This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Mystery of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38) - Part II

As we begin the second part of this teaching, I mentioned that Islam is a key component that for years has been neglected by many prophecy scholars and students. It was not logical to do this, because the medieval Church saw the correlation, and thankfully some prophecy teachers are starting to rediscover this "missing link" in their studies. It only makes sense, as after Christianity Islam is the 2nd largest of the world's religions and therefore it must be concluded that it is no accident it has become what it is. There is, for instance, a little-known piece of information that revolutionizes our take on some prophecies concerning the future Antichrist, and it involves an Islamic "messiah" called the Mahdi. This Mahdi has a doctrine surrounding him that roughly resembles what we Christians believe about the Second Coming of Christ, but unfortunately, the parallels he has more resemble the Biblical Antichrist. I will save that teaching for another time, but if you want to read more about this, my good friend and prophecy teacher Perry Stone has written a book called Unleashing the Beast which is devoted to that very subject. If you are interested, you can get the book at, which is the website of Perry Stone's ministry. The Mahdi is one aspect of this whole thing that should be considered, but at this point I want to talk more about a specific alliance between two Islamic powers that may happen in the future.

Let us now look at Daniel 11: 5-6:

The King of the South shall grow strong, but one of his princes shall grow stronger still and govern a domain greater than his. After some years they shall become allies; the DAUGHTER of the King of the South shall come to the King of the North, in the interest of peace.

Reading this, I firmly believe there is an allegorical reference to some sort of bond between the Arabs and Turks, and that the "daughter" of the King of the South it speaks of denotes a religion, or church, as is often the case with feminine references in Scripture. The one "daughter" of the King of the South (the Arab world, in this case) when you look at it in that perspective can only be one thing - the religion of Islam. Islam began in Arabia, via some demonic influence that the enemy asserted over an apparently illiterate camel trader from Mecca by the name of Mohammed. And, it is today the one thing the Arabs and Turks share in common, as both peoples are largely (not totally, as both have some strong Christian minorities among them as well that will never be affected by these prophecies because they are part of Christ's kingdom now and not Satan's) Muslim and they are among the most influential Muslim powers in today's world, much as they were centuries ago. Preceding verse 11, we see a war between the North and South, and the North prevailing in this war in verse 15. Looking back into history, although the Turks and Arabs are both Islamic, the Turks from the North eventually overcame and subjugated the Arabs in the South, and from the 1200's on the Turks basically called the shots in the Islamic world - I see that as one fulfillment of this prophecy. However, backtracking to verse 11, we see a future alliance between them again. A running thread through all of this is the personage of the future Antichrist, described as a "despicable person" in verse 21 who arises by stealth and fraud. By a series of manipulations, he orchestrates the union between the North and South in order to create a force to destroy Israel. Now, there is a mystery to consider concerning all this. First, although it is not a big mystery concerning the animosity between Ishmael (the Arabs) and Israel (the Jews) - see Genesis 21: 3 and 16, v. 10-12, and Galatians 4:21-31, the last also being the subject of a future teaching - why then the Turks, who have had little conflict or hostility with the Jews?? Despite that last fact though, Ezekiel 38:14-16 predicts a future invasion of Israel by these same Turks with whom they have gotten along so beautifully for centuries. Let's note a few things about this conflict, traditionally known as the War of Gog of Magog:

1. They are mounted on horses, a great horde and mighty army (38:15a)
2. They will originate from a homeland in the recesses of the North (38:15a and 39:2)
3. They shall come against Israel like a mighty cloud covering the land (38:16)

Though seemingly impossible now (although becoming more possible by the day as things unfold) a cursory look at world events will show us a few things. First, it doesn't take rocket science - only an ability to read a daily newspaper - to see that radical Islam is on the rise and is affecting both Turkey and the Arab nations. This radical Islam is violently anti-Israel - their goal is to "drive the Jews into the sea," as their own harangues have plainly said, and wipe the nation of Israel off the face of the earth - and they call for a "holy jihad" against both Israel (and by extension, the world's Jewish population) and Christianity. It is no mere coincidence that Islam is the phenomenon it is today, as practically every nation that is to play a prophetic role is officially Islamic, and all of them have extremely radical factions that are exerting growing influence on the populations of these nations. My personal theory is that the "King of the South" of Daniel 11 and "Gog, Prince of Magog" of Ezekiel 38-39 will both be radical Islamic strongmen (some say the future Antichrist will also be a radically Islamic, or Islamic-originating person as well, possibly the Islamic Mahdi) and both will have a rabid, obsessive thirst for the destruction of Israel. There is another dimension to all this, however, that is often overlooked but can be found in Isaiah 19:23-25:

On that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt into Assyria, and the Assyrians shall enter Egypt, and the Egyptians Assyria, and Egypt will serve Assyria. On that day Israel shall be a third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land. When the Lord of Hosts blesses it "Blessed be my people Egypt, the work of my hands Assyria, and mine heritage Israel."

Note also Isaiah 29:17:

But in a very little while, and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard, and the orchard shall be regarded as a forest.

These verses, I have come to believe, represent a counter-balance and resistance against these two rabidly Islamic kings because they represent nations of the Remnant! All of those mentioned above have modern descendants who are predominantly Christian peoples who have undergone much persecution for centuries under Islam, and one day, I feel they will say "enough is enough!" and will rise up against Islam. And, due to Israel's mention in the verses, I feel that in the day it talks about is when Israel shall know Jesus as its Messiah as a nation, and it will begin to assist, ally itself with, and mutually support the indigenous Christian peoples of the land. In case you wonder who those are, today there are around 12 million Assyrian/Chaldean/Suryoyo Christians who speak Aramaic in the Middle East and the rest of the world (80,000 or more live in the US actually). I would guess-timate that another 12 million Coptic Christians - these are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians who became Christian very soon after the close of the New Testament period - and around 8 or 9 million Syriac-Maronites, blood descendants of the Canaanite-Phoenicians of Lebanon who like the Assyrian Christians speak Aramaic as a mother language (as a matter of fact, they were evangelized by Assyrian Christians and one monk, St. Maron, gave his name to their Church, of which I am also validly chrismated into as a Christian myself). This uprising, I feel, will especially be against "Gog of Magog" for an important reason - the Muslim Turks have brutally persecuted Christians for centuries in the Middle East, as attested by the fact that millions of Armenian, Greek, and Syriac-speaking Christians were martyred by the Ottomans over the time they dominated the region, and the current Turkish government has really done little better. Arabs have been less ambivalent towards non-Arabic and Arab Christian populations, but there have been some fundamentalist Islamic leaders who have mercilessly persecuted them and I fear this may grow in frequency in coming years because often native Christian populations are seen as "collaborating" with the "Crusaders," as they call the West, not to mention that since Islam has asserted itself over the region, much like the Borg on "Star Trek" they have attempted to assimilate, Arabize, and Islamize every person and group under their control. Since the early 1900's though, many of these Christian minorities have had growing nationalistic movements of their own to throw off the oppression of their Islamic overlords, and the scenario I see playing out in the future is that these minorities may be used of God, along with Israel, to bring defeat to these satanic powers that dominate the Islamic world. Should Israel eventually support the national aspirations of these minorities (I see it as a strong strategic possibility) the events to follow could lead to an increase in hostilities between Israel and Turkey, thus culminating in the "Gog of Magog' war of Ezekiel. Radically Islamic Arabs would be quick to form an alliance with their Turkish co-religionists if that were the case, as these Christian insurgents and the nation of Israel would be designated by Islamic law as the Dar-el-Harb ("house of war") and thus provide justification of a fatwa (an Islamic clerical decree) of jihad against these Christians and the nation of Israel. We've seen a taste of this in the late 1970's into the early 1990's when Israel did form an alliance with the South Lebanon Army, a courageous group of Syro-Maronite Christian militias, to combat Hezbollah and other Islamic extremists, as well as Syria, in regard to Syria's invasion of Lebanon. Another nationalistic move among some minorities in the Middle East - the Gulf Wars have emboldened Assyrian Christian nationalists for one thing - could be the spark to ignite this war. It would beneficial for us to take some of these details, often denied by both the secular press (which is increasingly pro-Islamic) and even a number of Christian leaders, more seriously, as I personally feel this is the likely scenario for what is to come.

Getting back to the Turks specifically, you will note earlier that some ancient visionaries talked of the invading Turk/Mongol tribes in the early 11th century as "Archers," and I want to talk about that for a bit. Some years ago, I subscribed and received a very good set of history books published by Time-Life called Time Frame. I used material dealing with the origin of the Turks for this study to provide a background, because there are a couple of significant things that sort of stood out. For one, Ezekiel 39:3 talks about the invading forces of Magog having a prowess with using bows and arrows in battle. Then, we have medieval visionaries, Jews and Christians, talking about these invading forces of "Archers." Interestingly, the Turks were noted for their extraordinary skill with archery, and the ancient tribesmen of the Turks taught their young boys from an early age to shoot arrows with astonishing accuracy from a variety of unusual positions (TimeFrame 1000-1100: Light in the East, p. 48). One such position was known as the "Parthian shot," in which an arrow was shot over the horse's tail by the rider. That calls to mind Armenian visionary Agat'on's prophecies of the minions of Gog of Magog being the "Archers" (Thomson, 38). Again, this in no way could refer to either medieval or modern Russia, as the Russians were never noted for their prowess with the bow and arrow. But, the Turks were, and to this day Turkic tribes in central Asia still are master archers.

I will not elaborate on the war of Gog of Magog here except to say the outcome is predictable - God Almighty wins, and Prince Gog loses, and badly! The whole premise of this teaching was to reveal who I personally feel the true identity of Magog is, and I have concluded that the evidence overwhelmingly points to a confederation of Turkic peoples. I also believe that the prophetic Scriptures make much more sense when seen from this perspective because the old mantra of Gog of Magog being identified with Russia is terribly outdated and the data doesn't support it. Therefore, here is our summary of the key points:

1. Magog refers to a region made up of many tribes and/or states - Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, and Beth-Togarmah, all of which are historically believed to be on the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor.

2. Gog is a person, not a land, and is the prince - chief or "Rosh," in Hebrew - of Magog.

3. The peoples of Magog originally come from the "recesses" (open, barren lands) of the north, which indicates the ancient land of Transoxiana in what is now the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan.

4. The army of this Prince Gog is a great horde of many who apparently excel in the practice of archery.

5. The attack against Israel by a future "Gog" will be sudden, and without warning or provocation.

6. Gog will be defeated by divine intervention and destroyed.

7. Gog will be in alliance with a "King of the South" (possibly an Arab Muslim coalition led by Saudi Arabia).

All of these facts establish a good case for a Turkic origin to this nation Magog mentioned in Ezekiel 38 and 39. That being said, please stay with me for some future teachings of events and subject matter related to this, as this topic is very controversial and multi-faceted. God bless and be with you all.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Mystery of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38) - Part I

(This teaching was originally an article I wrote for the Feb/March 2002 edition of my old magazine, Present Truth Trumpet. I am re-producing it here, with some updated information, for your edification and education. May it bless you as you read it.)

Over the years there has been an increasing interest in Bible prophecy which has borne a large body of material and literature related to many aspects of it. Some of it is actually very good stuff, while others...well, I won't be insulting! This interest is understandable, especially in lieu of several recent events - the 9/11 attacks, the Y2K scare, the recent infatuation with December 31. 2012, etc. - and as time continues we see a gradual unfolding of what were considered obscure Scripture passages on almost a daily basis. All one has to do, naturally, is open up a newspaper or a magazine - it doesn't take rocket science to understand that the times are a'changin', and we as Christians really notice stuff like this as we have read of certain things in the Holy Writ of Scripture. However, many even within professing Christian circles still scoff at the fact that a growing number of us see things and believe they are things the Bible predicted many centuries ago, not to mention the phenomenal rate of accuracy that these things are lining up with Scriptural prophecies. But then again, God did write the book, and being he is all-knowing, maybe we should not be so surprised!

One of the subjects that has generated much interest, and has been a topic of many prophecy students since the Cold War days, centers around the 38th and 39th chapters of Ezekiel, and specifically in those chapters a couple of terms: Gog and Magog. What are they? Do they exist now? I personally have a theory of my own about this, and that is what I wish to share with you now.

Although I have heard sermons about this subject all my life, something really gave me a new perspective in 1994 when I happened upon Greek lay theologian Apostolos Makrakis' book, Interpretation on the Book of Revelation, due to some curiosity that was generated by the writings of my spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, who introduced me to this anointed man's writings. In that book, which is in essence a commentary on Revelation, Makrakis hit on something in Revelation 11:7 that caught my attention. That verse talks about a "beast descending out of the abyss," but the beast in this case was not the Antichrist. Rather, upon further study, I discovered that there was a parallel with that beast and with the events of Ezekiel 38-39. Reading what Makrakis said, he theorized that this "beast" was Islam, in particular the Ottoman Turks, that destroyed Christian Byzantium in 1453. (Makrakis, Interpretation. {Chicago, IL: the Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1972 reprint of original} pp. 252-253). Now, the paradox of this is that many Bible prophecy teachers in the Pentecostal tradition I grew up in always said that Gog and Magog were Russia, which of course was a popular message in the Cold War era. However, the problem with this arises in that over 20 years after the Cold War ended, some people are still trying to villify Russia in all this. I recently heard, in 2002 at a Prophecy conference here in Tampa, several well-known and highly-respected prophecy experts still referring to Gog and Magog as Russia almost to a man. However, I have come to the conclusion that this is an impossibility for a variety of reasons. First, Russia ceased to be a major world power after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, and although it has tried to re-assert itself on the world stage over the past 20 years, fact is Russia is in the backwater of European politics. Secondly, until fairly recently, most prophecy literature more or less parroted the same old teachings of older experts, and many of those theories, in lieu of recent developments, are now antiquated. In other words, Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth is a classic book, and even a good read, but very little teaching went beyond Lindsey's work for many years. Lindsey, in turn, was discipled by Dallas Seminary theologians who, although definitely godly men and strongly biblical for the majority of their material, still never got any fresh insight outside of some material of dispensationalist scholars such as C.I. Scofield and J. N. Darby. Thirdly, and most significantly, there has been an increase in interest with the Islamic world, in particular militant Islamic extremism, and Russia frankly doesn't fit the bill with this either, as it is as much a victim of Islamic extremism as its old rival the US is. Fourth, the spiritual legacy of Russia has often been ignored by the charismatic/fundamentalist/dispensationalist slant of many predominantly Protestant prophecy students, as well as traditionalist Catholic prophecy scholars who base a lot of their information on the Fatima apparitions which, although I believe them to be genuine, have been open to a lot of speculation - much of that school of thinking is attributed to Fr. Nicholas Gruner, a godly priest who unfortunately villifies Russia and ignores its Christian heritage as tragically as his Protestant dispensationalist counterparts do. The untold story of Russia's liberation from godless Communism is best summed up by Greek Orthodox writer Frank Schaeffer, who once made a statement that "a praying babuschka embracing an icon of the Theotokos brought down the hammer and sickle." The oft-neglected spiritual fortitude of many Russian Christian martyrs, occasionally brought to life by Alexander Solzhenitzen and others, says volumes - God was moving in Russia, and that is why communism fell. Church bells pealed out "Kristos Voskrese!!" while Lenin's statue fell - Christ lives in Russia! We will get into more of that later.

There are a couple of other preliminary facts I wish to share before we embark on the "meat" of the teaching. First, it must be remembered that while God indeed does deal with us as individuals, it must also be understood that in order for God to bring about his sovereign plan of the ages (ultimately, the total redemption and restoration of the heavens and earth from Satan's power), he also deals with nations and political entities as well. Almost every major world power that has risen and fell, as well as those to come, has a role in the divine scheme of human events. If not, they probably would not exist. God does, in short, purpose everything to His Glory. Therefore, if a nation does rise to prominence of some sort, God has a reason behind allowing it to do so. Only a brain-dead atheistic infidel, blinded by the finite folly of his own wisdom, would have the cojones to deny that fact (forgive the word, but it fits here).

A second point to be noted concerns individuals who are members of ethnic groups tied to nations. I want to clear something up right now before I proceed with those whose mindsets are corrupted by political-correctness in saying that this in NO WAY implies a sanction for racist ideology, as that is not even an option; God created ALL humanity of ALL nations in His image, and all are loved by him. I and many other students of Bible prophecy have been accused of being "bigoted" because we see the way God's hand moves in this world, and I need to go on record to assure anyone that believing in specific prophetic roles of certain nations in NO WAY implu labeling, stereotyping, or villifying people! The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a perfect example to cite here at this point, because there are godly Christian Palestinian Arabs who I know have a place in God's kingdom to come, but there are also apostate Jewish people who, although their nation is the Chosen of God, nevertheless as individuals are hell-bound unless they repent and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. However, that does not nullify the prophetic significance of either the sons of Isaac or of Ishmael.

That being said, we now get to the premise of our study, which is to establish first that Russia is not what Ezekiel 38-39 is talking about, but that the subject nation of that verse does exist and we must look elsewhere. My belief, after a lot of research and study, is that the Scriptural references to Gog/Magog are actually speaking of the Turkic/Mongol tribes of central Asia. This is a theory I intend to show, with both historical Jewish and Christian sources throughout the centuries, that has strong evidence and support. I also challenge those who are still stuck on the Russia interpretation to see the evidence for themselves. This is a challenging and lengthy study to undertake, but I have a burden to present the truth as I perceive it, as well as proclaiming that truth to others. Therefore, we will first look at the Biblical texts, with my subsequent commentary added.

The main passages dealing with the Gog/Magog situation are of course found in Ezekiel 38-39. Both chapters chronicle three prophetic pronouncements given by God to the prophet Ezekiel in regard to some political entity called "Gog." Gog is not a geographical designation, but is rather a person, more specifically a prince, chieftain, or king of a nation called "Magog." In verse 3, this person Gog is titled "the chief of Meshach and Tubal." Here is where the first point factors in. In Hebrew and other Semitic languages, the word for "chief" is "Rosh," which many well-intentioned and godly Bible students have understandably mistaken as a reference to Russia. Gog, then, is a person, and Rosh is his title - neither word has anything to do with a geographic location. The ancient Slav word "Rus," which is translated "oar" due to the Varangian/Viking boats navigating the rivers of what is today Russia, is the real origin of the name Russia, by the way. The name came from the big longboats the Varangians used to navigate the rivers of the Volga basin, which were manned by a contingent of oarsmen, which the Slav natives of the region noted and designated appropriately. Russia has also been said to be the derivative of the first Varangian ruler of the area, Rurik of Novgorod (from whom I am personally descended incidentally - just thought I would add that, for whatever it is worth!) who first encountered and then extended rule over the native Slavs of the Volga forests. His great-grandson, Prince Vladimir, later became the first Christian king of Russia in the year 988. Either way, the origin and etymology of the name Russia has nothing whatsoever to do with Hebrew grammar, as that would have been foreign to both the pagan Slav tribesmen and their Varangian conquistadors at that time. The New American Bible for Catholics that I originally used for this study also includes a note that the satellite lands mentioned in Ezekiel - Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, and Beth-Togarma - were all part of that land of antiquity the Bible calls Magog (from a Semitic Akkadian word meaning "Land of Gog"). Furthermore, these tribes of the land of Magog, as noted in verse 6, are said to have come from the "recesses of the North," and yet these lands themselves are generally believed to be on the southeast shore of the Black Sea, which is not Russia! Take a look at any map of the region, and you will see that the location of these lands is the northern coast of modern Turkey!! Throughout the ages - at least until some Protestant dispensationalists decided they knew better! - it has been a commonly-held belief that these Ezekiel prophecies referred to tribes out of central Asia that settled in Asia Minor, among those over the years being Scythians, Huns, Mongols, and of course, Turks! All of these people, with exception of the Scythians who were Indo-European cousins of the Persians, were from the same ethno-linguistic family, namely the Uralo-Altaic languages. A medieval Armenian visionary by the name of Agat'on has been attributed a prophecy that more or less elaborated that before the emergence of the Antichrist there would be a bondage of the "Archers" (Thomson, "The Crusaders Through Armenian Eyes," p. 78). The devastation attributed to these "Archers," (more about this later) notes another Armenian visionary by the name of Kirakos, would give rise to the Antichrist (ibid.). This theme is also echoed by medieval Jewish millenial/prophetic writings based on the Hebrew calendar year 5000 (roughly 1240 AD). This millenial year was supposed to usher in a redemption that would involve a "deliverer" from the East who would bring peace to Israel ("Maps, Mongols, and the Jewish Millenium," p. 2). This rings with familiarity when we read Revelation 20, which deals with the Millenial Reign of Christ, which some scholars called "the Sabbath Age." This is evidence from non-Christian Jewish writings as well that the millenial reign of Christ does have merit as a literal time in the future, although the Jewish perspective focuses on a Messiah they have yet to receive, while ours focuses on the Risen Messiah's return. Curiously, and in relation to this, the Turks have over the centuries had very cordial relations with the Jews, and one of their tribes called the Khazars even converted en masse to Judaism in the 11th century. Even under Ottoman rule, which could be ruthless to indigenous Christian populations, Jews were often shown favor by the various aghas, pashas, and khans and sultans of the Empire. This is a good evidence for what we see coming in Ezekiel 38:14-15, where it says that these forces of Gog of Magog will come down suddenly upon Israel without provocation. At the present time, Turkey is one of only a couple of Islamic nations in the Middle East that maintains very good relations with Israel, and therefore in the current political climate Turkey would be the most likely nation there to attack Israel. As a matter of fact, the two nations share military intelligence and technology. However, in recent years, Islamic militancy is on the rise, and all it would take is a radical Wahhabist Turkish political leader to take over the government in Ankara, and all hell would break loose (that happened with Persia, who up until the Ayatollah Khomeini's coup in 1979 was also a good friend of Israel, but that suddenly changed and now Iran arms Israel's enemies and its leaders have threatened to wipe Israel from the face of the earth). Verse 16 describes these armies as "a cloud covering the land," a great horde. Interesting enough, the central Asian nomadic tribes which included both the Turks and Mongols were described in a number of contemporary accounts in just that way. One faction that invaded Central Asia and Russia in the 12th century was even designated "the Golden Horde." With all that in mind, I again stress that this has nothing to do with Russia - for one thing, have there ever been "hordes of Russians"?

As we continue into chapter 39, God says he is the driving force behind this prince Gog, but he is ultimately also leading Gog to his own destruction. Once again, we see that these forces of Magog are said to come from "the recesses of the North." That of course begs the obvious question - what is a recess? As I see it, a recess is an open space, gap, or barren region of territory, and though in all fairness it could describe the steppes of southern Russia, it doesn't because the directions are not right. Therefore, we need to look at the region where the Turkic/Mongol tribes originate.

At the beginning of the 11th century, the armies of the Byzantine Empire were defeated by a weird group of people they had never encountered before, and those would be the Seljuk Turks. A little earlier, these and other Turkic tribes swept into the region from their homeland, an area to the extreme northeast of Persia called Transoxiana (meaning "beyond the Oxus River", referring to a waterway that flowed from the Hindu Kush Mountains of western Afghanistan into the Aral Sea). The Oghuz were a major Turkic tribe out of western Mongolia that more or less were the forebears of the future Turks that would settle Asia Minor, Azerbaijan, and other areas near the Black and Caspian Seas, and thus they were the ancestors of the Ottomans and Seljuks. If one were to take a detailed look at the region of Transoxiana today (roughly the area of the Turkic nation of Kazakhstan today) it would indeed fit the definition of a "recess," as it is a big, open, grassy basin. (Timeframe 1000-1100: Light in the East, pp. 44-45). Today, with the possible exceptions of the Jewish Khazars, the Buddhist Kalmyks, and the Christian Gaugauz Turks in Bulgaria and Romania, the vast majority of the Turks converted to Islam around that time, and as we see from history, the scourge of Islam is what turned the feuding rabble of nomadic Turkic tribes in the recesses of central Asia into a formidable force to be reckoned with. It is with interest that Islam comes up at this point, and in part 2 next week we will see the role Islam will play in all this as it begins to unfold.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dealing with Misguided Zeal

(Note: This is another oldie but goodie that I originally put together back in 2003. It was during a time that I was experiencing this first-hand with an overzealous but misguided co-worker who, although professing Christianity, was in reality attracted to some garbage that began to circulate in the Christian realm at that time like a bad infection, and it later ensnared a lot of people with its deception. It is a message that tells us that we need more discernment in this day and age, as there are tares in the wheatfield. Therefore, hopefully the following teaching will be a blessing to you as you read it.)

The Christian life is a very exciting one for those who live it, but it does tend to present its challenges. Enthusiasm and excitement are good, and it is vital to maintain a healthy enthusiasm - I wanted to say that right up front before getting into the teaching, because it is an important point to remember. Psalm 43:4, which is my favorite verse of Scripture, says in that regard that "I come to the altar of the Lord, to the Lord who rejoices my youth" (quoted from the Douay-Rheims translation). In the Syriac-Maronite tradition that I was chrismated into, this verse is sung as part of a hymn called the Wenobsugo, and it serves as the opening to the Divine Liturgy on Sundays of the Church year in the Maronite tradition (it is also used in the Tridentine Latin Mass as well, if I understand correctly). Indeed, the Lord does delight in the youthfulness of His faithful, and it helps to visit those landmarks in our pilgrimage in order to remind us of God's hand in our lives, especially when discouragement in regard to our faith begins to creep in. It is this that makes our faith a living faith, and a living fiath in turn is a faith that communicates to others the love of Christ that should abide in us. We are, in Eastern Christian terms, to be "living icons" of Christ to the world around us. And, only by a renewed faith in Christ - renewed as often as possible, I must add! - can we do this. It is a building-block of the testimony we have been given as God is faithful to us in so many ways.

On occasion, we run into others who profess Christ yet take that enthusiasm to extremes - in fact, I would argue that a lot of that enthusiasm is of the flesh, and not truly zeal for the things of God, but we will get into that later. This I have observed is particularly true in Pentecostal/charismatic circles, where emotionally-charged worship gives faith a new dimension more prominently than it does in other Christian traditions. This in itself is not necessarily a negative, because if it is genuine, the joy of the Lord can be contagious. However, the problem lies in recent years where some well-known religious writers have mass-marketed an entertainment-driven "worship" philosophy that more or less communicates that somehow we as modern Christians have miraculously come to know more than Jesus Himself does about "doing church," to use a term of these people. The "experience," then, becomes central, and in that environment the emphasis seems on being making the church look more like the world due to the fact it might reach more people. Unfortunately it does, but not for Jesus; instead, it reaches them for "christian rock" music, "seeker-friendly" shopping-mall churches (some of them even with their own Starbuck's franchise!) , and other such things. And, to assure that people come in and park their butts on the pews, such church leaders have more or less become ashamed of what the Gospel says, so they have re-invented it. This "re-invented gospel" talks a lot about people's feelings, it talks a lot about people being entertained by the guitar-slinging rebel "Jesus" who comes to kick butt and take names, but "loving" enough to "party down" at "Christian clubs" while knocking back a few "baptized Buds with suds" (all in Jesus' name of course!) while the yuppie 30-somethings attend a weeklong "business ethics" seminar with their pastor (this is what has replaced revivals nowadays, for those not up to speed with what is going on). And, unfortunately, these "radically sold-out" people end up in a rut of over-zealous religiosity that has little to do with the joy of the Spirit, and more to do with their fleshly lust of "rockin' on for JAYYYYYZZZZUUUZZZ!" as they would say. The end result of this is that the building-block that was supposed to be the word of their testimony becomes a stumbling-block of religious pride, and what happens is that more spiritually-sensitive people who are trying to get closer to the Lord are driven away. These people have gotten so tied up in this garbage that they often become obnoxious, rude, rebellious, and disrespectful of others who may wish to follow a more traditional Christian expression. This attitude, now codified by the likes of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and others in their books which sell millions but transform few lives because their content it so weak, has split churches, and often the very people who truly follow God are often the victims of these "new gospel" fanatics, who soon corrupt the sanctuary of God's house so bad that it is barely recognizeable as a church anymore. This is all too rampant today in many circles, but even in the best of intentions some of us may have been guilty of that to a degree as well as we experienced the growing pains of our Christian walk. The difference is, many of us who were older had strong teachers, anointed of the Spirit and grounded in God's Word, who discipled us better. Many of this generation lack discipleship, because entertaining themselves and having fun - again, all in the name of Jesus of course! - is all that matters to them, and they have not been taught the full Gospel as they should have been. Many years back, when I worked in the Tampa office of a large corporation, I encountered a temp worker who had this very mentality. He is actually one of the reasons for this teaching, because he is not a root, but a fruit that grows like a malignant tumor off a nastier root. The insight from this experience I want to share with those of you who, at one point or another, may have been cowed or bullied by a carnal professing Christian such as this when you began to be troubled in your spirit about something they were saying or doing. I am sure that at one point or another some of you may have encountered the classic stereotypical "Pentecostal nut" also, and although those are a problem too, personally I would rather deal with a "Pentecostal nut" than with the type of person I am about to deal with in this teaching. So, please feel free to use what I share, and be encouraged by it, because the fact of the matter is this is a growing problem, and I see in it a sign of the future if true revival does not clean house in the churches today.

Steve (I have changed his name for identity protection) was a member of a local non-denominational charismatic church somewhere here in the Tampa Bay area, and in mid-2003 he was contracted by our office as a temporary employee for our department. He had recently been involved with the so-called "Brownsville Revival" that started in an Assembly of God church up around Pensacola somewhere sometime in the mid-1990's. I won't get into a lot with the Brownsville movement, but this fellow was actively and zealously promoting the brand of Christianity it espoused in the workplace. As a result, many of his co-workers began to feel pestered and intimidated by him, and being some of these people were not exactly Christians (about 3 of them were active homosexuals, and another one was involved in occultism, among other things), they quickly tired of his constant sermonizing them and became quite aggravated with the guy. As he became more obnoxious with his attitude and the manner in which he came across to people, he soon risked a near physical confrontation from a couple of his co-workers he was "evangelizing," and not long after he lost his job over that when the manager of our department got word of what he was doing. Despite the fact this young man (he was only in his very early 20's at the time) had a new wife and a baby to support (tragically, he is now divorced from her, upon last contact with him) he nonetheless clung stubbornly to these misguided beliefs and although it's now been 7 years since I last saw him I sincerely doubt he's reformed much either. My personal interaction with Steve was also not pleasant; at the time, the company I worked for had very few Christians working in it, and I was actually longing for some good Christian fellowship with a fellow believer in the workplace, because I wanted to eventually start a small prayer group for Christian employees. However, with Steve, what should have been Christian fellowship soon rapidly deteriorated into theological wars in which he felt he was right and every other "traditional Christian" was wrong. His argumentative and disagreeable attitude proved to be draining and a challenge for me, especially since I was older and a little more mature in the faith than he was. He also displayed a disturbing anti-Catholic sentiment, largely based on the usual fiction and mythology that seems to propagate among the less-informed in some circles, and being an Eastern-Rite Catholic myself, I found that personally to be offensive. The question arises here concerning what should be done with someone professing to be Christian who behaves in this manner, and as an older brother or sister in the faith, how do you help someone like this? After some prayer and soul-searching of my own, I realized that in order to fix a problem, one has to identify it and dissect its fundamental components to understand it better and deal with it. In this article, I want to deal with identification, and then I will deal with constructive solutions to these types of situations.

When dealing with professing Christians who have these types of attitudes, there are seven identifiable characteristics I have observed from dealing with Steve as well as others on on-line discussions over the years. These are what I have found:

1. Over-exciteability and emotion-based religion
2. Confusing voice of God with own feelings and emotions
3. Anathemitizing other Christians with differing views
4. A radically dualistic worldview
5. Inappropriate display of faith at wrong place/time, and no discernment
6. Possession of a "martyr complex
7. Unteachability and rejection of sound counsel

A person who displays the above traits while professing to be a Christian treads on some very dangerous and volatile ground. There are several things that can happen to these types of people, and among them are the following:

  1. Many of them end up falling on their faces due to high expectations they place on themselves and others. This leads to two possible outcomes:
  • a. First, if fortunate, it can humble the person to the point where they begin to seriously re-evaluate their own Christianity, and through it, they learn to be more submissive and teachable, thus maturing better as a result of allowing better discipleship to mold them.
  • b. Second, a scenario could be played out where the collapse of their idealized limited perspective and convictions can prove so devastating that it causes them to abandon their faith in frustration. This is a tragic commentary that is too often repeated and affects way too many, as nowadays fads and fashions rule over discipleship in many churches because pastors simply do not care. This also creates a huge waste of tremendous potential in the Kingdom.

The Scriptures themselves, being the written Logos Word of God, are so complete that they address these very situations. Holy Scripture not only encourages, but demands, an emphasis on proper teaching and discipleship in the Church. in II Timothy 2:15, a classic mandate to all of us as believers is given that says "study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth." Also note Psalm 119:11, which says, "Thy Word hath I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee." In other words, as Ephesians 6 states, the Word is our loinbelt of truth that upholds us, and as believers, a true knowledge of it brings balance and wisdom to our faith. The problem with a Christianity that appeals to much to the emotional aspects of our faith, seeking to entertain rather than edify and convict, is that feelings often get confused with substance, and if anything that is a true recipe for disaster somewhere down the line. A major consequence of this is that our discernment is impaired and we are open to all sorts of weird things (even demonic influence) that can throw us off track. We are taken by this now back to Matthew 13, the well-known and oft-read Parable of the Sower. Recalling the story, you remember that Christ was comparing the dissemination of the Word of God to a sower sowing seeds of his potential crop in a field. As the seed is broadcast, it falls in a lot of places. Some of it is easy prey for birds (an allegorical reference to demons, BTW - future teaching on that one later!) who snatch it up - that of course refers to false doctrines, heresies and cults. Others of the cast seed fall on rocks, where it sprouts OK but is easily scorched by the sun or eroded away by rain (those symbolize trials of life, in case you haven't guessed!) - this one has to do with those over-zealous people, like my friend Steve, who don't have grounding and proper discipleship and end up withering while still young when a real challenge presents itself. Still other seed falls in the briar patch, where weeds and briars choke the life out of it as it is challenged to grow (this has to do with adverse circumstances - oppressive family members, a hostile work environment, etc.) - and of course that alludes to those people who, having originally started out strong and grounded, were choked by "other interests," such as choosing a successful career over their faith, a shapely spouse over their faith, etc. Steve and others like him are those in the rockpile, and I want you all to catch this - they seek the rock, but land in a rock pile; hmmmm!! Their faith starts out strongly and sincerely enough, but because it isn't rooted in good soil (discipleship) when a real crisis hits they cave like a miser's hut in the recent earthquake in Haiti. The good seed though is that which is fortunate to land on the fertile soil of good discipleship, and it takes strong root; the storms of life nourish it rather than destroying it, and birds and briars can't uproot and take it away. With Steve and others like him - they are becoming an alarming number these days too! - it is a sad commentary on contemporary Christianity that so many lack proper discipleship and thus end up in spiritual disaster. We all, as Christians, share a responsibility for this, and until we can help these people have a secure footing in truth from the outset, we risk turning the Christian message, the true Gospel of redemption, into a joke to the skeptical world. And, I warn that this is not something peripheral either, for the very salvation of those like Steve may hang in a fragile balance as a result of poor teaching and the chasing after the newest charismatic fads. God help us regardnig the poor state of Christianity today, and may we truly get back to the genuine renewal of the Spirit, which involves a high regard for both the Holy Word of God (the written Logos) and the Holy Tradition of the Church (the chronicled rhema).

When encountering those of a more emotion-based faith, handle them firmly but in love - remember, we may want to smack some of these people upside the head understandably, but Jesus does love them and He died for their sins as well. Though some are in it for the "buzz," there are also many caught up in this mindset that are sincere in their beliefs, do love the Lord, but just haven't been properly taught. The point and objective of our dealings with such people is to debate the truth with them in the love of Christ, but not arguing to win your case in the process - if you do the latter, it will only re-enforce that stubborn rebelliousness and give them a "martyr complex" that will make them more difficult to win to the truth. Also, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to work in them, and to maybe open them up to instruction so that they may mature as Christians better. There are many, if we handle them in a Christlike spirit, who will respond with fervent prayers and intercessions on their behalf from us. Some of the most stubborn, offensive people have been transformed into powerful witnesses for Christ as a result of patient, mature Christians dealing with them in love. We must also remember that the issue a lot of times is not a matter of belief, but rather of attitude - many of them are on the right track (for the time being anyway, because danger lurks) but just need an attitude adjustment that only the Holy Spirit can ultimately give them. If the attitude is tweeked, in short, then victory in the battle is soon to follow.

I hope this will be an encouragement to you in dealing with these people who, armed with Rick Warren books and "Christian rock" CD's, prove to be an offense and a challenge to our spirits. And, we must remember to, as Scripture admonishes us, to always "speak the truth in love." God bless all of you who read this, and may His love abide in us all.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Apocalyptic Mystery of the Eucharist

That we may receive the King of all, invisibly upborne by angelic hosts. Alleluia!
- from the Cherubic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom

The year is 988 AD, and the place is the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople. A small but ragtag group of befurred delegates from a far-north land are observing the Divine Liturgy in its full glory in this, the crowning jewel of the churches of Constantinople and indeed of Christendom. The overwhelming experience of this Liturgy leaves these roughshod northern travelers completely speechless. They later report to their monarch, Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus, telling him "we knew not if we were in heaven or on earth!" Now, Prince Vlad at this time was in the market for a religion that would make his nation more received on the world stage, but what began as purely a political decision soon turned into a vibrant faith for the young Prince, as through the first Liturgy to be held on Russian soil Jesus Christ got hold of Vlad, and the formerly rowdy prince of the rowdy Rus was born again by the power of the Gospel! Soon too was his kingdom. This story represents something that is absolute fact - the Liturgy is indeed "heaven on earth," and as such it has an impact on those whom are open to what it has to offer. Detractors often scoff at this, saying "oh, it is just the smells and bells," or "yeah, the beauty just provoked an emotional response and is not a true spiritual experience!" However, they fail to understand something very important - the Liturgy is our dress rehearsal for the kingdom to come!! Many people - particularly predominantly Protestant North America - would never think of seeing the connection between the earthly celebration of the Liturgy and the Second Coming and the coming Kingdom of God. However, it is there, and the Liturgy has an almost other-worldly quality to it, a fact that Eastern Christians have known and accepted for centuries. Therefore, is the Liturgy a foretaste of the Coming of the Lord? Many early Church Fathers, as well as even some Jewish rabbinical authorities of the same period writing about the worship of the Temple, seem to have thought so as one reads their books on the subject. Being I believe personally the evidence is compelling for this idea, that is what we wish to explore this week.

In early 2003, Barb and I had the privelege of visiting a local Serbian Orthodox Church close to where we lived at the time. The sheer beauty of the sung Liturgy in that church, which was further accentuated by the sea-blue and gold-trimmed iconography of the church, so moved me that I actually felt as Isaiah did in chapter 6 of the Bible book bearing his name - so unworthy, yet so drawn. The experience was similar to a Russian word, umilenie (roughly meaning, an unspeakable feeling of sadness, joy, and awe that moves one to tears). I felt, simply, as if I were in the very throne room of the Almighty Himself. That is why in our study now I am going to be drawing a lot from the liturgical expressions of the Christian East, for although the West also has a rich and beautiful liturgical tradition, there is just something about the reverence, pageantry, and awe of the Eastern Church that makes one truly homesick for the Kingdom. In that regard, the "heaven on earth" aspect of the Liturgy is often more pronounced in the East than it is in the West. Additionally too, I am Eastern-rite myself, and as such the spiritual pilgrimage that has brought me to where I am today identifies more with the East than with the West, albeit I was raised in a traditional Pentecostal tradition and currently attend an traditionalist Anglican parish at this time. The impact that the Christian East and its liturgy and spirituality, as well as the prophetic emphasis of my own Pentecostal roots, have come to be synthesized in a beautiful way in my own personal spiritual life and identity. And, that is why I want to share this with you now.
For many years, I have tried - often with great pain and labor - to fuse the two diverse elements - the prophetic charismatic/Pentecostal influence of my youth and the strong Eucharistic element that pervades much of Eastern Christian spirituality - together. The two seemed hopelessly and diametrically opposed until I attended a conference at a Roman Catholic parish in Tampa where Dr. Scott Hahn was speaking. Dr. Hahn is a former Presbyterian minister who, some 20 years ago, became Catholic, and being a very brilliant man and a Biblical scholar, he spoke at this conference on the subject of how the book of Revelation is a liturgical book as well as a prophetic one. Understand now, that as a kid, I was SCARED TO DEATH of even looking at Revelation, and it wasn't until my early college years until I began studying it myself with more interest. So, this information (Dr. Hahn later published it in book form entitled The Lamb's Supper, if anyone is interested in studying further - it is well worth your read!) rocked my world, and I had one of those "AHA!" moments then. Inspired by this information, the wheels of thought within my head began to turn, and it seemed as if things started to come together like a giant jigsaw puzzle forms a picture. Coupling all of that with my Eastern Christian experience (I am a validly chrismated Maronite-rite Catholic, although independent at present due to some other issues I will elaborate on at another time), it really became obvious to me what was going on - I had discovered that the Divine Liturgy is an icon of the Second Coming of Christ!!! In that regard, we in a sense do participate, as Catholic Christians, in the Second Coming every time we partake of the mystery of the Eucharist. However, the actual Second Coming is not yet, for as the old-time Pentecostal campmeeting hymn "Joy Unspeakable" says in its last stanza,"...and the half has never yet been told!" Thinking back later upon that experience I mentioned earlier at the Serbian Orthodox church, I realized that one day a similar experience of awe will probably come over us as we stand in the awesome presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in His heavenly throne room. This revelation to me was really quite an enlightening experience overall, and it has definitely caused me to approach the Sunday Liturgy in a totally new light than I once did.
Now, in order for us to see how this works, let us get into some teaching. One must examine the Book of Revelation and similar passages such as Isaiah 6, in a radically different way than they may have been taught. What both the Apostle Saint John and the prophet Isaiah saw were one and the same - God does not change, and the visions they had were identical. And, their visions give us a picture of what celebrating the Liturgy is truly all about. To understand the true form of liturgy (from the Greek leitourgica - "work of the people") one needs to understand the role of the individual Christian in the life of the Church as a Body. Eastern Christians, in particular the Syriac-Maronite tradition I have been "grafted into" myself, have always taught the essential truth of the individual believer as a temple of the Holy Spirit. An ancient Syriac document from the late 4th century called The Book of Steps even implies that the Church as a whole only becomes such when we as individuals consecrate our beings as places the Holy Spirit is welcomed in, and thus the heavenly things are revealed to us (Sebastian Brock, The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and Spiritual Life. {Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1987} pp. 46-47). This particular passage goes on to say that "for everything in the church (our bodies) has been established in the likeness of that hidden church (the coming Kingdom?)." (ibid.) Saint Isaac of Nineveh, a 10th-century Syriac-Assyrian writer, is even more direct when he says in his Discourse XXII on Prayer that prayer is a sacrifice we offer on the Lord's altar, which in Syriac Christian terminology is the heart (Brock, 256). This is a theme that permeates the majority of the early Syriac Christian texts (see both Fr. Seely Beggiani's Introduction to Eastern Christian Spirituality - the Syriac Tradition and all of Dr. Sebastian Brock's writings for more information). Therefore, through all this, worship becomes personal and emphasizes the spiritual aspect of our being. Consecration of our human temples by the Holy Spirit, and especially the heart as the altar, is vital to our growth in the Christian pilgrimage we embarked on when Jesus washed our sins away with His shed blood and we were born again in Him. It is an especially vital component as we travel on the pilgrimage of what Eastern Christian spirituality calls Theosis (or in Syriac traditions, Ihidaya - literally "single-mindedness"). We thus become, in this process of growth, "living icons" of Christ.
However, as we are "living icons" of Christ, we are also called together in corporate fellowship in the life of the Church. This is so that the Kingdom of God might be manifest, as the Lord's Prayer we all know states "on earth as it is in heaven." This is actually the next step beyond our personal consecration, which starts when we are born again, and the mystery of the Divine Liturgy is its ultimate expression. As mentioned earlier, the Divine Liturgy is viewed by Eastern Christians as a microcosm of the coming Kingdom of the Messiah when He returns for His Bride (us). In a sense, I guess it could be said that just as a wedding party has a "dress rehearsal" before the actual ceremony, the Liturgy is our dress rehearsal to meet our Bridegroom!! The icon concept is one that is familiar to the Eastern Christian (although the West also has its own rich tradition of this as well), but for the unfamiliar person who reads this, let me say this: the icon is more than just portraits of dead saints that grace parishes and homes of the faithful. Indeed, some "icons" of our faith are not contained within the boundaries of paint and wood. For instance, the Bible is traditionally viewed by us Catholics and the Orthodox (as well as traditional Anglicans) as an icon of Christ in history and prophecy. The individual Christian is also viewed as a "living icon" of Christ in an evangelistic sense. And, our Liturgy (or Mass in the West) we celebrate every Sunday is an icon of the heavenly Kingdom to come. My mentor, Archimandrite Eusebius Stephanou, who is a Greek Orthodox priest and has been a leading proponent of spiritual renewal in the Eastern Church for over 50 years, says in his book, Renewal Pains in the Orthodox Church (Fort Wayne: Brotherhood of Saint Symeon the Theologian, 1982) that "Solomon's Temple was but a foreshadowing and prefiguring of the real Temple, namely the body of the Christian believer" (p. 119). He notes later that "it is on the inside of the believer himself that God meets man." (ibid.) Saint Paul affirms that in Scripture when we read I Corinthians 3:16, and 6"19, and again this is in accordance with Syriac Christian tradition that sees the "altar of the heart" as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and Christ's throne within our temple. Man is indeed, as Fr. Eusebius aptly points out, the new sanctuary of God and this is due in part to the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The true key to revival in Christendom today - this being said with many voices currently crying out for revival - is the Real Presence. That is something we need to grasp in order for us to move into that dimension Christ has called us into.
Isaiah 6 recalls a vision - the Prophet was transported in a vision to the very throne room of the Most High. Saint John the Apostle had a similar experience while exiled on the isle of Patmos when he received from Jesus Himself the Revelation. Both saw the heavenly kingdom and a world to come, and that the court ceremonies of that heavenly throne room was where the drama of history was being played out. Liturgy is more than, as some skeptics and detractors say, mere "dead works" and "smells and bells" - often, voices of ignorance who wish the Church to be an entertainment venue rather than the sanctuary of the Most High cough and sputter like so many alligators with laryngitis. Liturgy is in reality proper court etiquette for the King of Kings. Being as we Catholic Christians, East and West, believe in the Real Presence, the Divine Liturgy (or Mass in the West) provides both a "dress rehearsal" for the age to come as well as a present visitation with the Lord when we participate. We are ushered into the very presence of the throne room of God by it. Scott Hahn writes of this in his study of John's vision in Revelation:
As I described in Chapter 1, it was only when I began attending Mass that the many parts of this puzzling Book suddenly began to fall into place. Before long I could see the sense in Revelation's altar (8:3), its robed clergy (9:4), candles (1:12), incense (5:8), manna (2:17), chalice (16), Sunday worship (1:10), the prominence it gives to the Blessed Virgin Mary (12:1-6), the "Holy, Holy, Holy" (4:8), the Gloria (15:3-4), the Sign of the Cross (14:1) the Alleluia (19:1,3,6), the readings from Scripture (ch. 2-3), and the Lamb of God (many, many times). These are not interrruptions in the narrative or incidental details; they are the very stuff of the Apocalypse. (Scott Hahn, The Lamb's Supper {New York: Doubleday, 2001} pp. 66-67)
Look at all those liturgical elements a Roman Catholic theologian - and a former Protestant minister at that! - discerned from the text of Revelation - wow!! I have said many times, in my own writings and in correspondence with others, that Scripture and Revelation in particular are not to be read like any old book; no, it is multi-dimensional due to its supernatural character and authorship. It actually should be read more like a Rubik's cube than a regular book, although even that limited understanding fails to fathom the many layers of spiritual richness contained within its words. If more people would open up and see this, I have a feeling that so many of the fights, divisions, and schisms that have occurred over the centuries between Christians could have been avoided. The problem is that people get one dimension of the truth of God's word, and assume they have "gotten it." Although they delude themselves into thinking this somehow gives them an edge over others, they in reality have failed to even scratch the surface. The nugget they have obtained is but a small piece of the bigger picture. The more I grow and mature in my own Christianity, the more I realize how much more I need to learn, as things become more obvious every time I open the Holy Writ. I feel kind of like Isaiah in his vision, in other words. It is much like Fr. Peter Gillquist, an Antiochian Orthodox priest and former Campus Crusade worker, says in his book Becoming Orthodox (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1992) on page 80 when referring to Catholic theologian and former Protestant Thomas Howard's description of Liturgy as a multimedia event - it is more though, as we are active participants!! We engage all five senses in worship, if we truly do so in spirit and in truth, which is the point. The "smells and bells" many detractors deride are actually powerful tools of worship - worship that involves the whole being and all senses. "Smells" often refers to incense, which we use as a symbol of prayer and intercession. In the Byzantine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated every week during Lent, a prayer is chanted that sums this idea up well - let my prayers ascend to you as incense, and the lifting of my hands as a living sacrifice. Many Charismatics have the hand-lifting part down to a science; now if they would only get the rest of it! The "bells" likewise are important, as they both symbolize our praises and they also signify a reverence for the Almighty. In the Trisagion Hymn (Holy, Holy, Holy) both incense and bells are used together, as our petitions rise simultaneously with our praises. I want to deal separately later with bells and incense, as there are powerful teachings that need to be shared on them specifically.
There is much more to be discussed with this teaching that unfortunately time does not allow me here, but I hope you see the correlation between the Liturgy and the Second Coming of Christ. The true key to genuine revival is to understand that connection. Whether or not one has specific beliefs regarding the timing of the Rapture - or some who may not even believe in a Rapture at all - is of no consequence here. The point is that Christ is coming again soon and we experience this to a degree when we participate in the celebration of the Liturgy. Are we prepared to meet the Lord today, either in Rapture or repose? If we are not prepared in our hearts for the Eucharistic Feast, how shall then we be ready for the real thing when it happens (and mind you, it will happen!)? As we pray each day and continue upon our own individual Christian pilgrimages, let us always take these matters seriously and to heart. God be with and bless all of you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

This week I want to deal with a specific one of the Ten Commandments - taking the Lord's name in vain. I am going to be taking this from a unique perspective, because although a lot of space has been devoted to cussing, etc., over the years, there is a more familiar, insidious way the Lord's name has been taken in vain over the years, one that many people (sadly even Christians) don't seem to realize. Actually, it has two parts, and those we will focus on.

To start, we go to Matthew 21. Jesus has just ridden into Jerusalem on the donkey, and after all the initial fanfare (keep that in mind also, as it is part of this too!) He goes to the Temple. Matthew 21:12 says He cast out the moneychangers - people who were selling all manner of things, from sacrifices to trinkets - and He strongly condemns these practices in verse 13 by saying "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of thieves!" Now it is time to begin some strong teaching here! How many of you, in this day and age, have entered these big megachurches and encountered an atmosphere similar to a mini-mall? My first experience with that came in 1992 in Anaheim, CA, when I visited a very well-known charismatic megachurch, and within the foyer of this church there were coffeeshops, bookstores, and all sorts of other stuff - anything you wanted, from trinkets to T-shirts, from Bibles to booties - was sold in this atmosphere. It was also Sunday night when I visited this particular church, and instead of the worship of God, the whole place had the atmosphere of a flea market - no holiness, no reverence, nothing! Not even 10 years later, I started seeing the same thing in "megachurches" here in Florida as well, and it is pretty commonplace now. However, although churches have been building shopping centers in their sanctuaries, at the same time spirituality has been deficient - the average books now on the market have little to do with spiritual things, but are rather glorified psychology and self-help books with a "Jesus" thrown in for good measure. In case you are wondering how this is taking the Lord's name in vain, I will tell you - Jesus is not a sales pitch; He is our Lord and Savior, and He died a very violent death to give us a totally free gift of eternal life and salvation. Therefore, when you have hucksters trying to "tap into the Christian market," in a sense those are the modern-day moneychangers, defiling that which is holy, and thus taking the Lord's name in vain. Now, let me say I do not condone cursing and foul language, but I have to say I can deal with that better than I can with those taking the Lord's name in vain by using it to make a buck. There is now - well, it has been around for a while now - this fad called "WWJD" (what would Jesus do?) that has also created a lot of lucrative business for people who use the religious angle to make a quick buck, and although there are some professing but theologically illiterate Christians that think that stuff is the proverbial "bee's knees," in reality it is also taking the Lord's name in vain, and thus an abomination. My word to those who are sincerely following Christ; do not buy that junk, and to answer the WWJD question about it, let me say that He would probably repeat what he did in Matthew 21:12-13 by throwing that garbage out of churches and horsewhipping those who are taking advantage of the marketing angle with it. Honestly, I would hand Him the whip to do it too - these people need some sense knocked into them! So, as for WWJD, He would probably incinerate every piece of cheap junk that has WWJD on it. Something for you all to think about, isn't it?

Related to this is another way that people often take the Lord's name in vain, and that is through false praise. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey on Palm Sunday, many people yelled "Hosanna" at Him and threw palm branches in His path; a mere 6 days later some of those same people were calling for His blood and crucifixion. What was true then is true today - churches are filled with people who are fluent in "Christianese" but deficient in spiritual maturity. Some use the name of Jesus flippantly without knowing Him personally. They wave their hands around, dance jigs in the church aisles, speak in tongues - they really have it down to a science, I give them credit for that! - but their heart is far from God and they do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. My good friend Perry Stone, in a teaching on his "Manna Fest" program, spoke about this to a degree also when he did a teaching on the parable of the wheat and tares; I will not steal his thunder (watch the teaching on his website and hear it for yourself! bu essentially he said the tares and wheat look the same until the harvest, and then the tare looks different. And, tares were considered toxic too, because they produced a fungus that could contaminate the wheat and make people sick if they found their way into the millstone for grinding. In the latter days, as the harvest approaches, there are indeed many tares in the wheatfield, and many will have done their damage to good wheat already. Look at the general attitude of many church people today, and you will see that for yourself. Jesus Himself said, in the Biblical text, that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven. We must remember, even Satan believes Christ exists, so that is not the measuring-rod of our salvation. Rather, we are saved by our faith in God's grace, and that grace is conveyed in the ultimate act of love of God for humanity - He gave Himself to die for our sins, and if we believe He did that, truly repent, and accept Him as our Lord and Savior, then we become born again and are on the pilgrim road of salvation. Anything else is a doctrine of demons, and we are to reject and condemn it.

That being said, I know some reading this are going to accuse me of judging, and those individuals love to throw around Matthew 7:1, which of course says "judge not, lest ye be judged." No, it is not our place to judge, and perfection is not a badge of salvation - a sincere spirit is. None of us are perfect, and I don't think that anyone who truly serves Christ expects anyone to be. However, the overlooked part of this is spiritual growth. Many who freely bandy about the "judge not" verse (they also take the Lord's Word in vain, as they quote it out of context to justify themselves) have erroneously embraced a Calvinistic principle that says once they are saved, there's nothing more to the Christian life; no change is required, you can be free to enjoy even the worst things of the world as long as "Jesus" is in them, and that is all you have to do; all that is next is you blissfully die and go to heaven. That attitude is a result of poor discipleship, and is part of this new trend in churches that more or less sanctifies sin while demoting Christian living - it is called "seeker-sensitive church," and it is the worst attack the enemy has launched against the Church in all its existence. In the past, a great deal of effort was invested by godly pastors to instill into their people a desire to seek the Lord with all their heart through prayer, fasting, and staying in the Word. Pastors then were truly called - many have weeped and anguished over their people, and some have even "stood in the gap" and literally battled demons for their souls. You hear little of that today, because unfortunately church has become a big fun-house, and to even mention such things will often risk getting you called a "freak," a "legalist," or a "Bible Belt fundamentalist looney" or perhaps the biggest insult (in their eyes anyway) of being accused of being "bound by tradition." There are too many professing Christians who, in recent generations, have decided they know more than the Lord Himself, and thus they have created a new "Church" in a sense. However, if you read Scripture, this is NOT a "Church" you will want to be part of - it is the latter day church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-17) that will in time morph into "Mystery Babylon" (Revelation 17:3-6), an evil system that will, in the latter day, persecute the Remnant. We already see that happening to a degree, as those who stand for the Truth are often viciously persecuted by those professing to be Christians because simply put, the latter are Christians in name only; they follow their carnal desires, do whatever they want because they feel like somehow they are immune from God's laws, and they have no conviction regarding what they do because the Holy Spirit doesn't dwell in them. These are people who take the Lord's name in vain - they openly say all the right things, but their hearts are not right. One day, many of those same people, should they be alive, will proudly wear the mark of their own damnation upon their hands when the Antichrist demands their worship. Many will be so ignorant and deceived that they will even believe the Antichrist to be Christ. There are many pieces of "religious" literature, much of it selling millions of copies and paying for expensive perks for its authors, and there are many so-called "Christian rock" music groups promoting the same message, out there today deceiving people by the millions. It is heartbreaking, but not to be totally unexpected - tares are abundant in the wheatfield today, and are infecting the wheat with the fungus of unrighteousness. It is becoming harder and harder, without the true discernment of the Holy Spirit, to tell the difference (the Bible says even the very elect will be deceived - II Timothy 3 is an entire chapter that deals with this, so I encourage you to read it for yourselves), which is why we need to be suited up with the "Armor" of Ephesians 6 more so than ever. It is important that we know our faith, know the Word of God, and even more grassroots, know how to discern spirits in the Body of Christ. If we are caught with our guard down, we risk deception ourselves, and this day and age is a prime growing season for tares for some reason. That being said, let us be careful to understand that not everyone who throws the name of Jesus around so flippantly is of God - as a matter of fact, they take His name in vain.

I know this week's lesson was maybe a little harsh, but it is a dose of strong medicine the Body of Christ needs today, because there is much impurity in the Church that needs cleansed. Jesus promised in His word that He would return for a Church "without spot or wrinkle," (Ephesians 5:27) and the only way that can happen is to be truly purified by His Blood, shed for our sins. Many "seeker-friendly" and "purpose-driven" fads and fashions are floating around in Christian bookstores, and loud "Contemporary Christian Music" stations blare the name of a "Jesus" who is not the Jesus of the Bible. They do this not because they are led by the Holy Spirit to bring your soul to Christ to be born again by His blood, but rather they do it because they want to baptize their respective bank accounts with lots of green paper with dead Presidential portraits on it. They will not love you, talk to you, nor do they even care that you may really need Christ in your life - to them, all that is of concern is how much dough you pay for a book, CD, or concert ticket. Come out and be ye separate from them as Scripture commands, and seek the true Christ, the One Lord and Savior who died for your sins. You are better than all that garbage, and God wants to restore you to what He intended for you to be, yet sin stains us. Therefore, if you are one of those people who has come to realize that "Self-help" books and guides to living a "Purpose-Driven Life" prove meaningless, then receive the true Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. And, feel free to write if you need prayer for this decision, because the days are short and you may not have the opportunity to do so again.

God be with you all, and I will be back next week with another fresh teaching from God's Word.