December 31

December 31
TREKKING WITH ABRAHAM
Was not our father Abraham considered righteous … ?
Luke 3:8 and Matthew 3:9
Trek Complete
366 days thinking and meditating about Abraham, and attempting to know what he was thinking and feeling is ending with me declaring, “I like this man Abraham.” Biblical figure or not, 4,000 years ago or not, I now feel that he is a friend and mentor of mine. I feel I am a friend of his.

True friendship is an ever deepening recognition of another’s character and personality with loving acceptance.   Friends often share likes and dislikes, interests, pursuits, and passion. Just as I feel a kinship and familiarity with this biblical giant, the same text that has brought me to a certain understanding of Abraham, has also brought me to an understanding of Abraham’s friendship with God Himself. Friendship, in general can be defined and delineated by certain aspects of conduct and inner response. When we consider such a relationship in human terms we are forced to use terms such as  a mutual desire for companionship, common bonds of some kind, a shared sense of caring and concern, a desire to see one another grow and develop, and a hope for each other to succeed in all aspects of life. True friendship involves action: doing something for someone else while expecting nothing in return; sharing thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or negative criticism. When two people, or even groups of people, respond to each other with these things oiling the dynamics of their relationship, we call it friendship.

 
True friendship must involve ongoing and ever growing relationship. Those mutual attributes we mentioned above become the foundation in which recognition of a status of friendship transpires into ongoing relationship. Without the desire to be “ongoing”, the definition is completely transgressed and “friendship” is denied.  Many people say, “Oh, he’s a good friend of mine,” yet they never take time to spend time with that “good friend.” Friendship takes time: time to get to know each other, time to build shared memories, time to invest in each other’s growth. But having been established, friendship – to be true friendship – needs to press on.
 
Trust is an absolutely essential aspect of true friendship. We all need someone with whom we can share our lives, thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. We need to be able to share our deepest secrets with someone, without worrying that those secrets will end up on the Internet the next day! Failing to be trustworthy with those intimate secrets can destroy a friendship in a hurry. It can destroy a life as well. Faithfulness and loyalty are key to true friendship. Without them, we often feel betrayed, left out, and lonely. In true friendship, there is no back-biting, no negative thoughts, no turning away. 

 

True friendship involves certain accountability factors. Real friends encourage one another and forgive one another where there has been an offence. Genuine friendship supports during times of struggle. Friends are dependable. In true friendship, unconditional love starts to seep through the normal dynamics of life. Once a friendship has anything “unconditional” fastening it together, it has entered into something heavenly, no matter how earthy and mundane that friendship might be. We love our friends no matter what and we always want the best for our friends. If that isn’t true, then the people concerned are not friends.
 
In Abraham’s biography as presented in scripture, we read constantly about God sharing His intentions with Abraham. Abraham repeatedly responds by telling God his thoughts and feelings about the situation that the Almighty and all knowing has opened up and shared with him. God and Abraham are able to do this because they trust and respect each other. This is the concept shared by Christ Himself when He said that the hairs of our head are numbered by His Father in heaven, and that just as sparrows do not fall to the ground without Him knowing – then we should consider of how much more value we are to God more than the sparrows. 
 
God was Abraham’s friend. To be a friend God had to relate personally to Abraham. God was personal with Abraham, and therefore is eternally a personal Being. The entire 366 days of this trek has revealed something marvellous to this writer. It is not that God tries to model His approach to us on the model of the dynamics of the way human beings relate to each other. It is actually the other way round. Father, Son and Holy Spirit have a dynamic relationship  between each other, and Adam and Eve were created in the image of God with the potential of this dynamic working within their life and existence too. God didn’t copy us, it is us that are supposed to copy Him. To look outward and to relate to those around us is a characteristic of God and should be sought after as a normal lifestyle. 
 
Being friendly, having friends, and owning friendships is a Divinely ordained manner of existence and ongoing conduct of life. The true commitment of friendship is displayed in the Bible as a God birthed thing. David and Jonathan’s friendship is related with language that the western twenty-first century person finds hard to grasp. They loved each other as they loved their own souls. When Jonathan was killed, David sang a song that  stated that the love of Jonathan “excelled the love of women.” No! It does not mean in the slightest that David and Jonathan were homosexual. It is language of a true, sincere and unconditional friendship whether or not it crosses the genders.
 
Real and true friendship involves freedom of choice, accountability, truth, openness and forgiveness. Real friendship looks at the heart, not just the “packaging.” Genuine friendship loves for love’s sake, not just for what it can get in return. True friendship is both challenging and exciting. It risks, it overlooks faults, and it loves unconditionally, but it also involves being truthful, even though it may hurt. Relationships in real life involve different levels of friendships, and that’s okay. But humans are designed by God for lasting relationships.
All this relates to what we have seen and heard in Abraham, and what we have discovered that worked both ways between Everlasting Jehovah and Abraham. If somebody wants friends, they must show themselves friendly. That is what Proverbs 18:24 tells us. Always remember that it was God Himself who initiated the relationship between Himself and Abram in Ur of the Chaldees. It is God who approached with the “chat up line” for friendship. 
If my readers have not yet heard His voice, let me assure you that God is talking to you now as you read.
My one major bullet point that I have learned in these 366 steps of following Abraham, is that I have what Abraham had. I am not only hanging on to Abraham’s shirt tails with both hands, I am similarly and allegorically stood on his shoulders, as well as being carried on his tummy like some mothers carry their babies. I thoroughly enjoyed and learnt a lot from trekking with Abraham.
 
WHAT’S THE POINT? I think I shall have to start again with my trek with this man.
 

December 30

December 30
TREKKING WITH ABRAHAM
“Do not think of telling yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones.”
Luke 3:8 and Matthew 3:9
Traits of the Godly “Faith Revolutionary”
It is always exciting, I feel, to attempt to read the Bible with fresh eyes and ears. I know it is impossible to undo what you already know, but the challenge is to put yourself in the frame of mind where one can read the scripture with an open mentality that is daring the written page to tell you something you do not already know. It was while I was in such a frame of mind that I was reading Abraham’s full life story the other day and “it” hit me. Although we tend to see Abraham in a religious, calm cool and collected sort of perspective, I jumped when it came to me that Abraham was a wild, giant, dangerous revolutionary kind of a man – a complete and fully armed radical. I saw him in a new light. I decided I want some of what he had.
Rembrandts painting of the Apostle Paul
Do you desire to be a revolutionary for Christ? Abraham was without doubt a true revolutionary. He went where no man had been before in relationship with God, and it could be argued that no man has been since. He thought and did what no other human could think and do. He was known, posthumously, as the “friend of God”. Christians sing songs today denoting, that because of this fact concerning Abraham, and because we have a faith alike to Abraham’s, we also are “all” friends of God. The access is there, of course. By legal definition in the eyes of God, it is true, justified souls have full access to the grace in which they stand. However, action needs to be effected on those things that are believed in the heart. Spiritual revolution, which is what Abraham affected, I believe combines aspects of spiritual, psychological and philosophical renewal and innovation (as well as physical rejuvenation like Abraham).  The revolution Abraham created dealt with how men may live – and live with absolute truth burning a hole in their heart, and with an eternal meaning and purpose to life.  I believe it is true to say that, this is where all revolutionaries stand. As a result, the spiritual revolutionary of any generation, or any culture, is likely to have both intensive family relations, intensive relationships with their “spiritual sons” or disciples, as well as extended periods of intense isolation. “Intense” is the key word on the menu. This observation is true of Abraham, true of many spiritual revolutionaries throughout Church History, and I assume must be universal in its application.
If one hungers to be radical for Christ, a revolutionary – a creative innovator for God – one must be ready to break away from one’s hometown environment, in exactly the same way as Abraham left “his father’s house”, his father’s God and his native idolatrous religion. Often traumatic events or personal tragedy will jar one out of a complacent existence and force one to confront the universal dilemmas concerning things such as death, suffering, evil and redemption, healing, deliverance, the miraculous and the glory of Christ on earth. One’s personal quest, desire and hunger will lead them to formulate a vision of the reality of things that concern not only themselves, but also all humanity. The vision will be so huge to them that it will seem at times to be like a dream and nothing else. I, personally, have a dream that is bigger than me, so did Abraham, and so must you have the same.
As an opening statement, from my personal reading and research, as well as from the life of Abraham in scripture, I have to conclude that most, if not all great revolutionaries have periods of isolation that prove to be vital. Moses had 40 years isolation, Christ Himself had 40 days.  Paul spent time in Arabia. Luther was locked away in the Wartburg.  And that period of isolation  that I am referring to may be preceded or punctuated by encounters with a variety of rival spiritual  realities (i.e. the devil with Jesus) and religious traditions (as with Abraham and the Canaanites, Judaism with Paul, Rome with Luther). These encounters seem to serve to enrich and stimulate the spiritual imagination, faith, and understanding, and may, as I suggest for Abraham, serve as the raw material for a creative renewal of mind and attitude, and the coming together of all the concepts taught by the Spirit of God.
At some moment in the revolutionary’s development, a “peak experience” or revelation crystallizes, or makes a complete picture of the new vision. It is then that the individual, as a “lonely man of faith,” undergoes a mystical experience, which imbues him with an overwhelming, irresistible sense of purpose: to communicate his vision and its message to others, indeed often to all who may hear. The communication is almost always initially verbal, by word of mouth or in direct dialogue. Much religious teaching consists of written accounts of the oral teachings which necessarily institutionalize (and often fossilize) the revolutionary content of the spiritual message of the founder. 

The problem usually is, of course, that written text must be interpreted and therefore cannot have the direct and decisive impact of directed verbal address. Yet, recording the words of the spiritual revolutionary and his disciples is the major manner of ensuring continuity. Herein lies the tension between innovation and tradition, between the new and the old, the fresh and the already understood that comprises the crisis of presentation for the revolutionary. The crisis is symbolised in the new identity and sometimes-new name and title that the founder assumes.
 

Such an identity is based on a rejection of his father and tradition – or whatever it was that held him prior to their own inner revolution. The revolutionary leader must necessarily be cautious, nay – mistrust his own disciples – as if to say, “How can I trust my children not to abandon me and my teachings, as I abandoned those of my fathers?”  The extent to which the spiritual revolutionary is able to successfully and creatively resolve this crisis of continuity may determine the lasting success of the mission of his revolution. John the Baptist tries to formulate his radical religious revelationary revolution (or should it be revolutionary revelation) in verbal terms of an older purer tradition when he says to his fellows in Luke and Matthew: “Do not think of telling yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones.” Here the Baptist is undoing the syncretism of biological and spiritual descent, claiming “true sons of Abraham” are only those of the Spirit. Certainly, whatever mentoring the spiritual revolutionary may have received himself, it is clear that one of his great tasks is the mentoring of others: selecting, guiding, and bringing out the best in those that concur with the teaching. The more brought under the tsunami of the revolutionary understanding, the greater the impact, of course.

WHAT’S THE POINT? Ask God to raise up more Christian revolutionaries.

December 29

December 29
TREKKING WITH ABRAHAM
“And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”
Matthew 3:9
There was none greater amongst those born of women than John the Dipper i.e. The Baptist. He was a man who did not mince his words. Here in our trek with Abraham’s memory, character and contribution to the biblical revelation, we hear the mighty prophet John say some startling words to the scribes, Sadducees and the Pharisees, about their perception and understanding of  who Abraham was.

 

“Do not think you can say to yourselves…” Literally, “And say not confidently”. The word in the original, commonly rendered, “do not think”, seems here, and in many places, not to diminish, but rather add to the force of the word with which it is joined. In plain English, “You can say Abraham is your father, but it does not help your relationship with God one iota.” It is extremely hard to believe how great the presumption of the Jews was on this issue; their relation to Abraham. One of the historians of the times informs us that one of their famous sayings of the Jews around this period of time was, “Abraham sits near the gates of hell, and suffers no Israelite to go down into it.” What moral insanity and demonic logic nurtures any sort of belief in the idea that because I am physically related to anybody, I have a place settled for me in heaven. Jewish or Christian we must pronounce a pox on the very concept.
Then the Baptist continues, “I tell you” – this preface always denotes the importance of what follows, and that something heavy is about to be verbally thrown at his listeners. “… Of these stones…” — probably pointing to those which lay before them, “… God can raise up children for Abraham.”
http://www.lifebite.co.uk/index.php/home/detail/john_the_baptists_bones_found/
Lannon’s paraphrase of this entire statement is: “Do not ever imagine that God needs you in order to fulfil his promise to his servant and friend, Abraham. God can make each stone in the Jordan into a living breathing heir of grace. But grace it is; choice of faith it is – not birth from the womb. Do not ever presume on your ancestry, and think that because Abraham was your father 42 or so generations ago, that you have free access to heaven. You may indeed be the physical seed of the father of the faithful, but you too have to be a child of Abraham’s faith before you too join the faithful. Abraham is only the father of the faithful because he lived by faith. You must do the same. God can as easily make stones out of you generation of vipers, as people of faith from the stones on the river bed.”
God will never be short of means for fulfilling His message before the caprice of vain, arrogant and supercilious men. The point is that the belief system that was embedded behind the thought that says, with a nose stuck high in air, “We have Abraham as our father, therefore we are going to heaven when we die,” and it was a commonly held belief amongst many in the days of Christ before the crucifixion. The faith of Abraham was lost, mingled and defiled when mixed with and corrupted by equating it with the Decalogue handed down by Moses. The Jews put Abraham and Moses together as two fathers of the nation and stirred their words in a soup together, and out came the nonsense that says, “Because I am descended from Abraham, and follow the law that Moses gave us as the chosen people, I must be ready for heaven.” It would seem that they had absolutely no concept of the difference between these mighty characters and what their lives taught, and indeed still teach.
God will find people of faith with “the unrespectable” and people that are nothing, even if “the respectable,” and people that are “something” reject Him. We must not allow anyone of us, simply because we are orthodox in belief, or exceedingly biblical in our religious observances, even dream that we must therefore be in the favour of God, and that we are in no need to repent of our sins and exercise a living faith in the living Christ. God can do without any of us, but we cannot do without repentance and the lifestyle that proves our faith to be true. Relationship is everything. Relationship is all. Relationship with God is the number one priority. But relationship with people, especially with the household of faith, is vital too. He who says he loves God and does not love his brother is a liar. Those who love Christ must love the church He bought with his own blood. But love for Christ, hunger for God, obedience to God, and passion for God is what made Abraham the father of the faithful. Even though his godliness impacted so many, his character and virtue on its own has not, does not and never will qualify anybody else for heaven. Many things can be imparted from one man of God to the people -but righteousness is not one of them.
We must not throw out the baby with the bath water. Those who are descended from Abraham physically, are part of Israel, and in time and space God has a purpose for the physical nation of Israel. The day will come, immediately prior to Christ’s return to earth, when the physical nation of Israel will – in one day, turn to Christ. But it will still be a matter of choice, and repentance and faith.
What a remarkable truth when the old prophets declared that He can take hearts of stone and transform them into filial submissive spirits. We must know this; all the wonders of changed lives and trophies of grace belong to God alone. Grace is imparted through the faith we exercise.
A true son or daughter of Abraham is one who has faith and faith alone in God to save them. Even the wayward prophet Jonah, whilst at the bottom of the sea, and in the belly of the great whale, declared, “Salvation is of the Lord.” It is of Him. And even the faith we exercise to be saved is given to us by Him and from Him. My reader, he has given faith to you. Use it now and be saved.
WHAT’S THE POINT? Let’s get back to basics, and believe in Christ to be saved.

December 28

December 28
TREKKING WITH ABRAHAM
“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 8:11
Jesus Christ takes us where we have never been before. This remark here, from Matthew 8:11, is so original, so ground breaking, so stunning, that we somehow fail to grasp the new area He is taking us to with this remark. A feast? A feast with Abraham? A feast in the Kingdom of Heaven? Gentiles in the Kingdom, sat next to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Jesus is talking to a crowd, with his disciples next to him when He speaks these words. This is amazing.  Follow how amazing it was.
The Centurion’s miracle in Matthew 8 is accepted by most to be the same centurion whose miracle is related in Luke 7. Luke’s account is slightly longer and there are slight differences. That is no problem to any reader. For the uninitiated what happened is that a Centurion who lived in Capernaum had a servant who was dear to him, terminally ill and near death. Hearing that Jesus was in town he sent some friends to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant. Jesus received the message and was on His way to the house when another group of Jewish people met Jesus on behalf of the Centurion and said,“You don’t need to come to my house Lord. Just say the Word. The Centurion knows what authority is about. He takes orders from authority above him in the Legion. He gives orders that also have to be obeyed. So Lord, just say the word and my servant will be healed.” (That’s my paraphrase.)
Jesus was amazed, literally. The Bible says so. He stopped and turned to the disciples, and the crowd around Him, and said, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”  Now that is yet another amazing statement. Possibly two thirds of the way through His ministry, having interacted on spiritual issues and faith issues, and He declares that this gentile Roman soldier had faith beyond any He had seen. The Son of God was astounded.
Notice that the Centurion had expressed his faith in a search for healing, not for heaven. He asked no questions, apart from asking Christ to come, and then he cancelled the question with a statement. This Centurion, a hardened soldier, obviously knew God, and the life of faith to say such an awesome thing. The mind of Christ suddenly leaped forward to thoughts of His reign on earth, and who would be there with Him, and who would not. Then He speaks again and says, “And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”
When most people start negotiating Eschatology (that is the study of what goes on in the last days, the end of this world order, and what happens with the second coming of Christ and thereafter), they start discussing worldwide political scenes, earthquakes, wars, famines, and the order of tribulation, rapture and the rise of Antichrist. Jesus however leaps into a most wonderful picture of a feast in the kingdom of heaven. I follow the pathway of all commentators that I know of, and state that I believe the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are synonymous.
By inference of His remarks, Jesus is saying that this Centurion is saved, and a “fully paid up member” of those who will live in their future life in the Kingdom of God. It is plainly implied, though not explicitly stated. My friends, “Dinner with Abraham” is on the schedule for those who are in the Kingdom. And by the sounds of it, extrapolating sensibly from the words of Jesus, amaze Him with your faith, and you get a VIP ticket to be near Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
If we needed any assurance, if we were unsure hitherto about what happens the other side of the grave, we have it clearly given to us by Christ Himself. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be there together. So they will be resurrected and alive. We have said much about this through the last year, but suffice it to say now; Abraham and those who had a like faith such as he, are conscious now with Christ on the other side, and will be raised again when mortality is swallowed up by immortality.
Note that there is a feast. People of the resurrection eat. I have been in discussions where some have insisted that this is profoundly and deeply symbolic, but I have to negate such a view. Jesus was not talking to mystics and spiritual people. Christ was not debating with College professors or doctors of philosophy and scripture. The common folk heard Him gladly, and it was they who were surrounding Him when He spoke. If He talked of folks coming from the west and the east to feast with father Abraham, I have to insist that language has lost its meaning if Christ meant something else.
The fact that Abraham will be there, sat down and eating, assumes that Christ is referring to the future resurrection. The fact that He refers to people coming from the east and west, suggests that the meeting will be universal, which means more who were gentiles in their natural lives than Jews. 
Then Christ sadly adds, “But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  The reader is led to some self evident assumptions in the scenario that Jesus is picturing. Resurrection. Folks gathering from the world to eat with Abraham and Co. Inferring the gathering at Jerusalem. This gathering will be in, and part of, the kingdom of God. While those who were outwardly seeming to be the children of the kingdom, which could only refer to the Jewish people, would be cast out into what Christ refers to “outer darkness” – a world full of “weeping” as well as “gnashing of teeth.” The exhilaration of the faith of the Centurion carried Christ to thoughts of His reign on earth. I sincerely desire to excite my Saviour with a similar rampant faith like the Centurion. Dinner with Abraham? I want to be there.“And Jesus said, … Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done to you. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.” Abraham will be in heaven, people; and so will that Centurion be.
 
WHAT’S THE POINT? Trekking with Abraham in his 175 years, has led him to be in paradise ever since, but he will be raised from the dead and publicly seen in the resurrection of the righteous.

December 27

December 27
TREKKING WITH ABRAHAM
‘… Abraham’s bosom…”
Luke 16:22
Day 8
 

Abraham’s conviction was that it would be no use even sending Lazarus back from the grave to tell Dives’ brothers. Dives obviously believed his brothers would end up where he was; otherwise he would not have been worried about their destiny. Perhaps, even in hell, the other side of the grave, he was aware of his brother’s attitude to the scriptures. If they were living with the same mindsets and attitude to God and the scriptures that he himself had carried before his death, where else could they end up? If they were reading Moses and the prophets like he was (or like he was not) he had better suggest something more radical. It looks like he had no confidence in the scriptures at all, but that was only because he had no real knowledge of what the scriptures taught.. 

As with most people who have no proper faith in God and/or His Word, he jumped to the paranormal. ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ was Dives’ last shriek. Make no mistake; it was not that the ex-rich man believed in the resurrection. All he wanted was his five brothers to be rescued from the torturous existence in hell that he himself was enduring. It was hope in a paranormal visitation to his brothers that he was after.

Abraham’s answer was final. It reads like the father of the faithful was talking in the same tone as Anne Robinson when she says, “Dives, you are the weakest link. Good-bye!” Jesus explained that Abraham answered very quickly and abruptly, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Ouch! 


Dives was cut off. That was the end of the story. He would be enduring the “walk of shame” as it were for the rest of eternity.  Dives had to return to his anguish and torture in the flames of the intermediate hell. We are given to understand that eternal hell, after the last judgement may be even worse. 

What Abraham was saying is an important facet of Biblical truth. There are churches and movements that have history of their non-biblical stance on this aspect of divine truth – and we are not simply talking of the Catholic Church here. It may be true that out of all churches, movements, denominations and Streams they have more history of biblical doctrinal abuse than anybody else, but it certainly does not mean that they are the only people scarred by their tradition. My absolute conviction is that if there is any point of belief, conduct, policy or attitude to life, God, church, church services and anything else that is part of the bundle of life in  Christianity worldwide, it is the Bible – and only the Bible that we must lean on concerning exactly what it is that Christians believe..


The fact that traditionally this movement has done this for twenty years, and that denomination has done that for 100 years, and the other Church has done this for more than a thousand years, is absolutely no reason to accept it as truth – or even wisdom. The Catholic Church has an incredible history. Some of it as evil as other parts are good. But a lot of the tenets of the faith of the Roman Catholic Church are based on tradition. Catholic Church tradition is mightier than scripture to orthodox Catholics. For instance: Mary is the mother of Jesus. This is true and biblical and held as true by the Church of Rome. Jesus was the Son of God, very God of very God. This also is held as true by mainstream Christianity, as well as the Roman Catholic belief system. From this, at some point of history some ecclesiastical synod or Pope declared that as Jesus was God, and Mary was His mother, Mary was therefore the Mother of God. Here I press the awful sounding buzzer and declare, “Wrong answer!”  This declaration of “church doctrine” is so unbiblical as to be anti-Christian. How could that ever be held as Biblical or Christian? Having taken that on board as truth, the next step was to declare that she was pure and without sin.  False doctrine is like water in a valley – it runs downward and downward until it can run no more. False teaching is a moving animal. A little biblical deviation today will lead to a wider gap with scripture later on, and the third or fourth generation will be so perverted in its teaching that a new movement would have to be created.  But in the Magnificat Mary says that she, “rejoices in God my Saviour.” One does not need a course of Theology to understand that it’s only sinners that need a Saviour.  Mary was therefore a sinner like the rest of us. When somebody cried out to Christ while He was carrying the cross to Calvary, “Blessed are the breasts that suckled you,” meaning of course, blessed is Mary; His answer was “rather, blessed are they that do the will of God.” What is my point? My point is that Mariolatry is held onto as if it was sacred truth, and it is a tradition that was set as “the teaching of the church” many many years ago.

 
Protestants scream at Catholics for this sort of thing, and yet we “Protestants” (what are protesting about these days?) have their own traditions that are neither biblical nor helpful. Anything outward and symbolic, like the gowns and incense in churches both protestant and Papal are an affront to Him who is the substance of all that Old Testament shadows signified. Even the “triviality” of clerical collars and ministerial garb are symbolic of aspects of things in the Old Testament, and Christ has abolished all the symbols of sacrifice, holiness, blood and surrender to God and has given us “The Real Thing.”  All that Old Testament language and practice was absolutely nothing but pointers to Him who was the fulfilment of every symbol and allegory that is in those pages. Christ is all and in all. And we only have that insight from the scripture.


Christianity stands or falls by the scripture and the power of God. What we know of God is in the scripture. What we can learn of God is parametered in the scripture. What we believe as Christians is dictated to us from the scripture. It is the Bible that is the ultimate authority of “the whats,” the whys” and “the wherefores” of Christian belief and practice. 


All scripture is given to us by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. It is the Bible we need to read with submissive hearts and minds. The impact of the Bible in the Old Testament, when there was less than the 66 books we have now, was amazing. The old nation of Judah lost the Bible because of idolatry. It seems amazing that no one else seems to have had a copy in the early days of King Josiah. When the five books of Moses were found in the dirty, dusty unused temple, somebody took it to young King Josiah who had the book read to him. Josiah was thrown into a deep repentance, so deep he ripped his clothes in two. The entire nation was changed overnight by Josiah’s mission for national righteousness, because of the Book. His radical reformation, however, was not a deep enough transformation to stop Judah’s deportation twenty five or so years later. But it did hold back God’s judgement for a while. The prophets said so.


The Bible holds so much. It needs to be read, and then read again until its teachings and concepts become second nature to our mouth and the cultural norm, for our sense of morality, and our spirituality.


There is the living Word and the written Word, i.e. Christ and the Bible. Both infallible. Both life changing. We need, as Christians, to fully confront and interact with all that the written and the living Word says. They never contradict each other, and they talk in perfect oneness and harmony. Dives’ brothers would not be converted from a visitor from beyond the grave. No, because they would not believe Moses and the prophets. However, a year or two after Jesus shared this story, He did return from the grave – so perhaps Dives did miss his brothers moving to new gigs in the place called hell.


WHAT’S THE POINT? Search through the Bible for answers to your issues, and the construct of your belief system.

December 26

December 26
TREKKING WITH ABRAHAM
‘… Abraham’s bosom…”
Luke 16:22
Day 7
 

We may have, over the last week, squeezed a lot of juice on the subject of biblical eschatology (That is the study of last things, the second coming, final judgements and everything else associated with the long term future of Christians, the unsaved and the physical world.), but I do not thing that Jesus recalled this story and repeated it to people with eschatology in mind. 

 

This is only funny in our modern generation e-books and Kindle. Unfortunately there are people who have never heard of Kindle or “E-versions” of the bible who still make the same remark.

We have made some comments as to why “paradise,” as it was in the Old Testament was referred to by Christ Himself as Abraham’s bosom. He was obviously wanting folks to grasp the fact that to get to “Abraham’s bosom,” people needed to walk and believe  as Abraham himself did. That is interesting! Fascinating even! But that was not the point of Christ’s telling of this account.

The fact is that the story is an historical account with no parabolic significance (Although I have heard one preacher take the bare faced effrontery to liken the rich man to the Jewish nation and Lazarus to the New Testament Church), and for that reason I believe it is legitimate to make any observation from the scripture verses and expound it as the truth concerning death and the after-life. The story is telling us as it is, with the ultimate authority of Christ Himself. I  believe, however, the prime goal of the story is contained in the last four verses.


In hell, Dives is so horrified and pained by his “present” experience that he has turned into the most passionate evangelical one can imagine, even though it was only for his five brothers alone. A few moments in hell brought Dives to his senses – but too late. His eternal existence was set. God desires all people to be saved, but there are those who will not be. It is a catastrophe.

Abraham seems to know of Dives family situation and the religiosity of his family. The presence of scriptures with which to meditate and build one’s faith was not in existence in the days of Abraham’s flesh. From the elevated position of having been in paradise for nearly two thousand years at this point, he was aware of the power of the inspired scriptures and the power and impact they had brought to bring people to faith, and to build that faith. He would have also noticed through whatever he saw of history, that where the scriptures were neglected faith declined, and where faith declined evil increased, and when evil increased the regular intake of clientele in the paradise of Abraham’s bosom incredibly declined. 

So Abraham’s logic to Dives was simplistic but profound. “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” Now there is a huge issue. They actually have copies, or a copy of Moses and the prophets (which is Jewish language for, “They have the whole Old Testament”) – but are they hearing it. They read the scriptures but do they know them? And more important still; Do they hear them in their hearts? 

It might not be so common in people’s homes these days, but I am old enough to remember visiting homes as a pastor, where huge Bibles were placed on the centre coffee table in the living room. There are one or two occasions I can remember with deep embarrassment, where I placed the cup of tea I had been given, on top of the Bible because there was no space on the coffee table apart from where the Bible was. The ladies of these respective houses rushed to explain that I was not being very “godly” when I placed my cup on top of their treasured Bible. However, when I removed the cup it revealed 6 or 7 months dust over the cover, with a ring cleaned by the presence of my hot cup oftea.  I was too ‘refined” to say at anytime, “Neither is it true Godliness to give a huge bible prime place in the living room that is never read”. Those memories had great impact on me. It was a well utilised illustration I often used concerning attention to scripture.

I have been a Christian since April 1968. I have immersed myself in the Bible for all of those years. I have read it over and over again. In the ups and downs of my life, the times of progress and holiness, and the times when integrity has failed me in whatever dimension, I have never failed in my pursuit of God’s truth no matter how inconsistent my life was with that truth. Preachers and teachers have repeated in my hearing many times over the years, “God’s Word will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from God’s Word”. I believe that it is an absolute truth. Please do not congratulate me on my systematic reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation many times. It is not the reading of it per se that is the important issue. And please do not think for one moment I am suggesting we do not read it. I wish the whole world would read the bible again and again. However, it is not the reading of the bible that is the most important, as the hearing and the heeding of it.  If I heard with my spirit as much and as clearly as I have with my ears I would be the wisest man on the planet. The problem is that I hear more with my ears than I listen to with my spirit. Oh dear Lord, have mercy on me! Have mercy on us all. May it never be that I or my readers ever emulate those two Christian ladies who treasured and defended their huge family Bible – BUT NEVER READ IT.

Do not think for one moment that when Jesus said to the Sadducee’s, “You err not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God”, that the Sadducees never opened the scriptures. They probably gave more time to the scriptures than you or I ever have done. But having immersed their minds into those scriptures, they were still utterly deaf, dumb and daft towards what Jesus was saying. I refuse to enter into pride before God or man and claim, “But I am a Pentecostal bible believing, tongue talking fundamentalist”. I believe it to be almost a sin to claim to be anything but a truth seeker, a Christ hunter and a God desirer. I believe that when I arrive in the presence of Christ I will be embarrassed about the things I do not understand or see, even after reading certain scriptures hundreds of times. My doctrinal belief system, or my decades of experience, of observation and learning won’t give me one tiny iota of benefit in heaven unless I own it in the presence of Christ and live it with integrity. The soundest and most profoundly spiritual man who was educated in scripture and wrote more than half of the books in the New Testament said in his senior years, “Oh that I might know Him…” (Philippians 3:10). No braggadocio there. 


Hear me correctly. Read your bible till it comes out of your ears. You are foolish if you don’t. Study to show yourself approved by God and by man. But never ever lose track of the truth that the only solitary piece of rationale that will get us into heaven is how well we know Christ Himself. Nothing else and no one else really matters. While preaching in the USA in Kansas City I met the most beautiful Christian lady who was 105 years old. She told me she was converted age 5. 100 years as a Christian. She was sweet, intelligent and alert. I asked her the secret of her longevity. She answered, amongst other things, “That I might know him, has been my life’s cry.” I smiled and spoke nicely to her. I should have lnelt at her feet and asked her to lay hands on me and pray for the same insight.


WHAT’S THE POINT? There is head knowledge, and there is heart knowledge. Head knowledge just makes us arrogant and clever. Heart knowledge could get us into heaven.

December 25

December 25
TREKKING WITH ABRAHAM
‘… Abraham’s bosom…”
Luke 16:22
Day 6


 Abraham’s bosom was the place of the righteous dead before the death and resurrection of Christ. That is exactly what this story tells us. I am talking about Luke 16 verses 19 -31.  To make a few comprehensive statements about where we go when we die, and what the Bible teaches about it, my intention today is make a few statements and then list some verses. It is not my norm when writing to include bible references, but as this is an issue of which I find many Christians either in ignorance, or in error, I shall include a stack of scripture references.

Thomas touching and believing the resurrected Christ – Caravaggio

To start with, and I do not want to insult the intelligence of my readers, in the Old Testament the bodies of both the righteous and unrighteous went to the grave (Hebrew is Kehver). I hear you asking, “Why would I make such a simplistic obvious and self evident remark?”  I am making this remark because the word, “grave,” in English translations is used both when the Hebrew means grave, and when it means the place of the dead. Kehver is sometimes anglicised as Qeber, and it means grave –plain and simple. In the King James Version it appears 67 times in the Old Testament. It is translated 35 times as grave, 26 times as sepulchre and 6 times as burying place. Could that be simpler? That means the righteous people went to the grave (Genesis 50:5 referring to Jacob/Israel). The wicked went to their grave (Nahum 1:14). Everybody goes to the grave. Even Our Lord Jesus Christ went to the grave (Isaiah 53:9). In English we use the word meaning “the ground” in which someone was buried, or the fact that someone was dead and “wherever the dead go”, we say “Charlie has gone to the grave!” meaning someone has died. It is not so in Hebrew. Kehver/Qeber means the piece of land in which, or on which somebody was buried or laid to rest. It cannot and does not mean anything else.

Then, still in the Old Testament there is the word Sheol. Again Sheol appears in the Old Testament texts 65 times. It is translated as Hell 31 times, grave 31 times also, and pit 3 times. This word means, according to the professors and Doctors of Hebrew, and Rabbi’s who speak it as their own language, “the invisible place of the dead”. There is the basic presupposition behind the word, that people go somewhere else when they die – and this is the place. This word is a bit problematic to Christians who do not want to dig into scripture. And I shall explain why.


In the Old Testament both the righteous and the unrighteous all turn up in Sheol. So translators are happy to translate it as hell when wicked and evil people go to Sheol, but they always considered it problematic when the righteous and godly people die and go to Sheol. Do you see the problem? Psalm 9:17 declares with typical biblical “none political correctness”, “The wicked shall be turned into hell (sheol) and all the nations that forget God.” But the Bible talks of Jacob/Israel also going down to Sheol. So to avoid misunderstanding by cursory bible readers, they translated the word as grave. (Genesis 37:5). It didn’t seem quite correct to put in the Bible that the righteous Jacob was going to hell, and the place of the dead was and still is too complex for first time bible readers to wrestle with, at least in the UK it is. So they took the easy way out and translated it as grave. The problem is with the English language. 


There is no problem when one knows Hebrew and reads it in Hebrew. Sheol does not lead to any ambiguity in Hebrew.


So how do we know that there is any difference in the places where the saved and the unsaved, the righteous and the unrighteous went in Old Testament days? There are two verses that give incredible insight into a basic understanding of Sheol. Modern translations, and especially the paraphrases, usually gloss over these two verses. The older translations where the principle of strict translation was utilised (today it is usually a philosophy of dynamic equivalents that rules), normally keep it clear and understood. The verses are Deuteronomy 32:22, and Psalm 86:13. Both these verses refer to a “lower hell” or “lower sheol”. Read almost any modern translation and the meaning as I have just expressed it is commonly lost. All the literal translations make it very plain. The Hebrew literalness of a lower place in Sheol, presupposes an upper place in Sheol. Would you not agree? And that is exactly what we have in Luke 16:19-31. That explains why Dives could see Lazarus and Abraham in Sheol, and why there was a gulf fixed. One place was a hell. One place was like a heaven. But it was actually all Sheol


As a quick aside we have to mention 2 Peter 2:4 which talks of Angels that sinned being cast down to a place called Tartarus. Zodhiates states that this is traditionally referred to by Jewish tradition and doctrine as the very deepest abyss in the midst of Sheol. Human lost souls, for whatever reason, are not – or cannot be cast down there. But angels that sinned are generally considered to be the “Sons of God” that married human wives in Genesis 6. That is another story for another day.


When Christ died his body was buried in the grave. It is my belief and understanding that Christ descended into Sheol (1 Peter 3:18-19), and preached to every soul in Sheol, angelic, human, righteous and unrighteous. But we must understand that preaching is a declaration of truth. When truth is declared to mankind now,it is with the opportunity to repent and be saved. In Sheol there is, of course, no such opportunity. Christ declared in Sheol that He alone had the keys of death and hell (Revelation 1 verse 18). The devil was stripped of his role as master, lord and gatekeeper of Sheol. Jesus has the keys. He is Lord both of the dead and the living. Having declared such truth to all and sundry in Sheol over the period of His pre-resurrection death, He arose taking the righteous with Him (Matthew 12:40. Ephesians 4:8–10). The righteous dead were thus liberated from the devils clutches even in death. This means that when Christians die now, they go immediately to heaven, in the presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8. Philippians 1:22-24. Hebrews 12:22–24. Revelation 6:9–11.). It also means that the paradise, that was, is now empty. Every person that ever died in faith is now with Christ, no matter what is left of their bodies. Where Dives is in the lower “compartment” of Sheol is getting fuller and fuller until the end of the thousand year reign of Christ.


Abraham’s faith, and God’s covenant with him is the reason why Jews, and even Jesus Christ referred to Paradise as Abraham’s bosom. Abraham is now with Christ. When resurrection arrives Christ will sort out where the bodies are.


WHAT’S THE POINT? Face the reality of eternity.