Empty Space?

As the KJV of the bible quaintly puts it (in 1 Corinthians 13), when it comes to heavenly things “we see as in a glass darkly”.  Or as the NLT puts it more clearly (pun intended): “we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror”.

I wonder, though, which unseen world we see more clearly, this physical one or the heavenly spiritual one?

The reason I ask is because scientists tell us that the world is mainly empty space.

Even the most solid of things contain more emptiness thanatoms-spaced-2 substance.  The main guy to find this out was Ernest Rutherford.  We can probably trust him and the others who have observed and proved this for many years now

The bible says that God fills all in all.

So what are you seeing?  The world as it is, filled with God’s Spirit and not much else?

Or just the really, really insubstantial physical things around you?

And what are you trusting in?  The evidence of your eyes or the Truth?

Jesus said:  “I am the Truth…” (John 14:6)

Jesus’ life better than Adam’s sin

In Romans 5 Paul states something a bit obvious – Jesus life is more powerful than Adam’s sin in its effects.

12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.  Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did.

Bad news, it only took one man’s sin for death to enter the world and for everyone to die.  We see that around us all the time.  The inevitability of death stares every man in the face no matter how good they are.

17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

I find it difficult to understand how the free gift of new life for everyone can be greater than Adam’s sin if, in fact, it doesn’t apply to everyone.  What I mean is, death applies to everyone so therefore life must also apply to everyone for it to be greater.  That seems obvious enough.

So I would argue from this and from Scriptures concerning the Book of Life, that the default position of every man is that they are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life because of Jesus’ death on the Cross.  You have to have your name erased from the Book of Life to lose that life.  Only Overcomers are guaranteed that that won’t happen to them (see Exodus 32:32 and Rev. 3:5).

However if you want to appropriate and see the effects of that life in this world then you need to receive it now.  Actually, if you are reading this don’t take the risk and presume you are there.  Make sure you are experiencing the reality of the love of Christ in your life now.  The only people who can really be assured they are in the Book of Life now are those who can hear God the Father’s whisper in their heart to which they respond: “Abba, Father”.  No amount of thinking it can give that assurance.

But let God be gracious in your heart, He is not willing that any should perish.  Who knows, perhaps the exclusive evangelical doctrine which says that every man must believe biblical-truththe way we do to be saved is not quite right after all?

Let us not think that everyone around us is going to hell just because they don’t go to our church.  God knows their hearts, very often we don’t.

Faith

“If we emphasize faith does that mean we can forget about the law?”  Paul asks at the end of Romans 3.  And then he answers himself:  “Of course not!  In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.”

It seems to me that the first 4 chapters of Romans are primarily about sin, law and faith and the relationship between all three.  And up to now we have learned that we all sin, that the law doesn’t help but instead just makes the sin more obvious and that faith is somehow the answer to it all.  Paul has also introduced the concept of grace/ undeserved favour. In chapter 4 Paul tries to explain faith using Abraham as an example.

First of all it is as well to establish that Abraham was a sinner.  He mistrusted God on at least two occasions we know of and put Sarah in a compromised position, he had a child by his wife’s servant – as well as several other liaisons.  He also committed murder on several occasions – or at least he was involved in war – and would have killed his own son if God hadn’t stopped him.  By the way, it looks like Sarah had had enough after that incident since we don’t see her with him again until she is dead.  You wouldn’t blame her for not wanting to stay with a man who said God told him to kill their son.

But the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”  Abraham, just like us, needed a saviour – a God who forgives sinners.  And it was the trusting relationship with God that enabled God to pass on that forgiveness to him.  There was no way he could be with God, believing God, and not be forgiven since he couldn’t stand before God’s holiness except in a place of forgiveness.

“Oh what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.  Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin!”  as David says.  Another man who needed a saviour.

The death of Jesus looks back as well as forward in its effects.

None of us

“No one is righteous – not even one.

No one is truly wise;

No one is seeking God.

All have turned away; all have become useless.

No one does good, not a single one.”

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands.  The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.  And this is true for everyone who believes no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous.  He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins.  For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin.  People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood.”

The above is extracted from Romans 3 (NLT in case you didn’t recognize it).  It seems Paul wrote the first two chapters of Romans to make sure that he set the standard of God’s requirements out of reach for both the irreligious and the religious alike.  As he says later on: “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.” (Romans 11:32 NLT).  Which must surely be one of the most mind boggling statements in the Bible.  No wonder Paul goes on to say: “How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways!”

But understanding it all is not where it is at.  Believing and trusting in Him is.

Having said that Paul gives understanding its best shot in Romans.  I personally like that.

The Descent of Man

It is several decades now since the popular BBC documentary series called “The Ascent of Man” was aired.  Not for the first time it shows evolutionary ideas at odds with the Scripture.

Romans 1:18-32 speaks about the descent of man.  Man starts by knowing God but then starts the descent. First of all men suppress the knowledge of God, they do not worship Him and do not even give Him thanks.  Then their minds become dark and confused as they begin to think up foolish ideas of what God is like.  They traded the truth of God for a lie and they worship idols and created things rather than the creator.

As a result God abandons them over to their heart’s desires.  So they do vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies including homosexuality.  Then comes a long list including: greed, envy, quarreling, deception, gossip, disobeying parents, refusing to understand and breaking promises.  God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die.

So count me in, I too deserve to die.

Thankfully it doesn’t end there.

Biblical Rejoicing

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2)

Biblical rejoicing has nothing to do with being happy or experiencing pleasure and everything to do with faith.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,” (1 Peter 1:6-8)

We rejoice because we believe.  Our rejoicing in trial proves our faith.snoopy-joy

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great;”  (Matthew 5:11-12 – a beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount)

As an example of rejoicing in adversity consider this testimony of a brother of two of the Egyptian martyrs beheaded by ISIS in Libya a few weeks back.

I had a bit of a sore leg today and I was trying out the rejoicing from within that the Holy Spirit seems to always be doing in me, if I’d but listen.  Seemed to work.  I had this curious sense of experiencing the pain and considering it a joy though not enjoying the experience in any sensual way:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Rejoice always!

Finally my brethren rejoice!

He who Overcomes, Part 3: Heaven is for Real

heaven

There is no point in me talking about the promises to overcomers unless you also share my understanding of what the Scriptures say about heaven.  Overcomers are at the end of their sometimes long, and always testing, journey with the Lord and are looking forward to rewards.  A lot of these rewards are related to the next life so it is good to know a bit more about that.  Scripture is full of revelations about heaven.

First let us draw a (biblical) distinction between the heaven and earth that now exists (2 Peter 3:5-7) and that which is to come, i.e. the new heaven and new earth:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  (Rev. 21:1).

(I’ve written in an another article about the significance of the mention of a sea in this verse.)

Everyone who lives on it is familiar with this old earth and the heaven we can see in all its glory around us on a starry night.  Most people also vaguely think about heaven in terms of where they might go when they die.  Very few think about the distinctions between the old and new heaven and even fewer think about the implications of there being a new earth to come.

nature_clouds_heaven_019281_

Heaven Now.

Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:2-4 that he knew someone (evidently himself) that was caught up to the third heaven or paradise. This implies that there are three heavens.  The rest of Scripture would lead one to believe that the first one is the heavens we see around us physically (Psalm 8:3), the second is where the prince of the power of the air and other various spirits rule (Ephesians 6:12).  The third is where God, Christ (and us in Christ) are seated.  There is an authoritarial hierarchy to these heavens, the third rules over the second and first, and the second rules over the first.

There is also a connection between each of these heavens and predestination and free will.  From the view point of the third heaven everything is predestined – we ought to live in that as much as possible (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-25) – the devil looks up from the second heaven and knows his time is short and manipulates all he can in the first.  The first is all most people see and they think from there that their choices determine everything – as indeed they do.

Do you believe in predestination or free will?  The answer is yes.

Of course only God can make all three views true at the same time.  Equally, because all three viewpoints are true we quickly reach the inadequacy of intellectual comprehension and rational thought to describe it all.  I don’t have a problem with that.  I’ll continue to use my mind anyway whilst knowing its limits.

As far as the third heaven is concerned there are others who have gone into it and returned.  Jesus of course came from it and returned to it.  The others went to it and returned from it like Paul.  Moses looked into it when he went to the top of Mount Sinai and copied what he saw when he made the tabernacle (Exodus 24 – 31 and Hebrews 5:5).  Daniel saw Jesus presenting His blood to the Father on the mercy seat after His resurrection (Daniel 7:13-14, Hebrews 9:16 – 10:22), Isaiah saw the throne room and got his sins forgiven there (Isaiah 6:1-7) and Ezekial saw the motorised version of the Lord’s throne (Ezekial 1).  Zechariah saw Jesus there (Jesus in Greek = Joshua in Hebrew) (Zechariah 3-4).  Stephen looked into it when he was being stoned (Acts 7:55, 56). However the person who gives us the most detailed description of what it looks like is John in Revelation.  As homework, look up each of the passages above and note down all the similarities between what each of them saw.  I think  you will find that the same place is being described in each case.

[I’m quite convinced that others have gone to the third heaven and returned since like Colton Burpo (of Heaven is for Real) but, while interesting, I don’t think we need to go outside Scriptural examples to prove the point.]

picture-for-heaven-blog-post

The new heaven is not of this creation.  In the sequence of events detailed in Revelation 20-22, the old heaven and earth are done away with, the great white throne judgement occurs and then the new heaven and earth are ushered in.  There is a three fold aspect to this new heaven also.  The new heaven exists on the new earth, the new earth holds the third heaven (or inner sanctum) which is the heavenly Jerusalem.  Which of these heavens we can enter into can be deduced from the messages to the overcomers as well as other Scriptures which I shall deal with later in this series.

And of course there is the lake of fire also.  We’ll deal with that a bit too.

I’m going to write this disclaimer at the end of the rest of this series:  Always remember, I could be wrong about anything I write here (1 Cor. 8:2).  Let the Holy Spirit instruct you and not me (Hebrews 8:11).  And ask your pastor or whoever you trust in this kind of thing if you need to.

He Who Overcomes Part 2: What is an Overcomer?

Everyone who loves the Lord is called by Him to be a disciple, next they are called to become a saint and then an overcomer. There is progression but there are also so many similarities between these terms that they could be thought of as similes. A disciple is a follower of Jesus, a saint is in fellowship with the Church and an overcomer keeps on coming over and over again to the Lord, s/he perseveres.word_of_god_jesus1

The Scriptures are only really written for disciples/ saints/ overcomers. It is unlikely that you will read them consistently, over and over again unless you are one. Only those who love the Lord will continue to receive from Him the freshness of His speaking through them. Saints don’t have to read the Scripture but they will probably want to. It has a way of getting in on you when you love Him. But like anything else it would be a mistake to be prescriptive about these things. A disciple doesn’t have to read the Scripture to be in a living and ongoing relationship with Jesus. But if you can read it you probably will if you are an overcomer.

So as you read through the New Testament note the progression and similarities between disciples, saints and overcomers. An overcomer comes last in the progression. As you persevere in being a disciple and a saint you become entitled to be called an overcomer – or at least you do if you persevere to the end, until the day you die in Christ.  As we explore the promises to overcomers we will see why that is important.

For those interested in this kind of thing, the word for overcomer in the Greek has the same root as nike – the brand that took its inspiration from the Greek god of victory. There is a finality to it which is very fitting.

To be continued …

He Who Overcomes, Part 1: A way to interpret Revelation

Some people say Revelation is purely symbolic.

Some people say it is literal.

Personally I consider most of the images of Revelation open to a literal interpretation, i.e. it was literally what events on earth looked like from the vantage point of heaven to a human transported there (i.e. John).

John is in the third heaven where Paul went, the same place Moses saw from the mountain and others like Daniel and Isaiah also saw.  He is in eternity looking down at events on earth occurring in time.  There is bound, even for this reason alone, to be considerable differences between what he saw of the same events in comparison to someone viewing them from an earthly viewpoint and in time.

I also believe that he was looking at the spiritual rather than the physical bodies of each participant.

This should make the imagery in Revelation more easily understood (perhaps ….).

Here are some thoughts:
Rising from the SeaThe sea is how time looks and it also gives a spiritual view of events on earth – c.f. Rev. 13, Daniel 7:2.  All the images in Revelation to do with this earth and time arise from the Sea.  In Chapter 13:1 we see a spiritual being (the dragon or Satan) standing on the shore of the Sea.  Jesus is of course enthroned above the Sea, seated at the right hand of the Father.

Animals represent creatures/ corporations with no relationship with God.

Humans represent creatures/ corporations capable of a relationship with God.

Corporations in this sense are collectives of people with one spirit, e.g. nations, empires, etc.

When Revelation speaks of life and death it is normally spiritual life and death that is meant. Of course, this is far more important than physical life and death (see Matt. 5:29-30).

Revelation can be very hard to understand. John was in the spirit in eternity. Does Revelation make more sense if what John saw and describes are actually the spirits of nations, empires and kings and not physical views of those things? What if the sequence of events recorded in Revelation is not in time (where it is linear) but in eternity (the events happen more like a disk)?

In particular take note of Rev. 15:2 – those who can be seen rising up and standing on the Sea and praising God, I believe this is us the Church worshiping here and now.

Seared Consciences

…seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron. 1 Tim 4:2

an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. 3“These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.…  John 16:2,3

Oswald Chambers in his book “Biblical Psychology” describes conscience as being like the eye that colours everything we see depending on how it is enlightened.  He says (Chapter 16, section 1):

“Probably the best illustration of conscience is the human eye.  The eye records what it looks at, and conscience may be pictured as the eye of the soul recording what it looks at, and, like the eye, it will always record exactly what it is turned towards.”

He then talks about how we can look at something with the human eye and interpret what we see based on our experience of similar things we have looked at in the past – therefore not seeing with innocence.  Therefore,

“The recording power of conscience may be distorted or perverted and conscience itself may be seared.”

He then uses another analogy about how things can look differently depending on the colour of the light you are looking at it in:

“Then again,green-eye-afghan-girl-national-geographic if you throw a white light on trees, the eye records that the trees are green; if you throw a yellow light on the trees, the eye records that the trees are blue; if you throw a red light on trees, the eye records that the trees are brown.  Your logical faculties will tell you all the time that the trees are green, but the point of the illustration is that the eye has no business other than to record what it looks at; and it is the same with conscience.”

Or in other words, conscience is to the soul what the eyes are to the body.  Hence the reason Jesus talks about the “eye” of the body being clear in Matthew 6:22:

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23“But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!…”05-Eye-Soul-Beauty

This verse doesn’t just make literal sense, it also makes sense if you substitute conscience for eye and body for soul.  In fact that is probably the main way Jesus meant it to be understood:

“The conscience is the lamp of the soul; so then if your conscience is clear, your whole soul will be full of light. 23“But if your conscience is bad, your whole soul will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!…”

Note that the eye/ conscience is the lamp but not the light itself.  It is just a carrier of the light recording what goes through it.  A bad conscience or eye can be that way because of what is going through it – though in some ways the analogy begins to break down at this point.

But we can see from these verses that having a good conscience is so important.  Just like a bad eye leaves the body in darkness, so a bad conscience leaves the soul in the same way.  You can also mistake the little light you have that is in you as being the light you should live by.  As Jesus points out “how great is that darkness!”

We see this all the time in the lives of the muslim fanatics.  Their consciences are bad since they have been taught that doing evil is good.  Ask a fanatic Muslim what should happen to a convert from Islam to Christianity and they will tell you that he should be killed and that by his older brother.  Hence the fear that rules in those societies where this is believed.  And hence their bad consciences.

Oswald goes on to illustrate how much the conscience can be affected and how unreliable it can be by giving the example of the Apostle Paul (chapter 16, section 1. c):

” “I verily thought with myself,” i.e., according to conscience, “that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). If conscience is the voice of God, we have a nice problem to solve!  Saul was the acme of conscientiousness.”

Then he goes on to say: “It is not sufficient for a Christian to live up to the light of his conscience; he must live in a sterner light, the light of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So we shouldn’t be surprised at ISIS or other evil fanatics considering that they are doing the right thing for God and believing it to death.  It doesn’t change the fact that the light that is in them is darkness.

Our only hope is that they will encounter Jesus like Paul did and repent:

“I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17.

As in all things, the local church of Jesus Christ on the ground in these places is the only hope they have.  By contrast, US and Israeli arms will just send them to hell quicker.

My prayer is that my brethren who are being crucified and suffering in the Middle East will not do so in vain and that in their suffering they will also know the overwhelming comfort of Jesus as they go to be with Him.