Monday, October 28, 2013

Some thoughts from Rev. David Green

On "delivered" vs. "saved" - in the Joel text and many others it is much simpler.  The Hebrew is delivered and the Septuagint is saved and of course Peter quotes the Septuagint.  Often "delivered" is translated "saved" though the OT context may be a military situation.

And as to calling on the Lord, of course this is a "pregnant" phrase that includes 1)conviction of sin - not just wanting help -2)faith in Jesus' person and work as alone sufficient to justify; and then as you wrote, 3)a continual calling on him in trust for the necessary strength and holiness to live as a true regenerated Christian.

Carry on, brother!


Joel 2:32: Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.

The KJV and NASB translations of this passage use the word "delivered" instead of "saved."  Indeed, Peter expanded the word to "saved" in his reading of the passage in Acts 2, so later translators altered the Old Testament to match Peter's interpretation.  What is the difference between "delivered" and "saved?"  Well, "saved" is broader.  We picture a hand plucking a brand from the fire.  But where does the brand then go?  "Delivered" implies a transition from one side of a crisis to another.  Someone is being delivered TO THE OTHER SIDE of a danger.

What is this danger?  What are we delivered FROM?  Let's look at the previous verses:

2:30 I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.

2:31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.

Blood is the life substance within living things.  This verse says it will be on the OUTSIDE, as if life were being turned inside out, UNDONE so to speak.  Fire is the transition of a substance of function, something solid, into ashes and gas.  Once again we have UNcreation.  However, the sun, which is always burning, is going to turn to darkness, its own turning inside out, its own uncreation.  When does the moon look like blood?  When gases and smoke are in the air.  This description of the Day of the Lord coming is not a pretty sight.   What we have is a time where everything that was created is uncreated and will be no more.

We probably won't live to see that day, but that doesn't mean that the day doesn't apply to us.  Each of us is going to die, and death is the same kind of transition into uncreation.  Each of us will have a personal "Day of the Lord."  God says here through Joel that he is going to deliver us through this uncreation to the other side of it.  The creator of the universe, who created EVERYTHING, is going to UNCREATE everything, and yet he will deliver us through that uncreation to the other side, as created beings who have not been uncreated.

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered.  Everyone will be delivered?  No.  Only those who call on the name of the Lord will be delivered.  Mother Theresa will be delivered, surely.  Surely, if she called on the name of the Lord, she will be delivered.  Hitler?  If Hitler called on the name of the Lord, then yes, but he probably did not call on the name of the Lord.  Ghandi?  If he called on the name of the Lord, then yes.

Well, what IS calling on the name of the Lord?  Calling on the name of the Lord is praying.  The word is also present tense: "calls."  It is a continuous call.  Whoever is continually praying to the Lord will be delivered.  Something that we have all been working with in our congregation is the Jesus prayer.  It's a simple prayer that encapsulates the entire Gospel within it: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  This simple prayer can be learned to the point where one can be continually calling on God, even when he or she is doing other things.

Here is the text from our Gospel reading today:

Luke 18:9-14
18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

18:10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'

18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'

18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Who is the one who is going to be delivered?  The tax collector.  He is merely saying the Jesus prayer.  The Pharisee is not calling on the name of the Lord.  He is only praising himself.  Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Who is the Lord?  Yahweh, the creator God, the great I AM.  Not Buddha.  Not Vishnu.  Not Zeus.  Not a tree.  Not the devil.  Not an angel.  Not a person.  Not a celebrity.  Not a politician.  Only the creator God can deliver us, and so only his name is to be called upon.

And he has given us the name by which we are to be saved: Jesus Christ.  The name actually means, "he saves."  The Hebrew word is Jeshua, translated into Greek as Iesus, and into our modern language as Jesus.  Joshua in the Old Testament, delivered God's people from one side of the Jordan River to the other side, into the promised land.

So, whoever calls continually on the name of the Lord will be delivered.  Whoever continually prays to Jesus Christ will be saved.  This sounds like the easiest thing in the world, but at the same time, to continually pray to God sounds impossible.  Also, our fallen nature refuses to pray to the Lord.  We don't WANT to call on the name of Jesus.  We resist with every fiber of our being.  Does this mean that we shall not be delivered after all?

The good news is also in the last verse of the Joel passage:

Joel 2:32: Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.

Those who call on the name of the Lord are the ones whom the Lord calls.  Yes, God is previous yet again, and his calling on our hearts comes first.  He gives us his Spirit, who intercedes for us, calling on the name of the Lord when we are unable to.  Listen to Romans 8:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The best news of all is here!  God will not let us be lost in the uncreation.  He calls us to call on him.  We will not fail to call on the name of the Lord, because the Lord has called on us first.  He has given us his Spirit, and the Spirit does the impossible work for us, so that we can make the transition from darkness to light, from destruction to salvation, from death into life.  Lord Jesus deliver us!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Prayer with Thanksgiving

Last week we talked about the duty of a Christian.  Here was part of the reading from last week from Luke 17:

17:7 "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'?

17:8 Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'?

17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

Our relationship to God, as Christians, are like slaves to a master. Our function, what we were made for, is service to our lord WITHOUT REWARD, without merit.  We were created for such a purpose.  When God created Adam, he set him to work in the garden.  It is our function, and we rebel against it, because we are fallen.  The effects of sin from the fall are not just us hurting each other and ourselves, it is merely the focus on self, instead of God, which prevents us from being full-time slaves.  When we DO serve, we serve only for a short time, and we get exhausted, and we begin living for ourselves again.  We can't seem to help it.

I touched on this last week, but a big part of the work that the Lord has purchased us to do, is the work of prayer.  This is good news, because we don't have to be in the trenches with Mother Theresa 24/7, but it is also bad news, because we don't want to pray.  When Philip inquired of prayer to our Lord, he didn't say, "teach us HOW to pray."  We know how to pray, we just don't.  He said, "teach us TO pray."  Give us the wills, Lord, to drop on our knees, and beg you to empty ourselves of all self, and ask you to use us as our slaves.

Here is today's reading from Luke 17.  It's no accident or random occurrence that this passage is right after what we read above:

17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,

17:13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.

17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

17:17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"

17:19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

When Jesus meets these ten lepers, they lift up their voices in united prayer.  And the prayer is the most simple yet deepest prayer of all: the Jesus prayer.  It goes like this: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  This is essentially what the lepers say, and as sin is spiritual leprosy, we should be saying this every minute of every day.

Jesus sends them all to a priest, who is the one who would judge if a leper is cleansed and can return to society.  He hasn't healed them yet.  They didn't ASK to be healed.  It is pointless to show themselves to a priest.  They obey, all ten obey.  On the way, they are healed, and they continue to obey, continuing on to the priest.  However, one DISOBEYS.  One of the lepers turns back to praise God and throw himself to Jesus' feet in thanksgiving.  The others haven't disobeyed. They are still healed.  They aren't going to become lepers again.

But the one who turned back is not in trouble.  He is DOUBLY BLESSED, because he has given thanksgiving.  He has prayed with the others, but unlike the others, he has given thanksgiving.  The kind of prayer we should be engaged in is not just prayer for ourselves, not just prayer for others, but prayer with thanksgiving.  This is an advanced form of prayer that is blanketed in thanksgiving.  We have heard about the three answers to prayer.  God says one of three things in answer to prayer: yes, no, or later.  When do we give thanks?  We give thanks after "yes" answers.  Do we give thanks for "no" answers?  No.  Do we give thanks for "later" answers?  Well, that depends on whether the later answer is yes or not.  Do you see what we do?  We should be giving thanks in ALL circumstances.

Philippians 4:4-7 says the following:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  

Couching our prayer in thanksgiving brings us the peace that passes all understanding.  It's the Christian life there in a nutshell.  Giving thanks in all circumstances, allows us to empty ourselves to Christ, allows him to use us as vessels for his ministry.  It is the difference between merely praying for others and allowing God to use us to help others.  This prayer, "Lord use me to help my friends," is a far more advanced prayer than a mere, "help my friends."

The best example of this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Here we get to peer over Christ's shoulder and see what he prays about in secret.  This is probably how he prayed all the time: Lord not my will but your will. Use me to help my friends.  That is exactly what happens.  Christ dies on our behalf.  He may not have actually said THANK YOU to the father, but his whole posture is one of thanksgiving.  He sweats blood, he empties himself.  He is thanking the Father for the answer NO.

Pray that the Lord will empty us.  Throw ourselves down on his mercy.  Let him use us for his ministry.  Lord, use us as your slaves.  And let us be thankful for such slavery.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Duty v. Faith

Luke 17:5-10
17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

17:6 The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

17:7 "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'?

17:8 Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'?

17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

What is the Christian life?  What does it mean to be a Christian?  What are the fruits?  Helping the poor, right?  Helping widows and orphans.  On the Outer Banks we have Ruthie's Kitchen that feeds the poor.  We have Room at the Inn that houses the homeless during the winter months.  The Dream Center gives them a place to stay during the day.  We have a Food Pantry.  We have many other programs and helpful tools that aid us in reaching out to the downtrodden.  We are servants to the world.

But this is what makes the above text from Luke all the more alarming.  Above, Jesus says that this is our DUTY as Christians.  This is the bare minimum of what our roles are.  Of course we are to serve. We are SLAVES to Christ, and our roles on earth, as Christians, are to serve others WITHOUT REWARD.  It is our job, and if we expect something out of it, we are not thinking of our roles properly.  Also, it looks like that if we are not working constantly, and are taking too many breaks, we are failing in our role as Christians.

This is our duty.  It does not require anything special to do, Jesus seems to be saying.  To prove the case, look at the secular world.  The secular world is just as adept at serving the poor and the downtrodden as Christians are. They fail, just like we fail, because the poor will always be with us, but they put in as good as an effort as us Christians.

It seems that we can only be successful at doing our Christian duty by having the necessary faith in Christ to do it.  Indeed, this parable by Christ seems to be a response to the statement from his disciples when they plead with Jesus to, "increase our faith!"  But actually, the pleading from the disciples is in response to something Jesus said that isn't printed above.  Here it is:

Luke 17:1-4

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” 

As Christians, it is our duty to serve the poor.  The secular world also feels its duty to do this, too.  Unique to Christians is what Jesus describes above.  The worst kind of sinner is the scoffer: the one who not only actively sins but encourages others to sin, too. These are the ones through whom stumbling blocks come, and they can come through the ungodly world, but many time they come through brothers and sisters: fellow Christians, oftentimes Christian leaders.

What is unique to believers is our ability to rebuke scoffers AND THEN forgive them when they repent.  How many of us do that on a regular basis?  I see no hands, not even my own. Why?  Because it is the hardest part of the Christian life.  We don't want to rebuke anyone, because we don't want anyone to dislike us.  We don't want to forgive anyone, because it wouldn't be fair.  We have a sense of justice where it shouldn't be, and we have a sense of compassion where it shouldn't be.  We should feel justice in our rebuking of scoffers.  Instead we feel justice in our lack of forgiveness.  We should feel compassion when we forgive the repentant scoffer.  Instead we feel compassion in our lack of rebuking.

Indeed, these are the hardest things for a Christian to do, and so that is why the disciples respond with the desperate, "Increase or faith!" to their Lord.  The good news, is that we can utter this cry, too.  We can also shout out, "Increase our faith," and Jesus will respond with his faith-giving Spirit.  It is as simple as that, but we are unwilling to ask the Lord.  We are too proud, and we are too selfish to ask for help.  We think we can do it alone.  Helping the poor is easy; even the unbelieving world does it.  Rebuking and forgiving is impossible for us, but with God all things are possible.

Lord, increase our faith!

Friday, October 4, 2013


Luke 16:19-31
16:19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

16:24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.'

16:25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'

16:27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house--

16:28 for I have five brothers--that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.'

16:29 Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.'

16:30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'

16:31 He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

We've been looking closer at the Lukan parables, finding depths that we never supposed were there before.  This popular parable is no different.  It seems to be another parable espousing the social gospel.  It seems to have a Marxian context: rich v. poor.  We even can remember other things that Jesus has said elsewhere: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, it seems as if Jesus is saying here that the poor of the world are blessed and the rich are damned.

But something Abraham says in this parable reveals depth greater than that of shallow Marxism:

16:25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

This goes beyond rich versus poor.  This is a comparison of one having received good things on earth versus having received evil things (or "bad" things).  Now, many times these receivings DO fall along the lines of rich and poor, but there are also many times that the financially rich may receive evil things and the financially poor may receive good things.  Think of our luxurious country.  Many of the poor have good things: food, shelter, a TV, hundreds of DVDs (usually horror movies), a car, liberty to do as one pleases.  Worldwide, American poor is in the top 4% of the wealthy. Am I saying that the poor don't have it tough?  No, a lot of the time they do, but we need to look at another criterion for deciding who is blessed and who isn't.  "Blessed are the poor" is in the sermon on the mount, so let's look at that:

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5)
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT.  What does that mean?  Well, read the other beatitudes.  They describe someone who is poor in spirit.  Someone who mourns.  Someone who hungers for righteousness.  Someone who is merciful.  These aren't separate people Jesus is describing.  This is one blessed person.  Now, who are the people that the bible describes as in the most need of comfort?  Who are the people that, over and over again, the people of Israel are asked to take care of?  And Israel continually fails to look after these persons.  Who are they?

Widows and orphans.  Why?  Well, we tell ourselves, they just represent "the poor."  That is what we call them now.  So, we're back to socialism again.  But the bible goes deeper than that.  Being a widow or an orphan didn't necessarily mean that you were financially poor, then as well as now. Why widows and orphans?  What to they have in common?

Loss.  The orphan has lost his or her parents.  The parents are God's authoritative representatives on earth to the child.  Obeying parents is one of the commandments.  Parents are to be the source of Godly wisdom to the child.  Parents are the source of Godly love.  Without Godly parents, the orphan is at a HUGE disadvantage in life.  That is poor in spirit.  We aren't looking at monetary worth now.  We are looking INSIDE.  Same with the widow.  His or her partner in life is gone.  The one who gave her authority, Godly wisdom, and love, or the one who gave him (the widower) respect, love, companionship, and Godly help.  Gone, and there is a terrible loss there. 

Widows and orphans are the best tangible examples of those who are poor in spirit.  To have such a loss is to live through the beatitudes.  As Abraham says in the parable, it is to receive evil things on earth.  It is a form of martyrdom.  To be a financial martyr is not deep enough.  We talked about last week how in general money is unrighteous mammon.  Loss of it is NOT a loss of wisdom or Godly authority.  In fact to lose wealth is to be in a blessed state on earth.  You are actually receiving a good thing to lose wealth.

Ask someone who has lost a loved one, and he or she will tell you that there are times, when all is quiet, when all is peaceful, that the widow or widower or orphan has a sense that the lost loved one is still with him or her on earth.  There's that quick sense of disorientation and forgetfulness that the loved one is gone, and one may even cry out the lost one's name, but then the realization comes that the loved one is truly gone, and the loss rushes back, and it is deeper than ever.  The spirit gets poorer.

Living the Christian life is difficult, I'm discovering, because we don't have that sense of loss when it comes to Christ.  We know that Christ is alive--he is risen--but we do not have the experience of his incarnation, like the apostles did.  We don't have that sense of loss that the apostles had when Jesus died, and after the resurrection when he ascended.  He is alive, yes.  He has given us the comforter, the Holy Spirit, to live with us, yes.  But do we really have the sense that Christ is alive and working in our lives right this minute through the Holy Spirit?

Have you ever read a book or series of books by someone, like Dickens or CS Lewis, and wished that the person were still alive, so you could interact with them or hear what they are saying today?  That is the feeling we SHOULD have with Christ.  We should read the Gospels and have that overwhelming sense of loss and the desire to hear him speak today.  We should have that sudden awareness of his presence that the widow and the orphan have with their lost loved ones.  We cannot seem to have that awareness of his presence in our lives until we first experience the loss.

When we feel Christ's loss, the Holy Spirit, the comforter, fulfills his duty to us, the reason he is here.  He comforts us in our loss, reminds us that Christ is alive, reveals him to us in the scriptures, reveals his presence in our lives today, this very minute.  Pray for God to make us poor in spirit, so that we will know that sense of loss and then can know our savior's presence.  Lord give us that sense of loss, so that we may find him with us.