Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Trinity's Protection and Growth

It's Trinity Sunday, and that means that I'm going to try to explain the trinity again.  There are many aspects of the trinity and how it works in our lives.  We know we worship one God, but God is in three personalities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We see the trinity plainly at work in creation: the Father is the project manager, he conceives of the universe; the Son is the agent of execution, he carries creation out; and the Holy Spirit is the quality control, the confirms that everything is good.

We model practically everything after this relationship of the trinity.  Think of a business model: we have one who conceives of the project, one who creates it, and one who makes sure it functions and works properly. Think of a sports team: we have a coach who conceives of the plays, the team carries the plays out, and the trainer makes sure the team CAN carry the plays out.  Think of a novelist: he must come up with an idea before writing, then he must write it, then he edits it.

This last one brings up a question.  Why cannot one God be in ONE person?  Why cannot the Father, let's say, conceive of everything, create everything, AND make sure it's all good, all in one person.  That's what it seems to be in Genesis 1, doesn't it?  So why cannot God be a unity instead of a trinity?

Besides the obvious aspect that God is in relationship with himself, and does not need humanity (we were created for his pleasure, not his necessity), each person in the trinity has a function that the other two do not have--and cannot have.  Romans 5:1-5 has an example of these collaborative functions of the trinity.  This passage shows how the trinity protects us and grows us:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Let's pretend that there is only one person in the trinity--the Father.  Let's say that the Son and the Holy Spirit don't exist.  Now, here's the question.  Can we have peace with the Father?  No.  Why?  Because we are evil, and the Father is pure goodness.  Evil cannot stand in the face of goodness.  Even Moses, who was righteous, could not look upon God's glory--he had to have his face turned into the cleft of a rock when God's glory passed by.  Peace involves the eradication of evil.  The world thinks of peace in the John Lennon, holding hands, can't we all just get along way.  That way let's evil run rampant.  What does our peacekeeping body of the world, the UN, do to promote peace?  It puts the most violent and destructive nations in charge of the peace committees.

But without the Son, we cannot have peace with the Father.  He is pure goodness, pure holiness.  It's dangerous to pray for God to destroy all evil before we go to bed at night.  If he grants our wish, we WON'T be here in the morning. GK Chesterton wrote a book called What's Wrong With the World.  When asked to summarize his book, he provided two words: "I am."  We are sinful creatures that will burn up in the presence of the Father.  There is no peace between us and the Father except through Jesus Christ, the son.

Why? Because the Son covers us with his righteousness.  We can suddenly be in the same room with the Father.  He cannot see our sin.  We are also given the grace of the Father through the Son.  What does that mean?  Whereas peace means we are counted as "good" with the Father when we were "bad," grace means that we are counted as "alive" with the Father when we were once "dead."  This is because Jesus not only gives us his righteousness but his life, too.  The Father is just.  We must be destroyed, and rightly so.  The Son is like a filter that keeps the just wrath of the Father from destroying us.

Finally, the Son gives us hope.  What is hope?  It is that the peace and grace of God will last forever.  This is everlasting life.  The Son ensures that this is no thirty-day trial.  We have been counted as clean before God forever.  I once had a thirty-day trial for a job.  During that time the firm taught me everything they knew about public relations writing, and I actually got worse.  They were unable to teach me, and the thirty-day trial ended, and I was out of a job.  God comes along side us and teaches us how to be mini Christs. His instruction is perfect, and we are never going to be "fired" from the job.

Well, I think I've given sufficient reason why we need the Son.  But do we really need the Holy Spirit?  Can't we just have a duality?  A duo?  I don't need a Holy Ghost, do I?  Well, look at the rest of the passage above.  Exult in tribulations?  Where are these tribulations coming from?  According to verse 4, they come from the hope we get from Christ.  Being a Christian isn't an easy thing.  We're not suddenly "better off" than anyone else, when it comes to living life on earth.  This is the prosperity gospel that I have been preaching against for months, that if you are not healthy and wealthy then you have no faith and cannot rightly call yourself a Christian. This is false.

Actually the life of a Christian is full of trials and tribulations.  What is different about us is our reaction to the trials.  When I first became a Christian I understood that we evangelized through our behavior.  I translated this to mean that I needed to make sure that no unbeliever saw me with any problems.  Everything was supposed to at least APPEAR PERFECT.  This is wrong.  We have just as many problems as non-Christians, it's just that we are to respond to the trials with JOY.

Well, that's pretty much impossible, so count me out!  That is our natural reaction to this.  We would rather march straight to hell than live another day in pain here.  As Billy Joel intoned: "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than die with the saints; the sinners are much more fun."  This is what we all want, and when we see trials and tribulations coming, we react by running away.  Only the Holy Spirit keeps us on the path, facing the trials as they come and giving us the joy in response.

So the Father, a vast, righteous mind, who would incinerate us in a heartbeat, is filtered through the Son, so we can have peace, grace, and hope in His presence.  The filtered wrath of God comes to us as trials and tribulations (not candy canes and ice cream), and so the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts, so that we face the oncoming tribulations and respond with joy.  Yet one more aspect of the trinity made clear, or at least clearer.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Order of Salvation

Here are some great words from the Rev. L David Green that I want to share with everyone.  It's essentially an expansion of the regeneration part of the sermon titled "A Great Commission."

Here is what is often called the order of salvation, ordo salutis in Latin, that was rediscovered from Scripture during the Reformation:

1. Election - God's sovereign work from eternity - part of his decree -  which establishes the number of those taken, as it were, by the Father and given to the Son to be freed by him as our Lord Jesus Christ from Satan's dominion and eventually be brought to glory.

2. Regeneration or the new birth - the sovereign work of God the Spirit in bringing life to those who were dead in trespasses and sins and therefore wholly unable to do anything pleasing to God or savingly to believe and repent. Regeneration is not the exercise of faith or repentance; nor is it justification, adoption or sanctification.  These are all fruits of regeneration.  In regeneration the sinner is wholly passive, no more cooperative than a baby is when born of its mother.   Usually what then immediately happens to the regenerated person are the following (as in the case of the baby: it cries, urinates, eats, i.e. functions):

3. Effectual calling - the Holy Spirit's saving call, usually through the Scriptures read or preached, whereby a person is convicted of their sin and terrible condition before God, enlightened in mind about who Christ is and what he has freely done for sinners and the sinner's will is enabled to agree with God and put faith in Christ alone for complete salvation.  At that moment the person has been united to Christ indissolubly and forever.  From this union all Christ's other benefits flow to him, the following being exceedingly prominent:

4. Justification - whereby the regenerated, believing person is declared by the Father as perfectly righteous in God's sight as Christ is.  This is because all the sinner's sins - past, present and future - have been imputed to Christ, who at Calvary paid their infinite penalty under God's wrath and curse (2Cor.5:21), and all Christ's righteousness, earned as man throughout his life, is imputed to the sinner. This is a legal transaction effected by the Holy Spirit when the sinner savingly trusts Christ.

5. Adoption -  at the moment of exercising saving faith, the sinner is enrolled among and has a right to all the privileges of the sons of God. He is now an heir of God and joint heir of Christ, and is enabled to call God "Father" with all the rights and privileges of such an exalted position.

NOTE:  Neither justification nor adoption makes any change in the sinner's personal holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb.12:14).  This is the work of

6. Sanctification, which has two principal aspects: 1) the believer is declared holy by position, by his union with Christ. That is why the most common word for believers in the NT is "saints" or holy ones. This they are by POSITION in Christ.  2) the process and progress of becoming more like Christ, of being conformed to Christ's image by the indwelling Holy Spirit all our life long, until

7. Glorification - Beloved, now we are the sons of God and it doth not appear what we shall be but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him [perfectly, eternally!], for we shall see him as he is.  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. 1Jn.3:2-3.

It is as Jonah said from the whale's belly, Salvation is of the Lord ... from first to last!

Residents of Babel

Today is the Day of Pentecost, and I want to connect it to Genesis 11, because we have heard (or maybe not) that Pentecost in Acts 2 is a reversal of Babel in Genesis 11.  Is it?  Let's hear some of Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? (Acts 2:1-8)

Now, let's see what Babel is about.  Here is some of Genesis 11:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)

So, we have three things happening here.  The first is that the people of earth, the whole world, speak the same language.  They have a very strong community.  They not only speak the same physical language, but also the same spiritual language, and that language is WITHOUT GOD.  They are all on the same sheet of music, and it is a melody that God is not included in.  Furthermore, they don't NEED God.  They are fully in the original sin of Adam and Eve: not needing God.

The second thing is that they are building something without God.  Not only that, but this structure is coming from the ground up to heaven, and it is to REACH heaven, and possibly invade heaven.  Residents of Babel are prepared to take over heaven and wage war against heaven.  They will take the throne room of God.

The third thing, and the final nail on God's coffin, is these people are intending to make a NAME for themselves.  This is a full-scale rejection of God and everything he stands for.  They are now placing themselves as God.  All three of these things are a three-pronged attack and rejection of God.  The residents of Babel are a unified force that is going to overthrow heaven and place themselves on the throne as God.  Man will be the name above all names.

So, God disrupts everything, and with one fell swoop, breaks apart the unity of the community by confusing their language.  This leads to them not being able to build together, and they will never be able to establish a name for themselves.  Everyone becomes scattered.  So, is Pentecost an actual reversal of all that?  Yes and No.

Let's look at Romans 8, first:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

Pentecost only reverses Babel for the Children of God, for the ones who have been adopted, for the elect.  Whereas the unified Babel community consisted of all human beings alive on the earth at the time.  The Holy Spirit at Pentecost only reverses Babel for those whom God has chosen.  Likewise, all three of the elements--community, creation, and a name--are reestablished for the believer, but there are some differences from the original Babel:

First, we are not unified in community against God, but we are now a community OF God.  We are the church, and it is a very unified community (despite what it appears to be from the standpoint of the world) that cannot be destroyed.  Every place Christianity is stamped out in the world, it springs up anew elsewhere.  Christianity is thriving underground.  This community, unlike Babel, centers around God.

Second, because we are made in the image of God, we create, whether it is a work of art or a business, we like to build.  The community of Babel were building to overthrow God; we now build to represent God.  Everything we build, as children of God, is to point to God, emulate God, promote God, praise Him and glorify Him.

Third, we are able to build a name, but this time it is not for ourselves but for God.  We have moved from the sin of self to the glorification of the holy name of God.  We represent him on earth, and our behavior is to reflect the purity and goodness of the creator, the holy one.  So, the three elements of Babel are reversed, but only for the elect, and we are no longer orbiting ourselves but God.

I want to tell a story from my life.  Think of your own story.  Before I was quickened, before I came to Christ, I was a science fiction writer.  I was doing three things.  I was creating fiction that was to glorify myself, to build a name for myself, and in order to succeed, I needed to be a part of the science fiction community, a community that did not exactly emulate God.  Let's say it was pretty godless and even anti-God.  I was a member of the community of Babel.  I was trying to overthrow God in my heart.

What did God do in response?  He gave me writer's block.  He confused my language and he scattered me.  After four unsuccessful novels, I wasn't able to type a word. This went on for a few years.  When he called me for ministry, I was able to write again, but this time it was sermons and they all revolved around HIM.  Now I'm preaching his NAME, and the community I am part of is a godly community, full of encouragement and stimulation (Hebrews 10:24-25) and all about glorifying the King of Kings.

Think of your own story.  Are you creating AGAINST or FOR God? Are you trying to elevate YOUR name or GOD'S?  What sort of primary community are you a part of?  Is it anti-God or pro-God?  Pray that Jesus will pour out his spirit upon you, so that you may glorify God in your time, and be a child of God, not a resident of Babel.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Great Commission

It's Ascension Day, so let's look at the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before he ascended.  Here is the end of Luke:

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:44-53)

This is a great commission.  It is not THE great commission from Matthew 28 that we like to quote and try to follow, but if we look at Matthew's version, we find something needed:

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

So our job is to make disciples.  How?  Well, we have to know this Bible inside and out.  That's tough work, and it may seem daunting.  We get scared, and we back off, because we think that everything is up to us.

Here is the version of the great commission from Mark:

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)

Discipling in Matthew, preaching the Gospel in Mark, both amount to doing a lot of homework, and we stress out, because we feel the pressure of others' salvation upon us.  This is not right to feel this way.  Now, Luke's version of the great commission does not contradict the other two, but it does enhance and give details as to what the others seem to hint at.

Luke's great commission informs us of three things.  The first is REVELATION.  Jesus opens their minds to understand the scriptures, you know, that thing that we were finding a daunting task, when we thought it was all up to us after reading the other two versions of the great commission.  Jesus is telling us here that the Holy Spirit will open our minds to the scriptures.  The Holy Spirit will make us understand the Bible.  The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.  Don't stress out, because God is in control.

Second, Jesus tells us not to generally preach the Gospel, but to specifically preach REPENTANCE, which leads to the forgiveness of sins.  We live in a world where we don't think we are going wrong.  Preaching the good news of the Gospel begins with preaching the bad news of sin.  Repentance is the removal of the blockage, allowing the Holy Spirit in, but in case you were beginning to worry about this being the hard work you thought it would be, remember that only the Holy Spirit can bring someone to repentance.  This is another supernatural action.  Our natural state is to stay as far from repentance as possible.  We don't need it.  We don't want it.  Once the scriptures have been revealed to us by the Lord, we can aim the Gospel toward repentance, and the Lord brings that person to repentance.

Finally, I'm going on the R theme: the third thing the Holy Spirit provides is REGENERATION.  Only the Holy Spirit can do this.  Once Jesus has been revealed through the scriptures and we have repented, the Holy Spirit begins to regenerate us.  This is a life-long process that turns us into little Christs.  From Luke's point of view, the Great Commission is not so daunting, because Christ reveals here that the Holy Spirit is in control of everything.  God is sovereign.

Now, it's very important that we realize that these are the last words Christ spoke before ascending.  The words need to be connected to the ascension, and here is why.  Let's look at the beginning of Acts, also penned by Luke:

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:4-9)

Jesus has finished telling them about the three roles of the Holy Spirit, pertaining to the great commission, and still they are asking him about ushering in the kingdom to earth.  Do you see that?  This kind of thing is all through the Gospels.  Jesus performs a miracle and the witnesses attempt to take him by force and make him king.  Why? Well, what does an earthly king look like?  An earthly king is going to solve all our problems, while we . . . continue living our lives the way we always had before.  No spiritual or regenerational change in any of us.

Look at John 6.  Jesus feeds the 5,000, and the people converge on him in order to make him king by force.  Why?  Because magic Jesus will feed us for free every night, and we won't have to work for it!  We can go on living our lives the way we always have, which is continuing in SIN.  Jesus will feed us magically by making food out of thin air.

When the disciples ask Jesus if he is going to bring the kingdom to earth, he responds, essentially, this stuff is not for you to know.  Wait for the spirit.  ASCEND.  Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this earth, and that is essentially what he is saying at this point: Great Commission, Holy Spirit, ASCEND.  The kingdom isn't a genie Jesus doling out food.  The food for Christians is the Holy Spirit from above, revealing to us, bringing us to repentance, and regenerating us.  THAT is the kingdom.

When we are speaking to someone about Jesus, we must remember that this is not about bringing someone into an earthly kingdom of Christ.  This is not about getting members into a church.  This is preparing someone for the heavenly kingdom, and Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit, who ushers in this kingdom now. This is food from above, and the food has been given to us for revelation, repentance, and regeneration.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


John 14:26 reads, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."

Some translations have "Advocate" instead of "Helper."  Helper sounds like the Holy Spirit is aiding us when we are in trouble, but overall, we are in charge of our own salvation.  Let's see the Helper in action. Turn to Acts 16.

Starting at verse 6: They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been FORBIDDEN by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  Sounds like the Holy Spirit is helping?  Actually, it sounds like the Holy Spirit is LEADING.

Verse seven: and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bythinia, and the Spirit of Jesus DID NOT PERMIT THEM.  Once again, the Holy Spirit takes control of the situation.  The disciples are just followers.

Paul and Silas come to Troas, and after this incident, the pronoun changes from "they" to "we."  Yes, Troas is where the group picked up Luke.  The Holy Spirit did not want Paul and Silas to go into Asia.  They were not allowed to go into Bythinia.  God needed Luke at this point.

It doesn't end here!  Now, Paul gets a dream: a vision in the night of a man in Macedonia, pleading for help.  So, the crew heads to Macedonia, and ends up in Philippi.  They stayed in that city for some days, and then on the Sabbath they went outside the gate to the riveside, where they found a group of women.  Hmm.  None of these resemble the man from the vision, so why doesn't Paul throw up his hands and move on?

He doesn't.  He teaches the women, and one, only ONE, named Lydia, was really listening.  The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.  Here is our helper, once again, opening the heart of a solitary woman.  Paul baptizes her whole household and the church of Philippi is started.  Yes, the same church we have a letter to in our canon.

Paul gets arrested in Philippi in the next scene, and put in jail, where he converts the jailer, and baptizes the jailer's household.  Is the jailer the man in the vision, seeking help?  Probably not.  After Paul and Silas are released and asked to the leave town, but before they leave, they go to Lydia's house to check on the church that had been planted there.

Now, they pass through a couple of towns and end up in Thessalonica.  Preaching at the synagogue, Paul successfully persuades some Jews, a whole mess of Greeks, and a number of leading women.  Next we get the Jews stirring up a mob and attacking the house of . . . Jason.  Who is Jason?  He apparently is the one who welcomed Paul and Silas in Thessalonica.  If we look at the end of Romans 16, we see Jason's name as a prominent Christian on Paul's team.  This is probably the man that Paul saw in the vision.

So, why did the Holy Spirit steer Paul all over creation to get to Jason?  Because, although Jason was the goal, God has many milestones along the way that are just as important to him as the final destination.  First Luke, then Lydia, then the jailer, then Jason.  The first three are just as important to God as the last, and because God is sovereign, all of this was planned.

Paul and Silas didn't just happen upon Luke.  God didn't just get them to Macedonia and say, "It's up to you, now."  Paul didn't just think, "well, while we're trying to find the guy in my dream, we may as well teach this batch of women sitting here."  Paul knew how to listen to the Holy Spirit's promptings.  The Holy Spirit is Leader AND Helper.  He leads Paul to where he wants him to go, and then he helps him listen.  God wanted Luke, and he wanted Lydia, and he wanted the jailer, and he used the vision of Jason to get Paul there.  Everything went according to God's plan.

When we think of Acts, we tend to think that it is the story of Peter and then Paul, or the church as a whole. But there are many stories in the book of Acts, and each story is just as important to God as Peter or Paul's story.  Chapter 16 has Lydia's story, and the jailer's story.  They were two important individuals to God.  They are members of the elect, and we should not think of them as detours.

Think of the people we encounter each day.  Who are the Lydias and jailers?  Who are the people that God is steering us toward, and are we listening to the Holy Spirit pointing them out to us?  Are we passing by the group of women outside the city gates because the man from our vision is not among them?

The big story, of course, is about Jesus Christ.  Lydia's story is not just about Lydia but Lydia's encounter with Jesus.  The jailer's story is actually about the jailer's encounter with Jesus.  These stories are about the Good Shepherd finding his lost sheep  Not only are these not Paul and Silas' stories.  Paul and Silas are mere tools.  They are already part of God's kingdom.  They are already Christians.  In the words of John the Baptist: they must decrease so that Lydia and the jailer can increase.

Evangelizing seems to be a difficult thing, because we are constantly thinking of it as part of our story.  I hope I do it right.  I'm scared.  What if the person rejects me?  I think this chapter in Acts demonstrates that this is not about us.  This is about God finding his lost sheep.  He's using us to do it, but like a shepherd's crook or a sheepdog, we are to minimize our roles and allow God to lead us where he wishes.

I hope it increases our thirst for evangelism to know that God is not trying to put us through another trial.  Stop thinking of it that way.  God is reaching his next Lydia through you.  Let him do it.  Let Jesus find his Lydia.  It's about her right now.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Sea Was No More

I want to do a little biblical detective work today.  Let's look at Revelation 21:1.  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more." This is the beginning of a beautiful piece of Scripture, where we hear described the new heavens and the new earth, and it gives us hope.  This passage is read at funerals.  There is so much going on here that is uplifting, and we miss this tiny fragment here: "and the sea was no more."

What does that mean? Does it mean that in heaven there's no water? That we going to live in the desert?  It makes no sense.  Let's do a little detective work.  What I think of when I think of the sea: I go to Genesis 1.  So we have God creating the heavens and the earth, and we get to verse six: then God said, "let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." So God made the expanse and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse, and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there's an evening and there's a morning, the second day.

We have separated waters from waters, and the expanse is called heaven.  The space in between the waters is called heaven.  Now, there are two ways we refer to heaven.  We refer to heaven as God's throne room, as the place where God is.  We also refer to "the heavens" as the space about us: the sky, space, outer space: that's all the heavens, where the stars are, where the planets are, with the suns and moons and all of the heavenly bodies.  They are heavens.

So what is the water below the expanse?  We get a verse 9: God says, "let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear." It was so. God called the dry land "earth" and the gathering of the waters he called "seas." God saw it was good. So, the waters below the heavens, the expanse, he calls sea and earth.  He turns that into our planet, that is us, that is planet earth, where we live. So we have our planet earth below the heavens, the expanse, and then above the expanse is another bit of waters.

Now are we to forget about the waters above?  Is it mentioned again?  It IS mentioned again, in Psalm 148.  We have, "praise him highest heavens and the waters that are above the heavens."  The Bible still acknowledges that there are waters above the heavens.  The waters below the heavens were formed into dry land and seas, which is what planet earth is.  The waters above the heavens are the place where God is, the throne room.  What is it?  We don't really know, but I think Revelation 21 does give us a clue.  The first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there's no longer any sea.

What we have here, in the expanse, is a separation of the place where God lives from the place where we live, and there is a sea of expanse, a vast area of expanse in between, and I think this first verse of Revelation 21 is saying the new heaven and the new earth are going to be different from the old heaven and the old earth, in the fact that there will be no more expanse between the two sets of waters. God's throne room is going to be ON earth.  There is no longer going to be a separation, and we will have a relationship with the Lord from now on.

Sure enough, the rest of the verses confirm this: I saw a holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride for her husband.  A loud voice from the throne says, "behold the tabernacle of God is AMONG MEN."  He will dwell among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be among them.  There is no more sea, no room or separation from us, from God.  He will be with us to wipe any tears from our eyes.  There will be no more death, pain.  The first things are passed away, the new things are here, and they will be closer together.  Heaven and earth will be one place now.

We think, "thank goodness that God has restored things, finally, that were damaged from the fall."  Mankind fell, and so there is a separation between us and God, and God has now restored that.  But wait!  This separation came in Genesis 1:6, which is before the fall.  This is something that God wholly set up from the beginning, before Adam fell.  The separation between God and man was there from the beginning. God came to visit Adam in the garden, but God's home was somewhere else.  God was living in the waters above the expanse, and man was living in the waters below the expanse, and this is before the fall. God comes to visit, but this separation was there from the beginning. Why?

What I think is, this separation was planned before the fall.  The coming of Christ was planned before the fall.  God says to Eve, as part of the curse,  your seed will come and defeat Satan's seed. Eve's seed is Jesus.  This was planned. The fall was planned. The separation was already there, before the fall. This was planned because a redeemed humanity is more interesting to God, is more desirable to God, than a humanity that never fell.  Let me repeat that: a redeemed humanity is preferable to God then a humanity that never fell.  This was planned from the beginning, before anything else, before anything was created.  The Trinity decided that this was how things were going to go. God is sovereign. God had this planned from the beginning.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


The psalm appointed this week is the famous Psalm 23: The Lord Is My Shepherd. It is no coincidence that, with the bombing in Boston on Monday, this happens to be the psalm. I actually thought before looking at the lectionary that the psalm should be Psalm 23, and it just so happens the 23 was the appointed psalm. I didn't have to make any changes.

This is a psalm of comfort and it's fascinating to me that you can read this psalm over and over and still find something new.  That's the way the Bible is: you can always find something new, because it says at the end of the Gospel of John the libraries on the world will not be able to hold all of the books that have been, or will be, written about Jesus Christ, and we see that continuing today. More and more can be found here in Psalm 23.

We read, "the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," and our United States mentality, our American sensibilities, our individualism, our materialistic culture tells us, "I should invest in the Lord because then he will serve all my desires; he will grant every wish; I will never want for anything, because he will provide everything I want, like a genie.  Jesus the genie, granting us our every wish!"  This is not what this means.  This means God removes the spirit of wanting, the spirit of being materialistic, which is a sin.  Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and it comes from being materialistic.

Materialism is not necessarily a new thing.  It's always been the case, whenever there has been inequality, whenever there's been evil, whenever there has been death: the three things that Jesus conquers in his resurrection body.  There is envy and all other sins.  These sins come upon us no matter what time. So, people wanted back then, and people want like crazy today.

"I shall not want."  The spirit of wanting is gone.  The Lord is my shepherd, and he takes away the desire for stuff from me.  He takes away the desire for me to control my own life.  He takes away the selfishness.  As if to prove that this is the meaning of that line, that second half of verse one, I shall not want, we read the rest of the psalm: he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul, he guides me in the paths of righteousness.  It doesn't say, "I wanted to lie down in green pastures, and so I snap my fingers, and the Lord said, hey! how would you like this pasture?  I'll provide you a pasture!"  It doesn't say, "I wanted to be beside quiet waters, and the Lord provided quiet waters for me."  It doesn't say, "my soul needed restoring, and so I wanted to have you do that for me."

Notice how we in this culture change "want" to "need."  We understand that the word "want" sounds selfish, and so what we do is we change the word to "need."  It's still wanting something, but once we change it to need, then it sounds like it's something more than just some materialistic craving in our hearts, so we say, "I really really NEED this," and suddenly we can justify ourselves.  

All of this is a lie, because the truth is we really don't WANT to be in the paths of righteousness.  In fact, that is exactly the OPPOSITE of what we want.  We, as fallen, sinful creatures do not want to walk in the paths of righteousness, but the Lord is not to be stopped.  He guides us in the paths of righteousness.  He guides us.  He does these things.  He is forcing himself upon us, because we don't want this, and here is the key: "for his name's sake."

For his name's sake.  He's not doing this for US.  He's not doing this because, "poor little Fred: he needs me!" He's doing this, because when he has transformed my life, when he has dragged me from my wanting to a place of peace, when he has dragged me where I do not want to go, I will be transformed into a child of God, and I will praise his NAME, and people will hear his name being praised, and they will respond.  All of this is for God's name.  God knows how to promote his name. I don't. I don't know the first thing about pushing God into the world, about promoting him. He knows. He will not be stopped.

Are we to just sit there and wait for God to work? Are we to just be thoughtless, mindless creatures who let our Lord take control of us, and possess us, and drag us wherever we don't want to go?  Well that's not necessarily what removing the spirit of wanting from our lives is all about.  Look at the sermon on the mount. Matthew 6: Jesus is talking about how we should not worry about where the next meal is coming from. We should not worry about our clothes, because God will provide.

Do not worry, then, saying, "what will we eat? or what will we drink? or what will we wear for clothing?" for the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you NEED all these things.  He gives us what we need. He doesn't give us what we want. What we want is going to hurt us. He gives us quiet waters; he gives us peaceful beds; he gives us meadows; he gives us peace in HIM.  He is the peace.  The Good Shepherd gives us HIMSELF.  He knows what we need: we need God.

And so he concludes: "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."  So there is action on our part: seeking the kingdom of God, but a lot of people don't know what that looks like.  It looks like prayer.  It looks like looks like it's getting down on our knees and asking God to show us the kingdom, to ask God to take away the spirit of wanting in us and show us what we need, which is God himself, his kingdom, his righteousness.  That is what we need, to take away the spirit of wanting.

Us actually getting on our knees and praying for God to take away the spirit of wanting is also an act of God. It's the Holy Spirit speaking to our soul, telling our souls, telling our justified souls to tell our sinful bodies to get on its knees and to say these words, and that is seeking the kingdom.