Category Archives: Christian Life

What Does Confess Mean?

Proclaim to a group

In my last post I posed the question of what does the word for “confess” mean in 1 John 1:9 and mentioned the only meaning I’d long thought it had: “to speak the same thing, agree with, name, cite.”

But it turns out there are other meanings for homologeo as well, each of these taken from well-known Greek dictionaries and lexicons:

“to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts” [Vine]*

“to make an emphatic declaration, often public, and at times in response to pressure or an accusation – ‘to declare, to assert.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to express openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person – ‘to profess, to confess, confession.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to acknowledge a fact publicly, often in reference to previous bad behavior – ‘to admit, to confess.’ ” [Louw & Nida]**

“to make a statement” or “bear witness” in a legal sense. [Kittel]***

“to make solemn statements of faith,” “to confess something in faith.” [Kittel]***

“to acknowledge something, ordinarily in public”  [BDAG]****

The first time Pastor Farley laid all that out I was pretty surprised. In fact, he claimed that all the other usages of the word “confess” in the New Testament were in the public declaration category.

Well, I found that hard to believe, so I did a word search of my own (I use e-sword which, if you don’t know about it, is free Bible study software you can download HERE.  You do have to pay for the NASV Bible if you want to download that, but most of the other materials are free.)

Anyway, I did a word search.  And, my goodness! Pastor John was right.  “Confess,” when connected with “sin” only shows up twice in the entire New Testament — once in 1 Jn 1:9 and once in James 5:16 where believers are told to “confess your sins to one another.”

“Confess” itself shows up only 8 times altogether; of those, two are the verses mentioned above, one is Rev 3:5 when Jesus will confess the names of overcomers before the Father and His angels and the other five all involve a version of confessing Jesus as Lord before men, in the sense of being saved. (I would now put 1 Jn 1:9 in this latter category, as well)

I was shocked! For an action that supposedly determined something as crucial as the restoration of fellowship of the Spirit, I’d have thought it would have shown up much more.

Following that, I did a phrase search of “filling of the Spirit” or “filled by the Spirit” or just “Holy Spirit”, and found no indication whatsoever that the person involved confessed their sins prior to being filled. Not at Pentecost, nor in all the incidents afterward when the Spirit empowered someone. If they were said to pray at all, it wasn’t to ask to be filled with the Spirit or to confess sins, it was usually that they would speak boldly and communicate the Gospel clearly.

That was as surprising to me as the results of searching for confess and moved me very far along the line of agreeing with Pastor Farley that the Bible really doesn’t tell “Church Age believers, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that confessing our sins results in the filling of the Holy Spirit.”

This is not to say that we don’t sin after salvation (hysterical laughter at the very idea) nor that it’s fine to just sin willfully and do nothing about it… But that’s for another day…

REFERENCES:

*VineExpository Dictionary of New Testament Words — W.E. Vine

**Louw & Nida –  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains   by Eugene A. Nida, Johannes P. Louw  Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon is a modern Greek lexicon using the concept of “semantic domains.” This lexicon differs from other lexicons in that it does not arrange words alphabetically and it does not give one listing of a word with all of that word’s meanings after it. Instead, it breaks words down by their various shades of meaning. It then groups all of those entries together and organizes them by topics and sub-topics.

***KittelTheological Dictionary of the New Testament by Gerhard Kittel : “One of the most widely-used and well-respected theological dictionaries ever created”

****BDAG –  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (BDAG)  by Walter Bauer, Frederick William Danker.  Described as an “invaluable reference work” (Classical Philology) and “a tool indispensable for the study of early Christian literature” (Religious Studies Review) in its previous edition, this new updated American edition of Walter Bauer’s Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments builds on its predecessor’s staggering deposit of extraordinary erudition relating to Greek literature from all periods. Including entries for many more words, the new edition also lists more than 25,000 additional references to classical, intertestamental, Early Christian, and modern literature

If We Confess Our Sins

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View of Thunderheads from my back yard

Pastor Farley took a very slow and deliberate approach to laying out his case that the Bible really doesn’t “tell Church Age Believers who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit that confessing their sins results in the filling of the Holy Spirit.”

I am not going to go as in-depth as he did, but should you wish to investigate his development of this subject, you can start here. (Often just the notes that accompany the video message give a lot of insight, though of course his actual verbal presentation will provide a great deal more)

In considering where to start, I have to admit that I John is perhaps not the best section to use, since it’s quirky and its meaning is not inherently obvious. It is, however, where the verse is that everyone bases this “confess your sins” doctrine on, and since I think there are at least a few things that can be gleaned from a surface examination I’m going to go ahead and begin there.

Right off, there’s the simple fact that no obvious connection is made between confession of sins and the filling of the Spirit in this book.

That is, 1 John 1:9 only says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

It doesn’t say, “…and then we will be filled with the Spirit.” In fact, it doesn’t say anything about “the filling of the Spirit” anywhere in the book.

Questions arise, then, as to

1. What exactly is meant by “confess our sins”?

2. Who is John addressing when he uses this phrase?

3. Why does he change pronouns from a generic and inclusive “we” in chapter 1 to the more specific “my little children” and “I” in Chapter 2?

4. Who was the letter generally addressed to, and for what purpose?

I’ll start with question #4, since that’s the easiest: The letter was addressed to the church at Ephesus, where the Apostle John had served as pastor for a time, and which was dealing with an influx of false teachers who were claiming to be Christians but were not. John states his purpose in chapter 5 vs 13:

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”

That is, he’s writing so the Christians can know that they are indeed saved and be able to distinguish those who are only pretending to be Christian in their attempt to peddle their false teaching.

This sheds some light on why John shifted from the generic “we” he opened his letter with to directly addressing the believers in his congregation with “My little children” in Chapter 2. He used the generic “we”  to address everyone in the congregation, not all of whom were “my little children.”

Instead of pointing these unbelievers out specifically in Chapter 1, John uses the generic/inclusive/authorial “we” for that portion, leaving it to the individual hearer to determine which category he or she belongs in. So in answer to question #2 (who is John addressing when he uses the word “confess”?)  it’s both believers and unbelievers.

In addition, 1 John 1:9 is part of a series of  If/then propositions, leaving it to the hearers to determine which camp they are in: saved or unsaved.

Thus we can consider the verses immediately preceding vs 9 in chapter 1 with an eye to whether they are referring to believers or unbelievers:

Vs 7 “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (clearly believers, since being in the light in John’s writings always refers to salvation — more on this later)

vs 8 if we say we have no sin, (ie, if we say we aren’t sinners/don’t sin) we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (not believers)

vs 9 if we confess our sins (admit that we’re sinners and believe in the Savior) He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (another way of saying cleanses us from all sin — ie, believers)

Thus the issue in 1 John 1:9 is salvation itself, not what do we do about post-salvation sinning.

And that brings me finally to Question #1 — What exactly is meant by “confess” in vs 9? Many of us have been taught that the Greek word here is homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing, to name, to cite…” from which the rebound notion of privately naming or citing your sins to God arose

But I’ve learned it has some other meanings as well, which I’ll address in my next post…

Prelude: Tilling the Soil

farmer-and-tractor-planting_w725_h485

As I’ve mentioned previously, last spring our church and a number of others have gone through an upheaval of sorts in re-examining and ultimately discarding a “doctrine” that had been a mainstay of doctrinal (and many other) ministries for years. That doctrine, of course, is the doctrine of Rebound, or the confession of sins as supposedly commanded in 1 Jn 1:9, as well as in a number of Old Testament passages.

Rebound, we were taught, was key to living the spiritual life, for it was the only way to regain the filling of the Holy Spirit once the latter had been lost as a result of personal sinning. If you were not filled with the Spirit, you would not be able to understand Bible teaching, and nothing you did would be done in the power of the Spirit but rather in the power of the flesh. Thus all such  fleshly and “Spiritless” deeds would be considered wood, hay and straw at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Even worse, none of your prayers would go “any higher than the ceiling,” since God would neither hear them nor answer them.

For those of my seven regular readers who are not familiar with this doctrine, you can see that it was crucial to everything we did. Challenging it was not something one would take on lightly.

For our congregation this wild and bumpy ride began back in March with Pastor Farley’s unexpected announcement at the beginning of a Sunday morning message: “I have a confession to make.”

That confession was that he “could not find in the Bible where it tells Church Age believers, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that confessing our sins results in the filling of the Holy Spirit.”

Nor could he “see how the Bible makes our confessing our sins in 1 John 1:9 the determining factor in our being filled with the Spirit  in Eph 5:18.”

If he couldn’t find it, how could he teach it?

As far as I was concerned, as soon as he began to suggest  that rebound might not be what we’d always been taught, something resonated in me. In a “Yes!  That makes total sense!” way. As he taught in more depth in ensuing lessons, the resonance solidified. I kept recalling a phrase from former teaching, that had been added to justify the concept:

“‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…’  and the cleansed vessel is then filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Except that last bit about the cleansed vessel isn’t part of 1 Jn1:9 or 10; it is just an … extrapolation? Unwarranted connection?   I don’t know. I just remember thinking for years that it was shaky and that I’d have a hard time justifying this interpretation to someone who didn’t agree.

In addition, over the last few years I’d been experiencing moments of dismay when I would realize, after a day spent alone working on the book, that I’d forgotten to rebound before I started and would any of the day be worth anything now?

At the same time, I was finding more and more that when I’d set about the formal “rebound” prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to bring to mind any sins for me to confess, nothing would happen. I wondered if there was something wrong with me; if I was doing it wrong.  Why weren’t all these sins coming to mind? Surely I’d committed some sin — if only mental attitude — in the previous eight hours! When I could think of nothing, I would just confess “arrogance” since that’s a pretty good catch-all when it comes to sinning…

The truth is, my besetting mental attitude sins are usually so intrusive that I have to deal with them before I can ever get to work on the book — not through an official rebound prayer, but in writing out my tumultuous thoughts in a journal or nonstop. Then, as I see what I’m thinking on the page, I realize how wrong and stupid those thoughts are, how NOT the mind of Christ they are, and am then reminded of exactly what the mind of Christ would be in this situation. Once I’ve done that I’m pretty much at peace and ready to work.   Which isn’t exactly “rebound” as I’ve known it.

Now, with this new teaching, I’ve come to understand that it is more in line with what the Bible actually teaches in the New Testament (eg, Ephesians 4 where we’re told to lay aside the old man and put on the new — exactly what I was doing in the exercise described above.)

I lay all this down as as a part of the journey I’ve been on with regard to this subject and how God had already begun to till the soil of my soul in preparation for the change. Of course, feelings and experiences can not be the standard by which we ultimately evaluate the truth of a doctrine or not. The standard has to be “What does the word of God say?” Is it true that the Bible really doesn’t support the doctrine of Rebound?”

I believe it is, and I shall try to explain why I’ve come to this conclusion in subsequent posts.

For those of you familiar with this doctrine and even those who are not, please feel free to question, object, read me the riot act, support/affirm (!), and/or bring up relevant scriptures that perhaps I’m ignoring. I might not be able to answer, rebut or explain my position to your satisfaction right now, but I would welcome the opportunity to see if my conclusions can stand up to the challenge — at least in my own mind, if not in others’.

My Introduction to Rebound

image courtesy of phanlop88/ www.freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of phanlop88/ www.freedigitalphotos.net

In my last post, Surprised by Jesus, I related the story of my conversion and early Christian life, when I was taught out of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Major Bible Themes. The man who led me to the Lord, taught both the beginners Bible Classes I attended and the College Student Sunday School class I also attended, was a postman back in the Dark Ages when people didn’t use trucks but walked their routes carrying large leather bags full of mail. While he did this he memorized verses, so you can imagine by the time I met him, he’d learned quite a few.

He’d also taught himself Greek, and had a number of serious Bible study resources in his library, including Strong’s Concordance, Vines New Testament Dictionary and many others. I had tremendous respect for him. After my husband and I had moved to Northern Arizona and searched for someone to replace him, we had even more respect for him.

We visited a number of churches and home Bible Studies,  finally settling somewhat reluctantly on a Southern Baptist Church in Show Low. I was also having troubles adjusting to my new life, which was quite isolated, and both of us were suffering from the effects of moving to a much higher elevation than we were accustomed to — one of those effects was being constantly tired and wanting to sleep.

So I was sinning quite a bit in the realms of fear, worry, self-pity, complaining, etc.

One Sunday a visiting pastor came to our church and taught a message on “yielding to the Spirit”.  If we’d just do that, said he, we wouldn’t sin any more (at least that is what I perceived him to have said). I wanted very much to stop sinning, and so listened carefully. In order to yield, he taught, we should write down all our sins on a piece of paper — as many of them as we can remember — and then burn the paper. Then we would be “yielded.”

This sounds so ridiculous to me now,  I suspect I missed something in his teaching, but nevertheless, I went home, wrote down my sins and burned the paper in the kitchen sink, really, really hoping this would work and I would no longer be grumpy, crabby, upset that my husband was sleeping all the time and whatever other assorted complaints I had, which I can no longer recall.

Alas. Before the day was out, I had again sinned, and was no more clear on what yielding meant than before the burning of the list.

I was reading the Bible every day, and memorizing versus, but there were still an awful lot of passages that weren’t making a lot of sense to me. It was frustrating.

Not long after that, my husband started teaching at one of the schools up there and was invited to a Bible study one of the other teachers hosted. Actually, the way it went down was, he came home late for dinner, told me to put the meatballs I’d made into the refrigerator, because we were going to a Bible study that we were already late for, and that was that.

It was our first introduction to Col Thieme. I was not impressed. He was too harsh, too authoritarian, too critical, too arrogant… We critiqued his delivery and at least some of the content of his message all the way home, and not in a good way.

But for some reason when the next week came round, my husband wanted to give it another try. So I agreed. Since Col Thieme had been mentored by L.S. Chafer, much of what he taught was familiar and stuff I agreed with, and the second time around I was more amenable to listening.

And then he taught Rebound. In the context of yielding.

Sin, he said, puts a believer out of the control of the Holy Spirit, out of fellowship with Him. Naming the sin privately to God puts the believer back under the Spirit’s control and restores fellowship. As per 1 John 1:9, “if we confess (name, cite) our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (unknown sins).”  And the cleansed vessel is then free to be filled with the Spirit. This is what is meant by “yielding.”

I was very excited to hear all this!  Finally yielding made sense. Chafer had taught of our need to confess our sins to be filled by the Spirit and so had my first teacher, as well as my first pastor. Even the Baptist church we were attending taught the need to confess sins, though they often threw in the need to confess them to others, or to feel bad about them while confessing. Thieme cut through both of the latter… and I liked that. He used the term “rebound” from the analogy of a basketball player missing a shot but then catching the ball again and getting back in the game. Trying again…

For years that’s what I believed, how I lived, what I taught my son and what I presented to the various youth groups and Sunday School classes I taught.

The only problem was, it wasn’t correct…

How I came to discover that will be tomorrow’s post.

Not on Your Own Understanding

Stop it

Another day of two hours of productive work on Sky!  Yay!

I know I’ve written recently about changes I’ve been making — using Freedom, turning off the phone ringers and muting the answering machine, getting to bed on time, keeping stuff picked up and put away — and on the surface perhaps it does seem like those changes in my habits have made the difference.

But truth be told, I really don’t think it’s me and all my plans, but God just enabling me to do it. Slowly but surely He’s been bringing me around to maybe half believing the truth that if I just let Him do it, He will. That I really don’t have to make all these plans and spend my time fretting and figuring and fussing about the future.

One of my favorite verses, one I’ve “claimed” for years is Pro 3:5,6

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

I thought I understood it, but I’m realizing now that I didn’t really. I would trust Him with a problem, but at the same time, I would often be thinking of how things might turn out, and what I might do to head them off or encourage them… But recently it occurred to me that if I’m supposed to be trusting the Lord with ALL my “system of thinking” as Col. Thieme defined “heart” and NOT relying on my own understanding (which is another way of saying MY thoughts)  then what am I doing trying to figure everything out, trying to imagine every possible exigency and what I can to do handle it?  Well, clearly I’m not trusting Him.

I never saw so clearly in this verse that it’s actually telling me to “Stop It!” when it comes to all my figuring and planning.

So I decided to Stop It. Once I got really clear on the fact that I really wasn’t supposed to do it (because after all, we want to be sensible and responsible and not run off half-cocked like a fool, right?), I just gave it over to Him and boy has He come through. It’s been very cool.

Charge of the Mosquitos

Alaskan Mosquitos Shirt

“Enjoy Alaska! 40 million mosquitos can’t be wrong!”

This illustration is from the sketchbook I made when we visited Alaska back in 1995. One, as the hand-written caption says, that I’d seen on a t-shirt someone was wearing.

The mosquitos were indeed horrendous, biting wherever I had neglected to put Off: in my ear, in the part of my hair, on my eyebrow… They would hover in a cloud outside the car when we stopped, waiting eagerly for us to open the door while inside we were busily spraying ourselves with another round of  Off. They even swarmed in the midst of a rainstorm.

And that’s all nothing compared to the stories of those who venture into the really wild parts, full of lakes and rivers.  Yes, by itself the mosquito is a small thing, and its bite, while annoying, is hardly life threatening. But thousands of them? In a July 2000 article in the Lifestyles section of the Anchorage Daily news described living with mosquitos thus:

Greg Balogh, an endangered-species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said dealing with them on the job is ”truly a mental game.” He said he has seen crew members bug out from the constant buzzing.

That explains why people who work outdoors become methodical — almost fanatical — in dealing with bugs. Some douse themselves with super-concentrated DEET; others pile on layers of protective clothing; still others invest in a mosquito head net.

It was under Colonel R.B. Thieme’s teaching that I first heard about the charge of the elephant vs the charge of the mosquito — the Colonel’s colorful metaphors for the two different categories of trials and tribulations that we face as Christians.

The charge of the elephant represents the outright disasters like seeing one’s house burn down or one’s marriage fall apart or receiving a diagnosis of cancer, whereas the mosquitos represent the little things. The little annoyances that shouldn’t get to us, but do.

And the more there are of them, the more difficult they become. I find them generally more challenging than the elephants, primarily because with the elephant I know there is nothing I can do but ride it out. I have no control over the situation and thus no choice but to leave it to God.

But the mosquitos!  Ah, now those, I think I can control. After all, I only need a fly swatter, right?

The thing about the “mosquito” problems, though, is that mostly I don’t recognize them for what they are. They seem to buzz about my head, but too seldom do I stop and take a step back to actually look at them.

Unless, as with the insect version, there are too many of them and you can’t get away from them.  Like one day last week…

I was trying to get back to my routine of writing, as mentioned in previous posts, motivated by the information gleaned from the talk John Cleese gave on Creativity. I’d set a goal of just getting into the office for an hour and a half of pondering each day, and wasn’t doing too badly. A couple of days I even managed about 4 hours of work…

But then my right elbow began to hurt and twinge. I first noticed it while I was walking Quigley (or more accurately “hauling” him off a captivating smell), but then it started intruding when I was writing. Then, in addition to that and the already intermittent throbbing of my foot from the plantar fasciitis I’d recently developed (from wearing worn-out walking shoes), my wrist joined the party, the old carpal tunnel issues resurfacing enough I had to stop in the middle of writing my morning pages (part of my attempt to get myself working every day). Thinking to give myself a break and come back to it, I went  into the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and in the process stuck my right thumb into the point of a knife when I reached down to pick up the utensil basket. Puncture wound under and alongside my right thumb — where it hurt to hold a pen. It throbbed all day.

And if all that wasn’t enough, my eyes were also giving me increasing trouble, as mentioned in an earlier post — the beginning of the shingles relapse though at the time I thought it was dry eyes (well, our dew point was something like 13 and our hmidity 24%)… Of course it’s always been dry here, especially in the winter and I’d never had a problem before. I figured I was just reacting more, maybe from age, or maybe from the previous shingles problem…

So writing was out for that day and several more and finally I just gave up.

Pastor Farley had mentioned something about there being times when God will temporarily shut down the operation of one’s gift for “training purposes.”  I wondered if that was what was going on.

Never before this book have I ever felt the need to discipline myself so badly.  Writing was something I had to do. It was like that burning Jeremiah speaks of that forces you to speak. I was driven to write. The other things were the intrusions, the things I shuffled aside, and let go…

Now it’s the other way around. So, yes, once again, the pendulum has swung back, and I’m thinking maybe God really has shut me down in this area for a bit. And if so perhaps I should just turn my efforts to the far too long list of things to fix and mend and take care of around the house. And read some fiction as well (I mentioned this in an earlier post)  I’m almost done with Executive Orders, in fact, (since the eye problem interfered with that a bit) and still really enjoying it. But that’s a post for another day.

The Apostle Paul’s Trip to Jerusalem

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Recently I had a conversation wherein the subject came up of the Apostle Paul’s ill-fated trip to Jerusalem. It was one of those instances where I had my own frame of reference regarding that incident and assumed the other person shared it, though as the conversation progressed things were said that didn’t quite mesh with my understanding.

It was two days before I remembered: there are two interpretations of Paul’s motivations in going to Jerusalem. One that he was bravely risking imprisonment and death for the sake of testifying to the Jews about the Lord, and the other that he was arrogantly stuck on going to the Jews, despite the fact he had specifically been called and “sent to the Gentiles” and in the face of all God’s warnings to him not to go.

I hold to the second opinion, and have for years, ever since I heard Col Thieme’s interpretation and exposition of the relevant passages.  In light of the conversation, though, I reread the section in Acts that deals with this, and came away more convinced than ever that this interpretation is the one most solidly supported by Scripture. However, recalling my own surprise when I first heard it years ago, I wondered if it might not be the standard opinion.

So I checked our commentary (Eerdman’s New Bible Commentary Revised) and discovered there that the author of the section in Acts did indeed hold to the notion that what Paul had done was the Lord’s will, despite all those warnings from the Holy Spirit not to go — from the Holy Spirit himself as well as  from numerous Spirit-filled brethren, including Luke, the Spirit-inspired writer of Acts, Philip the Evangelist, Agabus, already established as a genuine prophet, and Philip’s four daughters all of whom were said be be “prophesying,” ie, in this case giving a message from God (albeit one that is not recorded) — despite all these warnings, when Paul ignores them, the writer says, “We must not infer that Paul was wrong here…”

And I’m thinking… why in the world not? It sure looks wrong. Is there some reason to think that Paul was infallible? He was human like the rest of us. He had to be given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from getting arrogant (2 Corinthians); in  Romans 7 he lamented that the good things he wanted to do he didn’t and the bad things he didn’t want to do, he did.  In Galatians he says the flesh wars continually against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. Why would we think he was any “holier” than the rest of us and that it was impossible he could have made a mistake? Sure he was an Apostle, but he still had a sin nature.

Here’s the commenter’s justification for why “we must not infer that Paul is wrong” in this:

“These friends tried to dissuade him because they foresaw the risks to which he would be exposed at Jerusalem…”

This makes it sound as if it’s merely the friends’ human opinions and discernment that motivated them to speak, rather than God. That they had no opinion on whether God wanted him to go or not, merely that it was “risky.” But that’s not what Scripture says:

“After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:4)

That seems pretty clear. First the message itself: “telling Paul … not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

And second, the source of the message: “through the Spirit.”

The Spirit said to him, “Don’t set foot in Jerusalem.”

The commenter ignored this and focused, apparently, on the fact that because Paul was wanting to do a “good” thing (witness to the Jews), and was willing to give his very life to do it, and that, when he refused to relent despite his friends warnings and they said, “The will of the Lord be done,” this indicated their recognition that “Paul’s movements were divinely guided.”

That is, because he wanted to do a good thing, even if it meant his death, and wouldn’t be persuaded to abandon the plan, that must have been God guiding him. Even when a few verses earlier it says the Holy Spirit was telling him not to go there.

Perhaps the problem is the commenter is not taking into account the fact that there are three basic categories of God’s will: directive, permissive and overruling.

His directive will was “Do not set foot in Jerusalem, Paul.”

Like all of us from time to time, Paul had his mind set on his own good plan, and refused to heed God’s instruction to the contrary. He probably thought if only he could tell all those Jews in Jerusalem, (many of them no doubt former friends and colleagues) what had happened to him, if only he could show them how the Hebrew Scriptures overwhelmingly pointed to Jesus of Nazereth as their Messiah, they’d believe.

So God let him continue. Because there were many things Paul needed to learn, and many things we can learn from it as well. That’s God’s permissive will.

The same permissive will that allowed Abraham to go in to Hagar, Jonah to set off for Spain when he was supposed to go to Nineveh, and Adam to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We have volition and God will honor it.

Then there’s God’s overruling will where He just steps in and intervenes. In this case, it was when the Jews blew up in outrage as a result of Paul’s testimony and refused to listen to him further. At that point God moved in, motivating the Roman authorities to have him brought back to the barracks for questioning, at which point they found out he was a Roman citizen. From then on he was in their protective custody, all the way to Rome, which I believe is where God really wanted him to go. (Romans 15: 15, 16)

I love God’s impeccable timing in this, as well. In Acts 22 Paul gets up before the “Brethren” and starts out by reminding them all of his background, how he was born in Cilicia but brought up in Jerusalem, trained there under the best teachers, a Hebrew of Hebrews, blameless before the Law, yada yada.  Then he recounts his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and how he was blinded and went to Ananias who restored his sight and told him he was to be a witness for Him to all men.  After that Paul says,

“It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’

“And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You.

‘And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’

And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'”

Note that Paul is recalling what the Lord said to him in the Temple in Jerusalem back when he was first saved:  “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.” And after Paul protested that surely his own personal experiences and reputation would convince them: “Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”

I do not consider this to be a “coincidence,” but a HUGE CLUE as to what is going on and what the Lord wants.

He allowed Paul to repeat His initial instructions to him with his own mouth and then, the moment Paul repeated the part about being sent far away to the Gentiles, his Jewish audience erupted, cutting him off. End of Testimony.*

They started screaming and shouting and tossing cloaks and dust, until the Roman commander intervened and brought him back to the barracks.

That was all Paul really got to say to them. He never got to the Gospel, or the Hebrew scriptures. Mostly he talked about himself, not the Lord; about his amazing experience, which the Jews had no use for.

And even though on the next day the commander brought him back to the Sanhedrin “wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews,” he still got nowhere.

In that incident, he’d barely opened his mouth before the high priest ordered “those standing beside him to strike him.” At that point he got into a petty argument with said high priest (that “white-washed wall!”) about protocols of the Law, then tried to appeal to the Pharisees for support, based on his own former membership in their ranks. But that only led to another shouting match, wherein the Sadducees and Pharisees were at each other’s throats over whether or not Paul had seen “an angel or a spirit.”

Not whether he’d seen the risen Christ, not whether Jesus was the Christ, nothing but bickering about irrelevancies.

So once again the commander came to his rescue and from there on Paul witnessed to Roman soldiers and officers — Gentiles — while the Jews kept coming up with various plots to kill him. The entire episode was a wash when it came to witnessing to the Jews….

Thankfully God still had His hand on things (having known in eternity past that Paul was going to defy Him by going to Jerusalem) and used it to accomplish His will in spite of Paul’s disobedience.

Which is one of the coolest things about our God, and about this story — that even when we blow it royally, and Paul did, He’s always there to protect us from our idiocy, and then pick up the pieces and get things back on track. Often He uses our failures to accomplish His will in spite of us, and, if we let Him, in the process teach us much about ourselves, about Him and about His amazing grace plan for our lives.

….

*As I wrote this it occurred to me that the Lord was also telling Paul what He was going to do with him right there in that very situation — “send him far away to the Gentiles.” Not that Paul would have picked up on it at the time, merely that we can look at it and see that that’s exactly what He did.

Notes to Self: Pride and Unbelief

smoky cloud

Pride is just another form of self-centeredness.

Thus, concentrating on our weaknesses and failures can be every bit as self-centered(prideful)  as concentrating on our strengths and successes (which is the usual definition of pride).

As believers in Christ, we’re to fix our eyes on Him, not on the good or bad parts of ourselves, not on working harder at doing a better job.

And not on the weaknesses and failures of others, either.

No, we’re to fix our eyes on Him. To remember who He is, what He’s done. To seek constantly to know Him through His word, and to believe what it says. To rely on it; rest in it.

Only God can conform us to the image of His Son, (how arrogant to think we could ever in a million years do such a thing!) and He has promised to do ALL the work.

He doesn’t need our help, merely our attention and our acquiescence.

I Love This Video and Song

Recently my pastor’s daughter sang this song at the end of service. I loved it, but missed some of the words so I looked up the lyrics and came across the music video below. I’ve since learned that this song, Blessings, written and performed by Laura Story, received the GMA Dove Award for Song of the Year in 2012. The video, uploaded by LoveOneAnother March 4, 2011, has been viewed by 5 million people.

Here are the lyrics. The video follows. ENJOY.

Blessings

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

The Stern and Shocking Way God Told Me to Discontinue the Comments

Yesterday I said the reason that I turned off the comments when I was back on Blogger, was because God had told me to do so in a “stern and shocking way.” In fact, He did more than tell me to turn off the comments, He pretty much told me to stop with all the accepted and prevalent ways Christians today are seeking to “market” their work: joining all the groups to cross promote, the blog writing, the cultivation of friendships for the purpose (if we’re honest) of selling our work as we help to sell theirs — all of it human systems, human effort, human personality and human strength.

This was, as I said, back in 2007, and the main event actually predated the moment I chose to stop the comments by several months. Even before then I’d been wrestling with it all, and He kept telling me what I was to do, but I kept ignoring Him. But finally He got a little more dramatic and that got my attention.

No, I didn’t “hear” His voice speaking to me in my office. Nor did a stranger email or show up on my doorstep with “a word from the Lord” for me. Rather it was one of those times when the Bible falls open and your eyes are drawn to a relevant passage.

Until then, I thought that sort of thing was only one step above asking God for help, then opening the Bible with closed eyes and pointing to something on the page, then looking to see what He has “told” you.

No, He wants us in Bible Class learning His word from a man with the gift of pastor-teacher, day in and day out so we can build a reservoir of doctrinal principles, concepts and verses in our souls. It is from this reservoir that the Holy Spirit draws His counsel. He can’t counsel us with doctrine or concepts we haven’t learned. (Unless we happen to be in Bible class learning the material and He very forcefully says, “PAY ATTENTION! THIS IS FOR YOU!!!”)

But this just goes to show you can’t put God in a box, though for the record, I was not using the Open-and-Point method. Instead as I said, I’d been wrestling with the problems that come from trying to join groups of Christians with diverse views on what exactly is the Gospel, or the Christian life, or the Christian’s purpose, or the manner in which that purpose is to be carried out. You’re supposed to be encouraging them, helping to sell their books and yet, you might just think some — even much — of what they have to say is heresy. Then what?

And as much as you take exception to their books, they are just as unimpressed with yours. So… what is this all about? Much is made of tolerating all views, but that doesn’t really line up with the Word of God, which often warns us to avoid people with views that do not line up with Scripture. (David’s example as stated in Psalm 101:3 is perhaps the most forceful on this matter — “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes. I HATE the work of those who fall away” — though the Apostles John and Paul both warn about men coming with false teaching.   2Jn 1:10, 2 Ti 3 and 6)

But even as I was conflicted in this area, I guess I just kept thinking… no, wanting to do it myself — even though He’d been trying to tell me otherwise for a long time. After all, wasn’t that the lesson from the purchase and subsequent publication of the Legends of the Guardian King?

But, as I said, the world is relentless, and so is my sin nature and everyone was doing it, so I continued to suffer and struggle and ask for guidance. Even as He continued to give me all sorts of verses and principles showing me what I was to do.

So one day in March I was sitting on the couch, fretting about all this, my Bible on the coffee table. It’s old, falling apart and has a tendency to slide around. Seeking  the passage in Isaiah about not going down to Egypt for help, I picked it up and started to open it, but somehow it slid out of my hands onto the table, opening itself to Joshua 8 — which is the section on the conquest of Ai.

That was just after the Israelites were entering the Promised land. Having already taken Jericho, they had moved on to Ai, which seemed a far easier conquest than their first city. Yet they failed on their first attempt, all because, it turned out, one man in the camp of about 2 million had disobeyed God’s command not to take anything from that which He had banned in Jericho.

I know that the OT stories are also illustrations of New Testament truths, and that all those Amalekite cities represented the world and its ways, so when I saw where I was, a chill ran up my spine.

The story starts in Joshua 2:24, 25: “Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, “see, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its kings and the valiant warriors.”

It goes on to detail the Israelites marching around the city once a day for six days. Then, on the seventh day…

(vs 15) …they rose early at the dawning of the day and marched around the city in the same manner seven times; only on that day they marched around the city seven times.

And it came about that at the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city.

And the city shall be under the ban (cherem – not redeemable, deserving of utter destruction: all must die); and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.

But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, lest you covet them and take some of the things under the ban, so you would make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it.”

… (vs 21) And they utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.

As I said, like Egypt, Jericho represents the World — its treasures, its ways its power… God’s people were not to take anything from the world to enhance their lives or build their fortunes.

They followed His commands to the letter in the conquest of Jericho  — except for one man, Achan, who secretly stole a Babylonian robe, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold from the city and hid them in his tent. This is brought out in chapter 7 as they set out to take the next city, Ai.

Since Ai was sparsely defended, the men who spied it out recommended Joshua send only a couple thousand Israelites to take it. To everyone’s dismay, this group was soundly driven back, routed even, 36 of their number slain. When Joshua went to the Lord about it, he was told what had happened (Josh 7:10 – 15):

So the LORD said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?

“Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things.

“Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst.

“Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus the LORD, the God of Israel, has said, “There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst.”

‘In the morning then you shall come near by your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes by lot shall come near by families, and the family which the LORD takes shall come near by households, and the household which the LORD takes shall come near man by man.

‘It shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.'”

So Joshua did as he commanded and Achan was found out. He confessed his sin, and revealed where he had hidden the stolen goods as recorded in Josh 7:24,25

Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor.

Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.

This is pretty severe, even offensive to today’s sensibilities… But it illustrates the displeasure God has with His people when they disobey His specific instructions, and especially when they seek to use the ‘things of the world,’ to gain what He has promised to give them.