Monday, December 29, 2008

...from everlasting to everlasting, GOD.

Melchizedek. The story of his meeting with Abraham in Genesis 14 is both mysterious and forgettable…forgettable if the Holy Spirit had not inspired writers centuries apart to use it. Psalm 110:4 suddenly speaks of “the order of Melchizedek.” The writer of Hebrews mentions the enigmatic character in chapter 7. In preaching through Hebrews, I struggled with this strange being. Now, as I spend my days meditating on the eternal nature of God the Son, I find Hebrews 7 to suddenly be immensely valuable. You see, all the passages that speak of Jesus as being with God before the foundation of the world don’t necessarily assert His eternality. Those who would exaggerate this technicality to lessen Jesus’ ontology challenge us to find the forever pre-existent Christ (pre-existence before Incarnation isn’t enough for them, for He could still be a created being and therefore NOT God). We need Him to be forever to be God. The answer that has been provided occurs in this most alien of passages to our contemporary culture!

Speaking of Melchizedek: “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually” (Hebrews 7:3). Do you know what jumps out at me about this assertion? The writer (inspired by the Holy Spirit) takes an absolutely literal, narrow, rigid interpretation of the Genesis 14 passage. No lineage is mentioned in the Bible, and so none exists. That appeals to this rat. Where was I? Oh yeah, no beginning.

No beginning – like the Son of God.

Eternality is not a communicable attribute. God cannot create a being and make it have an eternal existence. A Son of God with no beginning co-existed with God from all eternity and is therefore also God.

For those who say that “Son of God” is a title implying inferiority and therefore something less than God: God calls the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” at least 93 times. Is God somehow implying that Ezekiel is less than human? Of course not! The son of a man is a man. The Son of God is God.

God the Son has no beginning: “…the Son is eternally begotten of the Father” (Westminster Confession of Faith, II.iii). This is a challenging confession, yet it embraces the scriptural truths.

From the two preeminent apostles of the infant Church:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:1-3).

God is God, and cannot be created. He is eternal.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m thankful for Melchizedek.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

rat claws groping for glory...

The prophet heard the fiery serpents singing of a glory that fills the whole earth (Isaiah 6:2,3). Therefore it must fill "His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). Oh, beloved Body of Christ, it must!

rat claws groping for glory... from desert rat of Morgan on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Parallels from a Thorny Pulpit

In reading about my favorite Christmas hymn, I discovered a verse not in modern hymnals that expresses the truth of Christ as second Adam, abundantly overflowing in comparison to the first:

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
formed in each believing heart.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley (1739)

Speaking of comparison, behold: “…if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many” (Romans 5:15).

There’s a parallelism here in the midst of one of the most hermeneutically difficult passages in the Bible that boils my heart to praise and energizes me for battle. This worthless rat has become sensitive this year to any effort to make Jesus less than He is. A kind old man has been frequenting the neighbor, and bestowed on our household a book entitled “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived.” He, knowing what I am (Baptist pastor – he is yet to encounter the rat, THOUGH HE WILL), gave this subtly blasphemous book. I, knowing what he is (Jehovah’s Witness), suspected from the title the lie for which he was living. There it was, in the first few pages: the assertion Jesus never claimed to be God, that He was, in fact, the first creation of God and not God at all. As I said, these sort of things are creating a roar in this rat that I hope never fades.

With that, I share this morsel from the latest series of Advent wanderings. Someone once said he had a vision of me walking the desert, preaching to coyotes, scorpions, and tarantulas from a cactus pulpit. The desert folk have received from Romans 5:12-21 this season of Christmas.

Look at this parallel:
- “the grace of God
- “the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ

He is God, the Giver of Grace, and He is Man, the Embodiment of Grace. Not half of each (you cannot divide true Divinity or true humanity and maintain the integrity of either). Not some new hybrid (for a Being different from what we are cannot pay the penalty for our sin; a Being different from God cannot keep His Law perfectly).

In the Pastorals there are two names given to Jesus that embrace the Definition of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), that Jesus is fully man and fully God:

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5,6).

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

Over and over and over – when we cease to make our assertions about Jesus with any doctrinal purity or theological depth, we lose the true Jesus. A jesus of “anything goes” replaces the true Jesus. Without the true Jesus, we have no salvation.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE’ - in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13,14).

Here’s another wonderful parallel to turn things upside-down:
- “the blessing of Abraham”
- “the promise of the Spirit”

Is the giving of the Holy Spirit (the giving of God Himself to His people) the complete fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises? Wouldn’t the gift of God Himself far exceed the gift of land, no matter how “promised” the land may (or may not) be?

“Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Bring us to God, not land! How can the created (land) ever satisfy as much as the Creator (God Himself)?

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, Who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:20-22).

Enough rambling,
though I’m content with rambling that names Jesus as truly God, truly man,
and wandering that proclaims God the song of our pilgrimage, not land.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

a rat shepherds through the city-games

A few thoughts from a shepherd on this Election Day 2008:

Continue to be a unique people, intelligently resisting conformity for the sake of the holiness we have been granted in Christ Jesus:
I heard Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) say that if elected, President-elect Obama’s first action (this week!) would be to reach out to those who didn’t vote for him, “to heal the wound in this country.” I’ve seen this attitude in churches and in our Southern Baptist Convention: if you disagree with me, there’s something seriously wrong. Friends, the brilliance of our country and the joy of being a Baptist (at least historically) is this: you can disagree without being punished. As Americans we can disagree with each other without, Lord willing, there being violence. This is in the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” A disagreement over civil and political policy is not a “wound,” it is a testimony to the liberty we enjoy in this country! As Baptists, it should be that we can honestly search the Scriptures together and discuss our interpretations of God’s Word in love, civility, and honesty. Sadly, in both the civil and religious sphere, disagreements occur in the emotional realm, not as a discussion of various interpretations of either the Constitution (civic) or Bible (religious). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that no where in the Bible are we told to conform to society or to act “normal.” In fact, we are “A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We are not to conform, but to live as if “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Resist conformity as a citizen of the United States, because it’s okay to intelligently and peaceably disagree about public policy. Resist thoughtless and emotional conformity as a part of the Body of Christ, intelligently and peaceably examining the Scriptures to see if the teachings of the madman in the pulpit are true, like the Bereans: “…they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Also temper your holy skepticism with this goal, to press “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude” (Philippians 3:14,15).

Remember Who is in absolute control over the destiny of all humanity and history:
“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him. To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for You have given me wisdom and power; even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, for You have made known to us the king's matter” (Daniel 2:20-23).

Consider the testimony of pagan king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon: “…the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes…” (Daniel 4:17).

Consider the title of our Lord and Savior, to Whom we owe full and uncompromised allegiance: “…Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood - and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father - to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5,6).

God’s absolute sovereignty has a simple, unavoidable, unalterable, irresistible goal: “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:9,10).

We will pray for the President-elect, not for mere national well-being, but so that the saints will live in a land of peace, free to fulfill the Great Commission:
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 1:1-6). Paul is alluding to Jeremiah’s letter to the Exiles in Babylon 600 years earlier, who were living as we ought to be living, as strangers in a strange land (Jeremiah 29:5-7).

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2:11-16).

As the Baptist Faith and Message says: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power” (XVII, “Religious Liberty”).

I am post-scripting this note with a copy of Article II, Section 2-3, of the Constitution of the United States of America (this is section that describes the President’s job description). Despite the stump speeches of both candidates, I find nothing in this document stating that the President is to cure cancer, unify our country, hold everyone’s hand, affirm your self-esteem, meet all your needs, etc. I know I’m narrow minded – for me, the Christian faith is Bible and nothing else. I guess that approach has infected my civic sensibilities, too. I want the President to do what’s written in the document, and nothing else. Anyway, take the time to read through his job description, and use this as a guide to pray for him. By the way, don’t hold me responsible for the spelling of “chuse” (this is a transcript, and this is how they used to spell it).

Article. II.
Section. 2.
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
Section. 3.
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

mythical free will.

“…they gave of their own accord” (2 Corinthians 8:3).
"…they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5).

“…thanks be to God Who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus” (2 Corinthians 8:16).
“…he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord” (2 Corinthians 8:17).

Three wills. The individuals acting seem to have a will. The apostle and associates seem to have a will. God’s will is present. Three wills, right?

Nope. Why did the Macedonians give “of their own accord”? Because of the “grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1).

Titus’ “own accord” is inspired by an “earnestness” which was put in his heart by God (2 Corinthians 8:16).

What about the will of the apostle and associates? “We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Do you think Paul would argue as passionately as most humanistic philosophers masquerading as theologians do today for the cause of the mythical human free will?

All that is left is the absolute sovereign will of God, dedicated to working for His own glory, the only thing in the universe that will satisfy and bring peace and joy.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

“…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12,13).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

if it crawls like a rat...

He looked at me and said, “I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus.” Then he proceeded to tell me everything else he believed in, a melting pot of religions, all filtered through his feelings.

Another, at a different time: “I’m a Christian. I was baptized as a child.”

Since the term originates from the Bible, perhaps it is the Bible that should exclusively define the term.

“…the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). Who were called “Christians”? Those who merely express a belief in Jesus? No, “the disciples” were called “Christians.” A Christian is a disciple, or learner, of Jesus. Unless you are actively and continually following Jesus and learning more about Him, you are not a Christian.

What does the Bible say a disciple/Christian looks like?
A disciple/Christian is becoming like Jesus (Matthew 10:24,25).
A disciple/Christian regards Jesus above family, possessions, and life (Mark 8:34; Luke 12:22; 14:26,27,33).
A disciple/Christian makes other disciples/Christians (Matthew 28:18-20; John 15:8).
A disciple/Christian keeps Jesus’ words (John 8:31; Acts 6:7).
A disciple/Christian loves all other disciples (John 13:35; Acts 11:29).

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I’ve been thinking about the alleged free will of believers. The conquered.

Look at Ephesians: “Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men’” (Ephesians 4:8). The idea of leading “captive a host of captives” is found in at least two other places in Paul’s letters:

“For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9).

“But thanks be to God, Who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

This is victory parade language. When a king’s army conquered a land, he would lead a parade of mighty triumphant warriors, displaying both the spoils of the defeated nation and the humbled leadership of the fallen country. We see hints of this in Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s conquering of Judah in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:6,7,11,13-21).

When Paul describes himself, his associates, and the whole church as being led in victory by Christ, we aren’t fellow victors. This is Christ’s victory over us! Remember, we were God’s “enemies” (Romans 5:10) and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach…” (Colossians 1:21,22). In His “fleshly body” (1:22) Jesus has made us into “the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:4,12,16). Being led, chained and humbled, in this victory parade, we proclaim the Conqueror and give Him glory. This adds a depth to Paul’s self-identification as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus” (3:1), “the prisoner of the Lord” (3:1), and “an ambassador in chains” (6:20). This is the “calling” of the saints (4:1-4, which uses the verb “call” 4 times!). The captured lose their identity in the Capturer. They become a footnote on His list of accomplishments and property.

Notice that there are seven dimensions to unity (seven being the Hebrew number of completion, wholeness – as in the days of creation): (1) “body,” (2) “Spirit,” (3) “hope of your calling,” (4) “Lord,” (5) “faith,” (6) “baptism,” (7) “God and Father of all Who is over all and through all and in all.” Before this seven Paul speaks of “the unity of the Spirit” (4:3), and Paul speaks of one of the purposes of the gifts of Christ to the body is “the unity of the faith" (4:13). “The unity of the Spirit” speaks of the church being sealed together in Him (Ephesians 1:13; 2:22; 4:30). It is “one Spirit,” not many. “The faith” Paul speaks of here isn’t the abstract idea of faith (as found in Hebrews 11:1), but the concrete idea of faith – “the faith” as a collection of beliefs found only in the Word of God (Acts 6:7; 16:4,5; Philippians 1:27; 1 Timothy 3:9; 4:1,6; 2 Timothy 1:13; 3:8; Titus 1:13; Jude 3). Remember Jesus’ words in Samaria: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Spirit and truth. Spirit and the faith. The two witnesses in our lives that never contradict each other. We are made on in a unity of the Spirit and a unity of the faith.

“He gave gifts to men” (4:8). Why? So they would cease to be men of “trickery” (4:14) and would become “a mature man” (4:13). From plural to singular.

What are the gifts? The gifts are given to us individually: “…to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7). These gifts, given individually, are given to move us from individuality to unity: “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (4:11-13).

“The fullness of Christ” (4:13) comes only through Christ, Whose purpose is to “fill all things” (4:10). He got this purpose from His Father, “Who is over all and through all and in all” (4:6). This is Jesus’ passion – to imitate the Father in all things, to give Him glory in all things.

The motivation of this is love.
(1) In love He purposed us to be sons and daughters: In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6).
(2) Why did He choose us? Like Yahweh’s sovereign choosing of Israel, it wasn’t for any quality in Israel, but in love He chosen to love them (Deuteronomy 7:7,8): “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7). Notice that He’s “seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” the same heavenly places to which Christ ascends in 4:8,9.
(3) It is an absolutely sacrificial love – sacrifice for enemies, rebels, those “dead in transgressions” (2:1): “…Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

This should be mirrored in our lives together:
(1) We should have a universal love for all saints: “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:15-17).
(2) God’s love should be the foundation and substance of our lives: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).
God’s love should mark our interaction even in disagreement: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
(3) God’s love should motivate our speaking of His truth and should guide our movement toward unity in Him: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:14-16).
(4) Our actions and ways should be perfectly guided by His love (not our sin-accepting idea of love, but His love): “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1,2).
(5) God’s love should guide even our marriage relationships (for Christians marriage doesn’t exist for the pleasure of individuals, but for the proclamation of the gospel, which is all-satisfying to a true believer): “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body” (Ephesians 5:25-30).
(6) God’s love should be absolutely present in our relationships with each other and with God – equally! “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” (Ephesians 6:23,24).

In 4:8 Paul is quoting from the Psaltery:
“The Lord gives the command; the women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host: ‘Kings of armies flee, they flee, and she who remains at home will divide the spoil!’ When you lie down among the sheepfolds, you are like the wings of a dove covered with silver, and its pinions with glistening gold. When the Almighty scattered the kings there, it was snowing in Zalmon. A mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan; a mountain of many peaks is the mountain of Bashan. Why do you look with envy, O mountains with many peaks, at the mountain which God has desired for His abode? Surely the LORD will dwell there forever. The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them as at Sinai, in holiness. You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there. Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. Selah” (Psalm 68:11-19).

Whereas Psalm 68:18 praises God for receiving gifts from men, Ephesians 4:8 gives glory to Christ for giving gifts to men. Is there a conflict? No. We were “rebellious” and now give God all that we are. He also gives to us the grace necessary not only for us to be saved, but the grace that allows us to do the works of God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Belonging to God in Christ, doing the works God created for us, being united into a God-glorifying, all-satisfying fullness of unity in His church. Not bad for a bunch of worthless prisoners.

What about 4:9? Does "the lower parts of the earth" have to mean a descent into hell by Christ?

The Apostles’ Creed says, “descendit ad inferna,” or “He descended into Hell.” Where does the Bible say this?

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who were once disobedient, when the patience of the God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). It doesn’t say that He made proclamation to those spirits while they were in prison; it says He made proclamation to souls now in prison. Peter calls Noah a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). The Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19 – another name for the Holy Spirit) empowered Noah in those days to proclaim condemnation and salvation (Hebrews 11:7).

“In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him Who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God” (1 Peter 4:4-6). Keep in mind that it does not say the gospel was preached to them while they were dead, but that those who are dead have heard the gospel. Big difference. Everybody’s heard, and all are without excuse.

Some people will also cite Ephesians 4:9, but “lower parts of the earth” doesn’t mean a cave or hell or subterranean area. It’s a phrase used by Paul to describe how great the distance is from the glories of heaven to the dust of the earth: the “lowly earth” would be a better translation.

“…I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Jesus didn’t have to go to Hell to get the keys, because the enemy himself never had the keys. It’s a place created for punishment of the devil and his angels; he is not lord there (2 Peter 2:4). “The last enemy to be abolished is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). “…our Savior Jesus Christ, Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

Why is crazy bearded preacher maniac so opposed to Jesus going to Hell? There’s another scene that captures my attention even more…

Jesus, on the cross, receives the full wrath of God. No need for a descent into Hell. After receiving the wrath of God for our sin (just as boundless and unimaginable as His love for His Son), Jesus commits His Spirit to God (Luke 23:46). What happens after that? Does the Father throw His Spirit into Hell? We have a Scripture that tells us what happens to His Spirit.

The cross is where the work of salvation and atonement occurred; not Hell. “It is finished” (John 19:30) occurred on the cross, not in Hell. There was no need for Him to descend.

“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13,14). After the cross, Jesus’ Spirit made appearance before the throne of God and offered the blood of Christ for our sins, a sacrifice the Father was more than willing to accept, since it came from His Beloved Son (the only One in the universe God is pleased with).

Just because the Catholic Church has taught Jesus descended into Hell doesn’t make it so. But what do I know? I’m just a little desert rat trying his best to hide in Christ.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

meeting seco

The stone was hot, burning underhand as the heights were met.
Scratched primitively in the red and yellow stone was a mark:

Off the path, this route guided by the Breath of the One, attained only in the loneliness of the pilgrim’s path. Even the whimsical encounters and quirky units of chaos force the true Rat to manifest or be lost. Too soon in the journey to find the object of my desire…the Rat.

Seco shifted a little on the sharp rock. A smile faintly haunted his countenance, manifested by a slight tightening at the edge of his eyes and a barely perceivable bob of his long whiskers. As he spoke, the sound started as a low tone, a vague guttural “um” that increased in volume until the actual words caught up. Every paragraph, therefore, seemed to come from somewhere else, a great reservoir of speech only accessed in the middle. All his phrases began with ellipses.

“…you have the Breath, yes? Do you know He’s here, in you? How great, large, immense, cannot be measured, ummmm….holds everything together all the time, everywhere…even places you will never see or learn about…they are there…in His mind…” There was a fading into mountain-breeze here, and it seemed like Seco laughed to himself. “…ummmm…how can Breath have thought…the wind goes where it will, and we are but a figment of the Breath…”

Again, the Breath wrapping itself around the mountain tightened, and Seco’s words returned to the silence. I tried to rest-in-thought, but the Scriptures spoke in my heart (1 John 2:27).

“For by Him [the Beloved Son] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16,17). What is Reality? The severely-edged seat on the side of a mountain, imposing its’ truth into my backside? The penetrating radiation of sunlight on my cheeks and scalp, engaged in a sensate dance with the cool wind in my beard and hair? The tattered Book in my left hand? The rock-Rat still as stone a few feet away? Are these material things Reality, or are they only things I am feeling? Are they thoughts in the infinite Breeze of the Almighty and Beyond? How can this Man of Nazareth continually conceive and move Everything and Every-moment? Question marks reduce the humble to breathless adoration and the prideful to frenzied self-indulgence. Seco’s stillness was infectious enough to keep me low. Another Word came.

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Due to a loving Will beyond me, I find myself born of the Breath exhaled from Forever. I am like Him in this way: I am present. I am ignorant of where I come from, for the only Past to me is the Present-Past, the Past that is brought to mind Now in my memory; it is not the same as the true Past (if such a thing exists), for I remember how and what I will. There is no Past: “…forgetting what lies behind” (Philippians 3:13). “Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Likewise, I am ignorant of where I am going. My knowledge of the future consists of imaginations and words written a few pages ahead in a calendar (does my vanity consider these scribblings real?). There is no Future. There is only Now. I am part of the One Who said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Did the writer not see the Creator? Did he not see the Baby, or the bloody pulp nailed to a stick? Did he not put his hands in the scars or fall dead at the flaming feet of Glory? How can He be the same? How can He be only Present? I ask, for I am to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” (Romans 8:29) yet this timeless Present in which He is First Cause, Infant, Victim, Wounded, and Deadly Light all at once makes me forget to breathe…

…let me endeavor to encourage you, since it is still Today (Hebrews 3:13). Those who care to look see a recluse when they look in my direction. How do I survive, I was asked, in the smothering chaos of the crowd? I responded in an effort to teach myself, “I carry my own silence within me.” Another time, kept in the apparent Morgan (close to the Desert of Morgan, yet infinitely far away if we’re not there), the distance to the Desert was brought to my attention. Again, teaching myself, I observed the Desert in my mind and claimed it as sufficient. Are these things true? No, they are false. It is not my silence, nor is it my Desert. Concerning the Desert of Morgan, I will say this only briefly at this time (I know, I said “Time”): though tagged with “of Morgan,” the Desert is part of Paradise. Calling it the Desert of Morgan simply gives us a flimsy frame of reference for our – for my – struggling mind. Let me speak of the Silence. And yet, as I would speak to you, Seco’s voice came from the silence of the mountain. Let him speak to you.

“…observe the silences in the Apocalypse.”

I opened my ratty copy of the Scriptures to the Unveiling of Jesus. First, Seco the Rat led me through the Liturgy of the Silence of the Breath of God.

“…the Wind embraces the mountain…we are on the mountain, insignificant parts of its’ vastness…we are embraced and filled and made by the Wind of the Being. ‘…I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree’ (Revelation 7:1). The Teacher has said, ‘you do not know the path of the wind,” (Ecclesiastes 11:5) and the Chosen One has showed us the Wind is the incarnation of Breath…” I nodded. I have, in my stillness-to-be-taught, felt the Wind and sensed the closeness of Otherness, the Return, and even the grave. It is always a delicate and potent concession, a most valued gifting. Seco grunted approval. Do you, beloved, apprehend the love and communion in the fellowship of disciples that has as its’ goal the shaping of the spirit? It is beyond the love that fills my belly or heaves into laughter. It is eternal and unbreakable. Such was the moment on the abrasive mountain. Seco continued (or at least I heard him again…perhaps he never ceased speaking):

“Many messengers are spoken of in the Unveiling. One makes proclamation, ending any further delay, any further salvation: ‘…when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices. When the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them”’ (Revelation 10:3,4) The thunders, you know…they are the Breath…” Seco paused, allowing the Breath to teach me further. My hands moved the pages an instant before I knew where they were going. I found the verse the Breath (and Seco) wanted me to find: “Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God…” (Revelation 4:5). Though uttering perfectly, wholly, and “seven-ly,” the Words were hidden from us. Even the thunder of the Spirit is silent. Only in a deep spiritual mystery can thunder be SILENT.

The manifestation of the Breath of God, the wind, is silent in the Unveiling for a time. The thunder of the Breath from the throne is silent, for it is not revealed to me. Seco thought of me, and the Wind moved me to another verse: “When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half and hour” (Revelation 8:1). Seco the Rat said nothing. He did not need to teach, for the Wind had used him to bring me to this moment. Seco was the pedagogue, and now he retreated before the Master. He now lapsed into still oración. The silence of Heaven, the realm of God Who is Spirit (John 4:24). This realm of Spirit is silent for a slice of eternity thirty minutes long (I remain agnostic concerning the temporal mechanics of heaven). Another silence of the Breath came to my attention, despite myself. As quickly and profuse as my thoughts were, it was a true grace that the Spirit condescended to continue in this time on the mountain. I have yet to master stillness (forgive me, Father).

There are Words concerning the end of the Breath of God flowing from His servants: “…in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7). I have seen the verse that speaks of prophesies’ end (1 Corinthians 13:8). The Breath will be silent in the mouths and pens of His dead servants. They will be silent to the reader. They will be silent, and will cease from their moving the mountain of the Kosmos like a mote of dust in sunlight. A time comes, and since it is promised perfectly, it even now is (I entertain some element of timelessness in my ontology, as a mystical Parmenides). The testimony of the Spirit to the nations will cease (Matthew 10:20, where it is the Spirit of the Father. Mark 13:11, where it is the Holy Spirit. Luke 21:15, where it is Jesus. The Trinity will speak through His servants, and the Trinity will cease to speak…may it be that His servants also cease to speak).

The Wind (symbol of the Breath), Heaven (the place of Spirit), the thunders of the Breath of God, and the instruments of the Breath of God…all these are mute. What does it mean for the Breath to be silent? Since most people do not hear the Voice (for they do not have that desire given to them), the Spirit is experientially silent anyway. For the Breath to be silent is a deepening of a Deepness hardly noticed. The Spirit sinks back into the eternal silence of God (Who is not seen or heard)…it is a SILENCE that drowns out the vain and futile and stupid cries and pontifications of the Kosmos.

Behold: the body (singular) of you (plural) is a temple (singular) of the in-you (plural) Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).

The body we have is one, and it is the temple. The Spirit in us is One, and He is Being. In a sense, none of us has authority over our bodies, for we do not consider ourselves as individuals with rights to somatic possession (1 Corinthians 7:4. Of course I do not mean sexually in this application. Consider also 1 Corinthians 11:11). If disciples are, in Body, a temple of the Holy Spirit, then what does it mean for the place of worship if the Object goes silent? I do not mean that He leaves the temple, but that His presence grows silent. Surely it would be blasphemous to do anything except be silent! As the Spirit returns for a season (it could be only half an hour!) into the silence of God, He does not leave His temple, does He? May it never be! Instead, the temple itself is drawn into this beautiful stillness. “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her” (Hosea 2:14). This speaking “kindly,” this wooing, can (and does) occur in silence. Are the heavens not said to tell, declare, pour forth speech, reveal knowledge, and to have utterances? Yet, “there is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard” (Psalm 19:3).

When the Spirit grows silent and draws me into that silence, it is not enough that I am quieter than a wind that rends mountains into pebbles. It is not enough to be unnoticed in an earthquake, or dull beside a great fire. When the Spirit grows silent, a gently blowing must be a roar compared to me (1 Kings 19:11,12). Yet, in my silence, I will be an offensive omission in the fruitless noise of the Kosmos. So shall my devotion and testimony be. My silence will bear profound and indestructible fruit, for it is not my SILENCE. It is the silence of the Creator, Who has been known to silently settle over dark formlessness and void (Genesis 1:2). His silence is not nothing, since He does not create nothing. His silence is indefinably rich with creativity and bounty. Hush. Amen.

In the distance, miles away, there were mountains and mesas and features that were nameless to me. Dark clouds hugged the horizon closely. The mountain to my left rejoiced in the sun. I enjoyed the grace bestowed by the communion of the Moment. My faith was increased. I had been led to prayer by faith, and in this prayer of learning and receiving from the Spirit, my faith had been increased. The increased faith drives me into more prayer.

After the passing of an age in this world, Seco led me through the brief second Liturgy of Silence in the unveiling. This silence is the silence of the grain of wheat, fallen on the ground (John 12:24). It is the Absolute Image that is our singular Passion. Three days, silent in the borrowed tomb. Cold, motionless, lifeless, thoughtless, dead. Three days and three nights. O sign of Jonah, marked on the courses of my being! Hear the silences of the Lamb: “…I was dead…” (Revelation 1:8; see also 2:8) “…a Lamb standing, as if slain…” (Revelation 4:6) He is silent through this whole episode. “…You were slain…worthy is the Lamb that was slain…” (Revelation 4:9,12). After His message to the Churches in which He beckons us to hear spiritually, He becomes so silent in His unveiling!

The third silence is an echo of the second. As the divine-fleshly Template was dead, so too his witnesses. “When they [the two witnesses] finish their testimony…the beast that comes up out of the abyss will…kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified…for three and a half days…” (Revelation 11:7-11). Three and a half days of silence. The witnesses give no testimony, except in their lifelessness (I have never been taught that “model”). As He was dead, the witnesses are dead. “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Write, “Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord from now on!”’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so that they may rest from their labors, and their deeds follow with them’” (Revelation 14:13). A strange rest. A stillness of flesh, thought, emotion, being. Let the deeds follow the saints and witnesses, follow behind. They move beyond being now. “…they poured out the blood of saints and prophets…drunk with the blood of the saints…in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Revelation 16:6; 17:6; 18:24). The whore. The life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:14). Their blood, their life in her. Yet they are not in her. In silence beyond life and blood they are unbeing, safe in him. Their testimony of silence in the prostitute, speaking mutely against her. The silence of the martyr, an echo of the silence of the Lamb. Hence it is said of all servants of the Being: “…he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

A fourth movement in the empty Liturgy of this great and terrible Space above the Desert of Morgan speaks of awe. “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its’ seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the book or look into it” (Revelation 4:2,3). There is an instant (eternal where there is no time) between the seeking of worth and the great Ascribing of Worth…an instant of unanswered question. Somewhere in there we are tempted to think of all the things we wish for in this world, and are forced by our discipline to give them to the One Who needs Nothing. But before this spontaneous list of desire we are silent, choking on our silence before the awareness that we are not the center.

Seco the Rat sniffed, ever so slightly. For this beautifully ugly rat, such a gesture was the funniest of jokes. Have you ever sat and endured the heat of the sun? Ceased squirming in the feeling that your surface tissues are swelling to burst? Relaxed in the hot air that suffocates? You are assured a blessed “prayer-closet” in such a place; only the most set-apart will ever join you. You can be sure their company is not distraction, but Appointment. It was a holy meeting with Seco on the side of the yellow crags. A fifth Space in the Liturgy of Silence. “…no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Revelation 14:5). There are times we cannot open our mouths without lying. We pretend to know, yet knowledge is possession of One. We cannot know each other, or ourselves, or God, as He knows. Yet we open our mouths. The mouth speaking no lie is dormant, dry in the painful air. An angled bone-of-earth digs into my leg, just below the knee. Do I move? Why?

You know there are false silences, too. There is the spiritual death: “…you are dead…” (Revelation 3:1). It comes (see how I personify the absence of life) when we rest on the path set before us. The deeds of God not complete. How can that be, except in the place of false silence, spiritual death? “…the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk…” (Revelation 9:20). I am witless, to be sure, for speaking occasionally to the rocks and dust as a brother in Creation. But to attribute deity or even corresponding consciousness requires a special level of willful confusion. “For nothing else so soils the work of God and makes unclean what is clean as the deification of creation and the worshipping of it as equal to God the Creator and Maker. Thus all creation, defiled now and worshipped by man, is soiled and brought down to complete corruption” (St. Symeon the New Theologian on the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, trans. A. Golitzin, vol. 1, The Church and the Last Things [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995], 30). These things of Creation are relatively silent (relative to our endless vomiting of words and communications), but fulfill the Creator’s will in their silence. To worship these fellow-beings baffles even the heat-exhausted rat-seeker. “…and he threw him [the dragon] into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time…when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth…” (Revelation 20:3,7,8). A thousand years of satanic silence. May our silences never be a biding of time until we set our minds to receive and conquer and manipulate and rebel and an cessation of all waiting for the Lord. I have seen it happen.

Seco did nothing, yet marked the end of the Liturgy. It was time for me to move on in search of the Desert Rat. It’s always tempting to stay and let the heat and rocks finish cooking me. But I wordlessly leave Seco and move on, unchanging in my quest. “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy” (Revelation 22:11).