Author Archives: Gerald F. Ward

About Gerald F. Ward

I am a husband and father, a Librarian, and a "want-to-be" theologian. I am also a photographer and writer. One of my jobs is helping people self-publish and print books.

John, the Beloved

John was a disciple and apostle of Jesus.  Current popular thought portrays him as a mild-mannered, almost feminine looking young man. A recent novel fictionalized him as almost, though not quite, a homosexual. He was the disciple Jesus loved and leaned on Jesus’ breast during the last supper. He was the type of man the postmodern world wants a man to be. 

Okay, enough of this pandering nonsense. 

What was John like?  He was a fisherman, one of Peter’s buddies. Don’t think for one moment Peter would put up with the modern description of John. Peter and his brother, and John and his brother, were all “cut from the same cloth.” They were hard-working, rough around the edges, people nobody in our day or in our country would want to tangle with. Some go to gyms to get exercise. Their very existence was exercise. They could out-row, out-run, out-lift, out-work any muscle-bound gym rat in this country. 

John had a temper. He and his brother were called “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). One time, as Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be murdered, they passed through a Samaritan village. Samaritans and Jews did not like each other. “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54-55). They were as tough as anyone living in Galilee or Judah at that time. 

John followed Jesus through almost His entire ministry. He was one of the inner-three, the most privileged of disciples. He was the only one who came back and stood before the crucified Jesus, nailed to a cross, with Jesus’ mother, staring at the gut-wrenching spectacle of mangled humanity hanging before him. He was the one who Jesus appointed to care for his mother. He was there when Jesus died. In my opinion, John had a stronger backbone and stomach than any of the other disciples.

John’s Gospel is unique, set apart from the three synoptic Gospels. He was intimately familiar with the life and ministry of Jesus. He gives insight into the gospel of Christ and its impact upon the people who knew and heard Him necessary to fully understand God’s will. John knew, intellectually and intimately, Jesus. 

John was the longest living Apostle. He not only wrote the Gospel of John, but the three Epistles of John and the Revelation or Apocalypse of John, the last book in the New Testament. 

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” (Rev. 1:1-2)

He was exiled to the Island of Patmos, probably a political prisoner of Rome, for the remainder of his life. While there, Jesus, whom he had walked with on earth, showed himself to John and told him to deliver a message to the Seven Churches. 

John saw God in his vision.  Remember Job?  He figuratively slapped his hand over his mouth to keep from spouting more self-righteous verbiage when he saw God.  Remember Isaiah?  He admitted his mouth and heart and the collective mouths and hearts of the nation were sinful when he saw a vision of God.  Remember Ezekiel?  He fell to the ground in a faint when he saw a vision of God.  All had seen a vision of God and all had reacted humbly, radically, honestly. 

Peter knew Jesus nominally, until Jesus performed a miracle, doing something only God could do. Then he fell on his face and cringed over his sinfulness.  Paul grew up steeped in the Scripture, a knowledgeable Pharisee blinded by the brilliance of Jesus and knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus. John knew Jesus during His ministry on earth, and walked with Jesus and the Church for the rest of his life. It doesn’t matter how much or what kind of knowledge you have, when you are face-to-face with Jesus you will react.  When John saw Jesus he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).

How can sin, and anyone corrupted by sin, stand before a just, righteous and holy God. They cannot. This means God has to remove sin from the person before the person can enter His presence. He will do this but not without us acknowledging the truth of sin.

Paul, the Apostle

Paul’s conversion is dramatic. Needless to say, most people do not have dramatic conversions. I don’t know anyone who was stopped in their tracks by a blinding light while on the way to capture and kill Christians. 

That Christians are persecuted for their faith is an indisputable fact.  Paul’s conversion was so dramatic he used it as a defense before the authorities who wanted to have him killed because he was a Christian and a Jew. Luke, the writer of Acts, relates “Saul’s” (who became Paul) conversion in Acts 9. Paul then tells us about his experience two more times, once in Acts 22 as he stands before an angry mob in the Temple Courts. Then in Acts 26 he stands before King Agrippa after appealing to Caesar. 

Before his conversion he was known as Saul of Tarsus, grew up in Jerusalem, joined the sect of the Pharisees and learned from Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3). Gamaliel made an amazing statement about the disciples of Christ and their preaching after Jesus was resurrected and ascended.  Because they were Christ’s disciples they were being threatened, beaten, thrown in jail and persecuted because they talked about Jesus. Peter and the others were not intimidated. They would continue to preach because God had told them to do so. Standing in court, Gamaliel said to his peers: “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39).  Shortly thereafter, Stephen was murdered, with Saul standing nearby, holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen. 

Saul learned Scripture from Gamaliel but did not learn to think until confronted by Jesus. Saul learned blood-thirsty action from those willing to murder for god. Had he paid attention to the lessons of his teacher and learned how to think from him he would have seen the wisdom in letting God deal with those who are against Him. Instead, Saul tries to control the situation for God through his violent actions. 

Saul is a zealot for god (I use little “g” for a reason), letting his loyalty for the traditions of his elders control his passion for religion. Notice in Acts 9:1 Saul breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” and traveled out of country to capture those who were threatening his religion. Saul claimed to know God and God’s absolute will. He had spent his life learning … something. Studying god as an intellectual exercise, or the manipulation of people in god’s name, as an emotional point of pride, does nothing for the person’s actual relationship with God. In reality, both methods of learning about god are a cheat. 

On the road, at noon-time, when the sun is the highest and brightest a “light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell “to the ground” (Acts 9:3). A light so bright Saul could not see for three days. He saw a light brighter than the sun at its zenith. Only God casts a light so bright. 

Then God spoke. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).

For the first time in his life Saul is forced to honestly listen to God. In response, he asks an honest question. “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). He called Him “Lord.” Saul knew instinctively with whom he was speaking. The answer must have stunned the zealous Pharisee. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Paul later tells the Church Christ is the head of the body. When the individual Christian is persecuted Christ is persecuted. Not only does the Christian identify with Christ, but Christ identifies with the Christian. 

Those who were with Saul saw the light, heard the voice and helped the handicapped Pharisee into the city of Damascus. We know nothing else about them. Jesus was after Saul. If He went after those other men you may be sure He got them. 

In an instant, after a life of learning about god, Saul was broken and learned about God. 

Isaiah and Ezekiel

If the goodness and right actions of a man like Job cannot justify themselves before God how much less the self-righteous and sinful actions and attitudes of a whole nation who claim to worship God but do not. In the first five chapters of Isaiah the prophet describe a people, a nation, who have turned their backs on their God, while calling their rebellion “worship.” God calls His nation, the nation of Israel, “Sodom and Gomorrah,” equating the sin of the people called His own to the sin of those destroyed cities. Isaiah is a prophet calling the people of God to turn away from their sin, to repent and return to God. He is sent to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, just before the fall of the Northern Kingdom. 

Over a century later Judah falls, Jerusalem is destroyed, the Temple, the center of false worship, is razed and the people are exiled and replaced by pagans. God commanded them from the moment they entered the “Promised Land” to follow Him wholeheartedly. Ezekiel, a prophet among the exiles of Judah, 140 years after Isaiah, continues to tell them, God’s people in exile, to turn from their sin and return in obedience to God. 

There are many viewpoints about what a prophet is supposed to do and be. Prophets are truth-tellers. They “forth-tell” not just “foretell.” Everything they say must be truth. If what they say is not true then they are considered false prophets by God. He metes out harsh punishment for those who tell lies and even harsher punishment for those who attribute those lies to Him. God makes those who are His prophets lovers of the truth and haters of lies. These people will bluntly confront the lie, sin, with truth, justice and righteousness, even when reviled or ignored, persecuted or killed. Prophets view themselves as wholly belonging to God. They recognize who God is and who they are before God. 

Look at Isaiah and Ezekiel. How did they view themselves before God? Both had a vision of holy God. Isaiah’s vision was simple. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1). Ezekiel’s vision was elaborate, filled with images and detail. Ezekiel chapter one describes holy God. 

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.  (Ezek. 1:26-28)

Job stopped talking. Isaiah recognized even his words, every thought and word and action and attitude was corrupted before the voice of God. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5). God cleansed his lips with a burning coal. When Ezekiel saw God he “fell on his face” (Ezek. 1:28). He did not just stop speaking, or just see his words as corrupted. He saw his whole being as unworthy. God sent those who were unworthy of Himself to turn a nation of those who are unworthy back to Himself, knowing only a few would actually return. 

Do not the words of a person show the thinking of the person’s heart? Does not our speech define for God and the world who we are? Those who are poor in spirit recognize their utter unworthiness before the absolute holiness of God. Yet, God blesses those who are poor in spirit. His blessing comes through the sacrifice of His Son who took upon Himself the sin of those who refuse to recognize their sin and continue in their rebellion. Poverty of spirit is the first obedient step toward God.

Examples from the Scripture

Reposted

God does not tell us His expectations without giving examples both positive and negative. He has given examples of what it means to be poor in spirit from the earliest writings and stories. Six people in Scripture encountered God “face to face” and showed their poverty of spiritUpon recognizing they were in God’s presence they immediately realized they were sinful and unable to stand before Him because of His holiness. 

Many stood before God and questioned Him, or argued with Him, or ran away from Him. After they sinned against God Adam and Eve hid from His presence when they heard Him walking in the garden (Gen. 3:8). Abraham listened to God, heard Him speak, carried on a conversation face-to-face with the Angel of the Lord before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and argued with Him (Gen. 18::17-33). Abraham is declared righteous because of his faith in God’s promise not because he understood the truth and extent of sin. Jacob wrestled with Him (Gen. 32:24). Moses, before the burning bush, argued with God (Exod. 3:1-4:14). Joshua challenged Him (Josh. 5:13-15). Elijah ran to Him, then covered his face before complaining to Him (1 Kings 19:9-19).

Following are examples of people who suddenly became poor in spirit when face-to-face with God.

Job

Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible. God loves Job and they have an intimate relationship. However, it doesn’t appear God loves Job when He allows Satan to afflict the man and take away his belongings, his family and health. During his ordeal Job does not sin in what he says to those who try to entice him to sin. Even his wife criticizes him. 

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10)

During the discussions and arguments with his “friends,” Job lays out his case, asking for God’s justice over and over. He wants to stand before God and plead his case knowing God would listen. He never admits he has done wrong though he readily admits many things are wrong and sinful before God. He does not allow his eyes to wander and lust after other women. He has not lied or stolen but taken care of the needs of the poor, the orphan and widow. He has not put his trust in wealth nor is there anyone who has a charge against him. Job defends his righteousness, a righteousness given him by God. 

But Scripture tells us there are none righteous. Even though God declared Job “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1) none seek after God. All are sinful and under God’s wrath. Job doesn’t see this until he is confronted by very God. 

Then Job answered the Lord and said:  
I know that you can do all things,  
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”  
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,  
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.   
“Hear, and I will speak; I will question you,  
and you make it known to me.”  
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,  
but now my eye sees you;  
therefore I despise myself,  
and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1-6)

Job offers a worshipful act toward God. He figuratively and poetically covers his mouth with his hand.  He hears God, listens to God describe His wonders, sees Him with his own eyes. Job knows nothing he has said carries weight before his Creator. He “despises” himself. He “repents” of his rash words. He stops talking. This act is a demonstration of total submission. One can fall on one’s face and yet continue to blubber and babble. “To yield the tongue is to yield everything.”[1] If you can’t change your thinking then at least stop talking.  Standing in God’s presence requires silence. 


[1] Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job, p. 411.  Recommended read for every Christian.

 

Called by God

Repost

“Many are called but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:14)

If you ask the normal Christian who has grown up with flannel graph Bible stories in Sunday-school and listening to Sunday sermons, Jesus frequently uses this phrase. He does make similar statements, but this is the only time Jesus actually said, “many are called but few are chosen.” This startling statement comes on the heels of a number of parables directed against false teaching about who God is and what He wants in a relationship with those He loves. Jesus ends the last parable in this string of stories with the above declaration.  

This parable is about a wedding banquet and the lack of desire to attend by the invited guests of the father of the groom. It was the king of the land who invited them and they had so little regard for him they found excuses to not attend. So, instead of forcing them or compelling them, the king disowned them and invited the poor and needy and anyone his servants could find on the road. It did not matter if they were citizens of his kingdom or just traveling through, they were invited in and came. Knowing those invited from the streets would not have proper attire the king clothed them so they would reflect the dignity of the occasion of the wedding of his son. But, he found one man who refused the clothing, choosing to wear his own cloths and not those provided. When the king saw this man dressed in his clothes, an anomaly amidst the wedding guests, he spoke to him and received no answer. He was speechless, so the king had him bound hand and foot and thrown out. 

Does this sound violent and abusive? Is it not the prerogative of a king to demand compliance with his wishes?

Though Jesus does not interpret the parable it is not difficult to understand. In the story the king is God and the son is Jesus, the Son of God. God’s servants are the prophets including John the Baptizer. Those who are invited but refused to come are the religious leaders and the chosen people of God. Those who are invited and attend are those, including the Gentiles, who obey God’s command to come into His presence. Please note, the word “invited” is the word “called” and is not a request as an invitation is considered in our culture. It was not the king’s intent to request people come but a command they should come. Disobedience to this command is out and out rebellion. Jesus’ righteousness is the wedding garment and all who attend the wedding must be clothed with His righteousness and not their own. So, the one who is found not dressed properly and is cast out represents those who claim to know God but refuse to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness, preferring their own.

Jesus spoke this parable against the religious leaders who hated Him and wanted Him dead. They were the leaders responsible for teaching the people about God, His law and history. Yet, they had become so self-centered and focused on controlling the people they lost sight of God’s work and intent for them. They were self-righteous and the opposite of poor in spirit. Though they espoused the thoughts and will of God they did not follow Him or have a relationship with Him. They were His servants yet refused to serve Him as He commanded. They were sinful yet refused to acknowledge their sin believing following the Law to the letter would make them right before God. Using their works as an excuse they refused to respond to the One who had chosen them and taught them and was leading them toward Himself. They are “called” yet refuse His “chosen” status. 

God’s call is not a request to come but a command. There is no option for refusal. When God calls a person He draws them out of one thing and into another. He calls them out of one place and sends them to another. 

Jesus said, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  He is calling those chosen out of one world into another. He is saying we need to look honestly at ourselves, at those around us, at the world in which we live and recognize its impurity and depravity, turn away from it and enter the exact opposite, the kingdom of heaven. 

Pride

Reposted

In the Hebrew Scripture several words are translated “pride” which means to exalt (see Job 41:34), to have majesty or excellence (see Isa. 28:1), coupled with arrogance (see Prov. 8:13). In the New Testament there are several words translated “pride” and used only a few times. 

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). John uses a word which means “empty words,” “empty assurances” or “empty trust.” Everything the person says implies an empty belief and misplaced trust in an object which cannot deliver what is promised. 

“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up (proud) with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). Paul uses a word which means “smoke” or “mist,” having the outward appearance of substance but with nothing inside. Pride blows hot air into a person until they are so big they can see nothing but themselves. Pride is essentially a self-righteous, self-absorbed excuse to view self as not sinful or beyond sin. Pride expresses itself in self-righteousness.

Those who are poor in spirit recognize sin has separated them from the riches of a personal relationship with God. Pride hides truth and inflates self, shutting off every personal relationship. Once one begins working with God there is a continual trial to not place self ahead of Him. It is easy to begin viewing all which has been done, or said, to see the successes and failures, and to attribute them to personal effort. While we live in this world God does not erase the corrupted self inherited through Adam. We must continually fight the tugs and pulls of the world, continually acknowledge sin in ourselves and continually relinquish control. Even John, at the end of his life when he saw Jesus, fell on his face because he recognized his sinfulness. 

Truth

Reposted

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. (1 John 5:10)

Each citizen of the kingdom of heaven lives on the eternal foundation of the person of Jesus Christ. Not only created by God in His image but recreated by God in the likeness of Christ, the citizen lives the truth of eternity. Perhaps the most critical aspect of being poor in spirit is the devotion to truth and the hatred of any lie. You will see the evidence of a person’s life by how they handle the evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anyone who says or acts like they do not need God are as far away from being poor in spirit as possible. They are self-righteous in spirit and are not being honest with themselves or the world.

One of the characteristics of someone who is poor in spirit is the brutal, intellectual honesty they have toward themselves and those around. This honesty begins with the intellectual knowledge of the reality of sin and the discovery of God’s absolute authority over creation. Ultimately, God will not allow any to ignore Him. He will allow those rebelling against Him to continue in their rebellion. He will confront them with their need of Him throughout their life. But, when a person begins to lie to themselves and refuses to recognize the lie, their minds become set and impenetrable. God can do anything but will not do everything. He will not reach into a person’s mind and change it for them. Man, made in the image of God and, even with a corrupted image, has the ability to think reasonably through his experiences and know the God who is tugging at him.

Poverty of spirit is a combination of recognizing sin, recognizing God, and recognizing the truth of rebellion against God.  All are intellectual activities.

Look for a moment at how corrupted intelligence works. Everything touched by sin will turn the truth around, on its head, backward, reversed, in-side-out. Those who do not want to say there is a God or sin will not believe in God even if someone is raised from the dead (see Luke 16:31, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus). Others, who want to believe something, change the truth to fit their own imaginations bringing a counterfeit peace where there is no true peace with God. 

Peace manufactured from a lie is easily shaken, stolen and destroyed. Trust built on a lie and not on the Object who created everything offers only empty promises of peace. “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:13; see also Jer. 8:11). Jeremiah spoke to an obstinate people told falsely they were not sinning, the invaders were not coming as a judgment from God because of their idolatry, that they need not worry or show concern for their place, things and future. Ezekial is even more blunt about those who accept the lie as truth.

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord GOD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord GOD. Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace.’” (Ezek. 13:8-10)

Still others want to believe but are tugged and pulled away, finding reasoned excuses to change their thinking, because their thinking is more immediately attractive than the alternative. All want to control through imagination, all want to believe the lie because it is easier to control than truth.  Even the lie has a kernel of truth, just as mythology has a kernel of true history. You will begin to understand Jesus’ parable of the soils in Matthew 13 when you see how those around you, even yourself, falsely think of the truth.  If someone thinks they know the truth, but do not, then it is impossible to show them the truth without first destroying their imagined reality. 

Jesus’ main point at this stage is to not dwell upon the consequences of sin but its reality. It is not to beat one’s self up over sin but to just admit sin exists. “Addicts” cannot be “cured” until they first honestly recognize the problem triggering their “addiction.” This problem is not that something controls them but that they control it to the point of being unwilling to give up the substance. They want to use the substance and have lied to themselves about the substance controlling them. Few are forced to abuse substances. They consciously decide to smoke, drink, abuse drugs and people and things until their “habit” is so ingrained they have to want to stop more than they wanted to start.

We are bent by sin and judged for sins. When Adam fell, rebelling against God, sin corrupted the nature given by God for all who would follow. We have a sin nature, a bent away from God toward self. We also sin and are held responsible for sin by God. Both the sin nature and the actual sins of the thinking of our hearts make intimacy with God impossible. He acts to reconnect intimately with everyone through the sacrifice of His Son. Those who are poor in spirit recognize the sin nature in themselves and the fact they sin and are responsible for the thinking of their hearts which inspire their sin. Recognizing sin and the absolute inability to change is the first step to being recreated by God and fit for eternity. We must believe God is true and speaks the truth always and in all circumstances and experiences.