Posted by: davidlarkin | July 12, 2014

A Prayer for John Shelby Spong

I recently read the autobiography of John Shelby “Jack” Spong, Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love, and Equality. Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey for 24 years before his retirement in 2001. He is a prolific writer, and his latest book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, was published in 2013 when he was 82 years old. Bishop Spong considers himself to be a prophet of a new age of Christianity, a post-modern age where science speaks to Spong louder and with the authority that the Holy Scriptures no longer have for him, if ever they did.  Born in 1931 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jack Spong’s long life is very interesting from a human point of view. He was a civil rights activist, leading his southern dioceses in integrating their cities in the early 60s, and always preached and lived the social gospel.  While he was active in issues of social justice, he also began early in his ministry to question the authority of Scripture, finding it difficult to relate to the old stories from two thousand or more years ago in the modern age of science. Consequently, he gradually discarded the Holy Scriptures, the personal God, the deity of Jesus, the incarnation of God in the flesh, the atoning sacrifice and death of Jesus on the cross, for a god compliant with modern science of Spong’s making.  Spiritually, it was a difficult task to finish this book because my faith is in a different God and a different Jesus.  I am a Christian for whom the “Five Solas of the Reformation” are the foundation principles of my faith:

Sola Fide, by faith alone.
Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

 Over time, Bishop Spong rejected the five solas, replacing them with a new faith, a faith that he considered to be the beginning of a new reformation of Christianity.  He was very proud of his intellectual creation of a post-modern “Christianity” that used Christian nomenclature, but with anti-orthodox meaning, rejecting the Scriptures as the Word of God, but rather, as man’s writings to men in ancient times, writings that no longer had meaning to modern scientific men and women like John Shelby Spong.  He is also very proud of his academic and intellectual accomplishments, repeatedly referring to his academic and professional achievements and accolades, interactions with prominent famous names, thus, relying on the praise of mankind outside the orthodox church of God for confirmation of his radical anti-theology.  He has very unkind things to say about conservative Christians who hold to the traditional orthodoxy.  For example, he had disdain for evangelism and those who took the Great Commission seriously: at a gathering of the Episcopal House of Bishops, Spong writes, the day devoted to Evangelism “hit a new low in content and in attendance, . . . and while our conservative evangelical bishops droned on about how they sought souls for Christ and how we should follow their good example, the crowds around the coffee tables in the hall grew larger and larger.” [p. 301].   He and his liberal brethren did not take seriously Jesus’s Scriptural command to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Matthew 28:1-20  Spong rejects the personal God of the Bible, the physical resurrection of Christ, the incarnation of God in the man Jesus and his divinity and redefines Christianity in his own terms on his own authority, Sola Spong.  Spong proudly considers himself the new progressive Martin Luther, when in fact, he is the anti-Luther.  In his 1999 book Why Christianity Must Change or DieSpong announces his creation of a new “Christian” religion, calling his work, “a manifesto calling the church to a new reformation.”  As he states in the appendix to Here I Stand,

In that book I sketch out a view of God beyond theism, an understanding of the Christ as a God presence and a vision of the shape of both the church and its liturgy for the future.

“Theism” is generally defined as “belief in the existence of a god or gods; specifically : belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.  Spong arrogantly wants to go beyond a belief in the Christian God who is a person with whom we have a personal relationship with, pray to, and rely on for our salvation.  He wants to replace God with a “god presence,” an impersonal force. Praying to God is an antiquated concept for Spong.  All four Gospels proclaim that Jesus prayed to the Father, more than 25 times.  The night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.  Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Matthew 26:36-46 [ESV]

Spong rejects this depiction of Jesus himself praying to God, the Father, as a person who hears our prayers.  Spong has summarized his anti-theism with a sorry mockery of Luther’s 95 Theses.  On 31 October 1517, Luther posted the ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, which is considered the commencement of the Reformation.  Luther was calling for a reformation of the Church based on the authority of Scripture, sola scriptura.  Spong, by contrast, is calling for a reformation of the Church by a rejection of the Scripture.  Spong is very proud of his technical fluency with Scripture, but he does not believe that the Scripture is the word of God. Reading his biography, Spong never speaks of any faith in the trinitarian God of orthodox Christianity.  He does not mention God at work in his life, he abandons prayer early in his ministry as meaningless, and he gives himself credit for all his achievements, no credit to God, whose minister he publicly and proudly pretends to be.  He has no faith that the Holy Spirit preserved the Scriptures for the faithful to find revelation of God’s plan of salvation.  Spong has no personal relationship with God because, for him, God is not a person with a name who hears us call on His name and saves us.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Acts 2:21 [ESV]

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:13 [ESV]

Here, the anti-Luther makes his proclamation which are Bishop Spong’s 12 Theses of unbelief, with my comments and Biblical references in brackets:

A Call for a New Reformation

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

[The Bible clearly speaks of a personal God who is Lord and has a name, which we translate from the Hebrew as Yahweh (archaically translated Jehovah).   Yahweh or Lord is a personal name, a proper name, that is called upon by His people by name.  Yahweh or the Lord is also a person.  John M. Frame, a Reformed theologian, explains the Biblical doctrine of a personal God as follows:

Scripture rarely if ever uses the word person to describe God, or even to refer to the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit.  But like Trinity, person is an extrabiblical word that is very nearly unavoidable for us.  It is the word in our vocabulary that applies to beings who speak, act intentionally, and so on.  The Biblical term living reinforces this picture. God is the living God against all the nonliving gods of the nations. (See e.g. Deut. 5:26, Josh. 3:10, 1 Sam. 17:26, 2 Kings 19:4, Psalm 42:2, 84:2, Jer. 10:10, Matt. 16:16, 26:63, Acts 14:15, Romans 9:26)

Frame, John M., The Doctrine of God, p. 25 (P&R Publishing 2002)

As R. A. Torrey summarized the personality of the God of the Bible:

God is a living God.  He hears, sees, knows, feels, wills, acts, is a person. He is to be distinguished from idols, which are things, not persons.  He is to be distinguished from the works of his hands which he formed. 

Torrey, R. A. What the Bible Teaches (1957)]

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

[Paul wrote to Titus of the identity of Jesus with God:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)]

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

[This is a matter of faith.  Spong rejects Scripture for a misconception of scientific Darwinian theory which has nothing to say about morality, whether man has a sinful nature or whether there is right and wrong, good and evil.  In fact, to accept a scientific Darwinian explanation of life is to reject morality in its entirety.

As Richard Dawkins bluntly puts it:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is.

River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995) p.133.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

Romans 3:23-24 (ESV)]

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible. 

[A matter of faith, Spong rejects the authority of Scripture, and denies that for God, nothing is impossible, and as the Angel revealed to Mary, she was pregnant by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

Luke 1:30-35 (ESV)

Joseph, the husband of Mary, like Bishop Spong, did not believe she could be pregnant without unfaithful sexual activity until he was told by God that she had conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:18-20 (ESV)

Thus, Jack Spong's rejection of the Virgin Birth is a rejection of the authority of Scripture, and a manifestation of his unbelief.]

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

 [This thesis is simply another expression of Spong's lack of faith in the truth of Scripture, and the supernatural nature of the events that are necessarily contrary to science.  The people who witnessed the miracles that Jesus did may not have been scientists, but they knew enough natural science to know that it defied the normal course of nature for a dead man to be raised to life by words alone, for a blind man to be made to see by words alone, etc.  Spong is no different from the unbelievers who witnessed the miracles that Jesus performed and still refused to believe.  Spong rejects the testimony of those who wrote the Gospels and lived with Jesus and wrote about it.  Luke begins his Gospel by expressing that his account is based upon reports from eyewitnesses:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)

And Peter reminds the early church, as well, that he was an eyewitness to the miraculous power of Jesus:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

1 Peter 1:16 (ESV)

The Apostle John begins his first letter with a attestation that he witnessed the Messiah, Jesus, with his own senses:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)

Bishop Spong disregards these statements, denying the honesty of the New Testament writers, who if not liars, were intentionally writing fiction for some unknown reason.  Spong never says this, only reasoning that these writings are ancient writings written for ancient people and not for modern men like Spong.  If they were telling the truth, however, they were speaking to Spong, and just as they speak to me and to others who believe.  I believe it is a work of the Holy Spirit that I believe these writings, and that for reasons that only God knows, the Holy Spirit has not revealed the truth of Scripture to Bishop Spong.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

1 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)]

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed. 

[Here, Spong defiantly denies the essence of the Gospel in Scripture based on his elevated view of modern man and his culture, ignoring the fact that if God viewed blood sacrifice as necessary to atone for sin, whether it seems barbaric to Jack Spong or not, is not to be questioned, if you believe the Scriptures are the word of God, which Spong does not.  As the Scripture states clearly, Jesus' death on the cross was the atonement for our sins, once and for all, the last sacrifice for sin, e.g.,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV)

For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 3:22-25 (ESV)

But when Christ[a] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

Hebrews 10:12 (ESV)]

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.

[Without the physical resurrection of Jesus in human history, there is no Christianity.  As Paul wrote:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:15-19 (ESV)

The disciple Thomas doubted that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave.  But Jesus knew this and appeared to the disciples after his resurrection.  He showed Thomas his resurrection body was a physical body, even though Jesus was able to supernaturally appear bodily inside the room at his will with the doors closed.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

John 20:26-28 (ESV)

For the Apostle Paul, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a truth based upon eyewitness accounts:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

1 Corinthians 15:3-9 (ESV)]

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.

[This assumes that the language used to describe the Ascension cannot be translated into language that is compatible with his conception of the universe as described by science today.  The Ascension was a transition of Jesus resurrection body, which was both physical and supernatural with the ability to appear in the room with the disciples, even though the Gospel account states that the doors were closed, to emphasize the supernatural characteristics of his resurrection body that we cannot understand.  If Jesus ascended into another dimension of existence, a spiritual dimension, it is not surprising that the accounts assume that he went to heaven somewhere up there.  It is a place where Jesus went to prepare a place for us, and does not require a literal representation in Scripture to be a truthful account of his ascension.

In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

John 14:2 (ESV)  Jesus ascended to "His Father's House," which is not of this world.  In his described ascension, He surely went up to a higher plane of existence where the Godhead dwells when he departed this fallen world.]

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.

[Here Spong is asserting his moral authority and autonomy and the moral autonomy of man himself to judge righteously by his own moral standards without regard to the expressed Scriptural authority and righteousness of God.  He simply does not believe that God as revealed in Scripture is the judge and that His Word in Scripture is a standard for the behavior of mankind.  This is a matter of faith, rejection of Scripture and his personal belief that man can be his own standard of morality and ethics.  The Christian relies on Scripture and the Holy Spirit to determine right and wrong in his practical reasoning.  Spong has no conception of walking in the Spirit as that is a Scriptural concept.]

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

[Another rejection of the authority of Holy Scripture, this is Spong's rejection of the person of God and the Scriptural admonishments to pray.  Ideally, we are to live in an attitude of prayer, ready at all times to call on God with prayer, praise and thanksgiving:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

All of the Psalms are prayers, pleas and praises, to the living God with the expectation that He hears us.  Jesus did not say, "if you pray."  He said, "When you pray . . . .'

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:5-6 (ESV)

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

Luke 11:1-4 (ESV)

Paul taught us that sincere prayer will bring us peace:

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

Scripture like this brings comfort for those who believe and prayer which follows Jesus and Paul's guidance is effective and brings peace.  Spong's clear rejection of Scripture results in a rejection of prayer.]

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

[Spong clearly has no understanding of salvation and the hope of heaven.  If he believes there is a life after death, and he does not base it on Scripture which he rejects, he cannot find it in science.  Where does he find any hope for life after death. Apparently in his musings and speculations.  We who believe the Scriptures have a real hope of heaven grounded and grounded in the Word of God.  We are not saved because we are motivated by guilt.  We are not motivated to do anything to be saved, but we are called to repentance.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NKJV)

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Luke 5:32 (NKJV)

unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:3 & 5 (NKJV)

We are surely called to repentance, but in responding to that call, we are acting in obedience by the work of the Holy Spirit and God's grace.  We are not autonomously responding to an internal motivation of guilt, to be saved and gain the hope of heaven.  We cannot respond from our own motivations, guilt or otherwise.  Repentance and sorrow for sin is a gift of God.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

Our hope of eternal life with the Lord accompanies our faith and the love of Christ.  Paul describes our inheritance in his letter to Titus:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,

Titus 1:1-3 (NIV)

Thus, our hope of a life after death has nothing to do with  a Church motivating us with guilt, as Spong wrongly understands the mission of the Church of God.  The mission of the Church of God, including the Episcopal Church, is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let God save those He will.  Salvation and the gift of eternal life are solely the sovereign work of God.  The Articles of Religion were established by the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Episcopal Church in Convention in 1801. Article  XVII, Of Predestination and Election, confirms the sovereignty of God in salvation of souls, stating in pertinent part as follows:

Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely:  they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

Bishop Spong's attribution of psychological persuasion by the Church, "motivation by guilt," is a modern theory of salvation posed by a man who does not know God or his Word, and as a natural man, he cannot understand the mystery of God's plan of salvation, and the election of God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 1:3-10 (ESV)  See also, my prior post Why Must God's Saving Grace Be Irresistible.

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

[This is not a statement of faith, but a statement of social and political equality.  God judges based on his standards, and He alone is the judge of sin.  God treats all equally for purposes of judgment, for God is not a respecter of persons.

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Acts 10:34-35 (ESV)

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom

2 Timothy 4:1 (ESV)

Spong was an outspoken promoter of the sinlessness of homosexuality, despite the Biblical admonitions against homosexual conduct.  If you do not believe and heed the Biblical warnings, which include warnings against gluttony, drunkenness, greed, and other non-sexual conduct expressly deemed sinful, you do so at your own risk, of course, and it is not a consolation at the judgment seat of God, that you and Jack Spong believed that science and your own inclinations justified your rejection of scripture.]

Spong ends his announcement of his theses of a New Reformation by dramatically stating:

“So I set these theses today before the Christian world and I stand ready to debate each of them as we prepare to enter the third millennium.”

The 12 Theses do not constitute an official Episcopal Church document.  As one Episcopalian Bishop, James Stanton of Dallas, wrote:

First, Spong styles himself a judge of the church, but that is not his actual role. Rather, his continued presence as a bishop in this church constitutes a judgment upon us. While Spong’s published positions are well outside any meaningful definition of the Christian faith, this has not taken him outside the [Episcopal] church. By retaining his office while making a travesty of the faith he was ordained to guard, he has dragged much of the church into darkness with him.

(Source: Can a Bishop be Wrong? Ten Scholars Challenge John Shelby Spong, Morehouse Publishing, 1998, p. 13).

Spong wants to debate his 12 Theses, but those of us who believe the Scriptures cannot debate with him because he does not believe the Scriptures and we do.  Those who do debate him, and I have listened to couple of his debates, are frustrated because there is no common ground.  Spong knows the Scripture, but he does not believe they reveal God’s plan of salvation.

Clearly, Bishop Spong is not a Christian.  When evangelical theologian and Anglican minister John Stott debated Spong, he concluded that Spong could not be a Christian based on the ideas he expressed, which Spong considered “name-calling”, rather than speaking the truth.  Here I Stand, p. 397.  It is not apparent from his autobiography that he ever was a Christian.  He did not express any history of a true relationship with the living God.  It is, therefore, difficult to label him a heretic or an apostate because both terms imply a departure from the faith, and likely, he never had the faith. As Jesus said to the Pharisees who did not believe Him or His miraculous works:

“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”

John 10:25-30 (ESV)

As John Stott discerned, Bishop Spong is an imposter, misrepresenting himself as a Christian and priest and minister of the Gospel from which the Episcopal/Anglican Communion has its roots in the English Reformation.  Accordingly, John Shelby Spong is an enemy of the Gospel and the Christian who believes the Gospel.  For a Christian to debate Spong may be close to violating Jesus admonition:

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

Matthew 7:6 (NIV)

But Jesus also told us we should pray for our enemies.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:44-45 (ESV)

So, we should pray for John Shelby Spong, that the truth be revealed to him by the Holy Spirit and he be called to repentance, like Paul on the Damascus Road.  His God-given intellectual and personal gifts, and consequential vanity and pride, allow him to believe that he alone is the vanguard and author of a new improved Christianity that can discard Holy Scripture upon which Christianity is based, and discard as irrelevant the life of Jesus and His resurrection, the historical source of the Christian faith. He needs to be humbled and convicted by the Holy Spirit and not lean on his own understanding and vain imaginations.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV)

As Jesus said:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3-4 (ESV)

In a previous post in 2011, An Ash Wednesday Prayer for Christopher Hitchens [posted before he died of cancer], I used a prayer from William Barclay’s 1965 Prayers for the Christian Year, his Ash Wednesday prayer of contrition and for God’s grace to recognize our sins and receive a spirit of repentance and godly sorrow.

Although the prayer is written as a prayer for “us”, by substituting “John Shelby Spong” for “us,” we have a very suitable and timely prayer for him, who, like Christopher Hitchens, is one of God’s creatures who has been greatly blessed with intelligence and talent and the personal discipline to work hard to develop his talent and succeed in his institutional church, but whose personal strength and pride has blinded him to the source of his success. He needs prayer as death approaches him in his old age.  This is a prayer to our personal God, a God that he rejects and wants to replace with a god of his own making;

Save especially at this time, John Shelby Spong, O God,

From the blindness,
which is not even aware that it is sinning;

From the pride,
which cannot admit that it is wrong;

From the self-will,
which can see nothing but its own way;

From the self-righteousness,
which can see no flaw within itself;

From the callousness,
which has sinned so often that it has ceased to care;

From the defiance,
which is not even sorry for its sins;

From the evasion,
which always puts the blame on someone or something else;

From the heart so hardened,
that it cannot repent.

Give him at all times,
—- Eyes which are open to his faults;
—- A conscience which is sensitive and quick to warn;
—- A heart that cannot sin in peace,
but is moved to regret and remorse.

So Grant that being truly penitent he may be truly forgiven, so that he may find your love is great enough to cover all of his sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Posted by: davidlarkin | June 29, 2014

For We Saw His Star

The familiar Bible story of the Three Wise Men, the Magi, tells of a star that appeared to them, signifying a great historic event. Somehow, a “star” acted as a travel guide. As the story goes, when Jesus was born, these three men from the east saw his star in the sky, and somehow, guided by the star, they traveled to the stable in the “little town of Bethlehem” where Jesus was born, in diapers in a manger, and giving him luxurious gifts, they worshiped him, intuitively knowing by the grace of God, that they were in the presence of God.  Here is the familiar Christmas passage from Scripture:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

. . .

 And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11 (ESV)

I have read attempts to explain this phenomenon of the star as an actual historic astronomical event, like a super nova.  However, if that were the case, it does not explain how this astronomical event “came to rest over the place where the child was.”  It is a difficult passage to explain objectively in modern scientific terms.  Science, of course, undoubtedly requires this event to be disposed of as myth.

For those who believe that God is a God of miracles, and that He can give a heavenly sign to three men alone who believe in signs from God in the heavens, as a guide to witness the new birth of the Messiah, the Lord and Savior, there is likely a supernatural explanation that will evade natural history in this life.

I attended the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California for a time in the 80s.  The Church on the Way was an early “megachurch” with thousands of members, notably then, Pat Boone and his daughter, Debbie Boone, who sang at the Christmas service when I attended.  The Pastor was Jack Hayford, a brilliant Bible teacher and man of God.  I remember Jack Hayford giving us a lesson about how God will make a way for the Gospel to be heard by those who are waiting to hear it.  He told us a story about an evangelist who attended the Lausanne Congress, the First International Congress on World Evangelism held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974.

“The congress was a conference of some 2,700 evangelical Christian leaders that was held in the Palais de Beaulieu in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974 to discuss the progress, resources and methods of evangelizing the world. The conference was called by a committee headed by U.S. evangelist Billy Graham and brought together religious leaders from 150 nations.’

Source: Wikipedia

One of the evangelists in attendance was an African man who carried the Gospel message on his bicycle to the rural tribes in his native African country.  He told the story of how he had heard the Gospel and was saved.  He was living in a tent in the bush lands.  He felt a need to know God.  He prayed that the God of the universe would reveal Himself.  He said he then saw a light outside his tent.  He followed the light overland through the bush country until he was led to the tent of a Christian missionary.  He told the missionary he was led by a light to his tent and he wanted to know the true God.  The missionary shared the Gospel with him and he was saved. He then dedicated his life to sharing the Gospel with his countrymen and women, thankful for the supernatural grace he was shown by the Living God, who led him by a light to Jesus, just like the Three Wise Men were led by a light to the Lord.   We will never know what kind of light led the Wise Men.  Certainly, a light in the sky that was revealed only to the Magi would appear as a “star” to them, but under the circumstances of the birth of the Savior, we can be sure that God did a miraculous work in leading them to a Bethlehem stable from afar.

The African evangelist was drawn by God to Himself when he sincerely petitioned God for revelation of His existence.  By grace, he was given the faith to ask and to believe.  It takes faith to be blessed with the experience of the supernatural presence and work of God.

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:53-58 [ESV]

Posted by: davidlarkin | May 11, 2014

Susan Larkin’s Message

My wife, Susan Larkin, was asked to give a message on her walk with Jesus this past year to her women’s bible study group, Arizona Women’s Experience (“AWE”) at our church, Arizona Community Church.  This is Susan’s message she gave last week summing up what God had put in her heart to share with the ladies:

Looking back on this year ‘walking with Jesus’, what first came to mind is how thankful I am for the new friends I have met here at AWE and the ones I am getting to know better, just the sweet fellowship and the wisdom of the women as they share their walk with the Lord.

I am thankful too, for the women in the prayer for our adult children group because while each of us are praying for the same things for our children, we get to hear the fresh insight and perspective the Lord gives each one. So we can have unity of spirit and a new vision at the same time. We know hears our prayers for our children but we can influence their lives with prayer.

Another great thing is the Lord brought me two darling prayer partners this year-they are in this room tonight. I had a prayer partner for about 15 years and she broke up with me, so I was delighted when these new sisters came. In case you wonder, we pray for you – so that has been a real blessing.

I learned about the power of prayer long before I became a Christian. I was a flight attendant in the mid-70′s, so 40 years ago, and worked on international flights. I had 2 close calls one after another. The 1st time our pilot almost landed us in a jungle in Africa. I remember feeling the descent, looking out the window and seeing all green when there should have been concrete, and hearing the first officer scream “Pull up, pull up, pull up!!!”. Suddenly we were zooming up. When we did land, it was on the runway in the right city. I never did find out what happened that day, the pilots did not want to talk about it. It was really scary.

The next time was in a DC10 over Calgary Canada going from London to Oakland when the plane dropped about 5,000 feet in just a few seconds. We dropped so fast that everything and every one that wasn’t secured hovered in the air before crashing down -people, beverage carts, everything. And then lots of serious vibration, it felt like the plane would break apart. A lot of people were injured, and if you ever thought you were going to die, you never forget it. So after my time off, I was really scared to get back on a plane and a friend, not a Christian, suggested I pray for peace to go back. And it worked! I asked for protection every time we took off and I thanked God every time we landed safely – and I still do. I flew for a couple more years after that. So I knew God answered at least emergency prayers for sure.

But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.  He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

 Jeremiah 10:12-13 (NIV)

When I first became a believer, someone gave me a laminated prayer card with a list of things to pray for because I only knew the Our Father & Hail Mary from my days at Catholic boarding school – so you prayed for the leadership of the church, people in government, the schools, police officers, and on the list was pray for the harvest. I lived one valley over from a large agricultural area, so for about 6 months I was praying for the broccoli, strawberries, lettuce before I found out that the Harvest, capital “H” meant the unsaved souls.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Matthew 9:35-38 (ESV)

I thought the Lord had such a sense of humor to let me pray on about the farm workers and the rain and fertilizer – and nothing wrong with that, farmers do it all the time. So, my early prayer days as a Christian.

Kathy has been using Scripture to teach us about the Lord’s compassion. One of the ladies in our prayer group shared that she lost her wallet, she left it on top of her car when she bought gas and drove off. You can imagine her distress. But the next morning she got a call from her apartment manager that there was someone in the office who wanted to speak to her. And there was a young man covered in tattoos, kind of scary looking, someone she said you would instantly make a judgment about and not a positive one. But he had been riding his bike, found the wallet and wanted to return it. She thanked him of course, gave him some money because it was all there – and she invited him to our church. It was such a lesson to me how if we could only see the heart like Jesus does, we would treat people so much differently.

And God forbid that young man should come to our church and I would judge him by his appearance instead of seeing him as he really is, as God sees him. It was a great lesson to me to be so much more generous in my assessment of others.

The Lord does not look at the things a man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

My girlfriend read this and it reminded her of when she lived in San Francisco, she said she was reading the Bible while riding the bus and she saw this ‘gay guy’ looking at her and she thought – a derogatory word you might think about homosexuals. But he approached her and said, It is wonderful to see someone reading the Bible, it reminds me of when I read the Bible with my family. She was profoundly ashamed before the Lord for judging that man.

Sometimes I encounter someone who at a glance I think I have nothing in common with and my first impulse is to avoid that person. Our Lord did exactly the opposite – He sought them out if they had an infectious disease, were known sinners or homeless and destitute, were mentally ill, demon possessed, crippled, or blind. Even the Samaritans who were despised as a mongrel race by Judaism, were tenderly regarded by our merciful Messiah. He went out of His way to connect with them and offer what He could and so did His disciples. So the theme of compassion this year really has convicted me that I am not really that Christ-like at all. I think Kathy wanted me to talk about what I had learned, but I’m afraid this is about what I haven’t learned.

I sometimes forget that we are the rich of the world that the Bible speaks of and that everything I have is a gift from God, but it belongs to Him, it isn’t mine alone. I have a place to sleep, clothes and shoes, I never miss a meal all because of His grace and goodness. Mother Teresa told a story about a dying man who was brought to her shelter in Calcutta and as she visited him he was crying. She asked him why. He said it was because it was the only time in his whole life he had ever laid in a bed the day he was dying and it was just a wire cot, but he was thankful. She said once, “I wouldn’t touch a leper for 1,000 pounds, but I will willingly care for him for the love of God.

When we see someone begging we might think they should get a job-but if they have dirty clothes, no place to shower or brush their teeth, no phone or transportation, they are unlikely to be hired unless they get some help. I know of a man who had been a respiratory therapist at a hospital, they reorganized and moved him to another area of the hospital, his license lapsed and then a new administrator downsized his dept. and he was terminated. He didn’t have the money to renew his license and he had been trying but he hadn’t found a job. He said he never could have imagined himself begging in his wildest dreams but he had 3 children he needed to feed and he was begging because he was desperate.

In Luke 6, Jesus said ‘Give to everyone who asks of you.’ and to be merciful and not to judge. In Matthew 25:31-46, He tells us whenever we provide for someone who is hungry, thirsty or we visit the sick or the prisoners, the least of these, as He calls them, we do it for Him. And as Paul says, not that I have achieved it yet, but I can press on, keep trying and thank Jesus for demonstrating compassion so I can know exactly what it looks like. And I praise God we have His promise that He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.

Let’s pray. Lord, would You give me the heart of love that You have. Let me remember that every person on earth is someone You love so much, You gave Your only Son’s life so that one day they could spend eternity with You. Amen.

I know all were blessed by her words.  Click here to read Susan Larkin’s Testimony

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 13, 2014

Now is the Favorable Time

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2 (ESV)

In the 80s I was attended the Hiding Place Church that met at a middle school next to the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard in West LA.  A humble fellowship in the shadow of the proud Mormon showpiece.  I met a middle-aged woman there who was on fire for the Lord.  She was not ashamed of the Gospel, and was a personal evangelist working on the streets of Hollywood with those who the Lord appointed for her to meet.  She told me about a neighbor of hers in her apartment building in Hollywood.  He was a very bright young man in his thirties, she said, who was working in a business where he had great opportunity for material success, he told her.  One night she had the opportunity to share the gospel with him, declaring to him that Jesus died for his sins and rose again, and is alive and ready to save him from his sins, and give him the gift of life eternal, if he will only call on the name of the Lord, repent and ask forgiveness and let Jesus be his Lord and savior.

She told me that he listened intently, and told her that he believed what she said.  He believed that he needed to be saved, and that he wanted to have life after death in heaven.  But, he told her, he was not ready to give his life up.  He wanted to be rich, and he wanted to be able to enjoy the worldly pleasures now.  He said that once he has success, he will get saved.

She was disappointed for him, she said, but she had shared the Gospel, and he had heard it.

The next day, she had been away from her apartment and returned to find an ambulance outside the building.  As she was about to enter the building, the paramedics brought her neighbor out on a stretcher, and put him in the ambulance.  They had put him in a straight jacket, and he was lying on his back with a blank expression on his face.  She asked the paramedic what had happened, and was told that he had lost his mind,  and a neighbor had called the police because of his loud screaming.  He was sedated and taken away.  She said he did not return.  She told me that she saw this as God’s instant judgment on the young man for hearing the gospel, understanding it, and sincerely rejecting it.  The story was chilling because that may have been his last chance for salvation.  As the scripture cited above says, “now is the day of salvation.”

Salvation is the sovereign act of God, not a voluntary choice we can make when it is convenient.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

There may be a point in a man or woman’s rebellion against God where God gives the person up to his or her sins for good.  As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:18-32 (ESV)

Three times Paul writes that “God gave them up,” for the “wrath of God from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  The young man who heard the Gospel from my friend apparently reached his last chance, and God gave him over to a debased mind, in fact, God took his mind away from him, perhaps for good, but arguably, in reaction to his sincere rejection of the truth, that we are sinners, and that we are called to repent:

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NKJV)

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Luke 5:32 (NKJV)

“unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:3 & 5 (NKJV)

How long will God wait for a man or woman to repent and call on Him?

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,  

Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV)

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  If you have not called on the Lord for your salvation, now is the time, and you may pray this prayer to be saved and to obtain the gift of eternal life: 

Dear God in heaven, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I acknowledge to You that I am a sinner, and I am sorry for my sins and the life that I have lived; I need your forgiveness.

I believe that your only begotten Son Jesus Christ shed His precious blood on the cross at Calvary and died for my sins, and I am now willing to turn from my sin.

You said in Your Holy Word, Romans 10:9 that if we confess the Lord our God, that is, if we declare Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, and believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we shall be saved.

Right now I confess and declare Jesus as the Lord of my soul. With my heart, I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. This very moment I accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior and according to His Word, right now I am saved.

Thank you Jesus for your unlimited grace which has saved me from my sins. I thank you Jesus that your grace never leads to license, but rather it always leads to repentance. Therefore Lord Jesus transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to you alone and not to myself.

Thank you Jesus for dying for me and giving me eternal life.

Amen.

If you said that prayer sincerely, and are truly sorry for your prior rejection of God, and sorry for your sins, you have been saved by God.  You have the promise of heaven. You should ask God to help you find a Bible-based church that teaches the word of God and then be baptized.  You can talk directly to the Lord.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 11, 2014

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

“When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset.”

Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925)

Scientists today estimate the adult human body is composed of trillions of cells, upwards of 37.2 trillion.[Source: National Geographic, October 2013]  There are approximately 200 different types of cells all working together expressing themselves as one conscious person.

One of the enduring mysteries of biology is that a variety of specialized cells collaborate in building a body, yet all have an identical genome. Somehow each of the 200 different kinds of cells in the human body — in the brain, liver, bone, heart and many other structures — must be reading off a different set of the hereditary instructions written into the DNA.

The system is something like a play in which all the actors have the same script but are assigned different parts and blocked from even seeing anyone else’s lines. The fertilized egg possesses the first copy of the script; as it divides repeatedly into the 10 trillion cells of the human body, the cells assign themselves to the different roles they will play throughout an individual’s lifetime.

New York Times, February 23, 2009 [Obviously, scientists differ in their estimate of the number of cells in the human body, 10 trillion in this 2009 article and 37 trillion in the 2013 National Geographic article cited above, but qualitatively, there is little difference for purposes of acknowledging the mystery of how billions of individual cells can cooperate to manifest one person]

If you are able to stand back from the massive accumulation of knowledge of the physiology of the human body, the neurons in the brain, the interaction of the billions of cells and their individual differences acting as one person, you cannot miss the glorious mystery and gift of life.  We are a reflection or the image of the incomprehensible God and Creator of the Universe.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26 (ESV)

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Genesis 2:7 (ESV)

We should praise God for the wonder of life and creation and especially for his saving grace as the Scripture teaches:

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!”

Psalm 40:16 (ESV)

For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:2-4 (ESV)

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NKJV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)

Here is a short prayer of praise for God’s creation and the gift of life:

O Lord and Maker of all things, from whose creative power the first light came forth, who looked upon the world’s first morning and saw that it was good, I praise You for this light that now streams through my windows to rouse me to the life of another day.

I praise You for the life that stirs within me;
I praise you for the bright and beautiful world into which I go;
I praise you for earth, sea and sky – billowing clouds and singing birds;
I praise you for the work You have given me to do;
I praise you for all You have given me to fill my leisure hours;
I praise you for my friends and family;
I praise you for music and books and good company.

John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, 7th Day, Morning

Posted by: davidlarkin | December 14, 2013

New Every Morning

At day’s end, it is often discouraging to reflect on the day’s activities. A sincere review will reveal failings and sinful actions and thoughts. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Romans 7:18-20 (ESV)

It is common, therefore, to find confessions of sin and failures in daily evening devotionals, like John Baillie’s A Diary of Daily Prayer. We can be troubled by the past days misfortunes, sins and errors, and be worried about what will come tomorrow, both leading to sleeplessness and a troubled mind.

Paul McCartney recognized the problem of worry and sleeplessness in the Beatles song from the White Album, “I’m So Tired,” only he appeals to his lover, who is breaking his heart, for peace, as the troubled lovers so generally do, rather than to God:

It’s doing me harm, you know I can’t sleep
I can’t stop my brain, you know it’s three weeks
I’m going insane

You know I’d give you everything I’ve got
For a little peace of mind

Things often seem at their worst when I awake in the middle of the night and my mind is stirred to worry and I can’t stop it, losing sleep. The old saying, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn,” captures that late night worry about my life’s problems, my loved ones, or my work and also that feeling of nebulous doom I sometimes feel when I wake up in the middle of the night, with nothing specific worrying me. See Bob Dylan, “Meet Me in the Morning” and Crosby Stills and Nash, “Long Time Gone.”

It would be nice to have memorized a well-crafted prayer especially for the middle of the night, so I don’t have to muddle along with a sleepy rambling prayer.  I am sure, of course, that the Lord will accept any sincere and humble prayer in my moments of distress. Typically, I appeal to God to stop my brain and give me peace.   This requires trust in His faithfulness.  As I grow older in the Lord, 42 years now, I am more aware of His presence, and more constant in communicating with Him and seeking reconciliation.  As a result, I am able to fall asleep and when I awake in the middle of the night, fall back to sleep easier, although there are occasional times when I have to get up and do some online legal research on a case that is troubling me, which I consider a blessing that the Lord has prompted me to do that work, even in the middle of the night.

The blessing of communicating with God at the end of the day, or even just before the dawn — asking forgiveness, petitioning for peace and for a good day to come — is that the believer can awake with the joy that he has made peace with God and start the day walking in the Spirit as if he were starting anew.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9 (ESV) [See my previous post, A Daily Confession]

When we fall, the Lord is there to lift us up and begin as if anew.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.

Psalm 37:23-24 (ESV)

Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), a Scottish minister, professor at the University of Edinburgh and prolific writer, wrote:

The victorious Christian life is a series of New Beginnings.

The mercies of God are new every morning.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Posted by: davidlarkin | September 21, 2013

A Reader’s Prayer

I am a reader. I have too many books left to read, and more are available to read everyday. When I reached 60 years old, I realized that I would not be able to read all the books that I had hoped to read over the years.

I am grateful to have the time to read and that I am compulsive about making the time to read.

Today, I was reading John Baillie’s A Diary of Daily Prayer, Day 21 morning, and included in that daily devotional was a petition to God for reading guidance that can be used as a prayer on its own. So for dedicated readers who want divine help in choosing what to read for profit or recreation, and in being a better steward of his or her time, I offer this Reader’s Prayer which I adapted from Baillie with modification to include internet reading:

A Reader’s Prayer

Leave me not, O gracious God, in such hours as I may today devote to the reading of books, magazines, internet websites and blogs or newspapers. Guide my mind to choose the right books and other written works, having chosen them, to read them in the right way. When I read for profit, grant that all I read may lead me nearer to you. When I read for recreation, grant that what I read may not lead me away from you. Let all my reading so refresh my mind that I may the more eagerly seek after whatsoever things are pure and fair and true.

Adapted from A Diary of Daily Prayer, Day 21, Morning Prayer by John Baillie

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 20, 2013

A Violent Week

This has been a violent week.  The tragic drama of the Boston Marathon bombing and the gripping manhunt has left us all emotionally exhausted.   What can I write that we all have not thought or experienced about this horrific event.

Closer to home, however, we had a shooting at our office complex on Thursday morning.  I was at the dentist when I received a call from my wife that our office complex was a crime scene, someone had been shot.  Fortunately, my wife and I, who work together at my law office, did not arrive at the office until after the shooting, and were not harmed or in danger.  Nevertheless, I left the dentist immediately and went to meet my wife at the office, where we waited while the police secured the crime scene and took the shooter away.

We heard a report that the criminal attorney in another office, two doors down from us, was involved.  My first thought was that he had been shot by a criminal client.   The criminal lawyer’s father works for him, and had been arrested a few months earlier for pulling a gun on a client, apparently in self-defense, but had not shot the gun.  My wife and I were very uncomfortable having the criminal law practice so close and considered moving, but did not.  Now with this shooting, we were physically and emotionally shocked.

It turns out that the shooting had nothing to do with the criminal lawyer’s law practice or criminal clients.  The lawyer was the criminal.  He was 48 years old, married with children, and he was having an affair with his office receptionist who was in her twenties.  He was representing her in a paternity action against her ex-boyfriend.

The lawyer  came to the office that morning with his .357 handgun to meet the ex-boyfriend.  The 25-year-old victim was sitting in his car.  The lawyer approached him holding the gun, and ordered him out of the car.  The young man grabbed the barrel of the gun and tried to duck out of the way but the lawyer fired a shot, striking him in the back.  The victim ran to a nearby medical office and collapsed.  He recorded the incident on his cell phone which police recovered at the scene.

After the shooting, the lawyer stood over his victim saying something like, “Do you feel that … that’s you dying boy,” according to court documents.   Others in their office who heard a pop, went out to the parking lot, saw him standing there holding the gun, and called 911.  The lawyer went back to his office and called police to turn himself in.  See news report here.

I first met the lawyer on Tuesday this week in the parking lot where he was arriving with his receptionist.  I suspected they were having an affair because I had seen her driving to work in the morning in the lawyer’s Mercedes and opening the office.  My suspicions were correct, and his adultery was the source of the emotion and evil intent that led to his attempted murder of the young man.

So, this week has been a week of violence for us along with everyone else in America.  Today, April 20, is the 14 year anniversary of another day of violence in America, the Columbine High School massacre.  Reading through the One Year Book of Christian History in my morning devotions, today’s entry was about a young teen, Rachel Scott, who attended Columbine High School in 1999.  Here is the remarkable April 20 entry from the book:

——————————————————————

God gave us a glimpse of the future.

RACHEL SCOTT was just eight when her father, Pastor Darrell Scott, walked out on her Beth, leaving her with five children. A year later Rachel’s grandparents helped her mom move to Littleton, Colorado, and buy a home.

When Rachel was twelve, she had a life-changing spiritual encounter.  She later wrote in her Journal, “Everyone was there at the altar, and I felt so drawn to it.  You have to understand that I was so young . . . to be drawn that way, it was nothing short of God . . . .  That night I accepted Jesus into my heart.  I was saved.” From that time on her family saw a spiritual depth beginning to develop in Rachel.

Two years later, Rachel’s mother remarried.  During this difficult adjustment Rachel became increasingly withdrawn and private.  When she was sixteen, her mother gave her a journal, the first of many.  Rachel began to chronicle her spiritual journey and commitment to Christ — a commitment that cost her deeply.  She broke up with the boy she loved in order to keep herself chaste and was rejected by five of her closest friends for talking openly about her faith.  On April 20. 1998,  one year to the day before she died, she wrote these words:  ‘I have no more friends at school.  But you know what . . . it’s all worth it to me . . . . If I have to sacrifice everything I will.”  Rachel had no idea of the sacrifice she would ultimately make.

On April 20, 1999, Rachel sat outside the cafeteria when two troubled students armed with guns came up the stairs at Columbine High School.  They opened fire, hitting her three times.  After leaving to find more victims, they returned to where Rachel lay in pain.  One of them lifted her head by her ponytail and jeered, “Do you believe in God?”  She answered, “Yes.”  He put the gun her temple and killed her.

About a month after Rachel’s funeral, her father received a phone call from a stranger who told him about a dream he had.  As Darrell recalled it, “He dreamed about her eyes and a flow of tears that were watering something that he couldn’t quite see in the dream.  He was adamant about the eyes and tears and wanted to know if that meant anything to me . . . . He told me that dream had haunted him for days, and he knew there was a reason for it.”

Her father had no idea what the dream could mean.  Several days later he picked up Rachel’s backpack from the sheriff s office.  Inside were two journals, one with a bullet hole through it.  He turned to the last page of her most recent diary and was dumbfounded to see a drawing of her eyes with a stream of thirteen tears watering a rose.  The tears appeared to turn into drops of blood as they touched the rose.  The number of tears matched the number of victims at Columbine.  It practically took his breath away to see in Rachel’s final diary exactly what the stranger had described to him a week earlier.

Looking in previous diaries, her parents discovered that same rose drawn a tear before Rachel’s death.  The earlier drawing simply showed the rose with the bloodlike drops, not her eyes or the clear tears, and it showed the rose  growing up out of a columbine plant, the state flower from which Columbine High School got its name.

——————————————————————–

It was like “Pop, Pop, Pop.”  A Christian couple hid in the bathtub with their dog praying for safety.  Click Here for the video interview by NBC anchor Brian Williams with the Watertown, Massachusetts couple who heard the gun fight between the Boston Marathon terrorists and police taking place in their front yard.

After a week like this, the Apostle Paul’s words are a comforting source of rest.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 [NIV]

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 7, 2013

A Daily Confession

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” 

Luke 5:32.  

Thus, Jesus summed up his mission to mankind.  He did not come to heal the sick, make the blind see, or make the lame walk.  These were signs of his power and authority.  But he came to lead sinners to repentance, and by believing and repenting, receive the gift of eternal life.

Jesus also came to earth to die for the sins of the redeemed, and those who are redeemed are redeemed through God’s sacrifice of his son.  This was Jesus’ mission for mankind.  Who can understand this?  Fortunately, we are not asked to understand this, but to believe:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 [ESV]

True repentance, however, will not come without belief.  As a Calvinist, I believe that God’s chosen are first regenerated.  We are born again or receive new birth or are reborn from above.  Regeneration is followed, perhaps instantaneously, by faith, which is belief that Jesus is my Lord and that he died for my sins and was raised from the dead, alive today as you or me.  Regeneration and Faith is followed by repentance, again this can be instantaneous.  But it is elementary that you must repent to be saved.  And this is saving faith.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

Titus 3:4-6 [ESV]

But what is it about true belief that leads to repentance?  In our encounter with the holy, with a holy and perfect God of all creation, we recognize that we are sinners who need to be reconciled to a Holy God.  We need forgiveness for sin and we experience the gift of godly sorrow:

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

2 Corinthians 7:10 [NKJ]

Godly sorrow is a gift.  Oswald Chambers has described it wonderfully in one of his daily devotions in the Christian classic, My Utmost for His Highest:

Conviction of sin is best described in the words:

My sins, my sins, my Savior,
How sad on Thee they fall.

Conviction of sin is one of the most uncommon things that ever happens to a person. It is the beginning of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict people of sin (see John 16:8). And when the Holy Spirit stirs a person’s conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not that person’s relationship with others that bothers him but his relationship with God— “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight . . .” (Psalm 51:4). The wonders of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven person who is truly holy. He proves he is forgiven by being the opposite of what he was previously, by the grace of God. Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, “I have sinned.” The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it. Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes— a reflex action caused by self-disgust.

The entrance into the kingdom of God is through the sharp, sudden pains of repentance colliding with man’s respectable “goodness.” Then the Holy Spirit, who produces these struggles, begins the formation of the Son of God in the person’s life (see Galatians 4:19). This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around. The foundation of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses— repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for “the gift of tears.” If you ever cease to understand the value of repentance, you allow yourself to remain in sin. Examine yourself to see if you have forgotten how to be truly repentant.

Chambers exhorts us to examine ourselves.  He likely means to examine ourselves at least daily.  Repentance is not a one-time initiating event in the life of a Christian.  The great 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon put it like this:

Sincere repentance is continual. Believers repent until their dying day. This dropping well is not intermittent. Every other sorrow yields to time, but this dear sorrow grows without growth, and it is so sweet a bitter, that we thank God we are permitted to enjoy and to suffer it until we enter our eternal rest.

Spurgeon on 2 Corinthians 7:10.

After 42 years of Christian life, one would think that I have less sin to confess each day.  However, it seems my sins have not diminished, just changed.  It is like a whack-a-mole game.  You get control of one type of sin, and another one pops up.  A loss of self-control, and angry unnecessary comment, when we notice and remember, needs to be confessed.  I thank God I don’t remember all my failures, and that I remember so few.  Jesus said:

 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

Matthew 5:21-22a [NKJV]

Or all of a sudden, my memory punishes me with a thought of the sins of  my youth.  How could I have done that?  And I ask God’s forgiveness, even 45 years after the fact.

There are Scriptures that seem to say once saved, the Christian no longer sins.  For example, from the King James Version:

 

 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

1 John 3:9 [NKJV]

However, this is mistranslated from the Greek text.  Modern translations recognize that the Greek verbs are referring to continuous sinful conduct.  Here is the recent English Standard Version, a translation whose General Editor is the scholar Wayne Grudem, a conservative reformed Evangelical theologian.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

1 John 3:9 [ESV]

This conforms to the Scriptural fact that we have a sinful nature which remains in the flesh after salvation, to be wrestled with daily with the help of the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus admonished us:

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41 [ESV]

Further, when he gave us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reminded us that we do not cease sinning when we are saved, and that we must ask God’s forgiveness daily.  In addition for thanking God for our daily bread, we pray as well

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.  And lead us not into temptation.

Luke 11:4 [NIV]

To help me with confession and forgiveness, I have composed a Prayer of Confession that I put on my Amazon kindle which I read in my daily devotions.  My prayer begins with a Scriptural acknowledgement of my sin:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9 [ESV]

Once acknowledged, realizing that we must approach God sincerely and personally, one-on-one, my prayer follows with Scriptural encouragement and further acknowledgement of the privilege of the redeemed in Christ:

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession . . .  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14, 16 [NKJV].

Finally, my prayer ends with a confession, adapted from the Holy Eucharist service in the Anglican/Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, with a pause where I can insert those specific sins that the Holy Spirit brings to my attention and prompts my memory to reveal to me:

I will confess my sins unto Almighty God

Most merciful God,
I confess that I have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what I have done,
and by what I have left undone.

[Specifically, I have . . .]

I have not loved you with my whole heart;
I have not loved my neighbors as myself.
I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on me and forgive me;
that I may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name.

Amen.

All together now, here is my daily prayer of confession:

A Prayer of Confession

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1 John 1:8-9]

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession . . . Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4:14, 16]

I will confess my sins unto Almighty God

Most merciful God,
I confess that I have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what I have done,
and by what I have left undone.

[Specifically, I have . . .]

I have not loved you with my whole heart;
I have not loved my neighbors as myself.
I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on me and forgive me;
that I may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name.

Amen.

Posted by: davidlarkin | June 2, 2012

The Holy Spirit and Divine Action in the Material World

Christians believe that God works in the world, that He interacts with the world and with us, that He is a physical causal influence on events in the material world. Divine action in the world may be general or special. God can be said to act generally through the regular structures of the world, matter and the laws of nature, which God created and sustains. This General Divine Action (GDA) parallels and is the means of General Revelation, that God reveals himself in nature. As poet Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote –

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

from Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur

And as David wrote in Psalm 19:1 (NIV):

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.   

Thus, God reveals himself generally in nature through General Divine Action.

I have written in a prior post about the constant work of God in holding the material universe together.  God is the essence, the active power of the forces that we describe as doing that, namely, the physical forces including gravity, and the strong and weak forces that hold the repellent subatomic particles together. See What is a Force?

Theologically, the constant holding of the universe together, the divine order manifested in His laws of nature set in motion by God, the prime mover, at the moment of creation, would be the work of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus or the Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
. . .
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 14 (NIV)

Speaking of our Lord Jesus, Paul writes:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things,and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17 (NIV)

We believe in this divine activity despite our simultaneous acceptance of a theoretical scheme of natural laws which on a physical level, science tells us, determine physical events, subject to an underlying and inherent modern indeterminacy: events occurring as a matter of an ambiguous and uncertain probability labelled as quantum or chaos. Clearly, there is room for God to work in a quantum world or an unknowable chaos of events beyond or hidden from observation. Contemporary theologians speculate about this locus for the interactive Special Divine Action sometimes referred to as “SDA.” This special or particular divine action parallels the special revelation of God’s redemptive plan revealed in the Scriptures, as general revelation is God revealing Himself in nature through general divine action.

God may be interacting as well in the internal world of the mind, moving our spirit to make choices, or gain wisdom in our subjective minds or souls. We believe that God is interacting with us and with our minds, hopefully influencing somehow our desires and choices.  He carries out his will with particularity through particular or special divine action.  With the source or physical locale, if any, of the human consciousness unknown to science and philosophy, what is referred to as the hard problem of consciousness, faith stands firm in our Christian experience of the interaction of God with us in our subjective worlds of our minds.  In faith, we rely on God to give us wisdom, to lead us, protect us and provide for us. We pray for these blessings. In our desire to carry out the will of God, in faith we look for signs, or simply trust that he is with us as we make our choices and walk as strangers in a strange land. The material comfort we enjoy can make it a challenge to remember that we are not of this world. We need to be reminded. Here, the Apostle Peter admonishes us:

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

1 Peter 1:17 (NIV)

With the faith that God is acting in the World, the Hebrews used the Urim and Thummin, some device of randomness used for making decisions and determining the will of God, like an oracle, where God guides the random process to deliver a message.

Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD

Exodus 28:30 (NIV)

After Jesus was crucified and Judas Iscariot had committed suicide in shame, the Apostles were short one of the twelve. They decided to choose a successor by casting lots, allowing God to intercede in the action of a seemingly random act, as Aaron did with the Urim and Thummin, telling the Apostles who His choice was to succeed Judas:

(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

“For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms,

‘May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,’
and,
‘May another take his place of leadership.’

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:18-26 (NIV)

This practice of choosing a successor to the Apostles by casting lots continues today in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt:

On the day of his consecration the Patriarch Elect of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt is traditionally led to the cathedral having spent the previous night in chains keeping vigil by the dead body of his predecessor.  When he arrives at the cathedral he is taken to the altar and stands between the bishops as his deed of election is read aloud to the congregation:

We besought the Spotless Trinity with a pure heart and an upright faith to
reveal unto us him who (was) worthy of this meditation … Therefore, by an
election from above’ and by the w’orking of the Holy Spirit and by the assent
and conviction of us all, it was revealed unto us to have regard unto N for the
Apostolic Throne of the divinely-prophetic Mark.

What is particularly interesting is the procedure adopted by the Copts to manifest most reliably God’s choice and revelation of their new Pope the election from above and working of the Holy Spirit is invoked by means of a wry ancient tradition.  In the election of their sixty-fifth Pope, HH Shenute II (1032-1046): the Copts adopted a process analogous to the Nestorian custom of choosing their patriarch by means of picking lots.  Throughout the next nine hundred years this process was only used occasionally until it became accepted as the standard method of selection in the twentieth century with the election of the patriarch, HH Shenouda III, on 31 October 1971.

HH Pope Shenouela III was chosen by the process of al-Qur’ah al-Haykaliyya, which literally means “the choice of God from the Altar.”  The names of the final three candidates for election are written on identical slips of paper and placed into a sealed box.  During the Mass a very young boy is selected from the congregation.  He is blindfolded and the priest opens the box.  As the congregation pray the Lord’s Prayer and chant “Lord have mercy” the boy chooses one of the slips inside.  The name picked is that of the new Patriarch.

Of course there are certain things we can say about how God brings about this revelation.  Central to the modern Coptic ceremony is the belief that God helps to form the intentions of all of those involved in the selection of the three names that will be written on the lots and many intercessionary prayers are made to ask for God’s guidance in this matter.  In the ceremony of the young boy choosing the slip there are two further implicit statements about God — both of which have Biblical parallels: that God has knowledge of the configuration of the slips in the box and knows which slip has which name written upon it: and that God can make his specific intention known to the mind of one child who then chooses in accordance with that intention without himself knowing which slip to choose.  Both of these are essential claims about the extent of God’s knowledge of the natural world — the exact configuration of the slips in the box, and the nature of the boy’s thought processes.  The latter element also includes a claim that God is capable of acting in the world on the level of human mental processes and accordingly instigates the child’s movements.

A strong element of the selection of the Coptic Patriarch is that God is capable of guiding a chance-like process and has knowledge of how to effect that process in a suitable way to select a desired result.  Put another way, God acts with intention to determine an otherwise random selection by virtue of knowledge and foresight of the implications of that determination.  .  .  .

[emphasis added) Nicholas Saunders, Divine Action & Modern Science, p. 1-4.

The special work of God interacting in the world as demonstrated by the reliance on the work of God to do the choosing of the new Coptic Pope is generally considered by Christians to be the ministry and work of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that sees the pieces of paper in the box, sees the particular names on the box, and who guides the boy, through interaction with his mind and nervous system to act in just the right way to pick the Pope, according to the will of God:

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:27 (NIV)

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived” —
the things God has prepared for those who love him —
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 2:9-11 (NIV)

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come to us after His resurrection and glorification.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 14:26 (NIV)

Then, in John 16:5-14, Jesus further describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit when He comes:

“Now I am going to him who sent me,yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

This past Sunday was Pentecost — the Old Testament Feast of Weeks or Feast of the Harvest:

Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.  Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God . . . .

Deuteronomy 16:9-10

The Holy Spirit followed Jesus as promised, entering the World in a spectacular way. In the Book of Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, the Jews are gathered in Jerusalem from the diaspora to celebrate Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the believers as tongues of fire upon their heads:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.</strong

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Acts 2:1-1-12

What this meant was that the Holy Spirit had come as promised, and Galileans miraculously speaking in foreign languages was a sign of his coming. As Peter told them:

“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
. . .
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
. . .
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord(AU) and Christ.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Acts 2:14-24, 32-33, 36-41 (NIV)

William Barclay wrote this wonderful prayer for Whitsunday, the Anglican name for Pentecost Sunday, the day the Holy Spirit came as promised.  The prayer is a petition to the Holy Spirit (1) for guidance in making decisions in order to act in accordance with God’s will through the inspiration and special divine interaction of the Holy Spirit with our minds, the first half of the prayer, and then (2) for a clean heart, for wisdom, beauty, usefulness, and light to learn from the Word and express the fruits of the Spirit in our lives:

O God. our Father, give us your Holy Spirit in our hearts
and in our minds that we may ever choose aright.

Give us your Holy Spirit that we may know.

which way to choose. and which way to refuse;
which choice to make and which choice to reject;
which course of action to take. and which course
of action to avoid.

Give us your Holy Spirit.

to enlighten our minds.
to see what we ought to do;
to strengthen our wills.
to choose the right course of action.
and to abide by it;
to empower our lives.
to follow the right way to the end.

Give us your Holy Spirit.

to cleanse our minds of all evil and impure thoughts;
to fill our hearts with all lovely and noble desires;
to make our lives

wise with knowledge.
beautiful with love.
useful with service.

Give us your Holy Spirit.

to light up the pages of your Book for us;
to teach us for what we ought to pray;
to enrich our lives with the fruit which only he can
give.

Grant us all this for your love’s sake. Amen

William Barclay, Prayers for the Christian Year 1965.

With prayers like this, we can walk in the Spirit in faith without relying on flipping a coin, or rolling the dice, or casting lots to make our way each day.  We then hope to see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives:

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23a (NIV)

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: