Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Synchronicity of Heaven and Earth

There is a feeling of joy in the Last Instructions of Christ to his disciples in John 14-16. This was no sorrowful saying of goodbye for the Lord. Rather, he spoke of his own joy, and the joy of those he would leave behind (Jn 15:11, 16:20,21,22,24). In his high-priestly prayer that summarizes and crowns those Last Instructions, Jesus prayed that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (Jn 17:13).
Jesus was telling his followers that he was returning to the Father in heaven, and they would be left behind to continue the work (and indeed, greater works) than he had done. He would henceforth reside in heaven, but nonetheless would remain with them through the Holy Spirit. I submit to you that this new dynamic was the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:2). Jesus was seeing the soon fulfillment of a prophetic passage that had been dear to his heart from the earliest days of his ministry.

The Fulfillment of Daniel 7

Daniel 7:13 was clearly an important passage to Jesus. He regularly called himself the Son of man, which title is taken from this verse. At his trial, he quoted Daniel 7:13, telling Caiaphas the High Priest that he would see Jesus fulfill that particular scripture. Let’s consider this verse.
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. 
(Dan 7:13-14)
As previously stated, we can be sure that Jesus had this verse on his mind at his trial because he was quick to quote it to Caiaphas. I believe Jesus had the entire vision of Daniel 7 in his mind on the night before his arrest when he was giving the Last Instructions to the disciples. Daniel's vision not only speaks of the glorification of the Messiah in heaven, but it also speaks of the destiny of the saints of God on earth, which destiny Jesus was speaking of in the Last Instructions.
Notice what happened when Daniel questioned one of the attending angels about the vision.
I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things. These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. 
(Dan 7:16-18)
When Daniel asked the angel to clarify the vision, the heavenly scene is no more spoken of. Instead, the angel speaks of the saints possessing the kingdom on the earth. In fact, the angel expounds on the vision three times, always speaking of the saints on earth receiving the everlasting kingdom (v18, 22, 27).
It should be clear that the saints possessing the kingdom is the earthly correlate of Christ glorified in heaven.

Those Who Are Willing in the Day of His Power

This is why Jesus told the disciples it was good for them that he was going away—they could not receive the Spirit and walk in kingdom inheritance until he was brought to the heavenly throne. And in reciprocity, the victory of Christ is not complete without an overcoming Church in the earth possessing the kingdom. 
Consider that the preferred passage of the early Church regarding this new heavenly-earthly dynamic was Psalm 110:1 (E.g. Acts 2:34-35).
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool....Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,...
(Psa 110:1-3)

This speaks of the Lord being glorified at the right hand of the Father in heaven, while his people willingly participate in his victory here on earth. The Lord is even today seated on his throne in heaven, while his enemies are made his footstool. Prophetically, the Lord's footstool is earth (Is. 66:1). His footstool in the earth is being possessed by those willing to walk in his victory and possess the kingdom here and now.
This is all perfectly consistent with the Great Commission, which commands us to go and make disciples of all nations because of the exalted position of Christ.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, 
(Mat 28:18-19)
We are commanded to go forth and take territory for our Lord on his behalf and because of his glory.

The Cross and the Crown

The symbol of Christianity should therefore be the crown rather than the cross. We are thankful for the cross that provided the way for us to enter the kingdom--but this is only the door to the Christian life. The Christian life should be represented by a crown, or scepter, or throne--because the purpose of our lives is defined by the Christ that sits enthroned in heaven. And the Church’s victory on earth is proportional to how clearly we see Jesus glorified as King of kings in heaven. 

Providing Meaning to the Pentecostal Experience

I believe too few in the Pentecostal/Charismatic streams understand the true significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter gave us a powerful answer on the Day of Pentecost to the question raised by the amazed crowd, What meaneth this?
Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 
(Act 2:33)
According to Peter, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the earthly manifestation of Christ exalted at the right hand of the Father in heaven. There is an organic connection between the glorified Christ and his Spirit filled believers. As we learn to submit to the indwelling Spirit in our lives, we possess his kingdom here on earth on the Lord's behalf. The Spirit-filled overcoming Church is walking in the victory of the King of kings, and thus securing his kingdom here on earth.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Great Commission

in light of apostolic ministry.

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
(Mat 28:18-20)

The term Great Commission has too often been hijacked by Christian ministries that do not understand or fully appreciate what it mandates. Popular misconceptions about the Lord’s command in Matthew 28:18-20 run along these lines:

 “We are not a discipling church as much as we are a ‘Great Commission’ church that is called to lead people to accept the forgiveness that is in Christ.”

I am not here to throw stones at ministries that emphasize evangelism—I am only saying that they are not fulfilling the Great Commission. It may be a jolt to some readers, but I contend that even the Apostle Paul was not fulfilling the Great Commission when he wrote

I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; …….For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel….
(1Co 1:14-17)

This does not mean that Paul was unbiblical—he was indeed anointed and sent by God to evangelize, which is a necessary prerequisite if the Great Commission is to ever be fulfilled. But Paul’s evangelistic preaching is not what was being described by Christ in Matthew 28:19-20 when he commanded to baptize and disciple. Paul was not baptizing, nor was he extensively training many of his new converts. He was making converts that other ministers, like Apollos, would fulfill the Great Commission with.

The Context of the Matthew 28:18-20

The four gospels report different post resurrection appearances of Christ to his disciples. Of these reports, all except that of Matthew were private and witnessed by only a few. Furthermore, all the gospels except for Matthew record post-resurrection appearances of Christ in and around the precincts of Jerusalem. In contrast, the events in Matthew 28 occurred in Galilee before a much larger group. The group of disciples that saw Jesus on the mountain in Matthew is believed by more than a few scholars to have been the group of more than 500 disciples that saw him at the same time, spoken of by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:16. 
It is easy to see why this meeting would have been well attended, because Jesus had announced a meeting in Galilee even before his passion (Mat. 26:32). The angel at the tomb told the two Mary's that Christ would meet with them in Galilee (Mat. 28:7), and the resurrected Christ himself told these ladies to spread the word throughout the believing community that they were to go to Galilee to meet with Christ (Mat. 28:10). 
Clearly, the appearance of Christ in Matthew 28 is anything but random. It was arranged ahead of time by Christ, and advertised throughout the covenant community. Furthermore, the location of the meeting was anything but random.
Matthew recorded that they went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them (Mat. 28:16 AV). The text literally reads into THE mountain where Jesus had ORDAINED them. Matthew was not speaking about a random mountain that the Lord thought would be a good meeting place. Rather, the location in which the Great Commission is given is the very mountain upon which the Lord ordained his 12 apostles.

The Mountain and the Message

The book of Matthew takes considerable liberties with chronological order. For example, chapter 10 tells of the choosing of the 12 apostles, but their ordination sermon is given in chapters 5-7 in what we commonly call The Sermon on the Mount. Comparing and synthesizing the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke allows us to see the order of events on the day the 12 apostles were ordained. 
  1. Jesus went up into a mountain to pray all night.
  2. In the morning, he called selected disciples up into the mountain with him, where he selected the 12.
  3. They partly descended the mountain into a flatter area where the Lord spent a good amount of time exercising healing and deliverance ministry among the greater crowd.
  4. Jesus preached The Sermon on the Mount to the 12 as their ordination sermon, with the greater crowd of disciples standing behind as witnesses.
The Sermon on the Mount is the most extensive message given in the New Testament on the principles of the Kingdom of God. In it, Jesus describes who is blessed in the kingdom, what is valuable treasure in the kingdom, and how to walk in the kingdom. If the summary of the Lord's preaching ministry was Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mat. 4:17), then the The Sermon on the Mount is the best illustration of what kind of repentance the Lord was calling for.
Furthermore, a close look at the sermon shows how intimately it is related to leadership. Jesus spoke blessings and curses over those who would teach these truths or ignore them. Jesus warned about trying to exercise authority over someone else and their presumed defects when we have the beam in our own eyes--this is usually uncritically explained as the Lord forbidding judgment. In reality, the Lord was setting a high standard for those in apostolic leadership who would be charged with keeping the gates of the kingdom. The Lord concluded the sermon with warnings of judgment against those that would preach and minister without a strong commitment to the Straight and Narrow Way that he had been describing.
We see that The Sermon on the Mount is thus the ministry mandate to those Jesus had ordained to leadership in his kingdom. Jesus was giving his apostolic leadership the kingdom message they would carry.

Return to the Mountain

Matthew 28:18-20 was not a random, chance meeting with the resurrected Lord. It was a scheduled meeting on the very mountain that the Lord had ordained his apostolic leaders some months prior. Once again, he would speak words of impartation and authority over his ordained leaders in the presence of a greater company of witnesses--thus ensuring the weight and gravity of their calling would forever remain with them. Understanding this setting is key to understanding what the Great Commission really is!
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you... This is obviously a reference back to The Sermon on the Mount. The Lord was reminding those entrusted with the kingdom keys, of the day when he laid on them the obligations of kingdom leadership. They were not to define their own ministries, but instead to propagate the kingdom truths that Jesus taught on that same mountain.
Go ye therefore, and teach [Gr. matheteuo = discipleall nations,... The Great Commission is the authorizing statement for the Church going into the world and bringing them under the discipline--discipleship--of the things the Lord taught in The Sermon on the Mount.  We do not keep the Great Commission by telling people God loves them and leading them in the sinner's prayer. The Great Commission can only be fulfilled after a person is converted. We keep the Great Commission when we utilize spiritual influence granted by the authority of the resurrected Christ to train people in the ways of the kingdom.

Parting Thoughts

Matthew 28:18-20 remains to this day the authorizing statement for apostolic ministry, who are delegated to spread the kingdom message that Christ initiated. The Great Commission is intimately related to apostolic ministry, because it makes direct reference to the ordination sermon that Christ first commissioned his chosen apostles with. The Great Commission assumes a leadership culture in which faithful Christian leaders are diligent to impart the timeless truths of Jesus, thus raising up new generations of kingdom leaders. 
I want to leave the following suggestions in light of what has been discussed.
  1. Every person who aspires to apostolic ministry must be a student of The Sermon on the Mount. This is our ordination sermon that describes the message we are to carry.
  2. The Great Commission carries the heaviest spiritual authority granted to mankind. It is based on the exalted authority of Christ himself. All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore... We are sent to bring all thoughts into captivity to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). Be assured the spiritual authority Christ intended for the Great Commission will not be present in power if we do not even understand what Christ was asking for. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Heavenly Offensive

The message of the Lord Jesus was summarized in the New Testament in one sentence: Repent! For the kingdom of heaven/God is at hand.1 This word was a radical departure from that of other religious teachers of the day because it spoke about the move of God in the present tense. The synagogue services of his day would reserve sections of their weekly programs for the reading of the law and prophets, respectively.2 They thus looked back to the deliverance God worked in the Exodus, but also longed for the future deliverance that Messiah would bring. Jesus stood among them and messed up their happy theological teeter-totter when he said, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears!3 Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of the law and prophets that the Jews were looking forward to, and this was a stumbling block to the religious leaders that led them to plot his death.

The ministry of Jesus was the earthly manifestation of a present spiritual offensive, in which heaven was invading earth. This fact is seen especially in Mark's account of the baptism of Jesus.
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened [Gr. schitzomenous], and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
(Mar 1:9-10)
All four of the gospels record that the heavens were opened at the baptism of Jesus, suggesting to us how important this event was to the early Church in understanding the advent of Christ. However, it is only Mark who used the Greek term schitzomenous4 to describe the event. This is a term that implies force, violence, and drama. In other words, the opening of the heavens was not a slow, peaceful moving of the clouds, but rather more like the whirlwind that took Elijah to heaven—or the tempest that came upon Mount Sinai when God came down to give the Law to Moses. The heavens were literally torn open in a violent manner, and those who were present would not soon forget the event.
The heavens being torn open at Jesus' baptism was a sign because the heavens held a particular meaning in the Old Testament prophets. This picture did not come out of left field. The lexicon of the prophets speaks about the heavens being a veil that separates God from his creation on earth. Psalm 104:2 states that God stretches out the heavens like a curtain. Isaiah 40:22 states the same thought in more detail—that God spreads out the heavens as a curtain or tent to dwell in. The thought is that God cannot be seen by mortal men because he is hidden by the the skies that separate heaven from earth.5
The Tabernacle idealized the partitioning of heaven and earth with its intricate linen veil. The veil was woven in the colors of the night sky and embroidered with artistic representations of flying angelic creatures. The outer court, representative of the earthly abode of men, was thus separated from the throne of God by a symbol of the heavens.
The tearing open of the heavens at the baptism of Christ was actually a prophetic event that had been written about by the Isaiah:
Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,
(Isa 64:1)
Isaiah longed for the time that God would rip open the partition that separated Him from His creation, and thereby break forth in the earth in redemptive acts of justice and judgment. The prophets in general looked for a time in which heaven would invade the earth. The New Testament prayer, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,6 is actually a concept from the Hebrew prophets—it speaks of the will of the Sovereign King above all kings being imposed on the formerly rebellious kingdoms of men here on earth in an act of triumph. We are therefore praying daily for heaven to invade earth.
The crowd that was gathered at the Jordan River on the day that Christ was baptized therefore saw the evidence that in the person of Jesus, heaven was invading earth. God would break forth out of His heavenly dwelling place to directly intervene in the affairs of men on earth through the ministry of His Son.
Notice that when heaven began its invasion of earth on that day, it was in the form of a dove. This is the great paradox of biblical Christianity. God has come in the person of Christ to conquer and reclaim his wayward creation—but the God who breaks forth out of the torn heavenly veil descends in the form of the most harmless of creatures. What is more harmless and peaceful than a dove, one of the international symbols of peace?
So the ministry of Jesus would be one of peace, in which he would teach humility, charity and forgiveness as keys to kingdom favor.7 But make no mistake—this peaceful ministry of Christ was an open attack on the strongholds of men and demons who had previously kept men in bondage to darkness. The religious leaders of his day recognized the threat to their kingdom from the Preacher of peace, and persecuted him accordingly. But the weapons of his warfare were not the same weapons that the children of the earth use. It would be by his sacrifice, rather than by his sword, that he would triumph over all principalities and powers.8

What are the implications to us today? We long for God to break forth in overwhelming power in our world, overthrowing the strongholds of darkness and sin. I believe we live in a season in which God is once again rending the heavens, coming down to do things through His servants which eyes have not seen and ears have not heard since the beginning of time.9 He is breaking forth in His people to do the greater works that Jesus predicted for his followers.10
Let us keep two things in mind:
First, God stepped through the torn heavenly veil to empower His Son before Christ had done any kingdom work. The favor shown at his baptism—Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased—this was entirely due to relationship, and not any work he had previously done. God shows favor on those who love and serve Him out of intimate relationship, not out of duty.
Second, the Spirit that conquers the strongholds of sin comes in the form of a dove. Readjust your spiritual vision to understand that peace and love are weapons that satan cannot stand against! This is not reconstituted 60's hippie-talk—this is truth. The Sermon on the Mount tells us what kind of character God puts His favor and blessing on. Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the peacemakers,... If God has not put His favor on the Church taking up swords to defend the faith, then neither has He put His favor on us taking up the carnal weapons of rhetoric and politics to try and fight His battles. We overcome by putting on the mind of Christ,11 that humbles us to become obedient, but leads to every knee bowing to the name of Jesus.

1Mat 4:17, Mk 1:15
2See Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim
3Lu 4:21
4Related words are Schism, schitzoid – words that indicate tearing or splitting.
5See also Gen 1:6-7, where the heaven is called the firmament, which is particularly described as the partition between earthly and heavenly things.
6Mat 6:10
7See the Sermon on the Mount, Mat 5-7.
8Col 2:15
9Is 64:1, 4. Lynn's paraphrase
10Joh 14:12

11Phil 2:5

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Essence of the Kingdom

I have believed for some time that the Lord's Prayer (more correctly, the Disciples Prayer--but I will use the more familiar term) is priestly in nature.
Matthew 6:9-13
(9)  After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
(10)  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
(11)  Give us this day our daily bread.
(12)  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
(13)  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Jesus was deliberate when instructing his followers to pray Our Father in heaven;..give us this day our daily bread;...lead us not into temptation;... The one who prays the Lord's prayer is praying on behalf of the larger Christian community and not only for his own sake. He is like a priest who is seeking the blessing of God over the community of those in covenant with the Creator.

The Lord's prayer has three petitions on behalf of the Church. They are for provision, peace and protection. (See how I cleverly started all three with the letter "P"?)  The request for daily bread is obviously for provision. The prayer for forgiveness is more than simply asking for our sins to be forgiven--it also regards the conscious release of those who have sinned against us from judgment. Thus, the prayer for forgiveness ultimately becomes a petition for peace in our personal relationships. The final petition to lead us not into temptation is clearly related to divine protection.

I don't believe the Lord intended for this prayer to be quoted. The power of the prayer is in the spirit of intercession that is implicit. When we pray in the spirit the Lord intended, we may use a good variety of terms and sentences to invoke the Divine blessing of provision, peace and protection on the family of God.

I have more recently come to see that there is a parallel between the three petitions in the Lord's Prayer and the priestly benediction given in Numbers 6:23-27. This blessing was to be pronounced by the priesthood over Israel at regular times (although scripture does not specify how often.)
Numbers 6:23-27
(23)  Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
(24)  The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
(25)  The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
(26)  The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
(27)  And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.
 Inasmuch as the priestly benediction has three invocations, it is easy to see the parallels to the Lord's prayer. Verse 24 puts the blessing of protection first. Verse 25 speaks of the provision of God in terms of graciousness. And finally, verse 26 invokes the blessing of peace, which was especially meaningful to Israel in their wilderness wanderings when surrounded by potentially hostile nations. The three blessings are not in the same order as they are found in the Lord's Prayer, but they are all present.

Get it now---the Lord's Prayer is the New Testament version of the priestly blessing on the Covenant Community.

This brings us to the closing line of the Lord's Prayer. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever... In light of what I've previously said, we can see that the Lord was indicating that the essence of the Kingdom of God involves the provision, protection and peace of those in covenant with God. Jesus was telling us that the three priestly blessings are the substance of the Kingdom.

This is similar to when Jesus said, Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Mar. 10:14.) I could paraphrase Matthew 6:13 like this: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for this is the kingdom you have prepared for us. 

This also sheds light on Matthew 6:33, where we are told to seek first the kingdom of God. We are truly seeking the kingdom of God when we are praying for the provision, protection and peace of the family of God. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to Prosper in the Kingdom

In my last blog entry, I contended that much of the Lord's teaching regarded prosperity--not the prosperity of the world, but prosperity in the Kingdom of God. Jesus wanted his followers to have the spiritual resources to conduct His business here on earth. I am not just looking forward to going to heaven someday to inherit a mansion on a street of gold--I am interested in possessing the Kingdom here and now for the glory of my King! I want to be a successful person in the Kingdom of God.

In the parable of the nobleman who went on a journey and left his servants with various sums of money to invest while he was gone, we see that the master returned to reward his servants according to how successfully they had invested and prospered with his money. This tells us that the Lord wants us to conduct successful business transactions in the Kingdom of God here and now--we have been given a great responsibility to multiply his wealth until he returns. The Lord's wealth is not silver and gold, or meat and drink. The wealth of the Kingdom of God is righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit  (Ro. 14:17). He will reward those who are faithful and wise to be prosperous with the Kingdom riches.

Fortunately, the servants of the King are not left to their own devices in this great responsibility. Jesus left us with instructions on how to multiply Kingdom wealth. Consider the following passages which are taken from the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:1-4, 6, 17-18
(1)  Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
(2)  Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
(3)  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
(4)  That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

(6)  But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

(17)  But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
(18)  That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
In this selection of scripture, Jesus gave three examples of how we can multiply Kingdom wealth. They regard charitable giving, praying and fasting. These three Christian disciplines are the fundamental exercises for the person who wants to succeed in the Kingdom life.

If you are hesitant to believe that the Lord was teaching about how to multiple Kingdom wealth, consider the scriptures that immediately follow and give context to the sayings about giving, prayer and fasting. Jesus was teaching about how to lay up treasure in heaven.
Matthew 6:19-20
(19)  Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
(20)  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
Jesus taught a simple principle that applies to all three disciplines. Jesus taught that when we give, pray and fast, it should be done in secret. When seen against the contrast of the hypocrites that love to give, pray and fast for the applause of others, it is clear that doing these things in secret involves our motives. We are not to exercise the Christian disciplines for the sake of human applause. Our offerings are to be for an audience of One--the Lord himself. When our motives are pure and we are exercising the Christian disciplines for the sake of the Lord and His Kingdom--and not for the sake of human applause--then Jesus promised that the Father would reward us openly.

Do you understand what that means? Jesus was not talking about a reward that would be given in the hereafter. He was talking about being rewarded here and now in the sight of others. When you give, pray and fast with the right motives, the Lord promises that your Kingdom capital will increase so that others will be able to perceive it. Others will see your prosperity.

Kingdom prosperity was on display when Peter said Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk! (Acts 3:6). The Lord rewarded the charity, prayers and fastings of the early Church with regular and open acts of healing and deliverance. Thus were the servants of the nobleman investing his talents and increasing his wealth.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Treasure in Heaven

What would you say if I told you that the Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7) was about prosperity? Or if I told you Jesus was a prosperity preacher?
In fact, these statements are true--they're just not true in the common definition of prosperity. The Sermon on the Mount, and indeed much of the Lord's teaching concerns how we can become wealthy in heaven's economy. Jesus was absolutely a prosperity preacher if you understand what prosperity really is in God's economy. In contrast, what passes for prosperity in the eyes of men holds very little value in the Kingdom of God.
Most Christians tend to read the passages where Jesus spoke about "treasure in heaven", and picture a heavenly reward after this life is over that consists of things that are valued in this world. Come on now, admit it--you have enjoyed singing songs about your heavenly mansion and the streets of gold. I'm not here to pick an argument over what our eternal reward in the next world will be, but I do want to suggest that much of what Christ was speaking about was meant to be apprehended and used here and now. Jesus meant for his followers to be spiritually rich--in the sense that they had the spiritual capital to conduct heaven's business here in this world.
Jesus left great promises to his Church--promises that whatsoever we asked in his name would be done (Jn 14:13). Some have thought of these promises as a blank check that has been signed by Christ himself. In other words, (according to the thought), all we have to do is fill in the check and cash it.
But consider two instances in the early Church. In Acts 19:13-16, the seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were attempting to cast out a demon "in the name of Jesus whom Paul preacheth." The demon's response exposed their spiritual lack of capital.
Acts 19:15-16
(15)  And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
(16)  And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Now compare this to Acts 3:1-8, where Peter and John were going to the temple to pray and were confronted with a cripple who was begging for money.
Acts 3:6-7
(6)  Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
(7)  And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
The contrast is clear: The seven sons of the priest were trying to cash a check they didn't have the spiritual capital to write. Their heritage as sons of a leading priest may have given them credibility in the eyes of men, but in the eyes of the spirit world they were unknown and without resources. The evil spirit asked them, Who are you?
On the other hand, Peter and John were wealthy men in the Spirit. They were walking in the teachings of Jesus Christ and prospering because of it. It is out of their spiritual capital that they can speak and heaven and earth must comply. Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee:... Freely they had received, and freely they gave.
In light of what you have just read, consider now the parable of the nobleman who went on a journey, and left behind his servants to do business with his money (Lu 19:12-27).
Luke 19:13 (NLT)
(13)  Before he left, he called together ten of his servants and divided among them ten pounds of silver, saying, 'Invest this for me while I am gone.'
Jesus is of course the nobleman who has temporarily left his servants in charge of his fortunes. We are the servants who have been given varied measures of the Lord's own capital. "...According as God hath dealt to each man the measure of faith" (Ro 12:3). We have been instructed to put the Lord's resources to work and make a profit for him while he is gone. The Lord wants us to prosper with his resources while he is away. When he returns, he will reward and judge according to how we have handled his finances.
Remember that the currency of heaven is not silver and gold. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Ro 14:17).
My next blog will discuss the ways in which Jesus taught us to prosper. I think you will be surprised at how much of a prosperity teacher Jesus really was!

Friday, July 13, 2012

To Worship in Spirit and Truth

John 4:23
(23)  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
I've recently been reading in the Old Testament, and have been much impressed that behind all the ceremonial symbolism of the sacrificial system, there is a principle of worship that transcends into the New Covenant. That principle is to rejoice and be thankful.

The Law's Command to Rejoice and Give Thanks

Deuteronomy 26 gives instructions for the covenant people to bring their first fruits and their tithes before God. There were specific prayers and confessions that were commanded to be made when these offerings were brought before God. For example, when giving their first fruits to the LORD, they were to say a prayer that confessed how God had redeemed them from Egyptian bondage and brought them into the land of promise. They were to confess that they had thus brought the first fruits of the land before the LORD, as evidence of His faithfulness to His promise to the fathers. They were then to set the basket down and worship before the LORD.
Deuteronomy 26:10-11
(10)  And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O LORD, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God:
(11)  And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.
The command to be thankful and rejoice was not to be taken lightly. Deuteronomy 28 contains the long list of curses that would fall on the covenant people if they were unfaithful to the commands of God. But curiously, toward the end of the curses, God gives the primary reason for his displeasure as a lack of joy and thankfulness among His people.
Deuteronomy 28:46-47
(46)  And they [the curses] shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever.
(47)  Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things;
When we read this, could we conclude that a lack of thankfulness is the root behind much, if not all of the unfaithfulness that God's covenant children exhibit?

Thanksgiving in the Tabernacle of David

David is a name that is rightly associated with worship. Although a warrior and king, worship was his passion as evidenced by his organization of the 5 books of the Psalter, and especially by his organization of the worship surrounding the Ark of the Covenant. In the act of bringing the Ark of the Covenant home from the land of the Philistines, David orchestrated the processional march to be a joyful worship celebration.
1 Chronicles 15:25
(25)  So David, and the elders of Israel, and the captains over thousands, went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the house of Obededom with joy.
The joyful celebration would not end when David brought the Ark back home to the covenant people. The king who was also the nation's worship leader had a special tent pitched for the Ark close to his own home. At this site, David appointed permanent shifts of singers and musicians to continue the celebration and thanksgiving every day, and every hour of the day.
1 Chronicles 16:4-6
(4)  And he appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, and to record, and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel:
(5)  Asaph the chief, and next to him Zechariah, Jeiel, and Shemiramoth, and Jehiel, and Mattithiah, and Eliab, and Benaiah, and Obededom: and Jeiel with psalteries and with harps; but Asaph made a sound with cymbals;
(6)  Benaiah also and Jahaziel the priests with trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God.

Jesus and the Lifestyle of Joy and Thanksgiving

It is easy enough to see the emphasis on thanksgiving and rejoicing that Jesus made. A quick search of the concordance will reveal the word "rejoice" and "thanksgiving" used repeatedly in the context of Jesus' ministry. But I think the most telling passage is how the resurrected Christ was revealed to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two disciples did not recognize who Christ was until they sat down to eat together and Christ blessed the food (Lu. 24:30-31). Blessed is translated from the Greek word eulogeo, which means to give solemn thanks. Luke 24:35 specifically relates that the disciples finally recognized the Lord in the breaking of bread--i.e. they recognized the way Christ gave thanks for their meal. This could only be true because Jesus was a man who regularly gave heartfelt praise and thanksgiving to the Father.

What Does it Mean to Worship in Spirit and in Truth?

I have a pentecostal background, and as most folks know, the worship services in the churches of my youth were lively. We were blessedly free from the stodginess that has been known to grip many older denominations. We also were sometimes guilty of ridiculous excesses (I have witnessed legs being broken in some pentecostal services that got so out of control as to become more like a circus than a religious gathering.)
We were always quick to point out (only sometimes with a prideful heart) that Christ said that true worshipers would worship in spirit and in truth. I fully believed then that worship in spirit and truth looked like a pentecostal church service--loud and unashamedly emotional.
I still prefer worship that is expressive and unbound. I appreciate the beauty and tradition of some liturgical worship traditions, but I am only at home when I am free to raise my hands and shout, or bow my head and cry.
But I no longer maintain that we are worshiping in spirit and truth just because we clap our hands or shout in the church house. We do not fulfill the Lord's word regarding worship just because we pray in tongues, or practice any other of the many legitimate pentecostal/charismatic expressions of worship. (Neither do I maintain that we are worshiping in truth, because we presume to have correct doctrine--this is a source of terrible religious pride that I have first hand experience with).
The Lord has led me to understand that true worshipers lead a lifestyle of joy and thanksgiving. This is the doctrinal truth about covenant worship that is presented in the Old Testament. We worship in doctrinal truth when we confess the goodness of God in our daily lives, and not just in our corporate meetings.We worship in spirit when our confession comes from a heart of honesty and integrity, and not just from our trained lips.
Just as the Old Testament Israelites could go through the motions of bringing their offerings to God, yet their hearts could be far from Him, so can we go through the motions of worship without our hearts being truly thankful. You can jump and shout and run the isles (if your church permits it!), and still not worship God in spirit and truth if you are not living a lifestyle of joy and thanksgiving.
I have made the commitment to honor God with a joyful heart and thanksgiving at all times, notwithstanding my circumstances. I am reminded of the warning by the Apostle that men would be unthankful in the last days (2 Tim 3:2). I choose to follow the command to rejoice and give thanks in every circumstance according to the will of God.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
(16)  Rejoice evermore.
(17)  Pray without ceasing.
(18)  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.