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Archive for May, 2011

If you watch television, you’ve probably seen the Cialis ads in which a couple is doing a mundane household chore together when the mood suddenly becomes intimate and romantic, and the indoor setting is morphed into several beautiful outdoor scenes of nature.  I recently had a Cialis moment—of sorts.

I was washing dishes in my kitchen sink when my attention was suddenly drawn to the orchid plant sitting on the bay window above the sink. Even though I had daily seen that plant over several weeks since it first bloomed, I was mesmerized that day by the complexity of the design, structure, color, and beauty of the six flowers on their tall, slender stem.

As I observed the details of this gorgeous orchid plant, I thought, “This is no accident of nature. There is a divine designer behind creation!”

And with that reaffirmation of faith in God as creator, I was suddenly filled with a sense of awe and reverence for God, so much so that I was emotionally moved to tears as my mind’s focus morphed from the orchid to a sweeping mosaic view of God’s wider creation.

After finishing the dishes, I slipped out into our English-style garden designed by my wife, Diana, and wandered among the many variety of floral species, each as uniquely beautiful as the orchid, and I began to worship God in prayerful praise.

Sitting in the garden with my Bible, I was inspired by these passages about the majesty of God the creator:

• Psalm 8 reminded me that the glory of God fills all creation and that God cares for his most valuable creation—people:

O Lord, our Lord, the majesty of your name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens…
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you have set in place—
what are mortals that you should think of us,
mere humans that you should care for us?
(8:1, 3, 4; New Living Translation, NLT)

• Psalm 19 declared that both God’s creation and his law speak to us and reveal his greatness:

The heavens tell of the glory of God.
The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or a word;
their voice is silent in the skies;
Yet their message has gone out to all the earth,
And their words to all the world.  (19:1-4, NLT; also verses 7-11)

• From Psalm 104 I learned that we should rejoice in God, for he not only creates, but he sustains his creation:

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures….
Every one of these depends on you
to give them their food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
You open your hand to feed them, and they are satisfied.
(104:24,27,28, NLT)

And I was also reminded that in the midst of this wonderful manifestation of God’s creation, we should not take life for granted:

• Job 14:1-2—“How frail is humanity! How short is life! Like a flower, we blossom for a moment and then wither. Like the shadow of a passing cloud, we quickly disappear.” (NLT)

• Isaiah 40:6b-8—“…people are like grass that dies away. Their beauty fades quickly as the beauty of flowers in a field. The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (NLT)

• Psalm 103:15, 16—“Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.” (NLT)

Far from deflating my spirit of worshipful praise, these last three passages filled me with deep appreciation for the gift of life that each day brings, and they intensified within me a desire to live more fully, more creatively, and more passionately.

For unlike flowers with their beautiful but brief life span, God created us not only for a temporary life on earth but a more joyful and magnificent eternal life with him in heaven, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down—when we die and leave these bodies—we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” (2 Cor. 5:1, NLT)

And so with those reminders and fresh insight into the nature and creative deeds of our heavenly Father, I recommitted myself to worshipful service to him, echoing the psalmist’s benediction:

May the glory of the Lord last forever!
The Lord rejoices in all that he has made!
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
May he be pleased by all these thoughts about him,
for I rejoice in the Lord….
I will praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!   (104:31, 33, 34, 35b, NLT)

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Meditative places in our garden. Click images to enlarge.



Clicky

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Last fall my church asked me if I would be willing to serve for the next three years as a deacon, one of approximately 60 deacons elected to “minister to those who are in need; to the sick; to the friendless; and to any who may be in distress” in our congregation. I agreed to do so, and began my term in January.

Recently I was reading Acts 6 about how the first seven deacons were chosen by the apostles to administer a food program in the rapidly growing church in Jerusalem after Pentecost. The seven men–Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch—were chosen because they were “well respected among fellow believers and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” Their task as Greek-speaking men was to administer the food and charity program to the Greek widows in the church so that the apostles could focus on spending time in prayer, preaching the Gospel, and teaching the word of God.

But although Stephen and Philip are featured in Acts (6:5 to 7:60; 8:4-40; 21:8-10), there is no mention of the remaining five deacons in other New Testament pages.

So I dug through my library and discovered from early church history and Byzantine art that Prochorus was the amanuensis or secretary to whom the apostle John dictated the Fourth Gospel around A.D. 80-85, and that he was also the bishop of Nicomedia.

I found no further information anywhere about Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas, and I assumed that these men went on to quietly and faithfully work and worship anonymously within the early life of the church.

But what I discovered about the seventh deacon—Nicolas of Antioch—surprised me.

One of the early church historians, Irenaeus, stated that Nicolas of Antioch founded the Nicolaitans, a heretical group that “lived lives of unrestrained indulgence” (Against Heresies, I.26.3; III.11.1). Another early historian, Hippolytus, added that Nicolas departed from the correct doctrine of the faith (Philosophoumena, VII.36) and “was in the habit of inculcating indifference to food and life” (Refutation of Heresies, 7.24).

Although some early historians believe that it was another Nicolas that influenced the Nicolaitan sect, many scholars tend to accept the statements of Irenaeus and Hippolytus.

So, it would seem that approximately 60 years after Nicolas of Antioch was first described as well respected and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, he and the Nicolaitans became known for leading believers astray by introducing into the churches pagan teachings and practices from Greek-Roman society, such as eating food sacrificed to idols and practising immoral sexual acts.

This led Christ to declare in Revelation 2 that he hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans who had infiltrated three of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation—Ephesus, Pergamum, and, by implication, Thyatira. The leaders at Ephesus had denounced the Nicolaitans in their midst, but the leaders of the Pergamum and Thyatira churches tolerated them, especially a self-styled prophetess espousing pleasure and self-indulgence.

Although the seven churches were facing persecution from the Roman emperor Nero, the greater danger was from within their midst—from the influences of the Nicolaitans who were corrupting the beliefs and practices of the church by including immoral elements of the Greek-Roman society.

They were leading believers astray—and Christ hated their deeds (Rev. 2:6). It wasn’t that Christ hated the Nicolaitans themselves, for he loved mankind enough to have sacrificed his life to save us (John 3:16). He hated what they were doing. He loved the sinners, but hated their sinning!

That’s why Christ showed patience and mercy when he told the church at Thyatira:

I know all the things you do—your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things. But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She is encouraging them to worship idols, eat food offered to idols, and commit sexual sin. I gave her time to repent, but she would not turn away from her immorality. Therefore I will throw her upon a sick bed, and she will suffer greatly with all who commit adultery with her, unless they turn away from their evil deeds. (Rev. 2:19-21, New Living Translation)

As I reflected on this passage and on Nicolas and the Nicolaitans, I wondered about how this could have happened. If the Nicolaitans came into being because of Nicolas of Antioch—the deacon who was well respected by the believers and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom—what happened to change him? Why did he begin to introduce heretical beliefs and practices into the church and corrupt the teachings of Christ? How and when did he stop allowing the Holy Spirit to lead him in making wise choices?

And was it a gradual process—a “slight edge” descent into the dark erotic side where he could attract a growing number of followers with a popular message of religous freedom to experience God while indulging in the pleasures of culinary and sexual delights?

And why did some of the churches tolerate this growing subculture within their midst? Were their leaders afraid to speak up against what they were doing? Were they being swayed by arguments that the church needed to be less restrictive and more like the surrounding society in order to attract more followers?

However the changes came about in those years between A.D. 33 and A.D. 90-95, it was enough for Christ to reprimand those churches and to say that he hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans!

And what about us today?

Might the Risen Christ be saying the same to us today—“I love you, my church, but I hate what some of you are doing”?

Churches and denominations are facing dangers from within as we fight over attempts to blend the ways of God with the ways of a secular world.

We are being split apart by attempts to rebrand and redefine the Bible’s view of God and the person of Jesus Christ into images, beliefs, and way of life that are more compatible and acceptable to an increasingly secular society.

Are we leading people astray when we emphasize the prosperity gospel and fail to teach that the Kingdom of God also involves the cross—suffering, sacrifice, and servanthood? How many people turn away from God when the prosperity that preachers promise fail to materialize?

Are we inviting Christ’s reprimand and chastening upon ourselves when we stray from the biblical standard for marriage, sex, and ordination of the clergy in order to gain the approval of a rapidly changing and indulgent modern society?

As people of God, followers of Christ, and leaders in a variety of roles within our churches and our families, we are being called to choose on which side of these issues we will stand and what legacy we will leave behind.

May we choose wisely.

Clicky

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