Category Archives: Jesus

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost

The experiential reality of being in Christ and therfore in the Spirit is both a present experience and a finished reality, not just a legal position. In one sense, I am always walking in the Spirit because I am in Him and He is in me, so whatever I do, I am in the Spirit, but in another sense, I do not always do what the Spirit is doing or would have me do (This sounds like Ro 7:21-24?). That requires a choice to obey. That does not negate salvation by grace, for it is God that supplies the grace the faith and the power to obey (definition: the power of God unto salvation).

 

Different theologies will cause us to have different understandings of such biblical terms as being filled with the Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The term is not actually found in scripture. But it is prophesied in John 1:33 & Acts 1:5. The first supposed occurrence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is recorded in Acts 2 referencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost where the disciples spoke in known foreign languages which they probably were not fluent in or taught. Pentecostals and Charismatics see this as the initial experience of the believer where the Holy Spirit empowers them with the supernatural charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Understand that the Greek “charis” means grace. So these gifts are an expression of the grace or power of God and their purpose is for the edification of the body. This empowering is frequently confused with the initial indwelling or receiving of the Holy Spirit. Here is where we encounter confusion as a result of different understandings of terminology.

There are three common interpretations of the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

  1. Cessationist: Same as the baptism into Christ when the believer is born again. It’s not for today. The charismatic gifts ceased after the close of the canon and Apostolic age.
  2. Pentecostal: recurrence of the Pentecost experience where speaking in tongues is always the evidence
  3. Charismatic: initial empowerment by the Holy Spirit in the outpouring of any of the charismatic gifts.

Let’s examine each one. Cessationism is the belief that the supernatural charismatic gifts are no longer active today and that these gifts were only meant for a specific time when the church and the New Testament canon was being established. This belief is based upon a dispensational theology that considers the Apostolic age to be a separate dispensation of God’s grace. They believe that with the complete written revelation of scripture, the charismatic gifts are no longer necessary and relevant. Therefore, there is only one spiritual (as opposed to water) baptism where the new believer is placed into Christ’s body. Their scriptural basis for this is in 1Cor 13:8-10 which says that prophecies will pass away and tongues will cease when the perfect comes. They conclude that the “perfect” is the canon of scripture.

There are several problems with this interpretation. First, in context almost all Greek scholars will say that the “perfect” is referring to Christ, especially since Paul goes on to speak of seeing “face to face” in v. 12, thus implying personal relationship. Secondly, if the charisma were only temporary and would pass away when the writer passed on, why spend three chapters teaching on the proper use of the gifts. That idea denies the timelessness and value of scripture. Finally, this understanding denies relevant experience. Those who teach this say that documented history of the gifts being exercised throughout the church age are simply examples of people who were deceived. While I would not deny that there are many instances of false manifestations, to lump all of them into that category is to deny the power and sovereignty of God. I have seen documented miracles. These manifestations are occurring with people who have faith in the Christ of the bible and are seeking Him. It is to say that God is powerless to prevent His elect from being deceived. So, as with the case of the dead man walking, who is unwilling to examine his theology.

In defense of cessationists, scripture teaches that there is a baptism into the body of Christ that all born again beleievers experience at the moment of conversion. 1 Cor 12:13, Gal. 3:27, Eph 1:13. So, all believers receive the indwelling Holy Spirit. For us charismatics or pentecostals to ask “have you received the Holy Spirit?” is confusing. To imply that some believers don’t have the Holy Spirit or are somehow an inferior class of Christians is not only incorrect but hurtful.

Let’s take a closer look at the scriptures to see if there are different baptisms. In the ones I just read, who is doing the baptism and what are we baptized into? According to 1 Cor 12:13, the Holy Spirit is placing us into Christ’s body and we receive the Holy Spirit as a deposit. Can you get more of the Holy Spirit as a person? Is He divisible? Does he come in big and little pieces? No! Now, I’m not saying that you can’t receive more grace from Him. Now look at John 1:33. “And I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water, that One said to me, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon Him, He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33)Who is doing the baptism and what are we baptized into? Christ is immersing us with the Holy Spirit. That’s different isn’t it? It also speaks of an observable physical manifestation – fire. At Pentecost tongues of fire were seen. John was referring to the Pentecost experience. This might better be described as an upon experience as opposed to an in experience. See Acts 8:16: “For as yet He had not fallen on any of them, they were baptized only in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  We can imply that this upon experience is accompanied by a supernatural or charismatic manifestation, whereas the initial baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit may not always be so. Even though Acts 2 says they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the term “filled” as used in Acts doesn’t usually mean filled in the same sense as indwelling, but more literally “looked or acted like” in the same sense that a misbehaved child would be called full of the devil. The disciples had previously received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit prior to Christ’s ascension as recorded in John 20:22. Did the Holy Spirit leave them before Pentecost? In fact, there are a number of occasions recorded in Acts where the Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit. Are we to suppose that the Holy Spirit had leaked out? But if it really means that the subjects appeared like the Holy Spirit, then that implies that they were doing something noticeable that would normally only be equated with the supernatural, thus they were exercising the charismatic gifts. If we consider this to be more of an empowering or upon experience, then it can be understood as an experience of receiving extra grace beyond the communion of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In fact, Watcman Nee in his great little book, The Release of the Spirit describes this empowering not as an empowering from the external Spirit but as a process of yielding to the inner working of the Spirit which then manifests outwardly. So then we can view this baptism of the Holy Spirit not as a single second work of grace but as continuing repeated empowerings as the Spirit leads when He determines. This is the traditional charismatic viewpoint and aligns itself with the understanding that the charisma, with the exception of devotional tongues, are not really residential gifts, but situational gifts.

I do not hold to the Pentecostal position that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always confirmed by gift of tongues. There are examples of Christians in Acts who are filled with the Spirit without any mention of tongues. Specifically, Paul in Acts 9 has a vision of Ananias coming to him, which would be a revelatory gift, or word of knowledge, prior to ever speaking in tongues. And Paul claims in 1 Cor 12 that not all speak in tongues but may prophesy or exercise another charismatic gift. We have seen from experience that some Christians have moved powerfully in other gifts having never spoken in tongues. We cannot deny that these gifts are supernatural empowerments so it would be wrong to contend that they had not received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And yet I have spoken with many such believers that were taught that they had not received the Holy Spirit. This is wrong and damaging teaching.

 

The Feast of Trumpets

Shofar

The King is coming, get ready
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: `On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.'” Leviticus 23:23
Last Saturday (9/30/00) began the celebration of the ten day biblical feast of trumpets which reminds us that the King is coming. Jesus will return to this earth and set up His kingdom.
God says to celebrate the feasts. They belong to Him, they are not just for the Jews, they weren’t just for the Old Testament, they are for today, “These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times… This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.” Lev. 23:4 + 21
The feasts give us insight into God’s plan for His church and the process of being conformed into His image. They were and are a shadow of what was and is to come. The accuracy of the shadows inspired faith in the past ages and they do today as well.
The feasts give us a glimpse at God’s prophetic calendar. All of the bible feasts relate to the harvest. God is a God of Order and Design . God did significant things on significant days and He has revealed it in His Word. God used the harvest theme to show His plan for His harvest of souls. Many of Jesus’ parables or teachings about the growth of the kingdom and salvation had harvest themes. In the Old Testament, God ordered three pilgrimages each year in which every Israelite was to go up to Jerusalem. These were: The feast of Unleavened Bread which begins with Passover and is during the early spring or planting season;; Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after Passover and marked the beginning of the barley harvest, and then the feasts of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar which mark the completion of the harvest in the fall. The number “seven” in scripture is frequently associated with the theme of completeness.
The theme of the fall feasts is the completion of God’s harvest. The two feasts of the seventh are Trumpets and Booths. The first day of the seventh month begins the ten day Feast of Trumpets culminating on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. Trumpets announce the coming of the King which is to be preceded by time of great repentance, revival, spiritual battle and the final sanctification of the believer Booths celebrates dwelling with God. (see Zech 14:16)
Fall feasts of ingathering are yet to be fulfilled; they point to the return of Christ and His millennial reign. 1 Thessalonians 4 associates the return of Christ with the blast of the trumpet.
So how do we as Christians celebrate these feasts today. God’s Word gives us four requirements:
First, it is to be a day of rest. As New Covenant believers, we interpret this to mean that we should spend time with the Lord in prayer and worship. We should rest in His finished work.
Secondly, God calls a sacred assembly: a time of gathering together for corporate worship.
Thirdly, we are to “blow the trumpet.” A literal trumpet blast is a good reminder and can be fun, but in the larger sense, we are to sound the alarm that the King is coming.
Finally, we are to make an offering by fire. As New Covenant believers, we understand that Christ has fulfilled all of the sacrificial law in the sense that it is no longer necessary to perform animal sacrifices. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice for sin. But He still calls us to make a sacrifice of our own lives in dedication and worship to Him.
The burnt offering is described in Leviticus chapter 1. Interestingly, the entire subject of Leviticus is worship. The first offering discussed is the burnt offering. Lev. 1:9 says, “the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.” This offering was completely consumed and it points to our complete dedication. We are to be a spiritual burnt offering, purified by the refining fire of God’s loving discipline. We are to be a perfect sacrifice unto our King. Our offering is worship
Every feast before the Day of Atonement is just practice and preparation for the final one when the Lord will return. Don’t be taken by surprize The Lord’s return and the establishment of the Kingdom is our great hope. (Titus 2:13)

THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST

The return of Christ is one of most written about subjects in the entire Bible; it is the main message of God’s word. Christ is coming to rule and reign; to take back His creation. The Bible reveals how to be saved from the judgment to come and be a member of God’s kingdom. This is what Jesus Christ had to say regarding His return to this world:

“But in those days, after that tribulation, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’ “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens…. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. … What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13:24-37

There are some questions about Christ’s return that have interested people throughout the ages: how and when will He return?

How will He come? What will it be like?

This scripture says He will come in the clouds and in glory, not quietly like a babe, and not secretly as some teach. “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

The Bible says He will come with fire. This speaks of divine judgment upon those who have rejected His rule. He will judge those who refuse His offer of forgiveness.

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” 1Thessalonians 1:6-7

He will come like a thief, by surprise:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare…. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 2Peter 3:10-12

When will He return?

Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour, but there will be some signs. What Jesus revealed was not intended to gratify the curiosity of men. Why was He deliberately evasive? He wants us to live by faith. If everyone knew exactly when He was coming back, most would wait until the last second to get right with God. He wants us to always be prepared for His coming. He said His second coming would be like the days of Noah. In other words, things would be occurring normally. People would not be expecting it

Some people think that because Jesus has waited thousands of years to return, that He was not who He said He is and is not coming back. The Bible warns about this deception:

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2Peter 3:3-11

SO WHAT SHOULD OUR ATTITUDE BE?

We should be eagerly waiting, looking for His return. We should be ready; spiritually prepared and in right relationship with Him.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 2Peter 3:14

That is why Jesus told many parables about being ready for His return. It is not important that we know the time. It is important that we be ready at all times.

2nd coming

Wise Counsel

Finding God’s will through counsel and revelation.

We can know God’s will. We can “hear” His voice with spiritual ears.
God often speaks through other believers. God speaks through supernatural revelation or prophecy as 1Cor 12 says. Prophecy is not just telling the future. It is communicating God’s heart on a specific matter. The purpose of prophecy (all gifts) is encouragement and edification of the believer. What we consider revelation today should never violate the written word of God. 1Corinthians 13 says that we only hear in part, so we must be careful to check any revelation by the Word of God. God’s will can be proved. “And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Ro. 12:2

Why should we seek or listen to counsel? Because individually we only hear in part. No one has a monopoly on wisdom or hearing from God. The Bible says that there is wisdom in multitude of counsel. (Prov. 11:14) I believe that this is referring to a cooperative decision where the Lord speaks in times of corporate prayer.

One must be humble in order to receive counsel. The world may view a need for advice as a sign of weakness, but we should not be insecure or defensive. Advice from a friend is precious. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.” Prov. 25:11-12

Who should we allow to speak into our hearts and lives? Should we let just anybody? It is important that we block words that can be bad advice, mislead or injure us. But, we also must be careful not to reject words just because they are hard or difficult to accept. Words from God may be sharp as a sword, discerning thoughts and intents of the heart.

We must have faith to hear God’s counsel through others. A friend earns the privilege to give intimate counsel. The one we should listen to is a covenant friend, one in relationship; one we trust; one with proven wisdom and Godly character. We must judge prophets first by their character rather than charisma.

How is Godly counsel delivered? It is given in a Godly manner and in God’s time. We should prayerfully consider counsel before giving it. It should be offered in humility, realizing that we could be wrong. We should understand the person’s situation before giving advice; don’t be like Job’s friends. Some people need compassion more than advice.

Consider a case of prophetic guidance and free will shown in the Bible in Acts 21:10-14. Agabus was a true prophet. He had a message from God for Paul and then he offered counsel as a solution to that word. The Word of the Lord ends with the prediction that Paul would be placed into bondage. There is no mention that the Holy Spirit prompted the advice. The anointed word was that he would encounter difficulty. The carnal word was “don’t go”. Notice that Agabus and the others didn’t force their will upon Paul. Here we see a case of counsel as to direction not a rebuke for sin. This is not a question of doctrine, or where there is clear guidance in the written word of God. This pertained to what some call the permissive will of God. Paul would not be violating some moral code by disobeying the advice not to go to Jerusalem.

The prophetic word was a confirmation of what Paul had heard earlier from the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:22-24). Later on, he had another word directly from Jesus that confirmed his decision to go to Jerusalem (Acts 23:11). Paul’s friends heard from God about what would happen, but they missed God’s will for Paul. Prophetic guidance must be balanced against freedom to hear and decide individually. We should guide people with spiritual principles and allow them to make their own decisions.

The Greatest Threat

It’s not North Korean or Iranian nukes. It’s not Islamic terrorism or Central American gangs. It’s not having your job shipped overseas. It’s not Obamacare or losing your health insurance. It isn’t Donald Trump. It is the judgment of God on our nation.

You rarely hear about it on the “news”, but occasionally you might catch a nature show talking about Yellowstone or the San Andreas Fault in California. Yellowstone is a giant active volcano crater. The last eruption was the largest cataclysmic event in North America. You might be familiar with the red clay soil that paints a wide swath from Wyoming all the way to Texas and the Gulf coast. It came from Yellowstone and is discernible in satellite images. And scientists warn that it could blow at any moment, just like the San Andreas Fault. A magnitude 9.0 quake on that fault would kill millions in a matter of hours. If Yellowstone erupted in a similar way that it last did, Denver would be covered in ash in a matter of hours. There is no possible way that the population could escape in time. The same fate would fall upon Omaha, Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Dallas in a few days. Bozeman and Casper would be obliterated almost instantly. This volcano dwarfs Mt. St. Helens. It would make a nuclear bomb look like a fire cracker in comparison.

I think the wrath of God is sometimes like a volcano. It may take many years because God is patient and forbearing with our sins. But, He is a God of justice and He has judged nations before. His judgment, when it comes, is swift and sure. Are we deserving of His judgment? Of course we are. And it might come at any moment. We are guilty, as a nation, of murdering more than 30 million innocent children. Our people, including our elected leaders and judges, even Christians have turned a deaf ear to the pleas of those defending the defenseless. Their blood cries out for justice. And infanticide isn’t our only sin. Pornography, fornication, adultery, prostitution and murder are rampant. 2 Timothy chapter 3 perfectly describes where we are as a nation, “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;” (2Ti 3:2-4) Our nation has exalted perversion. We could be judged at any moment.

Perhaps, what stays God’s wrath is that there are worshipping Christians in our land. Our churches are everywhere and they are full. It’s perplexing that there are so many Christians in our land and yet evil is pervasive. Has the salt lost its savor? Are our churches filled with phonies or are we blind? Great revivals are always characterized by social change for the better and an increased commitment to godly obedience by the populace. But we don’t see that in America today. For all of our evangelizing and conversions, we see no change in the culture. The culture continues to descend into the sewer. The church, Christians, need to change what they are doing, because what they are doing now isn’t working.

In contrast, the Great Reformation of the 18thcentury that birthed this nation was marked by widespread repentance among the people. It was sparked by a sermon delivered by Jonathan Edwards entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards called people to repentance. He identified sin for what it is, an affront to a holy God. He described sinners as hanging by a spider’s thread over the fiery pit of hell. The hearers shrieked out in fear. I doubt that such preaching would elicit a similar response today. People today would mock those repentant sinners as superstitious. We don’t fear God anymore. We‘re too sophisticated. It’s rare in American churches to hear about sin, judgment and hell today. The message that people have offended God and must repent has been replaced with “Jesus loves you.” Of course He does! That is why He went to the cross. But, that does not negate the need for people to understand their sinfulness. It is conviction of sin that leads people to receive the grace of God and repent.

John chapter 21 is an account of Jesus meeting His disciples by the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection. Peter and the other disciples had decided to go fishing, which was his original profession. They fished all night and caught nothing. In the morning, Jesus appears on the shore and exhorts them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. When they do, they haul in a load of fish that they can barely handle and they recognize that it is Jesus on the shore. One explanation of the meaning of this is that Jesus, when He had first called them, told them that they would now be fishers of men. They had abandoned the calling of God and gone back to their old life and it was fruitless. We must heed God’s calling.

I think this passage has another message for us today. We are trying to be fishers of men and we are not catching very much. Jesus is saying, “Put your nets on the other side. Change what you are doing. Do it my way. Hear my voice.” We must be guided by the voice of the Holy Spirit if we expect to be fruitful.

As I was studying the scriptures on this subject I was reminded of the parable of the sower. Jesus talked about how the seed that fell on stony ground blew away and bore no fruit. I felt the Holy Spirit tell me that America has been paved over. Our soil is concrete! He said we need a jackhammer to break it up! There must be preaching about sin and hell and soon coming judgment.

I sought the scriptures for Jesus’ evangelistic approach. There are numerous examples in the gospels of Jesus doing power evangelism. People listen when someone gets healed or raised from the dead. Most of us don’t believe we can do that, but Jesus said that we could do greater things. He said that He only did what the Father was doing. You see, Colossians tells us that Jesus laid aside the prerogatives of deity and humbled Himself as a man. He only did miracles by obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit within Him that told Him what the Father was doing. We have that same Holy Spirit in us. He speaks, we must listen.

I also found an account of Jesus’ evangelism that did not involve miracles. It is told beginning in Mark 1:14 thru 1:17. Read the red, the words of Jesus. Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.” Now as he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, “Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” (Mar 1:14-17) There it is. Let’s break it down and put it in modern vernacular:

  1. Time’s up!
  2. The good news that God is in control, He is here and He rules.
  3. Stop what you are doing (sinning).
  4. Believe the good news of what God has done to forgive you and re-establish His rule here and now on earth
  5. Follow Jesus. He will tell what you should do. He will do great things through you.

Do it in this order, don’t use old English or Christianese:

Time is up! The hearer must understand that it is urgent. Today is the day of salvation. Jesus didn’t say, “Think about it and we’ll talk tomorrow.” You can fall into judgment at any moment. Yellowstone is ready to blow. Your heart could stop this instant. You might get hit by a car. Remind them of that horror movie where people can’t escape death when their number is up. Moderns relate to movies.

God is in control, not Trump, not Putin, not ISIS, not the banks, not your boss. He is working all things together to put everything under Jesus’ dominion. (Eph 1:9)

Stop sinning. Tell them, “You are going the wrong way!” Just as in Trains, Planes and Automobiles, “don’t mock because there are two semis headed right for you.” The hearer must be told that their sin will soon lead to tragedy.  We must call sin for what it is. We must preach sin and hell. Stop soft pedaling with your neighbor. If he blows you off, shake the dust off your feet.

Tell them the good news that Jesus paid the price for their sin and they need not suffer judgment. Not only that, but Jesus is going to restore Eden, there will be peace on earth when He sits on His earthly throne.

Tell them that they must listen to Jesus and do what He tells them to do. He wants them to have a part in building His new Kingdom.

The Four Faces of God

Discovering Biblical Personhood

I recently attended a men’s breakfast at our church where we heard an excellent lecture from Dr. Robert Lewis on “The Four Faces of Manhood”. Dr Lewis describes the four faces of biblical manhood as follows: King, Warrior, Lover and Friend. He plots these on a graph as follows:

King

Lover —————–  Friend

Warrior

 

God has intended for the King to lead, for the friend to be faithful, for the warrior to be a protector and for the lover to love sacrificially as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). He then describes how God’s design for man can be perverted by “ugly caricatures”. The King becomes a cruel tyrant or a weak abdicator. The friend becomes a loner or a user of others. The warrior becomes a destroyer or a wimp and the lover becomes critical or cold.

It seemed to me that an unbalanced man would tend to lean in a circular direction and that the ugly caricatures would follow in a predictable pattern so that a tyrant king would be a using friend, a destroying warrior and a critical lover. On the other hand, if the unbalanced man leaned in the other direction he would be a weak abdicator, cold lover, a wimpy warrior and a loner rather than friend.

As I contemplated this, I was reminded of some scriptures about “four faces”. The first was in Ezekiel chapter 1 where Ezekiel has a vision of God’s throne and he describes four creatures (some call seraph) that stand guard around God’s throne:

As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. Ezekiel 1:10 NKJV

The Apostle John had a similar vision described in Revelation chapter 4:

Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. Revelation 4:6-7 NKJV

It is interesting that the two visions vary slightly, but to my mind it only lends credibility to the authenticity as the scriptures are inspired by God and penned by men with different perspectives. One can only imagine how frightening such a vision might be and how each might have a different memory of it, just as two people observing a horrible accident might have different accounts. If John had meant to copy Ezekiel he would have done it word for word, but he didn’t. But the two accounts are so similar as to confirm that they were seeing the same throne room.

We must understand that all creation is intended to glorify God as originally created. The creatures guarding God’s throne can be considered to display the character and nature of God just as mankind is made in the image of God. So, what do these creatures tell us about God and how does that apply to mankind?

I believe that the seraph show us that God relates to us as a man and a friend. God came to earth in the form of the man Jesus who referred to Himself as “the Son of Man.” God relates to us as King over all creation as the lion rules over all other creatures. Jesus is referred to as the Lion of the tribe of Judah and revelation assures that He will reign over all creation forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). An ox or a calf is a sacrificial animal. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). An eagle is the swiftest of hunters and warriors. In the Psalms God describes Himself as an eagle protecting His flock.  He shelters us beneath His wings (Psalm 17:8).

So the new chart is this:

King/Lion

Lover/Ox —————– Friend/Man

Warrior/Eagle

As I have repeatedly read these scriptures in Ezekiel and Revelation I have wondered at their meaning and significance. I believe through this study that the Lord has granted me a measure of revelation. The four fold nature of God is even displayed in the different gospel accounts. Matthew depicts Christ as King beginning with His royal lineage (Mt. 2:2). Mark, written from Peter’s memories (Mark was Peter’s scribe), describes Jesus as a friend and a brother (Mark 3:35). No one was closer to Jesus than Peter. Mark reveals Jesus as a man (Mark 9:12).

Luke, written from Paul’s memories (Luke was discipled by Paul), displays Jesus as the warrior, the defender of the faith and the faithful. We see in the gospel of Luke the accounts of Jesus’ battles with the religious leaders and Pharisees (those accounts don’t name Paul, but I believe that he was among those who followed Jesus constantly seeking to trip him up; Luke 6:7). It is interesting that Jesus chose Paul, a fanatical defender of Judaism, to be the primary evangelist and his Acts and his letters portray how he battled like an eagle to defend the gospel.

John, the mystic, the romantic, depicts Christ as a sacrificial lover. He tells us that God so loved the world that He gave and describes Jesus as the Lamb of God. John records Jesus saying, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Joh 13:34-35)

These scriptures revealing God’s nature and our response pertain to all mankind, including women. They show us what biblical personhood is. Women are created to reflect God’s image as well. Women are called to lead, love, protect and befriend all be it in a unique way.

As I looked further into Ezekiel’s vision I discovered that it reveals not only the nature of God, but it speaks about how we must walk with God. The vision shows us how not to become unbalanced, fall into sin and display a false, ugly caricature. I noticed that the creatures walked in the Spirit, that is they followed the Holy Spirit. They didn’t become unbalanced and turn to the left or right.

And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went. Ezekiel 1:12 NKJV

The vision goes on to tell us that a strange object followed each of the creatures.

Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went. Ezekiel 1:15-17 NKJV

The scripture goes on to describe how the wheels are covered with eyes, depicting the all seeing, all knowing nature of God. This strange object, like the Seraphim, does not turn to the left or right, but follows the straight path, the narrow way. It reminded me of a gyroscope. I searched the definition/ function of a gyroscope.

Gyroscope: an apparatus consisting of a rotating wheel so mounted that its axis can turn freely in certain or all directions, and capable of maintaining the same absolute direction in space in spite of movements of the mountings and surrounding parts: used to maintain equilibrium, determine direction, etc.

Gyroscopes are used in aircraft instrumentation to show relative position to the earth. They help the pilot to know where straight and level is. A gyroscope has two perpendicular axes. One is perpendicular to the earth and the other is parallel. The axes of a gyroscope make a cross.

Our church has recently been studying the book of Romans. Last week I heard a message from chapter 7 by pastor Keith Knight. Chapter 7 is about struggling with sin. The conclusion is that there is deliverance from sin through Jesus Christ. At the climax of the message Keith turned to a cross on the stage and told us that when the struggle is there, he turns to the cross and reminds himself what Jesus did there to save us from sin. That is the key! That is what will keep us on the straight and narrow road.

I know that this vision is meant to show us that God has provided us with a holy gyroscope to help us follow Him. If we focus on what happened on the cross we will keep our spiritual bearings and not wander off to the left or right displaying an ugly image.

It’s interesting that such a mysterious vision should boil down to such a simple truth that is spelled out in the New Testament: that the way to overcome is to walk in the Spirit and keep your focus on Christ’s finished work on the cross. That is exactly how God revealed Himself in the old covenant. Jesus spoke in parables because He searches for seekers who will find revelation in ALL of scripture.

 

 

 

 

 

The Natural Branches

God makes it clear that He has not rejected the natural branches forever. God’s election is sure: “the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.”[1] Ephesians 1:4 tells us that “He chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundations of the earth.” God predestines on the basis of foreknowledge. He is not a captive of time; He looked into all of human history and chose those who would choose Him. God chose the descendants of Israel to be a nation of people that He would work through. Even though He has not chosen every individual person of that natural nation, He has not forgotten them as a people. In Jeremiah 31:37 God says, “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all of the descendants of Israel…” [2]. Had he rejected them forever, their destiny would have been the same as other nations that He has obliterated forever. Malachi 1:2-5 recounts that God hated Esau and that his descendants would always be under God’s wrath. This was because Esau had no faith and was willing to sell his inheritance to satisfy his flesh. Perhaps Esau’s descendants were cursed in that each one individually would follow in the paths of their patriarch and reject God. Historical evidence proves that nations like Edom (Esau) have been wiped from the face of the earth. But, miraculously, Israel has survived as a nation for three thousand years. God has preserved them through conquest exile and holocaust and has returned them to their promised soil in these the last days.

Many eschatologists (those who study the future as it concerns the end of this age) claim that the next major event on Gods calendar is the rapture of the church. I do not believe this to be the case. For over nineteen centuries, the church consistently taught that Christ would come for his church at the end of the Great Tribulation. A comparison of 1 Thessalonians 4 and Revelation 20 would confirm this view. In Revelation 20, Tribulation saints are included in the “first resurrection”, i.e., the rapture. Moreover, this is consistent with God’s character. Scripture repeatedly refers to one church, one bride and one new man from Jew and Gentile.[3] Jesus is not a polygamist. He will not celebrate His wedding feast in heaven while part of His church is being martyred on earth! Romans chapter 11 refers to God’s plan to graft the natural branches, natural born Jews, back into The Vine. This later day ingathering of Jews to Christ is the next major event on God’s eschatological calendar. We are beginning to see this occur to a small degree evidenced by the birth of such messianic organizations as Jews for Jesus. God will draw the Jews back to Himself in mass. Romans 11:15 refers to this phenomenon as resulting in the “resurrection from the dead…” This verse most obviously refers to the great resurrection when Christ will gather His church unto Himself and thus the in-grafting of the natural branches would precede the rapture.

 

Romans chapter 9 makes it clear that not all natural born Jews are the inheritors of the covenants and promises of God, but that the spiritual descendants of Abraham, those who have inherited the promises by faith and have been born of the Holy Spirit, are true Israel. In speaking of the natural children, the Jews, Paul writes that theirs is the divine glory (Ro. 9:4). God chose to reveal Himself to Israel and to establish His literal earthly kingdom through them as a prophetic representation of the Kingdom to come. The Divine Glory is the revelation of Gods nature and person. So in this text Paul is reminding us that the natural Israelites had experienced the physical manifest presence of God. Moses, Joshua and others met God face to face. A pillar of fire and smoke guided the nation of Israel. God parted the Red Sea and the Jordan for them. He miraculously delivered them from their enemies on many occasions. On several occasions, God literally answered their prayers with fire from heaven. God literally stopped the rotation of the earth for Israel. They saw the power of God. Their descendants have been taught about the mighty supernatural saving acts of God on behalf of His people. When they see God moving like this on behalf of His people today, it will get their attention.

Many in the church believe in and attest to the miraculous power of God today, but many either do not believe or do not expect God to do the miraculous today. Perhaps that is why we do not see God’s manifest presence to the extent that it would capture the attention of the world and the Jews in particular.

Romans 11 makes it clear that God will draw the Jews back to Himself by causing them to envy what we as Christians have, that is a relationship with the one True God. But, how will they recognize that we have this relationship? The key is the manifest presence of God in our midst, which will produce fruit in us that the Jews will recognize as being from God. Modern Judaism has placed more credence upon this world and good deeds than correct theology. The natural branches will be able to recognize The Vine when they see Him in our midst. We must begin to look and act like Him.


[1] Romans 11:29. KJV.

[2] Jeremiah 31:37,NIV.

[3] Ephesians 2:15 NIV.

Thy Kingdom Come

Kingdom of God

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Mat 6:10)

The idea of God’s kingdom on earth is a classical Christian belief. Christians affirm this belief in the Apostles Creed: He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead”. In modern western Christian thinking the concept of salvation is usually confined to the spiritual realm. We usually think of salvation in terms of a personal relationship with Christ by faith. We rarely discuss the idea of a progressive fulfillment of the concept to the physical earthly realm. We tend to think of heaven as the goal. But, biblically speaking, salvation is the restoration of the entire creation. That restoration starts with the individual spirit, but it will progress to the entire physical creation. Biblical salvation ends with the physical realm; the restoration of Eden.

Restoration is not accomplished in a single moment.  Quoting George Ladd, “The Kingdom of God belongs to the age to come. Yet the age to come has overlapped with this present age. We may taste its powers [Lazarus] and thereby be delivered from this age and no longer live in conformity to it.” The focus of the modern western Church has changed. The common message is usually about how to escape hell and get to heaven. It shows up in how we evangelize.  We ask questions such as, “Are you going to heaven?” or  we invite people to come to Jesus and get healing, peace, prosperity or some other personal benefit. You don’t very often hear an evangelist say, “Come to Jesus and die to yourself.”  Most Christians are not expecting His imminent return and the establishment of an earthly Kingdom.

The hope of the early church was, For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that having denied ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live discreetly, righteously and godly, in this present world, looking for the blessed hope, and the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,….” (Tit 2:11-13) Jesus will rule on earth with His church. (Rev. 20:4-5; Zech 14:16) God created the earth for a dwelling place with man. His plans are not frustrated; He is not a loser; He doesn’t have a plan B.

 God’s church will not be raptured away from this world in defeat.  God saves the best for last. The wedding in Cana was a type of the wedding of the bride to come. Just when we think that the wine is all gone, Jesus will perform His great miracle. He is the Creator and He is always doing something better. (Hag. 2:6-9)

 But God’s people perish for lack of or a wrong vision. Our focus should be preparing for the Kingdom. Jesus will return when the gospel of the Kingdom is preached to the whole earth. (Mt. 24:14) Heaven will hold Him until He has made His enemies His footstool. (He. 10:12-13) Our part is to hasten the day of His coming. (2Peter 3:12)

How do we prepare the way? Do what Jesus told us to do. Make disciples, not converts, teaching them to obey the things that Jesus taught. (Mt. 28:19-20) Preach that the Kingdom is at hand and serve.  (Mt. 10:7-8) That requires being a preserving influence, being salt and light. We must be involved. It is disheartening to see so many Christians not involved in the battle. We are in a struggle for the culture and too many are silent. God has granted us a gift of having a voice in our civil government, but too many believe it is unspiritual to be involved in the fight. The kind of government we have will influence the kind of soil that we sow our seed in. The scriptures teach that God has prepared good works for you in advance. We are to expose darkness by turning on the light.

We must walk in true holiness, not phony legalism, loving God with all of our heart and loving our neighbor as our self. The task is attainable in this life by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Gal 5:16)

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Godly Zeal

Never be lacking in zeal; but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11, NIV)There are some questions that this appeal should stimulate us to ask. What does God mean by zeal and spiritual fervor? What kind of behavior characterizes this zeal? Would the appropriate expressions vary depending upon culture? In Romans 10:2, Paul writes that the Jews are “zealous for God.” Their zeal was commendable in that God was its object, but it was flawed because it was not based on a right knowledge about God’s way of salvation, as Paul proceeded to point out. Paul was referring to their zealousness in strictly observing the law. The Jews failure was that they pursued righteousness by works instead of faith. They were blinded by spiritual pride, thinking that they could attain right standing with God by their own effort and in doing so they stumbled over the stone, which is Jesus and His sacrifice. The modern Jew is much better off. Because of his inability to offer an appropriate sacrifice, he must rely upon God’s mercy. Yet modern Judaism still rejects the proper atonement for sin. True zeal for God is a product of repentance and godly sorrow and never results from pride, self righteousness or observing the law.

Jesus displayed zeal driving the merchants from the temple courts. This is the kind of zeal that the scripture encourages us to and yet how many modern Christians display this sort of zeal? When Christians disobey man’s laws in order to save children from being sacrificed in abortion mills, they are criticized even by the church. But, Christ and the Apostles disobeyed man’s laws in order to obey God on several occasions. There are Christians who are willing to pay severe consequences for obeying God and leaders in the church condemn them for it.

There are numerous examples in scripture of the zeal that characterized the Old Testament saints. Phinehas, the priest, was rewarded by God with a covenant of a lasting priesthood because of his zeal for the Lord. He led the Levites in executing the Israelites who were involved in sexual immorality and Baal worship with Moabite women. It is noteworthy that Phinehas also was allowed into the Promised Land with Joshua and Caleb after the previous generation died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. He later became the custodian of the Ark at Bethel. Both Zadok and Ezra, descendants of Phinehas, were known for their zeal in leading the people in renewal. The Psalmist tells us that Phinehas’ faith was “credited to him as righteousness.” Thus he was identified with Abraham as an inheritor of God’s covenant promises. His zealous deeds are attributed to his faith. His actions were not motivated by a self-righteous determination to enforce human ordinances. They were a product of his faith in God’s purpose to raise up a nation of people that would represent Him before all of the world.

Jehu was another who was commended by the Lord for his zeal. He was responsible for killing Jezebel and Ahab’s sons in accordance with the prophetic word of the Lord spoken through Elijah. He was not timid about proclaiming his “zeal for the Lord” before killing the ministers of Baal. The Lord commended Jehu for his zeal: “Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation” (2Kings 10:30, NIV)

Romans 12:11 admonishes us that our zeal should be an expression of service to the Lord. Our fervor should not be expressed in a carnal manner. Any zealous behavior for our own cause would be sin. We must be zealous for God’s cause, not our own. Our zeal should accomplish God’s clearly expressed will as defined in scripture. It is God’s will “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” We also know that it is God’s will for “everyone to come to repentance.” We need to make sure that our behavior glorifies God and remains in accord with all of His precepts, taking the entire revelation of scripture into account. In doing so we must be mindful that the greater and newer revelation of the New Covenant interprets the Old Covenant. As such, we no longer have permission from God to kill the prophets of Baal with the sword. But, while we are not free to duplicate the specific actions of Old Covenant zealots such a Phinehas and Jehu, we are exhorted to emulate their passion for God’s cause in ways that are consistent with the New Covenant.

What are appropriate expressions of zeal under the New Covenant? Working for the cause of justice is an appropriate expression of zeal for God. The movement to abolish slavery in the U.S. grew out of the heightened moral consciousness that occurred during the revivals of the Second Great Awakening. Charles Finney hated slavery with a passion and insisted that it was impossible to be on the right side of God and still endorse slavery. When he accepted the position of president at Oberlin College, he did so on the condition that the school be thoroughly integrated. The efforts of Christians to correct the injustice of slavery even led some to civil disobedience. Perhaps the best example of compassion and godly zeal in this effort is the underground railway that delivered slaves to freedom. Perhaps the best example of ungodly zeal is the efforts of John Browne which led to taking of human life without civil authority.

Undoubtedly, the most analogous social evil that we face today is the sin of abortion. I do not intend to argue the point that it is a sin. The word of God is clear to those who would have their eyes opened to it. Much of the work done to right this injustice displays godly zeal. The crisis pregnancy and adoption services that have developed are a clear example of Christian love in action. Unfortunately, most of the political lobbying efforts that have taken place have produced little if any fruit. Christians have spent millions of dollars and hours in massive efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and we are no closer than we were in 1973 when it was ruled upon. One of the most zealous and fruitful activities that believers have undertaken has been castigated by numerous outspoken leaders in the church as a bad witness and worse, as sinful behavior. I speak of the efforts of Operation Rescue.

The stated purpose of rescues was to save children from death by abortion. They were never intended to be political protests, nor were they intended to forcibly stop anyone from committing a victimless sin. Had that been the case, as their detractors suggested, civil disobedience would not have been an appropriate Christian activity. Rescues were most often criticized by church leaders on the grounds that they violated biblical admonitions to obey civil authorities. But, biblical rationale for civil disobedience has been established by numerous well respected theologians. Jesus broke the civil law. Indeed, Peter said “We must obey God rather than men.” It is God’s commandment to love our neighbor that rescues attempt to obey. It is the same law that moved Corrie Ten Boom to disobey civil authorities when she risked her life to protect Jews from Nazi cruelty. God’s law requires action in loving our neighbor. “Faith without works is dead.” God’s word commands us to love in deed and not to close our heart to a brother in need.  God’s chosen fast requires setting the captives free. When civilian authorities tell us not to rescue our neighbor being sent to the slaughter, they command us not to love, to disobey God.

The only way that one could refute the biblical support for civil disobedience in this case is to close one’s mind to the reality that abortion results in a dead child. Rescues were fruitful. I bare testimony to that fact. I have seen children who are alive because someone blocked a door, granting the mother enough time to think about what she was doing and for God to change her heart. I have labored as a sidewalk counselor at rescues. Unfortunately the Rescue movement died for lack of support. Perhaps as a result, we now have a new breed of frustrated John Browne’s going around killing abortionists and attempting to justify their actions by pointing to God’s laws. Again, this is not godly zeal.

Picketing and public protesting are legitimate expressions of zeal when they are intended to correct injustice, as defined by God. The church has a responsibility to represent God to the world. We are commissioned as ambassadors of reconciliation. If all we do is love and serve, we fail to completely represent our King. It is our task to be a prophetic witness, to reveal sin which separates men from God. We are called to “expose deeds of darkness,” and to be a “light on a hill…the salt of the earth.” Speaking out against injustice is part of fulfilling this command.

Radical obedience and bravery in the face of great danger are marks of zeal for God that have characterized the heroes of our faith. Stephen bravely proclaiming the gospel in the face of death and Paul obediently going to Caesar are only two examples from scripture. Church history is full of accounts of martyrs who died for their obedience to Christ. For their zeal and self sacrifice valiant members of Operation Rescue suffered beatings and imprisonment at the hands of the state and scorn from the secular media. If that were not enough, they also had to endure criticism and rejection from the church. In truth, the zeal, faith and commitment which they displayed was a great testimony to God’s love and power. The days of Christian martyrs have not stopped.

Tireless and extraordinary work for the cause of the gospel is another expression of zeal for God. Certainly the Apostle Paul stands out as an example of such zeal. He was responsible for reaching most of the Roman world within fifteen years. He did this facing incredible resistance including imprisonment and numerous beatings and ultimately martyrdom. John Wesley displayed great zeal for the Lord in preaching the gospel. He traveled more than 200,000 miles, mostly on horseback, and preached over 50,000 sermons. Billy Graham has preached the gospel around the world for sixty-five years and according to Eerdmans’ Handbook To The History Of Christianity he “is undoubtedly the most successful Christian mass evangelist in history” with converts numbering millions. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is certainly another outstanding example of zealous service to others and to God.

In order to be zealous for God, we need the correct world view. Zeal flows from having a proper perspective. Having our hopes centered upon Christ and His kingdom will cause us to be “eager to do what is good.” Observance of God’s chosen fast as given to us in Isaiah 58 will guide us in our efforts to be zealous for God:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– When you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn, away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”(Isaiah 58:6-8, NIV)

Christians must be zealous in discharging the commission given to us by our Lord. Christ’s exhortation to the lukewarm Laodiceans was to “be earnest (Greek: Zelos) and repent.” Lost humanity will not believe our testimony unless it is accompanied by great zeal.

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