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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Walking in the Valley of Lilies




Have you ever walked through a field of flowers? I can't say if I ever have, but I can only imagine how pleasant it would be to be surrounded by flowers! You could almost liken it to this 'new' life that we have been granted in Christ: In Christ, or through Christ; we have been granted to 'walk' in the presence of the 'Lily of the Valley', and with 'The Rose of Sharon'! The Scriptures tell us that 'He is our all', and that 'all things work together for good to those who love God'; so why do we have such a hard time seeing that? I think that most of the blame for that rests on our feeble, weak, and faithless shoulders. We have a tendency to focus so much on this physical ( real? ) life, that we have a hard time, more often than not, looking past our physical trials and tribulations, and trusting in God's promises, as I quoted above, that all is well with us, not because we feel like it is, not because it looks like it is ( to us ); but because God says that it is!

I'm sure my readers are familiar with the saying 'God said it, I believe it: that settles it', and I'm sure that most are just as familiar with the response 'God said it: that settles it; it doesn't matter whether we believe it or not', which is true enough, because God's Truth is not dependent on, nor relative to, whether we believe it or not! In this physical life which we have been given though, in which we are to 'offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God'; it helps us to offer more freely when we realize, not only that 'all things work together for good to those who love God', but that we have been given 'every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus! I think that when we focus our energies on trying to 'save souls', and being the light of the world ( which are not bad things to be concerned with ) because 'Christ could return at any moment', we tend to take our focus off of the spiritual blessings that Christ has 'secured' for us, through the promises, or the Promise of God.

I chose to title this article as I did, for several reasons; the first, and most obvious, I think, that as followers of Christ, or 'little Christs'; we are lilies of the valley, emulating Christ before, and among the 'world'; secondly, that we should 'walk' as in the 'world', yet not of the 'world', as lights, not just for the world, but simply because of what Christ has done for, in, and through us, making us a 'new creation' in Him; as lilies of the valley, and 'walking', or as a sister ( in Christ ) puts it, 'dancing in fields of grace'!

Thirdly, as I intimated above; we are 'walking in the valley of lilies', and 'dancing in fields of grace', not because it always feels or looks that way ( I can personally attest to this ); but because Christ has made it so, and as we begin to 'realize' this, not only does it bring to light a 'new' aspect to the life that we live in this 'tent', but also allows us to have more of an appreciation, I think, of the natural 'good' creation that God has placed us in, for this truly is, for us, 'The Valley of Lilies': a place where we not only can be lights for Christ, but where we ARE lights for, and 'in', Christ; the true 'Lily of the Valley'!

This article could also be entitled, 'How Shall We Then Live?', because that is really the question that we are faced with here. I think that God has given us, through His Word; instructions on how we are to live. We are to live as Christ lived; loving, not only those who love us ( that's natural ), but our enemies as well, 'as much as is possible, living at peace with all men', loving, and serving each other as He loved ( and loves ) us.

I think that many in the church throughout the ages, and even today, have ' forgotten' from where they came, and rather than showing the love that Christ did, not just to friends, but to enemies 'as were some of you', have seemingly shown an attitude of division and exclusion, rather than inclusion and peace, as Christ taught. The reason, I think that we have, in many cases, (seemingly ) 'forgotten' whence we came is because of our focus on the physical 'requirements' mentioned throughout Scripture ( 1o commandments, etc. ) rather than focusing on the spiritual, perfect fulfillment of those 'requirements' in and by Christ, and even more importantly, focusing on the promises ( Promise ) of God, and the subsequent fulfillment of those promises: Jesus Christ!

Having said all this: I must admit that I fail at this every day, sometimes most miserably; but even on my worst day, or your worst day: we need to remind ourselves that the Scriptures tell us that, 'He who promised is True', and 'even if we are faithless, He remains faithful'.

Let us go forth then, 'walking in the valley of lilies', trusting, not in our own good works or righteousness, but in the fulfilled promises that God has given us in Christ!

walking in the 'valley',
and in His grace,
Charles Shank

Monday, October 29, 2007

'As a Child'.............Logical Conclusions

Jesus said that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven: one must enter it 'as a child'.

Taken literally; one could almost assume that, unless one believes ( comes to Christ ) when he is a child, he cannot enter the Kingdom ( be in Christ ). This, I think, is not a meaning that anyone in their right mind would ascribe to this saying of Jesus'. In the Gospel accounts of Mark and Luke; Jesus' statement is somewhat obscure, simply stating that 'Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.' ( Mark 10:15 & Luke 18:17 ), but Matthew is a bit clearer when he records our Lord as saying "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." and "Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. ( Matthew 18:3 & 4). Matthew's elaboration helps us to understand Jesus' meaning a little better, I think; because He tells us that unless one is converted ( changed ) and becomes as a child, trusting in his Father; he cannot enter the Kingdom ( become in Christ ).



I think that some mis-interpret Jesus' statement in the so-called 'Synoptic Gospels' to be speaking of a 'blind faith', or an illogical and senseless belief, but I think that Jesus makes it clear that we must be 'wise as serpents, and harmless as doves', in that we must humble ourselves before our almighty Father, acknowledging ( realizing ) that we cannot enter the Kingdom on our own ( 'not by human means' see also, Daniel 8:25 ), but that we must trust in His Righteousness ( 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life' ), in order to enter the Kingdom.

By saying this, I am not 'exalting' logic above it's station, but indeed; I believe that as the divine Logos ( Word ), Jesus wants us to be able to understand what we believe, and why we believe it.
I don't think that God wants us to believe something that doesn't make logical 'sense' to us.

If God didn't want 'us' ( Christians ) to understand what we believe, then why did He spend so much time painstakingly explaining, not only His parables, but His relationship with and to His Father? I think that Jesus made it abundantly clear why He spoke in parables, in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 ( see also Matthew 18:12-14, Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 10:30-37 ): He spoke in parables, some, if not most, hard to understand, that ' seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand................', and because, 'it has been given to you to know ( understand ) the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven..............'

I say all this, to say that we must come to a logical conclusion, speaking as a human being, which Paul often did ( II Corinthians 11:21 , Philippians 3:4 , Romans 6:19 ), in order to believe something. If something doesn't make sense to us, it goes against our God-given nature to believe it. Some may immediately throw out a 'red flag' when they read what I've just said, but really, when you think about it in the context of the Scriptures above; God obviously planned for us to make informed decisions, or else, why create the world at all: why decree His elect Church?

Even though John doesn't record this 'incident, per se, in his Gospel; Jesus' words to Nicodemus are somewhat to this effect, and actually, closer to the context in which John wrote. In John's Gospel: Jesus is recorded as saying
'unless one is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God'. Note the uniformity, yet difference, between John's record of Christ's instructions on how we must enter the Kingdom, and Matthew's, Mark's, and Luke's.
Note too, that Nicodemus then further asks, showing his Pharisaical understanding of Jesus' words; 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' ( see also Genesis 17:15-21 & Hebrews 11:11-12 ). Jesus, however, corrects his woodenly literal interpretation by telling him that the birth that He spoke of was not a physical, but rather, a spiritual one, which Paul, and others, speak of as the 'new creation'. Jesus, I think; strengthens and confirms through John's record, that it is only through the 'new birth' ( from God's Holy Spirit ) that we can enter God's Kingdom, not through any human means.

Getting 'back on track', here, and condensing what I've said already; Jesus, through the Gospel recorded by Matthew, makes it clear that we are to become as children, not in the sense of a blind, senseless faith, but in humility, acknowledging that God, as our Father, does indeed know best ( even though we sometimes DO exalt our logic above Him ), and acting on that knowledge, by trusting to the 'Logos'( John 1:1 ), rather than our own logic, for a saving 'knowledge ( understanding ) of 'the Truth', which is Jesus Christ!

These are just some thoughts that I had in regards to the seemingly traditional idea of a 'blind' faith and an ignorant, senseless, and woodenly literal interpretation of Scripture.

As always, I welcome criticism, and encourage my readers to 'search the Scriptures daily, to see if these things are so'.

'in' Christ, the 'Logos',
Charles Shank

Friday, October 19, 2007

Is this it? or, 'No more Tears'

Most people, when faced with the view that we are in 'Heaven Now', laugh it off as a ridiculous idea. One of the first questions that a believer in this 'idea' is asked is; 'if this is so, why do we still have sickness and death: why do we still suffer and why are there still tears?' The funny thing is, and it's really not funny at all, is that this question is most often asked during a 'discussion' about the 'Return' of Christ, or 'the Second Coming'. The interesting thing about this is that the view that we now 'inhabit' the heavenlies, even 'Heaven' ( as the abode of God ) itself, is the 'logical conclusion' of a fully, consistently applied preteristic ( past-fulfillment ) hermeneutic.

Unfortunately; there are actually some believers in 'Fulfilled Eschatology' that believe that, although Christ has come, and we now inhabit the 'new heavens and new earth' in a spiritual New Jerusalem ( Hebrews 12:18-23 ), even that God now dwells with, and in us ( His Church ), they seemingly refuse, whether out of fear of being called a 'heretic ( even, God forbid, a non-Christian )', or out of self-imposed ignorance; to take this belief to its 'logical conclusion' and see that we do indeed, as Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, 'have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ'!

Most people that I hear talking about it, say that it's preposterous that we are in the new heavens and new earth because there is still sickness and death, the wolf has not yet lain down with the lamb, the swords have not yet been beat into plowshares, etc., etc., so forth and so forth. I agree with them to a point, that these things ( on a physical scale ) have not come to fruition in actuality; but gradually, I think, these things, and greater ( John 14:12 ), are happening ( even on a physical scale ) as our lives, and society ( nature even ) are being conformed to His will. The promises, or ( Promise ) of God were NEVER meant to be understood in a ( primarily ) physical sense: although they often promised a physical blessing as a 'perk' of obedience ( Exodus 20:12 ), they ALWAYS pointed ( typologically ) to some greater spiritual truth 'under' the New Covenant ( John 11:25,26, etc. )!

The problem, I think; when one purports that we now inhabit 'the new heavens and new earth'; is that there is a general misunderstanding of what we mean by this phrase. Most of those who believe this, fail to clarify ( I'm guilty of this too! ) that it is only those 'in' Christ who 'inhabit' this 'new', spiritual creation, the new, or holy Jerusalem. Not even a fundamentalist, dispensational Independent Baptist will try to posit that the New Jerusalem is not a part of the new creation ( heavens and earth ), but equate the New Jerusalem with the abode of God ( true ), or 'Heaven'.

When Jesus 'gave up the ghost' ( died ) on the cross at Calvary, uttering those famous last words, 'It is finished', many people like to say that He was 'merely' saying that the purpose for which He came had been accomplished: I agree; but our differences show themselves when we try to define that purpose. I've heard from some that 'Jesus came to die for sin': true enough, most gloriously true, in fact; but it goes so much further than that: Christ came to redeem His people from their sins ( Matthew 1:21 )!

The 'logical conclusion' of saying that Christ came only to proffer salvation is not only astounding, but outright depressing, any way that you look at it!

I've quoted Isaiah 55:11 many times already, to show that when God sends forth His Word ( Jesus ) for a certain Purpose, that His Purpose IS fulfilled; His Word CANNOT return to Him Void, or not having fulfilled that Purpose!

With that said; I think it is abundantly clear that when Jesus uttered those famous last words; He was not saying 'merely' that the possibility of redemption for all men had been manifested, but that His People, for whom He had just suffered the cruelest, most ignominious of deaths, the death of the cross; had been redeemed ( saved ) from their sins!

Here's a question: of how much worth do you suppose God reckoned the precious blood of His only ( begotten ) Son?

One could ( assumably ) argue, "Well, aren't we ALL His people, every single human being on planet earth?' I would answer: yes, and no: in this sense, and only in this sense; all people belong to Him ( are His ) because they are His handiwork ( Compare Psalm 19:1 & Isaiah 45:9 ), and as Paul postulates in his letter to the Romans ( Romans 9:17-23 ), 'What if God, wanting to show His wrath, and make His power ( sovereignty ?) known, endured.............the vessels ( creations ) of wrath, prepared ( created ) for destruction?'

Getting back to the subject at hand: the phrase in question, 'no more tears', is, of course, taken from the famous passages in Isaiah and The Revelation, that 'the Lord their God shall wipe away tears from all faces', and 'God will wipe away every tear from their eyes'. Taken by themselves, these verses could indeed, almost be viewed in a strict literal sense; but in context, even immediately, both passages connect the cessation of death, even of rebuke, with the renewal, or reconciliation, of all things. When read in connexion with passages such as II Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 6:15, it is not hard to see that this phrase is not to be read in the physical, and woodenly literal sense in which it is most often viewed, I'm afraid.

Looking through the OT prophets, we see that David was want to use this terminology to describe, among other things, a deep spiritual longing for restoration to communion with God
( Psalm 42:3 ); in Psalm 80, he reminds his people ( and God ) of the curse of disassociation with Him, that He placed upon Adam and through him, his progeny ( Genesis 3:19 ): in Psalm 116:8, he realizes ( prophetically ) that God has delivered 'my soul from death, my eyes from tears................': Jeremiah, in the context of the New Covenant/New Heavens and Earth, records God as saying 'refrain your voice from weeping, your eyes from tears.............' ( Jeremiah 31:16 ).
Malachi says that the 'tears' of 'God's people' ( Israel ) were not a good thing, but were, in essence what finally separated them from God ( Malachi 2:13 ), in fact, along these lines; the writer of Hebrews reminded them that Esau, though he 'sought it ( repentance ) diligently with tears', he found no place for repentance.

A brother of mine in Arizona has written much on this subject, and I do not wish to 'steal his thunder', but this subject is something that I've thought about lately; the need for clarification, first, when the subject of the presence of God's Kingdom; indeed, God Himself, comes up, and second, when we read, or think of, the phrase 'no more tears'.

There are many instances here, where the word 'tears' is used in a primarily physical sense, but as I've said before: I believe that ALL physical 'pictures' that transpired 'under' the Old Covenant ( including the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ ) were but significant of the greater spiritual 'reality' that we have in Christ, through His conquest of death.

As always; I encourage you to be a Berean, and search 'the Scriptures daily', to see if 'these things' are so. Again, better men ( and women ) than I have written articles on the subject at hand, and I encourage you to peruse those, in conjunction with the understanding granted by the Holy Spirit of Christ.

In His Name,
and in the 'heavenlies',
Charles Shank

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A response to the question, 'Can a Christian sin?'

Does 1 John 1:9 Apply to Believers Today?
response by Tami Jelinek

The question often arises in discussions of the implications of our completely fulfilled redemption:

“What about 1 John 1:9? It says that if we confess our sins, He will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. How do we apply this verse today if we have already been forgiven and cleansed?”

Hebrews 10:14 tells us that by one sacrifice we have been "perfected forever." Colossians 1:22 tells us that we are now "holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight." 2 Corinthians 5: 21 says that we have been "made the righteousness of God."

Yet many of us grew up in church being taught, as Christians, to practice 1 John 1:9 daily:

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

And thereby, we were taught that God's forgiveness was conditional, and must be re-sought, re-applied, and in effect: re-earned every day. It is no wonder that most Christians, even those calling themselves “preterists", have a hard time believing they have been completely forgiven and entered His glorious rest.

Since we have come to see redemption as fulfilled, and the cross as completely efficacious and victorious, we must revisit formerly “familiar” passages and examine them within this new, Biblical paradigm. So what about 1 John 1:9? Does it apply today? Notice that it reads very much like a gospel message:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Compare it to:

Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;

John is telling his readers how to be born again. He is preaching the same message Peter was in Acts. We should also keep in mind that later in John's epistle we read:

1 John 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

One who has not yet been born of God must confess his sins, and he will be forgiven and cleansed. But one who has been born of God cannot sin. There seems to be a clear progression between chapters one and three of John's epistle. Isn't this the definition of a Christian: one who has been forgiven and cleansed?

1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, [cleansed from all unrighteousness--1 John 1:9] but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

One might say that John's epistle was written only to those who were already Christians. But look at this wording at the beginning:

1 John 1:3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

Yes, it was written to the church, but it was a church to which many were being added daily, as people believed "that which [the apostles had] seen and heard" so that they would enter into fellowship with God and His people. In other words, there were clearly people listening who had not yet entered into that fellowship. Otherwise, why would John have said, "we are telling you this so that you may have fellowship with us?"

It is also important to recognize that this particular gospel delivery in 1 John 1 was tailor-made for a Jewish audience. Imagine yourself back there preaching the message of the cross and justification by grace alone through faith to law-abiding Jews. It is reasonable that many of them might have trouble admitting they were “sinners“. So John starts off by saying:

1 John 1:8 If we [we Jews, who have obeyed the law our whole lives] say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (John understood their mindset, and knew what they needed to hear.)

But

1 John 1: 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Also significant is the plural pronoun we, as well as the present continuous tense of the verb confess. This passage cannot be properly understood apart from the covenant change going on in the first century, and the corporate body to which that change was being applied:

2 Corinthians 3:16...when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Notice that as each one (individually) turned to the Lord (or confessed their sins and were forgiven and cleansed) they individually experienced the liberty of the Spirit; and as that process continued, they all (as a body) were being transformed from old covenant glory to new covenant glory, into the image of Christ.

So although the transformation process to which 1 John 1:9 primarily refers came to complete fruition in the first century when the body of Christ was raised incorruptible; it applies today just as the gospel applies today and forever more.