The Path Towards Totality

Today’s solar eclipse is but the beginning of a series of upcoming celestial events that have some saying it’s the end of the world, the beginning of the tribulation, or an indication that the “rapture” is about to happen. Could be, I don’t know. But what I do know is that we are most definitely on the path towards totality-Jesus is going to totally dominate.

Regardless of how men claim total and absolute power, the day is drawing near when Christ shall appear and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Although the rulers of this world set themselves and take counsel together saying, “We will not submit to God nor allow him to rule over us.” The Father has promised the Son, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession.” And he shall rule them in totality!

We live our lives like there is no tomorrow, thinking only of how we can please ourselves. We have become so deluded that we deny even the simplest of truths. But the time is drawning near when the totality of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ shall be made known from one end of creation to the other. And on that day, when the total and absolute glory of God is revealed there will be truth and justice. Not the redefined powerless notions that we have made them to be, but the righteousness of God in totality.

While today is still called today, may we give to Jesus all that we are even as he has given us himself. Humbled, torn apart, and poured out upon the cross on a day in which the sun was also darkened, and God assumed the brokenness of his creation in totality.

Operation Cold Heart

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.

One of the most if not the most tragic signs of the end of the age is one we tend to overlook the most-hearts in which love has grown cold. The Christian heart, indwelt by the Holy Spirit is to be ablaze with love for God and love for others. But as we witness the strategies of the Evil One being played out across the land, we understand that perhaps his primary goal is to replace the flame of a heart filled with the love of God with the icy resolve of love for self.

True agape love as it is understood within the context of the Trine God is always “other than.” The Father says of the Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever.” The Son says to the Father, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” The Spirit glorifies the Son as God’s love is poured out in our hearts, and we cry, “Abba!” And then ultimately we see God’s “other than love” realized in the person of Jesus who gave himself for and to us. This heart of humility, preference , and sacrifice as seen in Christ is to burn within us. We are to have the same disposition as was found in Jesus who, “though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.” This is a heart on fire with love! A stark contrast to the cold, self-centered heart we see on display in many who name the name of the Lord today.

Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.

Sadly, even now many of us are being deceived and have grown cold as deceptive spirits and demonic teachings insinuate themselves into our hearts. One characteristic that is always present in a heart grown cold is the emphasis on “my, me, and mine.” As lawlessness increases the heart can be taken captive by “causes, movements, and things.” The sad result is a heart that once burned with the love of God and others becomes a cold heart that loves itself more than anything or anyone.

Fortunately, when it comes to “Operation Cold Heart,” we have been provided with a fullproof defense: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

The Racial Millstone

When I write about culture or current events, always in the back of my mind is what the Apostle Paul told the folks in Corinth: “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church…” I understand that as the Body of Christ we do speak prophetically into the world. We also desire justice and to see liberation brought to those who are oppressed. But as followers of Jesus, our understanding of these concepts and the means by which they are achieved differ greatly with the world. And so, when I speak of these things, knowing that those who are “outside” are of a different spirit and mind-set altogether, my conversation is primarily with those who claim to be believers. In other words, I don’t expect unbelievers to behave nor see the world as those who are in fellowship with Jesus. But when I see those who call themselves Christians carnally provoked, divided and at odds with one another I am more often than not moved to speak.

It would seem that American Christians have either forgotten or simply do not believe that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” A war involves strategy, and one of the strategies being employed by the Enemy at this time is to entrap believers in racial conflict. So many American Christians  are being deceived as the Enemy stirs up strife and inundates the media with coverage of racial issues/tensions. His goal is to distract, discourage, and “defile” followers of Jesus by soliciting strong, carnal, emotional responses. He knows how easy it is to push the “pride & anger button.”

Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples…. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Racial conflict within the Church is always due to seeing and responding to things according to the basic principles of this world rather than by the Spirit of God. And the strategy of the Enemy is to bring about that kind of response in the believer. Answer honestly, when you watch the news and read the content so abundantly supplied by social-media, how many times have you become irate and thought, “Man, I can’t stand those ___ people.” How often have you as a Christian thought of your brothers and sisters in Christ as one of those ___ people instead of as a member of the Body of Christ? How often do you think of yourself as one of those ___ people instead of as a son or daughter of the living God? This type of mind-set is fleshly, of this world, and contrary to the Kingdom of God.

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Finally, a word of caution to you who teach and have leadership positions within the Body of Christ. If you are using your affluence to influence others to adopt your carnal mind-set you will receive a more severe judgment. You would do well to remember the warning of the Apostle James, “Dear brothers and sister, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Jesus takes very seriously the way you feed his sheep, the way you molest his bride. Repent and allow God to heal you of the racism within your own heart, and then you will see more effectively how to minister and care for his people.

[Jesus,] you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Church Practice and Liturgy

Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.  No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say.  But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately.  Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…

Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul.  One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said [ever wonder how he said it?], “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

There are so many things that are revealed to us within these various pericopes of the Bible; I must admit that I find my mind wanting to go in several different directions. But I ‘ll put forth a sincere effort to stay focused on what the title of the article indicates that the content found herein will be. I’ve thought about these things for a LONG TIME, studied them in Bible College/Seminary, but woke up this morning and as I worshipped, felt the desire to put some things down “on paper.”

Truthfully, I suppose that it was something I read yesterday that stoked these embers again. I was reading an About section a church had included on their website, and it read something to the effect of, “And we believe that worship [singing] puts us into the position to receive the preaching/teaching of the Word..” I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed, and I began to think again: Why do we do “church” the way we do it? Why do we hold to the practices/liturgies that we do? And ultimately, why do we call what we do worship?

If you’ve ever studied Church History, the obvious answer to the questions I’ve asked extend all the way back to what is known as the Reformation. For the uninitiated or perhaps I should refer to you as “the blessed,” simply stated, the Reformation was what caused the existence of what we call the Protestant church. A breaking away from the Catholic Church ultimately resulted in what we have today: Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, and so on. The Reformers rejected many of the teachings that the Catholic Church maintained. And after much fighting and bloodshed (even amongst the Reformers themselves), the Protestant Church came to be. But the Reformers retained some of the liturgies and practices of the Catholic system, including the priest.  Only now he was called the Pastor. Insert spooky time travel music…, and we come to the year 2017.

Today, we have divided “church” into everything that comes before the Pastor preaches/teaches, i.e., worship and the “true reason” for our gathering together- The Word. Usually it looks something like this: 3 Songs (A good fast one to get ’em going, then some medium to slow ones to induce “worship”), the offering gets collected, the Pastor preaches/teaches (nowadays there may be a “team” that fulfills this position), prayers are scattered throughout at different points during the “service,” and then you go home. This paradigm has been “successful” for a long time. The trouble is: 1) According to statistics, it’s not working anymore. 2) You don’t find it anywhere in the New Testament.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is awakening the Body of Christ to the reality that we need to change. He is challenging us to prayerfully and humbly reconsider the practices and liturgies that we have made into idols. A mighty Wind of God is sweeping among his people: shifting, moving, changing, reviving, and stirring our hearts to surrender all. And asking those who lead, “Are you willing to relinquish control? Is it success or my heart that you truly seek?” Sometimes, the two are not synonymous.

Perhaps the reason for this “awakening” has come to remind us of what true worship is. Worship is relationship, namely, the perichoretical relationship of the Trinity. And our worship can only be “understood” within the context of this relationship, and our participation in it. It is not something we do apart from God, to get to him, or to get him to come to us. Worship is something we “do” in Him. Although worship may/will be expressed through our actions, it is not merely things that we do: singing, preaching, praying, Bible-study, service, etc… It is who we are, men and women living their lives in Jesus, participating in the very life of the Triune God. That which the Father, Son and Spirit have known from all of eternity has been given to us. Before there were angels, planets or people, there was worship. There is no Step 1, Step 2, Step 3…   Worship is not centered around any aspect of worship or liturgical practice, it is centered around the person of Jesus and his union with his people. And it can look different in every gathering as the Spirit provides the order.

As worship is relational, derived from the mysterious perichoretical union the Church has with the Triune God, our coming together is not designated to the control of any individual other than the Spirit of God. While there are leadership gifts,  the shepherds/pastors who feed, watch, care, and guard the souls of God’s people are but one expression. According to scripture, God has also placed within the Body Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, and Evangelists, who are also to equip the people of God for the work of ministry. And as we see in the passages above, when the Church comes together it is not only the “office gifts” that are used, but each member functions according to the grace that God has allotted. We do not have to fear that chaos will ensue, but can trust that as we humbly submit to one another, the Spirit will provide decency and order and correction if needed. To put it in today’s vernacular, “This ain’t no one man show.”

Before I am accused of denying that biblical instruction/teaching has no place in our gatherings, let me say that it should be obvious to anyone familiar with me or acquainted with my writings that I believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” As I have said so many times before, I’ve spent a lot of money and time acquiring my degree in Biblical Studies/Theology. I do however question the way we have limited the means by which the “impartation” of the Word is expressed. 

While authentic worship most definitely involves receiving the Word of God, I fear that we have failed in that we have come to see preaching and the “Bible-study” as the only means by which this is to be accomplished. It would seem that we have forgotten Paul’s exhortation to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” We must remember that the Bible itself declares that the gifts within the Body are also they that strengthen, encourage, and declare God’s Word. The Word of God, engrafted, alive, and expressed in and through the hearts of believers, holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

I suppose I could talk about buildings, home churches, small groups, etc…, but I think all of that will work itself out as we sincerely seek the Lord concerning these matters. After all, the “where” of worship is any place that two or three gather in his name. So, when it comes to rethinking church practices and liturgies, may we be willing to lay everything we think we know at his feet and trust him to mold us after the kind intentions of his heart.

 

 

 

 

 

Marked

I guess I’ve just about ran the spectrum when it comes to “eschatological paradigms.” I think a lot about prophecy, the last days, etc…, and it’s kind of been like watching a trial on “Court TV”: all the arguments sound believable until you hear the next one. I’ve also been told that we shouldn’t think too much about these things, and I understand where most of the folks who say that are coming from. But then as I read scripture, I observe that the Holy Spirit has given a considerable amount of space to the topic; so, I know it’s something that at the least He wants us to consider. And so, lately I’ve been thinking about the “mark of the beast” and the “seal of God” as mentioned in the book of Revelation. What does it mean, and why should we even care?

I guess at this point I could say, “I don’t know,” conclude this article, and everybody go and have a good life. But I do think these things matter. And while I don’t “know” for sure, I’d like to make a few comments that I think are applicable to us “upon whom the end of this age has come.”

WE ALL WILL BE MARKED. In one way or another, each of us will be “marked” as this present age comes to a close. A “designation of ownership” is going to be signified within each of our hearts and perhaps upon our bodies as well. It is not an event that will sneak up on you, surprise you, and you wake up one morning to find: “Oh no!! I’ve taken the mark of the beast.” Or, “What is this mysterious seal of God on my forehead?” No, each of us will be marked because the lives we have lived, the decisions we have made, and the disposition of our hearts will reveal us to belong either to the “Lamb who was slain before the foundations of the world” or “the lawless one whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” And whether it be a bar-code, implant, tattoo, visible seal, or an invisible brand upon our very hearts, make no mistake; even now, the truth of who(se) we are is being made manifest.

It’s true, some of us can get carried away when it comes to these things, and I most definitely concur that our intimate attention is to be centered upon the person of Jesus. But I also believe that part of the “Revelation of Jesus” includes prayerful, humble consideration and discussion concerning these matters, with an understanding that we need each other as none of us has fully comprehended “the entire counsel of God.” When it comes to being “marked” I do believe that perhaps the most important thing we need to keep in mind is that a mark or a seal simply reveals to whom or what we belong. And we all belong to someone.

I have a friend, a pastor in Maryland (Timmy Mac!!) who I talk with about these things from time to time. And he told me something the other day that I thought was so perfect, truthful, and eloquent (the kind of thing I wish that I had said). I’ll share it with you: “It takes a lamb’s heart and the seal of God on the forehead to recognize and resist dragon talk.”

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “Marked”

#275

We all like the Psalms, the way David and others so poetically describe God and their relationship with him. But it’s another thing altogether to experience those truths, to own them, and know them. I guess that’s the way it is with the Bible as a whole. I mean really, you can know a lot about it and still know nothing at all. True biblical knowledge, true Theology is relational, and anything short of that is just empty religious gnosis.

I think that we as American Christians are entering a time in which, like never before, we are going to have to experience the reality of the biblical story in our own context or we may fail to survive. The trials, conflicts, and economic uncertainty that lie ahead will require more than an ability to quote scripture and recite biblical promises.  We must know that YES, “Your steadfast love O Lord is better than life.” Our hearts will only experience true peace when, “The Lord is with me, whom shall I fear?” is reality. We need to know that the faithful caring intimacy of God is indeed more valuable than having a fat bank account and a retirement package. And believe it or not, many of the trials we are experiencing right now are the very tools with which the Holy Spirit is making real the things we only think we know.

The reality is that in the Christian life, usually, it is in the midst of conflict that we learn and maturation occurs. The battles we are encountering today are preparing us for the wars still to come. As we walk with God, relational experience makes objective truth subjective reality.  Biblical truth becomes our own as we walk with God and comprehend his love in our own experience. It’s how we come to “know that we know.”

“…even though you are temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials and temptations. This is no accident—it happens to prove your faith, which is infinitely more valuable than gold, and gold, as you know, even though it is ultimately perishable, must be purified by fire. This proving of your faith is planned to bring you praise and honour and glory in the day when Jesus Christ reveals himself. And though you have never seen him, yet I know that you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him—the salvation of your own souls.”

 

TV, Seduction, Balaam, and Boiling Frogs

“…Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. (Rev. 2:14)

Lately, my wife and I have been praying more than ever about what we watch on TV. We’ve asked God for the willingness to let him change our viewing habits and for the grace to act once he speaks to our hearts. His response was immediate and there have been casualties! There were series that we had invested a lot of time in  (too much time) that have not made the cut. There has been no real discussion between us about which shows have to go, its been more like we’ll be right in the middle of an episode, and we’ll both just KNOW. The Holy Spirit is cool like that!

As I’ve thought about my relationship with TV, why it even matters, and the possible effects and consequences of our interaction; it was the story of Balaam and Balak that came to mind. For those of you who may not know the story: Balaam was a “prophet for hire” waaaaay back in the day. Balak, the king of Moab, had become afraid that the people of Israel were going to destroy him as they had several other kings. So, Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel and assure his victory. Long story short, Balaam was unable to utter any kind of curse over the Israelites, but what he did do was concoct a brilliant trap by which Balak could undermine Israel by causing them to defeat themselves. Seduction.

There is no doubt in my mind that Television and entertainment as a whole for that matter can be a tool by which the Enemy of our souls seeks to seduce and entrap us. And like never before, we as followers of Jesus need to seriously consider whether or not the TV shows (including the NEWS) we watch are causing and/or contributing to us introducing spiritual stumbling blocks into our own lives. Are the things I am willfully allowing into my heart, mind, and home hindering my walk with God? Is it hurting my family?

I can’t give you a list of shows that “you can’t be Christian and watch at the same time.” That’s something you’re going to have to work out between you and God. But seriously, how much of what’s passing as entertainment today can we embrace before we begin to suffer spiritually?  How desensitized have I already become to the things that grieve the Spirit of God? To what degree am I at ease with the seduction? Remember the anecdote of the boiling frog.

I’ve got a long way to go, but I want to go all the way. And I’ve learned that sometimes, the first step is saying, “Lord, help me to at least be willing to be willing to let you rule over every part of my world.” It’s frightening, but sometimes I wonder if the truth is that I doubt whether or not God can truly be enough to satisfy my soul should he  remove the things by which I am seduced and to which I have become addicted. God forgive me for making you so small!!

 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.  Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him…Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.