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).