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?

Kingdom Here, Kingdom Come (A Guest Post)

This post was written by Aubry Smith and taken from Bible Study Magazine

When I was 13 my mom had a seizure in the middle of the night. After multiple tests and exploratory surgeries, the neurologists diagnosed her with terminal brain cancer. She had four months to live. As my siblings and I prepared our goodbyes, nearly every church in the county was praying for my mom’s healing.

A year later, the same team of doctors declared my mom in remission. Many people in our small community, convinced of God’s power and His hand in this miracle, came to faith. I was one of them.

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It seemed too good, and then it wasn’t. A few years later she began forgetting things. She began telling cashiers at the grocery store personal information and bought the same vacuum cleaner every week. Her surgical scars suddenly opened, and an infection spread through her skull, nearly killing her. After a year in the hospital and countless surgeries, one-third of her skull was permanently removed. Now in her 50s, she lives in an assisted living residence, remembers very little about her life, and cannot function on her own.

Rather than undergoing the quick death of brain cancer, she now suffers the slow death of dementia. The miracle that brought me to faith years ago now brings me to a spiritual crisis. Why would God provide a miracle only to allow even more suffering later on? In John 11, Jesus attends the funeral of His friend Lazarus. Although Jesus was aware that Lazarus lay dying, He intentionally delayed His arrival so that God would be glorified (11:4). Lazarus’ sisters and their fellow mourners all assert that Jesus could have healed Lazarus and spared them their suffering (11:21, 32, 37). In response, Jesus calls Lazarus—rotting and wrapped in burial linen—out of the tomb. Many believe, and God is indeed glorified.

What we are not told is when or how Lazarus died again. There’s no account of him being whisked up to heaven like Enoch or Elijah, so we must assume he died later on. We’re also not told the fate of the others Jesus healed. Did they ever get sick again? They surely died too.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is near. He showed us what that kingdom is like: the dead are resurrected, the sick are healed, demons are powerless, creation is restored, and God is worshiped. In his resurrection, Lazarus bore witness to God’s kingdom and power. Was God any less present or powerful when Lazarus died the second time?

We see glimpses of the coming kingdom, but it is not fully here yet. Death has not yet died; sin and brokenness still abound. Sometimes miracles—signs of the coming glory—break into our world and show us that the kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus. But when suffering remains, we wait for complete restoration upon Jesus’ return.

Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ mourners is one of hope. They desire resurrection and life for their brother. Jesus draws them to Himself, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25, emphasis mine). Jesus, the Suffering Servant, is the God who suffers alongside His people. Although He knows that this is not the end for Lazarus, He is “deeply moved” by Mary’s anguish and the sight of His beloved friend’s tomb (11:33, 35, 38).

My mom’s miracle showed my community that God is near and that His kingdom—one without disease or mental illness—is coming in fullness one day. But her dementia reminds me that it is not yet fully here, pushing me to lean into Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who weeps with me as I wait.

Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

 

 

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)

The Seed

When you ask God for an apple, don’t be so disappointed or surprised when He gives you a seed! But why would God give a seed instead of the fruit? Because the blessings of God are usually delivered in seed-form. Why? Because the fruit is the end-result. The fruit is mature and cannot grow or expand anymore. It is the nature of any fully ripe fruit to be perishable and if not soon consumed, will soon began to decay!

On the other hand, a seed has unlimited potential and an almost unlimited self-life! You can count the seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the apples in a seed! A fully ripe apple will only last for a limited amount of time before it starts to decay. But an apple seed has a much longer life span and unlimited potential.

If God only gave us what we ask for, our lives would be so limited. But, in God’s infinite wisdom, God knows we really don’t know what to ask for, so He does exceedingly, abundantly above all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). However, we often fail to recognize, appreciate, or appropriate the exceeding, abundant, above supply of God because it is usually delivered in the form of a seed. So, the next blessing you receive and you think it is not enough, it’s probably not a fruit for you to eat, but rather a seed for you to plant!