all of creation, is encapsulated by him. He was there before there was a here; he has been there throughout time when there was a here; and when time is done and here is no more, he will still be there.

Practically, I think Jesus was also trying to get across the idea that he is the source of life and living, that there is no life but in him, he is the life. The additional descriptor in the letter to the church at Smyrna, "who was dead and came back to life," which was appended to the first and the last  brings this particular into focus. In demonstrating his mastery over life and death his claim to be the all-encompassing God acquired significant validation. Clearly, he was claiming something more than just being a man, even an extremely holy one.

Believers can take heart and be bolstered knowing that this Jesus, to whom we cede fealty, is no mere man, but is demonstrably very God of very God. To know Jesus is to know God. To be his, to be given life by him is blessing beyond the measure of this present world. In Christ is a wealth that crosses the threshold of death and is unaffected by time. In this world we may have tribulation, and poverty, but in Christ we are actually rich beyond the endpoint of measuring whether alpha or omega.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Is Christianity Falsifiable?

Atheists, frustrated at times by the intransigence of Christians in debate, wonder if there is any evidence sufficient to make Christians question their faith. I've witnessed them asking, after throwing the kitchen sink at a stubborn Christian, if there was something that could falsify Christianity? Yes, there is, and it's quite simple--find the body of Christ, undeniably. If the body of Jesus were found, myself and all other Christians would have to recant (or be treated as lunatics) and our apologetics would fall like a house of cards.

The Romans couldn't find that body and the Jews couldn't produce it. Both had vested interests in doing so, and more than adequate power to exert to find that body if it could have been found. Persecution and oppression never motivated anyone involved in what would have to have been a large conspiracy, if there was a body, to betray the cabal and come clean. I would think the likelihood that archeology would ever come upon that body, if it existed, all these years later is next to nothing. Even if a body was found tomorrow would there be some way to positively identify it?

No, if the resurrection of Christ was to be undermined, it would have had to have been undermined in its day, it seems to me. Of course, Christians don't anticipate that body being found, ever, because it doesn't exist, at least not as a corpse or skeletal remains. Jesus is no longer dead: he came back to life and then left for heaven--his body is in use (although elsewhere), alive and well, as we shall soon see upon his return. It's true that one could destroy Christianity by producing that corpse, but that one is much more likely to produce that body by praying a writ of habeas corpus to the heavenly Father, namely, "Maranatha!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Never Be Ashamed of God's Testimony

Christianity is predicated upon the belief that a dead guy rose, unaided, from the dead on the third day after buying the farm. That is the most ridiculous, patently absurd, demonstrably false (the dead have never risen unaided, before or since) event ever to have supposedly occurred in history. And yet myself, and every other true Christian who has ever lived believe it to be absolute truth--historically, physically, bodily. I cannot wrap my mind around people buying into this basic fundamental of Christianity, but then balking at some of the surrounding issues or other repercussions of the faith.

For instance: why would someone actually believe in Christ, but then balk at the infallibility and inerrancy of the scriptures? Jesus, the one whom they believe rose from the dead and then ascended to the height of all power, believed the Old Testament lock, stock and barrel. If one is basing their confidence in life and in life hereafter on the more than unlikely occurrence of this credulous guy rising from the dead, why so much as blink at inerrancy? To believe in the former while not believing the latter seems, minimally, inconsistent.

The same can be said concerning creation and evolution. Jesus believed in Adam and Eve and Noah's flood (and for that matter, Jonah's fish)--he cited their occurrences as factual back-up in his public disputations and teachings. How can one embrace the outrageousness of the gospel, but then hedge when it comes to instantaneous creation of kinds and Noah's flood (or any of the supernatural interventions of the Old Testament)? I truly cannot apprehend someone believing in Christ for salvation and simultaneously believing in evolution. It's a case of trying to have one's cake and eat it too.

What motivates those who believe in Christ but hesitate at believing in what Christ believed? Perhaps they bow down at the altar of their own intellects, all too willing to cede authority to human reasoning rather than Jesus' testimony. Maybe they would be embarrassed to believe such things and are unwilling to be thought a fool for Christ. It could be that they are merely ashamed of Christ before men. Regardless, what they need to remember is that Christ's resurrection is true or false with no shades of color in between, and if you're in it for a penny, you're in for a pound.

Come on, pick a side, make up your mind. It's not rocket science that gets anyone to eternal bliss in the hereafter with God, but Christ. You who believe in Christ, stop catering to the unbelieving and to your natural mind. The only good side that anyone needs to be on is the good side of Christ! He who is not with him is against him, so go "all in" for Jesus and stop hedging your bets. Never be ashamed of God's testimony.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Birthday Tale

22 years ago today, my wife woke me at 3 am and said it was time to go to the hospital. Within fifteen minutes our baby sitter was in place and we were on the road to the maternity ward. Not three miles out, just as we were crossing some RR tracks, Wendy screamed, "The baby is here, the baby is here!" 

She was right, so I whipped the car over to the shoulder, ran around to her side, opened the door in got into position just in time to catch my baby daughter popping into the world with all the aplomb and impatience she would display over and over again through the rest of her life. What can I say? The kid's got style. So a "Happy Birthday" to my one and only daughter, Rachel Lyn--I'm sure glad I didn't drop her!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Only Jesus Lives

Only God lives. Nothing else has this quality in and of itself. Everything other than God borrows its derivative existence from him, regardless of whether it may be animate or inanimate. Therefore, no being other than God has any claim to personal life (i.e a right to live) or personal rights (i.e. it's my life, I can do with it as I want). We have not made ourselves and we do not exist by and of independent animus.

In the grand scheme of things, only that which is precisely within God's will, that is in agreement in thought and deed with him, can possibly live. If anything in opposition to him had the ability to maintain itself in such, that would prove that evil was actually in God, since ultimately only God is. That which is in opposition to God, cannot do so eternally, but only temporarily and only because there is purpose in it for a season. Evil is a vanishing mist.

Among those in flesh and bones, only Jesus lived precisely in God's will. He never strayed from that line, and never will. It is his chief demonstration of divinity, and it is backed-up by his resurrection from the dead. So among those in flesh and bones, only Jesus has life and knows how to live.

For any other being made in the image of God, life can only exist in being in Jesus. This "being in Jesus" is not merely a positional or theoretical conception, but an actual and active participation in his Spirit. The one in Jesus is recast in his image, and thereafter walks as he walks. His atonement may have been the means of getting a sinner out of death, but only living and walking in him, like him, can sustain life.

As Jesus is flesh and bones with the person of God dwelling in him, those that will live are flesh and bones with God's Spirit living in them. As he, humbled in the form of flesh, lived agreeably with his heavenly Father, so to will those that live walk humbly in their flesh agreeably with the Spirit of God. To have Jesus within is to live, to be without Jesus is death, because only Jesus lives.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Synagogue of Satan

The word "synagogue" had developed a specific meaning among Jews by the time of the writing of the Apocalypse. It is actually borrowed from Greek and originally meant little more than a gathering of people, or an assembly. Among the Jews of the Hellenistic period, it had come to refer to a meeting place of Jews away from Jerusalem where they gathered to read from the Scriptures, pray, worship, and to be taught the Law. This approach, really, was the foundation of NT church life, although Christians used the similar Greek word "ecclesia" for their approach instead.

The phrase "of Satan" does not mean that the assembly was called for the overt purpose of worshipping Satan, but that despite it being Jewish in name, its people were actually serving Satan. This is readily evident from both the use of the term itself and the reference to Jews who were not truly Jews associated with it. This usage is neither cryptic nor arcane. Jesus accused Jews who were seeking to harm him of being the children of Satan, so the connection between opposition to Christ and the Devil was not new.

As I understand it, these were Jews who were not willing to seriously vet his claims of Messiahship--claims that were primarily substantiated by incredible, miraculous feats, and ultimately, rising from the dead. They could not get past his illegitimacy (his earthly father was not his actual father), nor their place of assumed privilege with God that came by virtue of being born Jewish (Abraham's descendants). They had so invested themselves in an approach to Judaism that they were not willing to acknowledge the Jewish Messiah because of that investment. Their minds were made up to reject and resist him (even to kill him) before his case could even be argued.

Callous unbelief would be a fitting description of their attitude toward Jesus. From that position, and with whatever influence they had with those who had political power, they relentlessly pursued a course of rejection, obfuscation, and calumny against Christ (and later, against his followers). This sort had, at the time of the writing of the Apocalypse, famously done so in Jerusalem and in Rome (Suetonius 25.4), as well as in PisidiaLycaonia and Thessalonica. This is the sort that Christ was referring to by the moniker, "Synagogue of Satan," when he warned the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia through the Apocalyptic letters.

Now, the Westminster Confession (25:5) attributes to that moniker the condition of lacking proper discipline in a Christian congregation which allows heresies to spread unchecked. Such a church, in effect, becomes a "synagogue of Satan", but that is not even close contextually to how the term was used scripturally. Unfortunately, that is not the worst hatchet job on the phrase out there--there is a lunatic fringe which attaches a labyrinthine conspiracy to attain world domination on the part of some very selective, secretive, and fabulously wealthy Jews to the term. Nuts, truly, are not just a garnish for salads!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Covenantal Safety Net

Safety nets are psychologically comforting, but they are useless for some.

If one is shot out of a cannon, they are of utmost importance. If one is flying through the air with the greatest of ease, they are extremely helpful, especially in getting the practice needed. If one is gingerly walking the tight rope, high above the din down on earth, they are super comforting. Just about anything that combines altitude and precariousness makes safety nets advantageous.

For those attempting to make a big bang for God, or hoping to catch a tumbling, falling brother or sister, or for those just trying to get from here to there balancing on the so very little (at least in terms of life lived in this flesh), the covenantal safety net is, oh, so helpful. That web is weaved with the cords of grace and the knots of promise. Even with God's timely interjections in the daring-do of life in the Spirit, it's not one's skills that keeps the darers of godly deeds from making a big splat before God. It is the arms of grace.

Humans stray: good ones, godly ones, ones daring the grand sacrificial life that puts God first. Faith means keeping one's eyes fixed on Jesus: being human means being momentarily distracted, struck by curiosity and fascinated by interest, frightened by thunder, wind, and waves. Humans are interruptible, we get fatigued, and even find ourselves bored by what was thrilling such a short time ago. Humans on the high road, straight and narrow, balancing precariously against human instinct need safety nets.

Our safety net as a Christian is that God's love and forgiveness for us is not ours because we perform perfectly. We are not his because of our powers of concentration or our ability to get in the zone for a lifetime. Oh, we're dedicated to the high flying calling of God, but it's not our abilities that ensure that we can keep at that for a lifetime, rather than making one fantastic leap followed by a thud and the end of our efforts. We make it because of God's consistent and unfailing mercy and grace gets us to the end through repeated efforts.

Who doesn't need safety nets? Those who never leave the ground.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Letter to the Struggling Church, Part I

We live in an age where success in the church is expected and applauded and flocked to in just about the same way it is in any endeavor attempted by man. It is less an American phenomenon than it is a global one, as large, successful churches dominate the scenery in places like Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong, Accra, Lagos, Buenos Aires, Guatemala City, and Rio de Janeiro (not that there are not other places which could be listed).

Often the thought is that those churches which reach this lofty status must be doing things right, whereas less successful churches, even struggling churches cannot be. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with church success, great growth or megachurch status--the very first church in Jerusalem had all those characteristics, but there is also nothing inherently wrong about being a struggling church. At least that would seem to be true from Christ's perspective, at least as far as we can tell from his letters to the churches in the Apocalypse.

A church could be doing exactly what Christ would have them do and still not appear to be successful. Truth be told, there are not necessarily great harvests in every place the gospel is preached. All any believer and any group of believers can do is what they are bidden to do by God--the results are really up to him. Persecution is not in itself a hindrance to church growth, nor is entrenched false religion, for even the Devil can't keep folk blinded forever, but in some places, there is an abundance of good soil; and in some places, not so much.

A church could be doing exactly what Christ would have them do and still not appear "blessed". Financial straits, community disapproval (even animosity), a lack of maneuvering room or perplexity about what to do, and even a lack of ability (power) are not necessarily signs that a church lacks anything that God intended for it. A church could be experiencing all this, in the absolute awareness of Christ, and neither be reprimanded for it nor promised a better day without it. Apparently, in some churches God intends things to go swimmingly, and in some others, not so much.

Christ may not expect the struggling church to stop struggling, but the one thing he does command of it is that, regardless, it remain faithful to the end.

Part II

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Faith vs. Works

Even "good" works can be differentiated by quality. Some works are self-referent and so are never meritorious. They are initiated by self for the benefit of self and so are merely a selfish pursuit, even if they seem altruistic. They are only impressive among those who cannot see them for what they are, or those who do the same kind of works. They gain no favor with God.

Then there are works which are not self-referent. Those are inspired by God, bidden by God, and carried forward at his instigation, impetus and encouragement. Even though such works are not truly capable of being credited to the ones doing them, God rewards them as if they are. If God rewards them for being done they must be considered meritorious, despite the fact that in themselves they could not force his hand.

No work is meritorious of salvation, regardless of whether or not it is rewardable by God. No work has the power to erase the record of works which are not meritorious (i.e. sin). So at best, God-instigated works can be rewardable with benefits (even eternally), but never with forgiveness and righteousness. That should not be unexpected because forgiveness is an act of mercy or grace which can never be earned, or it would cease to be mercy or grace.

Faith is always referent to its object. It can be misplaced, as it would be if directed at self or at false gods, and be without any value whatsoever to God. However, if its ultimate object is God, particularly his character and power, God does reward it. There is nothing about faith in and of itself which would deserve such reward, the impetus for such lies totally in God's grace. Yet, because God responds rewardingly toward faith in him, such God-referent faith would have to be considered meritorious.

However, even saving faith is not meritorious of salvation. There is nothing in such faith which has the power to wash away sin and restore righteous fellowship with God, even though it is essential to salvation. It is merely the reaction (trust) a believer has toward God's words and deeds, and even then not unaided. God's word (of promise) is what invokes faith, while God's presence (or Spirit) is what aids it.

The Apostle Paul made it clear that works and faith are not the same sort of thing. He treated them as diametrically opposed concepts. While it is true that both faith and works can be rewardable, it is also true that neither is meritorious of salvation. So even though God promises salvation to those who put their trust in Christ, it is the blood of Christ which does the heavy lifting.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Sword of His Mouth

Believe it or not, the image of a sword coming from the mouth is well used in the Bible. It is used in the Apocalypse itself four times (our subject here), but is also used in Isaiah, as well as in Job. Generally, it refers to the power of words, namely to damage, although in Isaiah the image is used in reference to a benefit produced. A similar image in Hebrews (which doesn't involve the mouth) seems to point to the destructiveness (judgment) rather than the constructiveness (salvation) of the Word.

As for the specific use of the figure in the Revelation, there can be no doubt that there is nothing constructive about it. It comes out of Jesus' mouth, is sharp and double-edged (although only in the first occurrence are edges mentioned) and wipes out enemies. The obvious intention in that identification is to highlight the power of Christ's word to destroy: as that sword slashes, it cuts both ways, deeply, and mortally. The word Christ speaks is a force capable of completely obliterating his enemies--can you say Muad'Dib!

When Isaiah uses the image, the double-edged aspect is not specified and the effect highlighted is constructive rather than destructive. The image is wrapped in a prophecy meant to convey something positive. As far as the Jews are concerned (that is the focus of the Isaian usage), the penetrating conviction of God's word, particularly in the mouth of Messiah, is a means of drawing the Jews back to God. If you think about it, that makes sense given that during those last seven years of history (i.e. the Tribulation) God's agenda for the Jews is not judgment, but redemption.

When we use an expression like "it cuts both ways," we are actually calling upon the imagery of the double-edged blade. We mean by it that some stratagem or argument has a reciprocating effect. We may cut by using it but will also be cut in doing so. Our argument makes a point, but subjects us to the same charge we were making against our opponent. Nothing this correlated can be associated with the image of the double-edged sword in Revelation. The sword in Jesus mouth one-sidedly blasts away all his enemies, and there is no blowback!

The pointiness of that sword is not the issue either. Other weapons could have been used more fittingly as a metaphor if penetration would have been what was being gotten at. The forte of the double-edged sword is maximal lethality for every movement of the arm. The use of this image in Revelation is not trying to say that Jesus' word can penetrate to the heart, but that his word of judgment is unrebuffable and fatal. This is not about conviction, it is about wrath, and the image is used consistently to convey such throughout the Apocalypse.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Fast God Chooses

Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, they delight in the nearness of God.

"Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?"

Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. You fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.

Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?

Is this not the fast which I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Isaiah 58:2-7 NASB

Fasting, as generally understood in religious circles, is an act of self-sacrifice that prepares the one fasting to receive or achieve some spiritual gain. Truthfully, I've never understood such thinking because it seemed to suggest to me that God was somehow impressed with or benefitted by us starving ourselves. As if asking and seeking in prayer might get a response from God, but fasting in a suitably impressive enough demonstration of self-denial is bound to elicit a return call from God. Can spiritual things be that mechanical?

Tithing is promoted, really, along similar lines. If we ask God to provide, he may, but if we tithe he's virtually obligated to! Giving up things we have, things that could benefit us, in order to establish a divine line of credit doesn't seem at all spiritual to me. It's mercenary, manipulative and flesh-catering. I don't buy it one bit! Besides, is either action self-denial if undertaken in order to bring a reciprocal benefit? Would that not be akin to loving those that love us?

If the example of Christ and the words of Isaiah teach us anything about the subject, self-denial actually has to be selfless. I know Jesus endured the cross and its shame for the joy set before him, but that joy was founded in someone else being benefitted. It's not like anything we do, or our life and death, or even our salvation adds anything to God. Self-denial in this regard can only mean losing the personal benefit of what you have available to you so that someone else benefits instead.

Giving, fasting, or any act of self-denial does not rise to the threshold of notice if it is undertaken with a mind to boomerang a benefit back to self. Such acts are not godly nor god-like, just self-centered and selfish. Jesus said his disciples would fast after he was taken from them. I've got to believe he did not have in mind the fasting chosen by the Pharisees, but rather, the fast that God chooses.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Every Eye Will See Him

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be.  Revelation 1:7 NASB
What a summary statement for all that will follow! If one wants to know what the Apocalypse is about, he need look no further than this verse. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is not about Roman persecution, the destruction of Jerusalem, or even the first century in particular, any more than it is just about the last seven years of time just prior to his return. It is about the return of Christ in all it's particulars: what leads up to it, what will happen when it occurs, and what will occur afterwards. So much for the apparent scholarship of Gordon Fee!

For some, a passage like the one above cast doubts upon the dispensational notion of a "Secret Rapture" of the Church. Nothing in the text seems to present anything secretive about the return of Christ or makes its experience exclusive to the Church. One must remember, however, that the catching away of the church (Rapture) is not precisely synonymous with the visible return of Christ to earth.

It is possible to have somewhat coherent schemas of interpretation that equate the two, but I don't see them as biblically accurate. That the two are not the same seems to me well enough evidenced by Matthew 24:36-42, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-5:9, and Revelation 7:9-17. From any of these accounts, I think it can be clearly seen that the beginning of the end (i.e. the catching away) is not the same thing as the end of the end (i.e. the completion of destruction).

There is process to it. The Return of Christ is never presented as an instantaneous event in the Word. There is a beginning, a middle and an end to it. The Apocalypse took twenty-two chapters to unpack what it unpacked about it! It's nature in time requires a story, not a headline to communicate.

At the beginning of his return, Jesus is in the air and the righteous are evacuated or sealed in protection before the outpouring of wrath is uncorked. At the end, Jesus stands victorious on earth, large and in charge. In between, obviously I would think, there is a process that unfolds. How long does that process take? If a day is like 1000 years, and 1000 years like a day to the Lord, how long would 7 years be perceived to be?


At some point during his return, it will be evident that he is passing through clouds and coming to the earth. That aspect of the event will be obvious to all its beholders on the earth--even (or maybe, especially) the Jews whose ancestors missed him in the days of Pontius Pilate. All those witnesses will mourn, the Jews to very good effect. At that point in the unfolding of things there is certainly nothing secretive about it at all.

But given that, what kind of secret is millions upon millions of folk disappearing in the first place?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The 3:10 to Turkey


What is going on between Turkey and Syria is incredibly interesting prophetically. I have clearly stated that Turkey will be Ground Zero for the rise of the Antichrist. You probably are already aware that he will rule over a ten nation confederation, ultimately advancing that position to world-wide dominance, but his start will be taking over three of the ten as his personal dominion. Turkey will be one, Syria another, and the third likely Iraq (but maybe Lebanon).

I am not saying that current events are precipitating the rise of the Antichrist, but I am saying that something like what is happening will likely happen just as the Antichrist is rising. The result of that something will be three nations, including Turkey and Syria being under one head. Are we already on board the 3:10 to Turkey?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nicolaitans at Night

Who are the Nicolaitans? Though mentioned prominently in the letters to the seven churches, there is uncertainty amongst modern scholars and historians about who they might truly be, who they followed, and what exactly they taught. Even among ancient authorities there was some divergence of opinion. I think something more definitive than that may be derived by the hermeneutic principle I have described concerning prophecy here.

Since the Nicolaitans are mentioned prophetically as if it is assumed the reader knew who they were, what we need to interpret the Nicolaitans should be found in scriptures already recorded. The word on its face implies the meaning "followers of Nicolas." Conveniently, there is a Nicolas recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (and no where else), who was an early Greek (rather than Jewish by birth) deacon of the church in Jerusalem. There is no dearth of ancient extra-biblical sources who report that he went astray, particularly in matters of sex, in his latter years (although there is at least one credible source that says that wasn't the case).

In light of these musings, I find it interesting that the Holy Spirit found it necessary to repeat warnings in the scriptures about men not having their own wives with whom they were sexually active. The teaching that forbade marriage is, in fact, classified as a doctrine of demons. Christian men generally disavowing and denying themselves sexual relations (within the context of heterosexual marriage) could only lead to trouble. For those who attempted to practice unnecessary, unspiritual restriction on God-designed activity, something was bound to break.

Although historical accounts of Nicolas are somewhat fuzzy, there does seem to be agreement amongst them that he endeavored to abstain from sexual relations with his wife. At some point something did break, and the rebound effect was those following his teaching embraced license rather than restraint. Nicolas went beyond Paul's teaching to beat the body into submission to abusing the flesh in order to overcome it. One never need to practice evil in order to achieve good, and certainly should never engage in sexual immorality in the name of mastering the desire for sex.

Balaam in the OT was of a similar ilk--what he could not get from God directly (the cursing of the Israelites), he sought to get by enticing the Israelites to sexual immorality and idolatry. Any teaching that espouses sexual or moral license as a means of attaining something spiritual, even something like self-control, is a Nicolaitan or Balaamite doctrine. Spiritual benefit never comes through the auspices of fleshly excess. Overcomers know this and avoid the Nicolaitans and their works of the night.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Letter to the Evangelical Church

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and 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—unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’"       Revelation 2:1-7 NASB
I know this is not a letter to the Evangelical Church (particularly in America), but it could be. Look at the commendation: deeds, toil, perseverance, intolerance of evil men, assaying those who claim to be apostles and finding those who are false, and stamina for Christ's name. This is written to a good church, a believing church, a righteous church, or so it seemed. This is written to what could be what many of us consider the evangelical church today.

And yet there was serious fault to be found in this church--serious enough to threaten its qualification as a church (lampstand). Removing a lampstand from its place is tantamount to no longer considering that body a true church of Christ. Could the Evangelical church truly be under such a threat, a clear threat to salvation itself, all the while believing in the gospel of grace? Yes, because there is a qualitative necessity within faith (see James 2:19-20 for instance) that determines whether or not it passes muster as faith. Just believing the right things is not, evidently, a sufficient concept of saving faith.

Christ, speaking through John here, identifies one such quality as the love that should naturally (or supernaturally) arise in one when that one has true faith in Christ. First love is not meant to convey a sentimental, romantic notion but a pure and unsullied one. Love is an uncallous thing and it should persevere as such as long as does the faith which gives it rise. This is not a principle new to this letter for John states as much throughout the bulk his first epistle. One just does not have the necessary quality of faith to be saved if one does not love Christ and the those in Christ sincerely as a result of having faith.

If that seems at odds with the Once-Saved-Always-Saved mantra of so much of evangelicalism, or the easy-believism acceptance of virtually anything and everything under the banner of grace, welcome to the matrix. There is a reckoning coming for those who rely on something they deem as acceptable that Christ does not. If you're convicted that might describe you, repent. Overcomers get a feast that lasts forever.