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!

Friday, November 16, 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.