Thursday, August 30, 2012

The axle upon which the NT turns is--
  On earth as it is in heaven, Matthew 6.10
This is the principle by which Jesus prays, tells parables, performs miracles and teaches about the kingdom of heaven.  He sees the connection between heaven and earth.  So He has given us the opportunity to do the same.

  The spirit upon which the kingdom of heaven thrives is the Lord's Prayer for His own.  In this prayer we see how Jesus lived such a powerful life.  In Luke 10 Jesus had sent 70 disciples out to the places where He would soon come.  He gave them nothing to carry: no bag, no shoes, no greeting for anyone along the way.  They were to announce that the kingdom of heaven has begun.

  The 70 came back with joy, saying even demons obey them.  So in chapter 11 Jesus' own disciples ask Him how He prays.  They knew the power was not in the exact words the 70 disciples had said, the power was in the prayer of Jesus for them. So the disciples do not say, 'Lord, teach us to say what they said', they say, 'Lord, teach us to pray.'

  Jesus gives them 3 things to say.

  First, open your soul to God.  This is like the inhaling of Adam when the Lord God breathed into him, opening his soul to the breath of God.  Jesus opens the Lord's Prayer by opening His soul to the Father.  He says, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  He is our Father, the One who created the universe.  When we open our souls to Him, we receive the understanding of who He is.  Paul put it like this--
  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
  nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able
  to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  You can see that Paul has opened his mind to the greatest, widest, deepest vision of which he is capable: life and death, past and present, height and depth, or any created thing.  David had said--
  How majestic is Thy name in all the earth,
  Who has displayed Thy splendor above the heavens.
God in  Christ would be incomprehensible were it not for the Holy Spirit giving us these words.  We can read and meditate on the Scriptures to glow open our minds as flowers open to the sun in spring.  The experience of many is that God opens the mind gradually through images or impressions that mean a great deal to that person.  This is like an individual kiss, from spirit to spirit.

  Paul tells the Philippians to focus on these things--
  Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
  whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy
  of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

  Second, as God has opened our minds to fill us to the fulness of Christ, so we cultivate that fulness with His words.  We should breathe in His promises, breathe out our circumstances.  In His prayer, Jesus then tells us what He wants us to focus on daily--
  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
  on earth as it is in heaven.
  Give us this day our daily bread
  and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.

  The breathing in is symbolized in--forgive us our debts--the breathing out is--we also forgive our debtors.  The breathing in is--do not lead us to temptation--the breathing out is--deliver us from evil.  The kingdom has come in Christ, do His will, depend on Him daily, and forgive.  These are the things we can concentrate on every day as an act of faith.

  And third, we must live this way.  When we make the kingdom, His will, forgiveness and daily faith our habit, we will be surrounded by the atmosphere of God.  God will not be an abstract being but the atmosphere which we breathe.  Jesus did this and says something similar to it.  He says to do the will of His Father is His meat and drink.  It is what sustains Him as food and drink did every day.  Jeremiah says--
  Thy words were found and I ate them,
  and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.
To believe, to forgive, to do His will every day is to take possession of His blessings.  This is how we appropriate what He has promised us.  It is how we see heaven in everything on earth.  Jesus says in Matthew 6--
  Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.
That gathers in a few words all of what we have been saying.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Acts 9.27 Barnabas brings Saul to the apostles, to show them Saul has been converted.  In Acts 13.2 the Holy Spirit calls Barnabas and Saul for the work of the ministry, with the laying on of hands.  In Acts 15.2 Paul and Barnabas go together to the apostles at Jerusalem to settle a dispute.  Paul and Barnabas were brothers in the Lord, ministry partners, fellow travelers and yet they divided.  Because Mark deserted Paul in Pamphylia, Paul does not want Mark with him.  Barnabas is willing to forgive Mark, Paul is not.  So these two brothers in the Lord, these two spiritual warriors  Paul and Barnabas split apart in Acts 15.39.

  This is a tragedy, but one that will be redeemed by the Lord.  After Barnabas and Mark go to Cyprus, Mark comes to Paul when he is imprisoned in Rome.  Paul says Mark was even an encouragement to him, Colossians 4.10. 11.

  If there is one passage in the NT which God may have meant to unite all Christians--Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal-- it undoubtedly is the Lord's Supper.  And yet, the church is tragically divided.  Possibly we could look at John 6 in a way to unite Christians, as Paul and Mark were united in Rome.

  When Jesus speaks of His body and blood, even disciples who looked Jesus in the eye, who heard His voice, even then and there they leave Him.  His words in John 6.48-65 are like looking directly at the sun--we cannot do without the sun but to stare at it will make us blind.  Maybe we can walk in the light of these words and yet see what we have not seen.

  Jesus will begin this entire passage in John 6.39 by saying, that of all that He has given Me, I lost nothing... and HE will end this passage by saying in John 6.65, no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.  In between, in John 6.46 Jesus says, Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.  Jesus is referring to Himself, saying only in Him can anyone see the Father.  He will say the same thing to Philip in John 14.8.  What all of this means is that between 6.39 and 6.65 Jesus will show us how we come to the Father who is in heaven.

  The Father has chosen, Christ will redeem, and the Father will bring us home.

  I have said in a previous post that the Bible has 4 viewpoints--God speaking to God, God speaking to men and women, men and women speaking to God and men and women speaking to each other.  We are used to Jesus speaking to His disciples as He is God.  We are used to the disciples speaking to each other.  But in the NT we have a few rare glimpses of God speaking to men and women from His own point of view.  This is one of those moments.

  When Paul addresses his letters to those in certain cities, he calls them saints.  He does so because they have been redeemed and sanctified by the blood of Christ.  When the Father 'sees' them, He sees them as saints.  When Paul writes to the saints at Ephesus, he says, But God, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ...and raised us up with Him and  seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Eph. 2.4.  How can we be seated in the heavenly places and yet be here on earth?  From God's point of view we are with Him and in Him in heaven.  This is because God is not in time; He sees our future as our spiritual state, not as something which has not yet happened.

  Now let's go back to John 6.  When we partake of the bread and wine of communion, from God's point of view it is His Son's flesh and blood taken into us.  So when the Father sees us, He does not see our flesh, He sees His Son's perfect resurrected flesh.  When we take the wine, the Father does not see our corrupted blood, He sees His Son's perfect blood poured out for us, in us.  We are received into the Father's presence because of His Son's presence in us.

  Here on earth, that bread and wine do not become Christ's earthly flesh and blood, they are seen as His flesh and blood by the Father through God the Spirit in heaven.  So, from the Father's point of view Jesus can say, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if any man eats of this bread, he shall live forever and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh, John 6.51.  What Jesus has done is come down from heaven (I am the living bread that came down from heaven); He met us here (If any one eat of this bread); and then He takes us to heaven (he shall live forever).

  When we die and are resurrected to heaven, standing before God, He does not see our sinful flesh, He sees His Son's flesh which we took into ourselves in the form of communion bread.  When we stand before God, He does not see our corrupt blood, He sees His Son's blood which we took in the form of communion wine.  This is what is meant in Eph. 1.7 when Paul says, in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.

  Through us, in us God sees Christ who fills all in all.

  So Jesus says this with a nearly blinding sheen when He says, He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in Him.  The heavenly life of the Father, which was given to the Son, is not given to us, as the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who east Me, he shall also live because of Me, John 6.57.

  This is how all Christians can be one, as Jesus and the Father are one, John 17.11.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The large institutional churches are losing members by the millions.  The Roman Catholic church has so many buildings, so many priests and nuns but few Catholics come to mass.  France has 48 million people who say they are Catholic and 6 million say they practice their faith.  The Episcopal Church is losing membership rapidly, too.  In the US, the Episcopal Church enrollment numbers make it resemble a small denomination.  Membership in the Presbyterian churches is down 50% from decades past, and they are only typical.

  Can we say something about what is happening, which might lead out of this situation?

  Let's see if we can.  The large institutional churches always taught their own foundational theology.  If we can think of it as a house in a storm, with doors and windows locked so the storm cannot get in, we might understand the issue.  Members can feel secure within the walls.  The basic idea of a system of thought is that it promises, if you adhere to its' tenets--if you stay within its' walls--you will be secure. An example is, if you are good you will prosper; if you are not good you will not.  This is much of the advise Job's counselors gave him.  The foundational system promised security as they always were about the history of that denomination.

  However, if the storm outside--the culture and society--were to ever invade the house, the system then fails.  As long as the denomination taught their own religious system the people were protected, they got some relief on Sunday.  But when the denomination begins to teach what the world is saying, being inside is no different than being outside in the storm.  People don't feel any relief.  They come into the church to get away from society and culture, but if the culture invades them on Sunday, they have no refuge.

  So they no longer believe in the religious system they have been taught.  The walls come down, as they did at Jericho.  Once the people have been abandoned by the church, they scatter.

  Now if a church cannot enable members to find Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, the people are caught between a system to which they no longer cling and a savior whom they cannot find.  Nowadays so many clergy don't really believe in what their church has traditionally taught, so their ministry is the boomerang that simply flies back in their face.  They end up teaching about themselves and their own opinions.  Attendance falls, people are lost and scattered.  So the situation is like struggling on a rope bridge between two mountains--it's as shaky to go back as it is to go on.

  The system no longer protects, but they cannot find Jesus.

  Now the larger churches have become like small ones in attendance and budgets and influence.  Small groups break away,they gain members, they spread Christianity out across the country like blown leaves in autumn.

  If these smaller churches enable people to find Jesus, they will thrive without becoming large.  They won't grow because they don't do the work of evangelism.  Spreading the gospel requires being in contact and fellowship with those who differ from you, those who do not believe what you believe.  Remember when Jesus ate with sinners and immoral women and Pharisees and tax collectors?  In small churches this mingling with the world rarely happens.  The dynamic so often is, if you are not like us, you won't like us.  When the gospel says, Go out into the world, we withdraw.
  So it's a yo-yo dilemma.  The larger churches rise up to become meaningless, the people fall away for small and private places.

  This is painfully ironic because a few decades ago, large organizations like the Southern Presbyterian Church joined the northern Presbyterian affiliations through difficult compromise.  If they gained anything, they lost it when faithful members went off to the PCA or the OPC or the ARP.  Whatever had been gained is now lost.  If budgets and programs were combined, the presence of God was lost.  We tried to combine to be bigger only now to separate to be smaller. 

  Something like this is happening to the Episcopal Church.  The EC in America once was large and thriving; now that it is liberal and no longer Christian, Episcopalians have gone to affiliations in Africa and Asia.  The small Reformed Episcopal Church is gaining those members and priests; the Anglican Church in America is gaining members and buildings; churches that specialize in Anglo-Catholic tenets are growing.

  In the Reformation, the Church of England had Calvinism on one side and Romanism on the other.  Anglicans found their identity in the pressure from both sides resulting in a uniquely English church with an English spirituality.  But in America that situation does not exist.  The Episcopal church is now confronted by the same unbelieving generation, secular society and antagonistic government that every church in the US faces.  The pressure is not from the sides, but from the front.  The issue no longer is,Can we get along, but it is, What do we believe?  The Episcopal Church in the US will have to face unbelief, the failure of liberalism, the economy and a hostile government.  What this means is the EC will divide along the lines of doctrine rather than personality  Some churches are returning to the creeds, the Reformation confessions, the 1662 Prayer Book, the 39 Articles  and the ancient counsels.

  The issue now is, how will a church perform evangelism in the society without compromising to the views of that society?

  The way we've always done it in the past is through young families.  Bring young couples into the church so their children will be raised where the parents attend.  This doesn't always guarantee the children will follow in the parents' footsteps, but it is what most churches did.

  The way God addressed this was to raise up men and women outside the denomination who reminded us all of who Jesus is.  After World War II this was Peter Marshall, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and Bishop Sheen. They reminded us of who Jesus is and therefore who we are.  That put the church in opposition to the world, the flesh and the devil, it purified the church.

  The bridge has to be crossed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I have said the Bible is not like any other book.  I'd like to develop that.  It has been stated by the sages that the Bible is a collection of Jewish allegories.  I think, rather, that poets write allegories with some truth in them.  The Holy Spirit writes truth which resembles poetry.  I don't think the Holy Spirit specializes or expresses Himself in what is fanciful, but in what is true.  The parables of Jesus are not untrue in order to be profound but true in order to be spiritual.

  When I say something which you know is true, you will be likely to believe what I might says on a spiritual level.  If I say something which you know is not actually true you won't believe any spiritual meaning I might derive from it.

  The Greek word lethe means, to forget.  In the Homeric hell, the river Lethe runs through it.  What is meant by that is that to be forgotten is hell to the ancient Greeks.  They always remember the men who died defending the city; if one died dishonorably, that soul would be forgotten.

  In Greek the opposite of lethe is a-letheia, to be true.  If something is not there, it will be forgotten.  if you always encounter something it is true.  If I say it is raining outside, you will encounter that rain wherever you go--it is true.  If I say there is a mermaid in my room named Hermoine, that is false because you won't find her there.

  With that in mind, let's go to the Bible.  The Biblical stories are remembered because they are true; the Greek allegories are not remembered or even believed because they were never true---they are forgotten.  The scholar Bruno Snell wrote a famous scholarly book, The Greek Discovery of the Mind, in which he claims the Greeks ended their belief in the Homeric gods around 700BC.  Today the gods are forgotten.  The Torah has been dated from 1500BC, it is remembered because it is true.

  What all this means is the word of God is that by which the Spirit of God communes with our spirit.  It works within.  As ir radiates the spirit, it overflows until the mind recognizes it, the heart responds to it and the will obeys it (we hope!).

  Let's look at how this works.  An example we might look at is Romans 8--
  There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
How does your rational mind deal with, in Christ Jesus?  How do you get into a man who died centuries ago?  You cannot, however, when the spirit hears these words a resonance occurs by which your spirit communes with and receives the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus.  Now He is not understood as a human frame with an outside skin and internal organs; rather He is divine love clothed with the being of God, the Spirit.  Our spirit can enter His Spirit in the manner in which the wind enters an opened window.

  In Matthew 2 Jesus as a child is taken by His parents from Bethlehem to Egypt.  Then, with Herod dead, Jesus is brought back to Galilee, Matt. 2.19-23.  Why so abrupt?  Because the text is giving our spirit what it needs to believe.  It is not giving our minds what will satisfy every question we might have.  We don't need to know the exact route, the address in Egypt, how Mary felt or how Joseph spoke with God about all of this.  We have what we need as believers.

  This is how the Scriptures work--from inside out--that we would be sent out into the world with faith in our God.

Friday, August 3, 2012

In a world of momentary devices and bloated pleasures, I'm glad we have the Bible.  In this world where concrete cracks and the past disintegrates and souls are abandoned, I'm glad there is the Bible.

  It has remained as it is for centuries, since it was written before it could be altered.  As books go, it is rare.
  The Bible is the only book I know of with four viewpoints--God speaking to God, God speaking to men and women, and men and women speaking to each other.  It is the only book in which God reveals His presence  to conceal His essence.

  The best help in reading the Bible is itself, as it always has the answers for which the reader seeks.  It is written in Hebrew and Greek.  The only ancient languages which produced a grammar and vocabulary list are--you guessed it--Hebrew and Greek.

  The perfect language to contain the thought that God is one who acts is Hebrew, since it is a language of action, not contemplation.  A fine example is Psalm 127--
  Unless the Lord build the house,
  they labor in vain who build it...
The perfect language to convey that God is with us is Greek with its' many prepositions.  For instance, in Ephesians 1--
  You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise...
If you've never read the Bible before, it is best to read about 15 minutes every day but Sunday.  It is very good to take notes in a journal.  The best way to understand the Bible is to begin in January, reading from Genesis to Revelation.  I did this three years in a row, and I found out that the Bible si not as large as it looks.  It contains the same few messages, told over and over by many people in different centuries, but the same message.

  Thinking about what you're reading is better than memorizing what you read.  The Bible is unique in that each time you read it, more of it is revealed to you.  It is not flat like best-selling fiction; it is not for the scholar only like most philosophy; it was written by ordinary people taken into extraordinary circumstances.  The Bible utilizes your imagination, your feelings, your thoughts, and your good sense of what people are like.

  Let's imagine an ancient man sitting at the door of his tent, watching the stars at night.  Looking up, he writes--
  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
If that man were to sit there beneath the stars, the furthest circumstance of his sight and imagination would be the heavens.  As if he could scribe a circle with his finger with himself as the center, the circle would be the heavens, the stars, the boundless deep purple above his head.  He has circled his outward boundary--the heavens--and the center--the earth.

  Genesis 1 is about filling in that circumference with stars, the sun, the planets, birds, fish and animals.  That is the circumference from the sky down to the earth, culminating in a man and a woman.  The universe around us, ourselves within it as the center.

  Genesis 2 is about that man and woman on the earth, to take care of it and to take care of themselves.

  In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve are in the middle of the earth, the Garden of God.  There a serpent talks.  He tells Adam and Eve a lie about God.  Now the Garden has changed from bower to danger.  Adam and Eve have to leave, to go down to a plain in which change can occur.  Without change, Adam could never be released from the curse of disobeying God.  So leaving the Garden was an act of grace by God for Adam's descendants to be released from the curse.  The first Adam could become the second Adam, Jesus of Nazareth, who did not believe the serpent's lie.

  All of this is told in language which is simple yet spoken in pavilions of thought.

  The rest of the Bible is the story of the family of Adam, to which we relate through generation, to the family of Jesus the second Adam, to which we relate through regeneration.

Part Two will be next week...