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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Our Eternal Home




I don't know if Isaac Watts realized the full impact of the words that he penned here, especially in the first and last stanzas, although I think that I would most probably agree with much of his theology, as far as that goes; but the fact that God is our Home, our resting-place is the main thing that I wish to focus on here. I've discussed this here on my blog before; but the notion of a 'place' somewhere out there, even far off, although a traditional and orthodox belief, doesn't make alot of sense when you really think about it! When the Author of Genesis penned the first few phrases of what we know as Genesis chapter 1, we see that 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth', which I believe, as I've written in several different articles, referred, not to the creation of the physical universe ( although I want to make very clear that He did create them! ), but had a primarily symbolic meaning of the 'forming' of His covenant people. The 'heaven', as you might recall if you've ever studied the Hebrew and Greek, simply means 'sky', and only by speculative extension means 'the abode of God' ( which doesn't make much sense either; did God create His own abode, or has it too, been from Eternity ( always )? ) This 'doctrine', along with so many other man-made doctrines, brings up so many hard and even divisive questions: 'Why would God, the Creator of all, need to have a specific dwelling?' We know that God, as a Spirit, is present everywhere; this a fairly well-accepted fact, right? Both Peter ( in Acts 7:48 ) and Paul ( in Acts 17:24 ) have said, emphatically, that God does not dwell in 'temples made with hands'! Does that include His hands? Does a Spirit have hands? The Bible tells us so! It also says that He has a back part and a face but I don't think that anyone, no matter how much of a literalist, envisions God with actual physical hands, or any of the human parts that we've mentioned. These are just several difficulties that we face when we try to physicalize spiritual 'places'.
We can plainly see, from Scripture, that when we hear mention of a 'Heaven', as the dwelling-place of God, that it is not always in reference to what we think of as just the sky, or the air around us.

In Genesis 28:12, which most of us are familiar with as speaking of 'Jacob's Ladder', we see that,  he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Exodus 16 is pretty familiar to most as the passage speaking of the 'bread from Heaven' or 'manna'; and lends some credence to the idea of 'Heaven';  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.
We can see, in Deuteronomy 4:36, that God dwells in 'heaven':  Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire. Moses, in Deuteronomy 26:15, declares outright that God's habitation is 'Heaven';  Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”’[d]
In Deuteronomy 30:12, he remonstrates about the Law, with the children of Israel;  'It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
Many times in the book of Deuteronomy 'heaven and earth' are called upon, to bear witness against the rebellious deeds of the children of Israel; but there is nothing inherent in this language to imply that 'heaven' refers to anything but the priests of God, the leaders of His errant children! Reading the story of the announcement of the birth of the prophet Samuel, in Judges 13: we see that, 'it happened as the flame went up toward heaven from the altar—the Angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar! When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.' Praising God for deliverance from his enemies, in II Samuel 22:14; David sings,“The LORD thundered from heaven, And the Most High uttered His voice. When Solomon dedicated his Temple, in I Kings 8:27, he asks the Lord; “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! ( see especially 30-49 ) 

Remember the famous 'Burning Bush' of Exodus 3 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” God then told Moses, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moses found it rather strange and intriguing that this bush was burning, but was not burned up; but we know that the bush was not 'consumed' because God was in it's midst; and even the area around it was 'holy ground' because of the Presence of God within it. We, as Christians, could be called 'holy ground' because of the Presence of His Holy Spirit within us! Jeremiah, in Lamentations 3:22, praised God that, 'Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.' After David, the king of Israel, had sinned against God by numbering the children of Israel, in I Chronicles 21, and God had levied His punishment on them; when God's justice had been fulfilled:  And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the LORD; and He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar of burnt offering. When Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, in II Chronicles 18, would join forces with Ahab, the wicked king of Israel; Micaiah the prophet used the phrase 'host of heaven' in a slightly different context than we may be used to thinking of it:  Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and His left. ( see also Isaiah 34:4 ) There are many other passages throughout the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, that clearly speak of Good's dwelling in 'heaven', including II Chronicles 30:27, the books of Ezra & Nehemiah, Psalm 11:4, 78:24 ( see also 105:40 ), 102:19, 103:19, 139:8 ( see also Amos 9:2 ), Isaiah 14:2, 63:15, 66:1, Jeremiah 23:24, Lamentations 2:1 ( see also Revelation 12:10 ), Daniel 2:44 ( see also Isaiah 9:7 ), Malachi 3:10 ( see also Genesis 7:11, in reference to the 'windows of heaven' ), Matthew 3:2, 5:12, 23:9, and Philippians 3:10, just to name a few; but for the sake of time and space ( also, that you may study these things for yourself ) , we will suffice with these, and say only that although one *can* gather from Scripture that God dwells in a special 'Heaven', from the context of the passages we have mentioned, and many others like them, that, in many cases, the word 'sky' could be inserted, rather than 'heaven'. One cannot help but remember too, what Jesus told the Pharisees, in Luke 17:20 & 21, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation;  nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’[d] For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.

Much more could be said here, concerning a certain place called 'Heaven', as a final resting-place for the believer ( in Christ ), but I want my readers to decide for themselves whether or not the traditional doctrine of Heaven 'holds water'!
As always; I pray that my readers will be Bereans, and search 'the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so', and that this study will both strengthen, edify, and comfort you with the knowledge that, through His Holy Spirit in us, we are 'holy vessels' of His, and inhabitants of 'Heaven', His 'dwelling-place'!

'In' His Kingdom,
and for His Glory., the edification of His Body,
Charles Shank



Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What is Love?

"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve"
Bilbo Baggins' Party Speech from 'The Lord of the Rings' Book 1

The Bible says that 'love is the fulfillment of the law' ( Romans 13:10 ). There is no law that says that you must 'like' someone, as Bilbo said above, in order to love them. I daresay that we, too often, find his words true! Even we, as Christians, have a hard time, sometimes, liking those that we love. The sense of 'love' that we get in this day and age, from movies and especially television, is not true love; but rather a feeling, more akin to liking someone. It is also viewed as an animal lust, as we see in too many movies and television shows today. Too often; when a man and women declare their love for each other: the next scene shows them falling into bed together, in some state of undress. 'The morning after' many times brings a different attitude, and some sort of 'problem'! It may be that one partner or the other will not have been satisfied; they may figure out, after the deed had been done, that they really don't like the others personality. Scripture also say that 'love................ does not seek it's own' ( is not selfish- I Corinthians 13:5 ). Paul himself said earlier in this same letter, I Corinthians 10:33, that 'just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.' True love then, is sot selfish; it seeks the well-being, the edification of others. The 'love' that we see in most media today, whether it be the movies, television, books, and even the newspaper, seeks it's own liking, or 'lusts', above the needs of others! You probably heard the saying, 'look out for number one', the idea that if you don't look out for ( take care of-I'm guilty of this attitude sometimes ) yourself; no one else will! As Christians; we like to say that we have, as we should, agapao, or un-selfish ( unconditional ) love for each other, as our Savior shows to us. This is true; we can have an agapao, or agape', love for the brethren, because of the agapao that He first showed to us! The apostle John wrote, in I John 4:19, that 'we love Himb]">[b] because He first loved us.' John said earlier, in I John 2:5, that 'whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.' I know ( from experience ) that our love does not always 'seem' perfect', or even un-selfish; in fact, I'd be willing to bet that even the most sincere act of love ( on our part ) has an ulterior motive behind it, even unconsciously! When John penned the words above; I'm sure that he felt the same way about it; but really, in context, John was saying rather that the love of God is fulfilled, or completed, in us, when we share the love that we have been given with others! Earlier, in I John 4:12, John says that 'if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.' I think that this is the key that we must alwas remember; 'His love has been perfected in us': We must love one another, but it is God who *has* perfected, or completed, His love in in and through us; remember, He first lo9ved ( us ), enabling us to love ( Him, and others )!


I pray that this little study will edify my readers, and strengthen or desire to love others, not forgetting our 'first love', God; for it is through Him alone that we love others!

in and through the love of Christ,
and for His Kingdom,
Charles Shank