Friday, December 19, 2008

The Devil, Our Adversary

Chuck Swindoll told the story of how his uncle Zeke walked into a smith shop right after the smith had finished working on a horseshoe. The shoe was not red hot anymore, but it was still cooling down. Zeke walked into the shop and saw the horseshoe sitting on the straw, and picked it up before quickly putting it down again. The smith laughed and said, "Hot, isn't it?" Zeke replied, "No, it just doesn't take long for me to look at a horseshoe."
Funny, but proud. Interestingly, pride is probably the most dangerous sin, but the least talked about. Pride is what caused one of the highest angels to fall, thinking he was like the Most High God, and thus caused humanity to fall when our ancestors were deceived. You could say pride is the worst sin, then.
This post examines the Devil, who is our adversary. We'll look at 1) who he is, 2) what he did, 3) what God did, 4) what the Devil does today, 5) and what our response is to the Devil.
First, Who is the Devil
Does he exist? Yes. 7 books in the Old Testament and all New Testament books talk about him. Christ taught about his existence (Matthew 13:39, Luke 10:18, 11:18)
Is the Devil a person? A person has three aspects: intelligence, emotions, and a will. Satan:
Possesses intellect (2 Cor 11:3, Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning), has emotions (Revelation 12:17, he is angry and wants to make war with followers of Jesus), and has a will (2 Timothy 2:26, the Devil has taken some people captive to do his will).
Further, he is treated as a morally responsible person. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus explains that the eternal lake of fire is prepared for the Devil and demons. Also, when he is described it is with personal pronouns (Job 1).
So if he’s a person, does that mean we can talk to him and communicate with him? Can people talk to Satan or make deals with the Devil? Yes. I read of a Christian leader who met a man deep in the occult on an airplane, who told him they find church names and pastor’s names and pray to Satan that the pastors of all churches in America would fail morally. How encouraging for me! If you have ever dabbled in ouigi boards, tarot cards, seances—stop! These are all modes of communicating with the Devil or his fallen angels. Contacting spirits are direct or indirect forms of appeasing Satan, and giving him a foothold.
Does this mean that, as some of us verbalize, that every time you sin, Satan is personally attacking you? Though the Devil is a fallen high angel, he is not God. Because he is not omnipresent like God, he can’t be everywhere attacking everyone all the time. He doesn’t need to. He has “the flesh” inside you, your sin nature, that desires sin already. This is who the Devil is. Next...
What did the Devil do? If he was once a high ranking angel, and now is the enemy of God, then how did that happen? Ezekiel 28:12–19 speaks of him as a guardian cherub (like the one who guarded the Garden of Eden), and he was the highest of all angels “the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” Imagine that! If he walked into a church service, he would be gawked at because of his beauty, not threatened because of horns and a pitchfork.
Isaiah 14:13–15 tells us he was full of pride, “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” These passages, if read in context, are also about modern day nations or kings Isaiah and Ezekiel and their audiences knew, but as the prophets did many times, these portions are where the prophecy either overlaps with one about something else as well, or breaks away to speak of something else before resuming (See Daniel 9, Matthew 24 as well--Jesus being a prophet too).
See how Satan, the Devil, rebelled? Pause here for a second and take a "selah," (Psalms uses this word to mean "coca break," or "reflect. Stop. Breathe. Think about what just happened.") We're talking about God Almighty creating a high cherub, perfect in beauty and the model of perfection, who snaps and rebels. Let this encourage you if you are trying to live like Jesus and a follower of God--those who seek power will always be able to take advantage of those who seek God. It is because we have different values. If a follower of Jesus responds with power instead of godliness, he must maintain what is successful in that endeavor with power as well. In church, those who follow Jesus will be taken advantage of by anyone who seeks power. It happened to Jesus, and sometimes it is exactly what God wants to happen so He is glorified and we can grow. Think about it...
Next, on this topic, what was God's response? Did He annihilate Satan? Send a redeemer for him like He would do with humanity? He cast him out of heaven, until punishment.

We are still in between the two acts: God casting him out of heaven and God punishing Satan forever.
What The Devil does today:
His names are his major attributes:
54 times the Bible refers to him as Satan, “the enemy; adversary.” He made himself the enemy of God.
All followers of Jesus are enemies of Satan; all who choose not to follow Jesus are pleasing to him
Some other names he has are: Prince of this world (John 12:31); god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4) “has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God;" Ruler of the Kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2). What is the application of these things? Be aware (as 1 Peter 5 warns us): When you chose Jesus, you chose to become Satan’s enemy. I think about this even as I write--I have had to take so many breaks from this post--more than any other, due to coincidental interruptions (kids screaming or malfunctions of some sort). Even consider sickness amongst those serving Christ. Is it coincidence that in creating a foundation for what our congregation believes I have battled sickness related to my voice the last few months?
The Devil notices you as a threat the more you grow in your following of Jesus. When you chose to be involved in church, you chose to be more of a threat to him. When you chose to be a leader in church, you chose again to be even more of a threat. If God led you to be in full-time vocational ministry—you need prayer.
Also, I need to post a warning here: Don’t choose to be a pastor unless you're sure you are called by God to do it. Do it if God calls you. You can serve Him in many ways without being a shepherd of a local church, but don't try to serve in a church on your own strength; only do it if you know God is leading you to do that and He has or is (or is going to really soon) equip you. Without the call of God, there are moments when it is too intense for any man to continue. Believe it! Following Jesus comes with a cross, and there are few who walk that narrow road! I believe we have many in our congregation who are up to the challenge, and as we sang, “A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD.”
Let's keep moving to the names of the Devil, and see how those identify what he does today. Next, note that 34 times the New Testament uses the word “devil,” meaning “slanderer.” He takes something that is true, and changes it just a bit. That's slandering, smearing or adjusting the facts. He is the father of lies. Jesus called him on this in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” It doesn't get any clearer than that. He accuses believers before God day and night (Revelation 12:10). In Zechariah 3:1–2, Zechariah’s eyes are open and he sees Satan standing right beside Joshua the High Priest, accusing him of Israel’s sin before God. The Lord rebuked Satan. After reading this, one might be thinking--aren't Christians supposed to try and convert others?
Why all the talk about how difficult the Christian life and following Jesus would be if you're trying to see people follow Jesus, Nate? A friend of mine told me a great story (Marine Hoorah after this). A Marine recruiter was at a high school recruiting some years ago. He looked around and noticed that all the other branches of the military had significantly more people standing in line for their recruiters, and he had only a couple. He said (which means shouted), “most of you who sign up for the other branches of the US Military will get in. But only a few of you have what it takes to make it through the Marine Corps training to become a United States Marine.” Suddenly he had everyone waiting to sign up. Jesus said wide is the road that leads to destruction and many find it, but narrow is the road the leads to life and few find it. You need to know ahead of time, following Jesus means an enemy who is real will not like you. But we have Almighty God on our side (keep reading).
What else does the Devil do today? He deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9), he is called Lucifer in the King James Version of the Bible, a “nickname” meaning “light bearer/shining one” It is a translation for the Hebrew meaning the same thing, or “star of the morning.” He still tries to be this light, but is false. He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). He will do enough good to get you to do enough evil. He also prowls about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He is the tempter (Matthew 4:1). He introduced sin, and we have a sinful nature pulling us. Remember the Devil doesn't need to always tempt you when you sin (and he can't tempt everyone all the time, since he's not omnni-present). He has an inside agent--our sin nature working against our desire to walk in the Spirit. It keeps pulling us down towards sin, the past, what we have confessed. To read more about this see Romans 6; Galatians 5:16.
One question we wonder is how powerful is Satan to hurt me? Read Job 1, where God gives Satan parameters, "do's" and "don'ts" for what he can and cannot do. In other words, how powerful is Satan? Answer: He is only as powerful as God allows, and not one bit more!
So lastly, what do we do about Satan. Talk to him? Taunt him? Focus on God, not Satan. The Devil would like you to either a) focus too much on him and be distracted, or b) not believe he exists at all and underestimate him. Jesus said “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Focus on that. Colossians 3 tells us "set your mind on things above, not on earthly things." When tempted, James 4:7, tells us how to get out, “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Prevent attacks such as Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” Truth, Righteousness, Gospel, Faith, Salvation, The Spirit and the Word, and prayer. Finally, walk by the Spirit, not the flesh (Galatians 5:16) and be self-controlled and alert (1 Peter 5:8)
"But how do we defeat Satan?" someone might be asking. "Didn't Jesus give us power to defeat him?" No. It is not necessary. GOD HAS ALREADY DEFEATED HIM! His doom is written in Revelation 20:10, "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." They will not be tormenting, but will be tormented themselves forever.
The destination of Satan and his fallen angels is the place everyone who remains an enemy of God will go as well. All who decide to pay for their own sin will go there. No matter how much good a person does, it doesn't count until they repent of the bad they have done. People were never meant to go to hell, and God became human so we would have a sure way to heaven.
Are you reading this and thinking that you want to follow God but have never asked Him for forgiveness for your sin? Why haven't you? Just by believing in what Jesus did when He died instead of us for our sin and was raised from the dead--that saves us from the penalty of our sin. Then follow Jesus.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Angels, Our Allies

(Raphael, Michael the Archangel)
Are Angels real? Do they exist? If they exist, then were they once human beings? Can they reproduce or intermarry with us? With each other? How many are there? How are they organized? All of these and more questions are addressed here.
Rev John G. Paton and his wife were missionaries to the New Hebrides Islands off the coast of Australia, and found themselves surrounded one night be hostile locals who threatened to burn down their house and kill them. The Patons prayed all night, and in the early morning the locals suddenly left for no reason. A year later the chief decided to follow Jesus, and Rev. Paton asked him, what had happened that night. The chief, surprised, turned and asked, "Who were all those men?" Rev. Paton did not know. The chief continued, "Your house was surrounded by men in shiny garments with drawn swords, as if they were circling your house." They had decided not to attack because of that.
A man was a colporteur (seller of Bibles) in Persia, and one day a man confronted him, "Is it legal for you to be selling Bibles?" The man replied it was, and he was correct. But the accoster continued, "Then why are you always surrounded by soldiers?" The man objected, saying he was never accompanied by soldiers as he sold Bibles. The accoster continued, "Yes you are! Three times I have tried to kill you, but each time you are surrounded by soldiers, so I have decided not to kill you." That must have sounded reassuring.
Who were the men with swords at the Paton's hut? Who were the soldiers?
We're going to answer the questions "Who are angels?" and "How are they organized?" and finally "What do they do as our unseen allies?" Of course there are as many pages to fill as the hundreds of millions of "elect" angels Scripture speaks of, and we can't say everything here, so hopefully this will start someone in the right direction who is interested in studying this subject further from a Biblical point of view.
Also, we normally use one passage of Scripture and study it exegetically, but this is a topic of systematic theology, taking the entire canonical-biblical view of angels.
First, Who are angels? Do they exist?
Angels are a part of most ancient cultures and their religious beliefs, though known by various names. Some called them demons, aeons, genii, or a host of other names that describe spirit beings. Plato and Socrates believed in spirits, and Socrates claimed that a spirit accompanied him wherever he went.
The Bible mentions angels in over half the 66 books, at least 228 times, and if you include some passages on the Angel of the Lord it mentions them over 250 times. The Hebrew and Greek words for "angel" mean "messenger" in both languages. They are God's messengers for all His deeds, both helpful and for judgment. Jesus knew and taught on the existence of angels (Matt 18:10, “see that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father who is in heaven,”[1] and 26:53, [Peter had removed a sword and cut off Malchus’ ear] “or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”) A legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers, so twelve times 6,000.
How did they come into existence? Are they former persons who have died? Or were they created? They were created by the Triune God—Col 1:16, “for by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.”
When?—before the creation of the world (Job 38:6–7, [God speaking to Job about the foundation of the earth] “on what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”)
How?—created in holiness (Jude 6, “and angels, who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day”)
Do they have personality? Yes. They have the three (3) qualities necessary for being a person:
1) Intellect (1 Pet 1:12, angels long to look/ desire to look into how a human preaching the gospel through the power of the Spirit leads to salvation); 2) Emotion (Luke 2:13, a multitude appeared suddenly of angels, praising God!); 3) Will (Jude 6, “and angels, who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day”)
What is their nature? They are spirit beings (Heb 1:14, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”)
Reader’s Digest reported how Dr. S. W. Mitchell, a popular neurologist in Philadelphia (in 1970’s), came home and crashed on his bed one night after a long, exhausting day. He heard a knock on the door and answered it, to find a girl poorly dressed who told him her mother was very sick, and begged him to come with her. He was exhausted, and it was cold and snowing outside, but got his coat on and went with her. Upon arriving at the house he found her mother desperately ill with pneumonia, and was able to stabilize her and call for further medical assistance. Before leaving, he complimented the woman on the intelligence and persistence of her daughter. She looked at him strangely, and said, “My daughter died a month ago.” She added, “Her shoes and coat are in that closet.” Dr. Mitchell stood up, perplexed, and went to the closet the mother mentioned, and there hung the very coat worn by the little girl who had brought him to tend to her mother, only it was dry and warm.
Was this an example of an angel assuming the appearance of the woman's daughter, with all the angel was able to observe of that person, so that the mother could be healthy and trust in Christ? It is possible according to Scripture.
Continuing in "who they are," the Bible answers:
Can they reproduce? The Bible tells us they do not reproduce (Mark 12:25, “for when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven”)
They are masculine and in one instance feminine gender (Genesis 18:1–2; Zechariah 5:9 is debated, but probably female angels, two female angelic beings carry the scroll).
They do not die (Luke 20:36, [speaking how cannot marry or be given in marriage in the next life] “for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection”). So they cannot be persons who have passed on from this life to the next. They are distinct from human beings (Psalm 8:4–5, God has made man for a little while lower than the angels). Remember this when in certain Christian circles people like to taunt Satan, a fallen angel, one so powerful Michael the only Archangel would not engage him. James 4 tells us to resist the Devil and he will flee from you. Let God deal with Satan, and us deal with God’s kingdom. For we know that angels have great power (2 Peter 2:11, angels are greater in power and might than we are).

The next question is "How are they organized?"
First, they are innumerable. Hebrews 12:22 tells us, “but you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” Revelation 5:11 says, at the throne are 10,000 X 10,000. 10,000 x 10,000 = 111,110,000. That's hundreds of millions of angels that are around the throne, or "elect," or good angels, not counting those who fell with Satan (one third). There are many hundreds of millions of angels.
How are they organized? Michael is the only archangel named (Jude 9)
There are Chief princes, and territorial Angels (elect and fallen) over domains. Daniel 10:13, is one of the most insightful passages on angelic warfare. Gabriel explains his journey to arrive and answer Daniel’s prayer, “But the Prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for 21 days, then behold, Michael, one of their chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia”). Michael seems to have a special relationship to Israel (Daniel 12:1).
There are Ruling Angels (Ephesians 3:10, “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”)
There are Guardian Angels (Hebrews 1:14, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”). There are angels who watch over adults and children as well. Matthew 18:10 “see that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father who is in heaven”)

Last night when we were coming home from Thanksgiving weekend with family, we were driving on I-20 West, and suddenly a car approached us from the opposite direction in the same lane. I thought at first I saw it wrong, but sure enough it was coming at us 65 mph, as we were heading towards it 65 mph. I flashed my brights and it swerved into the next lane, and thankfully there were two West-bound lanes. We and others called the police and they corrected the driver. We didn't think much of at afterward, and my wife and I laughed, but then we thought of what could have happened. Angels assist God in helping all the time. One of our senior saints told me of how she almost ran into a grain cart on the highway after driving over a hill at 55 mph, and swerved into the oncoming traffic lane to avoid it, and fortunately there were no cars there. She doesn't know how she reacted quickly enough to swerve but it happened--all so fast. Angels are our allies, worshipping who we worship, serving who we serve, and assisting us as God commands to see God's mission of redeeming humanity accomplished, and God getting the glory.
There are Seraphim around God’s throne (Isaiah 6:1–3, Seraphim with six wings flying), and Cherubim, one of whom was placed with flaming sword to guard the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:22–24).
There are the Elect Angels (1 Timothy 5:21, there are elect or chosen angels—those who did not fall, but by Divine Decree were set apart as a remnant just as human beings are elect to be saved for God), and those who fell with Satan, the dragon in Revelation 12:4, “his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to earth.”
(revelation illustrated)
After seeing who angels are and how they are organized, the remaining question is "What do they do as our allies?" They worship who we worship, serve who we serve, and minister to us as believers.
They ministered to Christ, and we receive the blessing of their assistance only as we serve Christ as well. In a sense, we get our AAA rewards for life's roadside assistance (Angel, Angel, Angel) because we are associated with Christ.
For those who do not claim Christ, and are never going to, and are not of the elect, they get no “roadside assistance,” but only directions to the final judgment. The only angels you will see if you don't decide to accept God's mercy in Jesus, but decide instead to pay for your own sin yourself, are the angels pouring out God's judgment at the end. Creation is judged because we were given dominion over it, and our race sinned, and so all creation groans (Romans 8). Why suffer judgment in the end if you can escape it through trusting in Christ, that His death and resurrection pays for everything you owe?
The angels Predicted Christ's birth (Luke 1:26–33), announced it (Luke 2:13), protected the baby (Matthew 2:13), strengthened Christ after temptation (Matthew 4:11), prepared to defend Him (Matthew 26:53), strengthened Him in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43), Rolled away stone from tomb (Matthew 28:2), announced the Resurrection (Matthew 28:6)
Because of our serving Christ, angels also minister to us as followers of Jesus. They have a general ministry of aiding (Hebrews 1:14, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”). They Observe Christians’ experiences (1 Corinthians 4:9, “we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men”). 1 Timothy 5:21, our charge to use our gifts are made with angels as witnesses. Those who swore to lead and shepherd God's people, we have made that in the presence of angelic witnesses. It is not to be taken lightly.
They encourage in time of danger (Acts 27:23–24, “For this very night, an angel of the God whom I love and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid Paul, you must stand before Caesar and behold God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.”). They are interested in evangelistic effort of Christians (Luke 15:10 “they rejoice at one sinner coming to repentance!”). In Acts 8—Philip had assistance from APS—Angelic Positioned Satellite, an angel instructed Philip on how to find the Ethiopian Eunuch—south on the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza! Angels care for righteous at death (Luke 16:22—Lazarus the beggar was carried away by angels; Jude 9, the conflict between Michael and Lucifer was over the body of Moses).
Angels are seen praising God in Luke at Jesus' birth, announcing His resurrection after He was crucified for all the sin of those who will believe, and in Revelation 5 they still praise the lamb Who was slain! Are they interested in God's mission or what!
As I said earlier, the sad truth for any who reject following Jesus is that angels will only minister to you with God's judgment. They are messengers of God's judgment (Genesis 19:13, Revelation 14:6–7), inflict punishment (Acts 12:23), and act as reapers in the separation at end of the age (Matthew 13:39).
What should our response be to this posting on angels? If you already know the Lord, be encouraged, and remember these passages that show God has everything taken care of, and protects us and guides us. We don't need to focus on spirit beings, but on the mission of God's heart in reaching the lost people and training the found, and glorifying God. If you don't follow Jesus, start following Him today by confessing your sin and believing in what He did in His death and new life, and you will have new life too. Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." As Luke 15 tells us angels rejoice, make them throw a party for you today.

[1] All Scripture here is from the NASB version of the Bible, except for my own translations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Church in the Church: We Are One, Ephesians 4:1–6, pt 1

Destination. Do you know where you are going? Do you know how to get there? Are you sure you're not taking something for granted on the way? I recently attended a wedding and reception where a key member of the wedding party was an hour late to the reception. It turns out he took for granted that the route from his home to the wedding would be the best route back to the reception near his home. It cost him over an hour of extra driving. That person, unfortunately, was me!

In this blog I've included the topic of "The Church in Marriage," and now want to give attention to "The Church in the Church." Above is a sculpture that shows two hands crossing a great divide to join forces for a common goal. The Church is much more this than any organization on earth, because it is the only God-made organization since He formed the nation Israel.
Sometimes when we try to "do church" and fulfill God's call in our lives, we forget about how we relate to others in the body. We get so focused on the vertical that the horizontal is forgotten. The Ten Commandments are divided evenly between our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with others, even though they interact far more than they are divided.
Get this: To God, the way we accomplish His will is as important as doing His will.
Ephesians 4:1–6 says (NIV), "1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
First, in this entry, we will see what to do: live worthy of your calling. Second, in the following entry, we will see how to do it.
The Ephesians had been called to something, and they were instructed to live worthy of it. What is a Christian’s call? This a very important question, because if we are going to live worthy of the call of God on our lives, then we must know what we are trying to live worthy of. Right?
If I had to summarize Ephesians up to this point with one phrase for each chapter, it would look something like this:
Ephesians 1, election, calling for salvation
Ephesians 2, by grace through faith we were (2:10) “created in Christ to do good works.”
Ephesians 3, Paul explains his own role as a responsible called Christian
Ephesians 4, now he urges the Ephesians to do the same—don’t take your election for granted.
v. 1, “live a life worthy of the call you have received,” In other words: Live with gratitude that you did not get what you deserved. What do we deserve? According to the Bible, all mankind deserves death and hell because of our sin (not just sins, but sin itself that is in our DNA). If Jesus had not come and offered Himself for that sin debt, we could look forward to a death far worse than His, and lasting forever. Yet He did, and all who believe in Him and what He has done will be saved from what we deserve. In light of this, we should have gratitude for what He has done. It is this that Paul has in mind when he says to live worthy of what call we have received. For the call was not just to go and do the Lord's work, but it was in conjunction with salvation through faith in Jesus.
Look at the background. Paul wrote this from prison, telling the truth in verse 1, "as a prisoner of the Lord." Why was he a prisoner of the Lord, and not of Rome? He believed that the Lord had called him to that Roman prison and suffering so that people would hear the good news of Jesus. He was right. Acts 9:15–16 describes Paul's call from Ananias, directly from Jesus, "15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” How would you like to have a call like that?
"Yeah, Nate. It's God."
"Yeah, God?"
"I'm going to make you suffer so that people can hear about me."
(dial tone)
You too? Next time we complain about our "lot in life," remember Paul's call. More amazingly, Paul fulfilled his call. Are you fulfilling yours? Driving a car, a job, a house to go home to, family--these are all more than what Paul had and he fulfilled his call. In chapter 3 he ended with a doxology (meaning a praise to God), "20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." If Paul could worship God and fulfill his call with praise while suffering so much, we can worship the Lord with our lives and
In the movie Saving Private Ryan, the captain and his troops all die so that they can send a U.S. Army private named Ryan home to his mother, Ryan being her only remaining son. With his last breath, the dying captain tells Private Ryan, "Earn this." What did he mean? He meant to live a life worthy of the men who sacrificed their lives so he could live. An entire unit of the Army died for one man! Private Ryan is shown as a grandfather with his family at the dead soldiers' graves many decades later. He sobs, kneeling down beside their tombstones, saying how he hopes he has lived a good life. He got it!
How much more should we, as those who God Himself died for, live worthy of the precious Son of God's sacrifice so we could live forever.
Are you living worthy of what Jesus did for you? That’s how we’re supposed to respond. Not floating through life until Jesus comes or we go. Some people have no idea how to be thankful. Sometimes you give someone a card or present and you would think by their response that they were waiting for it! They thought they deserved weekly or daily cards or presents!
We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to do good works.
So, you who are called and saved, are called by God to do something. Live worthily—gratefully!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Church in Marriage, pt 3

Here we come to the Church in marriage part 3. Again, Ephesians 5:21, "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ," is the verse that sets the background for the rest of the chapter and the beginning of chapter 6. Keeping this in mind, and how Paul has already told the wives to apply this towards their own husband in respect to him (v. 33 in mind), we come to the husband's role.
In v. 25–30, Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church Objection: How can you command someone to love? Because it is agape love (agapao), the love that is applied by our intellect and our will, not just our emotions. It is a love that feels, but more so a love that does. It is unconditional. This is the same word for love used in Lk 6:27 “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you," and in v. 25, “as Christ loved the church” past tense. Jesus Christ showed love; He acted. To what extent should a husband imitate Christ by loving his wife? Jesus said, "greater love hath no man than . . .(fill in the blank)" That's right, even give up your life for your wife. THIS IS HOW YOU ARE TO FEEL AND DO TOWARDS THAT WOMAN WHO SHARES YOUR BED AND YOUR CHILDREN. What does it say in verse 25? "and gave himself up for her." Here's an example of how that looks in our capitalist society:

(hopefully you're laughing at this. If not, then . . . yeah)
In 8 yrs counseling as a pastor to adults, every marital problem can be chased to one of two things: 1) a wife is not submitting herself to her husband and respecting him; or 2) the husband is not loving his wife.
Paul spent twice as much ink on a husband’s role of loving his wife, than he did of a wife’s role for loving her husband.
Why?: 1) he has partially explained it already, because it is an outflowing of what all of us are to do: submit to one another. 2) he understood that the most difficult position with the greatest responsibility is the leadership position.
Jesus and all of His disciples except one lost their lives in unnatural, cruel deaths because of their leadership position, and their unconditional commitment to the Lord.
Every time you submit yourself to someone in the body of Christ, you give them tremendous power. Power always tempts us towards sin. Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power!”[1]
Why do some husbands mistreat their wives? Because they can.
But we, Christian men, use that freedom of leading your wife and family spiritually to live an example of unconditional love. Martin Luther said, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”[2] He was hitting the nail on the head.
Unconditional love is hard for men to do; it doesn’t always come naturally. Many men use their friends for their own gain, some prefer not to show any display that would allude to love's existence, and some men have never been shown unconditional love. Some men equate love with sex and physical expressions of love, but that is hardly what Christ displayed for us. The Bible wants husbands to give our wives more than our bodies. God commands us to give up everything for her, in the same way Jesus led by example and gave up everything.
But it’s what your wife needs more than anything else in marriage besides her eternal salvation from the Lord.
The question to ask is not "How much do I need to love my wife." The question to ask is, "How much do I want my wife to respect me and follow my leadership." Show me a man who loves his wife like this, and his wife will become the envy of all women everywhere. No question, she will follow his leadership; she will respect him, and she will grow spiritually.
What does it look like?
5:25 says, “like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
and verse 28 says husbands are to love their wife as, “as their own bodies,” Wow! Another example of the high standard! See Luke 6:31, "Do to others, as you would have them . . . (fill in the blank)" Yep.
Notice at least three stages in which a husband is to follow Jesus' example with his bride. (Are we man enough?):
1. V. 25, sacrifice
2. V. 26, purification
3. V. 27, presentation
From the incarnation of Jesus to the Cross He died on, everything was for saving lost sinners through His sacrifice, purifying a bride fit to be in His presence (free from sin), and eventually we (a.k.a. "the church," "the bride") will be presented to Him.
Then let's zoom out: The marriage is the buildling block of the family; families are the building blocks of a church. Marriages should be so strong in our churches that the world looks and says, “I want what you have.” Joe Aldrich, in his book, Lifestyle Evangelism, tells how important a family and then a church are to our witness: “The two greatest forces in evangelism are a healthy church and a healthy marriage. The two are interdependent.”[3]
Now the application. Zoom back in. How are you doing? Christians overall are not any better nowadays than non-Christians many times. Our divorce rates are climbing (partially because our marriage rates are higher among Christians, but still), our empty nesters are leaving their spouses, and many marriages are struggling quietly.
If you're reading this and saying to yourself, "If my wife would respect me, I would love her," you're not thinking of the respect Jesus received while on earth, yet he loved anyway. If you're a wife reading this and thinking, "I'll start respecting him the day he has a heart and shows me more than a dozen roses to apologize or get physical," then you too are not thinking about how Jesus submitted Himself to His Father's will, knowing it would cost Him everything, and in the end He is the Name above all names. Husbands focus on your part, and wives on yours.
The application is not "you first!" no "you first!" no "you first!" no "you first!" Someone has to start the healthy cycle up. You, whoever you are, if you are redeemed and a follower of Jesus--you do your part and trust God to work in your partner's heart.
So the proper application is this: Don’t wait for the other person and keep score. Willingly submit yourself to God's word whether a husband or a wife, no matter what the other person is doing.
There is exception in the case of abuse, but if two rational, "normal" people are in mind, just do your part and watch God work.
What if I'm reading this and thinking "Nate, you're full of it. I don't understand how you can be so out-dated and ask people to do this stuff." Not me. I'm communicating what the Bible says. (we don't know the "why," but we do know the "what," see part 2).
For you who do not follow the teachings of Jesus, submission begins with submitting yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ and believing in Him for salvation. Follow Jesus and trust that His act of love for the church was for you too, dying on the cross and rising again. Then, trust Him again with your marriage.
One parting thought: Both roles of a husband and of a wife go outside our comfort zones, but they are how God has designed our marriages to work. Growth always involves the "C" word--change. It involves self-sacrifice. James Calvert, missionary in the 1800s to the cannibals of Fiji, was traveling to Fiji when the captain of the sailing vessel tried to dissuade him from continuing, “you will risk your life and all those who are with you if you go amongst such savages.” Calvert replied in a statement worth memorizing, “We died before we came here.”[4] Incidentally, Calvert had enormous success in seeing many people come to faith in Christ in Fiji, and continued to help them with building their government.
Galatians 2:20 tells us, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me," (The NET Bible). We died already with Christ! Now let's follow Jesus!

[1] John C. Maxwell, Leadership 101: Inspirational Quotes & Insights for Leaders, (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books), 149.

[2] George Sweeting, Who Said That?, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 412.

[3] Joe Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1993), 20.

[4] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, ([digital copy]: Bible Communications, 1979), s.v. “sacrifice.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Book Review, The Shack, by William P. Young

Since July of 2008 or earlier, one book has held the coveted top place on the New York Times Bestseller list for trade paperback fiction (see
The Shack, written by William P. Young, tells the story of Mack, and how he suffered under a father who was an abusive alcoholic growing up. If his background weren’t bad enough to drive a man towards rock bottom, Mack suffers even more from a recent loss, when his daughter went missing.
One day, years after the tragic events, Mack slips and hits his head, then receives an invitation from God to go back to the shack where his kidnapped daughter Missy’s trail left off, and meet God there.
Mack does meet God, or Papa, as she is called. Yes, she. The old, wooden, run down shack is transformed into the most pleasant cabin by a river Mack could imagine, with sunny days, a beautiful garden, fish waiting to be caught and eaten, Papa continuously cooking in the kitchen and serving him, and the entire Holy Trinity is there as well. The purpose of the visit is because Mack needs healing, not just from the pain of his missing daughter, but also the unresolved pain of his childhood.
Papa is portrayed as an African-American woman, first to defy the stereotype of a Caucasian/Anglo God who has an old white beard, kind of like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings; second, because Mack is not ready to see God as Father because of Mack’s horrible experience with his own father. God contextualizes his messages all throughout the Bible and today in different cultures, and this is therapeutic for Mack in the book, but God never appeared other than a male in Scripture.
Jesus is the most accurately portrayed member of the Holy Trinity in this book. Jesus even looks Jewish. Surayu, the Holy Spirit (a name from another language) is a woman/spirit. Young paints the Spirit as the most difficult member of the Trinity to put in a box. She is full of color, phases in and out of focus, and travels as a spirit would, as opposed to the other members of the Trinity who are human beings to Mack.
What do I think of The Shack? I have recommended it as a good read for those who need healing from a significant loss, as a starting point. If you read this book alone, you will have an incomplete understanding of the biblical view of the Trinity, at best. The patient compassion of God in dealing with our hurt is well represented here, as is the reminder that God felt deep pain when God the Son died for the sin of the world (not just sins, but sin itself). There is no doubt, this book will help heal all who have been wounded and are limping because of it.
On the theology of the book, I emphasize to the reader that The Shack should not be considered as a tool for studying sound biblical theology; neither do I think Young had that in mind. It is a tool for healing deep pain and loss. Whenever we read an author’s work and he has God explaining theology, and whenever that theology sounds logical or rational, we are tempted to take it at face value. But mature Christians must always compare it to Scripture and the complete biblical and systematic theology of the Bible. In light of this, I must point out some pages that contain theology to watch out for:
First, on page 99, Papa explains that Jesus never used His deity while on earth, but always acted out of His humanity. He could have used his powers as God the Son, but He didn’t. He performed miracles because he fully lived out his relationship of love with the Father as God wants every human to do. Implied is that any human can do anything Jesus did while on earth, if he only has a close enough relationship with God. Mack asks about healing the blind, and Papa replies that Jesus depended on God and trusted God’s life and power to work in Him and through Him. Then he states, “Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.” What is the problem with this? Young states, “That came as a shock to Mack’s religious system.” That’s a good thing, and it should come as a shock to our own religious system. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and we can’t have one half Jesus and not the other. Events such as the transfiguration, forgiving the lame man’s sins (something the religious leaders commented that only God could do) were not meant to demonstrate how a human can be used by God. They were meant to show that God had become human. He did not use His powers at times, but He could have called 10,000 angels and they would have come to their Lord’s aid on the cross.
There are some parts of the book where Young takes creative license, such as the discussion on p. 106, where God states He limits His knowledge when communicating with people on purpose in order to see it from their perspective. This can be harmless speculation, but be careful of drawing God’s boundaries. The discussion on p. 122 is inconsistent with the creeds of Christianity, because we do hold that the Son proceeds from the Father eternally, and the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son.
However, p. 145 hits the essence of Christian community. Jesus explains that while He is Lord, He has never forced His will upon any of His subjects. He exemplifies reciprocal submission. On p. 149, Jesus tells Mack that submission is something that a person can do only through Jesus being in him or her. That is very accurate.
On p. 182, Jesus tells Mack that He has followers from every religious background and every political or racial background, and then, “I have no desire to make them Christian.” Young is trying to again separate having relationship and community from established religious systems that are there for the sake of religious systems. However, the goal of Jesus was and is to make Christ followers, which is what a Christian means. Jesus says in the preceding paragraph that He isn’t a Christian, and that would make sense, but His genuine followers are.
On p. 206, God tells Mack that He has no expectations of Mack, and therefore Mack can never disappoint Him. God goes on to explain that priorities and hierarchy are dangerous because they can lead to God having only a portion of our lives. This clashes with Jesus’ teachings in the Bible of clear hierarchy (i.e., “if you want to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, be the servant of all,” and the first and second greatest commandments).
This book has a unique theology in many ways because the author spares no tangent to explain community in the Trinity, community between God and humanity, and finally community between humanity and humanity as it should be (i.e., forgiveness). Everyone has pain, and everyone’s pain is real, and it hurts. As you read this book, read it for that purpose, not so much for the theology. This book is therapeutic and emotionally helpful, but don’t use it for sound theology. I would even wager that Young did not intend it for that purpose. Hopefully The Shack will continue to help many people begin a journey of healing towards their loving God.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Church in Marriage, pt 2, Ephesians 5:22-24

The last entry contains general command for submission--everyone must decide to submit themselves to the other members of the body of Christ. Ephesians 5:21 commands this, and sets up the rest of chapter 5 and beginning of chapter 6.
In Ephesians 5:22, Paul directs his attention to wives, the first application for the marriage. The subject is "How does a wife following Jesus apply the command in verse 21 to her marriage?" Or, "What is God's design for a woman to have a happy marriage?"
In vv. 22–24, wives are to submit themselves to their husbands as to the Lord. What is a wife’s command from the Bible to live like a redeemed person in her marriage?
Is it submission? What does that mean? Never having things her own way?
The word upatassw (uJpatavssw [hupatasso]) (no Greek text for this post yet. To see the spelling in Greek, use the teknia Greek font after copying and pasting the words to a Word doc), meaning “to cause to be in a submissive relationship; to subordinate”
It isn’t in v. 22, but it’s meaning is—most English put it there or it would be confusing (part of translating). It is passive, meaning “be subjected/submitted to one another.” In other words, make yourself available to serve one another. A husband cannot command his wife to serve the Lord by submitting. If he does, he has just taken away an opportunity for her to show her loyalty to Christ. Likewise, a wife cannot command her husband to sacrificially love her. In the same way, if she does, she has just taken away his opportunity to initiate submission to his wife and to the Lord.
Is submission Respect; i. e. v. 33 as well? Yes, read 5.33. The meaning is to subject oneself to her husband as well as to respect him. This is important (below).
Who is it towards? What does “as to the Lord” mean?
It is for the Lord, not for the husband.
Husbands—Men! You are not worthy of the kind of submission the Bible asks your wife to give you! Jesus is! It is for Him! (Sorry husbands!)
A man and wife attended a marriage seminar and a chauvinist speaker rallied the men to believe “The man is in charge! 100% of the house! Wives bow to their husbands’ every command!” The husband drove his wife home and she was fuming, but he was excited. Upon arriving home, he told her point blank, “That’s exactly the way it’s going to be around here from now on! You got it? I’m in charge!” After that he didn’t see her for about 2 weeks. After two weeks, he could start to see her just a little bit out of one eye.
Application: I know that some women will read/hear this message and are hearing exactly what they don’t want to hear. I know it sounds like I’m sentencing you, but trust God’s word.
But this answers the question many women keep asking: “How do I have a happy marriage?” Depart from the mindset that says, “I have a right to do what I want to, when I want to do it, no matter what my husband thinks!” “I’m going to dominate him, and he won’t even know it!”
You’re not only going against your husband (and if he’s loving, why are you doing that?) You’re going against the Lord.
This is just as bad as your husband living as if he did not love you, women. Have you ever met an unloved wife? Shrivelled up women inside. Bitter. Just like a disrespected husband. Awful. Requires deep surgery and counseling.
Objection: But Pastor Nate, you’re old fashioned! That’s not the way the world works today!
Reply: Well then I’d better change, because we all know the world is getting better and better, especially in the U.S. Right?
That is the gospel of late 20th century liberal thinking and has resulted in more and more unhappiness. Dr. Laura Schlessinger shares her views on how the philosophy of women placing themselves first has resulted in unhappiness for them and their families. (see for one example).
The mistake often made when looking at Scripture is to start with our current society and assume that we are better off today than when the Bible was written. We read today into the Bible say, for example, "Since women can be CEO's, certainly the idea of submitting at home is out of date." While we are better off in scientific and medicinal advances, as well as in many other areas, we are far behind the time of Christ in many academic, mental, and spiritual disciplines. The contentment of women being better in the 21st Century than it was at the time Paul wrote Ephesians is debated.
We also assume that equality of value means equality of function. God has designed certain aspects of His economy so that we aren't meant to always understand the "why" behind what He does. For example, why were the Levites alone able to touch the Ark of the Covenant? We don't know exactly why (we guess based on their zeal for God earlier), but we know that when a non-Levite wanted to touch it, he was struck dead. Why did God say in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus one for an elder/overseer/pastor of a church to be a man of one woman? (I do think the Biblical pattern allows for some occasional exceptions, and you can't read Scripture and deny that following a Biblical pattern allows for God to raise up women occasionally as pastor/shepherd of His people. We can get into the percentage of men vs women and other questions or points of view in another entry). The point is, we don't know the "why," but we do know the "what," and need to have faith and obey. Again, this is counter-cultural, and I believe there are rare, occasional exceptions, but that is for another blog.
Speaking of "not knowing the 'why,'" I don't even know why Jesus trusted human beings with sharing the great news of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as the only payment for mankind's sin, and that all who believe will have eternal life! I suppose that would be like trusting a toddler to deliver a $1million deposit at a bank for you, passing candy stores for several blocks on the way. Why did He tell us to go into all the world? It would have a higher success rate if He would just go into all the world and save people! We don't know the "why," but we do know the "what," and our job is not to keep asking God "why" once we are sure we understand the "what." Trust that He who saved us is able to keep us, and has created everything a certain way for our good and His glory. Usually we're happier doing things God's way.
Here, why did God say that women were to submit to their husbands for leadership in the home and respect them? We don't know the "why," but we do know the "what," and must trust Him and obey.
From my experience in counseling marriages over the last 8 years, I have learned that if there is a failure in marriage, it is either a) the wife is not respecting her husband, b) the husband is not loving his wife, or c) both.
Elizabeth Elliot, one of the Mother Theresa’s of the Protestant world, whose husband was killed by Auca Indians in the 1950’s, said this on wives submitting, “Supreme authority in both church and home has been divinely vested in the male as the representative of Christ, who is Head of the church [Christ is head, not men]. It is in willing submission rather than grudging capitulation that the woman in the church (whether married or single) and the wife in the home find their fulfillment.”[1]
If we obey every desire of our flesh we eventually will end up with nothing, but if we submit ourselves to God’s will, God’s way, we end up with “every good and perfect gift, from above!”
There is one exception: An abusive husband or wife.
What is the bottom line for a wife in applying what Ephesians 5:21 says to her marriage? Respecting your husband. Respecting people is not as important to most women as it is to men. It is difficult for many women to understand why it is so important for us men. Men value another man or woman's respect more than almost any other social quality. Even when men confront other men, usually it is in a joking or sarcastic manner that breaks the ice. Direct confrontation happens only as a last resort, and even then only if the man believes he will come out better in the end. Men don't pick fights with men they believe can beat them.
Wives: Your husband will shrivel up and die if you don’t show him respect. It’s what your man needs more than anything else in marriage besides his eternal salvation from the Lord. A man can walk across broken glass and work ridiculous hours at his job, bend over backwards for his wife, and become a superdad if he believes his wife respects him.
1) do something spontaneous to show your husband that you love him.
2) Find an area he excels in, and encourage him in that. If you believe he deserves credit or praise for accomplishments (past or recent. Recent are more effective), then make sure you tell him.
3) When at an impass (this is the hard part, especially coming from me, a man!) give in and let him take responsibility for leading your home. He will fail sometimes, and hopefully will try to be a servant leader and loving husband.
Application: Wives—start showing respect for your husband. Someone has to start the cycle up again if it has died, where husbands love their wives and wives respect their husbands.
Objection: But Pastor Nate, what do I do if my husband is not loving me? I’m glad you asked . . .
[1] George Sweeting, Who Said That?, s.v. submission.

Monday, October 20, 2008

First Entry, and The Church in Marriage, pt 1

This is my first entry into Ebed Adonai. The term means “servant of the LORD,” (pronounced like "Eved" in Hebrew). Out of respect for all those who consider the Old Testament Scripture sacred, we say "Adonai" for the Lord's Name. I’m a pastor, and the purpose of this blog is to chart my sermons, devotionals and teaching opportunities. It will provide discussion and accountability as well (if anyone reads it!).

The Church in Marriage, pt 1

I read recently of an interview with Vince Lombardi. He was asked about the key ingredients to a successful winning team, such as he had produced in Green Bay over forty years ago. His answer indicated something deeper than the game; a lesson today’s athletes and coaches can be reminded of. He named the basic ingredients for a successful football team, and then said there was one other ingredient that was absolutely essential. Caring for one another. The team had to care for the others guys on the team. Instead of thinking, “Well, this is my blocking assignment, and I’ll do my best,” the guys cared for one another. They thought, “If I don’t block this guy, my teammate’s leg could get broken.” They loved each other.
This illustrates the principle in Ephesians 5:21, which is the theme for the next twenty one verses: “and be submitted to one another in the fear of Christ,” or “out of fear/reverence for Christ.” Examples are given on how to do this as a Christian in marriage (5:22–33), with parent/children relationships (6:1–4), and in working environments (6:5–9). If you haven’t read Ephesians 4:1–6, take a minute to do it before reading this further. That passages is where Paul begins to make specific applications for how we are to treat one another in the church of Jesus Christ. The following is the outline for submitting ourselves to one another, with key points.
I. V. 21, You and I must submit ourselves to one another.
a. Followers of Jesus are to submit to one another because of Jesus.
b. The believers at Ephesus were to submit to one another.
c. Applied in marriage (5:22–33), Home (6:1–4), work environments (6:5–9).
i. The phrase in v. 21 shows us that we are not to place people above ourselves, but our motivation is Christ. We treat others above ourselves not because they are, but because Jesus is. It is out of reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church.
ii. When we were children, we obeyed our babysitters. Why? Not fear of the babysitter, but fear of the parents when they came home
iii. Jesus will come and judge our actions at the judgment seat of Christ. For that reason, if no other, resist the urge to dominate others, and submit yourself. Forsake yourself. Place yourself in subjection.
iv. Be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love (remember Ephesians 4:1–6). (Read that if you have not recently).

Next time . . . verses 5:22–24, a wife’s application of this in her marriage, if she is a follower of Jesus.