Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Journey Toward Relationship - not Real Estate!  Part 2

Stop clinging to Me,...

As Jesus spoke her name Mary’s awareness was enlightened just as the dawn was breaking around her, yet he had to exhort her:  Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”John 20:17 There is no direct indication here that she was physically holding onto him.  Might we suggest that it was her previous perception of him that she must stop clinging to?  Her understanding - and ours - is limiting. 

The verb, primarily, means to fasten to. Hence it implies here, not a mere momentary touch, but a clinging to - or a holding onto. The function of her expectations attempted to hold Him in place. From Vincent’s Word Studies: Christ says, "the time for this kind of intercourse is over. Henceforth your communion with me will be by faith through the Spirit. This communion will become possible through my ascending to the Father." As with Mary we too must experience a transformation.

He stepped back into the Presence of the Father, but he did not step back the same way he stepped forth. (He didn’t just “go back to being God again” after his earthly life. N.T. Wright) For now he is not only able to say My Father, but your Father as well.  One who was and is fully one of us has prepared the way into Father’s presence: “to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Son of His love” Eph. 1:6. Mary Magdalene could not cling to him as he once was, she (and all humanity) must release him to be as he now is.  This challenge continues to face us - its eternal benefits only being appropriated by faith.

Relationship is about a state of being. 

Our attempts to conform God into our own image are betrayed when we try to define His activity in finite terms.  Having clearly existed in the finite, Christ was now in the process of slipping its bonds and could not be held back - even by Mary Magdalene’s most sincere expressions of devotion.  She was clinging to what once was - he must escape her grasp so that he could fully become who he was and is and is to become: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8  The strength of this statement is in its presentness.  Who he was and who he was to become can only be comprehended in the light of whom he is presently.  The commentator Philip Hughes states: “the end that lies hidden in the beginning; and the unbreakable line that connects the first to the last is ‘the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Ephesians 1:11)”  The sum total of the predetermined purpose of the Father is that the Son would be the firstborn of many brethren (Romans 8:29).

Peter, having received the blessing of the Lord, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you,...” just as quickly receives the severe rebuke of the Lord for setting his mind once again not on God’s interests, but man’s: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me;” He had just told his disciples that he must be killed so that he could be raised on the third day.  Peter’s inability to grasp this necessity, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you” was a hindrance to the Father’s eternal purpose in his Son.  Peter, too, must let go. And our Lord’s affirmation is testimony that he did: Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep.” John 21:17b

Misdirected sincerity is misdirected nonetheless. 

The masque of good intentions can be a greater hindrance to the purposes of God, then direct opposition.  It purports to be God, but in reality is none of His.  The Community of the Faithful is thus weakened - led astray - to the point that it succumbs when overt opposition comes against it.  The blessing is forfeited, possibly (if that were possible... Matthew 24:24) never to be found again.

The Lord instructed John to commend the Church in Ephesus for many of its good deeds.  Yet a dire warning immediately followed: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”  And with it a foreboding commensurate result: “I am (italics added) coming to you and will remove your lamp stand out of its place—unless you repent.”  They had forfeited the person of Christ, the who he is, for the things of Christ, the what he is - and now when the I am comes it will be in judgement.  “Ephesus itself now stands in the western portion of the Muslim land we call Turkey, which is almost Christian free.”  History bears witness that her lamp stand was removed - the light went out.  Will it burn bright once again?  “Lord, only You know.”

An Old Testament parallel is the exchange of the blessing for the mess of pottage - the finite for the infinite, the temporal for the eternal.  “Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.” Genesis 25:34 KJV  Esau, the first born through whom the blessing was to come, forfeited his purpose never to regain it (Hebrews 12:14-17).  Christ, the First Born from Eternity, will not succumb to this intention.  He will fully accomplish all that is written of him in the volume of the book:  “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’ ” Hebrews 10:7 NASB

Returning to his discourse with his disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:3 (NIV)

(In our next installment we will begin to unwrap previous connotations of this passage to reveal the true intent of our Savior’s transformational claim via its startling implications to the present condition.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No more water but the fire next time . . . 

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, don't you see
God gave Noah the rainbow sign, don't you see
God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water but the fire next time

This refrain can be attributed to either a Negro spiritual or an Appalachian melody - or both.  To me it is quite familiar, but I am finding that many others have never heard it.

Regardless of the origin of the tune, I believe it incorporates a commonly held belief especially among we evangelicals.  Recently I heard: “Well, God is just going to destroy all of this.” (A comment such as this cannot help being encumbered with a certain amount of disdain for the work of God via His Word.) Yet, is it correct?  What was God’s covenant promise to Noah?
The LORD smelled the soothing aroma (of the covenantal sacrifice); and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.” Genesis 8:21

God said to Himself!

This was not just a promise to Noah - God said to Himself!  Where else do we hear such language?  “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, . . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.”  Hebrews 6:13, 18  And we could add: “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

So how do we reconcile God’s promise to Himself and our commonly held interpretations of such passage as: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10 Likewise we have: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Mark 13:31

Before we go further, I would like to interpose another passage containing similar language: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor 5:17 ESV Indeed, the Greek is exactly the same in all three instances.  Yet, in this passage the individual does not go away. God has not destroyed His creation - that which He said was good.  The object of His grace is transformed.

Annihilation or Restoration?

Is the fire then unto destruction - annihilation?  Or is it to purification - restoration!  “If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:15 That which serves as a type of the essence of God - gold, silver, precious stones - is purified by fire.  That which is a type of the efforts of man (to attain a god-like status - Genesis 3:5) - wood, hay, straw - will be annihilated indeed. The purpose being: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:29 KJV Fire and glory are both attributes of His goodness - When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever." 2 Chronicles 7:3 ESV

The fiery passion of God is not to be feared with dread–it is to be embraced.  It will consume the chaff or our lives, our communities - and this present age - so that which is capable of bearing fruit will remain to produce after its kind. “and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  Matthew 3:12 KJ2000 The chaff and the kernel are of the same essence, but it is only the kernel that remains - the chaff having served its purpose passes away.
The commentator Albert Barnes has a clarifying insight on this subject. “The idea contained in the word ‘dissolved,’ (destroyed - 2 Peter 3:11-12) is, properly, only the change which heat produces. Heat changes the forms of things; dissolves them into their elements; dissipates those which were solid by driving them off into gases, and produces new compounds, but it annihilates nothing. It could not be demonstrated from this phrase that the world would be annihilated by fire; it could be proved only that it will undergo important changes. So far as the action of fire is concerned, the form of the earth may pass away, and its aspect be changed; but unless the direct power which created it interposes to annihilate it, the matter which now composes it will still be in existence.”
An Imperishable Hope

After what seems to be such a dire prediction by Peter, his stylus points the believer to an imperishable hope.  “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13 

Adam Clarke - a contemporary of the Wesleys notes: It does appear, from these promises, that the apostle says here, and what is said Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:14-15, that the present earth, though destined to be burned up, will not be destroyed, but be renewed and refined, purged from all moral and natural imperfection, and made the endless abode of blessed spirits.

Concerning this everlasting state we read in the Book of the Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, . . . ” 21:1 Once again we encounter that word passed - and once again it is the same Greek word as used by Paul and Peter.  Since our premise is that this is not unto annihilation, but transformation - what might be meant here?  Let us consider this: the old has not ceased to exist, but it has passed out of sight for it has been eclipsed by the glory of the new.  “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Revelation 21:23 ESV

Looking again to the commentators: in contrast to the destructive effects of the day of God stand its constructive effects. As the flood was the baptism of the earth, eventuating in a renovated earth, partially delivered from "the curse," so the baptism with fire shall purify the earth so as to be the renovated abode of regenerated man, wholly freed from the curse.  Jamieson-Fausset-Brown

I am hearing right now via internet radio:

This is my Fathers world,
The battle is not done.
Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied
And earth and heaven be one.

I have hardly ever heard a more succinct eschatological statement. Unless it is this: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1:16 NIV    

So what!?
Is this just vain speculation, or is there eternal significance here? As Christians we are not wandering aimlessly–we are journeying along a path predetermined by the purpose of God (Ephesians 2:10).  The faith of Abraham is first demonstrated as the vision of God called him out of the land of Ur: “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10 The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews goes on to address all of those for whom Abraham is our progenitor of faith: “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” 11:16

Proverbs tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish:” 29:18KJV The word perish can also be translated as “without restrain” or to “run wild.”  Without the revelation of God the people plunge ahead aimlessly squandering the resources entrusted to them.

Having said that, I want to take us to a mountaintop in the Southern Coalfields of West Virginia just a few days ago. A group of intercessors were gathered to a windswept plateau created by the mining of resources to fuel the economy of this nation.  Yet, they believed there was more - God was not finished, He was still at work.  They had come to join Him there for their mandate was: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness there of . . . ” Psalm 24:1.

As we joined our hearts in oneness, we were very aware of being part of His plan: creation being redeemed for Gospel purpose–the revealing of the sons of God.  We were being observed from a distance by a group of men.  As we prepared to leave one of them jumped into this pick-up so he could speak with our host Pastor Mitch Bias.  “I don’t go to church much,” he exclaimed, “but my wife does and keeps me in the loop.”  Continuing he said, “We were watching as you prayed and we could feel the Presence of God from where we stood.  I had cold chills running up my arms.”

Drawn Forward

It is this vision of the ultimate purpose of God that draws us forward. 

And here is what I mean.  My bookmobile - the UPS truck - brought me a newly released book: Finish The Mission by John Piper and David Mathis.  I just read these words in the introduction: Wielding the indomitable strength of his divinity, he is poised to guarantee–with absolute certainty–the fulfillment of Habakkuk 2:14: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”  And then a tweet is quoted in a footnote: “If you hold the gospel up to your ear, you can hear the roaring waves of Hab. 2:14.”  If this does not compel and at the same time cause us to press on I cannot imagine what it would take.

In summary from the Anglican Philip E Hughes: “for God to discard or annihilate the present creation would testify to the failure of his purpose in bring it into being, and this in turn would contradict the doctrine of the being of God, whose purposes, by definition, are incapable of meeting with failure.  God’s purpose as Creator is seen in the fact that all things were created in the Son and through him and for him (Col. 1:16), and consequently all things have the purpose of their creation fulfilled in the Son, through whom God ‘reconciles to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross’ (Col. 1:20). Accordingly, by the new heaven and new earth we understand the realization of ‘the time of restoration of all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old’, as proclaimed by St. Peter (Acts 3:21) - or the achievement, in a word, of what Christ called the palingensia, the ‘rebirth’ or ‘regeneration’, ‘when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory’ (Mt. 19:28).”

The Consummation

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31 We see the restoration of this in Acts 3:21 which is referenced by Hughes above: “whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things . . . ”  The word restoration used here is derived from the same Greek word for which we get apocalypse.  Unfortunately in the modern vernacular this has come to connotate destruction - it is much more akin to consummation or the returning to its original state or purpose.   

As much as I value the old commentators and hymn writers, here is a perspective from modern hymnists.

The bitter wars that rage
Are the birth pangs of a coming age
When He renews the land and sky
All heav’n will sing and earth reply
With one resplendent theme
The glories of our God and King!

As John writes of the Divine Logos Himself: All things came into being through (for) Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. John 1:3

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Divine Quest - The Doctrines of Grace in Isaiah 6

Almost forty years ago I heard Malcolm Smith speak on the Blood Covenant at Perrow Presbyterian Church.  For me this was like the breaking of the dawn of a new day inexorably drawing me out of the darkness of legalism’s illegitimate claims.  Yet with having no sense of fully arriving I can concur with the words of Ed Silvoso: “The Process is the product.” As I remarked to Pastor Jack Dabney recently via Face Book message, I have been Reformed theologically since then, but have only recently begun to realize it.

As for me this has been and continues to be a safari; let’s embark on the journey of a brief excursus into the application of the sovereign grace of God in Isaiah’s life all the while keeping in mind our own state. 
Total Depravity

The seraphim - fiery beings - declared what Isaiah was seeing: And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." 6:3 This served to convict the prophet of his utter depravity: "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." 6:5 At this point he becomes very aware of whom he is and his current condition.  This marks the beginning point of God’s dealings with man–repentance. We know that we are desperately insufficient in ourselves and unless God intervenes we are at a total loss.

Yet Isaiah is not without hope and neither are we.  “God does not reveal himself to destroy us, but to redeem us.”  If we come to the Father with one iota of merit, then we are unworthy of His redemptive plan in the Son of His Love.  Somewhat of a conundrum is it not?  It is fitting that these heavenly messengers are ablaze with the jealous righteousness of Almighty God - purging us of the last vestige of self-righteousness.

And he (the seraphim) touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this (the burning coal from the altar of the Lord) has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." Isaiah 6:7 This is all of grace.  God has chosen - elected - Isaiah based on no condition whatsoever.  It is all of Him, and to Him - and for Him. Otherwise, it would not be holy - but unclean. “So it is by fire, the fire of God’s own purity, that the repentant are made like himself.” R.C. Sproul writes: “You can hear the flesh sizzle and burn, the muffled scream of Isaiah. His guilt was taken away. Never talk to Isaiah about cheap grace. He cauterized the lips of his servant. And forgave his sins.”

Limited Atonement

Does this take the form of a general call to all?  No, it is limited to Isaiah alone.  To believe otherwise would be the folly of presumption.  We might as well start trudging up the stairs of the temple toward its pinnacle preparing to cast ourselves into utter oblivion. Even the focus of it is limited to a specific people.  Though there are things here for all to hear–there is no hint of universalism.

In his autobiography The Spirit Bade Me Go, David du Plessis who came to be known as Mr. Pentecost, entitled one chapter “God Has No Grandsons.”  His point was that we cannot live on the experience of those before us.  Our Sovereign Father  is more than capable of creating a new and refreshing revelation of Himself in each one of His children.  It has also been said this way, “One man’s experience becomes another man’s doctrine.”  Unfortunately the shelves of our Christian bookstores are lined with a plethora of books whose basic premise is, “If you will buy my book and do the same things I did you will be blessed just like I was.”  Paul has encouraged us to pay attention to the traditions that we have been taught - yet we are not to get stuck there which results in traditionalism.   

We are reminded also of Christ’s call of His disciples: "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain,...” John 15:16  Even in His great High Priestly Prayer He did not pray for all: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” John 17:9 ESV

Irresistible Grace

God has remained silent until now: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" There is a bit of the rhetorical here for though it seems to be addressed to the divine beings - for which it had no relevance - it is unequivocally intended for the ears of Isaiah.  In this sense it is limited - also in this sense it is irresistible. “Having received an unsought for, and unmerited, complete cleansing, what else would he rather do than hurl himself into God’s service?”  This is an interesting statement by the commentator in that irresistible grace seems to exist in cooperation with volition.  The finite wisdom of man is categorically unable to grasp such a concept.  It can only exist in the unfathomable wisdom of the Sovereign God.  From Paul gleaning from Isaiah: ‘but just as it is written, "THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM."’ 1 Corinthians 2:9

John Wimber tells of his conversion experience in a home group something like this.  “At one moment I was sitting in my chair and the next I was on the floor crying out to God.  Now, I do not know whether I got down there on my own or was pushed.  I have now come to understand that is significant.”

Perseverance of the Saints

Isaiah’s readiness to serve speaks to divine motivation - the perseverance of the saints.  He would be kept on course the rest of his life. Gratitude is the factor that would keep Isaiah going, even when he would cry out: “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” Isaiah 53:1    Once again from the commentator: “Such a grateful offering of themselves is always the cry of those who have received God’s grace after they have given up hope of ever being acceptable to God.”  R.C. Sproul: “The only thing that qualifies us to minister is the knowledge of our forgiveness. And that we know the sweetness and majesty of the God who has cleansed our lips.”

I recently asked Nancy what she thought about the possibility of falling away from such a merciful God.  Her succinct answer was: “Why would I want to?” After having seen what Isaiah saw - why would he want to?  In one of the most difficult passages of Scripture in the New Testament - the interpretations of which are from horizon to horizon - I believe the writer to the Hebrews addresses this very issue.  Most are quick to call to mind when this topic is broached: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,...If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. Hebrews 6:4, 6 KJV  I would like to note here that the word “If” is vital to our understanding of this passage, for following is: “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” Hebrews 6:9 KJV Once again we have a vital word here “persuaded” for it calls to mind Paul’s exhortation to his young disciple Timothy: “for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12b KJV It is with this confidence that Paul looked toward the Roman arena.  Also here the readers are addressed as “beloved” and it is the love of God that cannot fail. I am convinced that persuade trumps if on any day. For our purposes here we will conclude with: “Enough said!”

Isaiah did not question the ways of the Lord.  His final words in this chapter speak to the enduring purpose of God: “Then I said, ‘How long, O Sovereign?’” Isaiah 6:11 The life he was called to live out would be one of worship - the true worship of the One and Only God.  He is the  source of true life.  “Unless that experience issues in some form of lived-out praise to God, it will turn upon itself and putrefy.”        

This stark pericope concludes - within the context of judgement - a germ of redemption. “But as a terebinth or oak tree leaves a stump when it is cut down, so Israel's stump will be a holy seed."  Isaiah 6:13b NLT This imperishable hope passes through the Cross into the New Covenant and we read: He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16b

Unconditional Election

The purpose of our Sovereign will be accomplished - in His way and in His time.  We can have this confidence: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;...” Romans 8:29 There is nothing that can come our way that is outside of the bounds of this promise.

A genuine vision of the sovereignty of God cannot possibly engender fatalism...it certainly did not in the life of Isaiah.  Instead, he was divinely propelled forward.  Motivation is a personal quest - the search is in itself motivating.

Divine election is not manipulation.  It is transformation. “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Titus 2:14

Richard Phillips writes: “So where did Isaiah gain these peculiar views in which God is truly God? The answer is that Isaiah learned of God’s sovereignty through his personal experience of the Lord.”

We can tell people they must have a vision of God - but it cannot be conjured. It must come from God and God alone.  Our requirement may be to come to an end of ourselves as seen in Habbakuk who was expecting to be reproved.  “And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.” 2:1b That must say something about his heart attitude. Then the answer of the Lord came: "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.” 2:3 As a result of the enduring Word of the Lord the prophet was empowered to persevere.

This foundational truth is carried forth into the New Covenant for John writes: ‘For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.’ John 12:39-41 And then once again hope springs forth as a holy seed out of a decaying stump which provides the environment necessary for the bursting forth of the new sprout: “And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me.”  John 12:45 The prophet also speaks of the Messianic lineage and hope: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Isaiah 11:1 NIV

There is no greater declaration of the sovereign purpose of God than that which He declares through Isaiah concerning Himself:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
         And the government will rest on His shoulders;
         And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
         Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
         On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
         To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
         From then on and forevermore.
         The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

With this we do not conclude, but continue...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

“Are we committed to the Sovereignty of God?”

“El Shaddai”

“Of course I do!” was the immediate reply to the question, “Do you believe in the sovereignty of God?”  We evangelicals are quick to say that we believe in God’s sovereignty - but the next words out of our mouths often deny this truth.  We launch into a description of God’s dealings with man that is completely man-centered–having no connection whatsoever to the full council of the revealed Word of God.

The conjecture of man quickly attempts (futilely) to usurp the omniscience of God - with the speaker barely taking a breath.  Descent into the wisdom of men is swift and slippery.  The God of eternity becomes the god of our imagination. Paul speaks to the philosophers of Athens: “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”  Acts 17:29 ESV

What is the source of such double-speak? We are equating the wisdom of God on par with our own.  The result is a shift from God to self as the central focus of faith.  The mind of man is incapable of grasping the fullness of all that He is. This is nothing more than the age old temptation: “in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,...” Genesis 3:5 The serpent, in his attempt to deceive the woman, had said - “For God knows...” - thus claiming to know what God knew!  The audacity of such a lie staggers the imagination–yet we succumb to its allure over and over again.  What is original sin?  This is it!

Perhaps we should ask ourselves: “Am I doing what I am doing - or saying what I am saying - expecting God to respond to me; or am I responding in worship to the divine creative initiative of Almighty God?”  Almighty God or God Almighty in Scripture is El Shaddai.  “the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.” Genesis 17:1 Albert Barnes defines this name:  "El," the Lasting, Eternal, Absolute. "Shaddai," the Irresistible, Unchangeable,...”  And John Gill: “sufficient in and of himself, and for himself, and stands in no need of any, or of anything from another;...”  Again Paul at Athens: “and human hands can't serve his needs--for he has no needs.” Acts 17:25 NLT  This is Who God says that He Is!!!


Once as I was watching Christian programing the speaker was telling us how we could get what we wanted from God by exercising “our faith.”  Behind him on the stage the back curtain boldly proclaimed “Jesus Is Lord!”  I must admit that I was left a bit perplexed. 

The programing changed and the next speaker began to extol Christ as the ultimate despot of the universe.  He did not have to have a sign behind him proclaiming “Jesus Is Lord.”  From what he said and with the awe that he said it, you had no doubt.

Let’s pause here a moment.  Does that word despot trouble you?  I must admit that on first hearing it in relation to Christ it caused me some consternation - but that is exactly what I am talking about.  It takes us into unchartered territory - beyond the narrow confines of our own reasoning.

This pastor’s teaching was rooted in scriptural passages such as this: “And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,...’” Acts 4:24 ESV Peter and John had reported to their friends that the rulers of their day had told them to no longer speak or teach at all in the Name of Jesus.  With the voice of one - in worship - this was their plea to God.  And they summed up all of the events of their day in this acknowledgment: “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”  Acts 4:28

The Greek despotes is translated here as Sovereign Lord.  Vine’s Dictionary defines it as “a master, lord, one who possesses supreme authority.”  And from the commentator Adam Clarke: “Sovereign Lord, supreme Ruler; one having and exercising unlimited and uncontrolled authority.”  Our English dictionary has nothing but negative connotations for the word despot–once again making my point. He is more than willing and capable to offend our minds that He might reach our hearts.

The use of the word despotes take the form of a confession or a petition.  The voice of the martyrs: They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Revelation 6:10 NIV Simeon’s confession as he took the infant in his arms: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.” Luke 2:29 NIV

There are three other instances of the use of this word in the New Testament in reference to the Lord Christ and they are usually translated as Master.  One of my dear pastor friends who is African-American begins his prayers with: “Master!”  Once his ancestors were forced to serve earthly masters, but now he has been set free to serve the one and only true Master.


Most are probably aware that the most common Greek word for Lord is kurios used in such passages as: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9 NIV There is no doubt from the context as to how this word is used, but there are those who are unstable who would distort its true meaning.  It is similar to senor in Spanish or bwana in Swahili - both of these words can either be used to mean a term of respect such as mister or can refer to the Lord Himself.  The term Bwana Asifiwe in Swahili means Praise the Lord and we readily understand what is meant here, but if you have seen any Tarzan movies you know that the term bwana can also mean the leader of the safari.

Once - actually more than once - while street witnessing we were infiltrated by members of what we would call cult groups who denied the deity of the Lord Christ.  When I challenged one of these deceived ones I was taken aback when it seemed that he confessed Jesus as Lord.  But what he really meant was Mister Jesus - not the Lord Jesus. His conscience had not been offended by the ultimate despot of the universe.


One of the most striking instances we see of God’s sovereignty occurs in the vision received by the prophet as recorded in Isaiah 6.  Indeed, one commentator translates verse one: “It was in the year of King Uzziah’s death, that I saw the Sovereign sitting on a throne,...”  The Hebrew word is Adonai which means the one who is absolutely sovereign.

Uzziah - for the most part - had been a great and good king.  He had ruled Judah for fifty-two years–and now he was gone.  Most of the people had known no other king - including Isaiah himself.  A curtain of uncertainty had fallen across Judah–there was no clear vision for the future of the nation.  R.C. Sproul writes: “The king was dead. But when Isaiah entered the temple he saw another king, the Ultimate King, the One who sat forever on the throne of Judah. He saw the Lord.”  The Sovereign Lord Himself became Isaiah’s vision - not a person, not a thing, not a place.  And Isaiah would never be the same.  

This encounter calls to mind the words of the great Celtic hymn from the Sixth Century. It begins: “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;” And concludes: “Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”

Isaiah was taken from a sovereign to the Sovereign - no figure of his imagination.  There was no longer any room for conjecture.  This One was He who was and is absolute all within Himself.  As the saying goes, “He is God all by Himself.” Our help is not required. The prophet would later write: "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, `My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';” 46:9-10.

There is some question as the whether Isaiah received a vision or this was a dream.  Reminds us of hearing a prophet-seer once being interviewed concerning something he had received from the Lord.  He was asked, “Now, was this in a vision or a dream?”  His immediate reply, “I was there!”  And we must say of Isaiah also: He was there!  A commentator writes: “How he saw the Sovereign is insignificant.  What matters is that he saw him and saw him in such a way as to change the shape of the rest of his life.”       

Ego Eimi

The sovereignty of God will offended your natural sensibilities - it must.  At the same time it will create a desire that can only be satisfied by the Lord Himself.  A thirst that can only be slaked by the Fountain of Living Water. Interesting, as I just typed those words they were sung on the radio by one who is referring to Him as the I Am.  The artist is centering on Christ’s use of the term ego eimi to refer to Himself.  This translation of John 8:28 may be the clearest example of this usage: "When you have lifted up The Son of Man, then you shall know that I AM THE LIVING GOD (Ego Eimi), and I do nothing for my own pleasure, but just as my Father has taught me, so I am speaking.” Aramiac Bible in Plain English This is a direct reference to I AM WHO I AM of Exodus 3:14.  It is not possible to conceive of a statement any more descriptive of absolute sovereignty.

In Isaiah 6:3 and 5 we have the word Lord - translated as Lord of Hosts or Lord Almighty.  This is also the Ego Eimi sometimes called the Tetragrammaton - the unpronounceable name of the Lord often Anglicized as Jehovah.  It is derived from the verb “to be” as expressed in Exodus 3:14 and written as YHWH.  Adonai is his title, while YHWH is His Name: "Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it, the LORD is His name,” Jeremish 33:2

When confronted with such a revelation mankind cannot remain neutral.  He must either believe and worship - or he must reject and pick up stones.  Regarding this passage Augustine wrote, “It is well for us, thank God, that He said except ye believe, not except ye understand.”  The Apostle Paul who was confronted by Absolute Truth wrote: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Romans 11:33.  And then he called on the words of Isaiah: “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?”  Romans 11:34 (Isaiah 40:13). 

Yet we persist in our vain attempts to be the counselor of the Lord.  How so?  When we try to define Him in terms of mankind, that is exactly what we do, “Well, my god wouldn’t do...”  We had a friend who called this “mind idolatry.”  In effect creating God in our own image, rather than us being created in His image. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 Yet we have hope: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,...” 1 Corinthians 2:12

"I am the Alpha and the Omega--the beginning and the end," says the Lord God. "I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come--the Almighty One." The Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:8 NLT

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

“He Takes Hold!”

I almost laughed out loud as I heard the words read, “He allowed God to continue to use him.”  Allowed?  You have got to be kidding me.  Since when does God require our permission? This question is begged by such a statement, “Where is the God of Isaiah, of Elijah, of Peter, of Paul?”  Which of these “allowed” God to use him?  I can recall one of John Wimber’s most profound sayings” “He’s God and I ain’t!” And another question arises, “What is the majority of modern evangelicalism forfeiting?” 
Did we allow Him in the midst of our utter depravity to save us (Romans 5:6) - or did the light of the glory of the gospel penetrate the darkness of our hearts by His own initiative: ‘For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 4:6

Does He help us - or has He taken hold of us? The difference is paramount for the fruit is either guilt or gratitude - passivity or perseverance.

Many years ago, during my devotional reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews, I was captivated by a marginal translation in the New American Standard Bible of verse 2:16.  It is commonly read as: “For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant(s) of Abraham.”   But what is not common is what the NASB says is the literal translation: “For assuredly He does not take hold of angels, but He takes hold of the seed of Abraham.” It is only by the immutability of this translation that we can truly have eternal assurance - an unshakeable confidence. 

And not to all of the descendants of Abraham - Ishmael - but to those who are of the divine seed of faith - Isaac - the son of the Promise.  It is important to note also that the noun is singular - seed - not plural - seeds.  ‘Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.’  Galatians 3:16

The commentator and contemporary of the Wesleys, Adam Clarke, saw this striking difference: “This is the marginal reading, and is greatly to be preferred to that in the text.”  And he continues: “and it is strange that (too) many commentators should have missed so obvious a sense.”  At least one other commentator, John Gill, did get it also: “the word here used signifies to catch hold of anyone ready to perish, or to lay hold on a person running away, and with great vehemence and affection to hold anything fast, that it be not lost,...”  Reminds one of the conversion of the Apostle Paul.

Once having laid hold of the seed of Abraham is it then possible for Him to release His grip? Charles Spurgeon: “nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called.”

If He “helps” then we are reminded of the oft quoted verse from Hezekiah - or is it in 2 Hesitations? “God helps those who help themselves.”  Before we go too far with this parody let us note that this statement is actually from Aesop’s Fables and is in direct contradiction to the Word of God: ‘This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD."’ Jeremiah 17:5 NIV Also: “He who trusts in himself is a fool...” Proverbs 28:26 NIV

If He helps, then we imply that He responds to our initiative. If He has taken hold - it has already been accomplished according to the plan of His will - and we are right square in the middle of it to the praise of His glory.  This - and only this - makes diligence possible.  “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy,” Jude 24

If our salvation depends to any degree upon ourselves it is partial - a shadow only. If it depends totally and completely on Him then it is whole and perfect - substance.  It is a fait a compli - the sufficiency of which is lacking no iota. The glorious majesty of its unalterability is without spot of tarnish.  “whence also he is able to save to the very end (uttermost, completely, forever), those coming through him unto God -- ever living to make intercession for them.”  Hebrews 7:25 Young’s Literal Translation

We are veterans of those various “Jesus Festivals” which began in the early 1970's.  While ankle - if not knee - deep in the mud of a Pennsylvania potato field I retrieved a publication the cover of which left an indelible impression on my being.  The depiction was of two hands with a human body stretched out between them.  The lower hand was dark with claws and obviously represented Satan while the upper hand was light (and well manicured) - the hand of our Father firmly drawing the person from the clutches below.  The scripture being portrayed here was:  “who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love;” Colossians 1:13 WEB

Let me ask you, “Did you allow Him to deliver you or did He snatch you out?”  Once again from Charles Spurgeon: “Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.’” The word help cannot come close to appropriating this truth.

Paul - the bond-servant of Christ - actually had his will overcome while he was resisting God.  “We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will (to kick against the goads - NASB).'” Acts 26:14 NLT Surely he had his own conversion experience in mind when he wrote: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Romans 9:16 ESV He knew that he was unequivocally the object of God’s mercy - there was no other way to explain his redemption and calling–to be propelled into the remotest parts of the earth.   

Not only are we sealed in Him by the work of the Holy Spirit, the outworking of His life in and through us is guaranteed as verifiable evidence.  “having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,” Ephesians 1:13b and “For we are His workmanship (masterpiece - NLT), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

This is achieved not through the machinations of an automaton - but by the divine motivation imparted into the hearts of sons and daughters - chosen children - of their eternal Father.  ‘but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons (sonship - NIV), by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"’ Romans 8:15b ESV Adopted children are selected - chosen- they are the objects of the desire of the parent.  Extreme - exquisite - gratitude can be our only response to this initiative with a consummate unyielding desire to be pleasing. “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead (to our old life NLT):” 2 Corinthians 5:14 KJV There is not the slightest hint of manipulation to be found here.

In John’s First Epistle we see a perfect illustration of this concept (1 John 2:1-3) - Cause (motivation) and effect (deeds).  In his missive John expresses his fatherly heart by addressing his readers as, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  Yet he is quick to turn their dependence from his “sweetest frame” to the all sufficiency of their Father God.  “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father,” All of which is made effectual in His Eternal Son, “Jesus Christ the righteous;” “ and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.  By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Obedience is the effect, not the cause–this must not be confused.

One evangelical mantras is “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?”  I have difficulty imagining a phrase that could be any more insipid - totally lacking in true Gospel power.  We don’t accept Him, we are accepted by Him - and by His acceptance His Lordship is received into our total being.  George Whitefield: “Man Is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do his good pleasure.”  And from Paul: “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Ephesians 1:6 KJV Is it no wonder, that of the vast crowds that respond to such an invitation, only a very small portion persevere?

In a vain attempt to mitigate this disaster, some have advanced a religious philosophy of accepting Jesus as savior and then later “making” Him our Lord.  This scheme borders on gnostic dualism.  A.W. Tozer was quick to label it as heresy: “THE SCRIPTURES DO NOT TEACH that the Person of Jesus Christ nor any of the important offices which God has given Him can be divided or ignored according to the whims of men.”

Once while involved in “street ministry” I was engaged in a theological discussion.  (There are many theologians on the street.)  “Do you believe in eternal security?” was the question posed.  Knowing the connotations usually associated with such a statement and the self-justification of the lifestyle that might be speaking to me I replied, “No I do not--but I am eternally secure.  I am trusting His ability to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.”  My reference is from Paul’s final letter to his young disciple Timothy (1:12) - which he wanted to leave with him as his race was almost complete.  The genesis of this is spoken by Spurgeon “-I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him.”

Christ and Christ alone is the ultimate agent of perseverance.  From the writer to the Hebrews: “and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,” Hebrews 12:1b-2a  Indeed it is by compelling love that our gaze is transfixed upon Him and we are conformed into His image. This perspective is empowering–it is the great motivating factor producing - as a result - holiness of life.
A dependance - or confidence - in the flesh sets us up for failure. “nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13b Are we clinging to personal sovereignty or has the sovereignty of a Holy God taken hold of us?  This is where faith originates, is maintained and culminates - as embodied in Christ.  "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." The Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:8

Our hope that is both sure and steadfast is well expressed in the modern hymn In Christ Alone:

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

And from one who knew and lived out this sovereign truth, the Apostle Paul: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  Philippians 3:12 NIV

As one of my friends concludes his correspondence: “In His grip!”

Soli Deo Gloria!

Mzee Ron Thaxton

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An AM Epiphany

5:53AM! The stillness of the predawn morning was being interrupted by a raucous noise - it was the jangle of my mobile phone. As my attention was diverted to its demanding call the first thing I saw was the time and the next the name: Bob Davis. Yet the phone’s display did not present the whole picture, for this just wasn’t Bob Davis - it was Rev.

Now I have many pastor friends that have that title in front of their name - sometimes I have even used it - but to me, there is only one Rev. For he is the quintessential black Baptist preacher - more about that later. His first words to me were, “How’s your family?” After I gave him an account I then asked him something similar. His wife’s sister was extremely ill and he wanted me to post a prayer alert via e-mail.

After our initial greetings and before conversation began I told him, “It is no accident that you have called.” His phone call was not the first disturbing moment of my morning devotional time. The first came from the Word of God and yet it was something that Rev has come to epitomize in my life, and the lives of others.

My reading that morning was from chapter four of John’s Gospel which contains the account of “the woman at the well.” That is an oft expounded upon account, but one verse in particular gripped my inner conscience: ‘and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world."’ John 4:42 NASB

This was the confession of the Samaritan villagers. Was this marginalized despised people - at least in the eyes of Jews - the first to proclaim Him as the Savior of the world? Suddenly the implications of this oft overlooked passage were immense.

I love the way the 18th century pastor and commentator John Gill expounds on this line of Scripture: “And know that this is indeed the Christ; the true Messiah, and not a false one; the Messiah spoken of by Moses, whose books the Samaritans received, as the seed of the woman, the Shiloh, and prophet, like to Moses; the Christ of God, who is anointed to be prophet, priest, and King.”

His disciples were so limited by their pedantic ethnocentrism that they had not been able to see Him for who He truly was. Their hopes and expectations were founded in what they believed He could do for them and their own ethnicity. I believe the operative word here is what. They were expecting a messianic figure in the line of the warrior King David who would throw off the gentile Roman yoke and restore them and their nation to the place of preeminence in the known world.

Their prejudicial blinders would not allow them to see the enormity of His mission to the whole of Adam’s race. They had encountered Him conversing with a Samaritan woman of questionable moral character. We might say that she had three strikes against her and as far as the disciples were concerned she was out - outside of the bounds of their limited perceptions.

They totally dismissed her and all she represented to urge Him: "Rabbi, eat." Can we not conjecture that if He would eat they would also be able to satisfy the longing of their own inner stomachs–and see here much more than just a craving for food but the sum total of all base desires. Jesus redirected their attention to His true calling: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” And He began to speak to them of the harvest which they were not able to see: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”

If they would have looked up what would they have seen? They would have seen the Samaritan people coming toward Him: “They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.” The disciples were not able to see for their attention was directed at their feet. The myopia of their expectations as to what He could do for their people would not allow them to see the great expanse of His eternal purpose–nor their chosen role in that mission.

It would take those who are were outside of their narrow preconceptions to first declare His true mission and nature: “this One is indeed the Savior of the world. “ Although He spent two days with the Samaritans in their city there is no record that He did anything for them. By revelation they recognized Him for Who He was not for what He could do for them. Once again we look to John Gill: “for we have heard him ourselves; not only externally with their bodily ears, but internally, having ears given them to hear, so as to understand what he said; to mix it with faith, and receive it in love; to feel the power of it in their hearts, and taste the sweetness of it, and be nourished by it; and so as to distinguish his voice from another's, as Christ's true sheep are capable of.”

If we define the mission of Christ - or His Church - to the limits of our own ethnicity, gender, generation, political persuasion or anything similar, we betray the fullness of His eternal purpose. We cannot denominate or discriminate. To the extent that we attempt to add to by further definition as to who we are, we actually detract from the hope of our calling. “For the splintering of the church...makes it hard for the world to see the love of Christ among believers;..” (Carter, Anthony J., Peace by His Blood, The Bonds of Brotherhood. Table Talk, Ligonier Ministries: July, 2011, p. 46)

In the midst of this I am reading John Piper’s BLOODLINES: Race, Cross, and the Christian. The chapter being “Ransomed for God from Every Tribe.” He writes: “The redeemed of every race and ethnicity are one in our utter dependence on his effective blood and righteous.” And continuing: “Blood-bought ethnic and racial diversity and harmony is for the glory of God through Christ. It is all aiming at the all-satisfying, everlasting, God-centered, Christ-exalting experience of many-colored, many-cultured worship, an aroma that delights the heart of God.” (John Piper, BLOODLINES, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2011, p. 139)

The song is no longer several, but one. ‘And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,”’ Revelation 5:9 There is no cacophony before the Eternal Throne–only melodious harmony. The Son prays to the Father: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:23

In His discourse with her, to draw her attention away from her own ethnocentrism and its accompanying traditions, Christ said to the woman: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” John 4:23 The denotation here is that picture painted in Revelation 5:9 should begin in the here and now–otherwise how could the Father be seeking? What the Father seeks He will see–and will call unto Himself.

Although filled with artistic symbolism - music - there is no indication that this eternal mission should be so limited. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 This was written to the Church at Ephesus–not to individuals. Paul says we should walk in the them - the singular eternal purpose of God. We are on a journey and we are on it together.

This brings me back to Rev. Although he is everything his community may expect of him, he is no respecter of persons. During one of our Pastors’ Prayer Fellowship gatherings a white Presbyterian pastor lamented that he could not make a hospital visit as he had to go out of town. Rev’s response - the black Baptist - volunteered, “I will go for you.” The Church in our City is replete with many such examples–much of the Genesis of which goes back to the early 1970's to a veteran black letter carrier (Rev) taking a white novice carrier (me) under his wing and showing him the ropes. All the while exuding the impartiality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peter took a deep breath and began. “It’s clear to me,” he said, “that God really does show no favoritism. No: in every race, people who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him. Acts 10:34-35 The Kingdom New Testament (N.T. Wright, HarperOne, 2011, New York, NY, p. 253) Peter inhaled a fresh wind, the wind of the Spirit, devoid of the stale stench of ethnocentrism. This wind would propel him and others to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 which would launch the Gospel onto the World scene–thus avoiding its cultural captivity.

For James had summarized from the Septuagint version (Greek) of the Old Testament the words of the Prophet Amos: “SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,”

Acts 15:30 So when they (Paul and Barnabas) were sent away, they went down to Antioch (to the Gentiles there who were the first to be called Christians); and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter (from the Council). 31When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. NASB

Returning to John Piper: “When we understand that God’s act of justifying the ungodly (Rom. 4:5) is by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, we begin to see how shattering it is to ethnocentrism and racial pride. (p 144)

There were questions in my heart and mind that morning–before I could even ask, my Faithful Father answered.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Soli Deo gloria!