Sunday, August 25, 2013

What does it mean when they say Christ in you?

I was saved on May 5, 1972, and my view of the world was to change dramatically after that. I remember looking at our world before I was saved. Looking at the same world just a few weeks afterwards brought dramatic changes. What happened to me to change my world outlook so dramatically? Moreover, what happens when someone becomes a Christian? All of this has much to do with the phrase “Christ in you,” and I cannot do an adequate job of answering the question without including the utter and complete transformation that takes place when someone becomes a believer.

The incredible joy that entered my heart when I received the good news is almost impossible to describe. Although I was merely 19 at the time, I had quite hardened my view against Christianity. I had many friends who had what I called the church habit, and being naturally curious, I had questioned them about the why of their church habit. I was unable to get any coherent answers, but sometimes heard that they were “being careful” and wanted to insure that they were doing the right thing. Hardly a sterling testimony that warranted my interest, and it actually fed my skepticism that someone could actually know God.

The idea of a God who gets intensely personal with each individual was an unknown idea to me. I was much more caught up in the cosmic idea of God, and wondering how he fit into a world which seemed to have little need of him. After all, had not science told us how life begins? I wasn’t convinced about the theories, but I really had no other offered alternative.
Meeting my first convinced Christians happened, and for the first time, I heard articulate reasons about a God who not only created our world, but was very concerned with the desperate straits of humankind. These two Christians claimed to know and experience a personal relationship with God himself, something that none of the other Christians I had asked, confessed to. Eventually, because of those conversations, and my reading of the Bible for myself, I came to believe God.

It is at the point of believing God that the believer is given the Holy Spirit. As I became aware that God was concerned enough about me that he placed his own Holy Spirit inside of me, it was a feeling that was at once the best experience I had ever had, and the strangest experience I ever had. The best experience because I actually had constant access to God himself, who was able to show me in so many ways that he cared for me, had planned for me personally, and had gifted me to do work in his body—the church. The strangest experience because I was very used to lots of thinking on my own, reasoning things out, and figuring out what was key to a particular situation. Now there was Someone Else in my consciousness, and as I became more aware of his presence, I found him making me uneasy with my many of my thoughts. He knows all that I am thinking and doing at particular times, and I knew that there were thoughts in my mind that I was not willing to share. Those thoughts he knew, if the Bible is to be believed, even before I thought them. It was an invasive experience, and I had to learn to deal with the strange, as well as accept the blessing.

Along with that, I found the world that I had spent 19 years getting to know, not at all real. Reality lays behind that which we see and think and reason and feel. One of the main reasons I came to believe God was simply that I found he was there, more real than reality itself. All of a sudden, many of the assumptions of science that I had made, were on the line, as I learned that the God who had revealed himself to me in the Bible, gave quite a different story than the one that I had learned. Much of the reality that I saw and accepted as true around me, I had now found to be false, and Truth was taking me in an unexpected direction. For the last forty plus years, I have found the god-in-me idea to be radically life changing.

It is not me alone who testifies to such a wondrous change; the church is full of people by the millions who testify to the complete turnabout from self to God. Millions of times, in all sorts of individuals, we find the testimony of people who were altered almost beyond recognition when they encountered God. Beginning with Saul of Tarsus, and on to Augustine, John Newton, Whittaker Chambers, and Charles Colson, we find example after example of people who were completely transformed by their encounter with God. They had all discovered the secret of Christ in you.

Which brings me to answer the question. What is the secret of Christ in you? According to the Bible, in John 14, Jesus promises, ” And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever”(v. 16). Notice the forever! The gift is given, I believe, for all of eternity. It is part of what is going to make heaven on earth work. I used to think a lot about the crowds that will be with Jesus, one day, first in heaven, and then with him as he rules on earth. I thought a lot about being small and insignificant, and that I probably would be lucky in such a situation to even see Jesus, and that perhaps through a set of binoculars. But then I thought about God, who is omniscient, and the Holy Spirit who will be inside of every one of us. God in us. The secret of what will make it heavenly for everyone. God himself will personally interact with every single one of us, even at the same time, even personally and differently according to our needs. Could anything be better than that?

The next verse (17) makes it clear that this is indeed going to be the case, “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” And in the same chapter of John (v. 26), it says, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” God is in us now, teaching us the very mysteries of God! But the best part? The best part is that he will be in us forever, always giving us guidance, and the more so when we at last meet Christ face to face.

Another Comforter? Just like Christ? Keeping us centered in God for the rest of eternity. I can imagine nothing greater could ever happen to us. John Newton wrote the first three verses of perhaps the most favorite hymn of the world, Amazing Grace. Someone anonymously penned a fourth verse years later, perhaps an African American, for it became part of their oral tradition. When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun. All those years, stretching throughout eternity, to have God in us, and speaking to us, and teaching us. What could possibly be better than that? Christ in you!

My Church, right or wrong.

My church, right or wrong. If it is wrong, may God give us the humility and perseverance to set it right. If it is right, may God give us the wisdom to leave it alone, keeping it that way.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What does blinded by sin mean?

He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. John 12:40

John 12:40 is the theme verse to talk about being blinded by sin. A cursory reading of the verse makes me cringe, for the he in the verse is evidently God, though there is another verse, 2 Corinthians 4:4, which makes it clear that Satan makes people blind. It says, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” But, in another passage, it also makes clear that men are responsible for their own blindness: “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water”.

Right away we seem to have an issue, namely the blindness of natural man in sin, named as from three different sources. It comes from God directly, also from Satan, and from the hardness of their own hearts. Again, it is one of the beauteous doctrines of scripture where the sovereignty of God and the will of man work together. (see note1) God, in the final sense, is sovereign over all, and thus responsible for the blindness of sin. Satan, who has rebelled against God, will actively encourage and teach blindness to men, having taken them captive through sin. Finally, men themselves have utterly depraved hearts, according to 2 Timothy 3:13, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”

God sovereignly allowed the world to get into this awful condition, using the devil to tempt us, and allowing the world to be cursed by that temptation, forever damning our souls. The part I like to remember especially is that God took responsibility for that awful condition of the world by giving of himself in Christ’s sacrifice, that the wrath of God might be fully satisfied. There are those people who love to accuse God of being behind the evil, which finally he is, but they neglect to recognize that God, in his mercy, and in his justice, poured out his wrath upon his son when it should have been poured out on us. If God is the author of evil, he is also its finisher, in every sense of the word.

Naming the sources helps us to understand how sin might keep men blind, and certainly points to the grace of God in sending the Messiah, but it is hardly help in defining what that blindness is. I am reminded of R.C. Sproul’s expression, like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man. How is it possible to define a veil on men’s lives, when the men cannot see the veil? It is indeed like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man. Nevertheless, I shall plough forward and do my best.

Perhaps a literature example might be of help. Tolkien’s Frodo takes on the burden of bearing the Ring to its destruction. But the Ring itself, unseen, and unbidden, seems to have a will of its own. When one of the nine riders approaches, Frodo finds himself unable to stop from putting on the ring, and revealing his presence to the very ones he was running from. The Ring, as it grows closer to its source of power, becomes ever stronger, and soon Frodo confesses to seeing nothing but a giant wheel of fire before him. And at the last of the story, the Ring betrays utterly Frodo, and reveals its power as Frodo makes a choice to become like the Ring-master.

Sin is like that. We take it into our lives and play with it, disappearing from those we do not care for, and reappearing before our friends. Little by little, we play with sin, and fear not the hurt, but so gradually, it changes us into something that we had no intention of becoming. Is it not easy to see in the drug addict or the alcoholic? Not many people, I should judge, desire to grow up and become an alcoholic. Yet many end up in the clutches of sin, the giant wheel of fire burns in our minds until we can discern nothing else. It, of course, is not only the road of addiction that takes us so easily to sin. It is just that addiction is easy to point to as the example of someone being blinded by sin. It starts out with incredible feelings of ecstasy, but ends too often with loss of friendship, families, and careers, before its ultimate awful and bitter end. Too often people die as the victims of their own follies and sins, unable to see the beauty is simply a disguised death.

Whatever subtle form it takes at first, be assured that it is leading you away from the path to finding yourself. It may be the draw of power over others in job leadership. Being able to exalt or diminish others at your whim can entice you so that you forget everything except the game of advancement. It may be the whispering of wealth stealing through your bones bit by bit, until you find yourself rich beyond all dreams, but the dreams prove to be vaporous wisps of fog when death comes knocking. Whatever form sin takes, it is usually a slow poison, spreading to every cell in your body, contaminating you gradually so that you never notice it. Like the frog in the boiling pot of water dying without a whimper, so sin’s slow spread fouls the body, and dims the wits, until like Jacob Marley, you find yourself encircled with chains, the evil being that you have forged them yourselves, one link after the other, and you find the chains too strong, for the craftsmanship of sin is monumental, and you are overcome with death.

I think it so ironic that as children we start with such high aims. I teach fourth graders, having done so for many years, and I have yet to find one that stands up in class and declares that he is going to grow into a convicted felon, or a heroin addict, or a drunkard, or a wife-beater. Yet, that is the course that so many of us end in. How is it that our idealism, our bright innocency, and good intentions end in such dark paths? I am convinced it happens with one misstep at a time, with first our own path seeming so similar to the one we would tread, that we hardly see the difference, but over time that path is sundered so far from the good path we as children intuited, so far that we become strangers to ourselves.

It is our Lord who tells us quite the opposite of what we would expect. “He that loses his life shall find it.” We spend all of our lives trying to prove that saying wrong, but the stain of sin spread across our decades of life only prove the wisdom of the words. What traps us so securely if it is not that magnetic fascination with the self? The same self that we are adjured to lose. How shall we expect a good outcome when we yield so far to its magnetic pull?

The blindness of sin, then we should see as that which subtly carries one away from life itself. The blindness of sin is always sweetly cajoling the unaware, who become too willing to lend themselves to destruction. In the very old days—before my time—Christians used to turn out pamphlets by the thousands on “Demon Rum”, and other sorts of things that we sinners participate in. I wonder if they were on to something that modern Christians seem to have missed. They at least stood up and called sin a sin, which is more than we are doing oftentimes today. I remember my Lord told us that the road to hell is broad and many there are that find it. At the least, the duty of the Christian should be to put up some sort of sign, warning the people bent on the wrong road that danger lies ahead.

1. There is a fascinating place in the Old Testament where the sovereignty of God is named, yet the will of man and the purposes of Satan are folded within the same place. The story first occurs in 2 Samuel 24: 1 with the words: "Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah."" Notice he incited David against them. Now let us read from I Chronicles 21: 1, the parallel passage, "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel." In the first passage in Samuel, God says he does the inciting. In the second parallel passage, we read that Satan rose against Israel. Which is it? But wait, I am not done. In the first passage of 2 Samuel, David takes the blame himself, saying, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done" (2 Sam. 24: 10). David also takes the blame in Chronicles: "I have sinned greatly by doing this" (1 Chron. 21: 8). Which is it? I believe that we have a beautiful picture of the weaving together of the tapestry of God. It is also a wonderful picture of the sovereignty of God coming in spite of the will of Satan and the will of man. But what I want to focus on is the tapestry. Satan evidently has the power to incite us to sin, sometimes without our realizing it (Did David realize it was Satan?), and we can choose to sin, yet the power of God is so great that everything folds together into his grand plan. For look in the passage further, and you will discover that God used this sin to create the site of his holy temple, a temple that figures most prominently in the future age of Christ's rule on earth. God is capable of using all of his creation, even his disobedient subjects, to bring about his good plans. What an awesome God we serve!

Davis, Patrick (2013-06-01). Beyond Philosophy (Kindle Locations 1111-1124). . Kindle Edition.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How many apostles were there?

What an important question! I am so glad you asked. Much of how we look at church history probably starts with how we look at the apostles, and their number. But before I can answer the question, I think it is important to sort of set the problem forthrightly.

Judas is, of course, where historically the problem starts. He was selected by our Lord, like all the other apostles, but he was chosen, the Lord knowing full well that he would fail his office with his betrayal of the Lord. It is an interesting place where the foreknowledge and predestination of God bumps up with the free will of man (Judas) and yet they somehow work together to accomplish the sovereign will of God. When Judas failed in the office to which Jesus had selected him, he left a vacancy that the early church duly noted.

The early church—many scholars point out, the church not yet filled with the Spirit—desired to follow the scriptures. Peter quotes Psalm 109:8, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” So, after praying, the church decided on two candidates for apostles, two of the very finest examples of Christians that they had seen, namely Barsabus and Matthias. Not sure what God had in mind, they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias, who became the thirteenth apostle, or, if you will, the apostle to fill the place of Judas. The scripture says in Acts that Matthias was numbered with the eleven apostles.

All seems to go along well with this action for several years until we come to Saul of Tarsus, the apostle born out of time. There are three repetitive accounts of Saul’s conversion in Acts, a signal, I think, of God’s making it a really important account. He is singularly mentioned as being the apostle sent to the Gentiles, something that you and I ought to be grateful for, for if we were able to trace it, our spiritual father in the gospel is most likely Paul.

You will observe now that there is a potential problem. The church appointed one apostle, Matthias. The Lord appointed the other eleven, and Judas. Now there is another apostle, Paul, making a total of fourteen apostles, thirteen if Judas is removed. So, you say the church must have had thirteen apostles, and maybe that is no big deal.

But to the student of scripture, it is a big deal because of a verse in Revelation. The apostle John has a vision which he later writes down as Revelation, and in it, he says, ”And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:14). Do you see the problem? What happened to the thirteenth apostle?
Revelation was the last written book of the Bible, and with it, the Canon closed. If John the apostle saw only twelve apostles, then there must be but twelve apostles. The implications of there being only twelve apostles is staggering to the church. It is obvious from a study of what happened that Jesus appointed thirteen apostles and one was Judas. If we assume that the twelve apostles John speaks about in Revelation are the ones which Jesus personally appointed, what becomes of Matthias?

Matthias was evidently a very good man, but not an apostle. The church met together, and prayed, and selected two men for God to choose to elect the apostle. Peter correctly read the scripture, that another should take his office, but Peter and the church made a mistake by assuming that it was their place to fill the office. I believe, and many leaders with me, that this first church council, if you will, set the historically bad precedent of doing the wrong thing. They certainly were not acting with the filling of the Holy Spirit, for that filling had not yet come.

I do notice the church was never remonstrated for their error, if error it was. But neither do we ever hear of Matthias again, and that leaves us to speculate in both directions. Was he used of God to perform his office? There is no credible evidence that he was, or that he wasn’t. We simply do not know.

It seems evident that Christ must pick the apostle, and that he did so exactly thirteen times, closing the office of the apostle forever, if we are to believe the verse at the end of Revelation. Matthias, the only “apostle” picked by the church, apparently does not attain to that high office at all. That in no way is meant to suggest he was not worthy of great leadership; it is merely pointing out the obvious—the Lord picked all the other apostles, and Paul, being born, as it were, out of time, nevertheless was the one God had intended all along.

Now, the ramifications for the church are not good. In many ways this was the first church council, and it ended, if not disastrously, at least with its first big blunder. I reflect on the advantage the church had while Jesus was yet with them, and I see their blundering reflecting a church working without the Holy Spirit, and arriving at an improper solution. Rather than picking two worthy men, and letting God use the lot to select the one to fill the office, shouldn’t they have come to God on their knees, and asked him to reveal his choice? Their mistake was in assuming that it had to be one of these two men.

It is obvious, further, that John’s vision of twelve apostles seen at the end of the age as foundations of the new Jerusalem meant that Jesus had completed the office of apostleship with Paul, and that it was not meant to be added to. It seemed like a small question to ask. How many apostles were there? Yet, the study of just how many there were opens many doctrines to examine and reflect on. I do not think I need point out the obvious—Protestants and Catholics have been long divided over this very issue. I would point out though, that if the office of apostles was meant to be kept open, why is it that John speaks just of twelve? Yet, others, not of my persuasion, might well point out to me that the office that Matthias took was allowed to stand. So it is, that one of the great dividers of the church began—with the first church council ever to meet. Did they make a mistake, or not?

Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Psalm 109:8