Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Once Saved, Not Always Saved

As addressed in the Apocalypse, the churches at Ephesus and Thyatira were such that apart from Christ's penetrating gaze below the surface, they would look to be fantastic churches. But Christ found fault with the believers there, and not of a minor nature. The churches at Ephesus and Thyatira were threatened with eternal loss (though veiled in figurative language) because of what Christ saw. I would think these threatening statements would go a long way toward destroying the conception of once-saved-always-saved.

In the case of the Church at Sardis or Laodicea, even though neither church had much to commend them for, the threat to ultimate salvation was as clear, maybe even clearer. There were in those congregations folk who were just not persisting in the obedience of faith. That is not a situation Christ is willing to overlook. What I infer from this is that true faith can become the sort that isn't, and if it isn't, it holds no weight in the eyes of him who matters.

Who would argue that the letters are not written to what Christ considered genuine churches? What he could commend in them he did, what he couldn't, he sought to amend. The assumption seems to have been that the members of these churches were part of the kingdom, but that their status as such was in danger. Those considered presently part of the body of Christ by Christ could end up not retaining that status if repentance was not forthcoming. Their status could be considered Once-Saved-Not-Necessarily-Saved-Thereafter, it seems to me.

If Adam and Eve, pristinely, immaculately made by God, can fall from belief into estrangement with God and sin, then anyone with less wholeness (i.e. all the rest of us, even the born-again) can fall too. If those born-again would fall, they'd be just as lost as Adam and Eve and the host born to them afterwards. If humans as perfect as they can be this side of eternity fell from a state that was deemed "good" in God's sight into unbelief and separation from God, then why would anyone in Christ think he or she could not?

Monday, November 3, 2014

The End-times Gel

This, this and this make an interesting coalescing of circumstances. The revival of the King of the North, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the arrival of the False Prophet are all significant occurrences within the framework of end-times prophecy, and all will occur within a relatively short span of real-time.  It is interesting, at least, that there are stirrings on all three fields at the same time.

Friday, October 24, 2014

How Does Apostasy Occur?

"For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."   Romans 3:28 NIV 

Justified, in regard to the verse above, means to be declared righteous or acceptable to God. Guilty humans at trial under a magnifying glass in a cosmic court need a verdict of "not guilty" in order to be freed from the consequences of sin. Without being justified by God they will be bound over to judgment, which in a cosmic context, unfortunately, can only be cosmically ultimate. For someone actually guilty (as are all humans before God) there can be no escape in such a court on the basis of technicalities, obfuscation, ignorance, prejudice or character (i.e. good works).

Faith, as used in the above verse and as generally understood as "saving faith", is an apprehension of who Jesus is and what he has done which moves a person to trust Christ as his or her savior and follow Christ as his or her leader. As long as a person has faith that Jesus came from God, died for his or her sins, rose bodily from the dead victorious over sin and death, and is his or her Lord, that person is justified without the possibility of change in status. However, if such faith is lost or reversed, then so too is the condition for justification, and hence salvation, and the result is apostasy or falling away. We can lose our salvation, therefore, if we lose our faith.

Works, as spoken about in that verse, are actions of mind or body which accrue toward the worker's justification. In this instance, they are specified to be in the context of the law, i.e. the Mosaic Code. However, works of the law cannot possibly effect justification because: 1) good works have no power to erase or nullify bad works; 2) even the works of law associated with sacrifices intended to remit sins cannot undo the sin nature of the sinner, which has him or her in sin, virtually, before the last whiff of smoke has dissipated; and 3) it is impossible for the blood of animals to cleanse a guilty human conscience. [How could they? Neither party (God or the sinner) has any "skin in the game."]

Since salvation is not founded upon nor attributable to works then neither can a loss of salvation be the result of such. Our works, in themselves, good or evil, do not have the power to engage, alter or to unravel what Jesus Christ has already done on the cross and in rising from the grave. Whereas keeping a clean conscience is a boon to faith, keeping or not keeping a clean conscience can neither keep one saved nor cause him or her to lose salvation. Sin, though it doubtless arises out of some sort of unbelief, cannot be the source of apostasy anymore than it is the source of salvation; otherwise, virtually every Christian would eventually apostatize.

Apostasy is departing from the faith. It starts with some disappointment or disillusionment with Christ and ends with one abandoning the trust he or she has in who Christ is and what he has done. If one does not trust in Christ as the Son of God, nor rely upon his death and resurrection for justification before God, that one cannot possibly be saved so long as he or she remains in such unbelief. It matters not that he or she believed at one time or even that he or she was baptized.

Sin is not and never can be the cause of apostasy!  Faith is what effects justification, and a departure from faith is the only thing that could effect a loss of salvation.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Indestructible Souls and Irresistible Grace

"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."     Genesis 2:7 (NASB)

The breath of God is a precious thing.

God's breath imparts that something that makes a human soul, that makes one a person. Not that every person animated by that breath is the person of God, but it is God's breath that infuses all of the capacities of soul that personhood builds on and without which there would be no person. It communicates those characteristics of personhood that are analogous to God's personhood. That breath is spirit, and more than anything else in all creation represents something directly emanated from God's being. 

Think about that: something within humans that makes them persons represents a direct input from the person of God. Some repercussions of that astounding fact are easily enough perceived--humans exercise choice (freewill), are creative (even to the extant of bringing something out of nothing), love, and... wait for it... humans are eternal. Once God invested his own breath in humanity, the persons that result have an essence that will never pass away. What an astonishing thought!

God's breath may exist eternally, but that does not translate into those infused by that breath living eternally. Breath that is separated from God does not respire, it does not go out and come in (as it were). God's breath must be actively with God, in tune with God, in contact with and in the presence of God to live. Cut off from God, separated, it merely exists. It projects some measure of its capacity for personhood, but it is dark, really, lifeless.

In order for one in whom God has breathed the breath of life to live, he or she must walk in agreement with God; however, even God cannot make creatures who possess his image but who do not exercise creaturely freedom thereby. His image makes such freedom necessary and irresistible grace impossible. Creatures made in God's image, by the capacity of choice in that nature, must freely choose agreement with God. That is an action of faith (i.e. trustful reliance) without which it is impossible to please God--faith is what it takes for free creatures to live in agreement with God.

Whereas it is very true that God loves everyone he's made, those made in his image with the capacity of choice have no future without faith. The Gordian knot is that no one born since the Fall of Man can make that choice of faith unless the Spirit has enabled him or her. However, if the enablement was such that one was rewired to make that choice without the possibility of not making it, that one would cease being in the image of God. The breath that confers such is indestructible, so it is impossible for the grace that underlies enablement to be irresistible and enablement to be a guarantee.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Does God Love Our Children Less Than We Do?

Does the God who breathed life into them love our children less than we do? We would never write them off, or send them into flames no matter what they had done. Yet, it appears that God is willing to. Do we love and care for them more than he does? No, but we certainly tolerate sin and the company of sinners more than he does.

Whatever is not of faith is sin, so faith is the key for our children. If our children do not come to trust God there will be nothing that can be done for them. There is no obligation that could be enforced upon God in the name of love which could cause him to give eternal life (freedom) to those who do not trust him. Could God allow the evil of sin and rebellion to continue just because some of those who have faith happened to have children who did not? Not without resigning his throne as God!

Since the Fall, however, no one is able to believe (at least effectively) without divine enablement. The Spirit of God attending the word of Christ is the instigator of such enablement, so if our children do not hear that word and come to faith thereby they have no possibility of life. Oh, they may be graced under a parental umbrella for a spell, but there are no reliable coattails to heaven. Those who do not trust God can have no eternal hope.

The love of God is broad and deep, but its object is humans made in his image with creaturely freedom. It is important to God that our children be in his image and have creaturely freedom. Everyone made like that must come to the place where, freely, they trust God and choose to follow him. Our children must come to that place or be separated from God forever.

Perhaps we could never bear to write-off our children and would always find a way to preserve them and commune with them. We are not God. We do not see what he sees and do not have the pure moral clarity he does. God does love our children, but not with sin-stained, sentimental affection like we are apt to. He loved them enough to make them in his image and to redeem that image eternally through the sacrifice of Christ.

God wants our children with him forever, but that is not possible if they do not trust him.

Monday, August 25, 2014

God Outside of Time

Omnitemporality is a concept which describes God's relation to time. It assumes that time is properly a dimension of matter, energy and space, and therefore is an intrinsic property of creation. Just as a creator with the quality of aseity cannot be in space, neither can he be in time. Therefore, a creator with the quality of aseity could neither be subject to nor dependent upon time.

An analog for understanding omnitemporality is omnipresence. Both attributes together speak to the Creator's relationship to space/time, and as omnipresence has been fairly well understood and defined, so too can omnitemporality be understood and defined. In relation to space, God's omnipresence is such that every point in space is before God--he is everywhere present at once. In relation to time, God's omnitemporality is such that every point in time is before God at once.

Time began with the beginning of creation, and only has meaning within that creation. Outside of creation, there is no before since time does not exist there, there's just is. To apply a time construct to God; for instance, "God did this and then he did this before he created," is to attempt to apply a descriptor that has no meaning in the situation to which it is being applied. Looking out from creation (and time), one could say, "before creation," meaning outside of creation, not within the framework of time, but that one would err if they meant to extend the timeline before creation.

Such attempts to impose time outside of creation can only lead to confusion and inaccuracy in describing or understanding God or his thoughts and actions apart from creation. Time is contained in the bubble of thought in the mind of God which is creation. It has no impact nor meaning outside that bubble. It will only have existence within that bubble as long as that bubble is maintained.

When that bubble is dissolved and replaced a new regimen is established, it may or may not have a quality like time. Regardless, as for God, He is.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

God's Nature and Creaturely Freedom

God's Nature
God has the quality of aseity. He is completely self-sufficient and utterly free. Though he is immutable, he is not inactive. He has sufficient power and complete knowledge to do or not do as he pleases.

God's Relation to Creation and Time
God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has made all that is other than himself, and having created all things, he knows them completely. God is not impassible in regard to creation, but is interactive with it. All creation is before God at every point (i.e. everywhere is in his presence), but he is not in creation nor contained by it. God can step into the limitations of space and experience that space, but always with his omniscience and omnipresence intact, apart from that point of contact.

God is timeless, and is properly outside of time just as he is outside of the rest of creation. All time is equally before him at every point, although God is not in it nor constrained by time. That which is in time (creation) experiences time and is limited by its sequential nature, but God is present with equal facility in the past, present and future, simultaneously (as it were). God can step into the limitations of the moment (time) and experience that moment in real time, but always has his omniscient, omnitemporality intact, apart from that point of contact.

God's Omniscience
God's knows all that can be known. In acting in regard to creation, from the perspective of creation in any time reference, God sees and knows that action and its consequences in all time references. We must plan before we execute our actions or be at the mercy of things ignorantly set in motion, but God is able to see all at once by virtue of his omniscience outside of time. Therefore, he can act, direct and know the end from the beginning, at once, without the necessity of a pre-planned blueprint.

God's Sovereignty
God governs by law and by intervention, of which he sees the effects at once without the limitations of sequence (time). From the viewpoint of creation, there is a quality to God's governance which appears as if the clock was wound at the beginning and is now unwinding. From God's perspective, he knows at once the shape of that unwinding, not because he has minutely determined every second, but because he understands what he has made and how it functions, and sees every second at once.

The laws of nature are the manifestation of God's will for nature. Things act according to law, but without the necessity that each action was specifically willed by God. God's sovereignty is not expressed in the minute detail of every occurrence, but in the laws that produce it. If one were to throw a ball against a wall, the ball would bounce as it does because God wanted a myriad of forces to act the way they do which resulted in such a bounce in time, rather than because God wanted that ball to bounce that way at that time.

Creaturely Freedom
All things in God's creation have a nature by which they are governed and are interacted with by the rest of God's creation by its nature. Some natures are more god-like than others, with human beings (and probably at least some of the angels) being made in the very image of God. The nature of human beings, in their degree of freedom to act, will be most reflective of God's freedom. Apart from an analogous freedom as that possessed by God, human beings would not be in God's image, but only reflect God's attributes as does all creation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Worship: Express Yourself

We have been following a map, though I haven't mentioned it yet, while exploring the subject of worship. Our journey has brought us through Pause, Repent, Arise, Inhale, Sing, and ends with this article concerning Express. In discovering how we might be those worshippers that God seeks, hopefully, we've learned how to P-R-A-I-S-E (at least anagrammatically) in the process.
Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.         Psalm 149:1-4 (NIV)
Upon finding ourselves in the presence of God, accepted, there builds within us something that wants to be let out. It's a feeling that wells up, but which isn't really what it is until it gets out. If it is squelched, hindered, or hidden, it doesn't get to be what it really is. For it to be before God what it is meant to be, what it should be, it needs to be expressed (maybe Charles Wright was on to something back in 1970).

The text above gives us a little direction in letting that something out--in expressing ourselves in worship. Suffice it to say, worship is more than a mere mental exercise; our bodies and our voices must be engaged as well. All we are as people should be brought to bear upon expressing worship. If we take these pointers to heart, and embrace their practice, we'll be well on our way to truly praising the Lord.

Picking up on a point from the last article, something new is called for when we worship. The inference in the word "new" is something spontaneous, something that hasn't been established before. Biblical worship will express something new, something spontaneous. If all that we do in our attempt to worship is the tried and true, we may look nice or sound great, but will not actually cross the threshold of worship (so much for liturgy and precisely planned worship orders!).

Being aware of our acceptance in the presence of God is not something that can be carried without emotion. Relief and gratitude are the seeds of gladness and joy. Worship is not an austere endeavor stiffened in structure, but is a fountain of joy, splashing, gushing, getting everything it touches wet and messy. Worship should express the joy and gladness of being at one with God and will of necessity be emotionally expressive.

And there is more to musically accompanied praise than just singing. We, ourselves, can be instruments, as well as playing instruments or having instruments played. We dance, play timbrils and harps (strings), and sing. As long as I am a pastor, any flock I shepherd will be a place that welcomes expressions of musical participation from the congregation: the folk will be welcome to break out in dance, be encouraged to clap and shake a tambourine, or even let out a shout. The only underlying principle is that is must be toward God, other than that, folk should express themselves in worship.

Though such a thing may seem disorderly to some folk's way of thinking, this is not fleshly or worldly, nor out of place--it's scriptural. It may be noisy and emotional, and even a bit messy, but it is exactly what God is looking for. History cannot tell us how to worship, only the scriptures and the Holy Spirit can. If our practice gives mere lip service to what the scripture says and the Spirit stirs, then our practice isn't worth the effort it takes, even if we've done it that way for thousands of years.

There is, in fact, a "why" to all these going-ons. It is because we are accepted favorably in God's presence--we are approved, even delighted in by God. After all, we are not the ones setting the example here, God is! There is joy in the presence of angels (meaning God, not the angels, is filled with joy over repentant sinners).

If God is filled with joy, singing over the redeemed, how can they not reflect back that same sentiment toward him? God is get-off-your-seat-and-dance-happy over bringing us forgiven into his presence, why would we be any less? Things rub off on us in the presence of God. Expressive praise of the sort we've been talking about is one of those things.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Worship: Sing in the Presence of God

The series so far: Pause, Repent, Arise, Inhale and with this article, Sing.
Praise the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord, you who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.     Psalm 135:1-3  (NIV)
Self-consciousness can be the enemy of true worship. It is stirred naturally in the repentance phase as a consequence of the light of God, but it is not a condition the worshipper can stay in and proceed with worship. Our gaze must rise to look upon God thereafter. Worship is, after all, a God-conscious thing.

Some folk feel very self-consciousness in public, and if so, singing in a congregational setting (particularly if it is small) can be a non-starter. However, part of being a true worshipper, the kind that God seeks, is getting beyond ourselves, our nervousness and self-consciousness, to focus ourselves on God and sing. Even the self-conscious, self-admittedly bad singer, even the non-singer, will end up being a singer if they come into the presence of God to worship. When all is said and done, the likelihood is that the experience, if followed to it's ultimate conclusion, will have been found to have been exhilarating.

And there really is no way out of this, it is a biblical mandate. Within the Bible's book of songs (Psalms), there are 70 references (at least) either calling on believers to sing or referring to it as an appropriate response to God. There are several in the New Testament too, as well as the recording of incidences in which key figures sang before God. Jesus and the disciples sang hymns; Paul and Silas sang praise to God; angels sing around the throne of God; and people that have been welcomed into God's presence sing.

Let's be honest, it is not like singing should be that difficult for us. We sing at birthdays, we sing in the shower, we sing driving the car, we sing at ballgames, even drunks sing! But whereas we are never to be drunk, we are most certainly to sing!
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."    Ephesians 5:18-20  (NIV)
Singing is just something the saved do--singing is part of being in the breath (Spirit) of God.

Now, there are two basic biblical varieties of singing in worship (with one variety having two further subcategories).  We sing with the mind and we sing with the Spirit (i.e. in tongues). Singing with the mind is further subdivided into songs that are already known, that is previously composed, and spontaneous songs (new) which are improvised. Every song sung in the Spirit (tongues) is a new song.

So, the worship of God is going to be a singing affair. Some of the songs sung will be planned, some will be spontaneous. Singing isn't the only aspect of worship, but there is no avoiding singing as part of worship. Singing in worship is not about us, it's about God--a vehicle through which God-consciousness can be expressed in the worshipping believer.

We'll be singing in the presence of God throughout eternity. The good news is that we can enter into that heavenly occupation now!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Worship: Take a Deep Breath

We have been looking into the subject of worship. The series so far: Pause, Repent, Arise, and with this post--Inhale.
“Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.     Isaiah 57:14-15  (NIV)
We instinctively hold our breath when something astonishing happens. Something which catches us by surprise, or hits us with shock tends to take our breath away. I remember the trips to the dump to get rid of the garbage while I was staying with my grandparents in northern Maine when I was a teenager. Even before we could tell otherwise, a sudden increase in flies was sufficient to tell us we were getting close. Then came the smell--youch, literally!

I would go into hibernation mode, breathing as little as possible, because the smell was so strong it was a shock to the system. You know what I did when we were finally clear of the dump? Whooosh, the biggest inhalation of fresh air I could take. That made it feel like all was well on planet earth once again. When we've gone from misery to joy it's time to inhale!

There is a refreshing for the soul that comes to one who's continued beyond the sin revealing light of God's presence. There is a breath that our soul can breathe and that is the breath of God. It is a spirit thing. Whether in Hebrew or Greek, the word translated "spirit", as in the text above (vs. 15), is the same as the word for breath. The text above tells us that a soul that is contrite is enlivened (revived) in breath (spirit) because of God's nearness. It is, in fact, God's nearness that causes the quickening.

I used to do a lot of spelunking when I was young. I don't like closed-in places so the challenge of meeting my fears gave the activity a certain allure. After you've spent a couple of hours mucking around in the dark, crawling on your knees and belly, doing contortions and squeezing through holes and cracks, you start getting a little anxious. When the decision is made to leave, you move with purpose!

Climbing out doesn't take near as long as slithering in. When you finally clear the entrance and can stand once more and see sky above you, let me tell you, you take it in with gusto. You suck all the air in around you for several cubic meters. All is good, you're truly alive, and your massive inhalation is your effort to get as much of that invigorating moment and experience in you as you possibly can.

When we come into God's presence, having paused, repented, and arisen, it's time to inhale for all we're worth! Breathe in the breath (Spirit) of God and take in the wonder and the presence of God deep into your soul. We find relief, release and the joy of our souls in the presence of the God who welcomes and accepts us. And as we breathe in, we realize,"now, this is life!"

It is astonishing to find ourselves in the presence of God, cleansed and accepted. Oh the grace that brings us welcomed into the king's chamber! In that place, God revives our soul's breath. He quickens our spirit. We know the joy of being alive with God, and that joy begins to spring up in a fountain of thankfulness and wonder.

So, in that place before God, having arisen, open your heart and soul and inhale. Take a deep breath. Breathe freely the breath of life that God so freely gives to revive your soul, and let the joy of the Lord rise up within you and spill out.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Worship: Arise in the Presence of God

Our series so far: Pause, Repent and now, Arise.
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God... 
Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. 
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.    Ezekiel 1:1, 25-2:2  (NIV)
Worship, we've established, is about dropping everything to acknowledge the presence of God. However, as we become aware of the presence of God, we also become aware our unworthiness to be in his presence. Ezekiel's experience of God's presence is instructive: when he saw the glory of the Lord, he fell facedown. I think it's the natural experience of the sinner, the knowingly unholy, to the holiness and wonder of God.

We saw Isaiah decrying "woe is me" in the last article in this series, in this post we see Ezekiel falling facedown. It seems to me, we know we are not worthy of God's presence, when God's presence overshadows us. If worship were merely about getting into God's presence, the experience would be over almost as soon as it started. God would show up, we would be undone, the experience would be over.

But as remorseful and repentant as we may be inspired to be in God's presence, in that experience another inspiration germinates shortly thereafter. The Psalmist said, "If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?" Like Isaiah having the coal put to his lips, Ezekiel's experience was also that there was life in God's presence after repentance. God said to Ezekiel, "Stand up!"

Our place before God is not that of the beaten down, the forlorn, or the undone. If that were the case, fellowship, relationship and worship would cease. Imagine a little toddler meeting Grandpa for the first time. Grandpa is strange, and scary, and the little toddler, rather than responding to Grandpa's beckons, hides, cringing behind Mamma's skirt. If things ended there, where would the tea parties, or the riding on shoulders, or playing at the playground with Grandpa be?

God is not interested in merely putting the fear of God in us. He wants us to stand up, so we can look at each other. So he can share stuff with us. So we can relate.

And there is help in the effort. We're told in Ezekiel's case that, "the Spirit came into me and stood me up." I must admit, that as a Pentecostal, I love that part of the story. As we go further into the process of worship, the Spirit blows into our time in God's presence and stands us up so God can share with us.

I'll never apologize, as a Pentecostal shepherd, for making sure my congregation has the time to pursue a course of action in their meetings that at least has the potential of being worshipful. The flock needs an opportunity to pause, to get real in God's presence and face their need to change, to be lifted by the grace of God into his lap, as it were. They have not come together to listen to good music or to complain about music that isn't liked. They're not there to go through the motions of worship, almost liturgically, as if somehow the sequence of actions taken was sufficient just because they were taken.

When we come together to worship we do so to acknowledge the presence God, to let that presence be our undoing, and to let that presence stand us up thereafter to interact with God. When we worship, we may fall down, but God will call us to arise before him.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Worship: The Repentance Threshold

In the noted passage below, the prophet Isaiah finds himself in the very presence of God. His experience is an analog for what we've been discussing starting with the last post concerning worship, so let's look into it...
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”     Isaiah 6:1-7  (NIV)
I said in my last article that we must stop everything we're doing and know that God is in order to worship. When we let this faith perspective predominate our thoughts and action, let it consume every other concern, we find ourselves becoming very aware of God's presence. As we recognize and acknowledge God's presence by faith, our awareness of him clarifies and the light and glory of God shines upon the heart and mind of the worshipper. The worshipper, in effect, "sees" God in a fashion analogous to Isaiah's.

In the light of God's presence, the worshipper "sees" God, but that light also shines revealingly on the worshipper. He or she becomes aware of God, but consequently also becomes aware of his or her own shortcomings, flaws, and sinfulness. The light of God reveals God, but also brings into stark contrast the darkness and shadows of the human soul. In that circumstance, Isaiah's cry was, "Woe is me!"

There is nothing that so reveals the heart as the mouth. Jesus said that every empty word that spills out of it was bound to be judged. In God's presence, the reality of this, I think, struck Isaiah where he stood and became his undoing. How could a man of unclean lips hope to survive in the presence of God, the "holy, holy, holy"?

Our response is much the same as we come into the presence of God in worship. We're not only God aware, but in the glaring light of his glory we are self-aware as well. Our every failing and fault is illumined and we're struck by how much we're truly at odds with God, unlike him and unworthy of him. Our hearts melt at the contrast. All that one can do in the face of such a crushing revelation is to decry one's unworthiness with remorse.

In God's presence, we see the absolute wonder of God but we also see by that light all that's ungodly about ourselves. Godly excitement turns into godly sorrow. It would be depressing if that was all the further it went. In the light of God Isaiah was undone, but not done, and neither are we though we may fall crumpled in his presence.

Our sorrow, our regret and remorse do not carry the day. Just as the angel told Isaiah, "Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for," so do we have a token of assurance of redemption and reconciliation. Despite all that we are and all we are not, we're touched by the grace of God and remain in the light of God's presence just as Isaiah did. The awareness of sinfulness was not the cue to drop the staff and woosh away the sinner like a bad act in a vaudeville show.

There is in God's presence a grace that can deal with what ails us. A grace that can take the stains upon us and wash them away, and allow us to stay, welcomed and accepted in the very presence of God. The awareness of weakness, of failure, of sinfulness is never comfortable, particularly in the glaring light of God's goodness, but it is therapeutic. Instead of being swept under the carpet to fester, our sinfulness and weakness is brought out in the light, recanted, and then swept away.

When we pause to recognize God's presence, and by faith become absorbed in the reality of his existence, we will find not only the thrill of seeing God but the agony of seeing ourselves by his light. Our wonder turns into discomfort. That is no reason to avoid his presence, though that might seem easier or more preferable to the flesh. As wonder turns to discomfort, so discomfort turns into joy when we allow our transparence in his presence to be touched by his fire.

It is my conviction that we cannot grow apart from this experience, certainly not to the depths God would have us to. The experience of God's presence in worship changes us like the experience of God's presence changed Isaiah, so long as we are willing to step across the repentance threshold. So pause to recognize God, embrace the painful conviction that may well ensue, acknowledge the ruin of your waywardness, and God will cleanse you and leave you standing before him afterward, ready to be spoken to.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Worship: The Sabbath Principle

With this article we begin a series on the topic of worship. By the end of the series, the reader should not only understand what true worship is, but will also know how to enter into it, so that we all might be those worshippers which God seeks--those who worship in spirit and truth.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Psalm 46:10-11 (NIV)
How is it that the faithful are to worship? As we explore various aspects of that question over the next several posts, we will discover that the Bible has a rich and detailed answer for us. In this post, we will concentrate on what we can learn from the text above. Namely, that at its foundation, worship is about a pause, which I'll call the Sabbath principle.

Ensconced throughout the Bible is the principle of Sabbath. It is a principle which concerns rest, that is a cessation from work and effort. At its heart it is a recognition principle: an opportunity to stop and smell the roses, as it were. Part of God's framework for successful, righteous living is the principle of stopping and realizing the wonder of God the Creator and Sovereign Lord.

The practice of Sabbath has been associated with the act of worship through thousands of years of biblical history. Given what I just said above, I think the connection is a valid one. At its most basic, worship is about pausing to recognize God with us. Throughout the New Testament church age, the Sabbath principle has been applied to our existence as believers, even though we no longer are obligated to a certain kind of cessation on a certain day. We may no longer operate under the Law of Sabbath, but we still practice the principle of Sabbath, and it's a principle of worship.

In the biblical text quoted above, a connection between rest and worship, or exaltation, is made, which, I think, clarifies the principle in question for the faithful. The verses just prior to those cited draw a distinction between the solace of God and the turmoil of the world. In the midst of the turmoil that is life, pause is necessary for those who take refuge in God to worship: they must be be still and know God. If there is no pause, the likelihood is that there will be no worship. 

As we live, the exigencies, the pleasures, and even the disappointments of life put anything not germane to them on the back burner. Anything else is, in effect, all but ignored. God will be one of the casualties of our squeaky wheel existence without some concerted, disciplined effort to pay attention to that which doesn't squeak. The text above gets to the heart of the matter--we need to be still and find solace in God's existence.

The phrase "be still" is actually a translation of a single word which literally means "cease," "drop what you're doing." It is a command to stop our planning and conjecturing, stop our efforts of heart and mind and hand, stop the machinations, ruminations, and fascinations. Just stop it!

But not stop just for stopping sake. That may qualify as a legalistic principle, but it would be a mistake to think it was the Sabbath principle. Everyone may need a day off, but that, too, fails to live up to the Sabbath principle. We must stop, but we stop with a purpose, not so much to smell the roses as to recognize the rose's maker.

At its core, this is a faith perspective. Faith starts with the assumption of God's existence and his ability and willingness to bless us. Since worship starts with the acknowledgment of God's existence, worship starts with faith. Without such faith, one cannot worship. So, we must stop everything we're doing and know that God is.

When we let that faith perspective predominate our thoughts and actions, let it consume every other concern, then we're ready to begin worshipping. Until then, the best that could be accomplished would be nothing but going through the motions. Worship hasn't begun until we've stopped. What that might say about what you do in church in the name of worship is something that should be thought long and hard about!

But thoughts of corporate worship aside, this, at its heart, is a personal thing. It's not knowing that "he" is God (second person), but knowing that "I" am God (first person). Worship is a personal interaction with God. It begins with a cessation of effort in which the mind and heart are enveloped in the acknowledgement of God's presence in a personally relational context.

If we don't stop ourselves, and pause to look at God in a personal way we don't worship. If we don't stop and pause to look at God personally, we are not the worshippers God seeks.

To worship is to pause and see God personally.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Letter to the Satisfied Church, Part II

Continuing our look at the Letter to the Church in Laodicea...

What did Jesus mean by calling himself the beginning of God's creation? The Koine word arche  could refer to a preeminence in time (i.e. "beginning" as in many English translations) or preeminence in rank (i.e. "ruler" as in the NIV). Though "the Beginning" is an important titular designation for Christ in the Revelation, when it is used as such, it is always coupled with "the end", and within the immediate context of the letters the parallel designation, "first and last", is used (on a related note, see this). Given these considerations, and the fact that Christ's authority is the general theme of all his introductions in the letters, I think that "ruler" is the preferred sense in which the word is used here as is attested by the choice of NIV translators.

What I think is undoubtedly not  meant by the use of arche is that Christ was the first creation of God as heretical movements past and present have asserted (e.g. Arianism, Jehovah's Witnesses). Even if it may be that the Son is "eternally generated", he is not created--he is, in fact, part of the nature of the Godhead. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is what he always was and will be always what he is. There is distinctiveness within the Godhead, but always unity as well, and even though there is no way to tell the divinity of one member apart from the other two, it is always possible to tell their personhood apart.

Despite my earlier statements, there was at least one use for lukewarm water commonly held in the day of John the Revelator. Even today, particularly in home remedies, tepid water can be used as an emetic in conjunction with salt or mustard or a finger to the back of the throat. So it was particularly fitting that Jesus threatened to spew the Laodiceans out of his mouth. When we consider that the word translated spew doesn't mean merely to spit, but instead to vomit, we see the clarity and fittingness with which Christ expressed his disapproval of these folks for their indifference.

"Be zealous and repent" was the response Jesus called for to his rebuke. The word translated zealous (zeleue) means to boil with fervent passion, as in jealousy or desire. That, of course, plays upon his earlier statement that the Laodiceans were neither hot (zestos) nor cold. The issue there was not their temperature but their usefulness: cold water was useful for refreshment, hot water for baths and washing, lukewarm water was good for nothing (except a purgative). In this rebuke Jesus tossed aside the idea of refreshing (cold water) because the Laodiceans did not need refreshment--they needed to be passionate in action (heat).

If there ever was an antithesis to Jesus' key authority"Behold I stand at the door and knock," would be it! Despite the use of this text in evangelistic tracts and presentations, this text actually has nothing to do with evangelism (an appeal to the unsaved) because it was written to the church. Nonetheless, it does fly in the face of both the concepts of irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. After all, Jesus isn't just unlocking the door because he's made an election by predetermination, but he's making an honest invitation for which the implication is that it could be accepted or it could be turned down. 

Those who open that door get to dine with Christ, and those repentant souls who overcome get sit down with Christ on his throne. Truly, his rebukes, even if seemingly harsh, come from love.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Three Horns Popping Up?

Events this past week in the Middle East are interesting to say the least. I have mentioned the entanglements of Turkey in the Syrian situation before, but now Iraq joins the equation. If this escalates to the point that Turkey sends troops into Iraq through Syria, we could be watching the three horns prophecy being fulfilled before our eyes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Sign of the End

What could possibly signal the end of the world? The only clearly discernible sign that Jesus gave his disciples was the Abomination spoken of by Daniel. Earthquakes, famines, wars, and even the fulfillment of the Great Commission are all signs Jesus cited, but they all lack the precision of Daniel's sign. When an event which occurs repetitively in a series, or is the accumulation of a running total, how can we know if any particular occurrence or addition was the last one without some telling detail?

For instance, what marks the conclusion of the Great Commission? Is it possible to discern when the last one who needs to be reached in order for it to be completed has been reached? The Abomination of Desolation, in contrast, is well defined, and even though occurring twice, is distinctive enough not to be confused between one occurrence and the other. Though it has already been modeled for us, as it was for Christ, by Antiochus Epiphanes, there will be no way to miss its ultimate fulfillment in the days of the Antichrist.

The description of this event, as recorded in Daniel 11, starts with the advent of Antiochus Epiphanes at verse 21, but ends with the actions of the Antichrist starting with verse 36 and moving into chapter 12. In effect, the actual, specific occurrence of the Abomination of Desolation (v. 31) is the fulcrum of a prophetic teeter-totter. On one end is the antetype, Antiochus Epiphanes, and how he relates to the prophecy. On the other end, is the antitype, the Antichrist and how he relates to the prophecy, and the middle references both of their involvements.

It's almost as if Daniel 11 was a preview trailer tracking at normal historical speed until the fulcrum was reached. At that point the reel was fast-forwarded until the time of its secondary and ultimate fulfillment occurred, then normal speed resumed. If that sounds a bit stretched to you, I understand your reticence. However, Jesus said there was still life in the prophecy, despite being fully familiar with the history of Antiochus, the Maccabees, and the battles between the Ptolemies and Seleucids. It seems to me, to understand something of this nature one has to invoke the concept of dual fulfillment.

John, the Revelator, saw the same event from the isle of Patmos millenia before its ultimate fulfillment. Strangely enough, even his insight was presaged by antetype within the Book of Daniel. God must have wanted to get the point across unmistakably to repeat it so many times from so many different vantage points. No wonder when asked what would be the sign of the end, Jesus said this would be it, and yet we still seem, by and large, to be in the dark about what definitively signals the end.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Israel Proves Who God Is

I find Israel absolutely amazing: not the geographical location (I've never been there and have never wanted to go), but the people. It's not that their customs or their cooking are interesting to me in the least, but I find the bare fact of their existence just astonishing! Just by surviving, thriving, and eventually arriving back in their homeland, Israel has proved itself the most unusual of nations. That they are not relegated to the realm of myth and fable is mindboggling.

Let's review what they've been through: there has been seven attempts by world powers to annihilate, dispossess or exterminate this people throughout human history. These were not attempts by nasty tribal neighbors (as in the book of Judges or as in pogroms in the Diaspora), but by cream-of-the-crop, world-class empires, amongst the mightiest of their day. Yet, despite slavery, murder, pillage, rape, deportation, dispersion, and attempts at assimilation by the strongest in the heavy weight division, Israel survived as a people. A notable feat on its own, certainly, but Israel transcended mere survival and returned to their homeland as a nation after thousands of years away.

Imagine the U.S. or any nation surviving such a history. Despite Paul Revere and the Raiders' sentiment in song, there's no way I could see the Cherokee Nation returning even after one such brush with genocide and ethnic cleansing. Why did Israel come back from the dead seven times? Well apart from numerological concerns, the answer, the only answer is divine intervention.

Nature points, it seems to me, to the existence of a Creator. Given its remarkable history, Israel has to be a sign of who that Creator is. If we're at all perceptive, we'd have to see that the Creator is not the god(s) of the Hindus, the Buddhists, the animists, the pagans, and certainly not the Muslims, but the God of Israel. For Israel itself is a sign from God that proves that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is God, and that he is God alone.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Letter to the Satisfied Church, Part I

There is little that could be seen as positive in Jesus' message to the church at Laodicea. The indifference he saw there, ultimately toward himself, was a deal breaker. Really, the only positive note sounded was that the litany of rebuke directed at the Laodicean Christians was motivated by love. They were not being written off, but were being warned about what could happen if they did not repent.

The indifference of the Laodicean Christians is alluded to metaphorically in terms of the [water] temperature their deeds betrayed. Significant, perhaps, in directing this criticism at the Laodiceans in particular, was the well known sources of hot (Heiropolis/Pamukkale) and cold (Colossae/Honaz) water a short distance to the north and southeast of the city. Whereas there were good, obvious uses for hot or cold water, tepid water was all but useless, as the Laodiceans could well attest. In calling these Christians lukewarm, Jesus was indicting their uselessness which resulted from their indifference toward him.

How did they get to be in such a careless state? The reason implied in the message was that their satisfaction with earthly wealth had blinded them to their spiritual poverty. Laodicea had experienced a devasting earthquake in 60 C.E. and was knocked virtually flat. The wealth of the city was such that its inhabitants rebuilt it without government assistance, recovered relatively quickly and continued their prosperous ways afterward.

It seems the Laodicean church could have been interpreting that history as a sign that they were blessed by God and just fine in his sight. They were mistaken. They did not remember that we cannot serve God and mammon, for if we serve the latter we'll end up despising the former, and be useless to him. As Jesus saw it, they actually wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.

Jesus counsels them to come to him and engage with him (i.e. "buy from him") rather than to be satisfied with the bounty they got by their own devices--a rather ironic command considering he just said they were wretched and poor. The gold, garments and salve they were able to procure pursuing their own worldly agenda was actually not a sign of blessing but merely the wallpaper over the pits and cracks of their profound need. Though tangible, the earthy is no substitute for the spiritual, and when one has that aright, there is no need for wallpaper.

I can't help but see, in this letter, a dire warning to the Western Church, first as it existed in Europe and now as it does in America. That church, in large measure, discovered a marketability in the Gospel and has been producing a wealth-generating, product-oriented salve for the guilty consumer for much of its history. Whether depending on a few rituals (e.g. mass, baptism, confession) or a few works (e.g. church attendance, tithing) or just grace, this church sells the convenience of a guilt suppressing palliative, without the necessity of taking up the cross and walking with Christ.

If salt has lost its saltiness it's good for nothing; if living water is not different from the world around it (for instance, in temperature), even it is useless. If those of the Laodicean ilk, useless to Christ, indifferent and thereby in peril, can but open their eyes and remember that they are nothing, and have nothing without Christ, their recovery begins. The world and its riches offer nothing of true value to any of us that we should find it satisfying. Jesus has all we need, and all that is worthy, and he's willing to give that to us if we'll come to him.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Letter to the Rapture-Ready Church, Part II

That the message to the church in Philadelphia has special import and reference to end-times I don't think can be fruitfully denied. What context, other than the end-times, is there for the all-inclusive, global trial mentioned? It is very difficult to find a context historically which could have justifiably had this description applied to it. Though the nature of the referenced global trial is not specified, it is said that it is tempting and targeted which, in light of other things mentioned, does help place it.

The words used to convey the notion of global testing (tou peirasmou [the testing] and peirasai [to test]) are somewhat ambivalent in meaning. They can refer to temptation (as in an enticement), or to trial (as in an assaying pressure), or to both at the same time. The use of the definite article (tou) is supportive in understanding this phrase as referring to a specific testing or temptation, rather than to testing or temptation in general; i.e. the trial. What is in mind in this message, it seems to me, is a singular kind of testing, the scope and nature of which is such that it will leave no doubt that it is occurring when it does occur.

The test will come upon all the inhabited earth to try those that dwell there. Whereas it is possible to see this as an idiomatic reference to the Roman Empire, I see this more along the lines of a Hebraism (e.g. Exodus 8:21) or just straightforwardly referring to the entire world (as does the word's usage in Acts 17:31 or Hebrews 1:6). The inclusivity of the statement means that anyone on earth at that time will experience the trial, at least in some fashion. One would have to not be living on earth to be kept [out] from such a trial, which I think is the best reading of the promise contained: "I also will keep you from the hour of testing..."

Whereas Chapter 7 of the Apocalypse (and Chapter 12 too) does demonstrate that it is possible to live through the trial on earth protected by God in the midst of it, it also reveals (as does Chapter 12) that for the largest proportion of believers, escape means removal from the scene. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 describes the escape in as great a detail as we have in all of scripture. Taken together the picture clarifies. A trial, so significant and singular in nature as to be unmistakable, will come upon the entire earth, but those believers, Philadelphian in character, will be kept from that trial by God taking them out from the earth. Rapture!

It is clear to me that the Church in Philadelphia is ultimately a symbol for the church extant and ready when the end comes with its trial of trials. Since it is my belief that the churches which were sent these messages are contemporaneous and representative of different types of the whole, all the churches will be there at the end. However, it is to the church in Philadelphia--the ready church--that promise rather than warning is issued. Those that embrace the promise of removal and overcome get to be with God always, like pillars in his Temple.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Letter to the Rapture-Ready Church, Part I

In the message Jesus sent to the church in Philadelphia, we see one of only two purely positive messages of those he sent to the seven churches. Although the deeds of the Philadelphians are known by him, no correction ensues and no threat follows, only a hopeful promise. Taken together, I think the commendations and rebukes in the Letters to the Churches demonstrate that works do make a difference in how Christ reacts to those who are known by his name. We can infer, thereby, that grace is not something that ignores evidence that reveals that a heart has faith in name only (see James 2:14-26).

For those whose faith is true, Jesus promises to use his key authority to their benefit. He gives a two-fold metric to understand his judgment in the matter: 1) the faithful guard (in the sense that they observe or keep) his word, and 2) the faithful do not deny (disavow or repudiate) his name. In the case of the Philadelphians, both are done in spite of the lack of great ability (dunamis). For the non-charismatic that would probably be taken another way, but for those of us who are charismatic, we could see this as referring to a relative lack of miraculous, spiritual power. Perhaps that is encouraging news to those living in an age where our affirmation for fabulous signs and wonders far outstrips their actual occurrence.

The open door cannot refer to opportunities for gospel work (as so many commentators aver), for that would be a far too pedestrian use of Jesus' keys--particularly since the benefactors experience a lack of power and opposition in this world. The open door, therefore, must refer to something in regard to which Christ has unique authority (since none can close what he opens by it). Since these letters have been filled with so many warnings about the things of Christ being closed off to some, context would demand (it seems to me), to see this in regard to all that Christ has been promising by his authority in the midst of these letters. What others written to are shut out from, the Philadelphians are allowed in to.

It is implied in Christ's message to their church, that the faithful Philadelphians were taking some kind of flak from the so-called Synogogue of Satan. That, along with the reference to the Key of David, puts a markedly Jewish spin on this message. That does not make much sense to me historically or in terms of historic epochs, but it must be significant nonetheless. It is ironic that those of that persuasion (call them Judaizers, if you wish) were the ones in fact, who will find themselves ostracized by the one who has the Davidic key.

Admittedly, this is an apparent stretch, but this could be referring to a revival of Jewish resistance to the spread of Christianity occurring near the time of the Rapture. We are seeing something akin to that in our own day in the continuing efforts being made in Israel to quell proselytizing among the Jewish population, particularly by Messianic Jews. If so, it will prove to be merely a last ditch effort that will be overwhelmed by the turn of events at the Rapture and God's subsequent redemptive turn toward Israel. I think that could reasonably be described in the terms of the message: "I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you."

Despite that, and whatever other trials they had to get through, the Philadelphians kept Jesus' word of perseverance. The thought conveyed is waiting patiently under command, like the person asked to stay behind for a straggler when the youth group heads out to an event. That Jesus' command to endure (as recorded elsewhere) has eschatological implications cannot be denied--the reference in this letter in conjunction with the promise of escape (rapture) can only underscore the end-times emphasis. The letter to the church in Philadelphia is in particular a message to the end-times Church, though its message would have been inspirational to any church at any time being stretched by the need to endure under pressure.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Keys of Death, Hades and David

The Keys of Death and Hades
He placed His right hand on me, saying, Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades."   Revelation 1:17b-18
We use the word key in various ways. It can signify the crucial piece to understanding something or solving a problem. It can merely signify the importance of a thing. It can serve as a figure of affection; for instance, "the key to my heart." It can reference authority, or it can simply be a key, a device that opens a lock.

When it is said that a person holds the key to something the meaning is relatively straight forward. They have the means and therefore the power to unlock what is locked, they exercise control over it. To say that Jesus has the keys to death and Hades is to say that he has the ability to open the door to death and Hades and the power to release those who were locked in behind it. Jesus has authority to release people from death and Hades.

Death is the common fate of all the living. When anything living crosses that threshold, whatever animated its life is lost to its physicality. If that life isn't reinstated quickly it never can be, it's locked up behind death's door. For humans, that impelling, animating something is called a soul, an incorporeal, spiritual essence which carries not only the life force, but the personhood of the human.

Before Christ's ascension, humans souls were locked in Hades (Sheol in Hebrew) upon death. The body turned to dust and the soul was locked in Sheol. There is some thought that Sheol really just meant the grave, but I think Jesus' teaching concerning the rich man and Lazarus completely undermines such thoughts. Jesus envisioned Sheol as a place where dead people were kept self-aware, conscious. Whereas it may have been "restful" for the faithful, Jesus revealed that it was anything but for the unfaithful.

Once in either condition, there was no way out. Death and confinement thereafter in Hades was a one way trip. Jesus, however, overturned the order of all that had gone before and did what no one had done before or since. He entered into death and Hades, and then, of his own accord, he came back. His authority and power over death and Hades was thus neither theoretical nor derivative--it was demonstrative. He went there and came back with captives in tow, that is why he is said to have the keys of death and Hades.

There are not literal keys in Jesus hand, of course, as if he required a tool to open that figurative door. His power is intrinsic to who he is. The keys are merely a figurative way to put the concept into graphical terms. Jesus, the Son of God, has power over life and death, what was irreversible to everyone else is reversible to him. The most impenetrable, intractable wall humanity faces, death and Hades, Jesus had the power to walk right through, and most importantly for us, he has the power to bring others with him.

The Key of David
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.'"   Revelation 3:7
The phrase, "the key of David," elicits similar thoughts as did the phrase, "the keys of death and Hades." In both phrases, the word key relies upon the same basic symbolism which refers to the possession of authority. Whereas the first expression has an inherent Jewishness to it, the second is markedly Greek (Gentile). Regardless, what is in focus is an eschatological, teleological authority--the possessor of the keys has authority to affect and effect the end of things.

David, God's choice to rule over Israel, conquered and then established Jerusalem as the capital of all of Israel shortly after he had consolidated his power over all twelve tribes. Thereafter, the city was often referred to as "the City of God" or the equivalent. Why not? The God-appointed king was there and the only tabernacle of God on earth (the Temple) would be. So, to have the Key of David meant having authority over Jerusalem, and by extension, to have authority over God's kingdom (see Isaiah 22:20-22).

The symbolic connection to the New Jerusalem is obvious. The Messianic heir to David (Jesus) is the one in authority over the New Jerusalem. He has the power to let folk in or to keep them out (see Matthew 16:18-19 for an interesting connection and extension). If entry into eternity with God is something one desires, one will have to come to Jesus and get his approval in order to enter. Thankfully, to be coming to him is all that it takes to get it!

Though there is nothing particularly Jewish about Philadelphia, it was in the message to that church that this Jewish nomenclature was used. In the Kingdom of God, neither Jewishness nor Gentileness matter a whit, despite the fact that there is distinctive historical tracks for Israel's redemption and for that of the Gentiles. I don't think much can be read into that, for the new Jerusalem is of infinitely greater import than the original, and it is to that the symbol actually points.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Enabled to Respond

There is no one who does good.
God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there is anyone who understands,
Who seeks after God.
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.                                  Psalm 53:1b-3 NASB

Such is a biblical description of the depravity of mankind. How can a being so described ever be reconciled to God? Obviously, some kind of gracious intervention by God would be required, but what kind and to what degree?

Suffice it to say, the depraved person is enabled to respond to God with faith as God speaks to him or her. A rewiring of the person is not required at that point, just an interaction with God. When the Spirit of God interacts with a depraved person, that person is, in effect, freed from their natural state of depravity (i.e., their inability to know good and to know God) and given a window of opportunity to respond to God with faith.

This is the most natural reading of the biblical testimony of how mankind has been since the Fall. Whether we look at Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, or the Apostles, the pattern is the same--God spoke to them and they were able to respond. None of them is reported to have been regenerated in order for this to happen, no great re-fabrication of their humanity was ever mentioned; therefore, the implication is that it was not necessary. Only the logical necessity within an extra-biblical theological system (Calvinism) even remotely suggests such a thing, not the text of scripture.

What the scriptures do teach indirectly by example, and directly through the words of Christ is that depraved human beings have no way or means (or desire) to find God by their own self-initiated effort. Even if they could make such efforts unassisted, those efforts could never be effective, for God is not obligated to appear at the summons of a sinner. God is not like a set of misplaced car keys which are found if searched for thoroughly "whether they want to be or not." If he did not make himself findable, available, we would never encounter him.

The truth is, if he didn't draw and woo us by his Spirit, we would never look. And yet, our depravity is not of such a nature that it cannot be overcome by God showing up. His tap on our shoulder is sufficient to give us the power and reason to turn to him, without the necessity of reworking our inner being just in order to do so. The scriptures do not relate the latter occurring anecdotally nor describe such theologically. Embracing such a thought can only muddy the waters and make confusing what isn't.