Sunday, January 3, 2021

Who Moves God’s Hand?

Who Moves God’s Hand?

Resurrection Power Makes Sadducees Very Sad (and Tired)

In Acts, Chapter 4, Peter and John had just been arrested for healing the lame man at the temple. You know, that's the one where they had no silver or gold, but called on the name of Jesus and the man was healed. This made many happy, but it made the Sadducees very sad, you see (sorry, I could't resist). But because it was late in the day and their actions literally wore out the priests and the Sadducees, Peter and John were thrown into prison for the night. Why were these Jewish leaders so overcome, or as some translations render it, annoyed, disturbed, or distressed? Actually, these descriptions merely scratch the surface of the Greek word diaponeomai, which The Helps Word Studies defines as depleted by grief and pierced by fatigue. How could these folks be so tired?

See, these people in authority had been quite busy for a number of days beginning with the death of Jesus—the one who said that he would rise from the dead. These are the same Jews, appointed by and in league with Roman power who sought to squelch the power of the resurrection. Remember that the Sadducees vehemently disbelieved and denied the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:8).

Upon Jesus’ death, they requested that his tomb be guarded to squelch any attempt that might give credence to resurrection claims. Then they had to deal with reports of not only his resurrection by paying the guards to lie saying that Jesus’ body had been stolen, but also reports of more resurrections (Matthew 27:51-53). Denying that which we disbelieve takes a lot of effort and the Priests and Sadducees had been facilitating damage control concerning their reign of disbelief for quite a while.

Needing a Second Wind

But, finally, even after the recent events of Pentecost, they must have believed that their battle would soon be coming to an end. That is, until two unschooled and common men began operating in the same resurrection power that Jesus had used, attributing that power to his name. When would this nightmare ever end? 

But despite their exhaustion, they took advantage of a good night’s sleep, having devised the perfect plan for the following day. They would use the same overwhelming authority that they had wielded up to this point and quickly squash and intimidate these two common men.

As an aside, you may have noticed that despite their common opposition to Jesus, there is no mention that the Pharisees joined the Sadducees in this mission to eradicate the demonstration of resurrection through Jesus’ name. Perhaps the Pharisees’ sympathy towards the resurrection of the dead caused them to part ways during the current kerfuffle.

It’s a Bit of a Stretch (of the hand)

But things did not brightened up for the Sadducees. Peter and John left the proceedings even more determined to preach and demonstrate the resurrection for they understood something that the Jewish leaders did not… God’s hand was now available to believers. Just as Jesus declared that Pilate’s authority was designated and not innate, the apostles understood that God had orchestrated the authorities to:

“… do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:28 ESV)

God had been using his powerful hand to lead the Sadducees where he wanted them to go, his hand even participating in the decision-making process to carry out his plan (Acts 4:28). The apostles understood this and the also understood that now, post-resurrection, ascension, and giving of the Holy Spirit, that God’s hand and his plan was proceeding forward, becoming available to believers. This realization caused the apostles to pray:

“'And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…. With great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:29-31, 33 ESV)

Indeed! Why do the nations’ rage a losing battle—one destined to wear them out—now that the hand which once used them as puppets to fulfill God’s plan, is now turned against them… unless they repent?

The Hand that Dealt a Sadd Defeat

How is it that Peter and John were able to walk free with only a “stern warning” from the authorities? The priests, elders, scribes, and Sadducees could not deny what the power of the resurrection had accomplished as the man who was healed stood as overwhelming proof of resurrection power. 

You may not have stopped to consider that this lame man was over 40 years old, yet God healed him. It was not simply that he had been lame for a long period of time and that everyone was familiar with this fact, but everyone, especially the officials knew well that 40 is the number of trial and judgment. 

Just as the Israelites had spent a complete 40 years in the wilderness, and just as the flood rains extended a full 40 days and nights, these 40 years of incapacity meant to them that this man had undergone a complete 40 years of trial and at the end, had been judged by God as sinful, deserving his physical handicap. To these people, that was the end of the story! He had either been judged for his own sin, the sin of his family, or a combination of both, doomed incapable of undergoing redemption. 

And yet, the power and authority in the name of Jesus Christ had raised him up, superseding the curse of the law. Until now, the Sadducees had come to believe that by their designated and acquired authority, that they were the hand of God, or at least, that it was by their authority that that the hand of God would move, especially in rendering judgment and determining righteousness. But here, their power had been stripped away for they had nothing to say being unable to deny that, outside of their authority, God had performed this miraculous sign.

“What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” (Acts 4:16 ESV)

Up until this time, they had been exhaustingly able, with varying degrees of success, to squelch and effectively deny the resurrection. Now, at least amongst themselves, they admitted defeat.

Keeping His Power Handy 

And so, instead of punishing Peter and John, they sent them away with a powerless warning to cease their actions. But the apostles pressed in all the more for they understood that the hand of God was inclined towards them, as it is to all believers. God’s hand was no longer moving to fulfill Jesus’s earthly ministry, sacrificial death and resurrection, but to perpetuate the power for believers which his actions procured for the Church. 

Paul understood and communicated this readiness of God’s hand to move through his people, praying for the Ephesians (and for us) that we would come to know and embrace the power within us—the same power which raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:16-23) That’s a prayer worth revisiting on a regular basis. 

Moving the Hand of God

He is the potter and we are the clay, and so he puts his power in these vessels of clay as he did Peter and John, to make it apparent that the power comes from God alone (2 Corinthians 4:7). While the power is sourced unmistakably from him, he invites us to draw upon that power, so that his glory might be manifest, or so says the call of the Great Commission.

Consider for a moment the interplay between humility and boldness which played out in the apostle’s prayer in Acts 4. Led by Peter, the apostle who so eloquently preached for us to humble ourselves that God might lift us up (1 Peter 5:6), their prayer of humility was a very specific prayer that God would embolden them with his power—in speech and in action.

Humility is not about lowering ourselves down to inactivity, but it is about letting God lift us up. Anything else is a false humility, or a false sense of authority and power in which we seek to glorify ourselves. Our only hope is to rely on his love, his grace, and his power that we, like those who went before us, serve the Gospel according to the power of his hand, within the confines of the power of his plan.

Monday, December 21, 2020

An Everlasting Invitation

An Everlasting Invitation

You're a Hero of the Faith

    Have you ever thought of yourself as a potential Peter or possibly a Paul? How about a Martin Luther or a Martin Luther King or any of the other heroes of faith who have emerged over the years? If not, then why not? 

    Does the idea of being like one of these folks seem too far reaching... too lofty? Then what about Stephen? He wasn't an apostle or a priest. He was just a waiter who somehow managed to turn his city upside down. People like him represent people like you in me when they find their true identity in Christ.

    None of these people were anomalies or special exceptions, but were simply those who humbly answered the call before them. While we will each have our unique expression of his light, we've all been called to humble ourselves and accept the same invitation and commission.

Bold Humility

    While, like us, these people often found themselves in dark, seemingly futile times, they rose up boldly in humility shining their light in the darkness. While this seems a contradiction, humility holds lowliness and boldness in tension together. 

    While humility begins with a sober view of our natural position, humility is also the springboard for God to work through us—our call to be his light in darkness (Mt 5:16). Humility is not merely about deference to His position, it also recognizes the power and promise of his redemptive work through the Gospel.

    When we act in bold humility, it becomes apparent that what we accomplish could only have been sourced from his all-surpassing power, and not from ourselves (2 Co 4:17). 

    This is the grace he gives to the humble (Pr 3:34, Ja 4:6, 1 Pe 5:5) which was exemplified through the prayer and actions of the disciples in Acts 4:24-31. Check it out!

False Humility

"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (Ja 4:10 ESV).

    People often misperceive humility as merely the action of not calling attention to themselves. This partially correct, but incomplete view convinces us that it is safer, and even more holy to allow darkness to remain the status quo.

    If we humble ourselves without the intention and purpose of letting the Lord lift us up, we're not operating in true humility. Again, the disciples humbled themselves before the Lord, expecting that He would lift them up and that he would stretch forth his hand to heal through them, and He did (Acts 4:24-31).

    False humility subtly convinces us that putting ourselves in a position for the Lord to lift us up is being prideful and even arrogant. It does not understand the true meaning of grace.

Grace (charis)

5485 (xáris) ... preeminently used of the Lord's favor – freely extended to give Himself away to people (because He is "always leaning toward them”). Copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc.

    Grace is the extension of himself towards us. It is more than simply a heavenly "thumbs up," where God lets us know that he likes us. Grace means that God extends who he is for our benefit. It is the ongoing incarnation, Immanuel... God with us. It's what made Peter, Paul, Luther, and all those heroes of the faith spring into action.

    When we humble ourselves, it is the power of grace which lifts us up, which is why scholars sometimes translate the word grace (charis) as "gifts," as in “gifts of healing” (1 Co 12:28, 31). Paul, our New Testament authority on grace, encouraged us to desire these gifts, or graces—all in the context of love, that they would build up the Body of Christ so that we can all be at our best (1 Co 13:1-13; 14:1-40). 

    Humility is the lowering of ourselves so that we can be obedient to the call before us, just as Mary did when she responded to the angel saying, “… I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38 ESV). 

Invitation: Be All You Can Be — Shine!

    The U.S. recruiting effort found the right words when it urged young volunteers to “Be All You Can Be!” That is the call for us today, just as it was in Paul’s time. If you’ve had enough of the darkness around you, remind yourself of this promise in Isaiah:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Is 60:1-3 NIV)

    At its core, faith revolves around believing in God's character and nature and that he is true to his word. Faith expressed, is believing that his plan works for all believers—including you and me—not a select few. Each one of us has the potential and is invited to be all we can be because OUR light has come!

We Hold the Hope

    Christ in us is the hope of glory (Col 1:27) and so we are invited to ditch futility and false humility so that we might shine in the midst of the darkness around us. 

    Do you feel like you’re in darkness? Then exercise humility, putting your faith in his promise that those who seek will find (Mt 7:7). We must each abandon unbelief and believe that the fullness of the Gospel is not just for some special others, but is for all of us. We've all been invited to walk in the light, just as he is in the light (1 Jn 1:7). 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Holy, Holy, Holy! Join in the Heavenly Chorus!


As a hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy has had long-lasting appeal. From the time that the words were first penned by Anglican Bishop Reginald Heber in the early 1800s and then melded with music composed by John Bacchus Dykes in 1861, the song has found its way into the hymnbooks of about every denomination around the globe.


Hymnbooks, however, are quickly becoming a thing of the past, just as songs with words like Wert and Shalt. Yet, this hymn continues to march on triumphantly in spite of, or perhaps even because of, its use of archaic language. These old-style words remind us of our history and at the same time, the timelessness of this song's message.

All Thy Works

Holy, Holy, Holy is a skillful blend of theology, poetry, sing-ability, and of course, reverence. On one hand, its tune is so simple that anyone can sing along, and even beginners can knock out the notes on a keyboard. Yet in striking contrast, its deep and intricate lyrics are so rich and full of meaning that they can stop you in your tracks.

“All the saints adore Thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.” 

Our Song Shall Rise

It’s no wonder that this hymn has had such universal appeal for anyone who sings it can find themselves somewhere in the landscape. We're either on the outside in some level of darkness, attempting to look in at the heavenly vision, or we've already entered in, at least to some extent, straining to get an even closer look. 

Sinful and Saints

Words like Sinful are not popular words today, even in the Church. Holy, Holy, Holy, however employs it well, presenting the disparity between our natural position without God and our own state of holiness while resting in Him. 

While no-one in creation is by nature holy, redemption is all about him making us holy, sanctified, and saints, for all these words in the Greek are from the same word, hagios and all mean Holy (Ro 1:7, 1 Eph 2:19, Rev 14:12, etc.).

Evermore Shall Be

Holy, Holy, Holy strives to raise our consciousness of God’s omnipresence and his timeless nature. Consider, for instance, how Heber stitched together biblical references of the angelic chorus found in two verses written nearly 800 years apart from each other that he might present one eternal heavenly anthem (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). 


Above all, Holy, Holy, Holy successfully tackles and presents the concept of the multifaceted glory of God. His glory is, on one hand, that which reveals his nature and emanates from his presence. He is... glorious! But, his glory is also that which is ascribed to him—our recognition of his works and his nature (Psalm 29:2). His glory is found in the fact that he is holy, or... set apart.


Holy, Holy, Holy is a hymn that purposefully repeats various words and themes. Scripture tells us that every fact should be established by two or three affirmations or witnesses (Mt 18:20, Acts 10:16, 2 Co 13:1, 1 Jo 5:8, etc.). This repetition is used to attest to the fact that he is truly holy but at the same time, also serves as a mirror to his triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

The Angels’ Song

In heaven, the angels never stop singing Holy, Holy, Holy! When Isaiah arrived on the scene to witness their song, he found that in comparison, the daily chatter between himself and his fellow believers did not quite measure up (Isaiah 6). This realization created a dilemma for Isaiah until the angels brought forth a solution.

Joining in the Song

Once Isaiah had been struck by a realization of his unworthiness, an angel brought him a remedy in the form of a coal taken from the fire of God's glory. Once the fiery coal touched his lips, he was transformed into a joyful and willing volunteer. Likewise, Holy, Holy, Holy draws it hearer's in that they too might join in the song of heaven.

The Heavenly Anthem

Holy, Holy, Holy has grown over the years to hold universal appeal. Still, how much more could be accomplished if we purposed to sing it each time we felt the darkness attempting to hide his works and to hide his desire to light up the darkness? What might God do if, like Paul and Silas, we sang this hymn whenever the darkness seemed to overcome us?

We might even see ourselves as more than just individuals or even members of a local congregation, but instead as powerful participants in a great heavenly choir.

Singing Along!

Many renditions of the hymn are available on Youtube, unlike this traditional version, most do not include all four verses. So, follow the link and sing along.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! 
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
 Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
 God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
 Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea, Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
 Who wert and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
 Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
 Perfect in power, love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
 All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
 God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

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, How to Be An Antichrist, 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, 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, to some extent, by reason of 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 false notion that Jesus did not live in a real, earthly body, we are still subject, from time-to-time, 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.” (1 John 4:1-5 NIV)
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 (proagó) 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.