So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the category “Bible Studies”

It’s About Time… Part 5 Look Out…It’s Happening

 

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I’m a bit of a news junkie and particularly interested in reading about events, ideologies, political pronouncements, social issues, environmental changes, the mainstream ecclesiastical ‘mood’ revealed in religious writings, sermons, books and the like that show movements away from orthodoxy and Biblical theology. Summing up what I’m reading nearly every day it seems the vice-grip of sin and lawlessness around the neck of kosmos is getting tighter and the hammer of God (not Thor) is about to fall as history bends to His inexorable will fulfilling a plan conceived in eternity; I just keep getting more and more excited.

I don’t welcome disasters, famines, wholesale destruction, disease or war but they are here and increasing in number and severity; as one politician recently put it: “the whole world is upside down”. If this is obvious to those outside the faith, how much more should it be to us who await His appearing? Indeed, it’s happening, all those things the prophets spoke of millennia ago, the very words of Jesus unfolding before us written in newspapers and displayed through visual media.

Christians feel the pressure of this vice grip as well. It is not unreasonable to think we in this country might endure persecution, rejection, hatred, and ridicule especially since these things are already happening. The truth is seen as a lie, lies seen as truth; light is darkness and darkness, light, evil is good and good is evil and so it goes. It is remarkable that since we stand for light, truth and goodness, we are by the world as dark, as liars and as evil; all other world religions are given a pass but Christianity is now widely considered a threat to an ordered and civilized society.

In stark contrast to the foreboding and increasing disintegration preceding His appearance the Lord tells us to “rejoice” as we witness it all coming to pass. This, of course, will make those of the world around us even more disgusted and angry because our joy reflects a disregard for a world under the dominion of sin and death and an expectation of a new creation wherein the rule of God is finally and forever established.

Indeed, the time has come at last…now, today, this moment, in this generation. Therefore, the words of Jesus about the times we’re in are critical, especially His repeated exhortation to watch. For example, consider Matt. 24:42:

 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.

The verb ‘watch ’used here is in the present tense, imperative mood meaning a continuous watching with the command to do so now, this moment, no hesitation; i.e. DO IT NOW! The word γρηγορεῖτε itself means, among other things, to be alert, awake and alive.

This all might seem a bit passé since His people, us included, have been watching for over 2000 years. What is different in our time from past generations, however, is the globalization and causal interconnectedness between international governments, economies, and communication conditions absent to those who have gone before yet necessary to bring about the events foretold in the Bible.

Another difference is the increasingly global phenomenon of lawlessness and rebellion against all rule of law and authority. Again, this sort of thing has always been around here and there somewhere in the world, but never on this scale and with such severity. Jesus gives us a reference point namely “as it was in the days of Noah…”; the evil of which God described was ‘global’. Therefore, these ‘days’ we are in now are very much like, or perhaps identical to, what Noah faced and which brought about God’s judgment.

So, even though some of our Christian ancestors got their eschatological predictions wrong, they nevertheless were intently watching just as Jesus commanded. And now, given this global interconnectedness, the need for watchfulness in our generation is greater than ever before.

That this is the case is clear from Mark’s version of Matt. 24.

35 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Mark 13:35-37 (NKJV)

Twice the word “watch” (γρηγορεῖτε) is used in these verses. Such an emphasis shows the high probability that many followers of the Lord will succumb to slumbering, overcome by some sort of worldly stupor, their spiritual senses dulled or much worse, like those Peter wrote about, scoffing and saying “where is His coming…?” Familiarity with the epistles of the New Testament supports this assertion with repeated warnings and exhortations to stay vigilant.

Jesus Himself announces this suddenness and unpredictability of His coming not only in the Gospels but also in the Revelation.

15 “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” Revelation 16:15 (NKJV)

And similarly the glorified Lord speaks to a church that He pronounced as “dead”.

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. Revelation 3:1–3 (NKJV bold italics mine)

The particular meaning of “watch” as “being alive” (see above) directed to the “dead” congregation of Sardis is especially interesting here. That a church bearing the name of Christ should be in such a condition to be called ‘dead’ is sobering, indeed. The point is, becoming sleepy, complacent and careless is all too easy today and being watchful is difficult given the plenitude of distractions in the world. And by all indications, being watchful will become even more difficult as the vice grip tightens. It is certainly a time where none of us can “go it alone” nor a time where we tolerate church conduct or leadership that is anything but wholeheartedly committed to the ways of God. More to come next time.

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s About Time… Part 3

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We are born into time…we die into eternity. God is the creator of time…”In the beginning God created…” He is therefore its Lord declaring that the sun, moon and stars are markers for seasons, times, signs, days and years (v15) and for determining festivals, feasts, celebrations or, in short, those “appointed times” when His people meet with Him.

We are creatures of time and have our own ways of marking it out like watches, clocks, and calendars to keep track of events and to establish special days. The Christian church, for example, has calendars recognizing certain days, months and seasons for celebrations, feasts and fasts. Easter and Christmas are two examples along with sacred events (for some traditions anyway) occurring at the time of the fall and spring equinox and winter/summer solstice. It is interesting to note that many Christian holidays were once pagan and ‘Christianized’ as Christianity grew in power and influence over societies.

In our time, the impact of the Christian calendar on societies understanding of time has all but been lost to the secularization culture and its own numerous ‘holidays’ that are nothing more than times dedicated to the god of mammon. Consider these calendar days: father’s day, mother’s day, valentine’s day, labor day, memorial day, grandmothers day, thanksgiving day and even Easter (i.e. the easter bunny) and Christmas (i.e. santa claus). No matter how we resist this conclusion, these holidays have one purpose and that is to separate us from our money by suggesting that having is the key to being; i.e. possessions equal existence. We are defined, and our value as human beings gauged by what we have and continue getting, how good of a consumer we are. So, while at one time Christianity transformed pagan observances into ones honoring God, now Christianity and it’s ‘times, seasons and festivals’ are transformed back into their original pagan orgies of consumption.

Our attitude towards time is encapsulated in the language we use. For example, we kill time (as if it were an impediment), waste time (as if there is an unlimited supply), mark time (as if we are in prison), keep track of time (as if we are lost without it), don’t have time (for this or that depending on our priorities) and finally, we spend time and buy time. These last two are especially interesting because they employ the language of currency. Buying time means we need more of it to accomplish, or avoid, something and willing to sacrifice something else to get it. Spending time means we think something, or someone, worthy of the minutes, hours, or days we might be lavishing on it, or them. As it turns out, the currency of time is far more valuable than money because getting wealth requires time. Just witness the amount of time people ‘spend’ pursuing wealth and then ‘buying more time’ to get more of it.

The flip side to buying and spending time in this godless culture is using this currency to advance the values and purposes of the kingdom of heaven. The point of all this is that God instructs us about time and how to properly use the time He gives us. As might be expected, His counsel runs counter to what we learn from the world so we are immediately confronted with a choice either to fritter it away or invest it with eternity in view. A particularly sobering verse in this passage from Ecclesiastes are the last words of chapter 3:15 (NKJV)

15    That which is has already been,

And what is to be has already been;

And God requires an account of what is past.

This last phrase hits home for, like with all monetary transactions, book keeping is required. What we have done with the time given us must be accounted for.  So if there remains any doubt as to the value of time, this should dispel it;  time’s Creator wants to know what we did with the years He gives us. Now, because the Maker of time knows best how to use it, we can ask Him this: “…teach us to number our days, that we might present to You a heart of wisdom”. (Psa. 90:12 NASB) More on this in part 4.

 

W. G. Ryzek

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s About Time… Part 2

 

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This phrase that God has put eternity into the hearts of men (Eccl. 3:11) is simply beautiful, mysterious, compelling, and awesome especially when juxtaposed to the morbid atheistic materialists and other antichrist philosophies claiming that only what which meets the eye is ‘real’, that any metaphysical claims are patently false and to be rejected as frivolous and irrational.

While many people seem to have bought into the “perception is reality” argument (what is real is only that information about the world we receive through the senses and interpreted by the mind), a nagging “what if” surfaces when questions like this are asked: If the materialistic atheists are right, how is it even possible that we can conceive of eternity in the first place when everything around us has a beginning and always ends? It is this nagging “what if they are wrong” following claims like “there is no life after death”, “there is not and can be no such thing as a God like the Jews and Christians claim” or the like that betrays, at least for those willing to admit it, the possibility there might be more to reality then they think. Arguing that such thoughts are ‘frivolous and irrational’ doesn’t explain their origin (they really need to read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason). But, to admit eternity into one’s thinking changes the whole game and puts people into a sometimes exceedingly uncomfortable position of having to consider what eternity has to do with them, personally.

Take for example “Today if you hear His voice…” from Hebrews 3:7. 15 and 4:7 referring back “in time” to David’s words in Psalm 95:7-11. It’s clear that the ‘today’ of Hebrews isn’t the same ‘time’ as it was for David since millennia have passed. Yet, from eternity’s perspective, the ‘today’ of David and the ‘today’ of the Hebrews mean the same for those hearing the words of God in their ‘time’. The same holds true for us: the time is Today because “…everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. That which is has been already and that which will be has already been…” (Eccl. 3:14-15 NASB, italics and bold mine). The future, the past and all the events contained therein are enfolded into now, Today and even though “…man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (Eccl. 3:11) all of us nevertheless have eternity placed in our hearts. The point is that all we really have of the time given us, whether past or future, is Today. Hearkening to His voice Today and believing what He says Today is to enter into His rest Today even though, for us still locked in time, the eternity of this ‘rest’ remains ‘not-yet’. To do otherwise is to die into an eternity where anything by rest awaits.

If it is the case, and I believe it is, that eternity is placed within the hearts of humankind, then it is a key ontological aspect of human existence; i.e. it is a facet of what it means to be created in the imago dei, the image of God. It is part of our nature to be aware of eternity even if we cannot understand or fathom it. While we are alive in time, the sheer beauty of creation, its vastness and immensity can trigger a consciousness of eternity while the prospect of dying can do the same. We are more than ever meets the eye and destined for more than we can ever imagine; Today, if we will hear His voice the truth of the matter will become clear. This view of human beings is vastly superior to that of a materialist who is forced to conclude we are merely beasts among other beasts who, at least for now, sit at the top of the food chain but, when dead, sit at the bottom as fertilizer. But, this view is more than just superior, it is true and we know it, or will know it, to be so because we have eternity in our hearts. It all depends on whether we are listening or not.

Its About Time…

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10 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
12 I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.
14 I know that whatever God does,
It shall be forever.
Nothing can be added to it,
And nothing taken from it.
God does it, that men should fear before Him.
15 That which is has already been,
And what is to be has already been;
And God requires an account of what is past. (Eccl. 3:1-15)

We are born into time…we die into eternity. Our natural existence is, therefore, temporal whereas our soul’s existence is eternal. The former we can understand, at least to a degree, but the latter remains unfathomable and this by divine decree (v 10). The immediacy of temporality occupies our attention while for many eternity remains on the periphery of consciousness. Because of its immediacy to experience, temporal existence deceives people into thinking time is all there is, its cessation the end of experience, and thus the end of existence. There is nothing beyond the grave except, well nothing. If time ends with death, then any meaning attached to temporality ends as well. Therefore, ultimately, existence is meaningless.

The immediacy and deceptiveness of time lies behind the incessant drive for immediate the self-gratification and narcissism that defines our present culture. Unfortunately, these viruses have infected many of God’s people, their leaders and their churches. The old adage that we cannot become too heavenly (i.e. eternally) minded lest we become of no earthly good is just plain foolishness and a subtle invitation to be more earthly than spiritual. The fact is that without an eternal perspective all we can be is earthly-minded which won’t, and can’t, help anyone; we are just as blind as those we think we’re leading to the light.

Multitudes of believers, both Jews and Gentiles, have learned, and continue to learn, that time is understood only by the embracing of eternity. Every one, the Preacher says, has ‘eternity’ in their hearts just as everyone possesses a soul, no matter what atheistic materialists say. However, it is the believer alone that knows this to be true. In other words, any meaning our lives have now is such because we have eternity in view. All else is merely vanity.

It has been observed by many that what we do now has eternal ramifications. It is like throwing a rock into a pond; the action (throwing the rock) sets off effects (ripples of water) that produce effects (usually unforeseen) far beyond the initial splash. Should we go about willy nilly doing this and that without regard for eternity, our actions will amount to little more than the vanity of which the Preacher speaks, the size of the splashing nor its effects any gauge of its value or meaning to eternity.

W.G. Ryzek

Thinking Like Satan Thinks

 

Mark 8:31–35 (NKJV)
31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Peter was sorely rebuked by Jesus. When understood in context its fierceness is appropriate given His teaching that only by losing one’s life for His sake could one truly live. Even though Peter’s words seemed like an encouragement, a genuine concern for Jesus’ well-being and safety, even an attempt to shield Him from suffering and death Jesus knew Peter’s own self-preservation was paramount now that increasingly hostile circumstances were coming.

It is interesting to note that while Jesus “openly” spoke to His disciples Peter’s response was an “aside”, away from the others, perhaps even whispered in His ear. It was almost like Peter thought that Jesus must be mistaken and wanted to correct Him. The upshot is that Peter, a disciple, questioned Jesus, the LORD about the very core purpose of His coming and Jesus knew that to deviate from the Plan even for an instant meant forfeiture of God’s promised redemption of Israel and the whole world.

The immense gravity of this teaching becomes even clearer when the word “rebuke” is considered (ἐπετίμησε). It’s obviously translated ‘rebuke’ in vvs 31and 32. However, in v30 it is translated “warned them” (not to tell anyone that He is the Christ). This is another stern, unequivocal saying to show the disciples that He meant business.
So, the point is that if we think we can avoid self-denial, or avoid suffering for His sake we are really thinking that Jesus didn’t mean what He said. This is tantamount to Satan’s question in Genesis “Hath God said…? And we all know what happened next. There is no way around it; following Jesus means death to self and it’s the only pathway to life and suffering is part and parcel of true discipleship. To think otherwise is to think just as Satan does.

This passage, and others like it, portray Jesus as anything but the lovey dovey Jesus often depicted these days. In fact, Christianity has been reduced, at least by some, to a promise of certain ‘feelings’ like happiness, joy, peace, contentment, and even love as if these are just emotions, that if you don’t feel them you don’t have them.

Take love, for example. Jesus said that “if you love me, keep my commandments” which, in certain circumstances might entail having certain ‘feelings’ but is most certainly not reducible to mere emotions. That is, if we obey the Lord when we ‘feel’ like it, or only if such obedience issues in warm fuzzies, then I’m afraid we are thinking as Satan would have us think. Why? Because feelings are fleeting, always changing, unpredictable, arbitrary and even capricious whereas obedience to His wishes is not. This is why He said “if you love me, keep my commandments” and not “if you love me, you’ll feel good about yourselves”. If the Enemy can persuade us to think certain feelings are necessary to serve the Lord, then the absence of such feelings will assuredly inhibit any spiritual advancement.

I have witnessed, and many others have noted it as well, an increasingly flippant and careless attitude towards this weighty matter of obedience. It is as if people actually think, although probably would never admit it, that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit exist to serve their interests, to insure their success, and secure a trouble-free life. Of course, if many Christian congregations are filled with immature “baby” Christians, all demanding attention and needing to be the center of attention as babies do, then such thinking can be explained. Remaining in such a spiritual state, however, is as unnatural as a grown adult having a tantrum because no one is paying proper attention to their needs. A church filled with crying congregants because they are ‘feeling’ bad about one thing or another is a church filled with people thinking like Satan thinks; the elevation of themselves to the center of attention.

While the disciples displayed egoism, unbelief, misunderstanding and dismay as disciples, the goal Jesus had for them was that they become apostles, “sent forth ones”, the first wave of emissaries preaching the Gospel to the whole world. The book of Acts shows they rose to the task, thinking and acting as Jesus taught them, rebuking people, devils and overcoming all that stood in the way of their proclamation. It is an interesting exercise to compare the goings on in the Acts of the Apostles with what we see in typical American churches today.

The rebuke of Jesus continues, although now with entire churches and regions in view. The opening chapters of the Revelation show this to be the case. It will be a good thing when we all “have an ear and hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” and learn to think like Jesus and not the Enemy.

.W.G. Ryzek

Storing Treasure, Speaking Treasure: A Sunday Meditation

 

With regard to godly living, Christianity emphasizes internal qualities rather than external observances but it might be the case we don’t take this distinction seriously enough. Why? Because changing our appearance is far easier than changing our character. Furthermore, it seems to me that the power of words and speech is sometimes overlooked in Christian conversation, whether amongst believers or unbelievers.

These two observations come together when treasures of the heart and speaking from the heart are considered and clearly show that what is said and the condition of the speaker’s heart are of great concern to our Lord. Consider these verses:

Matthew 6:19–21, 24 (NKJV)

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Luke 12:33–34 (NKJV)

33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 6:45 (NKJV)

45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

The fact of the matter is that whatever we are preoccupied with, whatever we value above all else, this is the treasure we seek and the “abundance” from which our speaking comes forth. So, if we listen closely to someone seeking treasures of the world, for example, we might discover their speech to be mainly incessant jabbering about a recent acquisition, a desire for some new bauble, a new strategy for accumulating more wealth and the like. The condition of their heart as covetous and envious when someone else has more than they or pride, arrogance and superiority when talking to those ‘beneath’ them will eventually surface.

If we change our obsession with material things (or anything else for that matter) into obsessing for spiritual treasure, our speaking would be very much like God’s: creative, eternal, graceful, merciful, loving, discerning, revealing and judging. In other words, speech that is like treasures of Light and Truth. To be sure, such speech might be rejected as foolishness, even subversive and dangerous, but that is not any of our concern.

At first sight ascribing to ourselves such power of speech might seem a bit presumptuous but looking at the Acts of the Apostles and what their ‘speaking’ accomplished, I don’t think so. Thousands converted at a time, hundreds of people healed, others raised from the dead, demons cast out, governments upbraided, and advancement of God’s kingdom throughout the pagan world.

Remember that the universe and existence began with words, language, ‘speaking’ through and sustained by the Word, our Lord Jesus. He said of Himself that the words He spoke were those of the Father. Since it is the case that the Spirit of Christ dwells within every believer the potential for all of us to speak the words God would have us say is ever present. If our hearts are filled with heavenly treasure, set on seeking His kingdom first above all else, then what we say can be treasure indeed to those listening to our speech.

Just think for a moment about all the conversations you hear every day, at work, home, play, through the media and so on. I daresay a vast majority of what you hear is mere prattling on about nonsensical and meaningless drivel or, in some cases, much worse, even diabolical. Hear these words of Jesus:

Matthew 12:35–37 (NKJV)

35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

That a record of everything I have said, am presently saying and that I will give an account of all those multitude of words is a sobering thought. For me anyway, I’m finding that a lot less talking and a more careful consideration of my words is in order along with a careful assessment of what, exactly, I’m storing up in heaven and in my heart.

 

Persecution Upside Down

 

http://imperfectchurch.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/persecution1.jpg

 

Questions about the morality and acceptability of homosexual, transgender, bisexual and lesbian life-styles is causing divisions within church institutions and amongst people who identify with Christianity. This much is obvious. What intrigues me is those who engage in and champion the cause of legitimizing and “Christianizing” these behaviors think of themselves as being ‘persecuted’ by those who believe these behaviors are immoral, unbiblical, and worthy of God’s wrath. This sort of thing has happened before. The Jews persecuted the early Christians and then, later on, Christians persecuted the Jews. The Roman state persecuted the Christians and later Christians persecuted people involved in what were once the official Roman ‘state’ religions. Then Christians persecuted other Christians for deviating from the ‘official’ doctrines promulgated by those in ecclesiastical power. Other examples are plentiful throughout history.

The point is this: the only real justification for crying ‘persecution’ amongst those calling themselves ‘Christians’ is if and only if Jesus Himself is the reason for the persecution. Being persecuted for being His disciple, believing Him to be the Incarnate Word, believing He is the One and only Savior against all other ‘pretenders’, believing that everything He said is true, and proclaiming these truths openly are examples of appropriate ‘reasons’.

Consider these verses from Matthew’s gospel:

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And these from John:

20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
22 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
23 “He who hates Me hates My Father also.
24 “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.

Now, these words from both Matthew and John show a correlation, what we might call a dialectical relationship, between Jesus and His disciples regarding His person and the truth He embodied and proclaimed. In these verses, the correlation is persecution; i.e. because His Sonship and the words He spoke from the Father provoked persecution against Him, so shall it be amongst His followers. Furthermore, this correlation is stated in such a way that persecution because of Him should be expected; just saying His Name with praise and reverence is enough to provoke violence against his people in some parts of the world today and, I might add, with ever increasing frequency.

The verses from Matthew’s record Jesus saying that all who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” are blessed. This means, among other things, that being persecuted for any other reasons than Jesus Himself, His Words or the righteousness He proclaimed and demanded isn’t really persecution at all. So, those living in sin, overtly practicing sin and demanding to be accepted while doing so, encouraging others to do the same, and demanding they not be criticized or censored because this constitutes ‘persecution’(along with its close cousin ‘intolerance’) is clearly a condition of unrighteousness.

Now some will say “But we are being persecuted this way because Jesus loves us and accepts us as we are, deviant lifestyles and all.” “Besides”, others say, “we are in love and expressing our love sexually, what can be wrong with that?” This is an appeal to a “lovey dovey Jesus”, a unbiblical Jesus who because of this so-called love is portrayed as having never spoken of moral obligation, sin, ‘holiness’, righteousness, judgment and obedience to God. It is sloppy agape writ large and anyone who dares question such a Jesus is obviously unloving, judgmental, and simply not in touch with 21st century theological progressivism, social and political correctness, and that much ballyhooed word ‘tolerant’.

Here’s the hard part: “speaking the truth in love…” As much as we might despise the promiscuity all around and the flagrant displays of idolatry in our culture, we are called to love those trapped by their own evil practices. Speaking the truth carries within its own structure the judgment of God; we don’t need to add anything.

The fact is that whenever sin is brought into the light of God’s truth four general responses are evoked: denial, hostility, indifference or repentance. Denouncing sin, resisting it, and remaining steadfast against those who encourage it is not persecution but faithful, uncompromised proclamation; i.e. “speaking the truth”. On the other hand, when anger and harm are leveled against those doing the proclaiming, that is persecution. The difference is clear. All true prophets in the Old Testament regarded the will and word of Yahweh above all else and, as Jesus points out, many paid for their commitment with their lives. It was the false prophet who culled favor with the wayward by speaking smooth words and assuring them that God was not angry with their conduct. And, more often than not, it was the false prophet that led the persecution against God’s truly appointed representatives.

 

Reincarnation: The Christian Version

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According to many of the world’s religions a human being will endure any number of births, deaths, and re-births on a journey towards enlightenment and a final release from the samsaric cycle. The ‘re-birth’ part is called reincarnation or being ‘rebodied’.

There is a Christian version of this called being ‘born-again’ which includes an eternal re-embodiment called ‘resurrection’ both given final definition by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Thus, the Christian who dies in Christ and whose body perishes, as do all natural things, will once again be re-bodied, only now with an eternally incorruptible body fit for the new environment it finds itself in, namely heaven and the presence of God. This will only happen once, no nearly endless reincarnations in hope of finally being released from samsara, because “it is appointed to man once to die and then the judgment.” Therefore, the Christian version of being ‘re-bodied’ is not an escape from, but a fulfillment of a grand design formed from eternity in the mind of God and executed in time, space and a material world.

Furthermore, Christianity rejects the idea that the true, ideal or ultimate existence is an amorphous one wherein all sense of self-consciousness is gone and the body is merely a vessel to be discarded when the samsaric reoccurrence is broken. Rather, being re-bodied is part of a perfection wherein the self becomes its true self, what it was meant to be from the beginning, fully conscious of its embodiment and of the God who created it in the first place.

It shouldn’t really be that surprising that similarities exist between the major world’s religions and Christianity. After all, Romans 1 makes it clear that the world stands guilty before God because it knows that He exists and what He is like by His creation. We must be careful, however, not to confuse similarity with sameness, as if they are both saying the same thing, only differently. Christianity brings together through two magnificent events, the Incarnation of Logos and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the final truth of what it means to be really, finally and ultimately alive that other religions can only hint at.

And this is one major theme of Easter: the triumph of life over death. Because He lives, we now live and shall continue so for eternity. We share in the life of God, the Source of all Life, Life itself, in fact for He is the God of the living and not of the dead.

 

 

What To Say to a Zombie If You Meet One

hello-zombie

I’ve heard death described as “just part of the natural order of things” like it’s all normal and therefore acceptable. Others act like death is a gross inconvenience, disrupting their grandiose schemes and must be met with elaborate attempts to squeeze just a few more days or years out of a life already wasted by consumption and unbridled hubris. Still others, as their last moments arrive, cower in fear, trembling before the great unknown that faces them, while some act arrogantly and defiantly thinking their bravado will ‘scare it away’.

I despise death in whatever form it takes because I know it isn’t supposed to be here. It is an aberration, an abnormality, a foreign invader, a much reviled interloper, but, most of all, an enemy. It came when sin entered His creation and indeed, thanatos reigns.

Unless you’re a Christian, that is. Believers know that death has no more sting for those born twice and that death, the last enemy, is swallowed up by life; not just any life, but eternal life, the very life of that God of the living whom we serve and worship. And because He is the God of the living, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are also eternally alive now, this very moment, along with all who have faith in He Who Speaks, the I AM, the Word Incarnate, the Alpha and Omega, He who was, is and is to come. We who name the Name of Jesus say to death “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” because “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

We must come to understand that there exists all around us a real ‘walking dead’ very much like those depicted in numerous zombie movies. They must be given the antidote, the only antidote, to this scourge of death inflicted upon mankind which is His death and then His resurrection, that grand finale to God’s plan that all who share in His death share also in His resurrection. It is here that death is turned on its head, no longer an ending but a beginning.

The message to these ‘walking dead’ is this: “You are already dead so finish the job and die to the self that cruelly and inexorably drives you ever deeper into sin. Exchange your death with His redemptive death and victorious resurrection through faith and join the countless millions who can say with Job that “though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”

The God Who Speaks,The God Who Hears- Part 2

 

 

torah-at-sinai

Last time we considered the remarkable fact that God has a Voice and speaks to His people, His Voice spanning the centuries between the Old and New Testaments, the very same speaking to us now. We began with Israel’s encounter with the Voice of God at Sinai and ended with that same Voice becoming Incarnate in the Jesus, the Word of God.

This installment is about the equally remarkable fact that God listens and is quite concerned with what we have to say. Once again we turn to Exodus and the experiences of God’s people, only now instead of being emancipated and hearing Yahweh in the wilderness, we see the Hebrews crying out because of their horrific bondage as slaves in Egypt (Ex. 2:23-25).

“They cried out and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel and God took notice of them.” (NASB)

It is interesting that remembering His covenant with their ancestors and taking notice of their plight are associated with God hearing them. In the Septuagint, the verbs heard, remembered, saw, and took notice are all in the aorist tense, indicative mood indicating events occurring in the past; i.e. He had already heard, remembered, saw and took notice of His people, it was not something new to God, but to the Hebrews it was good news, indeed that God had, after all, heard them and was still hearing. Ex. 3:7-8 sheds light on this when God says to Moses that He has been aware of their sufferings and is now preparing to act on their behalf.

Now, fast forward to the New Testament when Jesus talks to His disciples about prayer and what we are to seek after (Matt. 6:7-8, 32). Twice in these verses Jesus says that God knows about those things we all need. The verb ‘know’ is in the perfect tense, indicative mood meaning God knows now even before we ask. He hear us and is listening, not just to the sounds but the meaning of what we say, therefore knowing what we are all about.

Speaking requires hearing and listening is an essential part of hearing, really hearing. What I mean is listening suggests an attitude, an inclination towards, an interest in what is being heard. But, nothing is heard without first speaking, at least in these contexts. God speaks and then listens for a response and when a response comes, He hears it. We speak, listen for a response and when it comes, hear it; that is if we are interested at all in whomever our speech is directed. And herein lies the rub: there are those who “have ears but do not hear” or, we might say, hear sounds but do not understand what they mean, or hear but do not listen. This is the difference between us and God, and thankfully so; God both hears and listens with perfectly clarity of understanding and always, without exception, responds appropriately. On our part, however, His words may be clamoring for our attention but we simply are neither hearing nor listening.

The point of all this is that God hears us, really hears us, hears everything in fact and is constantly listening for our response to Him. He is never deaf as we sometimes are and even answers us when we haven’t even uttered a word, like those times when anguish of heart smothers verbal speech and all we can do is groan and travail, just as the Hebrews did in Egypt. Therefore, we are encouraged throughout the New Testament to pray, even pray without ceasing, all the while knowing our words are not falling on deaf ears. He is eager to hear from us and listens closely to what we say.

This whole thing about communication between Creator and creature, this speaking and hearing on a two way street is astounding when you think about it. And think about we should for no greater privilege is afforded us than to have an audience with God whenever we want and no greater power available than aligning our will with His. Hear then, and listen to the words of Jesus, our God Who Speaks:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from the Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:12-17 NKJV)

 

The God Who Speaks-The God Who Listens

torah-at-sinai

One of the most remarkable stories in the Old Testament and, at the same time, one of most theologically charged, is that occasion when God ‘speaks’ to Israel from Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:5, 16 and 20:18-19, 22). This fearsomely impressive Voice set the God of Israel apart, way apart, from all the other gods of the land, those many dumb idols, unable to speak, listen or act.

One such theologically significant idea is this: that God has a voice and speaks to His creation in general and, in this case, Israel in particular, is an act of self-disclosure, or what we call ‘revelation’, a revealing that could not otherwise happen unless He chose to do so. This self-disclosure of the God Who Speaks shows He has something to say to all of us, all the time, and since it is He who speaks, every word is important, eternally so. He speaks to get our attention, invite us into a relationship with Him and elevate our creatureliness into that sublime existence defined by everlasting Life, Light and Love.

It is also a communication of intention, “I’m going to do this and that” indicating purposefulness, design and an inexorable will to accomplish all He promises. By listening to whatever His “this and that” is we take part in those eternal decrees established before the foundations of this world were ever laid. He desires that we find, fulfill, and consummate our destinies thereby accomplishing His eternally benevolent will for each of us.

Because the speaking God of Israel so frightened the people, Moses became God’s voice. Some regard him as the first of a long line of prophets sent by God to speak to Israel. Of course, the culmination of these prophetic ministries is Jesus, the Word Incarnate, God speaking to us as one of us; Hebrews 1:1-4 summarizes it well.

This fact is illustrated by an equally remarkable event paralleling the one at Sinai when Jesus was transfigured. In all the three accounts recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 17:1–9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28–36) the disciples are told to “listen to him.” And in each of these accounts the verb ‘hear’ or ‘listen’ (depending on the translation) is in the present tense, imperative mood which taken together means a command to hear Him now and keep on hearing Him. And, this Voice from ‘heaven’ is the same that spoke to Israel at Sinai thus linking the testaments together into a seamless whole, only now with the full force of His thundering self-disclosure and intentionality communicated by the Incarnation of Logos.

Furthermore, the verb  ἀκούετε (listen) means not just physically hearing sounds but hearing with understanding; it is the opposite of Jesus’ indictment that many, if not most of those following His ministry, had “ears but did not hear” what He was saying. Listening to the Voice is an inclination towards Him, an attentiveness to what He says, a patient anticipation that He will speak and a willingness to obey what He says. None of this is easily done these days what with the cacophony of voices demanding our attention and our own propensity to hear what we want to hear.

Thus, the question set before all of us is this: are we listening for and hearing the Voice of the God who speaks shown by our obedience or are we listening to the siren songs of the world only to end up shipwrecked on the rocks that seek our destruction?

The point, then, is this:

 

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME” (Heb. 3:15)

© W.G. Ryzek 2014

 


 

Hey Bub! Whaddaya Looking At?- Part 7- Looking At Suffering

an old man looking at something

 

 

So far, we have considered two passages about what we should be looking at and seeking after to be continuously filled with light. From Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we learned to “see the unseen” and “walk by faith and not by sight”. From the letter to the Hebrews, we learned to be “fixated on Jesus”, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Interestingly, the contexts of both these passages have the idea of “suffering” in common: for Paul, it was suffering associated with the ministry of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:5-18) and for the Hebrew Christians it was a result of their faith in Jesus as Messiah. (Heb. 10:32-33) Together, these verses give us a practical example of how seeing the unseen and looking unto Jesus changes our perspective on, and understanding of, life events all the while remaining filled with light.

That the world is filled with suffering is often used as an indictment against God by atheists and other kinds of unbelievers who argue that if an omnipotent and perfect Being created the universe, such a Being would not, could not, allow suffering to exist. Therefore, so they say, God does not exist, or if He does, He is a masochist and/or impotent to remove suffering. They conclude (or at least some do) that suffering is meaningless just like raw existence is meaningless and death a welcome end to it all. Contrary to this view, the above passages show that suffering can be part of a grand design that remains hidden except by seeing the unseen through faith and remaining fixated on Jesus, the originator and finisher of our faith.

What we look at and what we seek after has everything to do with how we navigate life’s vicissitudes. None of us will escape suffering; how we endure it is determined by how we see it and how we see it is decided by whether we have faith and whether Jesus is at the center of our lives. This doesn’t answer all the complexities that suffering brings but it is a starting point that can eventually make sense of it all. So, with Paul we come to see it as a “light affliction” giving way to an “eternal weight of glory”. With the Hebrew Christians we see it as loving discipline from a Father who is concerned more about our eternal destiny than temporary distress. (Heb. 12:3-8)

It is this association of divine discipline with suffering that is at once profound and confusing. We are often reminded of God’s love, benevolence, forgiveness and mercy and well we should be. But suffering as part of God’s design seems so foreign to what we are used to hearing it is taken negatively much of time; we have been naughty so God spanks us, that sort of thing. But, I think there is a much more weighty meaning to this kind of discipline, namely to bring us to perfection, not necessarily moral perfection but rather a depth of maturity that without suffering would be quite impossible to achieve like learning patience, for instance. (James 1:2-4)

In a truly remarkable passage Paul sums the matter up when he speaks of abandoning everything for Jesus and an eager desire to be “conformed to His death” through an intimate “fellowship of His sufferings” in order to finally “lay hold” of “perfection” and “attain to the resurrection from the dead”. (Phil. 3:8-15) Paul indeed could “see the unseen” and “looked” steadfastly to Jesus as the center and goal of his entire existence.

 Finally, I think it important to distinguish suffering for the gospel and the discipline of God from self-inflicted suffering (like drug abuse), suffering inflicted by others (like war) and suffering that is circumstantial (like disease). Although God is ever-present in these situations offering hope through the Gospel and through Jesus, it is unwise to assume our afflictions come from identifying with the sufferings of Jesus, suffering because of our faith, or undergoing the discipline of our Father. Doing so exudes a spiritual pride that is breathtaking in its arrogance.

 © W. G. Ryzek 2014

Hye Bub! Whaddaya Looking AT?- Part 6

 

 

 

an old man looking at something

Parts 1-4 of this series provide the first answer to the questions “what should we be looking at?” and “what should we be seeking after?”  In sum, we should be looking at and seeking after what is unseen because what we call ‘reality’ exists by means of what we can’t see. (Heb. 11:3) Seeing the unseen, therefore, reveals to all believers that ‘eternal weight of glory’ behind this otherwise unsubstantial, fleeting and temporal life. (2 Cor. 4:17-18) This is what it means to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) for it is only faith that gives us ‘healthy’ eyes to see the unseen, fill us with light and make us lights in a world overwhelmed by darkness. Now, consider this:

Hebrews 12:1–2 (NKJV)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

One important theme of this letter to the Hebrews is the suffering and persecution that comes because of faith in Jesus and resulting temptation to turn back from this faith that proclaims Him the fulfillment of all the Old Testament spoke of concerning Israel’s Messiah andthat He is the Savior of all people who embrace Him, whether Jew or Gentile. Hebrews 11 and 12 bring the whole discussion of remaining faithful to Jesus in spite of horrible circumstances to a climax first by showing the necessity of seeing the unseen by faith, citing a host of examples who did just that and, second, that Jesus, who is the Alpha and Omega of all that exists (i.e. the Word through which creation came to be) is at the same time the Author and Finisher of the faith by which all of us now bear an “eternal weight of glory”. Therefore, “looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith” is a logical second answer to the questions ‘what should we be looking at’ and ‘what should we be seeking’.

The word “looking” is the Greek word ἀφορῶντες and means, among other things, to have one’s eyes fixed upon something or someone; more colloquially, we might say “to be fixated” on Jesus. Looking unto Jesus (not a preacher, church, Christian celebrity, secular celebrity, athlete, music artist etc.) makes Him that singular Center around which our lives revolve. But, more importantly, since He is the Originator of the very faith whereby we see the unseen, singleness of vision fixed on Him alone is the only way we ever ‘see’ anything in proper perspective.

The point is that looking at and seeking after anything the world considers worthy of pursuit will most assuredly fill us with darkness. Should we try looking at the world and Him at the same time, as many do these days, we will become cross-eyed, unable to run the race set before us.

But, even though we know all this, there many shiny objects out there to distract us, aren’t there? A perilous change within Christianity is that many ‘shiny objects’ once plainly seen as sinful and idolatrous are now accepted as harmless, vestiges of an old-fashioned way of life that can’t be sustained in our modern world. From the way men and women, boys and girls, dress, the way they talk, the places they go, what they look at and seek after, to the epidemic moral laxity that now guides their life-changing decisions, the myriad shiny objects of the world have eclipsed the Originator of their faith. He is ‘watered down’ to an innocuous and non-threatening ‘nice guy’ that champions even the vilest life-styles in the name of love, tolerance and acceptance. And all of this is not just happening on the streets but also in churches that once held fast to the gospel and to the centrality of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords only now to have taken their eyes off Him to look at the new shiny objects the world displays.

We must see Jesus, not as we would like Him to be, not in our image, but as He really is. This cannot happen, nor will it happen, until all of us become fixated on Him again and stop looking at everything, and everyone, else as a guide to the kingdom. There is no substitution for and no alternative to Jesus: He is all in all or He is nothing to us; no in-between, no place for being cross-eyed, trying to look at the world and Jesus at the same time and then expect to be filled with light, much less ‘see’ where we’re going.

© W.G. Ryzek 2013

Hey Bub! Whaddaya Looking At?- Part 5

an old man looking at something

Parts 1-4 of this series offer the first answer to the questions “what should we be looking at?” and “what should we be seeking after?”  In sum, we should be looking at and seeking after what is unseen because what we call ‘reality’ exists only because of what we can’t see. (Heb. 11:3) Seeing the unseen, therefore, reveals to all believers the ‘eternal weight of glory’ behind this otherwise unsubstantial, fleeting and temporal life. (2 Cor. 4:17-18) This is what it means to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) for it is only faith that gives us ‘healthy’ eyes to see the unseen, fill us with light and make us lights in a world overwhelmed by darkness.

The next few blogs give the second answer, namely that we must be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”. Doing so insures that what we look at and seek after make Him that singular Center around which our lives revolve. But, before we consider this second answer I think it necessary to digress a bit because Christmas Day is fast approaching.

Apparently, according to some polls I’ve seen, only about half of Americans think Christmas is uniquely religious while the other half see it as merely a cultural phenomenon. Even if this polling is only remotely accurate it indicates the darkness within our world is deep, far-reaching and increasing as human history draws closer to its completion. That Light has come into this dark world is part of the Christian message and  as far as this series is concerned means that being filled with light is to be like Jesus when He became flesh and dwelt among us.

It is worth noting that some applications of the word ‘light’ in the New Testament are not only meant to be antithetical to darkness (i.e. sin and evil) but also a counter to proto-gnosticism (via Platonism and neo-platonism) developing in the early 1st century Church (addressed in John’s gospel, 1st John and some of Paul’s letters)) and, later, full-blown Gnosticism fought against by the first post-apostolic church fathers leading to the Nicene council in AD 325. These philosophies generally agreed that the material world is evil (darkness) and all that is immaterial is good (light). Of course, such views ran counter to any notion of incarnation, God becoming ‘flesh’, and became the basis for heresies that denied the full deity of Jesus. That Light is an incarnate Person is unique to Christianity.

Consider with me, then, these New Testament passages that, when taken together, remind us of the enormous magnitude of the Incarnation.

Luke 2:25–32 (NKJV)

25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

29             “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,

According to Your word;

30             For my eyes have seen Your salvation

31             Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,

32             A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,

And the glory of Your people Israel.”

 

Among other things, this passage, based on older prophecies, shows that we Gentiles were included in God’s salvation plan all along, that together, both Jews and Gentiles, would make up the Church, the Body of Christ. We, like Simeon, have truly “seen the Light”.

 

John 1:1–14 (NKJV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

This profound passage unveils what transpired at His Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Light and Life ensconced in a human body for all to see from birth, through death to His resurrection and ascension.

John 8:12 (NKJV)

12 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

John 12:35–36 (NKJV)

 

35 Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

 

1 John 1:5–7 (NKJV)

 

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

 

Matthew 5:14–16 (NKJV)

 

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

These verses show that because He is the Light, we are lights in the world and, to the degree we “walk in in the light as He is in the light” we have continuous fellowship with Him and are effective at illuminating this world with truth.

Luke’s version of the lighted lamp gives us the relationship between being a lamp, the condition our eyes and what we ‘look at’ and what we ‘see’ which brings us back to the theme of this series laid out in parts 1-4.

 

Luke 11:33–36 (NKJV)

33 “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. 34 The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”

 

I end this installment with a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all who follow this blog and to all who may come across it from time to time.

 

 © W.G. Ryzek 2013

Hey Bub! Whaddaya Looking At?- Part 4

 

 

an old man looking at something

This series has to do with what we look at, what we see and whether we are filled with darkness or light. The darkness of the world feels like a vice-grip that slowly but steadily increases pressure to squeeze out what remaining light that remains. It is necessary, then, for us to look at the proper things and see them for what they are.

Take this ‘holiday’ season, for example. People, both buyers and sellers, are frenetically preoccupied with the economic bottom line the Christmas shopping season portends, even more than in past years. It is mammon on steroids taking attention away from the Christ of Christmas in order to make itself the center of attention. Looking at, and seeing mammon so flagrantly, almost obscenely displayed (along with its many cohorts through the media and advertising) will squeeze us with spiritual pressure to “conform” to the world instead of being“transformed by the Spirit”. And, I’m convinced as the day of our Lord’s return approaches, all of this will only get worse making it even more important that we consider carefully what we are looking at, what we are seeing, and what we are seeking.

In response to the question posed in the first blog “what should we be looking at?” the first answer comes from Paul and his example of “looking at the unseen”. We find this in 2 Cor. 4-5 where Paul describes his ministry and is the wider context of chapter 4:16-18 which we touched on in the last blog.

 

2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (NKJV)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 

Looking at the unseen and not what we see naturally is one path to overcoming the blight that bombards our natural eyes every day and gaining the proper perspective on what we look at and what we seek after. Otherwise we end up seeing everything the way the unregenerate do and find ourselves in lockstep with them rather than that illustrious list of saints found in Heb. 12.

The sum and substance of what Paul is getting at in these verses is stated in 2 Cor. 5:7: “for we walk by faith, not by sight…” and is a testimony to the veracity of Heb. 11:1-6. We interpret our environment and make judgments about it according to what we see. Paul tells us that seeing naturally is to see only what is temporary, fleeting, and, in fact, unsubstantial; the world around us is like a vapor or a fog. The judgments we make about it then are usually wrong, or at best, shortsighted. By ‘looking at things unseen’ we come to perceive an inward daily renewal culminating in an eternal weight of glory no matter what appears to be the case to the natural eye.

Now, to the phrase “eternal weight of glory”. To begin with, no Christian is merely just what he or she appears to be. We are a new race of beings, an alien race in fact whose home is not this world. If we are seeing things properly, none of us should ever feel at home here but be continuously “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb.11:10 NASB. Italics mine) Seeing believers this way insures a love and respect due such glorious beings.

Secondly, we are already substantial, weighty, heavy, thick, radiant, eternal beings. However, in our present form, this weight of glory cannot be fully revealed, contained or sustained but nevertheless, to the unsubstantial vapor that is the world around us, we are impenetrable and immovable filled with the glory of God that is His Spirit within us.

Thirdly, there is something going on inside us of which the world has no clue. While it is in a state of decay, we are continuously rejuvenated even if it looks like we are falling apart. From the context of his letter Paul is addressing a specific kind of decay namely suffering associated with his ministry.

The point here is we are not from this world anyway, we all have a mission to carry out, everything around us is temporal and decaying, and so we give ourselves over to preaching the gospel without any reservations. Why?  We are renewed, rejuvenated, restored, strengthened by supernatural power no matter if the natural man is under duress and even facing death. The suffering is temporary and will yield to eternity. So, we imitate Paul when we “look at things unseen…” and “know that if the earthly tent which our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor. 5:2 NASB)

Just like Jesus who Himself was the embodiment of an eternal weight of glory we are the light in this world of sad and pathetic disintegration, to hold back the darkness until that appointed time and the end of all things as we know them. Thus, we come full circle to what He said in Luke 11:33-36 and Matt. 5:13-16 and are reminded that the walk of faith of which Paul speaks depends on what we look at and how we see it.

Luke 11:33–36 (NKJV)

33 “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. 34 The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”

 

Matthew 5:13–16 (NKJV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

 

Hey Bub! Whaddaya Looking At?- Part 3

an old man looking at something

2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (NKJV)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Luke 11:34–36 (NKJV)

34 The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”

 

There are many ways of looking at something, or someone. just as there are different ways of ‘seeing’. The English language has terms like “gaze, stare, peep, glance, peek, gape, gawk” to describe some of these differences. Greek also has different terms for ‘looking and seeing” that to one degree or another parallel English counterparts

The word ‘look’ Paul uses in his Corinthian letter (2 Cor. 4:18) is from the same root word spoken by Jesus in Luke 11:35, one of the verses upon which this series is based. The NKJV translates σκοπέω  “Therefore take heed…” but the NASB has a better rendering: “Then watch out…” (or, put another way, “look out”) which more closely corresponds to σκοπέω used here as a warning.

The verses quoted above show a connection between ‘seeing’ and ‘looking’ and Paul gives us one answer to the question posed in the first blog, namely what sort of things we are to be looking at. Being filled with light is accomplished by “not looking at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen…” because the “the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”. (2 Cor. 4:18 NASB)

So, we are to look at what can’t be seen and the more we look the more we see. This apparent contradiction is in fact the way things really are and to those outside the faith appear as sheer lunacy. But all Christians know it’s true: we really can see unseen things when we look at things properly.

Now, some ideas to note about this. First, from Paul and Peter we learn that this sort of looking and seeing has to do with living the Christian life in the midst of adversity and preaching the Gospel to the unsaved. Second, this kind of looking is a fixation, a staring at, and not just a casual or occasional glance; i.e. what  ‘catches our eye’ remains the focal point. Third, this sort of looking is possible only by means of faith. (Heb. 11:3) Fourth, we must become convinced that what we look at in the natural course of life will pass away and, even now, is being replaced by “an eternal weight of glory”.

This phrase “eternal weight of glory” is at the very least profound and is meant to awaken our consciousness to what IS the case about the temporal/temporary Christian life, not what we might suppose it to be. The phrase “eternal weight of glory” is meant to show the sheer substantiality of what is really real as opposed to what is only fleeting; in Paul’s case suffering for the Gospel, and with Peter, a “proof” of our faith accompanied by inexpressible joy in the midst of temporary adversity that comes with living an authentic Christian life. (1 Peter 1:7-8)

In short, when we look at the right things and thereby see clearly we are changed, illuminated, ‘filled with light’ and become light shining in the spiritual darkness that is the kosmos under the dominion of sin and Satan. This is at least part of what Jesus meant in Luke 11:33. Furthermore, when we look properly (in this case, at the unseen) and see things the way they really are the more substantial and ‘weighty’ we become. While our natural condition is fleeting, fragile, almost ghostlike, here today gone and tomorrow, Paul says we are being renewed day by day gaining spiritual weight (which he says is glorious) over and against our inherent weakness as fleshly beings.

These words of Paul call for further attention and will be the subject of our next installment.

© W.G. Ryzek 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Hey Bub! Whaddaya Looking At? -Part 2


an old man looking at something

The teachings of Jesus we looked at in the last blog spoke of being filled with light or darkness depending on the condition of our eyes, whether healthy or diseased. This suggests there are two ways of seeing things, either in a healthy or an unhealthy way which, in turn, has a great deal to do with what we look at and seek after. The fact is what we look at affects us profoundly because the objects of our attention indicate the condition of our will to habitually see certain things.

Now, consider these two passages:

 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3 NKJV

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 NKJV)

These verses show us that, to the natural eye, nothing is what it appears to be; it is always far more or far less than we think. We simply don’t have the perceptual apparatus to see everything we’re looking at; something is always left out, or added depending on our predispositions. (See my blog “Running Into Trees”) Once we acknowledge our extraordinary limitations at seeing anything for what it really is then these verses make sense even though prima facie counter intuitive and seemingly irrational.

These passages are also foundational for learning to ‘see’ properly because they are ‘reality’ verses encompassing ontology, cosmology, epistemology and anthropology. That all things seen are made by things unseen (cosmology), that the visible is temporal while the unseen eternal (ontology), that we have both an inner and outer man, one visible the other not (anthropology), and that we understand all this by faith (epistemology) show the two dimensions that correspond to natural and spiritual ‘seeing’. By itself natural seeing is bound to fill us with darkness whereas spiritual seeing fills us with light. We need both to get around this side of heaven but only spiritual sight illuminates the way we must go.

At any rate, the point here is that faith opens our eyes to see what is really real and what we really are (2 Kings 6:15-17 is a great example). What ‘catches our eye’ now is wholly different from before; where once God was absent He now appears everywhere and we begin understanding that “in Him we live and move and have our being….” (Acts 17:28)

One axiomatic idea we learn from Hebrews 11:3 is the actuality and functionality of “the word of God”. By actuality I mean that the Word of God IS and by functionality I mean what His Word DOES, namely create. This has special significance to all of us whose outer man is daily perishing as Paul describes in his second Corinthian correspondence noted above. By looking at the unseen, which can only be done by faith, we know that at the same time we are perishing we are being renewed. This is what His Word says (its ‘isness’, it cannot be any other way) and what it does, namely re-create (renew) the inner man even though we ‘see’ the outer man disintegrating.

Of course, we know Paul isn’t speaking of just old age here but the effects on the physical/natural man through ministering the gospel without regard to what he calls “light affliction” which we know from other passages entailed floggings, stoning’s, shipwrecks, prison time, various and sundry beatings and the Lord only knows what else. The “eternal weight of glory” in contrast to the perishing natural body is what we see ‘when we look at what is ‘unseen’ which is one example of what Hebrews 11:3 suggests.

The word ‘look’ Paul uses is therefore worth considering and will occupy our next installment.

 © W.G. Ryzek 2013

Hey Bub! Whaddya Looking At?

an old man looking at something

Jesus talks about our eyes filling us with light or darkness (Luke 11:34-36) depending on their condition (diseased or healthy) and what captivates their attention (God or mammon Matt. 6:22-24). Furthermore, in the parallel passages of Matt. 5:14-15 and 6:22-23 a connection between being the ‘light of the world’ and being ‘filled with light’ can be made. These verses make the case that what we seek and what we look at express the condition of our spiritual lives and our effectiveness as witnesses to the Truth; i.e. whether we are filled with light or not.

Consider the saying “something caught my eye the other day”. This usually means that we weren’t looking at anything in particular and then suddenly focused on something specific. What that ‘something’ is reveals our alertness to, and interest in, certain things around us; i.e. what our eyes have been trained to ‘see’, desire to see and, depending on our eyesight, whether we see them clearly. Taking into account technological advances in the media (TV, radio, internet), I don’t think there has been a time in human history when idolatrous images with the sole purpose of ‘catching our eye’ and filling us with darkness are as ubiquitous as now. What’s more, the intensity of the imagery designed to ‘catch our eye’ is increasing and wearing us down to give into the most base and sinful compulsions of which we are capable; all things sexual is an example.

Popular TV shows and movies considered ‘innocent’ fun and ‘fantasy’ are really encouragements to engage in lifestyles contrary to the kingdom of heaven. And judging by the moral decay in the ‘real world’ these encouragements are wildly successful. Making matters worse, people are bombarded by the idolatrous images of money, power, influence, respect, security, notoriety, praise etc., especially through commercials, giving the impression they are the only worthwhile things to have. Of course, getting these things entails removing any competition which, in turn, contributes to further moral decay in the form of poverty and human degradation.

Even the Christians we read about in Paul’s letters were surrounded by idolatrous statues, carvings on buildings and, in a few places, even temple prostitutes parading around in plain sight; they got an ‘eyeful’ every day through their versions of the media. And things haven’t changed much since. There are now atheist congregations worshiping naturalism, empiricism, rationalism and moral relativism. They are 21st century versions of 1st century temples of idolatry and accepted by society with nary a blink of an eye, welcomed, in fact, by those calling themselves progressive and inclusive.

The point is that for this generation, like those before it, the battle lines between heaven and the world, between God and mammon, between light and darkness are clear to those who can really ‘see’. So what should we be looking at and what sort of things should we be seeking after that fill us with light? What follows is a series of blogs highlighting verses that teach us what to look at and what to seek so we might be “filled with light” thereby effectively resisting the darkness gripping our culture, our world and, sometimes, even ourselves.

 © W. G. Ryzek 2013

All Prim and Proper: Clothing for the Well Dressed Christian- Putting on Christ

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Gal. 3:26-27  For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

 Rom. 13:14    But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

 

I think it’s fairly clear that when Paul’s uses “putting on” and “putting off” his main concern is the moral and ethical conduct of his readers reflecting the new way of life appropriate for a Christian. This is especially clear in Eph. 4:20-32 and Col. 3:5-11.

Now, “putting on Christ” expands our focus to the union existing between the believer and the Lord Jesus. This union is the basis for, and necessary condition of, the very possibility of “putting off the old man” and “putting on the new man”. It is a new kind of existence expressed by a new kind of life-style and the reason the Christian life is a transformation into something totally new, not a reformation of something old.

It can be said that Jesus is the first New Man, the ‘first-born of many brethren’ (Rom. 8:28-30) because He is the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Through His kenosis (self-emptying) and incarnation (Phil. 2:5-8) He became Godman (Gk, theanthropos) and, subsequent to His resurrection and glorification, He remains Godman forever. He is that Singularity, infinite, eternal, irresistible from which all creation springs and the Source of a new humanity. There is none like Him, nor can there ever be, and there is nothing in all of creation, old or new, that is like the Church of which we are a part.

There is, then, an everlasting connection between the nature of the ‘new man’ we ‘put on’ and Godman, the Lord Jesus Christ.(Rom.13:14) Baptism is the external ‘sign’ of being enfolded into, identifying with what Jesus did and Who He is by ‘dying’ to all that preceded this confession of faith, the life of the ‘old man’. (Gal. 3:27) Thus, the union of our redeemed existence with Godman is the ‘new man’ created in every believer and, collectively, in His Body, the Body of Christ in which each of us participates and contributes to the praise of His glory. This is what we are to “put on” and doing so is life eternal.

This imperative to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” takes on even greater significance given its context, one that is particularly àpropos for this time in history; indeed, “the night is far spent, the day is at hand.” (Rom. 13:12) There is a wedding soon to come and we are warned to be prepared for the event. Two parables of Jesus point to this. The first is found in Matt. 22:1-14 about the wedding feast with verses 11-12 pertinent to this discussion. One of the guests is confronted by the host for not being properly clothed and then taken away to anything but a party. Being properly clothed, then, is far more than a fashion statement but required for the events soon to come.

The second is found in Matt. 25:1-13 and addresses specifically the need for preparedness. Again, the focus is on a wedding and the participants advised to have their ‘lights on’ when the Bridegroom arrives. (see Rom. 13:11)

If you have been following this series, recall the first installment had to do with “putting on the armor of light”. Interestingly, that passage (Rom. 13:12) is in the same context as Rom. 13:14. Therefore, putting on the ‘armor of light’ and ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Christ’ go together and speak of being properly clothed and being adequately illuminated as the above parables suggest.

The point is, then, that being a properly clothed Christian means ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Christ’. In other words, ‘putting on the new man’ supersedes, overcomes, and ‘kills’ the ‘old man’ thereby becoming successful at making “… no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts”. (Rom. 13:14)

© W.G. Ryzek 2013

 

All Prim and Proper: Clothing for the Well Dressed Christian- Putting on the New Man

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As with most theological and Biblical terms, varied opinions exist about what the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ are in Paul.  One simple way of understanding them is this: the ‘old man’ is you BC (before Christ) and the ‘new man’ is you AC (after Christ). However, in real life this distinction between BC and AC is not simply an either/or but more of a both/and. In other words, even though we are a ‘new Creation in Christ’ (AC) there yet remains much of the ‘old’ still in us to be transformed (BC).

Being the clever creatures we are, learning to ‘put on a show’ that meets the expectations of whatever Christian group we belong is relatively easy; we appear to be the real deal without ever really ‘putting off’ anything. But sooner or later, our true nature surfaces and we are exposed in spite of our best efforts at playing the part. But this sort of play acting doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t really Christians; quite the contrary. Paul’s imperatives to “put off” and “put on” were written to Christians whose behavior was not always in keeping with their conversion. (see Eph. 4:20-32)

I have to say that, at least to me, it is quite astounding to read these letters of Paul and realize they were written to believers, some of whom were nasty, lustful, idolatrous, liars, cheats, drunks and otherwise despicable. And Paul calls them saints while they displayed these unseemly characteristics which were anything but ‘saintly’. This gives me hope that while I’m ‘putting on’ and ‘putting off’ I remain His child, not because of anything I have or lack, but because I’m already a new creation in Christ by grace through faith. My concern now is to become in everyday life what I already am because of Him. It is a life-long project to be sure. The good news is that, because of Jesus, we can truly be transformed into someone brand new and not just reformed into an ‘improved’ version of what really should be put to death.

So, like old, worn, ragged, dirty and useless clothes, we are to ‘put off’, ‘take off’, discard the old man and ‘put on’, dress up in brand new, fresh, radiant clothes befitting a child of a righteous and holy King. However, like old clothes we hate throwing away, the old man is not easily gotten rid of and resists all efforts at being cast off. Hence, a corollary to this ‘putting off’ and ‘putting on’ is language like “dying to self”, “crucifying the old man” and such.

One exercise that will help us is being reminded of what the ‘old man’ is really like. Paul helps us do this by describing what we are to “put off” in Eph.4:20-32 and Col 3:5-17.  Put simply, the ‘old man’ is everything about us associated with sin, the world, and the devil, all reeking of death and, therefore corrupt and decaying. In fact, in Eph.4:22 the verb “grows corrupt” is in the present tense meaning that he is growing corrupt now and will do so continuously.

Furthermore, this ever increasing corruption is by its very nature, destructive so everything the ‘old man’ touches is destroyed, itself included. It is an incredible description of sin that these days is rendered innocuous by churches remaining largely silent about what sin really is for fear of offending. But, I digress.

Now, in contrast to the old, corrupt man, we learn that the ‘new man’ we are to put on is created by God in “true righteousness and holiness.” The language here indicates the ‘new man’ was created both ‘by God’ and ‘like God’, two very important notions that stand over and against the ‘old man’ that is decaying and being destructive in the process. With regard to our being created ‘like God’ the ‘new man’ is righteous and holy, neither of which can be ascribed to fallen humanity and, therefore, attributes belonging to God alone as aspects of His essential beingness. As new creations, however, these attributes make up the ‘new man’ that God Himself creates when we are ‘born again’. (see Col. 3:10)

With regard to creation ‘by God’, Paul use of the genitive ‘of the truth’ (this phrase doesn’t appear in some translations) shows truth as the origin of righteousness and holiness, hence they are the real deal and not play acting mentioned earlier and/or religious self-righteousness by which men seek to justify themselves. James 1:18 provides a good summary of the matter: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (NKJV)

So, what’s the point of all this? Whatever we were yesterday should no longer be the case today and whatever we are today should no longer be the case tomorrow. We should; no, we must be continuously putting off the old and putting on the new like changing clothes from day to day. What will gradually emerge is the true character of a Christian, namely righteousness and holiness created in truth that will radiate like an armor of light so much so there will be no denying we belong to, and are following, the Creator of light.

© W.G. Ryzek 2013

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