The Pagan Path

Those who wonder are not lost; they are trying to awaken! 'The Sleeper must awaken!'

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Battle for Truth ( 'new' beginnings ) World War III

There's a battle raging today, and in some cases, it's right at our own 'doorstep'; it rages, almost imperceptibly maybe, in most seminaries and Bible colleges, and is being fought, almost as a 'Cold War', in many congregations around the world, as well as on the home-front.

Although it could, and sometimes does get physically violent; it is normally more like a battle of wills: who's right and who's wrong ( 'if I'm right, then you must be wrong' ). Much of the time, the weapon of 'reason', or logic, is used;'if this, then that', which can be very useful at times, and often turns out to the correct purpose, but when fighting these battles, it's often easy to forget Who we're dealing with. Most Christians today, when faced with 'reason', will say something like; 'God says, 'For My thoughts [ are ] not your thoughts, nor [ are ] your ways My way', quoting ( which I have been known to do ) Isaiah 55:8, out of context. While this is most certainly true, for God IS God, and 'we' are but human beings ( ? ), able only to copy, or 'ape' Him; we still are wont to remove this passage from it's immediate context, for, as we can see from reading the surrounding ( especially just previous ) verses, God is addressing 'the wicked', and 'the unrighteous man'. Those who have turned to Him, as He adjures those men, in the immediately previous few verses, I believe, if not blinded by the traditions of men, or their own stubbornness, can have a glimpse, maybe even more, of His ways.

Fulfilled Eschatology, aka 'preterism', can be said to be the basis for this Holy ( Cold ) War. 'Preterism' has many facets today, as many as any other belief system ( or more ), so for that, if no other reason; I will be fighting under the banner, first and foremost of course, of God, and Truth, but of 'Fulfilled Eschatology' ( 'Kingdom', or 'Covenant Eschatology' have been employed, but, as eschatology is the study of the end, and neither the Kingdom, nor Covenant have an end ( Dan 2:44, Luke 21:33 ), neither of these really 'fit the bill'! ) As I've noted in at least one previous article, and in discussions I've had with critical brethren; I am not the best theological defender of this view, but I do believe that eschatology, as describing the time of the end, the end of the old covenant (Judaistic ) economy, and the final and full revelation of the new covenant in Christ, was fulfilled ( accomplished ) in the 1st century, in 'the year of our Lord', Anno Domini. Some have argued that the new covenant was established in 33AD, with the death of Christ on the cross, and the subsequent presentation of His 'blood' before the Father, upon the altar, in the Holiest ( Dan 7:13 ). I agree with this, insofar as Christ was Himself, as I pointed out in a previous article, 'the messenger of the covenant' ( Malachi 3:1 ), and in fact, the covenant itself ( in a manner of speaking ( Isaiah 42:6, 49:8 ), but, as the writer to the Hebrews stated, 'the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing' ( 9:8 ), although he did point out, later in the same chapter, 'a testament [ is ] in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.' ( 17 ( 'testament' is another word, in this case, for 'covenant' ). One way to explain why others say ( myself in particular ) that the new covenant was not fully established at the cross, is because the old ( covenant ) economy was still actively being pursued, the animal sacrifices were still being presented, and because, as above, 'the first tabernacle was still standing', and the Church, which was founded and grounded upon the 'Rock' which was Christ, was still being birthed, not being fully established.

What is truth?

Before Jesus was crucified, but during His trial; Pilate asked this pointed question, although I don't believe he was really serious about it, for he didn't seem to wait around for an answer. As we now know, and which Pilate didn't have the advantage of; looking back on Jesus words to His disciples in John 14:6, He WAS/IS 'the Truth'! God's Word is Truth ( John 1:1 ), and vice-versa, the truth is God's word, the Scriptures. I know many brethren who trust ( implicitly ) the word of God, as translated by, and presented by men who may or may not have had God's Spirit. I will readily admit that most translations give us the same basic 'picture' of Christ, and present the same 'good news', and so, have proven to be a fairly accurate rendering of the Word of God. Although I believe the Bible does present the Word of God as revealed to His servants in a time and location 'long ago', and 'far away', we have, unless one knows Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic ( and even those, unless from 2,000+ years ago, are 'suspect, as well ), merely English translations, at best made by 'men of like passions' as we. Can we trust these translations then? I daresay that we can trust God, through them, as through even the original manuscripts ( Scriptures ), to reveal to us His Word, the Truth that we so desperately need, and in most cases, seek. 'What is the point, then, of quibbling over whether or not the Bible is the Word of God?', one might ask. The point is, the Bible is NOT the Word of God! Jesus is the 'Word' of God, as witnessed by the Bible, and as revealed in the Scriptures. This may seem to be an almost insignificant point ( 'in the grand scheme of things' ), but I assure you; it is, at it's foundation, one of the most important truths you will ever discover!

Many people today have a relativistic view of truth. Phrases such as 'what's true for you, may not be true for me' are seemingly 'bandied' about, almost 'willy-nilly'. In the minds of most Christians; there is no doubt that truth is absolute, but even among Christians, there is often disagreement as to what that 'absolute' truth is, and how it should be presented. There is a certain sense in which something may seem to be true for one person, but not for another, and in that sense could be termed 'relative', but truth does not change, in reality; one plus one will always equal two ( although some have even figured out that that's not 'true' ), right will always be right, wrong will always be wrong, and God will always be God ( 'the same yesterday, today, and forever' )! A person in Australia, for instance, may, at 8 pm ( their time-depending where they are in Australia ) call a person in the US at noon: while for the Australian; it would be quite another day altogether, for the person in the US, it would be the previous day. A person with perfect vision may correctly discern that the shirt that they picked out for the day is red, and that both socks match, while a person that has color-blindness may end up wearing a completely different shirt ( that they thought was red ), and sporting mis-matched socks.Two different college professors, both with a PhD., and both with a degree in theology, and fluent in their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, may have a different perception of what Christ meant, for instance, when He said 'this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place'. We may believe a certain way about something, but even if the majority believes the same thing, that doesn't make it the truth! I believe, as do all preterists ( true, not partial ), that when Jesus said this to His disciples; He meant that all the things that He described to them in vivid terms, in what is called 'The Olivet Discourse', would transpire within the next 40 years or so, before their own generation had died off, while others believe that, by 'this generation', Jesus referred to the generation ( future ) that would see these things happening. Others subscribe to some sort of 'gap theory', in which Jesus told His disciples ( not very clearly ) that some things would happen in their generation, but that the rest would not happen till a future generation. The point I'm trying to make here, is that though our perceptions may change ( or differ ); the truth never changes: 'it is what it is', and what we believe about the Truth does not make it Truth!

Our perception of God, as our our perception of things, may 'color' our beliefs, and therefore actions, but our beliefs about who and what God is do not change the facts. We may believe ( erroneously ) that God is petty, and vengeful, like we humans have a tendency to be, but just because we believe it, our Bible seems to say that He is, and our leaders tell us that He is, doesn't mean that He is. Some believe that, especially with the advent of the new covenant, all have been reconciled to God, and that all will eventually come to a saving knowledge of God, while others go even further, and say that all have been 'saved', whether they believe or not, but this does not change the fact.

Does our perception determine our reality?

As discussed earlier; what we perceive to be true is not necessarily true: 'truth for us is not necessarily truth'. Our perception is a largely determining factor, however, in the way we look at things ( our world-view ), and thus, the way we live our lives. As we have seen though; this does not change the fact that there is an absolute truth, and this truth is rested in God alone, and revealed through His Spirit, when and how He sees fit.

Since the beginning of time ( ? ); perception has always 'colored' men's ( and women's ) 'reality', and caused them to commit acts of rebellion. Looking at Scripture, which is the record of time that we have to deal with; we notice that Eve, because she saw that 'tree [ was ] good for food, that it [ was ] pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make [ one ] wise', along with her husband, disobeyed God's explicit instruction, and in so doing, brought upon their descendants a symbolic, typical, and metaphorical separation from God. Her son Cain, perceiving that God favored his brother, for whatever reason, jealously struck down his brother, and became the first known murderer. Sarah perceived that, since her womb was dead, to old for child-bearing, and because she felt that God was taking to long ( II Peter 3:8 ); took matters into her own hands, and thus began a long and turbulent history of wars and fightings in the Middle East. This is but a 'smattering' of the examples that we can look at in Scripture, to see how one's perception, most often wrong, or at least skewed, led to much pain and turmoil, and usually not just for that person, but for all those around him, in his 'area' of influence.

Even in our late history ( the past 1900 or so years, since the end of Biblical 'canon' ), we have seen much turmoil, much of it directly related to Biblical history, and some only incidentally: take 'The Crusades', for instance; because ( and this is not meant to be a historically accurate or concise relation ) it was decided by 'the powers that be', through their perception of Scripture, that Jerusalem and Israel had been given to the physical Jews, that forces must needs re-enter the so-called 'land of promise', and remove the infidel heathens, restoring the land to its rightful owners. This fight continues to this day, and was only exacerbated by the re-installment of Israel as a nation, in 1948. Beginning in the late 12th century, the infamous Inquisitions began to be carried out, mostly by the Roman Catholic Church ( other 'churches' had their own 'versions' ), because of someone's ( the majority ) usually somewhat skewed perception of orthodoxy, and desire to rid the 'land' of heresy. This battle, usually to a lesser degree ( thankfully ) continues all over the world still today.

To answer the question above; it first must be determined what reality is. We can, in our limited and finite human minds conceive of a reality that may be altogether different from another man's conception. As we have noted above; God is Truth, He is the only and ultimate reality: He IS ( Exodus 3:14, Isaiah 43:13, 46:9, John 8:58 ( 1:1-3 ) Revelation 21:6 ( 1:8 )! Is our reality what we perceive as 'our reality', or what God has said is our reality? Even if we don't perceive ourselves to be in a covenant relationship, good or bad, right or wrong, is our reality in any sense different? God is our reality, no matter how we perceive things; sure, because our perception is different than someone else, our action are most likely going to differ somewhat ( that's life ), but even then, our actions don't change the fact that 2 plus 2 equals 4, and so on; that's the reality, and reality doesn't change: it is an intangible. 'Our reality', in some sense, could be seen as real, and it could be truly said that certain things that happen in our lives, such as the death of a loved one, or some such other tragedy really happened, and thus, in that sense, are true, but again, our perception has much to do with our world-view. Recently, and most of us can relate to this, we have experienced 'the loss of a loved one', but did he really die, or did we just lose communion ( or communication ) with him/her? Must we kill ourselves to pay the bills, put food on the table, and a roof over our heads ( not necessarily in that order ), or do we take God's Word for it, and seek first His Kingdom ( Matthew 6:33 ), and trust Him to meet all these needs? ( don't get me wrong; we are to do what we can ) Our perception DOES determine what we perceive to be our reality, but God determines our reality!

Some may say that it is not until we knowingly ( willingly ) enter into covenant with God, whether it be through the 'waters of baptism', or however we decide ( ? ), that we are in covenant relationship with our Creator. Although this may be one's perception; this does not change the reality that all are children of their Father ( like it or not ) in 'Heaven' just as they are physically children of their earthly father ( like it or not ); He has provided, and provides, all things necessary for physical existence, for each of His 'children', and thus, if only for that reason alone, can, and should be, termed, 'our Father'! Do those who do not respond ( positively ) to the covenant that God, as our True Father, has instituted with all His children, enjoy the blessings ( Deuteronomy 28:1-13 ) of His covenant? Of course not; don't be ridiculous! God has made a covenant, whether you will or not, with all of His creation, and every one of His ( sentient ) creatures has a choice, a choice of whether to obey or disobey, to love or to hate, to kill, or to make alive, keeping in mind the Scriptural principle, 'you reap what you sow' ( Galatians 6:7 ). Paul wrote, to the church in Corinth, 'we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ' ( II Corinthians 5:10a ); this, in itself, should remind us of the all-inclusiveness of the covenant ( some might argue here that Paul is speaking only of those who have been 'birthed' into covenant with God ), but the context he wrote these words in, is that all will 'receive the things [ done ] in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad', again, the basic principle of 'you reap what you sow'. In the following passage then; Paul adjured his readers to 'be reconciled to God', reasoning that 'all things [ are ] of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ', that 'He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again' ( see also Romans 14:10 ).

I will ( ? ) freely admit, as above, that until we knowingly and willingly respond in a positive way to God's covenant; we will not enjoy the benefits to the fullest ( even those who still reject Him enjoy some of the physical benefits of being His ), but in no way, I believe, can we say that one is outside of God's covenant until one decides to enter into covenant ( up till that point, one simply has a bad relationship with God, as a disobedient and self-willed child )!

The 'battle' continues.........................

As we continue our search for truth ( really only a search for understanding, and a prayer for enlightenment ), let us remember that God is Truth, and if we know Him truly, we know ( have ) the Truth, and thus share communion with all who know Him! Our perception of this Truth may change over the years, and will likely always remain personal, but the truth is; God never changes; 'He is what He is' ( I AM what I AM ), and THAT is one thing that we CAN count on!

Many ( multiplied greatly ) blessings,
Charles Haddon Shank

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Power in Prayer ( the manifestation of the sons of God )

It is interesting, don't you think, that he that wrote 'faith with without works is dead', later wrote 'the prayer of faith will save the sick'? This subject has been on my mind for quite some time, and I finally got around to sitting down, and hammering out some of my thoughts on the matter, thoughts I believe, that God has revealed to me through study of His word and meditation on it, and through discussion with His people on the subject of prayer.

The Power of Prayer

This is a popular phrase of late; 'Do you believe in the power of prayer?', and the idea, which the Bible seems almost to support, that 'prayer moves the hand of God', are several questioning ( and questionable ) statements that are probably somewhat familiar.

Does prayer, in and of itself, possess any value, any real power to do anything? It's just words, right? Words can surely lead to action, and usually do, although not always to the desired action. Action, when we pray to God, and even when we make request of our fellow man ( or woman ), is what we're looking for. There is no question that God answers prayer, just as most human beings will, in their own way, strive to fulfill the desire of their fellow human being, when asked, and even sometimes, without be asked, especially if a need presents itself. Much of the time, though, our prayers are not answered in quite the way in which we requested, or desired, and often not within the time-frame that we'd prefer. To answer the question above; we must determine then, if, when, and how ( to what extent ) words themselves have any power.

Do our words have power?

We know from history that words have power. Not the words themselves, maybe, but the actions, or reactions they usually engender. I'm sure that many wars or battles that have taken place may not have ever happened without a few choice words, either spoken or written. When God created the 'heavens and earth' in Genesis 1, He simply said 'Let there be..' ( from this has come the simplistic notion that 'God spoke the world into existence' ( I'm not saying this is not possible, or even true ). Scientifically; it can be shown that sound waves can be a destructive force; so in that sense, words do have power. You've heard the phrase, 'The pen is mightier than the sword': English author and playwright George Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined this phrase for a play that he wrote in 1839, an can be taken to mean that 'a person can cause people to change their opinions (e.g., to fight a war) and on a large scale whereas a sword can only change a person's opinion by force and then often only results in the person's death', for instance, Kevin Cooley wrote 'The Founding Fathers of the United States of America considered the pen to be mightier than the sword, and therefore were able to gain the freedom of America by uniting the colonists.' This, I believe, is only common sense; even the Bible supports this; Solomon king of Israel, arguably the wisest man ever, wrote 'The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars[b] are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd' ( Ecclesiastes 12:11 ), and in Proverbs 6:2; he warned his son of the dangers of ( making ) ignorant, yet well-meaning promises; he wrote 'You are snared by the words of your mouth; you are taken by the words of your mouth'. In Proverbs 16:24, we read, 'Pleasant words [ are like ] a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones' ( see also Psalm 119:103 ), and, in Proverbs 25:11, 'A word fitly spoken [ is like ] apples of gold in settings of silver'. Pretty obviously then; our words have power, power to harm, and power to heal!

When to, and when not to........

Sometimes, as we have all learned by experience ( by then its usually too late ); it's best just to keep your mouth shut, even though you know the right answer, and are dying to give it. Like we tell our kids, 'just because it's the truth doesn't mean you have to say it': there is such a thing as 'tact', and often, we can  and do ) say the right thing at the wrong time, the other side of the coin being that sometimes we say the wrong thing at the right time, which can actually lead to further trouble. What I mean by saying 'the right thing at the wrong time' is that sometimes a person is not ready for a certain truth at any given time ( and this is where tact comes in ), but we must sometimes bide our time and watch carefully for just the right moment ( a marriage proposal, for example ). Telling a person an untruth at a time when he is desperately seeking answers can often turn out to his ( and your's ) detriment, especially if that person is in the least gullible. This is one reason, I believe, and the Scriptures bear witness ( James 3:1 ), that teachers must be extra studious, and take great care that what they are teaching is true! Solomon, again, in his book of Proverbs ( 17:27a ), wrote, 'He who has knowledge spares his words', and later, in 23:9, 'Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words'. This same wise man wrote, 'Do you see a man hasty in his words? [ There is ] more hope for a fool than for him.'

Something that has always puzzled me, somewhat, is when Solomon wrote, 'Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him', and then seems to contradict himself by saying, 'Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes' ( Proverbs 26:4 & 5 ). I believe now that Solomon was teaching his son to be tactful, reminding him that there is a time to , as some say, 'beat a dead horse', but that he must also realize that there are times when he can begin to 'talk in circles', making as little, or less, sense than the one he is striving to persuade. Solomon, as the Preacher', in Ecclesiastes 3, wrote, 'To everything [ there is ] a season, a time for every purpose under heaven', and later in this same passage that there is, 'a time to keep silence, and a time to speak'. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially for certain ones of us, and it's an easy one to forget, as well, that we must learn when ( as well as what ) to speak, and when not to speak.

How to deal...............

To some extent; we have already studied how we present to our listeners ( or readers ) 'apples of gold', which are 'sweetness to the soul' and 'health to the bones', and how, presented in the right way at the right time, our words can prove a boon, and not a detriment to their recipients. When Solomon ordered his proverbs and presented them to his his son, he gave this purpose for them; 'To know wisdom and instruction', and, 'to perceive the words of understanding'; our purpose in learning is to know how to use our words to the utmost effect, and as we saw above, 'to heal', and not 'to harm'! We have already seen that our words do have power, so how do we harness this power that James said is 'an unruly evil, full of deadly poison' ( James 3:8b )? Turning, once again, to the wisdom of Solomon; we read, in Proverbs 10:19, 'In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips [ is ] wise', and likewise, in Ecclesiastes 9:17, 'Words of the wise, [ spoken ] quietly, [ should be ] heard rather than the shout of a ruler of fools'. It is through ( and in ) wisdom that our words should be presented ( and displayed ), and that wisdom, James said 'is from above', and is 'first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy' ( James 3:17 ).

The Power in prayer

I've asked the question, 'Does prayer, in and of itself, possess any value, any real power to do anything?' We can say for certain that words have power, because they have proven throughout history to be so, with starting wars, and such, or with bringing peace. Words, whether written or spoken, have inspired men to greatness, or to baseness, to nobility, or ignobility. Although they seem to have this power to move people to certain actions; I believe it is hard to argue ( though some have, I believe, and yet may ) that this power is intrinsic, or within the word itself; it is neither easy to deny the facts.

When we utter a prayer to God; we can be assured that His 'ear' is open to our prayer. We know from Scripture ( Romans 8:26 ) that God 'hears' our prayer, even when we're not sure ourselves what we actually need. This should tell us that the power is not so much in the word itself, but in the hearer, or hearers. We read, in Genesis 20, of God closing the wombs of the women of the Philistine king's household, and then upon Abraham's prayer for him, opening their wombs once again.  When the 'children' of Israel had sinned against God with 'The Golden Calf', in Exodus 32, and God announced His intention to destroy them right then and there; Moses uttered this intercessory prayer, 'LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit [ it ] forever.' As we know; God did not destroy them at that time. Numbers 11:1-3 records one instance when these 'children' complained against God's provision, whereupon He kindled a fire in their midst, which began to consume them, and when Moses prayed to God for them, God quenched ( or squelched ) the fire.  Later, when he was about to depart; Moses, in recounting the many sins and rebellions of his people, in Deuteronomy 9:26; reminded them how God had expressed His intention to make an end of them, but how he had interceded for them, and thus brought them grace. When Hannah prayed to God for a son, In I Samuel 1:10; He heard her prayer, and her vow, and He opened her womb and Samuel was born ( Samuel means 'heard of God'). After David, king of Israel, had sinned against God, by taking a census of his people, in II Samuel 24, for which God unleashed a terrible plague upon his kingdom; it is recorded that, when David made a prayer of intercession, crying 'mea culpa': 'the LORD heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel'.When the king of Syria surrounded Dothan in order to capture and most likely, to kill, the prophet Elisha, this man of God prayed that God would reveal to his servant the true Strength that protected them, and 'the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw......the mountain [ was ] full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha' ( II Kings 6:17 ). When Hezekiah king of Israel prayed to God because of the very real threat that the king of Assyria and his armies posed to their holy city; it is recorded in II Kings 19:20 that God responded to Hezekiah, through Isaiah the prophet saying 'Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard'. At this time, and at many other times throughout their history, God delivered His typical people when they turned to Him ( however sincerely, or with their 'whole hearts' ) and made supplication before Him.

Jesus told His disciples ( Matthew 21:22 ), 'whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive'. This sounds almost to good to be true! It sounds to, aside from its contexts, like Jesus is telling them/us that all we have to do is believe for something to happen. Most Christians, though, will admit that this is not the case, and that only if God has willed it, is something going to happen, or be presented to you; as John wrote to his 'children ( I John 5:14 ), 'Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us'. Only if we pray according to His will ( 'Your will be done...' ( Matthew 6:9-13, 26:39 ) does God hear, or answer our prayer.

One of the most heartfelt prayers in the Bible ( NU-text posits that this is a later addition ) was when Jesus cried, from the cross, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do' ( Luke 23:34 ). This question may engender others, but did God answer His only begotten Son's prayer? Did He forgive those for whom Jesus prayed ( John 17 )? I believe that most people, because of the sentence structure ( 'for they do not know what they do' ) will tell you that Jesus prayed for His captors, for those abusers, tormentors of His, who 'pierced His hands and His feet' ( Psalm 22:16b ), and this may have been another instance like when, in the Garden, He prayed, 'O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You [ will ]' ( Matthew 26:39 ), and on the cross, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' ( Matthew 27:46 ( Psalm 22:16 ); the Son of Man, human as He was ( yet fully God ), naturally tending away from the pain He knew was in store, much of which He already experienced, and reeling from the pain He felt in His Spirit but showing the love and tenderness that He had towards His people, in wishing as Paul, in Romans 11, for their reconciliation. Another explanation could be that those for whom He uttered that prayer on the cross, were the same ones for whom He interceded in John 17, praying not 'for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours' ( 'world' here is kosmos, same as in 3:16 ), even those who, despite their frenzied acceptance of His kingship, days earlier, had cried 'Crucify [ Him ], crucify Him!'

There is power in prayer, there is no doubt of that, but it is clear that the power rests, not in the one who utters the words, nor in the words themselves, but in the One to who prayer is made. Like John wrote above; we receive what we ask for when we pray according to His will, and according to Jesus, when we believe that His will is done.

There is also a form of prayer we use when we ask our brethren for things. If a thing is not within our grasp, or power, to get, or to do; if it is within their power to meet our need; I believe that they are manifested as the sons, or 'children', of God, when they do what is needed. There are things that we can get, or do, for ourselves ( and often fail to ); I do not so we should pray about that ( except maybe for strength ), but for those ( things ) that we cannot do on our own, we can be assured that, if we need it ( truly ( not just want ); we will have it ( Matthew 6:33 )!

Charles Haddon Shank

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Veiled in Flesh ( The Messenger of the Covenant ) ( a Christmas companion )

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power, Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above, Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain, Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart.

Though some of us may find ourselves in disagreement with Wesley's eschatology, or other aspects of his theology; he said rightly that God was 'veiled in flesh', when He sent His only begotten Son to earth. Traditionally, I believe, and there seems to be good Scriptural support for this, Jesus was born as a human being because the justice of God required a blood sacrifice, and not only that, but He had to be a true man, so that He could pay the penalty that man had incurred.

When Moses asked to see God's Glory, in Exodus 33, God told him, 'You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live'. In the end, Moses had barely a glimpse of His Glory, because God told Moses, 'Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen'. Even though he barely had a glimpse of the Glory of God, it is recorded that, after this experience; 'the skin of his face shone', so that 'he put a veil on his face', in order that the 'children' of Israel could bear to look at him. I believe that part of the reason that God sent His Son to earth in human 'flesh', was so that His people could bear His Presence.

'For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God [ did ] by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.'

In the previous chapter; Paul defended the law, saying that it was 'holy, and .......and just and good' ( 7:12 ). This being true; God sent of Himself to fulfill His own law, written in stone, because the ordinance that He had given was contrary to the selfish nature of His human creation. Paul also wrote, later ( I Corinthians 1:25b ), 'the weakness of God is stronger than men' ( Like any good Father; He set the example for us, revealing His own humility in weakness ). To His adversaries, Jesus did seem weak ( except for that episode, probably, in the Temple, with all the money, tables, etc., flying around......), 'who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return' ( I Peter 2:23a ). When He was tormented by His captors; Jesus 'was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth' ( Isaiah 53:7b ). Born as a baby; Jesus revealed the epitome of weakness and humility: think of it; Almighty God ( Isaiah 9:6 ), the Creator of all things ( John 1:3 ), emptying Himself of all that power and glory, just to be born as a weak human infant, and then to suffer the indignity of growing up into manhood, only to be murdered in the cruelest way then imaginable, all to reveal Himself as the great Anti-type, the fulfillment of all that had been written ( including the law ).

'And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us'

One of the most beautiful, and uplifting, passages in Scripture is found in Isaiah 40: verse 29 says 'He gives power to the weak, and to [ those who have ] no might He increases strength.' Joel prophesied of this, in Joel 3:10; 'Let the weak say, ‘I [ am ] strong'. We read, in Hebrews 7:18, 'For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness', and later, in the same book, or letter, we read that God instituted the new covenant because of the weakness of the flesh, because He found fault with them ( 8:7-12 ( Jeremiah 31:31-34 ). God sent His own Son, God Himself, as a man, that He, through the weakness of 'the flesh' might give strength through His Spirit ( think of Sampson here, in Judges 16 ), to that 'flesh', and through that Spirit, to conquer the 'wisdom' of that 'flesh' ( I Corinthians 1:27 ( Isaiah 29:14, Jeremiah 8:9 ).

Some may have noticed that, for the past number of months ( close to a year, probably ); I have been enamored with taking pictures of the 'heavens' ( which 'declare the glory of God' ( Psalm 19:1 ): a friend of mine commented on this, reminding me that the clouds acted as a layer of protection from the brightness, and invisible dangers of the Sun's rays. In much the same way, as I began to mention earlier; God's veiling of Himself ( His Son ) in the weakness of human flesh served the same purpose. Not only did Jesus appear in 'the flesh' in order to do what man by himself could not do, to atone for the sins of His people, but also to protect weak, frail mankind ( whose 'days [ are ] like grass' ( Psalm 103:15, Isaiah 40:6-8 ) from His holiness, and righteous indignation.

Behold, I send My Messenger, and He will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.

Many, I believe, have taken this statement from the prophecy of Malachi ( 3:1 ) as speaking of the mission of John the Baptizer, but I believe that, taken as a whole, and read in context; this 'Messenger of the covenant' is proven to be none other than our Lord, Jesus the Christ. He prepared the way, through the weakness and humility of His 'flesh', for God to dwell, once again, with man, as Jesus promised in John 14:23, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.' True Man, yet also true God; He came to prove that man, with God, could do what man alone could not do, and that was to re-enter into fellowship and communion with God.

Quoting Psalm 40:6-8 ( from the Septuagint, I believe ), the writer to the Hebrews revealed that, when the Christ ( 'Anointed One'- Isaiah 61:1 ) came into the world, He prophesied, saying 'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me' ( Hebrews 10:5 ) Though why, as the link above attempts to explain, there is still question as to why the Septuagint, and thus, the author of the letter to the Hebrews, uses the phrase 'a body You have prepared for Me', rather than what we find in the Hebrew Scriptures, 'My ears You have opened'; it is clear from Scripture, as typified in places like Genesis 22:13 ( regarding the 'son of promise'-Romans 9:9, Galatians 4:28-31 ), and Isaiah 26:19a, which reads 'Your dead shall live; [ together with ] my dead body[b] they shall arise', that God did prepare a biological body for His Son, in which to redeem, and reconcile His people to Himself.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh....................

Having been familiarized, no doubt, with the ways of the Persian court; Esther knew that if one was to approach the king; as he sat on his throne in the inner court ( significant of the Holy of Holies, or 'the Holiest' ) without first being called, there was 'but one law: put [ all ] to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live' ( Esther 4:11 ), so that when she finally approached the throne, three days later, one can only imagine that it was with some amount of trepidation, even though she had boldly announced at the outset, with resignation, 'I will go to the king, which [ is ] against the law; and if I perish, I perish!' As we know from reading further, the king did hold out his scepter to her, because Esther, for whatever reason, found grace in the eyes of her lord. This is a beautiful picture of the grace that the writer to the Hebrews talked about, earlier in the book of Hebrews, when he wrote, 'Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.' ( 4:16 ).

In the quote above, from Hebrews 10; the writer seems to be speaking of the physical, biological 'flesh' of Jesus, but I don't believe the anybody could be convinced that we actually enter ( go in ) to 'the Holiest', before an actual physical throne of God, through ( or even by ) the biological 'fleshly' body of Jesus ( ? ). I believe that most of us can agree, to differing extent, that the writer is speaking metaphorically here, revealing to his readers that it is through belief in the Godhood of the Christ, and trust in His righteousness, that we enter the 'Throne-room' to present our prayers and petitions before our God and King.

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

It is recorded, in Genesis 18:10, that God promised Abraham, 'I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son'. This child ( Isaac ) was [ born ] 'according to the Spirit', while the son by Hagar was born 'according to the flesh'. Paul went on to explain to the church at Galatia that this was all given as an allegory, revealing the two covenants, and the true 'sons of Abraham' ( Galatians 3:7-9 ) Romans 2:28 & 29, 9:6-9 ). From all accounts; Isaac was conceived naturally, as Abraham..............yeah, so anyway; I think we all know about that 'birds & bees' stuff, but the point is, although Scripture never says specifically, that  Abraham impregnated Sarah, I believe it's a fairly safe speculation that he did, and yet Paul wrote that Isaac was [ born ] 'according to the Spirit'.

'Emmanuel' means 'God with us', revealing, as John wrote, in John 1:14 ( quoted above ), that this Child that would be born was God Himself. However you look at it, whether you want to posit, as some do, that Jesus ( God ) was born of a virgin in order that His blood might be pure ( pure speculation ), or whether you accept the proposition that Isaiah prophesied simply that Jesus would be born of a young woman, as some have been known to suggest; the point is, that this Child was born, that His shed blood was a sufficient sacrifice, 'a soothing aroma' ( Genesis 8:21 ) before Almighty God. Going back to the conception of Isaac, recorded in Genesis 18:10; God had told Abraham, 'I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son' ( Genesis 21:1-3 ), but, reading further, it is easy to see why one would speculate, as Sarah did, that this would be a natural, rather than super-natural ( spiritual? ), birth, but are Gabriel's words of promise to Mary, and then Joseph, really all that different? To Mary, the angel said 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS' ( Luke 1:30-33 ), later telling Joseph in a dream, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit' ( Matthew 1:20 ).

As we celebrate the natural birth of our Lord this Christmas season, let us remember, not only the Gift that was presented to man so long ago, but that we should celebrate this Gift all year long, in every aspect of our lives; like I wrote in the previous article to which this is companion: 'a celebration of Life'! As we celebrate this Christmas ( for I still celebrate almost traditionally ), and keeping in mind that it is not ( necessarily ) whether one observes this ( among others ) as a 'special' day/season, or not, it is what's in the 'heart' that counts: the 'Reason for the Season'!

Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, December 20, 2010

No Fear ( a 'season' of forgiveness )

'Do not be afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people...............'
( Luke 2:10 )

So said the angel to the shepherds, on that starry night so long ago, as they guarded their flock. To these shepherds was revealed, first of all, that the Savior promised throughout their Scriptures ( Hebrew ), beginning in Genesis 3:15, had been born. Many times throughout Scripture; God told His people, through these 'messengers', 'Do not fear'. Our Scriptures today, tell us that 'perfect love casts out fear'! We do love imperfectly; no one, I believe, can honestly say that he/she loves perfectly ( as close as we can get, anyway ) at all times, with never a selfish thought or action, and often with a hint of that fear that is unwarranted. 'Will he/she return my love?' might be one of those fearful thoughts. Granted, some of us can gather the courage to love first, not knowing if that love will be returned, but most of us, I fear, fail to love as we are called to, for that reason, as well as others we could mention.

'You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. ( Matthew 1:21 )

How did Jesus save His people from their sins? He forgave them ( Jeremiah 31:34 ( Ezekiel 36:25 )! Paul told the Ephesian church ( 4:32 ), 'Be kind to [ one ] another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ, has forgiven you'; 'forgiveness' is key: if we do not forgive, how can we love as we should? Sure; we can go through the motions, acting ( isn't that what love is? ) as if we love a certain person, but if we hold a grudge against that person, not having truly forgiven him/her; is it truly love? Love, I believe Scripture makes clear, involves forgiveness: that's how God so loved the 'world', as we read in John 3:16, He forgave their iniquities and remembers their sins no more! That's how we truly love one another, by forgiving each other ( Matthew 6:12, 18:23-35 ) the trespasses we commit daily, and loving anyway, in spite of those trespasses!

Another fear that might hold us back from loving, from taking that first step, is wondering if we will be forgiven, or if our trespass is so great that we fear that we will be cast out. True love, as we read in Scripture, is not loving because we know that love will be returned; true forgiveness is not forgiving because we know that we'll be forgiven. In the midst of His 'Sermon on the Mount' ( Matthew 5:46 ), Jesus said 'if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?' It's easy to love those who love you ( even if you don't really like them ), but it's hard to forgive someone who has 'sinned' against you, and, for whatever reason ( usually fear that you won't forgive them ), has not asked for your forgiveness, or even admitted to any 'wrong-doing' ( many times, it's all in our head ), to love them anyway, in spite of any perceived 'sin' that they have committed against you, especially if they don't show you any love.

'Perfect love casts out fear'. ( John 4:18 )

John wrote these words in the context of judgment, a context which we just heard about, and are all too familiar with. If we are 'in' Christ, having received the forgiveness of God, we need not fear judgment ( 'what can man do to me?'-Matthew 10:28 ( Psalm 56:11 ), either from God, or man. From God; we have received the judgment of 'righteous', and from man, even though we are judged unworthy, whether it be of their love and forgiveness, or, even in the most extreme case, of our life; as we see in Matthew 10; the worst they can do is kill our body, they can never separate us from our Life, which is the love and Presence of God, in Jesus the Christ!

In this 'season' of love, then, let us each determine ( and my words are loudest in my own ears, here! ) to love one another,forgiving one another as we have been forgiven and are loved. Let us cast out fear, and dare to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable, showing and sharing the love that God showed us all, when 'Love came down at Christmas'; Christmas is not just a certain time of year when we celebrate the birth of our Lord: Christmas is a celebration of Life, something we celebrate all year 'round!

I pray that this blesses you reading this as much as it did me writing it!
Charles Haddon Shank

Glorified Beings

'Whom He justified, these He also glorified.'

So wrote Paul, near the end of Romans 8. He used the same Greek doxazo as the Gospel writers did, in describing the glorification of God and His Christ. The verb mean 'to render ( esteem ) glorious'. According to Paul's writing; we, those who are, or will be, in Christ, have been glorified, or 'rendered' glorious. In the very same way; we have also been 'rendered', or esteemed righteous in Christ. Based on Revelation 21:27; an old hymn from the 1870s, 'Is My Name Written There?', written by Mary Kidder, has the line that talks about 'Heaven', with its 'glorified beings, in pure garments of white'. We know from reading Hebrews 12:22-24 that this beautiful city, or 'Heaven' refers to the people of God, those who are in, and make up the Body of Christ, and that these 'pure garments of white' refer to Revelation 19:8, and the 'fine linen' which is 'the righteous acts of the saints', those made righteous by God.

I have written on this subject before, more or less, and as I have written before, in other words; I am not saying that just because we have been made ( rendered ) righteous by God, doesn't mean that we have no need to act, or live righteously; on the contrary, we have a duty, a privilege, really,  because we have been made righteous, to live righteously, in love for God and one another.

I doubt if there is anyone out there who would dare to say that he lives right, or righteously, all the time, loving as God loves us, unselfishly 'giving preference to one another' ( Romans 12:10 ), 'forgiving one another', even as God, in Christ, forgave us ( Ephesians 4:32 ), but even though even the best of us fails, at some point, to do everything he should; the fact remains that we have been made righteous, through the righteousness of Christ, and rendered 'glorious' by the estimation of an almighty God.

In this 'season' especially, and even more importantly, all year long; let us remember our Righteousness, and in thankfulness and realization, of our esteemed status, live out our Righteousness before 'the world', taking the dominion that has been given to us in Christ, and bringing 'all in subjection' ( Hebrews 2:8 ( Psalm 8:4-6 ) to God.

Charles Haddon Shank

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Body of the Flesh ( Paul's 'Body of death'? ( Romans 7 ) the metaphorical nature of the term 'flesh' )

Traditionally, I believe, most Christians have taken Paul's yearning question near the end of Romans 7 to be indicative of Paul's supposed ( Gnostic? ) wish to be free of his physical body so that he could be 'present with the Lord' ( II Corinthians 5:8 ). Although Paul's question may be applied in some sense to the Christian life today; in no way should it be applied in the traditional sense that many, I fear, have applied it. 'Flesh', as a metaphor, was nothing new to the first-century believers ( Jews in particular ); even in the Hebrew Scriptures ( Ezekiel 36:26 ) we read statements like God's promise that 'I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh': obviously, when God 'turned' the hearts of His people, He didn't literally remove their physical heart ( of stone? ) from their physical body and replace it with a real, beating, 'flesh and blood' heart. This was an obvious reference to the 'tearing down' of the Mosaic covenant 'written in stone' ( II Corinthians 3:3 ).

In the first six chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul's usage of the term 'flesh' seems to very likely, even most probably, refer to just that, physical human flesh. Even throughout the Gospels, except for a few instances, which we'll get to later, and in the book of Acts, this seems to be the case. His statement in verse 5, for instance, 'when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death', is clarified by a previous one, where he writes 'you also have become dead to the law'. According to Paul here, being 'in the flesh' is equivalent to being 'under', or 'bound by the law' ( Galatians 5:3 ), although in verses 18 and 25, he seems to return to a referral to his own physical body. In the next chapter ( 8 );  Paul begins to clarify even further, writing that '[ There is ] therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.' ( Note that the latter half of the verse does not appear in some texts,  although, I believe, it is a scriptural addition to Romans 8:1, appearing 3 verses later in our text. ) From both the covenantal and historical context of Paul's writings, we should be able to readily see that he is talking, not so much of the physical nature of our literal 'flesh' ( although some would argue that this is more than applicable in today's 'day and age' ), but of the sinful nature of Adam, portrayed nowhere more clearly than in the Pharisaical actions of apostate first-century Israel. As we continue to study Paul's usage of the term 'flesh' in the ensuing chapters of his letter to the Romans, we see that, although in some cases, Paul seems, again, to refer to the actual, biological body ( 9:3 & 5 ), he is really referring to the same 'fallen' nature of Adam, the nature of the 'natural man', as 'under' the old covenant ( Romans 9:8, Galatians 4:23 ). As we continue to study the writings of Paul; we may notice statements that seem to speak in a biological sense, like when he wrote in his 1st letter to the Corinthians that 'not many wise according to the flesh' were called, or chosen of God, 'that no flesh should glory in His presence' ( 26-29 ), and his instructions in the same letter ( chapter 5 ) to 'deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh'. Paul's references to 'the flesh', in the next couple chapters ( 6:16, 7:28 ), are fairly 'obviously' ( plainly? ) biological, but when he asks his readers to muse on 'Israel after the flesh' ( 10:18 ), he makes an obvious reference back to Romans 9, as well as to Galatians 4:23, where he wrote, speaking of the ( two ) covenants, 'But he [ who was ] of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise'. One might say that chapter 15, Paul's famous treatise on the resurrection, is a 'mixed pot', when it comes to 'the flesh', but as we saw earlier, when read in the covenantal and historical context, we can see that he was really referring to that same fallen, sinful, Adamic nature ( Romans 7:9 ) that he had 'complained' about before. Even the phrase 'flesh and blood' is seen to be metaphorical ( though in a somewhat physical sense ), as Paul explains, in Galatians 1:16, that when 'startled' by the Holy Spirit of Christ ( God ), he writes, 'I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood', relating that he did not seek the counsel of his brethren in the Sanhedrin, or to confirm what he had 'seen', or rather heard, with the religious leaders of his day.

To be fair; we can well say, even today, with Paul, things like 'put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to [ fulfill its ] lusts' ( Romans 13:14 ), and 'Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh' ( Galatians 5:16 ), or with Jesus, 'The spirit indeed [ is ] willing, but the flesh [ is ] weak' ( Matthew 26:41b ). There are many other references throughout the Scriptures that seem to indicate biology, and others which clearly indicate the wisdom of man ( 'fleshly' ), but often, even those which seem to indicate a biological body can be seen to be used metaphorically ( in a spiritual sense ), as in the case of marriage, where 'the two shall become one flesh' ( Mark 10:8 ( Genesis 2:24 ) Matthew 19:5 & 6, I Corinthians 6:16 ), or of a corporate 'body', as 'all flesh shall see the salvation of God' ( Luke 3:6 ( Isaiah 40:5 ) Romans 3:20 ), and 'it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh' ( Acts 2:17a ( Joel 2:28 ).

One of the biggest 'problems', pertaining to our study here, facing a strictly ( 'wooden' ) literal interpretation of the word 'flesh', is found in Romans 8:8, where Paul wrote that 'those who are in the flesh cannot please God'. If we are to take this at 'face value', and out of the covenantal context; one might think that Paul is saying that human beings, Christian or not, have no hope of pleasing God, until, as I quoted in a previous article, we 'shuffle off this mortal coil': I must say, though, I don't really think that any respectable theologian out would posit this idea, and the principle that Paul espouses here can be applied to a 'fleshly', or 'lustful' attitude, even in today's 'day and age'; it is clear that he is referring, in both the historical and covenantal contexts, to the religious practices of Paul's day, in which the Pharisees  'bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay [ them ] on men’s shoulders; but they [ themselves ] will not move them with one of their fingers' ( Matthew 23:4 ), which itself is a metaphor for a fact which occurs today, they preached, but did not practice. There is a sense in which we can posit, as some do, that such things as 'carnal Christians' exist, that live 'according to the flesh', in the selfish lusts of their own 'hearts', doing whatever they want, because 'once saved, always saved', or something like that, but there is a greater sense in which Christians can never be in the 'flesh', at least not the 'flesh' that Paul had in mind, the 'flesh' of Adam, and the 'death' which was proved under the old covenant.

The Greek Scriptures, and maybe to an even greater extent, the Hebrew Scriptures, contrast the Spiritual nature of the new covenant, as opposed to the fleshly ( some might say 'physical' ) nature of the old. Ezekiel recorded this promise of God; 'Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them,[a] and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh' ( Ezekiel 11:19- almost sounds like 'the two shall become one flesh' ), As we saw above; God promised, through the prophet Joel that 'I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh', speaking of the new covenant, which He planned to reveal 'in the latter days' ( Isaiah 2:2, Hosea 3:5, Micah 4:1 ). Back now, to Romans 8; Paul wrote that 'what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God [ did ] by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh'; the first covenant ( Hebrews 8:7 ) was made 'null and void', because those 'fleshly' beings with whom He covenanted could not keep it, so He made a covenant with Himself ( Hebrews 6:13 & 14 ( Ezekiel 36:25-27, Jeremiah 31:31-34, etc ).

Continuing to contrast 'the flesh' and 'the Spirit'; Paul writes, in II Corinthians 10:3: 'For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh'. In the same sense as above, we can apply this to our lives today, in that we most often, even as Christians, must fight our own inclinations, our selfish desires, in order to do what we know is right. Paul wrote this statement in a time though, when one of the biggest 'problems' facing the baby church was the Judaizers, who were not willing, because of the tradition, to let go of their fleshly ordinances 'written in stone', but 'warred' to preserve the way of life handed down to them by their fathers, for generations.

To the Galatians; Paul wrote, 'For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish' ( this seems akin to Paul's 'diatribe' in the midst of Romans 7 ). Now again; taken at 'face value', you can see how we today, might apply this to ourselves because we, in our natural selfishness, often wish to do ( in many cases do ) things that our Spirit tells us that we shouldn't, but I believe that, read in the context of Paul's writing, we can see that he was talking about the Mosaic law, for in the very next verse, even, he wrote 'But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law'. Going back to Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan 'woman at the well', in John 4; Jesus told her, 'Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father', in other words, as the writer to the Hebrews revealed, in Hebrews 12, that the true worship of God was not relegated to a physical ( fleshly ) 'place' anymore ( at least not to one made with humans hands ), but that 'true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth' ( 23 ). Speaking of Himself, 'the Living Word' ( as opposed to the fleshly ordinances 'written in stone ); Jesus told His disciples, in John 6:63, 'It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and [ they ] are life' ( John 5:39 ). As we read in the following verses, 'From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more', not being ready for the truth, but accustomed ( comfortable with ) to the traditions of their fathers, having a fleshly mindset, and focused on the physical ordinances which had been delivered to them.

'The Works of the Flesh.'

I believe that we are all to familiar with 'the works of the flesh', as Paul described them, in Galatians 5:19b-21a; 'adultery,[c] fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders,[d] drunkenness, revelries, and the like'. I daresay that we can all admit to bearing at least one of these 'fruits', at least once a day, if not in deed, at the very least, in thought. Paul wrote earlier, in Romans 7:7, 'I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”' ( Exodus 20:17 ) I believe that we may safely assume that this was the case with other 'works of the flesh'. The written ordinance brought with it, as in the 'day' that Adam & Eve partook of the wrong 'tree', a consciousness of sin.

Later, in his letter to the Galatians ( 6:8 ); Paul wrote 'he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life', a statement that most of us still try to apply to our lives today, but we must remember the situation that Paul was addressing here, particularly with the Galatian church. As we can tell from reading the earlier parts of his letter, where he asked them, in Galatians 3:3, 'Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?', Judaizers had infiltrated the church, and were trying to tell them that they must keep the law ( Mosaic ) with all of its 'elements', like circumcision, and blood sacrifice, etc., in order to be acceptable in God's presence; but, as Paul had told them earlier ( 2:16 ), 'by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified'. This was not to say that they should not obey, or keep God's law, but not in the letter, in principle, the spirit of the law, which was to 'love the LORD your God', and 'your neighbor as yourself' ( Luke 10:27 ( Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18 ), which was the whole point of the law.

'The Thorn in the Flesh'

'And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.' ( II Corinthians 12:7 ) Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that God had given him a challenge ( traditionally, poor eyesight ) to keep him humble. He also praised the church in Galatia, because, 'my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, [ even ] as Christ Jesus' ( 4:14 ). Most think that, because of the information in the following verses, that Paul's eyesight never quite recovered from the blinding light that 'startled' him on the road to Damascus, which may or may not be the case, but whatever the case may be ( and I wonder now, if it didn't have something to do with him being a Jew, and especially a former Pharisee ); it is clear that Paul did not have an actual thorn sticking out of his body ( although I'm sure he got a splinter in his finger, once or twice :), and this 'thorn in the flesh' was simply a 'hurdle' (there's another metaphor ) for Paul to overcome, and, like I said, 'to keep him humble'. You might say that we all have one ( at least ) of these metaphorical 'thorns in the flesh', something that God has given us, or placed in our path, not only to see if we'll overcome, but to use for His Kingdom and for His glory. This 'thorn in the flesh' could be a physical or mental disability, or sometimes God places a certain person, or group of people in our path to whom we grant the esteemed 'term of endearment' 'thorn in the flesh'.

The 'Flesh' of Christ

There is no doubt in my own mind, and I am not trying to create doubt or raise questions in anyone else's mind, of the fact that God did empty Himself of Glory, and sent His only begotten Son to this earth, to be super-naturally born of a woman, to suffer a normal ( more or less ) human existence, and to die for the sins of His people, delivering them from the 'death of death' by raising Him from the grave, thus conquering it for and through them. When Scripture speaks of the body, or 'flesh' of Jesus, it most often means just that, His actual, literal 'flesh and bones' ( Luke 24:39 ) body, the biological mass that He walked, talked, and lived in, while on this earth, this human 'plane' of existence, but even when His body, or 'flesh', is referenced, it is, as often meant in a metaphorical sense. Jesus, as recorded in John 6:51, said 'I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world'. Jesus did give His physical body over to the torturers, and then, to death ('He gave up His spirit'-John 19:30 ), but, before He did, He revealed in one of His 'hard sayings', that He was the fulfillment of the typical 'bread from heaven' ( Exodus 16 ( Revelation 2:17 ), that God had fed their 'fathers' with in the wilderness. The Pharisees ( and even some of His disciples ) made the same mistake that some still do today, in ascribing to Jesus' following words ( 'unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood' ) a fully physical meaning. While Jesus did refer to His actual, biological Body here; I believe that He referred to His corporate Body, His collective ( and collected ) people, as Paul did in I Corinthians 11. Pretty obviously; Jesus did not expect them, and does not expect us, to eat His actual literal 'flesh', but actually had two things in mind here, I believe; He reminded them not to neglect fellowship, most importantly, with Him, 'in spirit and in truth', and other members of His Body, the Church, but to 'feast' upon His law, His command to 'love one another, as I have loved you' ( John 15:12 ( 13:34 ). In Acts 2:25-28; Peter, quoting David, in Psalm 16:8-11, referred to the corporate Body of Christ, who wrote, 'For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption', first and foremost, alluding to the actual, biological 'flesh' of Jesus, which, from all accounts, did not suffer decay, during its three days in the tomb ( the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 was a picture of this ), but also to the fact that, through Christ and the new covenant, His people would be set free from the 'corruption' ( I Corinthians 15:42 ) of the 'death of Adam', and the power of the grave.

'According to the Flesh'

Paul begins his letter to the Romans, by revealing to them that he was a minister of the Gospel which had been prophesied 'in ages past', 'concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh' ( John 1:14 ). By referring to Jesus as being born 'according to the flesh', he obviously means something different by the phrase than he does in other places, some of which we've already noted. Peter also refers to Jesus' birth as 'according to the flesh', in Acts 2:30. We know that, by using this phrase of the physical nativity of our Lord; they are saying just that; He was born as a human being ( though supernaturally ), of the physical line of David.

'What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?' Paul goes on to explain, in this passage ( Romans 4 ), how Abraham was not justified by his works, or deeds done in 'the flesh', but by faith, in the Spirit. In chapter 8 of this book; Paul reminded his readers that Christ came  'that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit' ( note, that Paul made the statement previously ( verse 3 ), not that Christ came to condemn 'the flesh', but that He condemned 'sin in the flesh' ). Paul further said, regarding the works, or deeds of 'the flesh', that 'if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.' This message was given primarily to the Roman church, and should thus be understood in the historical and covenantal context, but also relays much the same admonition today: if we rest in our works ( 'works righteousness' ) to get us through, we have made the same mistake as the Pharisees of old. As Paul wrote, at the end of the previous passage; 'I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!' Because of Jesus and the new covenant in His blood, we no longer must suffer in our ignorance!

Jesus, in defending His witness, His authority, told the Pharisees, 'You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one' ( John 8:15 ( Romans 2:28 ). The Pharisees, like so many today, were quick to judge 'a book by it's cover'. As we know, the 'cover' does not make the 'book', but because they judged, as we so often do, by how things looked; they were condemned by the very Law they claimed as their own ( John 5:45 ). Not only were the Pharisees guilty of passing judgment according to their perception, they also made the fatal mistake ( II Corinthians 3:6 ) of following the letter, rather than the spirit, or principle of the law ( Matthew 23:23 ( I John 2:7 & 8 ).

'For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble'. When Paul wrote these words, he had in mind, I'm sure, the same wisdom of men that we have experience with today, and which James wrote about in his letter, contrasting 'the wisdom that is from above' from an 'earthly wisdom', which is 'sensual, demonic', but primarily, I believe, he referred to those Pharisees, the religious leaders of God's covenant people, who had become wise in their own eyes ( Luke 16:15, I Corinthians 3:18 & ( I Corinthians 1:18-25 ), forsaking the wisdom that is from above, from God, the Father of spirits.

As we have seen from this study of the usage of the word 'flesh' in the ( mostly ) Greek Scriptures; 'the flesh' while often denoting just that, physical, biological, flesh, the human body; it often is used metaphorically, even in the instances where it does reference an actual physical body. This being the case; in many of the cases where people may try to apply phrases such as 'flesh and blood' or 'according to the flesh', while the phrases may not have quite the same import today as they had to the original audience, is it fair today, to say that they do not apply at all? Are we making the same Pharisaical mistake, and following the 'letter', rather than the spirit?

Mulling it over,
Charles Haddon Shank

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Bravehearts' of Freedom

In the greatest sense; Freedom is a gift that is given, not a reward earned!

Now, before someone wishes to find me in a dark alley and teach me a few things about freedom; let me just say that I am not making light of those, in the past who have fought, and given their lives for the 'freedoms' that we enjoy today. I acknowledge that there are still those who fight and give their lives to preserve 'the American way' of life. The freedom that I am speaking of, and which I wish to exalt today, is the freedom, both spiritual and physical, that we have because of what Christ did. In that sense, then, the statement above might better read, 'freedom is realized, not earned'. I say 'spiritual and physical' because I believe that one can naturally leads to the other, though maybe not in our timing, or in the way we'd prefer, but in God's timing, and in His Will and Way. Our spiritual freedom is the result of the salvation that Christ brought to His people about 2,000 years ago, freeing them from the 'shackles' of the the old covenant economy. When freed from these spiritual 'chains', which freedom we realize today, they also began to enjoy more physical freedom, as well. Once we realize this freedom ( in Christ ), our physical freedoms begin to present. I'm not trying to say that, even though we have realized that we are free to do certain things that all our lives we have been taught were wrong, we should do them; we should always be tactful about it Before we act upon our 'freedoms', particularly in font of a brother or sister that still thinks it's wrong, or a sin; we should ask ourselves 'why?' Why are we doing this certain thing, even though we are free, and even have the 'right' to do it, at this particular time, in front of this particular person, or people? Are we acting in love, even though we only wish to show them that it is not wrong? This is something that we all must 'face'; are we brave enough?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Ministry of Reconciliation ( the River of Life )

Therefore, if anyone [ is ] in Christ, [ he is ] a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things [ are ] of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,  that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. ( II Corinthians 5:17-19 )

Therefore may not be the greatest place to begin, but we have to start somewhere, and I would probably run into copyright difficulties and space problems, if I tried to quote more. Please; read the context, and judge for yourself, whether or not I am wresting it.

The quote above, I believe, stands firmly on its own, and is fairly self-explanatory. In the first century, and due to the ministry of God's own Son; Paul, in particular, but the people of God, in general, were given, after the Christ ascended to the Father, and to His former glory; the continued mission, through ministry, the responsibility of broadcasting the good news of the Kingdom. The Church today, the Body of Christ, has been entrusted, as stewards, the very same mission today. We have failed miserably, in many areas, and for far too long. I am not speaking of the institutional church, although that too shares in the blame, but in focus here are individual ( please don't get me wrong: I believe that we are all one corporate Body, in Christ ) members of that Body, the Church, for which the Christ died ( Ephesians 5:22-25 ). There are certain individual members of the Body, and even those who have not yet truly reconciled with God, who live according to the law of love, the ministry of reconciliation, doing what is required of us, in actively receiving and reflecting the love that God showed us ( John 3:16 ), but for the most part, the Church, whether because of purposeful ignorance, or through of mis-interpretation of Scripture, has, I believe, failed, in large, to truly broadcast the message of the good news of God's Kingdom!

I believe that it is 'high time' for us, who claim the name of Christ, to begin, if we have failed in the past, to do that which God has called us to; the ministry of reconciliation. As above; though it is One corporate Body of Christ; insofar as it is made up of individuals, we, as individual members of that Body, must take up the gauntlet, and begin to share in our ministry, not only with those we deem outside the Body, but with those as well who share membership with us in the family of God. This would include not only those that we may not see outside of a 'church' setting, but of immediate family as well, husbands, wives, and children. ( I must, at this point, interject here, that I have failed in many areas, to follow this ministry; I am not trying to excuse myself, just to point out that I am not superior to anyone else in my 'walk' )

As having been recruited, turned around in the most glorious way, being startled by a brilliant light from heaven, by God Himself, speaking to our Lord, face to face, if you will; Paul was entrusted with a bit different mission, being born into the transition between the Old and New Covenant economies. His mission, though he may have chosen not to accept it at first, was to continue the Christ's ministry of reconciliation, in further breaking down the middle wall of separation ( Ephesians 2:14 ), smoothing the transition between the exclusivity of Judaism and the inclusivity of the Body of Christ. In today's Church, and thus most glaringly in the institutional church, we face much the same problem, though, as I have written of previously, in that many of us have failed to realize the true mission of the Church, which is not divide, but to bring together, to reconcile. Maybe one issue that keeps us apart is that a good understanding of what it means to be reconciled, or to reconcile, is lacking.

Reconciliation; what is it? defines reconciliation, first, as 'an act of reconciling  or the state of being reconciled', and secondly, as 'the process of making consistent or compatible'. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines it as, firstly, 'the action of reconciling : the state of being reconciled', and, interestingly enough, secondly, as 'the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance'. When we get down to the root though, it becomes a bit clearer; using the resource above, the number one definition given involves restoration, and secondarily 'to make consistent or congruous' ( reconcile an ideal with reality ). Merriam-Webster's also defines the verb 'reconcile' as 'to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant'. My other source also defines this term in much the same words, though in a different order.Though I reject the notion given by Merriam-Webster's, that 'reconciliation' involves 'the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance'; I agree with the other definitions, as I believe the Bible, or Scriptures, does as well. Our ministry, our mission, though glorious, is not always pleasant: we are often rejected, even to the point of blood-shed, real or imagined, and sometimes our ministry brings us into contact with the less-than desirable ( again; real or imagined ) of the world.

And he showed me a pure[a] river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

I have striven to show, as I believe, that the very next half of the quote above, from Revelation 22 revealed that the people of God are called to be 'healing leaves', 'the leaves of the tree' that are, not just were, 'for the healing of the nations'. Although this book remains a mystery to many who scan its pages; I believe that much of the language is repetitious, to emphasize the point He is making; for instance, the 'tree of life' in verse 2 can be equated with 'river of water of life' in verse 1. As members of the Body of Christ, which I alluded to previously; we are called to take an active part in this ministry, not only to the 'world' around us, but to the corporate Body of Christ in which we have been placed.

This should be very sobering to us, realizing the responsibility that has been placed upon our feeble shoulders. Again; please don't get me wrong: I'm not advocating walking around with long faces, or trying to say that a Christian should never relax or have fun, only that he, or she, should take this responsibility seriously, treating the situations that God has placed before them with the gravity they deserve ( this goes for the people too ). As I hinted at earlier; I have failed miserably in my own 'ministry', and it remains to be seen, whether or not things will work out the way that I think they should ( God knows ), but regardless our acceptance of this mission, and whether we believe we're up to the challenge; this is the ministry that God has given to His people, for which He has also given us the strength and authority! Let us do His will, with the Strength He has given us!

Prayerfully and humbly,
Charles Haddon Shank

Saturday, December 04, 2010

My Blue ( white & gray ) Heaven

For the past months; I've 'had my head in the clouds', so to speak. Some people have asked me why the sudden interest in taking pictures of clouds; almost kiddingly, I replied, 'because clouds don't talk back'. Several months ago, on one of my photographic expeditions; I had the thought that, like the rainbow in Noah's day,so the clouds can be a reminder that judgment, for good or ill, is in the past; at least, as far as God is concerned. Although 'clouds' in Scripture, are, in most cases, somehow related to God's judgment, we know that, as with the 'rainbow' they are simply a weather pattern. In Wyoming, especially where we live, here in south-east Wyoming, we've come to count on the fact that the presence of clouds doesn't mean a whole lot; even if the whole sky is clouded over, and it looks very threatening: we may or may not get rain out of them, that's still up to God!

Like I said, 'clouds don't talk back'; they don't judge you if you're having a bad day, and they're never having a bad day. I like to think of clouds being a good representation of the principles laid down in John 3, which Jesus gave in response to Nicodemus's questioning. Although human beings are a bit different in makeup than clouds ( though we are roughly 8o% water, and like a 'vapor' ), being created 'in the image of God', and thus rational souls; we're really not all that different. Depending on which Spirit/spirit controls us ( our own, or the Spirit of God ), we can be, in a figurative sense, be 'blown about by every wind of doctrine' ( Ephesians 4:14 ), though, as Christians, we are ( though some of us act like it, sometimes ) 'no longer..children'. Because clouds are so easily blown about by the wind though; they are the subject of much wonder, with the beautiful, though unpredictable patterns, that result, and even those are ever-changing ( you may have noticed that some of my photographs have chronologically centered in one part of the sky for several frames, or just several frames apart ). Although we have been taught that, once we reach a certain point in our doctrinal stance ( this may vary, according to the church you belong to, if you're affiliated with one ), you should 'dig your heels in' and defend the faith, and not waver; but we should always remember that since God is the determiner of true doctrine ( 'it is what it is' ), and referring back to John 3, is symbolized in the 'wind'; we should always be willing to be, and are, whether we like the results, sometimes, blown by that 'wind' into beautiful, wondrous, and ever-changing ( growing, 'morphing' ) patterns.

'Heaven' has been the subject of much of my thought, as well as many of my articles recently, and I've come to the conclusion that, in many ways, 'heaven is what you make it'; as something that we experience, not only on the spiritual plane, enjoying the presence of God forever, but in everyday life as well, in this physical plane of existence; 'Heaven', at least on the physical plane, can be a simple as experiencing the joy of gazing at, and photographing ( copying ) that amazingly beautiful example of His handiwork, the clouds!

By His grace, enjoying 'Heaven',
Charles Haddon Shank