Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Comforter

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you: but if I depart, I will send Him to you." John 16:7.

Had they consciously/unconsciously ignored Jesus' previous statements about His impending departure, this time the message was inescapable. "I am leaving."

For the disciples it had to be distressing, upsetting news. Jesus was their life. When other followers abandoned Christ, they had remained.

"Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that your are the Holy One of God." John 6:68.

The bridges were burned and there was no turning back. Now their beloved teacher and friend would soon be gone leaving them with...a Comforter?

I can think of other things I would have wanted to learn was my reward for three years of loyal attention and devotion. What would this Comforter, who may have seemed more like a consolation prize for faithful attendance do...make them feel less foolish for forsaking all in pursuit of a dream?

Unlike the disciples then, we know just how well things worked out. The Comforter was exactly Whom they needed. Unaware that they were about to be launched into a world changing endeavor, Jesus knew from personal experience how tough this assignment would be.

While traveling with Him, the disciples tasted small doses of the rejection, animosity and persecution that Christ experienced. Now with His departure they would feel the full force of these attacks. Their decision to take on the mandate offered them would be richly rewarding and satisfying. It would also be filled with pain, suffering and even death for their belief in the Master.

Holy Spirit's role at this time mirrors that He assumed in                  Genesis 1:1-2.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void, darkness was over the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters."

In Hebrew, the earth was "tohu bohu" or chaotic. The disciple's lives would now be shaken and their world upended. They'd experience the physical darkness of the crucifixion and the subsequent loss of their light in the world. However, in the midst of all that, the Spirit was at work.

"Spirit" in Hebrew is ruach (wind, spirit). This is a feminine noun and of the eighty-nine times it is used in the Old Testament, only nine times is it a masculine noun. The verb "hovering" is also feminine.

Just as a bird sits on the nest until the eggs hatch and new life appears, the Spirit brooded over those who at Christ's command waited in Jerusalem until the church was birthed on Pentecost. Then, as in Genesis where light sparked the first sign of life, "tongues of fire" appeared, and we know the rest of the story.

When children are born, mother's typically play the major role in their early developmental years. The transition from the safety of the womb to life in the real world is difficult, even frightening. Mom's are there to offer nurture and assurance. They kiss the boo-boo's, dry the tears and provide a safe place from fear. They systematically impart skills necessary to navigate life: potty training, shoe tying, and keeping your milk in the glass and not all over the table and the floor. I'm not insinuating that father's don't play a vital and important role in a child's life. Our country is suffering on a scale not known previously the bitter fruit of fatherlessness in children's lives today. God designed women in His image also and they normally display the nurturing, caring character of God.

The early church would need wisdom, power, boldness and so forth. However, Jesus realized that believers also need something just as important when times get tough-comfort. Holy Spirit fills this role in our lives perfectly.

How about you? How do you describe Holy Spirit's involvement in your life? When have you experienced the Spirit's comfort? In order of importance, where does comfort fall in the list of His ministrations to you? Can you really live without the comfort that the Spirit gives?

As 2017 comes to and end, it is time so say "Thank you" to all who have read my blog and even posted comments. What started as a goal to write once a week for a full year has had a six year uninterrupted streak. But now it's time to end this run. I may on occasion post something new and if and when I do, I hope you'll enjoy my ramblings. I wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year. God bless you.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

It All Depends on What the Meaning of "In" Is

"In the Beginning God created the heavens and earth" Gen. 1:1 emphasis mine.

Does "in" here denote time, as in "once upon a time" or does it designate a location, such as "deep in the heart of Texas"? How one interprets this two letter word can place one comfortably in the camp of current scientific thought about the age of the cosmos and in the crosshairs of fundamentalists. I now believe "in" pertains to location and is Paul's proof text for Col. 1:17. Concerning Christ the Apostle writes,

"He is before all  things and in Him all things hold together" emphasis mine."

According to Paul all things are located in Jesus and have been there since creation. John also bolsters this notion by tying Jesus to "the Beginning" of Gen. 1:1.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the Beginning and the End" Rev. 22:13.

Interpreting the "in" of Gen. 1:1 as a statement of position makes the opening line of the Bible about more than creation alone (which is a big enough subject in and of itself). It is about the grandeur and majesty of God. All of our ever-expanding cosmos is safely contained in Jesus. Paul then adds more to this most intriguing paradox.

"For you died and your life is now hidden in Christ in God" Col. 3:3 emphasis mine.

We're not just in Christ but we're also in God and here we glimpse the interconnectivity of the Trinity. Because this is true, Paul could assure the Roman church that no one could possible separate them from God's love (Rom. 8:5). As an interesting side note, the whom in this verse isn't people, but circumstances. John tacks on more to the mystery of the meaning of 'in" by defining love, not as an emotions, but as God Himself.

"God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in him" 1 John 4:16.

How can this be? How does Jesus hold all things together in Himself and yet manage to reside in individuals? I have no idea...but it's worth pondering and talking to God about.

Returning to the original question concerning the meaning of the word "in" found in Gen. 1:1. I am in agreement with Paul's position stated in Col. 1:17 and then re-emphasized in Col. 3:3. We're actually "in" God. He is love and those in Him also live in love. According to 1 John 4:16 it's all about location, location, location. Because Christ is The Beginning, Gen. 1:1 is about where and not when creation took place.

I recognize this is radical. Understanding that creation since its inception has been in eternity helps explain how science can state that the earth is much older than 7000 years as we compute time. Time is part of creation and is for our benefit. God has no need of it because He's outside of time. That said, God's version of a day may be very different than our understanding of a 24 hour time sequence. Perhaps, since God exists in eternity, outside the confines of time, He gave us this explanation in order that we would have a frame of reference. On the other hand, could God compress billions of years into a literal 7 day period if He wanted to? Why not. He's more marvelous and mysterious than we can imagine.

I accept "In the Beginning" to be about location and not time which agrees with both Paul and John. Now I view science's estimate of the cosmos' age with wonder. How did God do all this in His version of 7 days? What does it say about His willingness to take as much time as necessary to accomplish His purposes? Wouldn't it be wonderful to live as God does, free from the tyranny of the urgent?

How about you? If Gen. 1:1 is about place and not about time how does this change your understanding of this verse? How might it help you understand that your present position is in Christ now and not a future event? In the event that science is correct about the universe's age would this interpretation help you reconcile it's findings with the Biblical account of creation? What new avenues of mystery does this open up for you to explore?

We might have to wait to really understand how this all works. Once free from time's restrictions in the physical world, things will probably become crystal clear. For now, we're free to explore these mysteries with God who has all the answers. Who knows. He just might explain it all to you if you ask.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Shepherds and Kings

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them" Luke 2:8-9.

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who is been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and we have come to worship him'" Matt. 2:1-2.

Looking at the accounts of Christ's birth it's interesting to see who did/didn't get the message and how this corresponds to His earthly ministry.

First, the shepherds. According to Edershiem's The Life And Times of Jesus the Messiah, (a voluminous book, but well worth the time taken to explore it) shepherds, in the eyes of the religious elite, held a very unique status. These guardians of sheep, some which would later become the Pascal Lamb...were despised.

Even though God equated Himself as the Shepherd of His flock (Israel) and Moses, who was revered and honored for his role in Jewish history was a shepherd, the Jewish leadership deemed those in this occupation as "sinners." Why? Who knows.

Prejudice doesn't need a logical foundation. Despite their lowly status, God made shepherds His first choice to learn of Christ's birth. During His earthly ministry, Jesus had ongoing association with all kinds of "sinners" and this upset the religious hierarchy. It was part of the reason they turned against Him.

According to Luke, the shepherds spread the news of their angelic encounter and visit to the manger. Their story would be regarded as worthless by the teachers of the Law. When commanded by Herod to account for the birthplace of this "King of the Jews" the shepherd's first-hand testimony was ignored.

Next there's the Magi. They were Gentiles. Schooled in astronomy and the orderly movement of the heavenly bodies, any anomaly was significant. These were thought to be portents of special events. The appearance of a star, like the one at Christ's birth, was believed to mark the birth of a new world leader. Therefore, upon arrival at Herod's court, without hesitation, they asked the then sitting king the whereabouts of this new King of the Jews (wrong person to ask).

When questioned the religious authorities quoted Scripture designating Bethlehem as the possible nativity site. It's hard to imagine that they hadn't heard about the shepherd's experience. But, considering their bias toward this group, it's not surprising that this wasn't considered important enough to mention.

The Magi's quest to find the King of the Jews also foreshadows the relationship between Jesus and the Gentiles. Considering the Samaritan woman's encounter with Christ at the well (a cultural no-no) and that women were deemed unqualified as witnesses to anything, even first-hand experiences, her community turned out in droves to hear this stranger.

The Gadarene demonic turned healed evangelist crisscrossed his area spreading the news of his miraculous deliverance. Upon Jesus' return, the crowds came and He ministered freely to them. Like the Magi, the Syro-Phoenician woman pro-actively sought Christ out, and none of them went away disappointed. Jesus was a magnet for sinners, outcasts and even Gentiles who many times warmly received Him, unlike His own.

From birth, the groundwork is laid for Christ's path of earthly ministry. His mission was primarily to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and symbolically the caretakers of the sheep were the first to know of His arrival. However, the arrival of the Magi made it clear that God's salvation wasn't just for a select group. Sinners, and even Gentiles were to be part of the mix, a message we can't afford to miss out on today.

Christ's actions went against the grain of the deeply entrenched Jewish Messianic beliefs putting Jesus on a collision course with cherished traditions. That trajectory got Him killed. It can still get you killed today.

How about you? Have you ever noticed the link between the events surrounding Christ's birth and His ministry here on earth? What do you think of God's selection of two groups outside the prevailing Jewish religious mainstream receiving this important revelation from God? Could/would God do the same thing today? Maybe. In that case we better keep our eyes and ears open so we don't miss God's unorthodox means of communication and who he speaks through.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What or Whom

"...because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." 
2 Tim. 1:12.

Is your faith based on a what or a whom? For Paul it was the Person Jesus Christ. Through their intimate personal relationship, Paul was confident of God's leadership and guidance. He needed this when placed in situations where social and cultural norms collided with his faith.

In his endeavor to be all things to all men Paul didn't flip-flop theologically in order to be politically correct and non-offensive. With Christ's help in setting boundaries Paul integrated himself into society. As opposed to adopting a confrontational approach - "I'm right and you dummies are wrong!" Paul looked for natural openings to share the Good News.

Acts 17 covers Paul's trip to Athens. Exploring the city Paul discovered an interesting fact about the residents - they were very religious people. When he found the altar to the Unknown God (no harm covering all the bases) he used it to his advantage. Instead of chiding the people for using worship as an insurance policy, Paul took this as an open door. And did he have Good News for them! Paul personally knew this Deity and was happy for the chance to introduce the Athenians to Him. This was possible because Paul knew Whom, and not just what he believed. His foundation was Jesus.

While doing doctoral studies at St. Andrews in Scotland, Baxter Kruger attended a lecture by one of the early editors of well known, popular Christian magazine. This gentleman was a well-respected individual in the evangelical community. Kruger was stunned at the speaker's concern for this group. In this man's opinion, evangelicals had placed the Bible (the written Word of God) in a higher position of esteem and authority than Jesus - the real Word of God. Unconsciously they'd slipped into worshipping the book and not the author. How had that happened?

The principle of Sola Scriptura is an outgrowth of the Reformation. John MacArthur on presents an excellent explanation of this from an evangelical viewpoint and with a great sense of humor.

"Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture...for example, Scripture has little to say about DNA structures, microbiology, the rules of Chinese grammar and rocket science."

What Kruger understood the speaker to say was that inadvertently the Bible had become the "gold standard" for revelation as opposed to personal revelation from Jesus Himself. Relationship was with a text not a person.

To be clear, I love the Bible. I have plenty of them in all sizes, shapes and flavors, hard and soft bound and even electronic. Since I don't read Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic I'm at the mercy of the translators and their personal biases (and they do have them...we all do).

Paul and the early church didn't have Bibles because they didn't exist. Jewish believers may have possessed a familiarity with the Old Testament and even owned a small portion or two of it. But the Gentiles who quickly joined their ranks were clueless, which was not necessarily a bad thing. Early believers trusted Holy Spirit to guide them into truth, and they needed all the help they could get. There were heresies, false doctrines and opposition aplenty.

In my opinion, Sola Scriptura was a necessary but an over correction to curb abuses in the church. Dependency shifted back to the Bible as a book of rules and regulations as opposed to an unfolding revelation of the nature and character of God. Early on I was taught to solely trust Scripture and to be suspicious of personal revelations received by direct interaction with God. Best leave that to the professionals.

Paul upset the balancing act, tipping the scales in favor that the Word is a Person as opposed to a book. He believed Christ was the more capable of the two to keep him in line when navigating uncharted waters. Jesus was Paul's Sola Scriptura - the true living Word of God.

How about you? Is your faith based on information and knowledge gleaned solely from the Bible (which is a great place to start) or on Jesus the Author and Finisher of your faith? When was the last time you asked God to weigh in on a matter, and then searched the Bible for a confirmation of what you'd heard? Do you find it easier to use the Bible as a how-to manual as opposed to interacting with Father, Son and Holy Spirit whom are full of surprises?

Whatever you do...don't ditch your Bible! However, don't use it as a substitute for an intimate, personal relationship with God.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Why A Parable

"Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: 'I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world'" Matt 17:34-35 (emphasis mine).

Why did God through Jesus' preaching/teaching ministry finally reveal things kept secreted away since creation? Was God the one who had hidden these? What exactly was Jesus talking about?

IMHO I believe Jesus referred to the true nature of God Himself, in His totality. Various individuals encountered Him as He progressively revealed Himself. No one, except Jesus, really had the big picture.

Why not?

I think the problem lies with us.

The fall brought sin into the mix which Paul claims causes us to believe that God is the enemy. Few look, think or speak well of their opposition. Usually we demonize them and make them sub-par to ourselves.

Additionally, we mistakenly create God in our own image - not vice versa. For example Paul quotes a familiar passage. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord". Rom. 12:19. We quickly assume that God acts like us when we've been wronged. In the Parable of the Prodigal it's no surprise that the father's reaction to his sons' insults went right over the audience's head. They expected angry outbursts directed at both boys because that's what we'd do. Throw a party for a loser or stand outside and console an angry, ungrateful kid...not happening.

As time continued people caught glimpses of God's goodness, but it so violated their traditional notions of Him and cultural beliefs, these were rejected as wishful thinking. They were too good to be true. I'm now experiencing this same thing concerning some of my long-held concepts of God's nature and personality. The problem is my short-sightedness. My comfortable box where I let God reside, is unacceptable to Him. He doesn't intend to remain there. Having asked for a revelation of His true nature I'm finding an ever expanding debris field composed of my shattered pre-conceived ideas scattered about. It's unsettling, but in a good and healthy way.

Some may label me a heretic, and it's true. I'm Happily Encountering Real Experiences Today In Christ! The book worm is learning to love the experiential.

So, why parables? Stories put flesh and bones on abstract ideas. God is love, but what does that really look like? In Jesus' time and still today, stories are an integral part of the learning process, especially for non-readers. Our own culture is saturated with materials for children, even infants with no understanding that squiggly lines on a page are words that mean something. Pictures, however, even without any dialog convey the message.

Jesus was a master storyteller and if one only listened to be entertained (and many did) the deep spiritual message and meaning was lost.

"While Jesus was not a philosopher or theologian (in the accepted sense), his parables alone provided material that neither the philosopher nor the theologian can exhaust. This is the mark of Jesus' supreme genius. We have a curious tendency, even in dealing with Jesus' humanity, to overlook his sheer intellectual stature." C.W.F. Smith, Prophecy, pg. 19.

The country carpenter turned traveling rabbi, sans credentials, was no spiritual midget. Even at the tender age of twelve, one year shy of Bar Mitzvah and manhood, Jesus held his own with the teachers of the Law in the Temple. He knew God.

Employing familiar everyday examples Jesus peeled back the layers that obscured the truth concerning His Father and the Kingdom of God. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear got the message and it made them either friend or foe. Just like today.

How about you? What have you gleaned from the parables concerning God's nature that has left you scratching your head wondering, "Huh?" Which have made you uncomfortable and why?

Keep digging. Perhaps you can still go even deeper and find more rich truth hidden that you've missed before. Ask God for help. He enjoys a good treasure hunt.