Monday, October 26, 2009

Favorite Verse

I have many favorite Bible verses, but this one is especially dear to my heart.
"At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Luke 10:21)

It is amazing to me that God can, and does, give understanding to those with little education and 'hide' those very things from those with doctorates in theology. It's one way that God exalts the humble.

Here is one example:
Perhaps you are aware that there are two basic approaches to Bible prophecy among conservative Christian scholars. One is called Dispensational Theology and the other is called Covenantal Theology. We will not explain all of the differences here, but we will look at certain ones. Dispensationalists believe that the Old Testament prophecies regarding the restoration of the nation of Israel and a future reign of the Messiah (the son of David) in an earthly Kingdom of God over Israel will come to pass literally during the Millenium following the return of Christ. Covenantalists interpret these prophecies as being fulfilled in the church (a replacement for Israel) and that Christ's reign over the church from heaven is the promised reign of the son of David over Israel. They see Christ being seated at the right hand of God as the fulfillment of the Davidic kingship.

And, of course, there are arguments as to how interpret various scriptures. There is one scripture in the NT that seems to favor the Covenantalists, though Dispensationalists would surely disagree. It is Acts 15:16, "After this I will return and rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen". Both Dispensationalists and Covenantalists and any other group of scholars which I have read interpret the 'tabernacle' or 'tent' of David as 'the kingdom of David'. So Covenantalists use this to prove that the church is the kingdom of David because this verse in Acts applies the term 'tabernacle of David' to the church. Dispensationalists counter that the OT context shows that it is an end-times prophecy.

Now I (although a Dispensationalist) actually agree with the Covenantalists that the expression 'tabernacle of David' is applied to the church. However, both sides are wrong in saying that the expression 'tabernacle of David' means 'the Davidic Kingdom'. Nowhere in the scriptures does the term 'tabernacle' mean 'kingdom'.

How is it used? Going back to the OT, we find that Moses set up a tent or tabernacle where sacrifices were made and where the presence of God was, in the Holy of Holies. He made the ark of the covenant where God dwelt over the 'mercy seat'. A few hundred years later, the Philistines came and took the ark of the covenant. It was brought back to Israel by King David who defeated the Philistines. But he did not put it back into the Tabernacle of Moses. He put up a separate tabernacle in Jerusalem to be near him. "They brought the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it." (2 Chronicles 16:1) This is what is referred to as the 'Tabernacle of David'. How did it differ from the first tabernacle?.

When King David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem he "danced before the Lord with all his might". He then set up a 'system' where praise would be offered to the Lord in front of the tabernacle on a continual basis. "He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel... David left Asaph and his associates before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister there regularly, according to each day's requirements. He also left Obed-Edom and his sixty-eight associates to minister with them. Obed-Edom son of Jeduthun, and also Hosah, were gatekeepers. David left Zadok the priest and his fellow priests before the tabernacle of the LORD at the high place in Gibeon to present burnt offerings to the LORD on the altar of burnt offering regularly, morning and evening, in accordance with everything written in the Law of the LORD, which he had given Israel. " (2 Chron 16:4, 37-40) Notice that the priests were offering sacrifices at Moses' tabernacle in Gibeon but Asaph and his crew were at David's tabernacle in Jerusalem to offer praise to God. If you look in the Psalms you will find that both David and Asaph wrote many of them.
Jewish tradition tells us that God would inspire some singers with psalms. Some Levites and priests would be present to record these inspired utterances. The gift of prophecy would be present and many of these inspired songs made it into the book of Psalms.
Musical instruments were also an important part of this worship. "Heman and Jeduthun were responsible for the sounding of the trumpets and cymbals and for the playing of the other instruments for sacred song." (2 Chron 16:42) This was not a little praise band. The instruments numbered 5000! It must have been quite a sound when they all got together.

This is what the church is supposed to be like, continually offering up praise to God. The point of the passage in Acts has to do with the church (including the Gentile believers) offering up praise to the Lord. It has nothing to do with any Davidic kingdom.

By demonstrating that Acts 15 is about the church reviving 'David's tabernacle' then we can speak to another issue brought up by some Christians who are opposed to having musical instruments in the church. They say that the NT church had no musical instruments so we shouldn't either. Well, they have not carefully read the NT. There may be no examples of the use of instruments, but if the church 'raises up' the Tabernacle of David, then musical instruments must be involved. So then, musical instruments are not only not forbidden, they may be required! The church being all over the world means that God can be praised on a continual basis.

Also, this interpretation fits in neatly with Paul's teaching that the church is the temple of God. Jesus fulfilled the sacrifices of the temple and the church fulfills the prayer and praise of the temple. It is also obvious that there is no literal 'tabernacle' or 'temple' that we must all go to in order to offer praise. Jesus said that in our time people must 'worship Him in spirit and in truth'.

We should also take a fresh look at Ephesians 5:18-20, "Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father." This being 'filled with the Spirit and speaking psalms and spiritual songs takes a bit of a greater meaning. These psalms and songs are not something out of a song book. They are inspired at the moment by the Holy Spirit. This is what happened at David's tabernacle. This is how we got the book of Psalms.

We may even be taken by surprise when this happens. I remember being in my store, filling the walk-in cooler and singing to the Lord. As I was singing I was also busy putting product on the shelf and not fully paying attention to what exactly I was singing. When I stopped for a moment I found that I was singing something that I never heard before. God was giving me a song by the inspiration of the Spirit. It was a new song. Now I am not a great singer and I am certainly no song-writer, but I can yield to the Holy Spirit. So can you.

This is one of my favorite things about being Spirit-filled: the fact that God can inspire me to do what naturally I am unable to do. And it also makes it a walk of faith. God can reveal to me what scholars cannot figure out. God can give to me anything He wants to. Let's be open to Him and believe that with God, all things are possible.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Transformation by the Word

"I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Romans 12:1-2

In this passage, Paul gives us the key to personal transformation - the renewing of our minds. Before we dig into this, let's see in what other ways the Greek word for transformation (Gk. metamorphoo) is used in the New Testament. Its first use in the gospels is used to describe the change in Jesus' appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration. Mk 9:2-3 says, "Jesus took Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured (metamorphoo) before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them." In this passage, Jesus is physically transformed in the sight of three disciples. The body of Jesus is changed by the glory of God. Now this is different from the kind of transformation than the one we read in Romans, but the idea is the same. The divine glory (an outward manifestation of the nature of God) makes Jesus appear to be far different than he appeared before. It is like when Moses came down the mountain from God's presence and his face glowed with the glory of God. A similar thing can happen to us as well. "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18) Once again, the idea is one of profound transformation, but here we are being transformed into the image of Jesus Himself. So to be transformed is to become like Christ Himself.

So a transformation is a complete change by which the Spirit makes us into a new person, not conformed to this world, but reflecting the glory and image of Christ. Now when we speak of being a new person here, we are not saying that one becomes a new creature in Christ by the renewing of the mind. We are make new creatures by the new birth. Every person who receives Jesus as Lord is instantly born-again as a child of God. He has a new heart, a new spirit. (Ezek 36:26) It is our spirits, not our minds or bodies, that are born of God. What Romans 12:1-2 says is that this new creature must do something with his mind and body. The body is made a living sacrifice and the mind is renewed. (We are spirit, soul (mind) and body (flesh.)

I have made a distinction between the new creation in Christ (the new birth) and a new person who, being transformed, manifests in thought and action what God wants him to be. As Rom 12:2 says, he proves what the will of God is in his own life. Many Christians try to do the will of God without renewing their mind and they struggle as a result. They continually fall short and agonize over their failures. The problem is not that they are not good Christians, but that their minds are not renewed. In order to be transformed into the image of Christ we must set about this task of the renewing of the mind.

So now we must explore how the mind can be renewed. The first thing we notice in verse 1 of Romans 12 is that there is a prerequisite to renewing one's mind. First, one must offer one's body a living sacrifice. Paul and others speak of this same thing in various places in the NT. Expressions like "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24), "mortify your members which are on the earth" (Col 3:5) and "your pleasures that wage war in your members" (James 4:1) show us that our bodies must not rule our lives. We must rule over our bodies.

Now we come to the question, 'what exactly is the renewing of the mind?' and 'how is it renewed?'. Although the expression 'renewing of the mind' seems to be unique in the Bible, expressions with the same basic meaning are found as well. In order to show this, we must be aware that 'mind' and 'soul' are parallel terms, just as 'heart' and 'spirit' are parallel terms. (We do not have space here to demonstrate this.)

Psalm 19:7a, "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul". We see that the soul is restored by the law of the Lord. We could say that the mind is renewed by the Word of the Lord. The words 'restored' and 'renewed' mean about the same thing. So it is the Word of God which can renew our minds. Does the NT confirm this renewing of the mind by the Word? It does. James 1:21, "Putting aside all filthiness and wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls." The expression 'save your souls' is used in the modern church to refer to the new birth. But it is not so used here (or anywhere else in the NT). Never does the NT refer to the new birth or eternal salvation or justification as 'salvation of the soul'. It is a misnomer. The new birth is the rebirth of the human spirit, not the soul. The soul must be renewed or restored or, here, be 'saved'. The word 'salvation' or 'saved' is used to refer to eternal salvation, temporal deliverance, healing and other things, including the renewing of the mind. So this verse is saying the same thing that both Romans 12:1-2 and Psalm 19:7 are saying. Like Psalm 19, it is the Word that restores (saves) the soul. ("The implanted Word is able to save your souls.") In Romans 12, the body must be a spiritual sacrifice first. ("Put aside all filthiness") So, James 1:21 puts together the ideas of Psalms and Romans and adds another 'twist'. He calls the renewing of the mind 'salvation'.

Think about that. A person who is already 'saved' still needs his 'soul saved'. James is speaking to Christians who are on their way to Heaven so he cannot be telling them how to get to Heaven when he tells them their souls need to be saved. The salvation of the soul is the deliverance of the mind from worldly thinking and the strongholds that the Enemy has put there. And it is the emotional deliverance of the human soul from the ravages of whatever evil thing has happened to him in his past life. Christians are saved from past sins when they are born-again, but they often need to be delivered from their past lives as well. And the purpose of this deliverance is so that one can accomplish the will of God.

If you were not convinced before about the need for all to have their minds renewed, I hope that you are now. But how do we get the minds of church people renewed to the Word of God? Is there some program that we can institute that will bring our church to this point? How about our ministers? Should they not, most of all, have their minds renewed? Can seminaries renew our minds?

We have to go back to these passages and see who is responsible for this. From looking at the context of each one, something stands out. The responsibility for the renewing of the mind rests on each individual Christian. Look at verse 3 of Romans 12. Paul is telling to 'every man' not to think of himself too highly. This is clearly addressed to the individual Christian. It is the responsibility of every Christian to have his mind renewed. Now the Christian is not said to renew his own mind but to have it renewed. And it is clear that the Word of God must do this.

How do we get the Word? We get it by reading it and hearing it. We must read and study the Word ourselves and we must listen to good teaching also. God set teachers in the church so that we can learn and have our minds renewed. So the minister of the gospel has a responsibility as well. He must minister the Word. The teaching of the Bible must be a major part of what the church is doing.

But the minister cannot renew the minds of his hearers but he can foster it to a great degree. He is not responsible for the renewing of the minds of his congregation but he is responsible for making it possible and available.

Another thing that can be said about the renewing of the mind is that it is a continuous process throughout one's life. It is really a process, or a key to the process, of sanctification. Transformation does not take place all at once. It occurs over time. We should never get to the point where we think we have 'arrived'. Too many Christians get to a certain place in their spiritual development and think that they need go no further. They stagnate. Others may wish to continue to grow spiritually but they do not do what they need to do to grow. One key thing is the continual renewal of the mind. Becoming like Christ is not a once-and-for-all thing. It is a process of growth. Some Christians do not bother with Sunday School or Bible study and some do not even take time to read the Bible for themselves. They won't even listen to teaching tapes or read books about the Bible. But your mind cannot be renewed unless you devote yourself to it. You have to put yourself in a place where your mind can be renewed. And the church must make it available.

Finally, even if you are in Bible study and all that, and you do not seem to be making much progress, do not give up. Stay at it and become a 'doer of the Word' and not a hearer only. It's vital to act on what you know. Then God will reveal more of the Word to you. Eventually, you will be transformed. Some seem to be transformed right away and that frustrates the rest of us who seem not to. Others just take more time. I spend more time than most studying the Bible because I must prepare to teach it. However, my own spiritual development has seemed very slow to me. Yet, over the years I can see growth and there are many temptations that I no longer struggle with. But I still see the need to grow in many areas. So the renewal is far from complete. It is, as they say, not a destination but a journey. And it is a journey with a glorious end.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where did that come from?

"Where did that come from?"
Perhaps you have said this at one time. Somebody says something that takes you aback and you have no idea what caused a certain outburst.
But I want to take this saying another way. When somebody puts forth a new agenda for the church, or for you personally, we should ask, 'where did this come from?'. Did it come from God, or from somewhere else? Even if it sounds reasonable or wise or enlightened, we need to know the source of it.
The Bible speaks of two sources of wisdom. In James 3:15-17, there is the 'wisdom from heaven' and the wisdom which is 'earthly, unspiritual, of the Devil'. Jesus affirms this view when Peter told Jesus that He would not die on the cross. He said, "Get behind me, Satan, you are on the side of men, not God." (my paraphrase) Now Peter meant well, his heart was in the right place, but he lacked the wisdom of God in this matter and followed the wisdom of men, which in this instance, actually came from Satan. Jesus revealed to Peter the source of his declaration.

Now I say this with certain things in mind. Some are trying to push on the church their own agendas that they sincerely believe are from God. For example, some are putting forth the notion that active homosexuals should be allowed to become ordained ministers. This is done under the rhetoric of 'equality' and 'human rights' and, especially in the church, 'inclusiveness'. Now 'inclusiveness' is very much a biblical concept, but is it being used in a biblical manner in this case?
The inclusiveness of the gospel does not mean that God allows us to maintain a lifestyle that He has told us is wrong. Inclusiveness means that God accepts all who come to Him in repentance and faith. God reaches out to all and the church needs to reach out to all. However, when a person accepts Jesus as Lord he is required to submit to that Lordship. That means obeying the moral precepts laid down in the Bible.
God loves the homosexual and the adulterer and the murderer and the perjurer and every other kind of person. (For convenience, let's call them sinners.) We welcome all to come to church. But we do not make them ministers without them giving up their sinful lifestyles.
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9 Notice what Paul is telling us here. He clearly tells us that homosexuality is wrong and he places it among other obvious sins - theft, drunkenness and the like. He calls it 'wickedness'. He does not say, "they cannot help it, they are born that way." He does indicate that some of the Corinthian Christians did these things before becoming Christians. That means that some were (notice the past tense) homosexuals, but now they no longer are because God has washed them from their sins, sanctified their hearts and been justified. They are now free from their former condition. They are no longer thieves or homosexuals or drunkards.
Paul is being 'inclusive' but in a biblical way. He invites every kind of sinner, and Gentile sinners at that, to repent. No, I take that back. Paul preached, "God commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). God commands repentance. It is not optional.

Now I want all to understand that I am not writing this particular blog to convince you that homosexuality is wrong. I am not writing this to get an amen on this subject. My aim is for all to examine the source of whatever claims or agendas are being presented to the church or to us as individuals or families, etc. To me it is crystal clear that all this talk of inclusiveness has nothing to do with preaching the gospel to all or to accept as equals people of another race or ethnicity. It has to do with changing the moral stance of the church on an important issue.
I am only using this as an illustration since my readers most likely need no convincing that homosexuals should not be ordained. I want us all to consider the source.
Does this movement to accept homosexuality as good and normal come from God or from somewhere else? Does it originate from the church or does it come from outside? Now this has been compared to the civil rights movement of the 20th century,the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century and the women's suffrage movement. If you study these movements they had their origin in the church. The earliest abolitionists were Quakers. The suffragists were led by Christian women. The civil rights movements for legal equality for blacks was from the black church. Now the rest of the church often resisted these changes, but its source was God working through the church.
In contrast, the homosexual rights movement comes from the world, not the church. Is God now using the world to change what His Word declares is evil? I don't think so. This wisdom is not from above. It is not anointed by God. It is an attempt by worldly people to influence the church in a direction contrary to the Word of God.

We must always beware of this kind of infiltration of worldly ideas into the church. One thing is very interesting in the scripture in 1 Cor. It says 'do not be deceived'. It's funny how we can think that others can be deceived but that we can't be. We can be if we are not careful. Many are deceived today because they reason the way the world does and not according to the scriptures that they find out of date. But the Word of God is eternal and God's standard of behavior has not changed. Customs change, circumstances change, but God does not change. We may think that we live in an enlightened age. We have (almost) rid the world of slavery. We have great scientific knowledge. But the human heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. (In the world, that is. God gives us a new heart when we give our hearts to Him Ezekiel 36:26) The world is not getting revelation from the Spirit of God. The world neither sees Him nor knows Him (John 14:17). Those who have not accepted Christ do not understand the Bible because 'a veil covers their hearts'. We cannot take our lead from those who do not know God.
It does not matter how competent a Bible scholar they may seem to be. That is why I do not accept the opinions of unbelieving Bible scholars. And it makes me sad when believing scholars accept their conclusions. Trust what God shows you in His Word. Trust what the Bible says above even your own thinking. It has been perfectly purified. "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Ps 12:6

We need to think about this on a personal basis, too. When someone has a suggestion or offers advice, do we consider whether or not it is truly from God? I have sometimes taken what seemed like sound advice only to have it be the wrong thing. I should have prayed and been more sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I believe that if advice is from God then the Spirit will bear witness with your spirit. If you do not sense anything then pray about it. Ask the Lord for a scripture for confirmation. Make sure God is behind it.

We must always ask,
'Where did that come from?'.