fruitage of the spirit's journal

Expressions from the Heart

Spiritualizing Israel

Spiritualizing Israel by Julie McAllen

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. (Matt 16:13-20)

Peter was blessed, not because of his heritage as a Jew, but because he understood the foundation of a relationship with God is built upon wisdom and revelation from heaven and profession of Jesus Christ. Peter wasn’t handed any literal “keys” but was now being trusted to unlock mysteries in the Old Testament previously hidden from his sight. The flood of understanding given to Peter was the unveiling of the spiritual realities hidden in the new covenant. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter was given revelation to connect Joel’s last days prophecy with his present awakening (Acts 2:16-17; Joel 2:28-32). Those gathered in the upper room were being prepared for the end of the system under which they lived. Their challenge would be to share the good news of a spiritual kingdom to those who remained veiled under a very literal, old law covenant. What the literal eye and ear had not seen or heard had just been revealed to the church by SPIRIT (1 Co 2:7-10). God had used the old covenant with its physical attributes to tutor these Israelites into Christ and His spiritual kingdom so that they might become teachers to their fellow Israelites first and then unto Gentiles even down to our day.

As the last days of that old covenant with Israel were coming to her end, Jesus often spoke in parables which at times left them confused. His words are rich in symbolic language to describe His kingdom. He calls His follower’s sheep, Himself a shepherd, a rock, and the bread of life. He likens the kingdom to hidden treasure, a pearl, and a mustard seed. He even describes His love and pain for Jerusalem as a hen gathering her brood under her wings (Matt 23:37). I don’t think He meant to sound like a literal chicken. After their baptism in the Holy Spirit the disciples more fully understood the spiritual significance of His illustrations. Take for example the fig tree which Jesus had condemned in Matthew 21:18-22. If Jesus used a literal fig tree to symbolize ancient Israel for those already familiar with Him as the seed and true Israel of God (Hosea 11:1; Matt 2:15), is it that far a stretch to suggest they accepted the promise in Micah 4:4 of each one “sitting under their own fig tree” as a symbol of peace made possible to those under Christ, the prince of peace? Or were they out looking for the perfect tree to sit under? They came to understand that under the new covenant, Christ restores a relationship with YHWH, not through a religion based on the old law covenant but as a new creation in Christ Himself. Though first century disciples of Jesus lived under harsh conditions, those “in Christ” knew the peace of God which surpasses understanding. They also understood their trialsome earthly lives were not the final destination as they focused on treasures in heaven and looked forward to citizenship there with Christ. As Jesus warned, they would always have the poor with them, but under the law of love, they were reaching out to the widows and orphans unlike the religious leaders still looking for their Messiah’s arrival according to their own acceptable signs while missing the kingdom in their midst.

Some today are expecting very literal fulfillments of prophecy and have criticized interpretations that “spiritualize Israel,” but even the Ryrie’s Study Bible commentary agrees that “the curse on the tree is an illustration of the rejection of Israel, a nation unfruitful despite every advantage.” Is Charles C. Ryrie, Th.D., Ph.D. and dispensationalist spiritualizing the old testament in regards to Israel?

The dispensational view promotes that “Israel always means Israel” and thus throughout the Bible when reference is made to “the Israel of God” the interpretation is given to the ethnic nation of Israel with promises left to be fulfilled in the land of Jerusalem rather than in any allegorical, spiritual sense.  In contrast, the concept of a “spiritual Israel” is the belief among some Christians who assert that the church, or body of Christ, now replaces natural or ethnic Israel as “God’s people.” This is known as replacement theology. Dispensational and replacement theology both agree that the church belongs to God, but one teaches that the church exists within this dispensation of time (the church age) until the completion of God’s timetable of world events of which natural Israel plays a key role, while the other believes the church has replaced Israel. While both dispensationalist and replacement theology respect the covenant God made with His people Israel, one group says the covenant was replaced, while the other says it is still valid, yet “on hold.” And thus, questions arise as to what “Israel” means when referenced in the New Testament. I can understand how this literal system of interpretation by dispensationalists is appealing since it neatly lays out the answers by putting distressing current events in the Middle East into the grander scheme of God’s purposes offering the hopeful expectation of Christ’s return there, but does “Israel always mean Israel?” Did the New Testament writers ever present terms such as “Israel” or “Jew” in any allegorical, symbolic, or spiritual sense? What do you think?

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; (Romans 9:6)

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)

This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. (Gal 4:24-26)

When the apostle Paul wrote about the two covenants in question, he referenced the women who produced Isaac and Ishmael as allegory with Hagar representing the Mosaic Law and Sarah representing “the Abrahamic covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Spirit, and freedom” (Charles Ryrie Study Bible commentary on Gal 4:24-31)

This is not the only place in which Paul used old covenant concepts and introduced their meaning to those born under a new covenant by the spiritual circumcision of the heart. In many other places, Paul replaced the old with the new.

Quoting from Exodus, Leviticus, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Paul says to the church in Corinth they now are the temple in which God dwells (2 Cor 6:16) He further adds that these Gentiles have become “sons and daughters” of their Father YHWH due to this new covenant. The literal temple in Jerusalem was still standing and literal “sons and daughters” that could trace their heritage back to Abraham were among them, yet Paul skillfully connected the Scriptures to encourage these brothers in Christ about spiritual realities that were now theirs under the new covenant. Earlier in the letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the surpassing glory of that new covenant over the first one that had been established through Moses and the natural sons of Israel.

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:4-18)

Paul was an Israelite with an unveiled face. Though as a circumcised Hebrew brought up under Law, he persecuted the Spirit-born church, God saw fit to “unveil” his eyes on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). God filled Paul with His Holy Spirit and then used him to connect the shadows presented in the Law and bring them to light in Christ. Did Paul “spiritualize” the Scriptures? Significantly so!

What is circumcision? (Ro 2:28-29; Phil 3:3)

Who are Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael? (Gal 4:21-31)

Where is God’s temple? (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16)

What kind of armor do we put on? (Eph 6:10-18)

And of what nature are our weapons? (2 Cor 10:3-4)

Was it just Paul or did other New Testament writers ever “spiritualize” literal Old Testament references?

Zacharias, being a righteous priest in the sight of God, would have been very familiar with Malachi’s prophecy. That is why when the angel Gabriel appeared informing him about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he quoted from Malachi,

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Mal 4:4-6).

Elijah was the subject of Malachi’s prophecy concerning “the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” and this is what the angel Gabriel is recorded to have said to Zacharias concerning the child that was soon to be born to him.

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17)

The angel Gabriel had just “spiritualized” an Old Testament prophecy and attributed it to Zacharias’ son, John the Baptist, but he was not alone in this. Jesus also spiritualized the Old Testament prophecies concerning Elijah and attributed them to John and Himself.

John was expecting someone fitting the description of what he’d read in Isaiah’s prophecy. He looked forward to the fulfillment of such passages as Isaiah 35:5-8

5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened
And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.
For waters will break forth in the wilderness
And streams in the Arabah.
7 The scorched land will become a pool
And the thirsty ground springs of water;
In the haunt of jackals, its resting place,
Grass becomes reeds and rushes.
8 A highway will be there, a roadway,
And it will be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean will not travel on it,
But it will be for him who walks that way,
And fools will not wander on it. (Is 35:5-8)

And while in prison John inquired of Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt 11:3)

Jesus chose to answer with that familiar passage in Isaiah as proof that He was the expected Messiah within John’s own generation.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. (Matt 11:4-5)

The kingdom of God surely was at hand and Elijah had already come to restore as promised. Are we to expect another? When I read Isaiah 35:8, for example, I read it with my “new covenant eyes,” trusting that by Spirit I have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” Therefore, I’m willing to accept that the highway to Holiness laid in that generation is not a literal road any more than literal horses come out of the sky.

For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matt 11:13-15)

Those who were stuck on seeing a more literal fulfillment of the “Elijah to come” missed the spiritual sign, but his disciples shaken by the religious leaders who insisted on literal fulfillments brought their questions directly to Jesus and asked,

“Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. (Matt 17:10-13)

In the last days of Israel’s old law, those who missed the spiritual significance of Elijah also missed the parousia of their King. They remained in the “natural mind” and therefore mocked those who pointed to the resurrection, ascension, and soon return of Christ in judgment against fruitless Israel (2 Tim 3:1-9). Jude 17-19 describes those mockers as “worldly-minded, devoid of Spirit.”

I would not say the danger lies in spiritualizing the scriptures then; to the contrary, it’s in taking them too literal.

Jesus Himself took literal accounts from dealings with Israel and made spiritual application to His listeners. The reaction to His words back then is the same as today. Some took offense, but others were enlightened by the allegory. For example,

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” 66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:48-69)

The religious Jews were very accustomed to literal interpretation, but Jesus often spoke in parables. Those who followed Him asked Him directly for the interpretation. Nicodemus secretly went to Jesus and inquired to understand His words of “Spirit and Life.” When Jesus plainly stated, “you must be born again,” this member of the Sanhedrin took it literally. He imagined a man would have to re-enter his mother’s womb in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus knew YHWH spoke to His people of earthly things, but as the perfect son of God noted to this Israelite man, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

It remains an everlasting spiritual kingdom, not part of this world, in which one must be born of Spirit to see, enter, or begin to comprehend. Has anything changed for those who’ve come to the reigning King Jesus Christ throughout any generation? If Jesus, the apostles, Zacharias, John the Baptist, and the angel Gabriel agree that prophecies were fulfilled spiritually in the first century, is it correct for Christians today to “spiritualize” the Old Testament to make it understood to those entering the new covenant?

The literal-minded disciples constant inability to understand Jesus’ claims to be put to death in fulfillment of scripture is evidence that they also had difficulty connecting old testament prophecies to their own critical time. Therefore, Jesus “spiritualized” the Old Testament story of Jonah in the whale to illustrate His coming death, burial and resurrection (Matt 12:38-41) making it applicable to the generation poised to witness it.

From the time Jesus began His earthly ministry, the Jews were in a transition period of living under the darkness of the old law covenant while being transferred into the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13). Transition periods are often met with confusion and we have the record of that in our Bibles. The immediate hope for those following Jesus was the ending of the old law covenant and a rescue from those persecuting them. God had spoken to their fathers through prophets but now, during the last days of Israel, was speaking through Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-2). That same letter to the Hebrews proposed that the new covenant, under which they served the High Priest Jesus Christ, would COMPLETELY REPLACE the old covenant.

When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Heb 8:13)

If the first covenant was “becoming obsolete” and “soon to disappear” by the writing of this letter to the Hebrews (64-68 AD) why would God have an agenda to bring it back as if the “church age” were just a hiccup in his plan? Is His plan to restore the kingdom and old covenant in Jerusalem or did it never end? What does “soon to disappear” mean? Is that “soon” to us now or was it “soon” two thousand years ago to the intended audience of that letter?

Peter likened himself and the disciples to “living stones” being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood of which Jesus Christ himself is the chief cornerstone (1 Pe 2:4-10). Was Jesus literally a stone? And was Peter saying that the disciples would be stacked like bricks to form a literal house of prayer? As if to clarify for those still fixed on literal interpretations, Peter clearly states they formed a “spiritual house” as “living stones.” Not only was Peter using symbolic language to describe the new spiritual temple of God, but notice how he also referred to himself and Christ as being in the priesthood! According to Numbers 3:6-10, only those of the tribe of Levi participate in the priesthood. In fact, the New Testament writer of Hebrews restates it for our benefit.

And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; (Heb 7:5)

Can Peter and the others trace their line to the tribe of Levi? How about Paul? He said he performed “priestly duties” now that he was in the new covenant (Ro 15:16) but he was from the tribe of Benjamin. And what of the High Priest Himself, Jesus Christ? What tribe was He from?

Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.
(Heb 7:11-14)

By the writing of Hebrews, the priesthood had already changed. “What further need is there” for a restoration of the Levitical priesthood? So why would God be gathering literal Israelites right now to comprise a future 144,000? What would be their function? Furthermore, if they must fit into the twelve tribes of literal Israel outlined in Revelation 7:4-8, is there any man on earth today who fits the description and can trace his blood line back purely to just one of the tribes? The family records having been destroyed in 70 AD make this task “literally” impossible.

If the keys of the kingdom were given to Peter, the highway to Holiness was laid, hearts were circumcised to designate God’s chosen people making their bodies temples in which He would dwell, and Elijah had already come in the first century, then why do some in our 21st generation insist that a remnant is yet to be gathered out of present day Israel?

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.” 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. (Ro 11:1-5 quoting from 1 Kings 19:10-18)

If you received this letter back in the church at Rome when it was written, what would Paul’s use of the term “at the present time” mean to you? Would those reading it in 57-58 AD think Paul was speculating about a remnant yet to be gathered in the 21st century? Or would they take it literally to mean “at the present time?”

Paul was relating that in times past God had kept a faithful remnant among His people despite widespread apostasy. In Paul’s “present time” it was the Spirit-born church who had been taken out of the larger group of the fruitless Israelite nation whose temple was poised to be left desolate. These few in number were the firstfruits to God. Were these literal virgins following a literal Lamb standing on a literal Mount Zion? (Rev 14:1-4) I think it’s safe to admit that there’s a lot of “spiritual” language in the New Testament. According to the words of Christ at John 4:35-38, the harvest had already begun starting with the twelve tribes of Israel (James 1:1, 18). If the remnant referred to a group yet to be gathered in our present time or at a future date, wouldn’t we expect them to be called the “last fruits?”

In conclusion, I am in agreement that there exists a “spiritual Israel.” I do not, however, agree that this remnant is being gathered in our time. I believe it already saw a first century fulfillment for a special purpose when “spiritual Israel” was taken out of “natural Israel” to comprise a symbolic 144,000. The “spiritual remnant” or Israel of God of the first century is a part of the larger Spirit-born church taken out of every tribe and tongue which no man can number and will endure throughout eternity (Rev 7:9; Matt 16:18)

His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. (Luke 8:9-10)

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

May 31, 2012 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who Lights the Incense?

WHO LIGHTS THE INCENSE? By Julie McAllen

INSTRUCTIONS: Remove incense sticks from box. Place stick firmly in a suitable and secure heat and flame resistant holder (not provided). Light tip of stick then blow out flame so tip glows.

I’ve never actually read the instructions on a box of incense before writing them down here; I can usually figure it out on my own just fine thank you very much. I trust that is the case with those who will read this article too.

There are a lot of things we use every day which require no need to consult the manufacturer. And because we take for granted the ease with which it comes to us, we assume others know also and therefore feel no need to explain to them what, how, or why we do what we do.

For example: I burn incense because it smells good, so I light up a stick and position it near me for my pleasure.

Well duh.

I’ve taken the act of burning incense for granted so long that it never occurred to me to read the instructions or write about it. So why am I bothering to do so now? Because I wonder if that is also the case with prayer. After all, no one needs instructions on how to pray, even atheists in foxholes figure that one out without reading any manual. Yet recently I was led to investigate the instructions in the Bible about prayer and how it relates to incense. For the believer who prays regularly, this article may seem…..well…kind of like the idiot instructions on a box of incense. Yet most of us do question at times whether or not God really hears us or how and if He already knows our needs before we bring them to Him why does He ask us to pray? So, it can be to our benefit to read the instructions in the manual and learn more about the mechanics of prayer to increase our confidence in continuing in it.

The essence of prayer is to meet with God. In addressing the topic of prayer, the apostle Paul wrote that he prayed with his mind as well as his spirit (1 Cor 14:14-15). So there is an engagement of both mind and spirit in the act of prayer. The things our minds wrestle with bring us to Him with questions and concerns and in the process He unveils our hearts. The connection to our Creator happens when the intellect is stripped and gives way to the spirit’s prayer. We may leave the prayer closet with unanswered questions but gain the peace of God that surpasses all knowledge (Phil 4:7).

A recent experience in prayer reminded me of this and is the inspiration for this article.

I know God is not a squirrel…. but….

There are days I look very forward to prayer and there are days when I admit, it’s more out of duty or obligation in a rush to get through the list. Other tasks weigh on my mind.

It seems the past few days have had interruptions and distractions keeping me from hearing God’s voice, but I knew today would be quiet so last night I went to bed looking forward to a morning of prayer.

I’m blessed to live on the river with beautiful views surrounding my home. Downstairs I have a favorite spot known as “the prayer chair.” It’s positioned near an east facing window making it a perfect spot to receive the morning sun. Upstairs I have an office with another comfortable chair and floor pillows for kneeling, but since it’s on the west side of the house, it’s not as welcoming in the morning. But this morning beckoned me to the tall east facing windows behind my kitchen table. I tossed the pillows on the floor, peered through the pines and absorbed the creation by watching the sun sparkle on the river below. It’s not hard to begin intercessions when He makes it so easy to come in with thanksgiving and praise.

As the Spirit opened, I found myself receiving a lesson on the struggle between intellect and love, the mind and the heart. I received a wonderful word on incense which I wrote down for another time. As I prayed for others on my list, He relieved my intellect and gave in its place wordless groans (Romans 8:26). I trusted the Spirit’s prayer more than my own and I let it flow. Then the hunger increased, I asked to know Him more intimately, to know He was near. I asked for a touch, a vision, anything.

Just then, I opened my eyes face-to-face with a gray squirrel staring at me through the window. Only a sheet of glass stood between the two feet of space that separated us. I watched him nervously jitter from one end of the window to the other cautiously checking my eyes to see if they followed him. Finally, he was gone, off to gather his provisions. And once again, with humor God reminded me that yes, He was very near. I was allowed this understanding only by remaining still and silent on my knees where I’d be able to meet with Him face-to-face.

I didn’t begin my prayers on January 10, 2012 asking to understand incense. I was actually just going through my usual Tuesday morning list. I came in with my mind and it’s petitions toward God and as I was still before Him, my mind gave way to praying in the Spirit. When it did, I heard a question.

“Who lights the incense?”

And a flood of understanding filled me. Whenever this happens, I scramble for a notebook. This is what I managed to capture.

Prayer is like incense: January 10, 2012

The light from heaven comes. We receive the fire and prayers escape our lips. They ascend to heaven in the smoke of sweet incense. Do not release this until you’re lit with the fire from Him. For He is the one delighting in the aroma of your prayer.

If I want to delight in the smell of a stick of incense, I must first go to it and light it. Then I may enjoy the fragrance it brings to my nostrils.

How pleasant to be assured that what I pray to God has first been given His attention. He walked over to me and lit me. I am praying…..

Prayer is like incense. I’d read verses about that before but they never touched my heart as much as they do now.

May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering. (Psalm 141:2)

As I read the verse now, it connects with my experience and a blessed understanding comes to me, ‘my prayers are pleasing to God.’

In Exodus chapter 30, God’s people are given detailed instruction about the altar of incense. The priests of the old covenant ensured that incense was burned before the Lord morning and night. The altar on which this incense was burned was before the curtain that separated the holy place from the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies in which the mercy seat of God was positioned above the ark of the testimony. The blessing in this arrangement includes “this is where I will meet with you.”

6You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7 Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps. 8 When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. (Exodus 30:6-8)

This is a shadow of the new covenant privilege we have in prayer. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament reminds Christians of those first covenant arrangements in chapter 9 where the construction of the earthly tabernacle is considered. He describes how the holy place and the Holy of Holies are separated by a veil. Priests were continually entering the outer tabernacle in their worship, but it was only the high priest who could enter the Holy of Holies. He entered with blood offered for himself and the sins of the people. (Heb 9:1-7)

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; (Heb 9:11)

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are recognizing his role as our High Priest and the right given to us as kings and priests under the new covenant arrangement to participate in intercessory prayer.

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19—22)

By the blood of Christ, we enter the holy place. But how is it that we can meet with God who is in the Holy of Holies?

The instructions for the altar of incense in Exodus 30 included placing that incense in front of the curtain separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. The sacred items of the ark of the covenant and mercy seat of God are in the Holy of Holies as described in Exodus 25:10-22.

What I found interesting in that account were the cherubim at the two ends of the mercy seat.

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22 There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. (Exodus 25:17-22).

Cherubim are first mentioned in Genesis 3:22-24 where we learn that their chief role is to guard God’s holiness. Cherubim are also upon the mercy seat of God which is in the Holy of Holies where sin can not enter. What does it mean?

When we enter prayer cleansed by the blood of Jesus, we are standing in a holy place where our prayers are offered to God. Just as Aaron kept the incense burning day and night in the old covenant arrangement, we as new covenant priests having washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb are seen before the throne of God serving Him day and night in His temple (Rev 7:14-15). The revelation continues with a scene in heaven of an angel holding a golden censer, or container, standing at the altar where incense is given to him “so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.” Picture that scene: we offer prayers, but wait on heaven to release angels bringing incense to mix with our prayers, “and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up to God out of the angel’s hand.” (Rev 8:3-4)

Angels are ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who inherit salvation (Heb 1:14) Angels were sent even to minister to Jesus (Matt 4:11). They continue to play a vital role in our lives bringing us close to God where we can “meet with Him” as we enter the temple.

That morning I was praying like a priest showing up for duty as I interceded by mindfully going through my list. It was like I was waiting not only for a stick of incense, but the fire to light it as well. As I continued in prayer, a hunger increased to draw near to God. You might say I became aware of the veil separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. I noticed the transition of praying from my mind to praying in the Spirit. I felt the Presence of God as I gave into it. That is when He asked me, “who lights the incense?”

Jacob had a dream in which he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder set on the earth reaching into heaven. The experience was so powerful that he exclaimed, “surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen 28:10-16) He had met with God through the intercession of angels. I like to think of them now coming down the ladder with empty bowls to fill with my prayers. They take them back up to heaven where God mixes His favorite incense with them.

But why does God need this mixture of prayer and incense? Aren’t my prayers enough? I found an answer to those questions in a book which is rich with the details of God’s holiness and requirements for fellowship with Him.

Sacrificial offerings are the major theme of the book of Leviticus. The grain offering reminded the people of God’s provision of life: daily bread. And they were given instruction as to what kind of bread to offer.

 11 ‘No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Lev 2:11)

Leaven, is often a symbol for sin or the spread of evil according to the writers of the new testament (Matt 16:6, 1 Cor 5:6, Gal 5:9)

Leaven and honey were excluded because they both ferment; however, there was allowance for leavened bread in the offering of firstfruits at Leviticus 23:17. The church, like leavened bread, is composed of sinners. As we begin our prayers, certainly we want to pray in the will of God. But the truth of the matter is, we do not always know if we are. Our sincerity may in fact be tainted with leaven even when we are offering up our petitions and praise in the name of Jesus who is the sinless bread of heaven. Certainly we want our prayers to be pleasing to God, and as sinners we are welcomed to come before the altar even if leaven is present in our prayers, yet can these ascend into the Holy of Holies as the soothing aroma He desires? What can we learn from the shadow set forth in the old covenant?

12 As an offering of first fruits you shall bring them to the LORD, but they shall not ascend for a soothing aroma on the altar. (Lev 2:12)

So the question arises; how did God’s people present their grain offerings to become a soothing aroma to the Lord?

 14 ‘Also if you bring a grain offering of early ripened things to the LORD, you shall bring fresh heads of grain roasted in the fire, grits of new growth, for the grain offering of your early ripened things. 15 You shall then put oil on it and lay incense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 The priest shall offer up in smoke its memorial portion, part of its grits and its oil with all its incense as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Lev 2:14-16)

The offering with oil and frankincense became a soothing aroma to the Lord (Lev 2:1-2).

Throughout the Bible, oil is associated with the anointing of Holy Spirit and symbolizes the very presence of God (Ps 23:5, Acts 10:38, 1 John 2:20) Perhaps praying in the Spirit could be understood as a “leavened” prayer anointed with oil. It’s interesting to note that when James describes a spiritually sick member of the church, he is not instructed to pray himself but rather to call the elders to pray over him. They anoint the sick one with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14-16). When weak, we need the help of oil, or Holy Spirit, to pray.

God desires to hear back from the Spirit which He sent to us. Notice how James addresses this,

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:3-5)

God jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us. And so, we are encouraged to pray in the Spirit.

When the disciples were told to wait until the Holy Spirit was sent, they obediently returned to Jerusalem and waited. How? They were “continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:49-53)

Exciting things happen when we wait while praising God.

2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)

When our prayers are anointed with the oil of Holy Spirit and mixed with the incense of heaven, they become the smoke of the incense that pleases God because what pleases God is that we pray in His will. Though we may enter prayer with our own ideas, God desires His own will to be done and that is why He sends out angels to light the incense and bring our utterances back to Him as holy prayers. So incense is given into the angels censer and once mixed with our prayers, it’s filled with the fire of the altar and thrown to the earth where effects are seen (Rev. 8:3-5)! These become the prayers offered in God’s will.

14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  (1 John 5:14).

Heaven is moved whenever or however we pray, but when we stand in the holy place not knowing what to pray or dutifully go through a list, we may miss the intimacy of meeting with God if we’re not still and wait long enough to be “lit,” because it’s the smoke of the incense that reaches past the curtain to please our Father and send angels into action.

Prayer is an invitation. God beckons us there to instruct us what He has in store, not the other way around. We have absolutely no idea what God intends to do, how can we know the mind of God? How can our lists of prayers instruct Him what to do?

9but just as it is written,

   “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”

10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:9-16)

We don’t know God’s will, and yet, we need a reason to come. So we show up with our lists hoping that He will answer these petitions as we envision them fulfilled, but “hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Ro 8:24-25) There it is again, we wait. As we wait, the oil is poured out and the angels come to light the incense, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Ro 8:26-27)

Can we pray without knowing all these details? Of course we can, but I realize now what has been occurring all this time: God enjoys incense, not just prayers. Though He is pleased that I’ve showed up with my first fruits as I start to relate to Him the things on my mind with it’s own words, He says, “she is weak and doesn’t know how to pray about this” and the Spirit begins to intercede. I’ve come in the holy place by the blood of Jesus, I’m positioned before the curtain, He is in the Holy of Holies with cherubim on the seat of mercy. Will He direct their attention toward me? Will “tongues of angels” be given to mix with incense so that my intellect no longer has cause to assert it’s own will over the perfect will of God? Angels descend from heaven with incense and then ascend back to heaven with my prayers and the smoke of this is pleasing to God and I sense my prayers becoming holy enough to go beyond the veil and into the Holy of Holies where I may meet Him there.

If you are no longer satisfied with prayers based on things seen and long for depth and intimacy with God, be assured He is delighted when we kindle the flames of our spiritual gifts and seek never to quench it’s fire. (2 Tim 1:6; 1 Thess 5:19-20)

The intimacy in prayer is as two lovers interlocked in a kiss. Solomon expressed the love between a Shulamite and the king with these words, “Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.” (SS 1:4) When she speaks of his kisses they are described as “the kisses of his mouth.” The most satisfying prayers to God are those uttered in the name of Jesus whose words are planted on our lips. The lovers become one as they run together. The prayer of the perfect Son of God is a fragrant prayer, and it affects those around us even as the king’s scented oil caused the maidens to love him (SS 1:3).

Likewise, in relationship to our King Jesus, we take on the fragrance of Christ and are not only pleasing to God but also among those with whom we come into contact (2 Cor 2:15-16-17).

The fact is that if we have been saved by grace, we’ve also been raised up with Christ and are seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). How often do we push beyond the first heaven to meet with Him there? The Lord is seated in heavenly places where a man the apostle Paul describes was “caught up” where he heard “inexpressible words” (2 Cor 12:24). This doesn’t happen in a prayer life comprised only of 10 seconds of grace before your meal or exclamations of “help me Jesus” on an icy road, it happens, oddly enough, when we set prayer as a discipline, even entering it as a mindful and dutiful obligation or habit. An hour set aside for prayer is not to be confused with an act of legalism as if to prove to God our worth based on a record of time spent there. But when we are still before the Lord and wait, it’s a bit like those instructions on a box of incense as we’re “taken out of the box to be lit.”

May we never look at our prayers–or a box of incense–as unimportant again. Make it a habit to be still long enough to wait on the incense from heaven to be mixed as a pleasant fragrance to the One who is on the throne.

And so beloved, “build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” and of course….

Keep yourself in God’s love, (Jude 20-21)

Julie

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January 23, 2012 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions, Prayer Requests | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Who Lights the Incense?

Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enemies by Julie McAllen

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Lk 6:27-36)

It’s tough. Really tough. To be mocked, ignored, shunned, taken advantage of, the object of scorn? Suffering for thine enemies takes on many faces. Is the enemy the disease attacking your body from which you seek relief? When the pain is real, is it enough to know that Jesus “carried our sicknesses?” (Is 53:4) When the enemy is one who opposes your faith at work, home or even at church, is it enough to know that Jesus is familiar with suffering, despised and rejected by men? (Is 53:3) We hope in the resurrection, but when the enemy death steals those we love, we still suffer grief. It’s tough to love your enemies. Misery loves company, but misery also seeks immediate relief. We agree, “yes Lord, love my enemies, but get me out of this!”

Regardless of who or what that enemy proves to be, are we given any instruction from God in how we can cope with this perplexing and difficult command to “love your enemies?”

It’s easy to become a Christian. Get saved, go to church, wait for heaven. It’s easy, until you actually attempt to walk in the Spirit, fulfilling the words of Spirit that wage war against your flesh.

Love my enemy? Pray for those who persecute me!!? Who of us has not wanted to skip highlighting that one in our Bibles? We love to get our yellow markers out for the verses that tell us how loved WE are by God, but these ones are harder to accept, let alone apply. It makes little sense to our eyes of flesh when we see these words, but coming from Jesus, we know they are not mere red letters on a page, they are words of Spirit and life (John 6:63).

And so, we need his Spirit to accept them.

The apostle Paul, a saved and deeply spiritual man, outlined for our benefit the battle with sin he endured. Through it, he came to understand that within his flesh, or sin nature, nothing good resided there. (Ro 7:18) Paul did not stay in the infancy stage of his Christian life enjoying the bliss of salvation, he pressed on to maturity to know the suffering of Christ. He learned this through the battle of flesh and Spirit. Through this, Paul concluded it was impossible to please God or have fellowship with him in the flesh (Ro 8:8). What a wretched condition to love God and seek to please him, but fail time after time. Love your enemies? Try it in the flesh and you will know how far from God you really are.

Paul was humbled through his battle with the flesh and thereby could write with authority the truth of his own condition and ours. The truth? We’re hopeless, defeated and enslaved to the sin in us. Who will rescue us from this body of death? (Ro 7:24)

An authentic Christian life is not easy. It is the very real struggle of flesh and Spirit battling it out in our members. Proverbs 3:5 admonishes us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Yes, obey –even when it makes no sense to your flesh. Loving our enemies is such a daunting task. Our flesh resists it, our Spirit knows we are to obey. A battle ensues. What makes sense to the flesh is in opposition to God. And so, in Paul’s raw exposure of the battle, he offers the solution of how to win the war.

Life by the Spirit

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Ga 5:16-18)

What does this mean to “walk by the Spirit?” Is it to be continually in a love fest with the Lord overflowing with bliss? Oh that it were! But notice what Paul shares about this after he outlines the struggle of flesh and Spirit for us.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Ro 8:12-17)

We have an obligation. It is to put to death the misdeeds of our flesh. One of which is a sinful inclination to withhold love from our enemies. Our flesh is opposed to giving them anything good. It is impossible to do this without God’s help. And so, how do we love them? How do we pray for them? Oh Jesus, help!

Our High Priest

The letter to the Hebrews outlines the priestly role of Jesus Christ who has entered the Most Holy Place with his own blood, in fact, the blood of God (Heb 9:12, Acts 20:28). And by this blood, we were invited into the New Covenant of which he is our mediator. The righteous blood of Jesus purified us to stand before the throne of God with confidence (Heb 10:19-22) And it is there, in that confidence that we trust the promise Jesus made at John 15:16 that what we ask in his name it will be given. To utter a prayer simply adding “in Jesus’ name” is not a magic formula however. It is the assured expectation from the prayer of intercession in which we become aware that we are not the ones praying. For in his position as High Priest, Hebrews 7:25 states that he is always alive and interceding for us. When he became the mediator of the New Covenant, we were invited to pray in his will and not our own.

As the body of Christ here on earth, we became the temple in which his Spirit dwells. The Spirit is always alive and interceding through us. If you’ve ever had the experience of being awakened in the middle of the night to pray and yet not know why or for whom, you understand the meaning of an aspect of walking in the Spirit.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Ro 8:26-27)

To groan and search in intercession under a burden not even knowing why is not the pleasant experience we seek in prayer, but it comes upon us like an unexpected wind. Our obedience is simply to remain in prayer waiting for a breakthrough. When we are not given the why or the who but only the burden, it comes out as “the groans that words can not express” for if we knew what to pray, we’d just say it wouldn’t we? But the Spirit-led prayer is the way in which Jesus intercedes on behalf of the saints. Without even realizing it, sometimes we pray for our enemies or those opposing other believers. When we faithfully avail ourselves to his work, relief comes when we become aware of the power flowing through us and out of us knowing that something or someone is being loosed in heaven (Matt 18:18). It’s a wonderful shared blessing when the Spirit reveals who it is we’ve been interceding for as we wait to see how he carries it out in this realm. When that person tells you how recently some “coincidence” occurred that solved a problem they’d been dealing with, our expressions of “praise God!” are most sincere. It’s no longer a praise for their “good fortune” in the happy coincidence, it is in the very real understanding that God had it planned for them and heard the cries of their heart in advance, but before he would pour out the blessing, he invited someone here on earth to speak it into existence through prayer. For everything that is good is created from his word, not our own. He invites us to intercession, he invites us into his divine nature and purpose.

So we see that the Spirit is capable of praying blessings through us. As our flesh resists loving our enemies, do you see how it is that we could pray for them? The obligation is not so much “pray for your enemies” as it is not to obey our sinful nature and live according to it. (Ro 8:12) We obey the Spirit’s lead.

When faced with the very real and very difficult task of loving those whom your flesh resists, we are not obligated to listen to the desires of that flesh–we are under command to live in the Spirit. Too often the concept of being “Spirit-filled” has been reduced to the pleasantries of worship. While prayers of adoration and corporate communion with the saints is ordained by God and necessary for our joy and refreshment, the suffering and burden that comes with the alignment of our wills to God’s is also part of the Spirit-filled life.

So God asks us to “love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us.” Is he asking us to be doormats? What is God’s goal in this? It remains as in all things, “to conform us into the likeness of his son.” This is why we were called in the first place (Ro 8:29).

Jesus, the firstborn among many brothers, walked perfectly by conforming his flesh to that of the Spirit. Paul also “pummeled his body and led it as a slave.” (1 Co 9:27) Yes, we DO have an obligation. It’s painfully stated as our assignment to put to death the misdeeds of our own sinful nature.

 Our adoption

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (Jn 1:12)

It is bliss to have the revelation that we belong to Christ having been adopted as children of God. Our spirit testifies with his and we cry out “Abba Father!” It is good to belong! But what kind of Spirit did we receive?

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Ro 8:15)

The same Spirit of adoption is not a spirit of fear! Fear makes us retreat from an enemy. Fear makes us protect our own.

Look now at your High Priest. He knows your fears, your situations and your sufferings. You have taken comfort in that understanding. But the pain is still there, causing your flesh to cry out for relief to be removed from this enemy.

Now look again at Jesus. He was enthroned in the heavens before coming to our earth. He looked down from that vantage point knowing that he was about to enter a hostile environment as a helpless baby, dependent upon sinful humans. He knew so well the suffering he would endure at the cross that he sweat drops of blood asking the cup of his affliction to pass if there were any other way. There was no other way. So, FEARLESSLY he came to earth. FEARLESSLY he presented himself to those he knew would one day spit in his face and nail his hands. He didn’t retreat. He faced the greatest enemy of those he loved. He faced death for all of us. He was moved by love, not fear. Perfect love had cast out fear. (1 John 4:18) And this is the same Spirit we received. And this is the Spirit praying for our enemies.

We do suffer. Maybe not at a literal cross, but by putting to death our own sinful nature. The nature that fears the enemy, the nature that retreats, the nature that refuses to bless, love or pray for those who oppose us. Our Lord died for us while we were yet his enemies (Ro 5:8-10), he asks us now to do the same. Oh God, help us!

And so, given his Spirit, we are commanded to love our enemies. We come before him, acknowledging our sin—the reluctance of our flesh to love and to bless. And we ask for a Helper. God has given us his Spirit, not so we can separate ourselves from our enemies, but to enable us to love them and thereby reflect his glory.

and if (we are) children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Ro 8:17-18)

Keep yourselves in God’s love, Julie

August 9, 2011 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions, Prayer Requests | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Love Your Enemies

The Inerrant Word of God

The Inerrant Word of God by Julie McAllen

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

Have you ever had someone encourage you to stop using your Bible in favor of their preferred translation? Discussions over translations can make a simple soul feel like they have to go through seminary in order to come to Jesus. It can sometimes leave a person questioning if they know the truth at all when they doubt the Bible in their hands. People ask, “if the word of God is infallible, then which one is it? WHICH translation is the correct one?” Well, I’m just a simple soul that didn’t go to seminary so I’m not qualified to tell you, but I won’t let that keep me from sharing some thoughts on the subject.

When we read our present day Bibles we have the Apostle Paul and other writers to thank. This was their service. But the church existed BEFORE those written letters. The church existed before Paul because we know before he was a Christian he persecuted the church. But what did Paul say about his role within the body?

24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness (Col 1:24-25)

Paul informs the Christians in Colosse that he is a “servant of the church” to present to them the word of God in its fullness. What Bible was he presenting to them? Obviously, there were not any to be seen. But isn’t it interesting to ponder that the church existed before the Bible?

How changed it is today. We send out missionaries with Bibles in hopes to establish churches, but that is not what was going on in the first century. The church was established first and then God called Paul and others to write a Bible. Their letters became the New Testament. The people who originally received those letters already belonged to Christ, but they did not have the word of God in its fullness. Today we have those letters neatly categorized into chapter and verse. We can choose from hard cover, soft cover, leather bound, red letter, large print, thin line, wide margins, concordances, cross references, commentaries, and translations galore!

But those are BIBLES. The Word of God is something else. And it is the word of God that stands forever.

I will use the Bible to explain what I mean, but really, THE WORD existed before any printed or digital Bible. It is the WORD that is eternal, not the BIBLE–regardless of the availability or preference of translations.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Was there a Bible? No, just “the word.”

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Was there a Bible? No, just a man of flesh and blood who spoke so powerfully that guilt-ridden sinners saw hope, legalistic religionists gave up their place, people were healed both physically and emotionally, and families were divided because of this word. They were not arguing over KJV, NASB, or an NIV were they?

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63)

This man SPOKE the word. He claimed to be the one who SPOKE the universe into existence, and brought children to birth by this word. Whether it is SPOKEN or WRITTEN, the word only brings one to life if the ETERNAL SPIRIT enables it to happen. This is the inerrant word of God (Is 40:8), not a particular translation. I can testify that even in what is considered to be a “wrong translation,” God saw fit to speak life into me and others I know. It was His Spirit we heard. Didn’t Jesus say that even the rocks would cry out if no one else testified? If God can use a rock, surely He can use a Bible.

Keep in mind that the work of evangelism before the printing press was mainly done ORALLY and localized letters. There was no great distribution of Bibles. People’s hearts were opened and the Spirit descended upon them when they HEARD the words of Life–not transferred by an accurate translation of neatly categorized chapter and verse, but by Spirit-born believers who related what they knew from their own receiving of it.

Jesus prayed that we would also believe through their message. When he prayed “your word is truth,” he couldn’t have meant any particular translation, for the Bible as we know it was not even available. No leather bound, red letter, wide margin, 5 ribbon bookmarked, concordance, cross-referenced, introduction to each letter, Premium edition NIVs were to be seen (hint, hint, my birthday is coming up and I need a new Bible).

Yet Jesus prayed…..

17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
(John 17:17-20)

How were converts to Christianity made after this prayer? With a Bible in hand???

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. (Acts 10:44)

Something happened to Peter that gave him boldness to speak, but who REALLY gave the testimony?

And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. (1 John 5:6)

26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. (John 15:26)

Written or spoken, it is the Holy Spirit who still testifies.

Whenever the “New Testament” mentions “scriptures” it is referring to the “Old Testament.” Notice what Jesus himself said about those scriptures.

39 You diligently study the Scriptures (Old Testament) because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)

Do we receive life from having the best Bible or by coming to Jesus? While on earth, Jesus, who is the WORD and the TRUTH was not received by all was he? He went first to the Jews, who DID have a written testimony of his coming, yet not all received him to become children of God (John 1:12). Was it a problem of translations? No, Jesus confirmed that the scriptures were true. They testified about him. Paul used those same scriptures to establish the fact that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, yet the written word was not enough to convict everyone. Neither is it today. People can read any preferred translation you shove at them and yet not receive a testimony from the Spirit.

I am thankful for churches and missionaries who hand out Bibles and Christian book stores that offer a wide selection of translations, but ONLY GOD can distribute His Spirit to those whom He chooses to show mercy….like Paul. Did someone thump a Bible on his head? If you know his story on the road to Damascus then you know why a humbled Pharisee could now testify to the Corinthians in this way.

1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. (1 Cor 2:1-10)

Looks like the Spirit got a hold of Paul and gave him a testimony. It’s still done this way today.

As for the Bible, I am THANKFUL for those who were called as servants to WRITE it.

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)

We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:4)

My joy is complete.

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

May 27, 2011 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wonderful Counselor

Wonderful Counselor by Julie McAllen

Who is Jesus to you? Did he deliver you from a hopeless situation? Do you praise him for the hope you now have in a good future? Deliverance from the past, vision for the future….what about your present? In what way is Jesus the promised Immanuel “God with us?”

By God’s grace you have been saved. A gift given devoid of any effort on your part lest you should boast. Jesus is Savior over you and you had nothing to do with that. What bliss to be helpless at the cross! Do you remember that moment? When you submitted to his finished work there, he became Lord. You did have something to do with that. Your response mattered. So here you are. Jesus is Savior, that was his work. Jesus is Lord, that was your response. Now what? How’s that Lord thing going? In what way is Jesus Lord in your life right now? Are you giving him all your decisions? Your anxieties? Your joys? How much time do you spend talking to him? And do you listen when he talks back?

Jesus, where are you?

I was thinking about the grief of the disciples when they were told by their Lord that he would be going away. They were accustomed to walking and talking with him on a daily basis. Faith was so easy in his presence! Sadness filled their hearts when Jesus revealed that he would be taken from them. But the promise given them is the same as to us. It was necessary for him to go away so that he could send the Helper or Counselor.

Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:6-7)

In what way is the Holy Spirit our Counselor? In today’s world we are all quite familiar with what a counselor is. In fact, many of us have probably seen one at some point in our lives. How do you view counselors? Are they just sounding boards for us to rant our troubles at? Are they supposed to cure all our problems with a magic pill or wave of some grand psychological advice?

I’ve listened to people talk about their counseling experiences. Some are keen to tell you they told their counselor this, that and the other thing (which they are now droning on about yet again to you) but when asked, “and what advice did the counselor offer?” they stumble at the question. I don’t know if the counselor failed to give some practical steps to change or if the person just failed to listen, but I doubt any change can occur by just babbling on about the same problem week after week. If the counselor isn’t offering any advice, I’d get a new one. If you’re having trouble remembering what help was offered, I’d start taking notes.

Jesus is said to be a “Wonderful Counselor” (Is 9:6) I have to wonder if some people approach him as they do their earthly counselors? Do they just complain and never listen for advice? Does he offer it and yet they fail to take note? Then there are the people who sought counsel from pastors or psychologists and are able to retell the advice they heard but refuse to take it. Isn’t that like paying for medicine and letting it sit in the cabinet? Gee, this penicillin is supposed to cure my ills but I don’t notice it doing anything! Um…take it out of the bottle and see if it does. Reminds me of what we’re told at Palms 34:8, ” taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Try the counsel.  They talk to the counselor, even hear the advice, and yet no change takes place because nothing is applied. What? Something is required of me? Yes.

Jesus is your Savior, that was required of him. Jesus is your Lord, that is required of you in your daily decisions to follow his lordship. And the Holy Spirit is your counselor leading you to understand your choices. Helping you in other words. You have the final choice when you can see the options laid out. A counselor can only help you see your choices, but YOU are the one who decides. Jesus is not going to wave a magic wand and make the problems in your life disappear, instead he sends the Counselor to guide you into the path that aligns with God’s will. He trusts you enough with that. He actually thinks you’re smart enough to follow. He designed us and knows our self-worth is at stake. Remember free will? We were designed to participate in the course for our lives, not sit back and wait for miracles. Look at the pattern. There were two trees in the middle of the garden. Choice! God put blessings and maledictions before the Israelites. Choice! He puts life and death before us and asks us to CHOOSE life. God delights in giving us choices.

If you went to a paid counselor every week to retell your woes, he gave good counsel and you failed to follow it, what’s the point? Why spend that kind of money? Do you tell people, “I go every week and he isn’t able to help me!” What are you expecting? Is the counselor supposed to prescribe a magic pill? Is he supposed to change you or are you? He is there to COUNSEL you. He is there to HELP you see your choices. He can help you understand patterns of behavior and thinking in your life that are contributing to your current problems. You, however, are the one who has to do the work! Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor, not your magic pill. And what did he promise this Counselor, the Holy Spirit would do?

When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: (John 16:8)

Guilt? The Holy Spirit’s job is not just the blissful blessings of contentment, he is also helping us win our battle against sin by convicting us of wrong patterns. A good counselor listens to you as you unleash your problems. But it doesn’t end there. He has the job of helping you identify your part in it. That’s conviction. A good counselor will convict you. What can YOU do about it? How can you view the situation? Is there a way to change the situation? If not, is there a way to view it differently so that it no longer is lord over you? A good counselor brings you to the point of recognizing your error and then gives practical steps to gain victory. A good counselor wants to empower you. Jesus is such a Wonderful Counselor. And yet, some of us just go to him to complain and ignore his advice. Expecting overnight miracles, some of us just leave in a huff claiming the counselor was a quack! And some of us overuse the copout “I’ll just leave it to the Lord” and actually believe he has to do all the work while we sit on our hands waiting for the promised land to arrive not realizing we are IN it! Victory lost. Though the phrase is not found in scripture, the concept is there, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Counselors are expensive and if I were seeing one I’d want to make the most of the visit and the pay I give him. I’d want to see results. When I came to Jesus Christ, I willingly offered my heart, soul, mind and strength to him to be my Lord. Yes,  I paid with my life. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ.” And Jesus thought my life was well worth it too. He paid good money for me–with his own blood in fact! He was crucified for me. We both paid a lot then didn’t we? I don’t like to waste money do you? I don’t want to waste what he paid, I don’t want to waste what I paid. I’m not going to use his qualified role as my highly paid Wonderful Counselor as a mere sounding board for my complaints. I’m not going to waste his wisdom by ignoring it. And I’m not going to negate the gifts he paid to give me by expecting him to fix all my problems by waiting for heaven or his return. He paid to give me an inheritance right here, right now, and I’m walking in victory!

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

February 19, 2011 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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