January 5, 2015

The Church: Mysteries and Prizes

Posted in Jesus, Salvation, The Church, The Dispensations tagged , , , , , at 3:07 PM by E. M.

Arranged MarriageIn the 6th Dispensation, those who choose to accept the gift of Salvation are given a new heart which can be influenced and guided by the Holy Spirit to be always and completely right and just. This influence is called Grace. The group of people who intentionally strive to live by grace are referred to in the Bible as “The Church”.

As we saw in the last post, the Church is unique in all dispensational history as it is a direct conduit to the Meaning of Life.

The term “Church” is first used by Jesus (in the future tense) as something He would build on the “rock” (or foundation) of declared belief in Him as the Redeemer. “Church” is translated from the Greek term “ecclesia”, which means to be “called out” [chosen and separated for a special purpose].

 

The Church is referred to as a “mystery” by the Apostle Paul (who wrote most of the New Testament). But not in the sense in which we currently use the term (something that is unknown). The Greek term used by Paul is “mustérion” which is a reference to something previously hidden that is being divinely revealed.

From the standpoint of the Dispensations, the overarching “mystery” is the seed plot of history – that God literally planted the seed that would result in His plan being fulfilled as a part of the judgments rendered after the failure of the 1st Dispensation. When God said that the “seed of the woman” would be the undoing of Satan’s claim on humanity, He gave the first hints of that mystery which has been carried through the entire Biblical narrative of redemption.

So what specifically is the “mystery” about the Church that was able to be revealed after the Redeemer completed His work? And what is it “called out” to be?

Paul makes it clear in the above referenced verse that the mystery he’s revealing is that marriage is a reflection of the Meaning of Life, and that the Church is the Bride of Christ! This essentially completes the loop I started when I first mentioned that the Meaning of Life is marriage!

The institution of marriage is vitally important to God because it is the divine dress rehearsal for the eternity that He intended for man to have with Him.

Unfortunately, the current process and institution of marriage bears little to no resemblance to the one originally ordained by God (and in some cases, its not even close). As such, it would be extremely useful and revelatory to take a look at the ancient Jewish wedding process and see how it relates to the Church.

The following is an excerpt from the Koinonia House website:

The first step, the Ketubah, or Betrothal, was the establishment of the marriage covenant, usually when the prospective bridegroom took the initiative and negotiated the price (mohair) he must pay to purchase her.

Once the bridegroom paid the purchase price, the marriage covenant was established, and the young man and woman were regarded as husband and wife. From that moment on, the bride was declared to be consecrated or sanctified – set apart – exclusively for her bridegroom. As a symbol of the covenant relationship that had been established, the father of the groom arranged gifts to be given to the bride which was symbolic of a promise providing a legal tie between the two.

After the marriage covenant was established, the groom left his bride at her home and returned to his father’s house, where he remained separated from his bride for approximately 12 months. This afforded the bride time to gather her trousseau and prepare for married life.

During this period of separation, the groom prepared a dwelling place in his father’s house to which he would later bring his bride. At the end of the period of separation, the bridegroom came – usually at night – to take his bride to live with him… Although the bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she did not know the time of his coming. As a result, the groom’s arrival was preceded by a shout, which announced her imminent departure to be gathered with him.

There are several more stages in the wedding process that relate to Christ and the Church on the above referenced web site, and we will explore them as we get closer to a discussion of the 7th Dispensation, but for now, let’s look at how the above relates to the Church.

The “price” Jesus had to pay in order to atone for the curse of Original Sin and make the bride eligible for the Meaning of Life was His sacrificial death on the cross, and the Resurrection.

But like any bride, the populace of the 6th Dispensation must agree to accept the Bridegroom’s “proposal”. (and that proposal is available to EVERYONE).

The Church is referred to as being in a state of sanctification (set aside and being prepared to the Groom). Once salvation is accepted, the Holy Spirit endows every believer with spiritual gifts that are meant to edify the church and further enhance the sanctification (I’m pretty sure my gift is flippancy).

This is the PRIMARY purpose of the Church’s existence in the world – to grow in grace, and become more right and just. Why? Because it is essentially training for what the Church will do for eternity in Heaven, AND it earns us rewards!

This topic is important enough to merit some additional exposition:

If you break it down, Jesus had two primary messages when He addressed people while on earth: salvation and reward. Reward statements are generally in an “if-then” format – If you do this, then that will happen.

The Sermon on the Mount  is Jesus’ first and longest teaching. The sermon is a thorough exposition on the Law – explaining the “whys” behind the commandments. It also addresses all the different types of reward messages. Jesus spoke of how to get good rewards, how to maximize good rewards, how spiritual rewards are better than earthly ones, how to avoid bad rewards, and how not to lose your reward.

If you look as Jesus’ subsequent public teachings (parables etc.) they are all centered on reward (value and profitability), or salvation (life, everlasting life). It’s important to keep in mind that while these two messages are related, they are distinct in very important ways. The good works that you do to earn rewards do NOT save you – Jesus never equates them with salvation/everlasting life, but they increase the amount of value the you will have in heaven.

Why did Jesus focus on these two topics? Because to Him, spiritual inheritance (getting everlasting life in Heaven and the reward when we get there) are far more important than our physical predicaments on earth!

The few decades we spend in these mortal bodies are inconsequential when compared to eternity, so of course Jesus would spend most of His time teaching about them! Thus it also makes sense that people who consider earth to be their main home would interpret Jesus’ message in a way that makes transitory earthly matters of primary importance (love, tolerance, social justice etc). Jesus only concerned Himself with earthly matters to the degree that they increased the value we would have in Heaven (rewards).

Lastly, Jesus made it clear that when He departed for Heaven after the resurrection, He was going to His “Father’s House” to prepare a dwelling place for the Church, and at some point in the future, He will return (unexpectedly) to take his bride with Him. The idea of Christ sudden and unexpected return for His bride comprises perhaps the most controversial (and frankly preposterous) doctrine in Christianity – “the Rapture”. In fact, the only thing it has going for it is that it’s clearly promised in the Bible, so its absolutely true!

Will examine the Rapture when we look at the end of this dispensation, but before we do that, we need to take a more detailed look at the sanctification process. The vast majority of the New Testament (the epistles of Paul and the Apostles) give in-depth teaching to edify and sanctify the Church. But there are seven short and very impactful “epistles” that are often and tragically overlooked. Tragic because they are authored by Jesus Himself AND because they give us an outline of the entire 2000-plus year history of the Church!

Beginning with the next post, we will examine the history of the Church with the “Epistles of Jesus” as our guide.

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May 18, 2010

Jellybeans of Righteousness

Posted in How to be Right tagged , , , , , at 2:08 PM by E. M.

THIS IS YOUR MIND . . . YOUR SWEET, DELICIOUS MIND.

The point of our existence; the meaning of life – is to be like God so that we can be one with God and share in God’s perfection and joy.  The Bible details the mechanics and methodology of this concept, and we will begin exploring them a few posts from now, but as we did when discussing and identifying the First Cause, I want us to understand the process of being more like God through logic, reason, and systematic analysis (hey, that sounds like a great subtitle for a blog!)

God’s nature is Right and Just.  In order to be like God, we would have to be right and just.  God is always and completely Right and Just because He has all the information in existence.  We do not have all the information in existence.  Individually, we only have some of the information in existence.  So the best we can hope for presently is to be completely right in the small sub-set of knowledge we possess and progressively add additional “right” knowledge.

The problem is that a lot of the information we currently have is not “right”.  Right now you have a set of beliefs in your head about all kinds of things, politics, religion, social welfare, health, economics, the best place to get a good steak (that would be Jockos in Nipomo, California by the way), and you are certain that what you believe is correct, otherwise you wouldn’t believe it.  But when we look back over our lives, we will see a litany of things that we once believed were right, but that we later discovered were not.

For example, when I was 16, I was convinced that Tanya Robinson loved me and that she was only dating our high school quarterback in order to make me jealous.  I later realized my error (few girls try to make a second-string line-backer jealous).

Nevertheless, at the time we held our presently acknowledged “wrong beliefs”, we were absolutely sure that they were right.  Thus it is logical to assume that some, if not many, of the things that we now believe right, are actually wrong, and we may be convinced of their wrongness at a future date (except for Jockos.  They really do have the best steaks on earth).

So what’s the solution?  Jellybeans! (Stay with me).  Picture your mind as a bowl full of red and blue jellybeans that represent everything you know and believe.  The blue jellybeans represent the beliefs you hold that are right, and the red jellybeans represent the beliefs you hold that are wrong.  So how do you become more right?  Simple, you take out the red jellybeans (wrong thoughts) and replace them with blue ones (correct thoughts).

But we have a problem.  Remember, we think that all the beliefs we currently hold are right, even the ones that are wrong!  We think all our jellybeans are blue.  We’re mentally colorblind.  Now what do we do?

What if I told you that color was not the only difference in the jellybeans?  What if I told you that the red jellybeans all have a tiny bump on them that could only be discovered under careful scrutiny, but all the blue ones were completely smooth?

In this case, the way to make sure you get rid of the red ones and keep (and add) blue ones would be to take EVERY jellybean in the bowl and examine it carefully for the bump.

In the real (non-jellybean) world, this means that in order to be more right, you need to take EVERY thought and belief you hold and actively try to prove it wrong (examine it for the “bump”).  If you can’t prove it wrong, then you can be comfortable that it is right, but if you do prove it wrong, then you discard it and replace it with correct information.  This is called contrastive thinking.  Thinking contrastively involves looking for a flaw in your thought process.  This flaw is usually a contradiction.

The opposite of contrastive thinking is comparative thinking – actively trying to prove yourself right.  The reason that comparative thinking is inferior is because it assumes that all the jellybeans are blue (and we know that is not true), while contrastive thinking presumes the possibility that red beans exist.  Contrastive thinking does not mean that you assume you are wrong.  It means you are wiling to consider the possibility that you could be wrong.

Comparative thinking is the source of just about every conflict.  Think about it, every argument you’ve had with another person is a matter of you thinking that you are right and trying to prove it (comparatively) to someone else who has a different idea but also think that they are right.  You both get angry and frustrated because neither of you are wiling to back down from your position.  Unless someone is willing to admit that they may be wrong, the situation either escalates out of control, or the “we agree to disagree” stalemate is called (which basically means you both just wasted your time).

But imagine if two people in conflict decided to be contrastive instead of comparative.  If two people had a difference of opinion and each person discussed the ways that their beliefs could possibly be wrong, then there would be no conflict, no anger, and no frustration.

Imagine it on a larger scale.  What if every group, religion, or nation that had a conflict with another decided to be contrastive?  What if each side tried to prove their own beliefs, intentions, opinions assumptions and aspirations wrong?  The result would be . . . world peace! (I cannot take credit for this particular piece of brilliance.  I first heard it here),

So with all these nifty benefits, how come people are not more willing to be contrastive?  Because it hurts!  No one wants to think that they are wrong.  We like being right!  It gives us comfort, order, and security.  Plus, it easy!  Even young children easily master the art of comparative thinking.  How many 4-year-olds have you ever heard say, “maybe candy is not my best dinner option”?

Being contrastive takes strength, discipline, and emotional maturity.

There is a term in the Bible for contrastive thinking.  That term is “humility”.  An examination of the Bible will show that God holds humility in high regard for some very important reasons.  We’ll explore them next week.

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April 12, 2010

Love is a Three-Way

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , , , at 9:21 AM by E. M.

The TrinityBased on human understanding, we know that the First Cause of existence is “right” and “just”; righteousness and justice describe the nature of the First Cause.   The Judeo-Christian Bible gives us more details about the First Cause (God).

Most of the characteristics that we attribute to God (merciful, holy, compassionate, all-knowing, all-mighty, etc.) are the effects of His nature.  But one of the most prominent characteristics of God in the scriptures as well as popular culture is “love”.  One of the first Bible verses kids learn is “God is love”.  If you asked the average person to describe God’s most prominent trait, they would most likely say that He is “loving” (followed by “really old”,  “really loud”, and “possessing an obscenely large beard”).

Even those who doubt or deny the existence of God acknowledge love as His defining characteristic.  On more than one occasion I’ve had some disgruntled person ask “If God is so loving, then why does He allow [universally acknowledged “bad thing”] to happen?”  (FYI – I will actually answer that question in two weeks)

So what exactly is “love”?  Asking that question leads to a diversity of subjective answers ranging from “a strong affection” to “about $50 an hour”.   But since we’re talking about God’s love, we need to go to the Bible to get His definition.

The first Biblical mention of the word love is in Genesis chapter 22, where God commands Abraham to take his precious son Isaac, whom he loves more than anything else in the world. . .  and climb to the top of a mountain and kill him as a sacrifice of faith.

Granted, on the surface this seems like an odd way to introduce the concept of love to the reader, but this event is intimately tied to the ultimate example of God’s love which is highlighted in the most famous verse in the Bible; John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

According to many Biblical scholars, the sacrifice of God’s Son took place on the same mountain where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac.  God stopped Abraham before he completed the sacrifice, but by being willing to faithfully carry it out, Abraham prophetically acted out God’s ultimate act of love.

These two defining “love” moments in the Bible have two important things in common; they involve sacrifice, and they are done for the benefit of another (for God in Abraham’s case, and for all of humanity in God’s case).

A sacrifice is the giving of a value without personally getting anything in return.

So, Biblically speaking, love is giving a value for the benefit of another without the expectation of getting anything in return. There’s more exposition on this idea here.

God’s love is not only crucial to answering, “What’s the point? (and we will finally get to that answer in 3 weeks.  I promise), it also has a defining impact on another vital aspect of God’s identity.

John 17:24 states that love existed before the universe itself.  That presents us with something of a problem.  From the definition we have, it looks like love requires the existence of at least two persons – the giver of love and the receiver.  We usually refer to this as a “relationship”, but the Bible does not use that word.  The Bible calls the love interaction a “fellowship”.  However this complicates things even more, because a definitive model of fellowship requires at least three persons, each loving another directly while receiving love indirectly from the third person.  (Here is a link that explains fellowship in detail).

So love existed before the universe and requires no less than three persons.  But we know that the only thing that existed before the universe is the First Cause.  There is only one logical solution to this dilemma: if the First Cause is love, and love requires at least three persons, then the First Cause must be three “persons”.

Once again, the Biblical description of the First Cause reflects this aspect of God’s nature.  The Bible gives implicit evidence that God is three persons – specifically called the “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Spirit”.  This concept is called “The Trinity”.

The Father is called God throughout the Bible.  The Son is called God in John 1:1-14, 1 John 5:20, Titus 2:13, and Romans 9:5.  The Holy Spirit is called God in Acts 5:3-4, and 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.  All three are credited with the creation of the universe; The Father in Psalms 102:24-25 and Job 38, the Son in John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16, and the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2, and Job 26:13.  More detail on this subject is available at this site.

It bears mentioning that despite the Biblical evidence, several religious traditions strongly disagree with the idea of God being three persons for various reasons.  Fortunately I’m not religious, so I’m not terribly interested in why the idea of the Trinity runs afoul some religious traditions.

Yet and still, it is reasonable to ask why God is presented both as a singular mind AND three persons in the Bible.  How do we resolve this?  Well, if the Trinity is the First Cause, then all three persons must have the exact same nature – right and just.  If all three persons are always and completely right and just, then they are always and completely in perfect, harmonious agreement.  Thus they speak and act as one, whether presenting themselves individually as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, or when they present themselves corporately as “God”.  What goes for one goes for all.  They only seem to differentiate in role and hierarchy, and they’ve all obviously agreed to assume and maintain their roles.

So we’ve added some significant depth to the identity of the First Cause that has hopefully deepened our level of understanding of the principles and providences that existed before the universe.  And that’s all well and good, but I have admittedly been dwelling in the realm of the theoretical and existential up to this point and said very little about the practical matter of the physical universe itself.

Yet all the things we see, hear, touch and experience are “real”, not theoretical and conceptual…right?  So enough about what the First Cause is, lets talk about the BIG effect.  What is the universe and how did the First Cause, well, cause it?  We’ll get into that next week.  The answers are guaranteed to surprise you, or your money back.

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