Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Absent-minded Vineyard Owner and the Upside Down Logic of the Eleventh Hour

The Absent-minded Vineyard Owner and the Upside Down Logic of the Eleventh Hour

Matthew 20:1-16


The owner of the vineyard is weird! It’s like he doesn’t understand how a clock works and doesn’t even know how to plan out the workday. Who ever let this guy be boss? Why would he show up at 5:00 p.m. (the eleventh hour) on a workday that ends at 6:00 p.m. and go on a last-minute hiring spree? This guy defies reason. And, we’re reasonable people and so we just don’t get it.

We used to have a visiting minister who would come to our church about once a year. He would often begin his sermon by directing us to put our hands on our foreheads and then he would say, “Now, everyone touch your problem!” It was always good for a chuckle, but think about it; it is natural for us to reason our way through life, and ultimately, reason our way out of it, and that is a problem. Sometimes, the thought of going against our reason can feel like a fight for life, or a last-ditch effort to hold on to what we think we have.

In the late 1990s, after the return of Steve Jobs, Apple launched its famous Think Different ad campaign, using photos of famous, creative people who had gone against the grain and were pioneers in their respective places of influence. And while thinking different seems like an understandable concept, it is much easier to perceive than to participate in and to execute. It’s not easy to think like the vineyard owner.

Remember how he asked the final crowd of hires the question, “What are you doing here standing around doing nothing?” If he’s the one who showed up throughout the day and has been the one doing the hiring, wouldn’t he know why he didn’t hire them? Wasn’t it his doing that, “nobody hired us?” So he not only has issues working with a watch, but he also seems a little bit absent-minded, doesn’t he?

Well, parables are tricky to reason out. They seem to mean one, or even a number of things, but can have an altogether different purpose than we might have reasoned. But let’s take it for granted that the vineyard owner is just a bit out there and we “let him” hire us. After all, it beats standing around, doesn’t it? In fact, we are far too humble to think that we’re being hired for any other reason than that the owner needs a warm set of bodies to fill his production line. So we go through the workday, defining faith as the process of “figuring out” the boss’s plan, instead of realizing that there is a different way to think—not something we produce but one which comes as a by-product of our employment.

Based upon the fact that we weren’t hired at the onset of the day, we must not be very good workers. And, We don’t want to think that we’re in the market place because of greed. We’re not opportunistic like that. We’re just humble old nobodies trying to make our way in the world.  And yet, the climax of this story is all about getting paid and the vineyard owner's odd sense of equity.

Let’s screw on our thinking caps (like they weren’t already there, constricting our spiritual senses) and ponder the situation. The master implemented a multi-phase hiring spree, spread out throughout the day. Then he, despite our own lack of concern for payment, makes a point of making good on the day’s wages. Remember, those of us hired at the end are not like the suckers who sat out in the heat all day and got jealous because we showed up at the end, not even expecting to be paid, but wanting to serve out of the goodness of our hearts. In fact, that’s how we would have answered his question during the interview process. We would have said that we were just standing around, hoping we could be of some help.

But back to the early hires. They expected a work for hire arrangement where pay was equal to the effort and time expended. You know, they reasoned that this is how it works in the vineyard and after all, working in the vineyard should all make perfect sense, shouldn’t it? But, it doesn’t…to us. And, that’s the hardest part of working in the vineyard. Come on everybody, put your hands on your head and, “Touch your problem!”

We dismiss the intangibles in this parable for things our minds can grasp. If we identify with the early workers, we might feel uneasy that the master pointed out that we don’t measure his goodness and generosity outside of what we reason to be equitable. And if we identify with the last hires who feel like charity cases, we believe that we were the last ones picked because qualified workers are not available. Then to add insult to injury, this weird vineyard owner payed us a wage we didn’t deserve—especially since we know we were hiding in the back of the line so he wouldn’t see us at hiring times. 

But what if this entire parable doesn’t major on any of these things? What if he wants us to shut off these reasonings and meditate on the weird ways he does things? He picks those he wants, when he wants. As long as we maintain our positions in the vineyard, he pays according to his goodness and not towards what our actions deserve—good or bad.

His ways are not our ways and so when his ways invade our space, they are foreign to our minds. By our own reasoning, we are uncomfortable with his ways. That might be the ultimate message of this parable…uncomfortability! When he shows up, we don’t have a grid for his business plan. The vineyard owner’s actions defied both the early workers' and the late workers' sensibilities. Can we come to terms with the fact that when God moves, our brains and our own way of understanding his business get in the way?

I also wonder if another of the major messages within this parable is not the idea that being in the vineyard and doing the work is the most important thing. It’s a crazy place to work. The boss’s actions are incomprehensible, but…he always pays! Being on the inside, while producing occasional and variable means of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings is far preferable to those who never get hired. Think about this! Simply acknowledging that “nobody hired us” was the only qualification needed to obtain a position. That makes no sense, whatsoever! Reasoning then, is highly overrated and keeps us from admitting that we have not yet been hired or promoted. 

Are we willing to work for this guy? He’s different! Maybe though, it's the eleventh hour—the time to start thinking different. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Inside The Actor’s Studio

 Inside The Actor’s Studio




“Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”~ George Burns

 

In a funny way, that kind of describes faith, venturing confidently into the unknown without really knowing what we're doing. But, when we act in faith, we're not faking it, we're trusting in the one who knows what's going on. Getting from here to there, however, can be humorous. Take a look at my acting process and see if any of it looks familiar to you.

How I Write Myself Into The Story

I find it amusing how I write myself into the Scriptures. When I read the Gospels for example, I never seem to take on the role of a Pharisee, rejecting Jesus as the Messiah; nor do I ever find myself walking away from his hard sayings. I always seem to play the role of a true believer, the one smart enough to figure out what’s going on.

In this play, I come out looking pretty good.

That’s Acting!

But in real life, I sometimes act differently, even over-acting in false humility—playing my role in silent faith as not to appear as one who grasps for glory. I also sometimes hide behind a character who cleverly hides his uncomfortability in the presence of those who seem “more spiritual.”

Perhaps I have just been stuck in a role never written for me and I haven’t known how to properly get into character. Can you relate?

It’s on the Page, But Is It on the Stage?

Let’s face it, no matter where we are in the process, our expression of faith can look better on paper than it does in reality. I have both deceptively acted as if I have it all together, and in false humility, pretended as if my role is less important than that of others. I must, as they say, learn to commit to the role put before me. It’s in the script, but I need to live it out dynamically on stage. We all must believe that this is not only possible, but understand that this is the commission we’ve been given. 

Roles of A Lifetime

Look at the drama going on around us! The world is ready for a modern revival of the Book of Acts. After all, its an action-adventure vehicle which has proven itself the perfect counter-cultural play. The poster would again read, "They turned the world upside down!" Yes, we’ll be playing against type, no longer stuck in our self-imposed silent movie, or in our own horribly produced and performed, B movie. 

This is our big shot! We have the opportunity to perform the perfect production for the perfect audience. Can we honestly act any other way?

Stealing the Scene

We must ignore the critics who believe that by taking the stage, we'll do nothing but overshadow the star of the show. I doubt if actors performing with Robert De Niro, or Meryl Streep think to themselves, "Gee, I hope I don't show them up." Jesus is so secure in his position that he groomed his proteges to follow his lead in acting out the Gospel—even commanding them to do the same for us. 

As we embrace this honest motivation to take on the role before us, our boldness can come across as threatening to those who have not yet, or never will, take that risk. This is how the critic was born. Regretfully, I sometimes find myself playing that role.

A Supporting Role

If I do my best work as a supporting cast member and give my strongest performance, I will only bring more credibility to the protagonist—the star of the show.

Another trait of a good cast member is the ability to recognize and trust in the director’s skill and ability. He's more than able to compensate if we flub a line, or miss a cue. Although we are the supporting cast, we are also very well supported.

Taking an Honest Risk

As I began this actor’s studio, I recounted that how, on paper, I have cast myself in all the right roles, saving myself from any dangerous plot twists and surprise endings. I was the hero in every scene—while Peter denied Jesus three times, I didn't do it once, nor calling down fire from heaven, or ask to sit at Jesus' right hand. I always sat in the safe place, never wrong and never in a place of uncertainty. But that's not how it works.

The best actors in the business will tell you that they still get nervous before a performance. That's because they know that the unknown before them can reap great benefits. They call it risk, Jesus calls it faith. So that begs the question, when he returns to the stage, will he find us taking those risks?

End Scene

A curtain call never takes place on an empty stage. When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth? Only if there are cast members filling their roles, willing to act in faith.

The fact is, while this saga is closer than ever to coming to an end, we don't have any real idea when the final scene will be played. We must act as if the show must go on. That's our motivation and that's how we get into character. 

The Experience

The show isn't just about the end, it's about the journey. Sometimes we get too caught up in replicating concrete pillars and leather sandals and we forget that its the performance that matters. A revival of the Book of Acts is not about robes and chariots, but about swords! 

When Peter preached his sermon at Pentecost, it says that the people were cut to the heart. That's the performance we should capture. Each of us have been cast in the role of a lifetime and its not something that we can fake, as George Burns jokingly suggests. 

This is, however, a role that should stretch as if we're participating in a master acting class, and...we kind of are!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

How to Be An Antichrist

How to Be An Antichrist





A Humorous Title to an Interesting Subject


After misreading the image of a book cover I saw in a friend’s post, this humorous title popped into my mind and it spurred me to address this very interesting subject of the antichrist spirit as found in John’s letters. This is in some ways, a reiteration of my last post https://sparktogether.blogspot.com/2020/04/antichrist-or-identity-crisis.html, but more of a compliment to it. 

Let's leave the fear and dread of the antichrist behind as we learn John's true purpose in his admonition, that we know how to hear the Spirit of God.

If you actually want to become an antichrist, don’t forget to take notes! :)


Who is this Antichrist?

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3 NIV).

Who is this antichrist? The answer to this question has been the pursuit of many an end-times aficionado—professional and amateur alike. John, however, seems less interested in identifying a single personality but in presenting the extent of this spirit’s influence upon many people.

“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18 NIV). 

Many antichrists, or as John also refers to them, false prophets, have come into the world (1 John 2:18). There have been, are, and there will always be, many antichrists in the world as long as it is called “the last days.” And so, John’s purpose was not that we would spend the ages, from that time til this, attempting to identify a personal antichrist. Clearly, John’s purpose was that we would simply “test the spirits” of those we hear to see if they’re words come from God (1 John 4:1). But who are these false, antichristical spirit’s John warns us against and where did they come from?


Many Antichrists 

Those operating under the spirit of the antichrist find their origin in two places. First of all, they come from the world’s perspective and so, the world listens to them (1 John 4:5). Interestingly, their origin, in some respects, is related to the Church for John tells us that they “went out from us,” seeking the world’s voice, for “…they did not really belong to us” (1 John 2:19 NIV).

These antichrists, those influenced and captivated by the spirit of the antichrist are those throughout history who have embraced some form of godliness, the positive effects of Christian influence, possibly even appreciating and acknowledging the deity of God, without actually knowing him in truth. While it might be an over-simplification, we might define those attracted to the voice of the spirit of the antichrist as those who have reaped the benefits of living in a Christian-influenced society, without reaping the benefits of a deep relationship with Christ himself.

These are those, whether in extreme or casual adherence, gravitate towards the voice of the world and feel like they are hearing from, and therefore, speaking the truth of God. Their love is not for the voice of God, but the very voice John tells us not to love—the voice of the world (1 John 2:15). 


Identifying the Spirit of the Antichrist 

We need to stop looking for false prophets as those who simply get it wrong, or those with which we don't agree. While wrong or immature teaching could be a sign of a false prophet, John's truth detector is not based on doctrine alone. Instead, he prescribes testing the spirits of those speaking by the inward barometer of the anointing of Christ, anchored in the depth of our relationship with Christ.
“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth….As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:19-20, 24-27 NIV). 
John outlines two anointings available to a human heart and only one is able to detect truth. There is the real anointing from the Holy One—Jesus Christ, and a counterfeit anointing from the spirit of the antichrist. If we have the true anointing it is possible for us to test the spirits to see if they are from God or not. As John says, “…the anointing you have received remains in you…[and] teaches you” (1 John 2:27 NIV).

Accessing and growing in this anointing is at the heart of John’s warning for it is the spirit of the antichrist who challenges Christ’s position within us.


Setting the Scene

John battled philosophies in his day which challenged the identity and role of Jesus as Immanuel—God with us. Two of these philosophies, given the high-sounding names of Docetism and Gnosticism, each sought to separate the flesh from the spirit, and therefore, separate the understanding and practice and administration of God’s presence within the heart of believers.

Simply put, Doecetism held that while his deity was intact, Jesus’s physical, earthly body was only an illusion. To further this thought, early Gnosticism which began to appear even in John’s day, saw the spiritual as good, but the natural and fleshly as evil. It’s easy to see how these drastic modes of thought could be supported theologically, through Paul’s teaching and even by the words of Jesus presented by John himself.
“…We who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh…” (Philippians 3:3 NIV).
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63 NIV).
In their proper context, these passages and many like them hold true. We cannot generate one good thing out of our own selves (Romans 7:18 ESV). And yet, that’s not the whole story, is it?


Christ in the Flesh

“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3-4 NIV).
Doecetism denies that Jesus actually came in the flesh, only that he appeared to have come in the flesh. But why is this important? Because if Jesus did not come into his own earthly body, then he did not come into ours either. That is the background for John’s statement.

While we may easily dismiss the notion that Jesus did not live in a real earthly body, we are subject to doubt that he lives in ours. This is despite the fact that God promised long ago through Ezekiel that he would redeem our flesh for the singular purpose that he himself might dwell there.
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Why would God give us a heart of flesh if that flesh is inherently evil? It’s because God came to redeem that flesh—his own creation. What the fall tainted and therefore condemned as evil was purchased back again through the sacrificial act of the Son. This heart of flesh that he gives us is none-other than the heart of Jesus, the one who came in the flesh.
“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” Romans 8:3-4 ESV). 

“Do you not know that you yourselves are God's temple, and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 NIV) 

He condemned the sin IN the flesh, so that we are no longer bound by its nature so that we might be able to live in it by the Spirit. 


The Fulfillment 

Our redeemed flesh is the storehouse for his spirit and anointing, just as he promised through Ezekiel.
“…God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 NIV).
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV).
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV).
Paul put it all into perspective when he said: 
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). 
While we fight to walk in the Spirit over and above the desires of the flesh, it is in the flesh that we live. This truth is a part of walking out our redemption and is the same truth that the spirit of the antichrist wishes to dispel.


Turn on the Barometer!

“…The spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.”
The reason John warned us to test the voices we hear by means of the anointing within, as opposed to what we think is right, is because we are innately wrong. That is, unless we allow the anointing within us to teach us, we will go about our lives agreeing with our own thoughts, fueled by the voices of the world around us. If this were not true, why would the scriptures say that we have not been given a spirit of fear, yet fear in believers is at an all-time high during the current crisis? It’s because we’re listening to voices we have not tested.

If terms like “the anointing within us,” sound strange, then we are in all the more need to listen to what John and the rest of Scripture has to say about our standing in Christ. Jesus cautioned us to “be careful how we listen,” telling us that if we do, we’ll gain more of what that anointing within can teach us. If we don’t, we’ll lose even what we thing we have based upon other voices (Luke 8:18).


John’s Conclusions 

How do we draw upon the anointing within us? John finishes his letters with the following conclusions from which we can glean promises for our forward motion and away from deception.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:13-15 NIV) 
“…Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work” (2 John 1:7-11). 
“Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:11 NIV).
So here's John's prescription:
  • Ask according to his will, for he hears us and therefore, we will receive
  •  Continue in the teaching found in Scripture and affirmed by the teacher within us. Those who run ahead (proag√≥) of that teaching—which means to go forward, or go before as in a court of judgment, without that teaching—is making judgments outside of what God is doing
  • Know that God seeks to reward us, not leave us in fear of unknown evils
  • Imitate what God is doing. Do not imitate the voices swirling around us, showing that our eyes have been on the world more than they’ve been on God
Keep in mind that first and foremost, John wants us to recognize the voice and workings of the Spirit of God as he moves among us, while discerning false voices along the way. It was never John's intention that we perform fearful, antichrist witch-hunts.  
"This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God (1 John 4:2-3 NIV).
It is Christ working and speaking through believers which the spirit of the antichrist means to thwart. We must continue moving forward, trusting and relying on the anointing within us while recognizing and tuning out voices that don't agree—not with the way we think—but with the Spirit of God within our hearts.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Antichrist or Identity Crisis

The Antichrist Spirit


Our defeated enemy still has a few tricks and lies up his sleeve and so far, he’s pulled one over on the Church. He has successfully sent many of us on a wild goose chase after the antichrist. We can’t let him succeed at this any longer. We must come to understand that the spirit of the antichrist is not so much an end-time identity as it is the purveyor of an end-time identity crisis—ours!

The End-time Clock


While waiting for time to run out on history, we’ve forgotten that the end-time clock has been running for over 2,000 years now, ever since the Apostle John called it the “last hour.” If that is true, then we are currently living in the latter part of the last hour. From then until now, the spirit of the antichrist has been in the world and many antichrists have come and manifested themselves (1 John 2:18, 4:3).

Despite these facts, we’ve been more obsessed with identifying some singular flesh and blood manifestation of the spirit of the antichrist instead of acknowledging the worth and power of the Holy Spirit of God residing in our own flesh.

Hearts of Flesh


Let’s be clear! Nothing which dwells in our flesh holds any intrinsic value. As Paul says, the flesh counts for nothing. Yet, Jesus came to dwell in the flesh of man and he continues there today by residing in our hearts. God has repurposed our flesh so that it might be a suitable home for the Spirit of the living God (Romans 7:18, 8:9).

So while we don’t live according to the flesh, we live in the flesh by faith in the Son of God (Romans 8:10, Galatians 2:20). Our hearts of flesh were once evil beyond cure, but Christ has redeemed our hearts, thereby superseding the fall (Jeremiah 17:9, 1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 2:22, Galatians 5:16).

“For God…made his light shine in our hearts…But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NIV).

His Dwelling Place


It was always God’s plan that by faith, his Spirit would dwell within our hearts of flesh (Romans 5:5, Galatians 4:6, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 1 John 4:13).

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh….I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26 NIV).

As these passages attest, our hearts of flesh are a gift from God himself that he might dwell there by his Spirit. The spirit of the antichrist, on the other hand, means to deny and separate our heart’s true identity and purpose. He denies Jesus Christ in the flesh!

A Spirit of Denial


“…Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 John 1:7 NIV).
That the spirit of the antichrist denies the incarnation of Jesus has never been a theological challenge for the Body of Christ. But we must come to understand that this deception and denial goes much further. It seeks to undermine the ongoing incarnation within believers themselves. He seeks to undermine the work of the Holy Spirit within our hearts of flesh.

We must stop looking for some individual antichrist. John clearly says that any, not just one singular individual, which denies Jesus as coming in the flesh has been affected by that spirit’s deception.

A Redeemed House


“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil…” (Hebrews 2:14 NIV).
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV).
Jesus Christ was made in our likeness for the purpose of breaking the power of the enemy and redeeming mankind. He came in human flesh and dwelled among us, yet was without sin. We, on the other hand are made of flesh, but were born into sin. But because of his death and resurrection, we obtain his righteousness (Philippians 2:7, Romans 3:21-22, 8:3, 10:4, Galatians 2:16). Walking in progressive fullness of that righteousness, we make ourselves ready that we would become his mature bride.

Getting Married


Jesus and his bride have a lot in common, or at least, that’s the intention and the path that we’ve been taking for 2,000 years. Jesus is a traditionalist in the sense that he doesn’t intend to marry outside of his species. When the marriage supper of the Lamb is served, folks will see that the bridegroom and the bride are a perfect match.

As the passages above so clearly demonstrate, Jesus came in the flesh so that he could be like his bride. Then, he made the ultimate sacrifice so she could be like him—both adorned in righteousness. It was a match made in heaven.

“…He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:20 NIV).

Does Anyone Object to This Union?

Yes…the spirit of the antichrist objects to the union of the bridegroom and the bride. He seeks to undermine her heart and thereby, undermine her actions. Her heart and her actions are to be like those of the bridegroom!

“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus” (1 John 4:17 NIV).
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” (John 14:12 NIV).
“I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one…” (John 17:22 NIV).
“Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6 NIV).

If these are the intentions of Christ, then it is clear that the intentions of the antichrist will be the exact opposite. Therefore, any spirit which attempts to influence the Body of Christ away from walking as Jesus did, doing his works, manifesting his glory—being like him, is attempting to deny that Jesus has come in the flesh. He vehemently objects to our union with Christ!

While he obviously will not succeed in the end, what damage will he accomplish along the way? Only what we allow him!

Our Identity


We cannot continue to hold theologies which agree with the spirit of the antichrist. Neither can we be so hung up on identifying times, dates, and personalities, that we lose the attention of our first love. Our identity is to be a suitable match for the one who redeemed us. If we don’t look like his bride, grown to the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” it is proof of the pervasiveness of the spirit of the antichrist.

As Brennan Manning said, “Be who you is, ‘cause if you ain’t who you is, you is who you ain’t.”

It’s time to see ourselves as the Bride of Christ, whose heart of flesh gladly holds and reflects the Spirit of the One who bought us.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Jerusalem Council: A Signs and Wonders Defense


After nearly 15 years on the road ministering to those outside of the Jewish community of believers, Paul found himself having to defend the grace of God shown to the burgeoning Gentile church. At the Council in Jerusalem, the Pharisees proposed that the Gentiles must convert to Judaism in order to become legitimate believers. Paul’s position, aided greatly by Peter, should prompt us all to re-examine how we perceive God’s will and his ways.

The Controversy

“When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’ The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:4-12 NIV).

Dealing with a New Kind of Believer

For centuries, the Gentiles had lived outside of God’s grace and plan (Ephesians 2:11-12). So, the Pharisees appeared, at least in their own reasoning, to have a legitimate point in seeing themselves and their traditions as the gateway for the Gentiles. Paul and Peter, on the other hand, took a position that God had already approved and accepted this new brand of believers as well as the methods by which they had been won to the Gospel—faith and the grace of Jesus amidst the presence and working of the Holy Spirit.

That was good theology then and it stands up today as well. Yet despite our agreement with Paul, there is still a part in many of us which shares the apprehension felt by Pharisee believers in their day. Consider how we would determine if a people group had truly been accepted by God. What measurements might we use and what recommendations would we make?

New Kids in Town

Recent history, relatively speaking, reveals that we ourselves have a tendency to misinterpret God’s working outside of our own spiritual culture and comfort zone. While not a perfect comparison, the Jesus People movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s reflects a divide between a church set in its ways, and a group of hungry converts looking for a place to belong.

Despite even radical conversions, many of these young people were initially rejected and shunned by traditional congregations because they didn’t fit into the status quo. Ironically, that very group, now long melded-in, have become the new baseline for the status quo, being challenged in ways similar to their predecessors.



Validation

With all that in mind, what standards would we use today to measure and validate a ministry to a people group outside of our own culture? Likely, we would provide numbers—how many had been converted and gather on a regular basis. Also, we might give testimony as to the kind of lifestyles these new believers had left behind, proving that they had truly been transformed. We would give these and other compelling details, however, Paul gives none of these. He gives us no stats and tells us nothing of the Gentile’s lives as former idol worshipers, polygamists, sorcerers, and the like.

What then did he use to prove the legitimacy of his ministry to the Gentiles as well as their subsequent acceptance of his ministry? It was none other than the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s Testimony

That’s right! Paul and his companions began and ended their position by providing the same vein of testimony throughout—what God had done through them by the Holy Spirit.

“… They reported everything God had done through them” (Acts 15:4 NIV).

“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12 NIV).

Peter’s testimony was not terribly different as he reminded his fellow believers that God had heard and believed in God’s grace through his own lips, which cued the Holy Spirit to fall on the Gentiles just as he had fallen on the Jews beginning at Pentecost (Acts 10:44, 11:15, 15:7-8).

Stealing God’s Glory

Many in the church today would be very uncomfortable putting this much emphasis upon themselves and their role in what God had done, feeling like it puts the attention and glory upon them and away from God. But, that was not Paul or Peter’s intention at all. It was not out of pride or a sense of spiritual superiority, but acknowledgment that God was present, confirming and affirming that their ministry to the Gentiles was valid. An example of this is found in Luke’s report of Paul and Barnabas’ ministry to the Gentiles in Iconium.

“So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3)

Confirming the Word

Does the Gospel need such confirmation? Isn’t the spoken word adequate to convey God’s message? Paul didn’t think so.

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:5 NIV).

The more tumultuous the times become, the more we will likely come to understand the importance of Paul’s statement. The works of God testify to who he is and what he approves. His works actually praise him (Psalm 145:10). That is why Paul relied on them as the sole proof of his ministry to the Gentiles, in the same way that Jesus had done years earlier.



Testimony of Works

“Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37-38 NIV).

“…the works that the Father has given me to finish--the very works that I am doing--testify that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36 NIV).

“The works I do in my Father's name testify about me…” (John 10:25 NIV).

This is also why Peter was so quick to defend Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. He had been with Jesus and therefore understood that signs and wonders were the foremost proof of the gospel and those who proclaim it. And so, on the day of Pentecost, he echoed Jesus’ position on the subject. This testimony is further reinforced by the author of the letter to the Hebrews.

“Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs…” (Acts 2:22 NIV).

“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will”
(Hebrews 2:3-4 NIV).


Let’s keep in mind that Paul was a master theologian and could hold his own in a debate. Still, Paul realized that the legitimacy of his ministry to the Gentiles would be best represented if based primarily upon God’s approval as shown through the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. He believed that if he could show that God were in it, then he had no reason to seek proof elsewhere.

Power for Repentance

Paul’s stance was not merely theological, it was practical, reproducible and effective. He knew experientially that signs and wonders held the power to bring people to repentance and he reckoned that the council understood this as well, having experienced 1st Century ministry firsthand themselves, and by remembering the words of Jesus.

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21 NIV).

Despite the fact that our theology has nearly succeeded in separating the gospel and the power of God for salvation, they are in fact inseparable. According to Paul, the gospel IS the power, therefore, the signs, wonders, and miracles are a part of the gospel, not an addition.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NIV).

Conclusion

Paul’s testimony in conjunction with that of Peter and James led to an open hand of fellowship between the Jewish and Gentile believers. The council weighed Paul’s testimony of signs and wonders along with the council of Peter and James. They determined that the Gentiles need not convert to Judaism and follow Mosaic law in order to be accepted. They were, however, given guidelines concerning food and sent them joyfully along to their Gentile brothers in the worthy hands of Paul and Barnabas.

Paul said that he didn’t want the faith of the Gentiles to rest on man’s wisdom, but on the power of God. At the council at Jerusalem, he also demonstrated that he wanted the faith FOR the Gentiles to rest on the power of God, and so it did.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The First Woman in Space

Have you ever had a dream or got an impression that for whatever reason, grabbed your interest and inspired you to investigate further? This has happened to me a couple of times and the other morning was one of those times. As I was waking up, the words, “Martha Volker— 1st woman in space,” popped into my mind. Well that’s crazy because A), I’ve never heard of a Martha Volker, and B) I have never heard of or ever stopped to consider who held the title of first woman in space. So…off to Google I went.

As it turns out, the first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova, not Martha Volker. Yet, Tereshkova’s story is so intriguing, I couldn’t help but look further. Valentina was a factory worker and an amateur skydiver. The latter fact qualified her for application for the Soviet space program which was recruiting women based mainly upon one criteria, that they could land in a parachute. Valentina, having completed her first successful jump at age 22, joined a pool of over 400 candidates which was whittled down to four, of which she was the one chosen to be the first Soviet woman to fly in space. And why, you may ask, were the Soviets launching women into space in 1963?

The director of the Soviet space program had heard that the Americans were training women to be astronauts and not to be outdone by their rivals, the Soviets pushed to be the first to put women into a spacecraft. Consider for a moment that the male cosmonauts selected to train were, like their American counterparts, air-force pilots. The women on the other hand were given different qualifications. It was thought that, since the Vostok series of ships were nearly fully automated that all that was required by the recruiting team was to select women who could land a parachute and were under the age of 30. 

As Tereshkova excelled above all other candidates, she was chosen to fly in Vostok 6. Launched into space on June 16, 1963, Tereshkova became not only the first woman in space, she is also recognized as the youngest at age 26, and still holds the record as the only woman in history to fly solo in space. She orbited the earth for 2 days, 22 hours, and 50 minutes. A few days later, on June 22, 1963, she appeared and spoke at Lenin’s Tomb. The Soviets wanted to play up the fact that her father had been killed during the German invasion of 1941 which began that same day, 22 years earlier, and so she announced that fact in her speech. At this point, as each interesting fact was building upon each other, I began to feel a familiar ring, brought on by the numbers involved in Tereshkova’s life story. 

Some may be aware of the odd appearance of the number 2, along with other interesting numeric oddities during the Super Bowl. If not, consider these odd occurrences:

Super Bowl 54:

  • Kansas City Chiefs: 2nd Super Bowl victory with 50 years between wins
  • Coach Andy Reid’s 2nd Super Bowl appearance as coach for 2 NFL teams
  • Coach Andy Reid’s 222nd career win
  • Played on 02/02/2020 (1st perfect palindrome date in 909 years)
  • Played on the 33rd day of the year with 333 days left (leap year 366 days)

These odd facts, in conjunction with the prediction that God would move mightily in the earth when the Chief’s won the Super Bowl, a prediction shared with friends and acquaintances over a period of years by prophet Bob Jones, immediately began to heighten my interest as I saw similar patterns while researching Tereshkova’s story:


  • 2 days, 22 hours, and 50 minutes orbiting the earth
  • First successful parachute jump at age 22
  • Gave a speech and was awarded the Order of Lenin on June 22, 1963 on the 22nd anniversary of the German invasion of 1941
  • While there is a 19 year gap between the 1st and 2nd Russian woman in space, the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, followed 20 years (and 2 days) after Tereshkova’s 

What does all this mean, if anything? I can only share my impression that when I heard “Martha Volker, 1st woman in space,” it held absolutely no significance whatsoever and was so random and obscure, that it caught my attention. Tereshkova's life, on the other hand, seems almost mythic considering that her accomplishments did not end when her space craft splashed down. Instead, she went on to marry a fellow cosmonaut, making their daughter the first human to have both parents having travelled in space. If these milestones were not enough, Valentina Tereshkova continued to excel.

While she entered the space program at the lowest rank, as an air-force private, she advanced in education and rank, earning her masters in aeronautical engineering and eventually rose to the rank of major general in the Soviet air-force. Even beyond these accomplishments, she entered into politics and continues to serve in political office to this day.

And what of Martha Volker? I cannot find any references to anyone of any significance with that name associated with the space program, nor were there any other events or accomplishments associated with anyone of that name. However, the meaning of her name does seem to be in keeping with Tereshkova’ status:

Martha: mistress/leader
Volker: tribe/family/army.

Could this be a time of awakening in the Church, signaled by things as crazy as the stars in the sky and predictions about the Super Bowl given years earlier? Stranger things have happened… Tereshkova’s unlikely life being one of them. In addition, I can’t ignore the contribution that women wish to make in the promotion of the work of God in both the heavens, and right here on the earth. Can a dream and random phrase heard in the time between sleep and consciousness begin to speak to and promote such a thing?

Paul McCartney dreamed the song Yesterday and since then, it has been recorded by more the 2,200 people. Einstein’s famous theory of relativity came to him in a dream during his teens. Peter, quoting Joel, said that God would inspire dreams by the Holy Spirit and so, I choose to believe that we should allow our dreams to make us more inquisitive, and open to consider things we might not consider while we’re awake. One thing is for sure, there are many women who have dreamed of serving God in his Kingdom in a way that might mirror the accomplishments of the 1st woman in space. I have no problem being a part of heralding such a rise.

And just to add one more oddity; when I purposed to present this information, I was not yet conscious of the fact that today is 02/22/20. But, when I did realize it, it seemed even more appropriate that I should move forward and publish it.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Successful Healing Evangelist Falls





There is a well-known healing evangelist who after becoming as successful as any of his contemporaries, was found to be flawed to an extent that it ended his ministry. You might have read about him. Unfortunately, despite all of the success he achieved praying for those sick of all kinds of maladies, he will none-the-less be remembered, not for those things, but for falling from his high position. What do we conclude about such a person? Were all those healings just false signs, and does his fall make this person a false teacher? Can anything they ministered be trusted and accepted? Doesn't this type of situation confirm our skepticism concerning  the ministry of signs and wonders?

Keep in mind that when Jesus sent out his twelve disciples to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demonic influences, he knew that these men were imperfect, yet he sent them out anyway. And, all twelve returned with glowing reports of what they had accomplished (Mk 6:13, 30)—all twelve including a man named Judas Iscariot. Yes! This is the successful healing evangelist who fell. I'm reporting the news a little late (by 2,000 years) so that I might make a point. When the disciples returned to Jesus, there is no indication that anyone of them fell short of Jesus' expectations. They were all successful healing evangelists, including Judas. 

Furthermore, after his resurrection, Jesus gave us what we refer to as the Great Commission. He did not feel the need to take into account Judas' actions and downgrade or eliminate the supernatural aspect of the commission. Instead, he announced that certain signs would follow those who believe. And after Pentecost, Peter and John did not decline to pray for the lame man at the temple, reasoning that by his actions, Judas disqualified supernatural ministry. They not only successfully prayed for this man's healing, after being reprimanded for doing so, the apostles cried out to God for even more powerful signs and God obliged them (Acts 4:30-33).

So let's not let a good reason, the failings of others, become a bad excuse for not adopting what Paul calls the proclamation of the full Gospel with the power of signs and wonders (Ro 15:18-19).