Agonizomai: April 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Topical Self-Check
Time for another of those periodic Wordle checks to see what the main words and themes have been on this blog most recently. And here is the result as of April 23, 2009:

God, Love, Lord, Church and Christ seem to be dominant. Sounds almost Christian, doesn't it? To our Emerg*** friends I apologize for the fact that the word "know" appears so prominently; I'm still working on my epistemological humility. [/sarcasm]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rev 2:8-9 - Smyrna the Persecuted Church
The True Lot of the Blessed

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Rev 2:8-9 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

Right up front in addressing this suffering pastor and church comes the reminder of who it is that comforts them and how He is uniquely qualified to do so. This is the comfort of all the saints - that we shall rise again as He Himself did. His resurrection is the guarantee of our very own. And not only that, but it brings about the removal of the fear of death. He has the power and the right to raise us. He is the first and the last. He was before all things and through Him all things were made. He is called, amongst other things, "Mighty God and Everlasting Father" (Isaiah 9:6). The implication is that His appearance in history in the form of a man Who came to die and rise again of His own power, taking up His life again as He promised His disciples He would - this appearance is irrefutable and comforting.

The Smyrnans (and we ourselves) are reminded that it was God Himself Who came and died (as a man) and rose again. It was God Who suffered so that we would be made free in Him through the obedience of faith. The bad news of their imminent and very real suffering is put into perspective against the backdrop of the infinite humility, condescension and love of God Himself. Eternity with Him is but days away.

To people like most of us it would be a dreadful thing to be given the means and time of our death - because our faith and our love are weak, or because we are worldlier than we like to think. But to convinced saints who are abiding in the love of Christ it is good news. It is something to be embraced with a certain joy. 10 days and they will be with the Master and lover of their souls! To be sure, because they are human their joy is undoubtedly mixed with a measure of trepidation. Such occasions give opportunity for the devil to probe our faith and love for the Lord.

But they also, under the divine sovereignty and providence, are the means by which the last fruits of grace are communicated and formed in the soul before becoming forever fixed in us in heaven. Until the very end Christ is working still to perfect His own according to His eternal plan and power. We shall die when and how He decides. Until then we are invincible. This is comfort to the person of faith.

There is here a direct contrast with the Laodicean church. The Smyrnans were a church under great persecution occasioned by rabid Jewish opposition. It was at Smyrna that the Christian martyr Polycarp was killed. Desiring him to be thrown to the lions for his faith in Christ, but frustrated by the obstacles to such a sentence, the Jews rejoiced when he was condemned to be burned, and even carried the faggots to his pyre. The Smyrnan believers had been socially and economically oppressed also. Property confiscations, ostracisation, discrimination in business - all had their part in the persecution of the Way at Smyrna.

But how we see that, though some may have gone out from among them, those that were left were of pure and tried mettle, ready for more tempering in the furnace of God’s sanctifying, chastening love. Though wealth itself is not to be despised, it is deceitful and engenders a love for the things of the world that underlies all evil in the hearts and minds of the unwatchful. There are comparatively few noble and wealthy in the kingdom. God has chosen the base and the mean things of the world to confound the mighty and the proud so that no flesh should glory in His presence. There are those who are poor-rich, like the Laodiceans, and there are those who are rich-poor, like these Smyrnans. The Smyrnans would have considered themselves blessed indeed to be so poor, knowing that such poverty and tribulation were manifested under the watchful, limiting, loving permission of the Lord Who had died and come to life.

Whenever and wherever the saints are undergoing tribulation (persecution), poverty and slander you can be sure that the Lord God Almighty is working in glorious power, putting to shame the demons of hell through the faith at work in His children. It is faith lived out that glorifies God. It is that heart and mind that loves Him more and better and deeper in the midst of the onslaught of the very gates of hell because it sees that in the very weakness of mere humanity the power of the risen Christ is made manifest to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places - both good and evil. It is not mainly for us that the heavenly angels are cheering - as Lucado would have us believe in his book "The Applause of Heaven." No! It is praise and blessing and honour and glory power to the Name that is above all names on Whose account, by Whose grace and in Whose power it is all brought to pass.

This is what utterly mystifies and terrifies the enemy - the grace and love and power of God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. It is not we, the recipients of grace and mercy, at whom the demons tremble. It is not we, the powerless, helpless freed captives that the devil fears, but the Almighty, Holy, Just God who has bound the strong man and robbed his house. Christ has removed the barrier, torn the curtain, demolished the roadblock that kept the holiness of God from embracing sinful man. It is simply and alone our faith in this fact through which the whole power and treasury of heaven is unleashed to manifest the victory of Christ in the world. He was made manifest to set at naught the works of the devil. Our fight is with spiritual tools - salvation, faith, imputed righteousness, the truth, the gospel of peace , the Word of God - all wrapped in prayer. The work of God to which we have been separated is, as Christ said, " believe in the One Whom He has sent." (John 6:29) This belief is no passive thing. It is a belief that strains mightily to abide in the love of God and to trust Him to remove every obstacle within that dulls the abiding of His love in us and thus, its expression through us.

And these Smyrnans are right in the midst of the fray. Trusting in God and in His eternal and infinite love in Christ while the whole world surrounding them is malevolently bent on their destruction. They know the true nature of the conflict. Each human is accountable to God for believing God or not. But the Smyrnans know that they are fighting against the powers of darkness that motivate and urge their persecutors to give in to their own corrupt natures and release their blood lust. Is it the saints they hate? Yes and no. They hate the saints for Who is in them. They are persecuting and robbing and killing Christ Himself because whoever does it unto the least of one of His little ones does it unto Him. He is in them and they in Him.

The fear of God is indeed the beginning of wisdom. Who but God could take enemies like us and bring about in us the obedience of faith by leading us into trials and tribulations, temptations and persecutions? Who could take our evil and turn it to good and, while He is doing it, be manifesting His victory through frail and powerless vessels to the immense spiritual powers and forces of darkness that are at enmity with Him? What answer can there be to such manifold wisdom and power? Surely every mouth will indeed be stopped and every knee will bow at the Name of Jesus to the glory of God the Father. Amen!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are You an "I" Witness or an Eyewitness?
I've published this piece on my blog once before, without the audio. I'm re-publishing it now because it sort of parallels the thoughts in parts of this study that relate to emphasis and the motivation in the Christian life.

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The word “witness” is an integral part of the Christian faith. It comes from the same Greek root as the word “martyr” . Martyrs are so called because their actions are regarded as a witness to the Lord for Whom they are dying. In a legal sense a witness is a person who testifies in court as to what he or she has observed. But it is the observation itself that makes them a witness and not the fact that they are called to testify. Their calling is the result of what they have seen, and the characterization of them by the name “witness” refers to what they saw, and not just the fact that they are testifying to it.

Perhaps the best way to look at it is to decide if “witness” is an active or a passive verb. In the world, people generally don’t like to be thought of as passive, so they sometimes turn passive words into active ones in order to feel as though they themselves are accomplishing something. Even Christians, when they go out to share the gospel, often speak of the act of sharing that they themselves perform as “witnessing”. But that is a misuse of the word. What they are doing is testifying to what they have witnessed. They are bearing witness i.e. being the bearers of testimony of what they have seen done by Another. The active part is in the telling, but the observation about which they are witnessing is entirely passive. Somebody else did it all.

So - to witness is really to observe what someone else does. Though many Christians might never openly agree to this, they nevertheless confirm it by using language that describes what the Lord did and is doing in their lives. The logical extension of the passive understanding of Christian witness is that we do nothing more than relate Jesus Christ and what He has already done, or what He is currently doing.

In the court of heaven there are no star witnesses. The witnesses only matter insofar as they testify to the truth of Him Whom they have observed. We are not “I” witnesses, but merely “eyewitnesses” to the glory and grace, the mercy and majesty of Christ.

But there is a deeper sense in which may we tend to be “I” witnesses when we are only eyewitnesses. That is in the experience of our own salvation and sanctification. We may subscribe to the idea that we have nothing that we did not receive, but still cling to the deception that we deserve to be credited with using it once we have received it. We may say that we died with Christ but still want to be alive enough to live for God as if we could give to, or add to, or increase Him somehow.

We should want to do our part in response to what He has done. But then we can misunderstand what our part is. Our mistaken response to what God has done is often to live for Christ instead of letting Him live in us. Our proper response is actually to lose our life entirely. What does that mean? I think it means nothing more nor less than to carry on being witnesses. Not just witnesses for Christ, but to witness Him in us. To continue to watch as He works in and through us, and to worship Him as He does it all before our eyes.

Living containers, vessels and even temples have no knowledge at all, except that of observing what goes on inside them. Vessels receive and are emptied. Temples are adorned, cleaned and maintained, beautified and worshipped in. But neither vessels nor temples do the filling and emptying, the adorning, cleaning, maintaining or beautifying. Similarly, it is not we, but God who does all in us and through us. Even the worship we do is a gift from Him – I might even say of Him.

We are witnesses of what He is doing. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works that He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. It is God Who justifies , Who saves for His own sake , Who sanctifies and Who finishes in us the good work that He started. It is He who is able to make us stand. He is our salvation.

He is doing the same thing in countless people, salting and preserving the world according to His wisdom, and the counsels of His own will from eternity, saving those whom He wills – those whom the Father has given and drawn to and created in Christ Jesus. He is making us into the sweet savour of Christ amongst those who are being saved and the stench of death to those who are perishing.

And when we are dead enough, when we have lost our life entirely, when He is fully and finally enthroned in us, in all of His power and majesty by the Spirit – then we will truly be His witnesses. For we shall be nothing more than vessels, holding our own selves in check through our living death, while we observe what God Himself does both in and through us. There will be no boasting. No creature pride. Only the sense of being lost in wonder, love and praise.

Mercy! How will anything ever get done when we behave this way? If we are not charging about to do things for Him, witnessing, doing works of mercy and grace then who will go? Surely the Christian life cannot be that passive? I tell you – if we would only get out of His way we would witness Him doing things in and through us that would be greater than the works Jesus did when He was here as one of us.

Do we want to be “I” witnesses, where we tell of what He has done and then hijack the process that He has already shown to be perfect by taking over ourselves? Or do we want to be eyewitnesses of what He will continue to do in and through the whole body, including that part which is us?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rev 2:7 - Ephesus the Steadfast Church
The Way and Reward of Overcomers

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Rev 2:7 He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

It sounds very much like we had better overcome by dint of our own effort or we will lose our salvation. Actually, it sounds even more like we had better overcome if we want salvation in the first place. The language is pretty clear. But sound hermeneutics says that Bible cannot contradict itself. And since there are numerous places in the Bible that speak of the eternal security of the believer we must not take this verse alone - but rather inquire as to what conquering means, and what it entails.

Well, here the Greek "nikao" speaks of the believer being steadfast in faith until the end. And it is true that only those who are steadfast until the end will be saved. But is this steadfastness their own? Are they able to boast that they withstood when others fell away? Or is something or someone else at work here? Take a look at the following verse:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." {Re 12:10-11}
The blood of the lamb is the freely given soul-cleansing, guilt removing life of Christ, imparted to His people. So they overcome not by dint of something they have "of themselves," but by something they were given freely. They overcome not by their own lives, but by the life of Christ in them. This life is communicated by the Holy Spirit to every true believer and He never leaves nor forsakes His Own.

But note also that they overcame by "the word of their testimony". What can this mean? It simply means that they declared what Christ had done in them. They declared what Christ had done for them - not what they were doing for Christ. And they did so (especially in the historical context of the Revelation of John) by holding steadfastly to their faith regardless of the external threats, tribulations and persecution that were stirred up by the enemy.

And so we hopefully see that those who conquer are those who God purposed and empowered to conquer. Some who seem strong may eventually prove to be not the real deal. Others who are weak may endure through their weakness. Because the certainty of salvation is received only through faith in what God has already done and imparted to His people, it requires that believers keep pressing onward and upward in Biblical hope of the sure and certain resurrection from the dead. The fruit of the indwelling spirit must be evident, and be increasing for assurance to be known.

So, all of our effort achieves nothing when we think it is in our power that we do it. But when we abide in the knowledge that God is at work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure because of the life of Christ given and actually imparted to us - then our eyes are always upon God and never upon ourselves. True religion does not deny personality, but it calls for the focus of every person to be upward and outward.

But if only those who conquer are granted to eat of the tree of life, how can they have the overcoming life in the first place? If the life depends on the evidence of the victory of faith - then where does the power to attain that victory come from? Well, the Tree of Life is, of course, Jesus - the second Person of the godhead. Life is in Him and is imparted to those who are His. He is at one and the same time the One who justifies the ungodly, the One who, by the Spirit, sanctifies those who are chosen and called - and the One Who glorifies them with Him forever. As life is in Him and, because He is eternal, then eternal life is also in Him. He is the tree in which we abide and from which we eat forever. We are the fruit of His branches, nurtured and eternally sustained by His eternal life.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sermon of the Week - Elder Authority
The following message from John Neufeld of Willingdon Church, Burnaby, BC is very appropriate to the present study in Revelation. It was delivered at a conference at the church called "reFocus Canada" for which there is a separate blog site here.

The session is all about the nature of eldership, the call to eldership and the responsibilities of eldership. I only wish there had been such understanding at some of churches I have attended in the past. And while I might have some very minor quibbles with some things he says he is, by and large, right on the money - touching on such hot potatoes as "female eldership" and the duty of elders to not only feed the sheep, but also to guard them against the wolves. This is a great listen and very helpful to understanding how God's appointed hierarchy actually works in the local church.


John Neufeld

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Seeker Sensitivity - Owen Style

If thou intendest to go any farther, I would entreat thee to stay here a little. If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again, thou hast had thy entertainment; farewell!

John Owen - Introductory address to the reader
"The Death of Death in the Death of Christ"

Friday, April 24, 2009

Rev 2:6 - Ephesus the Steadfast Church
Hating False Teachers and Teachings

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Rev 2:6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

There are various thoughts on who these "Nicolaitans" may have been. Some think this is a play on words, taking the Greek meaning "power over the people" as a parallel of the Hebrew name "Balaam," which means "a ruler of the people." In other words a comparison is being made between the sin of Balaam, who sold the people of God out for licentiousness and gain - and the Nicolaitans who were gnostic heretics and libertines professing to be Christians, but propagating a licentious lifestyle.

Others link the name to Nicolaus one of the deacons appointed in Acts to help in the daily distribution to the widows. All were Greeks, by the sound of their names. But it seems that all reference to him is strictly rumor.

Whatever they were there is little doubt that they practiced a religion at odds with the gospel of grace that Paul had preached in Ephesus - distorting freedom into licentiousness. The pastor had hated these gospel perverters. In other words, the Ephesian church was strong in doctrine - they tested false apostles and rejected them and they hated the Nicolaitan error of perverted license. Note the word "hate". It is a strong word. It is a word that is offensive to many in today's love-crazy church. "We can't hate because God is love." Well it says that God hates the false works of the Nicolaitans - are we better than He? And are they not commended for their hatred of this sacrilegious perversion of the truth?

So doctrine alone is not enough to satisfy Christ. The soundest doctrine held in a heart that is cool towards Christ falls short of the mark. Love for Christ - passion for Him - must be the gasoline in the engine of the propagation of truth.

To preach because it is true is better than not to preach at all. To preach the truth out of a heart thrilled with and abiding in the love of Christ is the standard.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Seeker Sensitivity - Noblit Style
I don't want to hurt your self-esteem....I want to destroy it.

Jeff Noblitt - Muscle Shoals Church - in a recent sermon

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rev 2:4-5 - Ephesus the Steadfast Church
Complacency and the Loss of Zeal

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4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

To have the Lord have something against us is something that bears thinking about. What can it mean for this to be so? Can it mean loss of salvation? Can it mean loss of reward? Are these the things that true Christians first think of when they suspect that they have offended Christ?

Well, it seems to me that to offend the One Who emptied Himself for me that I might be saved from the power of Satan and be transferred into His glorious kingdom of light - the One Who bought me, having loved me with an everlasting love from of old - to offend Him ought to be the thing that devastates me, and not any loss which I myself might experience on account of it. To offend Christ is to offend against supreme love, holiness and power. It is to kick God. It is to slight infinite goodness and mercy. It is, as Christ says here, to fall.

Christians can fall. Christians need to repent when they do. Our falls can be sudden or they can be gradual. Either way, sudden or gradual, they are on account of our neglect. Everything that is necessary for life and godliness is ours in Christ Jesus, but we fail to abide in Him as we ought. We are like the man who marries a beautiful woman, but who begins to neglect her as the bloom comes off the rose. We fell in love, but we failed to love as God loves. We spoke commitment but took that commitment lightly. We were betrothed to Christ for good or bad, for better for worse, in sickness and in health until death, but we began to be careless about our word. Instead of understanding that it was incumbent upon us to love as an act of obedience demonstrated in the outworking of a pure heart, we began to see that our concept of love was not about our duty to God, but about our expectations of Him.

Duty is a dirty word to many. If we do something out of duty, it is thought, then there is no love in it. It is contrived, dead and forced. That is a wrong idea of Christian duty. It is based on the idea that we must act based upon our feelings of love towards God, and that only love springing from a feeling is real love. Love must be spontaneous. It must thrill our souls or, rather, it must wait until our souls have been thrilled and then pour out of us. But I say no. It may be that we sometimes feel wonderful things as we act upon God’s word. It may sometimes be that as we are experiencing a sense of the thrilling nearness of God we are moved to act on something.

But it may be (and I suspect that it is like this most of the time for most people) that God requires of us that we act consistently in obedience to His word (which is love) regardless of how we feel at any given time. In fact, it is obedience when we feel least like obeying that displays the greatest evidence of faith, and brings the greatest assurance of our salvation.

But we arrive at the place of displeasing He Who is our chiefest joy, the apple of our eye, the bridegroom of our souls by our own disobedience and neglect. We become familiar. We let down our guard. We take for granted. We disdain Christian duties that demonstrate our love for the Lord, such as prayer and study. Little by little we fail to notice the ebbing of our passion because we think our passion is self-sustaining. We fail to understand that we have a duty to sustain it through acts of obedience and devotion. And our bridegroom receives slight after slight. He Who is the keeper of our household and the Lord of our existence is usurped by the self. Fast or slow, we fall. Hopefully, His mercy and care allows us to fall hard enough to awaken us to our condition.

Here, the Lord speaks to the angel of the church at Ephesus. Patience and duty alone are not enough. It must be a patience and duty that abides in a constant remembrance of the glories and mercies of our Lord and Saviour. The bride must keep in the forefront of her mind the magnificence of the bridegroom on the day they were first betrothed. We are reminded of the words of that hymn written by John Newton, as follows...
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
The Christian would do well to keep in constant remembrance, therefore, all that Christ has done to redeem him. With the unfolding of every revelation of God’s Spirit to his heart of the utter depravity from which God has saved and is saving him, the saint ought surely to take that realization back to the life and death of the incarnate Son of God and see with fresh wonder and awe the cost to God that He willingly paid for the eternal life of His own children.

Not only this, but whenever there is the slightest, or the greatest slippage of which we become aware we ought to immediately cast our minds upon the cross of Christ in the full realization of all that is implied. Eternal Son of eternal God came to live and die to take away our sin so that through faith in Him we would come to live with Him forever. Delivered from the powers of darkness, from the Prince of the power of the air, the liar, the murderer, the accuser of the brethren and the great opponent of all that is God’s. Pulled out of a well of infinite depth and utter blackness where there was no hand-hold for us to escape of ourselves - no rope, and no fellow prisoner who could offer the slightest hope with a leg-up. Not only this, but spared from the wrath to come at the thought of which our hearts should faint with a terror made bearable only by the God-given assurance of our escape.

In fact, the truth is that if we were on guard - if we were watching and waiting as we are commanded to be - then the whole of this realization ought to permeate our thoughts constantly. We ought to be found abiding in the thrilling knowledge of our utter deliverance from eternal torment and damnation by the infinite cost of the life of God’s dear Son. Do we do that? Do we understand that loving the appearing of Jesus involves abiding in the present moment in His unbounded, infinite, eternal love for us, as expressed in all that was paid for our deliverance from Satan, from the world, from sin and from ourselves?

Note that this message is to the angel of the church (at Ephesus), and that the angel is the pastor. The lampstand is not the Spirit of God, but the church itself. What the Lord is saying is that the church itself - the flock - will be removed from the pastor who fails to repent of losing his first love. Perhaps this might be by removing the pastor from the church or by removing the church from the pastor - but, in any event, it will be the severing of the under-shepherd from the flock.

God deals with each member of the flock as He sees fit and each in their own walk with Him. But the letters are not to the churches - they are to the angels of the churches - the messengers, the pastors. God is a God of order. What befalls the leaders befalls the flock. There is cause and effect in God’s universe. Just as all of Adams’s offspring are under the curse and separated from God, so all those under the care of a pastor are subject to the effects of his love and obedience to the Lord. If he does not bring the truth the sheep will suffer loss of God’s Word. If he does not walk in the truth the people will be affected by his sin. If he ceases to preach the wonders of Christ in the gospel the flock will grow cool and dispassionate.

God’s way is a marvel because, rather than putting all on the pastor, if looked at properly it puts the onus upon the sheep to hold up, to exhort, encourage and even reprove him in love. The message is two fold. The pastor is accountable to God and the sheep are to keep him in that frame because their spiritual health is intimately tied to his obedience, purity and love for God. The removal of the lampstand is God’s resort if the messenger does not repent and return to his first love. It is a mercy to the church that God ultimately removes failing pastors. He may do that by collapsing the congregation or He may do it by removing the pastor. Both are culpable, but the greater responsibility is with the one charged with keeping the flock.

Finally, see that God is longsuffering, though that longsuffering does have an end. It is a picture - a microcosm - of the final judgment of God. He has patience with the world, but there will come that moment when the heavens roll back like a scroll and the trumpet sounds. He has patience with individual sinners, but there is a moment in each life when God gives men up to the consequences of their rebellion. The bad news is that God’s patience has an end. But the truly good news is that He is longsuffering and that He stands ready to bless those who repent, regardless of how much they may have strayed.

Surely this is the gospel in miniature! God will forgive anything (except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) - even the blackest of sinners can come to Christ with no fear of rejection, be he a thief, adulterer, murderer or worse. Pardon is there for any who will come. But only those who truly understand that their sin has put them under the terrible judgment of Almighty God and liable to an eternity of suffering and punishment in hell will flee to Him for the mercy that is in Christ. How can a soul be saved? The cross of Christ cannot be embraced by the natural man, to whom it is foolishness or offence. But to those who are called it is the wisdom of God in which His wrath and His love meet in the person and the body of Jesus Christ, the Lord.

Will God then not, in the same way, restore any one who, having grown cool in his ardour, comes to repentance? Is not the love of God for the pastor and for the flock under him large enough to bless and to restore those who humbly come for forgiveness and who have turned back to Him? Only let them not just mouth repentance - not just apply the formula of repent and be forgiven because God is "obliged" to do so on account of His word (see, for example 1John 1:9). This is not repentance. Repentance is humbling oneself before Him in abject sorrow for having sinned against His loving purity and holiness - and turning around as an act of the will to amend the behaviour, proving true repentance by the fruits which spring from it.

Nevertheless, true repentance can hardly spring unaided from a hardening heart. We need to cry out to God that He might, perhaps, grant to us the kind of repentance that produces fruit. Only let us be ready for what that may entail.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fifth Column Spreads Disinformation

"I was baptized an Episcopalian, educated in Roman Catholic schools, converted as an agnostic, trained under a Presbyterian, was ordained a Baptist, pastored a Lutheran church and teach in a non-denominational seminary. I don’t think I’ve missed anything all along the way. And the one thing I have learned - let me tell you something that I have learned - I know the liberals, I know them well. I was one of them.

"And they are the most dangerous, insidious and all-pervading cult that's loose in the United States right at this moment. They make the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons and all of the mind sciences and the occult look like Sunday school teachers. Do you know why? Because those other people are outside the Church and these devils are in it! And they’re doing it in Jesus' name!"

Walter Martin - (The Cult of Liberalism, CD Rom, side 1)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rev 2:1-3 - Ephesus the Steadfast Church
Continually Testing the Spirits as Instructed

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Rev 2:1-3
1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary."

God knows everything. Not only does He know everything, but He has perfect recall. One day all will be recounted and judged. But so long as we believers are in the body God will continue to lead and call and admonish and chastise. He will justify the godly and condemn the ungodly. He will reward each man according to his works.

The Ephesian church had been under the instruction of Paul for 3 years, and then Timothy, Paul’s hand-picked successor. They had received teaching from Priscilla and Aquilla. Finally, the apostle John (the writer of this revelation) had himself ministered there prior to being exiled to the prison island of Patmos. If any church in Asia Minor had been well grounded and well taught it was the church at Ephesus. So it is entirely appropriate that they should be found faithful in the work of the gospel, enduring patiently persecutions and tribulations - and whatever else came along.

Not only that, but they has been well schooled in the scriptures because they knew how to discern false apostles and all other manner of evil that had assailed the church. Note that they tested those that claimed to be or to know something among them. They tested them. They compared what was claimed and taught to them against the scriptures and the teachings of the true apostles, and they actually formed judgments as to the truth and validity of what was being disseminated. Whenever it was found that the teachings and claims did not meet the standard then the people propagating the material were correctly identified as false teachers and apostles and were dealt with accordingly. In doing this, the Ephesian church was following the last admonition of Paul as he gave it to their elders some forty years earlier in the charge to the Elders of the Ephesian church at Miletus, as follows...
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. {Ac 20:26-31}
One cannot underestimate the amount of enduring patience required in those times. There was so much nonsense stirred up by the devil in the hearts of men that heresies and hangers-on of untold numbers and stripes infested the church at every turn. Keeping them out, or in check, required the utmost discipline, watchfulness and patience. It was not unlike the church of our present day. The only difference being that today there is so little true discernment.

The great difficulty for us today is that the base upon which we are standing is so much less sure than that of the early Christians. They were beset openly by persecution and were thus sifted and pruned and purified as a body. We are more like the church of Laodicea in Chapter 3 - especially in verse 17 where we find...
" say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing’ - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked..."
Or we are like the church of Sardis of whom Christ says in Chapter 3 verse 1...
"I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead."
Many in the professing church today have turned from doctrine to experience as the guide. Instead of searching the scriptures and relying upon them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the leap is more and more often made to reliance upon experience regardless of what the Word says. In one sense, they can hardly be blamed. The cold formality of Sardis inhabits many a traditional church. The answer, however is not to throw the doors wide open to all manner of false teaching like the Thyatirans or, to a lesser degree, the Smyrnans. The answer is to do what God commands - to repent and turn from every false way and then to be watchful, testing all things against the Truth on the one hand, while bearing the fruit of the Spirit, forbearing each other in love on the other hand.

Manifestations, miracles, numbers, revivals, acclaim, visibility and outward success are all absolutely inconsequential in relation to these two principles - love and truth. That is because they are themselves at the core of the nature of our God. The means to knowing Him more is through the obedience of faith for the sanctification of our souls - holiness. Not holiness “worked up”. Not holiness acquired. Not holiness wrought by us. But by the holiness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ made manifest in us through faith. The struggle is for grace to abide in a balanced way in the midst of these things. But the "balance" in question may include the same radical and extreme speech and behaviour as the Lord exhibited.

I see that Christ speaks of those He is commending as "not growing weary" and as "enduring patiently" whilst in the process of knowing and testing the false apostles and teachers among them. It troubles me personally that the implication is that they did not walk away on account of the problems. They did not start another church. They fought for what they believed in, and they fought long and hard. Have I done the same? When is it time to move on? Back then there was only one church in town, so it was incumbent upon believers to strive to keep it pure because there was no alternative.

The church was not a matter of personal preference in style of worship or emphasis of interpretation. It was a matter of preserving the pillar and bastion of the truth against the onslaught of all of the demons of hell by being true to the teaching of the Lord and the Apostles. It was called "keeping the faith".

The greatest problem for me - and I assume for others - is that I am just as capable of being deceived or, worse, of self-deceit as anyone else. How do I know that what I believe is right? How do I draw the line between differences on non-essential matters and matters vital to God’s flock? I am especially prone to a sense of anger whenever I see false doctrine, but this anger can cloud my perception and my judgment. I am a roiling pot of carnal motivations which run the gamut from pride to jealousy and simple hatred. I resent the smallest slight, secretly hold onto past offences despite the "confession" of them and a declared "repentance". These things pollute my every thought and threaten my every decision and attitude.

On top of it all, there is such a smorgasbord of beliefs and teachings out there that I can hardly know what to believe at times. Am I even at a believing church at all? What guidance have I received? Is what is preached and practiced faithful to the revelation of Christ? Struggling with these issues is not at all like I pictured the Christian walk to be. I thought I would have peace and fuzzy feelings of acceptance and warmth in the midst of a brotherhood of caring and loving people. Home at last. Not so! Is it me, or is it them? Is it both? And, if so, how can one ever sort out the proportional combinations and rectify them?

Oh, God! I have a responsibility to preserve and to build and no ability or wisdom to do so. How can I be an instrument in Your hands as You build Your church? The moment I think I know something and am moved to speak or act then I take over that thing and start to pursue it in my own power. I corrupt the very grace that lets me see. It cannot have been so much different for the saints of the 1st century. They endured and they bore up. They tested everything against the Apostles teaching. I can only assume that they were sinners saved by grace, too. That they had conflicting thoughts, struggles with the flesh, moments of utter confusion. It is what was used of God to purify them, or to confirm them in the Truth. Oh, but while they were in the midst of it, it can have been little different from what I experience now.* Hindsight is always 20/20. Pressed and spinning clay can have no sense of the finished pot that it will be, after the Great Potter has finished the work.

[* "Now" being 5 years ago]

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sermon of the Week
The Essential Gospel
This brother, David C. Innes of Hamilton Square Baptist Church, San Francisco, CA, represents the very best of the Southern Baptist fundamentalist Arminian persuasion. I've never listened to him before and I may not again. But the experience was edifying.

Firstly, there is more than enough in this sermon to get the job done. It contains the essential gospel. Law and gospel are clearly delineated. The gospel itself is presented as being salvation by faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone and is crystal clear. Kudos to the pastor. And then there is an extremely helpful explanation of original sin and Federal representation in Adam and Christ - in fact, one of the best I have heard.

But by failing to tie it all in to election and particular redemption he necessarily skirts around the universalism that logically follows his premises and comes to the supremacy of the human free will. Thus the old Arminian difficulties lurk beneath the surface.

And there is the extremely annoying misapplication (three times - count 'em) of Revelation 3:20 as if God was standing outside the door of the sinner's heart knocking to come in, and that it's up to the lost sinner to turn the knob and allow Him entry. But this verse is written to the Laodicean CHURCH and its pastor. It is not a soteriological reference but one of correction and rebuke for professing believers. Arrrgh!

What is a Christian?

David C. Innes

Play in your default mp3 player

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The 'A's Have At It

s most of you know, this is not a debate blog. I'm not looking to get embroiled in argument with people of other belief systems, or with heretics or even with other Christians who differ on the non-essentials. There are places that like that sort of stuff and they're good at it. Try Triablogue or Pyromaniacs (see links in side bar) if you're looking for theological debate.

ll that said, every now and then I do get the odd person who goes apoplectic over something I have said. The strange thing is that on the three occasions when missiles have been fired they all came from people whose belief system begins with an 'A'. How do you figure that!

t various times I've enraged an Arminian brother, an Atheist and an Antinomian. The Arminian opened up by calling me a slanderer, the Atheist called me evil and the Antinomian requested 'proof' of my assertions as if he was suing me in a court of law (ironic, eh!). I'm just waiting for the Arians now - or maybe the Amyraldians.

nyhow, don't get me wrong. I can answer most of the standard questions that are regurgitated by each of these belief systems fairly well, though others can do it way better than I. And in a different milieu I might easily go a few rounds. But there are people out there known in internet jargon as 'trolls'. These are people who make it their business to scour the blogosphere looking for anything that refers to their particular sacred cow for the express purpose of starting an argument.

nybody can tell who they are because they crash into your combox with all guns blazing, not having read the blurb about the nature of the blog, nor the rules for posting comments - and never having visited before, until their search bot of choice brought up a reference to their particular pet belief on your blog. People who do things like that aren't looking for answers - they're looking for a platform - and I won't give it to them.

part from that, I'm a reasonably nice guy as sinners go, and easy to get along with. I don't get a lot of comments here as you might understand from the nature of the blog. I really am OK with that. Some readers are kind enough to speak a word of encouragement or, even better, to mention how God has blessed them in some way via the materials posted here. So comment if you want. Don't if you don't want. Now there's real free will for you! - just not the libertarian kind!

PS - This is Agonizomai and my full given name is Anthony

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rev 2 - Introduction
The Messages Are First of All For Pastors

Listen in your default mp3 player

To the angel of the church in (insert church name) write ...

These are the words of Jesus Christ in the vision that John saw while he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. The entire vision is in the classic Hebrew apocalyptic style, using imagery that recalls Old Testament passages in Ezekiel and Daniel.

The word translated as "angel" simply means "messenger". A "messenger" is one who bears the word of God to others. In this case it is the pastor of the church - the one charged with being the under-shepherd of Christ. This is the one who is supposed to make known to the people the entire counsel of God, from the warnings and admonitions to the assurances and comforts that are in Christ alone. Law and gospel.

There are heavenly angels who are "ministering spirits" to the saints of God. These operate in the spiritual realm under the direction of God withstanding the forces of darkness in ways we know little of directly. Some insight can be gleaned from Daniel 10:11-21, where Daniel is told something of the battle behind the scenes.

But it is not heavenly angels that are contemplated in speaking of the angels of the seven churches. It is ministers of the gospel. Those who teach and preach bear a greater responsibility than those who sit under the teaching. Under-shepherds have more to account for than sheep, because they have been entrusted with more. But it would nevertheless be a grave error to presume that shepherds operate in a vacuum. Woe to the congregant who feels himself absolved of any responsibility to Christ to do what is right and to grow in grace simply because he is under the authority of a bad minister. Woe to the congregant who abdicates individual responsibility to discern, to test all things and, where necessary, to minister to the minister.

Christ’s warnings to the churches are not simply warnings to the ministers, but also warnings to the people under their pastorate. In the body of Christ all are equal, though there be many functions. By "equality" is not meant that worldly concept of egalitarian or communistic ideals - but the Biblical, spiritual truth regarding their condition apart from the grace of God. Prior to salvation all were dead in trespasses and sins. Prior to regeneration all walked according to the prince of the power of the air, all had their conversation in this world and were ruled by the passions of the carnal nature. All were equally subject to eternal punishment, just all as were saved by the power of same blood and are indwelt by the same Spirit. And it is the Spirit that imparts to men the several gifts that are given to each in and for His church.

It is not that all gifts are equal. Plainly they are not. Some bear greater responsibility than others. It is the fact that they are, first and foremost gifts that is in view. What has any of us that we did not first receive? And if we received it as a free gift of God’s grace then where in it all is there room to think ourselves better or higher or more important than a brother. Where is there room to think ourselves less loved or underprivileged if we do not have the higher gifts? If we truly understand that it is all by grace that these gifts are given then hierarchy in the purely worldly sense evaporates to be replaced with God’s sovereign order in which it is no longer a question of human organization, but of all serving each other according to the gifts given.

The One Who holds the seven stars in His right hand is Christ, and the stars are the ministers of the churches. {Re 1:20} The significance of these ministers being held in His right hand is to show that they are channels of His power and authority. Not, as we said before, the dominating governance that men exercise upon each other, but the power and authority that the love of Christ radiates towards His church. Though the church neither as a group nor as individuals can do anything of themselves - yet the power of the love of Christ expressed in and to and through His saints enables them to be salt and light in a wicked and fallen world.

Christ’s power is given upon receipt of the Holy Spirit to all believers. There is power "exousia" and power "dunamis." True disciples receive both. Exousia is the power of right or inheritance. It is the sort of power that is vested in a king, or that a king vests in his servants - finding its source in delegated authority based upon office or position. Dunamis is the power of performance - the power to actually effect results and to change cases or to impact people, circumstances or events. Both forms of power are only in Christ and are only for those who are in Christ. That is because Christ comes to dwell and He brings His power to effect the will of the Father in and through us by means of the obedience of our faith.

It is worth expanding on this. We receive power when we receive Christ. We grow in grace, in wisdom and in favor with God and men as we learn to yield to the power of God by obeying His will in all things. We know what His will is by prayerfully studying His word. A true Christian never lacks power, though he may fail to exhibit power. All that is needed for life and godliness is already ours in Christ Jesus. The question is not if we have power, but whether we will walk in it by obeying God. The power of God is never ever given for disobedience.

Then why are so many Christians apparently powerless? And there can be only two possible answers. One is that many who profess to be Christians are not - and therefore never received the power because they have never received Him to Whom all power belongs, namely Christ. The other possibility is that the Christian is simply disobedient.

Some would add a third reason - that the powers of darkness have overtaken the believer and are actually debarring him from experiencing the power of God due to possession, oppression or some sort of generational curse resulting from the sins of ancestors. This latter is not the case. It gives too much credence, attention and power to the enemies of God. The main problem in the church and in the world is not demons per se, but sin and the sin nature of men. The cure is not exorcism but faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. No evil spirit was ever exorcised from an existing (regenerate) believer anywhere in scripture.

Christ holding the seven stars in His right hand shows in fact that He is in charge of the pastorate whom He has provided to care for the church - and that He works through them to accomplish His purposes. They may be good, bad or indifferent but they nevertheless are in His hand of power. They will accomplish His will either by the obedience of their faith or by the disobedience of it. He holds them accountable - as we see in the following - just as He holds all individual saints in the church accountable and indeed all men, whether believers or not. But our will is either for good, in which case we are doing His will, or to do that which is contrary to His will, and He uses even that disobedience to accomplish His will. This is why God is God and He alone is good yet we, as creatures, are morally and actually accountable to God for our sin.

In the same way that Christ holds in His hand of power the pastors of His church, He also walks in the midst of His church constantly. The Spirit of God, the blessed Third Person of the Holy Trinity, issues forth from both Father and Son and carries their actual presence in and among the saints. So, in a very true sense it is Christ Who walks among us and it is Christ Who indwells us, though the Bible speaks of us receiving the Spirit and of the Spirit being in all believers. God is One, though He is manifested in three Persons.

Wherever there are God’s saints gathered together as a congregation (not just to meet on Sunday, but as a group committed to Christ) then Christ is there in the midst, as He promised. The church in question may be more or less aware of His presence, depending upon the degree of obedient faith found in it - but aware or not, Christ is in the midst because He is intimately concerned with the fruit of His labours.

When people either mistakenly or ignorantly call upon the Holy Spirit to "come" they are actually misunderstanding the Bible and may even be in danger of misrepresenting God’s Word. We see clearly that God the Son, by the Spirit, walks in the midst of all 7 of these churches regardless of their condition. He will never leave nor forsake His own. If we draw near to Him He will draw near to us. In fact, in the letter to the lukewarm Laodicean church Christ’s very words illustrate the point...
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. {Re 3:19-20}
This is an admonition not for unbelievers but for those who claim to know Him to repent of their half-heartedness and draw near to Him. He never left. He is always "at the door" and not only at the door but at the door "knocking." Are we listening? Will we open it? If there is any absence of the sense of the presence of God it is not that God has walked away – for Christ walks in the midst of the lampstands. Rather it is that we quench the Spirit by our disinterest and our lack of true repentance. So often we want the fruit without tending the tree. We want the experience, the feeling, the manifestation - but without any serious thought of repentance. We want to have two masters, to hold onto our sin, to refuse to humble ourselves - to have our cake and eat it, too. God will not play that game.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mea Culpa

Alright, already! You caught me goofing off a little. No, I didn't go fishing (though I'd love to) and I wasn't off on my travels again. The computer fan really was on the fritz, but it turned out to be an intermittent fault. Things seem to be alright at the moment.

I have also been quite sick with a nasty cold, and with nobody to look after me, or to say "Ah there!" whenever I moaned. And, while I'm being completely honest here, it was very difficult to find the motivation to get back to posting every day. I needed the rest. In fact, I'll be giving a lot of thought during the remainder of the Revelation posts as to how (or if) I want to run the blog thereafter.

But for now at least, it's back to the grind. Tomorrow posting begins again in earnest.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Critical Fan Sabotages Blogsite
Dateline Saturday April 11th, 2009

The management wishes to apologize for an upcoming temporary service interruption.

Regrettably, one of our most important fans is currently causing us trouble - the one that cools our computer processor. As we are unable to get it serviced until Monday 13th at the earliest, new posts will be delayed for at least a few days. Our sincere regrets for the inconvenience.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Christ the Lord is Risen Today
[No Sermon of the Week Today]

Saturday, April 11, 2009

You Have Brought Up My Life From the Pit
Mt 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

My Calvinist friends may run wailing like banshees as I wax mystical here. You were warned - see the blurb in the side bar.

In reading the Jonah account (below) on the remembrance of this day between the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ I ask myself who I see here? Is it Jonah? Is it Christ? Is it me? Is it all the redeemed? And the answer is...


...a resounding "Yes!" O can you see the type and the antitype here? And can you not recall those portions of scripture that speak of us being buried with Him so that we may rise with Him to newness of life? Was it not you who were drowned at the base of the mountains under the ocean of sin, beneath the storm of wrath, tangled in the weeds of iniquity. Did you not cry out to the Lord your salvation? And did He not answer?

And is there not the sense that, in His humanity, the Lord suffered the same experience so that you could cry out, being cut off from the Father that He cherished, drowning and entangled in OUR sins and yet without sin Himself. And did the Father not hear Him, and us, for His sake, with whom we died. And did He not raise us with Him?

God plants and records these things in history like dormant seeds to be awakened in their fulfillment in Christ. Did Christ not keep His vow to the Father and the Father honor that vow in the keeping of it by giving the promised people to the Son from out of the depths of the sea of sin? I tell you, the word of God is marvel. Like Doctor Who's Tardis, once the door is opened to you, a whole new dimension of thermo-nuclear exposition beckons.


1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish,
2 saying,
“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
Yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.