August-Sept 2016 : Pt. 1 – Trust, But Verify

August and September have come and gone. The past six fruitless hours are proof that I have no idea how to get started on this post. I’ll just freestyle it and see where it goes. There is a Creator. His name is YHWH. The name is pronounced Yah-weh; to the extent that it is pronounced. Since His raising up of the Hebrews via Abraham, the enunciation or even writing of His name has been something that some people do and some do not. In Biblical text, ‘the LORD’ is a direct substitution of the name Yahweh with something that is less likely to minimize awe and reverence of God; something less likely to make us too familiar with Him. He is worthy of awe and reverence. He is worthy of praise. If we are too familiar with Him, we will possibly take for granted His majesty and glory. We might mistake ourselves as more than creations of the Creator.

Early on in the history of His creation, the creatures did as they are want to do – they went their own way. This rebellion cost them and everyone after them their full communion with the Creator. In order that the lost communion would be restored, God raised up the aforementioned Abraham and his lineage. From that lineage would come the man who would be tasked with restoring communion between God and his creatures. This only begotten Son of God is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of God. Before He was so enthroned, He walked among men and did what His Father showed Him to do. His life was necessary so that He could die a sacrificial death so that He could raise up from that death. The spiritual mechanics of His death and resurrection served to make a way for the creatures to have right relations with the Creator again.

The Son walked again among men after His resurrection, for a short time. Then he ascended to His current position. After He went to be at the right hand of His Father, the Holy Spirit came with tongues of fire to be among men. The Holy Spirit came and has come to encourage and to instruct. According to the Son, the only unforgivable sin is that of blaspheming the Spirit. I don’t know how to define “blaspheming the Holy Spirit”; but the Son’s warning in this regard serves to emphasize that the Spirit’s generally quiet nature is not cause to take for granted the divine nature of the Spirit.

After the Son’s ascension and the Spirit’s manifestation among men, Saul of Tarsus became Paul, Apostle of Jesus Christ. Among other things that shaped the faith known as Christianity, Paul defined certain gifts that the Spirit could bestow upon those who believe in Christ the Redeemer. He listed these gifts in a letter to the early church in Corinth:

  • wisdom
  • words of knowledge
  • faith
  • healing
  • miracles
  • prophecy
  • discerning of spirits
  • tongues
  • interpretation of tongues

In another letter, to the church in Galatia, Paul listed several characteristics that he declared to be the fruit of the Spirit. That is, they are character traits of the Holy Spirit that should ultimately be found in anyone who is ‘born again from above’ and is making room for God to renovate his or her fallen nature. These characteristics are:

  •  love
  • joy
  • peace
  • longsuffering
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control.

Anyone who claims to be a Christian and doesn’t manifest this fruit, and on balance more often, year over year, is likely not walking in any redemptive relationship with Christ (according to Me, Myself, and I). The gifts of the Spirit might be present, but they will be in operation without love as their source. The Apostle specifically decries such behavior. The Son’s only real comment about those who practice the gifts of the Spirit is in context of those who do so without love as the foundation, without the Son as their mentor and change agent. His words to that end are distinctly dire.

The fruit of the Spirit, then, is expected of anyone who is truly laying down their life in submission to the Son’s easy yoke. The gifts of the Spirit are given as the Spirit sees fit. Paul admonished the Corinthian church to desire all the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. Prophecy is a means by which one person can convey God’s opinion on some matter to one or more other people. It is a profoundly encouraging thing, for both the giver and the receiver of the message. I assume that is why Paul instructed the Corinthians to desire prophecy over all the other gifts. I’m highlighting prophecy here because it will play a role in subsequent August/September installments.

Two thousand years later, there is conflict regarding the gifts (but the not the fruit) of the Spirit. Some people believe the gifts were given specifically and only to the apostolic generation. The gifts, in such an arrangement, would have been used by the apostles and contemporary believers exclusively to legitimize the young church and her Savior King. Such people believe the Spirit ceased dispensing these gifts upon the death of the apostles. These people are called cessationists. Opposite the cessationists are people who believe the gifts are alive and active today, no less so than they were in the apostolic era. They so believe in part because there’s nothing scriptural about the gifts ceasing; and they so believe in part because they perceive the Spirit is working through them and other people, just as He did in the apostolic era. John Macarthur has written quite a bit from the cessationist perspective. Jack Deere is an author who teaches that the gifts are for believers today. I believe the gifts are active today and will not be hashing out any conflict between Us and Them.

We are each a spirit who has a body, is how C.S. Lewis described humans. We are eternal* spiritual beings who live in perishing physical bodies, in the physical dimension defined by planet Earth and its surrounding cosmos. Our Creator and the Son exist on a plane separate from ours. The Apostle Paul describes being caught up into Heaven. John, in Revelation, describes being in the throne room of God. They are credible witnesses who went somewhere that was not on this earthly plane. On any given day, we here in this world do not go to the place where God dwells. We are mortal and stay on this mortal coil. He is there; we are here.

According to the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit was sent by God to dwell in and among believers, after Christ ascended to the right hand of God in His throne room. The Spirit dwells in and among us still. I assume He has access to the same heavenly realm where the Father and the Son currently reign; but the last we heard of Him was that He was sent to this physical world for the spiritual benefit of those who claim Christ as Savior King. He manifests His personality, or fruit, through us as much as we allow Him (or God the Father or Jesus Christ, however it works) submitted access to our Selves.

That submission allows restoration of fallen nature via sanctification, wherein our nature is brought more in line with God’s nature. Sanctification can happen as long as we don’t fight the process. Surrendering our pride and dominion over our Selves promotes sanctification. Relying on things like sex, money, reputation, fame or any other stand-in for God’s comfort is one way we can thwart the process of sanctification. That distinction is getting away from the point of this post. And such a caveat as that one presumes there is a point to this post. I know there’s one around here somewhere.

*There is conflict within the faith regarding the destiny of those who reject Christ, after they pass from this life. Some expect that those souls will suffer eternally, in what is traditionally considered Hell. Others believe the souls of such people will simply cease to exist and will miss out on an eternity spent in God’s presence and glory. The only other group I know of is the Universalists, who believe that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God through Christ and spared either eternal suffering or nonexistence.

—-

Ultimately, I want to end up talking about God working through and talking directly to people. I don’t know how to define any presumed distinctions among the three members of the Holy Trinity, with regard to how each of them communicate to and express themselves through people. Unless otherwise specified, God in this context refers to each of God the Father, Christ the Son, and Holy Spirit.

*

God either does do works through and communicate directly to people today, or He does not. He clearly did do so in the past. The Bible is filled from beginning to end with examples of God speaking directly to people. In no particular or comprehensive order:

  • Yahweh spoke to Moses in an audible voice on Mt. Sinai.
  • Jesus spoke to Paul in an audible voice on the road to Damascus.
  • Angelic messengers – both face-to-face and in dreams – factored heavily in the narrative of Christ’s conception, birth, and earliest years.
  • God spoke through a dream to Paul regarding his travels to Macedonia.
  • God used dreams to both foreshadow Joseph’s destiny as second-in-command to Pharaoh and to transition from the final stages of Joseph’s captivity into that exalted royal position.

And here be an out-of-order recitation of a few miraculous demonstrations recorded in the Bible, wherein God worked His power through mortals:

  • Paul raised Eutychus from death, after the latter fell from a high window.
  • Peter and John healed a lame beggar simply by telling him, in the name of Jesus, to walk.
  • Gideon followed God’s seemingly-ridiculous instructions, to the end of watching the Midianite army destroy itself.
  • Samson had physical strength beyond what a standard-issue human could possibly possess.
  • Moses followed God’s instruction to strike a rock, from which flowed water for the angry Israelites.
  • Naaman followed Elisha’s advice and washed in the Jordan River, which cured his leprosy.
  • Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a lethal “My God can beat up your god” contest, in which he successfully called down fire from heaven to incinerate the contested altar.

It is clear from a Biblical perspective that there was, Way Back Then, communication from outside the material world into the material world, from God, for the purposes of getting God’s plans into action through human beings. Does God still do things this way in the present time? Consider the following and very limited list of facts. Some people today:

  • have dreams and visions that foreshadow their own future and the future of other people.
  • can successfully command healing in the name of Jesus for any physical malady up to and including death.
  • act upon messages delivered by audible or inaudible voice – with no physical person present to have spoken the words – such that the action proves that the voice spoke of real circumstances in the physical world, otherwise unknown to the hearer. (That’s a terrible sentence, but I’ll reference this exact phenomenon in a later post.)

There’s enough material there to prove that something from outside the physical world communicates and operates today in the physical world. In context of this blog post, it would be convenient to just say, “See, God’s still doing His thing through whomever He chooses.” But it’s not that simple, for the fact that there is another spiritual source that can interact with the physical world.

*-

Here are some qualifiers that are appropriate for anything someone might consider a direct communication from the Lord. Listing them here will simplify related explanations later:

  • Anything one perceives as a potential message from God is not necessarily a communication from outside the person. – The thing someone has perceived could have been born of their own mind, be it a thought or interpretation of circumstances.
  • Every communication from outside the person is not necessarily a message from God. – God can speak to us. So can demonic entities.
  • Every message from God is not necessarily intended for distribution beyond the person to whom God initially spoke. – It’s possible that a message that involves someone other than the receiver is intended as a prompt for prayerful intercession and not necessarily a call to approach the person directly. This particular qualifier isn’t necessarily relevant to this post, but it is one that I’m learning to employ.

*–

(Revised for clarity on Oct 13, 2016)

Why should we believe that Satan and his demonic minions are at work in the world today? First, let’s look at what was, before looking at what is:

  • In explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus told His disciples that the seed eaten by birds represented ‘the enemy’ preventing people from understanding the gospel.
  • Job lived through disastrous and miserable circumstances initiated by Satan, who wanted to test Job’s faith in God.
  • Satan tempted Jesus with food; an opportunity to demonstrate His divinity; and unparalleled political power, after Jesus finished his forty-day fast in the Wilderness.
  • The Gospel of Luke records two instances of Satan’s work, in one chapter alone: Satan entered Judas, immediately prior to Judas’ visit to the Jewish leaders to discuss terms of his betraying Jesus; and Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked permission to ‘sift’ him as wheat.
  • Twice in Revelation, written after Jesus ascended to His current position, He describes Satan as one who deceives (present tense) the world.

Consider those two times Jesus referred to Satan as a deceiver. And consider that earlier in the gospels, Jesus referred to Satan as the father of lies. From Christ’s perspective, Satan was and is the source of all lies, whose primary goal is to kill, steal, and destroy. There is capital-T Truth in the fabric of our ordered universe, as intended by our Creator. When any spirit or person introduces lies into the world, the result is confusion instead of order. It’s not much of a stretch, then, to say that Satan could get serious mileage out of confusing the process by which people try to minister via the gifts of the Spirit or seek ministry through same. By creating confusion and doubt in such a high-stakes dynamic, he could minimize the effectiveness of legitimate ministries.

*—

Consider a situation where there’s no chance that someone is faking or mistaking. They have had a dream or vision that revealed to them legitimate information that they did not know before. Or they commanded healing in the name of Jesus for some malady that is incurable or was healed in such a time frame as rules out any other possibility than a miracle. Looking back at the qualifiers I listed earlier, we can jump right past the first one, the caveat that everything that seems like it is from outside the person isn’t necessarily so. In some circumstances there’s no option but to know that the thing was born of a spirit. That’s when it’s important to ask, “Was it of God, or was it of dark forces?”

And this is where I get hung up much of the time, with regard to things that happen with me and things that happen to and around me. Judging the fruit of some ‘things’, I don’t see how that aren’t of God. If anyone is left more encouraged or peaceful  or something similar, that’s in line with what God wants for us. Satan and his fallen comrades aren’t about us being encouraged and peaceful. But they are about deception. Could they not perform miracles (and surely whisper in our ear) with intent to deceive? In various scriptures, Jesus and the Apostle Paul both warn that there will come a time when the powers of darkness will work great miracles and other powerful demonstrations. Even back in Moses’ day, Pharaoh’s magicians turned a staff into a snake, matching the identical transformation of Moses’ own staff. Of course Moses’ staff/snake ate the Egyptian one, perfectly illustrating the fact that God is more powerful than the fallen king of demons.

The bottom with all of this stuff is to follow the Apostle John’s advice to test the spirits. In other words don’t accept at face value that an accurate prophecy or mind-blowing miracle is necessarily from God. If we use ‘trust, but verify’ as a default policy, it will minimize the chance that we are led astray. There’s plenty of scripture to support the notion that believers will work in divine power, doing the works that Christ did. That is Biblical support for the idea that God does still communicate to and through people today. Which would have been a much a much more direct answer to my own question twenty hours ago. But then we wouldn’t have had nearly so much quality time together.

**

This is all a verrry roundabout way of saying that I took my kids to see Shawn Bolz at Upper Room in early August.

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One Response to August-Sept 2016 : Pt. 1 – Trust, But Verify

  1. Hank says:

    TL; DNR. Just kidding. Good stuff.

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