Forever Human

It was a beautiful service, with multitudes of flowers and a massive gathering of family and friends. The casket was elaborate and no expense was spared in giving the dearly departed a grand send-off! I can’t tell you the number of times  I have personally observed such an occasion. But the thing that sticks with me long after such occasions more than the memory of the beautiful flowers or the elaborate casket, is the gross biblical ignorance displayed by Christian laymen and preachers at the funeral! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep. . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV) Yet, in spite of Paul’s writings and other passages in Scripture that provide insight into the state of the dearly departed, most people today are still ignorant of what the Bible says about death and the future eternal state of humanity!

You would think it was true according to what many, supposedly ‘spiritual people,’ say at funerals, but people don’t actually die because God wants or needs them in Heaven to enhance the ‘flowers of Heaven’ or to keep Him company! The Bible says; “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12 ESV) Death occurs because of sin! Not necessarily because of the particular sins of the person who died, but rather because we live in a sinful fallen world! Jesus said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV) So often, when someone dies, we attribute the death to God. We say things like: “The Lord took him!” or “It was just God’s will!” or the classic: “We loved them, but God loved them best!” (The absurdity of that statement is that we are actually implying that God loved them so much that God killed them, which is utterly ridiculous!). But, as in the case of the parable of the enemy who sowed the tares among the wheat while men slept, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to death, the real cause is; ‘An enemy has done this!” (Matthew 13:28).

But let me get back to my main purpose for writing this post! I think one of the greatest fallacies perpetrated when someone dies and on funeral occasions is the notion that people somehow turn into angels when they die! This false notion is illustrated by a depiction of the deceased, floating in the clouds with angel-wings on their backs! But there are at least two things wrong with that picture! First of all, where did we get the notion that even real angels have wings? It is certainly NOT from the Bible! The only heavenly or spiritual beings portrayed in the Bible as having wings are the Cherubim and the Seraphim! The fact that these two beings are specifically designated and their specific function indicates they are not the same as angels! Whenever and wherever angels are encountered in the Bible, they are always depicted as looking like normal men! No wings! No halos! And definitely No harps!

Secondly, angels are depicted in the Bible as ‘messengers.’ In fact, both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as ‘angel’ in our English Bibles actually mean; ‘messenger.’ So, in a sense, the word ‘angel’ is not actually a designation of identity, but rather a designation of function! Just like, the term that we use for the person who delivers our mail doesn’t really say anything about who they are, it just tells what they do!  It is not their identity, it is their function!  As humans, we are the object of God’s love and the crown jewels of God’s created order. Therefore, for humans to turn into angels would actually be a ‘step-down’ not a step-up! Hush! I hear you! You are saying: “But what about Psalm 8:5, where the Bible says that man was created a little lower than the angels?” Well, the word that is translated as ‘angels’ in that verse is not the same Hebrew word that is translated as; ‘angel’ everywhere else in the Old Testament. In just about every other place in the Old Testament, where we see the word ‘angel’ or ‘angels’ in our English Bibles, the Hebrew word is ‘malek’ which means; messenger or representative. But in Psalm 8:5, the Hebrew word is ‘elohim’ which is actually the term used to refer to Yahweh God (the LORD God) or gods! Thus, what the Psalmist actually said was that man was made, not a little lower than ‘angels’ but rather a little lower than God! Therefore, for humans to become angels at death would be a demotion rather than a promotion! And think about it! If it was God’s intention for humans to become angels, why did God make them human? He could have made them angels in the first place! But God made angels to be angels forever and humans to be humans forever!

 We are forever human! In fact, the Bible states that the dearly-parted will one day come back to earth to reclaim their total humanity! (see1 Corinthians 15:13-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) [I use the term; ‘total’ because, according to the Genesis account, man was created as a union of spirit and body. Therefore, absence of a body, makes the dearly departed somewhat incomplete and not their total selves!] That’s what the Resurrection is all about; to reunite the spirit/soul with the body! For if we read the Bible carefully, we will discover that the redeemed will not spent eternity in the Heavenly realm in a spiritually disembodied state as the dearly departed are now, but rather on the earth in glorified bodies! (see Revelation 21:1-5) Notice the wording of the Revelation text, particularly verse 3 where John says: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Rev. 21:3 ESV) It is repeated three times in just one verse; the emphasis is not on man being with God, but rather John wants us to know the plan is for God to spend eternity with us! Why? Because that’s the way God made us! God did not create man to dwell in Heaven, God created man to dwell on the earth. When Adam communed with God, Adam didn’t go to Heaven to see God, but rather God came down to earth; to the garden to commune with Adam; the being God made to be forever human!

Another Look At Acts 1:8

In Acts 1:8, Luke records the resurrected Jesus saying to his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV) One of the fundamental mistakes that many people make (Sadly, some preachers make this mistake also!) as they are reading the Bible and want clarity, is to first consult an English dictionary to look up the meaning of English words in the text. When studying the Bible, to seek clarity of meaning, you DON’T START WITH THE ENGLISH WORD in the version you are reading. That is a fundamental exegetical mistake! You should start with the meaning of word in the original language in which the text was written! For the Old Testament, that would primarily be Hebrew and for the New Testament, it would be Greek! Hence, you don’t start with a Webster’s dictionary, but rather with a Hebrew and Greek lexicon!

I mention that because the Greek word that is translated as ‘witnesses’ in Acts 1:8 has a completely different primary meaning than the English word! A witness in English is someone who can attest to a fact or an event. It is someone who testifies, thereby provides verbal evidence to support the validity of a fact or an event. However, the primary meaning of the Greek word that is translated as ‘witnesses’ in Acts 1:8 is the word from which we get the English word; ‘martyr.’ The witnesses Jesus talked about were those who didn’t just ‘talk’ about him, but rather those who ‘died’ for the faith and the testimony of Jesus!

Now, I may be splitting hairs here, but I also noticed, as I read Acts 1:8, that the Greek word that is translated as ‘witnesses’ is not a verb, but rather a noun! The verb is the word that shows action; it is what you do, but the noun is the word that names, it is who you are! I believe Jesus was not telling them primarily to ‘do witnessing’ but rather to ‘be witnesses’ in the sense that they were not just to talk about him and give testimony of what they had seen and heard, but rather to also ‘be the evidence’ of Him! In other words, although telling people about Jesus was and is part of it, I think the primary point was and is for the followers of Jesus to actually be the evidence or the proof of Jesus and His claims! This point is illustrated in Acts 4:13, when Peter and John stood before the Council. The Bible says: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (ESV) How did they recognize that Peter and John had been with Jesus? Not primarily because Peter and John had told them, but rather because Peter and John themselves were the evidence; the proof; the witness of that fact! Yes! Peter and John testified about Jesus, but the convincing evidence was their ability to heal the man who was lame! Not only did they ‘talk’ about Jesus, but they ‘did’ what Jesus did; they made the lame walk again!

I believe the Lord is looking, not just for people who ‘talk’ or give testimonies about Him, but rather for people who are living examples (evidence; living witnesses) of His power to transform lives! It’s like when you are thinking about buying a product! No matter how many commercials you see advertising the product, the evidence that really convinces you is the people who have already bought the product! When you see what the product has done for them, you have evidence, you have witnesses of what the product can do for you! So, I believe Jesus was telling his disciples then, and those who would believe later on, that when you are empowered by My Spirit, you yourselves will be the witnesses; the evidence (exhibit: A), the convincing proof, that I AM who I say I AM!

See also: Can I Get A Witness?

The Armorbearer?

About six years ago, I posted a guest-post by H. B. Charles, Jr., entitled: Armorbearer is NOT a Biblical Church Office. In that article, Pastor Charles relates an encounter he had with a pastor’s chief armorbearer. He also stated his thoughts about the concept of armorbearers in the church. Well, I hadn’t given much additional thought to the subject until recently. Not long ago, I declined an invitation to teach in a seminar at a church. The reason I declined was because the seminar was about: “Equipping Armorbearers for Service in the Local Church.” Not long after that, I happened to overhear a conversation between two people where one proudly boasted of the fact that he had been his pastor’s armorbearer for over six years! And then, more recently, a guest pastor, visiting where I serve, was escorted by another gentlemen, whom I had previously known to be a deacon. As we sat chatting in the study, me with my naïve self, said to the brother; “Hey man, I didn’t know you were preaching now! When did this happen?” To which he replied, “Oh no! I’m not a preacher; I am the pastor’s armorbearer!”

I’m sorry! Maybe I’m just too old-school! But I can remember, up until about 20 years ago, there were NO ‘armorbearers’ in Black churches, especially Black Baptist churches! (There were no bishops in Black Baptist churches either, but that’s a discussion for another post!) Where did this ‘armorbearer’ concept come from? Well, after I declined to teach at the ‘armorbearer’s seminar,’ and after re-reading Dr. Charles’ post, I decided to take another more in-depth look at what the Bible says about the subject.

The ancient Hebrew armorbearer was a man (I would assume preferable young and strong, since he literally carried the king’s or general’s metal armor, along with his own sword and shield) who would accompany the one he served (a king, general, or superior army officer) into battle. The term; ‘armourbearer’ is found 18 times in the KJV; all in the context of a war battle and all in the Old Testament. Now, I can see where there may be applicable parallels. The preacher/pastor can, in a sense, be styled as a general, leading the forces (church) of the Lord into battle against sin and Satan, with the Bible being his sword. The Apostle Paul did say, in Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (KJV) He says in verse 17: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (KJV) Okay! I see the armor and I see the sword and the shield! But wait a minute! Paul was talking to every believer, not just the preacher! And Paul said for ‘us to put on’ the whole armor of God, he didn’t say anything about someone carrying it for us!

But even more than that, think about the character of the One we claim to follow. Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-7: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (KJV) After a dispute among his disciples as to which one of them should be accounted the greatest, we read: “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 ESV) It would seem to me that, in view of the words and character of Jesus, the idea of a pastor having a personal valet, butler, personal attendant, chauffer, Bible- handkerchief-carrier-sweat-wiper is totally contrary to the spirit of Jesus! I’m sorry, but I just can’t envision the Jesus I read about in the Gospel having an armorbearer!

I recognize that some might suggest the position of armorbearer as a means of teaching submission and honor, but it seems, as it is practiced by most I encounter, to be demeaning for the armorbearer and ego-inflating for the pastor/preacher! We would better serve the church and her Lord by teaching people, not to particularly serve the pastor, (Who by Jesus’ definition, is the servant of all! Many pastors these days got it twisted: The pastor is called to serve, not to be served!), but rather to serve the Lord by serving one another!

Now, I realize there are many who will not agree with my position (they will mostly be the ones who have armorbearers or who serve as armorbearers), but my conscience dictates I speak what I perceive to be biblical truth. My aim is not to offend or upset, but rather to encourage a focus on what’s really important! Although I declined the invitation to teach in the ‘armorbearer’s’ seminar, I would have gladly accepted an invitation to not only teach, but even to just participate in a discipleship training seminar! That’s more in line with what Jesus actually told us to do: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Eternal Life

What is eternal life? Well, the Greek word that is translated as ‘eternal’ in the New Testament is a word that means: “1) without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be 2) without beginning 3) without end, never to cease, everlasting.” Using those definitions, we can readily see that number one and two apply to God and definition number three is applicable to eternal life as it refers to the prospective fate of saved humanity. But as we read the Bible, we discover that definition is not so cut and dried as it seems. For instance, in the book of Revelation, there is a descriptive scene in which the devil, the false prophet, and all those whose names were not found in the Book of Life, will be cast into the lake of fire and tormented forever. Now, the last time I checked; forever and everlasting were terms that meant basically the same thing! Hence there must be more to eternal life than just living forever, because, according to the Bible, everyone; the saved and the lost, will live forever! The question is where?

Another wrinkle in the equation comes from the revelation in the Bible that eternal life is not something that believers get when they die! The Bible teaches; eternal life is a present-possession of the believer! Jesus said, in John 5:24:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (ESV) Note the use of the past-tense; ‘has eternal life’ and ‘has passed from death to life.’ The beloved Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:14-15: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (ESV) Again, note the verb tense; eternal life is not something that is awarded to the believer at death, eternal life is a present-possession!

Therefore, since there is more to eternal life than just living forever and eternal life is something that believers presently possess, then apparently eternal life must also have something to do with the ‘quality’ of life! Jesus gave an insightful definition of eternal life in John 17:3. In his high priestly prayer in Gethsemane, on the eve of his passion, Jesus said to the Father: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (ESV) According to Jesus, eternal life is knowing the only true God and knowing Jesus Christ who was sent by the only true God!

Now, this ‘knowing’ the only true God and ‘knowing’ Jesus Christ, who was sent by the only true God, is more than just an intellectual knowing. In the Bible, the terms; ‘know’ and ‘knowing’ are often used as euphemisms for intimate sexual relations. In the Genesis 4:1, we read: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” (ESV) It is obvious from the context, that the birth of Cain did not happen simply by Adam finding out all he could about Eve! No! The phrase; “Now Adam knew Eve his wife” meant Adam had ‘carnal knowledge,’ Adam had sexual intercourse with Eve and as a result; Cain was produced! In John 17:3, of course sexual intercourse is not in view, but rather an intimate spiritual relationship is suggested! Eternal life is an intimate spiritual relationship with the only true God and an intimate spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ, who was sent by the only true God!

Of course, the primary way to facilitate this spiritual relationship, from the human stance is to begin with intellectual knowledge. But, isn’t that how all relationships begin? People who are married, and even those who aren’t, didn’t become sexually intimate at first sight! (At least, they shouldn’t have, but it’s a different world these days!) No! Usually couples get to know one another first! And how do they get to know one another? They do so by the exchanging of ideas and thoughts through verbal and written communication. They talk to one another and they write notes and letters to one another! Well, in the same way, God speaks and communicates to humanity through His love letter; the Bible! In the Bible, we can read about what God is like, what God likes and what God dislikes! In the Bible we discover God’s character and attributes. As we respond to what we read in God’s love-letter to us, we follow God’s instructions and dictates and begin to communicate (pray) with Him. As we comply with God’s terms of the relationship as expressed in God’s love-letter, God gives us His Spirit to live within us and the relationship deepens to the level of spiritual intercourse through worship. Just as you can’t really make love (you can only have sex with) to a person you don’t know; we can only praise and worship God as we get to know Him. The acts of praise and worship (including prayer and the various other spiritual disciplines) strengthen and intensify the spiritual relationship that promotes and fosters, what Jesus called: eternal life!

As a result of eternal life, the believer lives a life that is qualitatively different and superior to the unbeliever who does not have eternal life. This eternal life is characterized by love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) The believer consistently experiences, from day to day, God’s supernatural favor and grace in ways that cannot be rationally explained! Eternal life is not just a ‘retirement plan’ for life in Heaven nor just ‘fire insurance’ to insure against life in Hell; eternal life is the Kingdom life God originally intended and created man to have on earth, as outlined in Genesis 1:26-28. Because of sin, death (the physical separation of the body from the spirit/soul)  is the experience of all men! However, eternal life provides the means and assurance of victorious living in the present and in the future; eternal life is now and later!

Pseudo-Prophets & Blessings

There is a disturbing trend in much of the preaching in some church circles today. I’ve been hearing it for the past several years, but I was prompted to write about it after recently running across a Facebook post of a minister preaching a prophetic word of blessings. His message went something like this: “The Lord sent me here tonight to tell you that this is your season to be blessed!” Now mind you, this was said in an open preaching session with a church full of people, many who were saved, but no doubt; some who were not. My first issue with his statement is this: First of all, the people of God are already blessed with all/every blessing they need (see Ephesians 1:3 and 2 Peter 1:3) and secondly; the greatest need of the unsaved is the blessing of salvation! But in the context of this proclamation, it was obvious that the blessings the preacher were referring to were primarily physical and financial! But, was it possible that everybody in the room was at the same juncture in life? I think it was a bit presumptuous to assume everybody in that room was in the same place or on the same level spiritually. Therefore, even if it really was ‘someone’s’ season to be blessed {if there really is such a season} it wasn’t everyone’s season! I think it’s a dangerous practice to utter specific prophetic proclamations to general crowds! Then, the preacher really got the crowd involved by encouraging interaction, telling them: “Now, turn to your neighbor and tell them: ‘It’s your season!” Seriously? I think that sometimes, preachers do and say things because: (1) They saw or heard of somebody else (a well-known preacher) doing it! and (2) It looks or sounds spiritual or deep. But, if they were to really just study the Scripture for themselves and think about the practical application of what they are saying and advocating, they would find that many times, what they are saying and doing makes no practical sense and really amounts to spiritual foolishness! It is practically and spiritually impossible for everyone to be in the same season at the same time! Therefore to issue a mass prophetic word, is at best spiritual foolishness and at worst spiritual deception! In the Old Testament, the acid test of a true prophetic word and a true prophet was fulfillment. If what the prophet said came to pass, he was judged as a true prophet and the word was validated as being a word from the Lord. However, if what the prophet said did not come to pass, he was judged as a false prophet and the law declared that he should be stoned to death! Oh! We take the idea of ‘speaking for the Lord’ too lightly these days, but in biblical times it was serious and often deadly business! Then the preacher went on to say: “The Lord told me to tell you that He’s about to bring you out! Whatever you’ve been going through; it’s over now! You are about to walk into your victorious season!” Again; seriously? I know the preacher was trying to inspire the crowd and give them hope, but for many in that crowd, they were offered a ‘false hope!’

But all of this type of preaching and ‘prophi-lying’ completely obscures the primary purpose of blessings in the first place! When God blessed Abraham, the Bible says: “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2 KJV). Note two things: First of all, note that in order for the Lord to bless Abram, Abram had to meet certain conditions, he had to; (1) Get out from his native country and his father’s house and (2) Go to a land that God would show him. Abraham was blessed because he obeyed God! His belief or faith in God was proven by his obedience to God. As Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23 state: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” But, how do we know Abraham believed God? Because Abraham obeyed God! Real biblical faith (saving faith) is not just a mere conviction of the heart and mind; real biblical saving faith is faith that involves practical obedience to the Word of God! Secondly, note that the Lord told Abraham that he (Abraham) would be a blessing! The Lord didn’t bless Abraham, just to bless Abraham, the Lord blessed Abraham for Abraham to be a blessing! In other words, the Lord didn’t bless Abraham just for Abraham! As Henry Blackaby, noted author of the Experiencing God and On Mission With God series, said: “When God blessed Abraham, He was on His way to the world!”

My issue with much of the modern-day preaching about blessings is that most of the preaching today seems to suggest the blessings of God are primarily for and about the person receiving the blessings; they are not! God blesses, primarily so that the person being blessed might be in a position to fulfill his or her God-given-God-ordained assignment! The blessings of God are not primarily for our comfort, but rather for our commission! They are not primarily for our consumption, but rather for the success of the mission! When we make the blessings all about us, we hi-jack and detour them from their God-ordained use and purpose! That is why the same people end up in the ‘blessing line’ over and over again! James put it this way, he asked: “What causes conflicts and contentions among you? Does not the tension on both sides originate from your lusts in conflict among your members? You want something badly, but you do not have it. You kill and covet, and still you are unable to get what you want. You fight and battle it out, and you do not have what you are after because you do not make a request. You ask, but do not receive, because you make your request from wrong motivation, that you might squander it on your pleasures.” (James. 4:1-3 McDonald Idiomatic Translation) That’s the point! Most of the requests for blessings today have nothing to do with the performance of the will of God! We don’t want to be blessed to do the will of God; we want to be blessed for our own comfort and enjoyment; which is the very reason we are not blessed like we want to be!

We have misunderstood the purpose of blessings! And as long as we insist on having blessings for our comfort instead of for doing the will of God, we will always be frustrated and going without; constantly going from pseudo-prophet to pseudo-prophet in a vain attempt to get a prophetic word to justify our selfish desires!