Fire From Heaven

In 2 Kings 1, the prophet Elijah is portrayed calling fire from heaven to consume around 100 soldiers who had been sent to retrieve him for the king. The last captain with his 50 men were only spared because the captain pleaded for their lives. This took place in the region called Samaria. Now fastforward hundreds of years to the earthly ministry of Jesus:

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:51-55 NRSV).

The funny thing about this, besides the obvious contrast in Elijah’s approach and that of Jesus, is that no explanation is given as to why He rebuked His disciples. A later interpolation that appears in the King James Version puts the account as follows:

“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village” (Luke 9:54-56 KJV).

This rendering of events would seem wonderfully explanatory, but even if it were accurate (and like I said, the textual evidence doesn’t support it), it would only make matters worse. Just try to reconcile this depiction of vehement mercy with the casual slaughter commited in the account of Elijah and you’ll end up with the ancient heresy of two gods, one of the Old Testament, and another of the new Testament.

I’m not sure how literally to take the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The floating axehead seems odd, and the bears mauling children who mocked the balding prophet doesn’t seem like cause for celebration. Whoever tossed in the connection between Elijah and Jesus in Samaria didn’t do us any favors. It’s a fall lead.

Whatever we’re supposed to learn from the account in 2nd Kings, my opinion is that Jesus rebuked the disciples because a firebombing of Samaria was indeed contrary to His spirit and teaching, and also that such and event would seriously disrupt the greater miracle he was so intent on performing in Jerusalem: Atonement for the sins of the world.

A Meeting

Last night I met with the man who plays the role of “Pastor” at the Brazilian church. He apologized and I forgave. The difficult part is trusting him again. Time and again in life I’ve seen the untrustworthiness and instability of the human heart.

I’ve decided I’m not a member of the Brazilian Church of Christ, and will still have to argue this point out with my wife. The really hard part is resolving what to do about where to go next. There’s a different fellowship I’d love to be a member of, but it seems so illogical.

“All Stop”

In the Star Trek genre, whenever the captain or first officer calls for “all stop,” this means the spacecraft is to hold position. Absolutely no forward motion, even from inertial drifting, is to take place.

This is a fair description of my life over the past year or so. It just dawned on me in the past day or so that the Brazilian church’s annual retreat is coming up this weekend, and my personal life is no better than last year. Spiritually and perhaps psychologically, I’m at “all stop.”

The same struggles I suffered last year a this time – the very same – are with me now.

This isn’t a good way to be. There is one thing I’ve long felt I’ve needed to do, a decision I’ve needed to make and act upon, but have been terrified of the consequences. It may be that until I do something about it, nothing will improve. I just don’t want things to get any worse.

Faith and Freedom of Association

A friend of mine at work has been attending a Reformed Baptist congregation for a while, and seems to like it a lot. From what he tells me, he enjoys the fellowship and agrees with the major points of doctrine they hold. If all goes well, he may officially join sometime soon.

Now, there’s a lot about the Reformed Baptist faith that I don’t agree with, but that’s not the point. The point is that my co-worker likes the church he’s attending. Doctrine is very important to him, and the teaching of this church for the most part right along the lines of his thinking. He also speaks very highly of the church members. He is choosing to associate with a group of people that believe as he does. I think his beliefs are incorrect in many ways, but he is right to seek out like-minded people. That’s what we have to do. It’s human nature.

I value people. The message of salvation is for a lost and lonely world, and the high calling in Christ is to serve that world in a very incarnational manner with the Good News in word and deed. I have many friends who are not really Christians. On Sunday, though, I long to be with those who share my faith, people that I can bring my non-Christian friends into contact with and hope that the Gospel sinks in. On the most intimate level of my being, I need to share my walk with Christ with others who share at least the main points of my worldview.

People are near to the heart of God, as the life, death and resurrection makes clear.

People or Doctrine?

It is difficult to explain to my wife what is going on, because she and I have very different perspectives on being involved in a church. She has told me on several occasions that her major influence in being baptized were the relationships she formed with the women who shared the Gospel with her. One of those women, in particular, was a major example and role model for her, and she’s told me that she was baptized largely because she wanted to be close to that woman. I, on the other hand, left the Roman Catholic Church after a few years of agonized study and have always put doctrine above people…and yes, I know that this can be bad.

Let me elaborate. When I left the Catholic Church I went over to the Presbyterian Church (USA). A strong belief in Calvinism led me there, but I discovered that this particular mainline denomination isn’t strong on Calvinism and that it welcomes Freemasons into membership even as it financially supports pro-abortion (aka “pro-choice”) programs. These differences, ignited to a rage by the women’s conference that the denomination also supported (“Re-Imagining”) wherein women worshipped a goddess named Sophia and poked fun at Jesus, impacted me in such a way that I called the pastor of my church and asked him to remove my name from the membership roll. Within a couple of weeks I was attending a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod congregation, and then a small community church. Eventually, while in college, I was baptized and came to share the major convictions of the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.

When my wife asked me if we could go to the American Church of Christ (a cappella) in Chatham, NJ instead of the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark, NJ, I knew she was angling to get me in there instead of with instrumental churches or some other group. I said sure we could go, since our daughter has friends there, but that she shouldn’t think I’ll join there. I won’t. I can’t, though my wife can’t understand this, because my beliefs are fundamentally too different now from the a cappella churches for this to be possible. I’ve tried to tell her this, but she apparently thinks that if I just meet the right people, I’ll get over it.

Futher, I’m not the type of person that can simply warm a pew Sunday after Sunday. I have to be involved, but I can’t just swallow hard every time some belief I consider horrid is spoken, or refrain from speaking what’s on my mind when in a Bible study or asked to give a communion meditation.

With me, it will always be doctrine first, people second.

The Passionate God

At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it" (Jeremiah 18:7-10 NRSV).

God strategizes, plans and acts within space and time to accomplish His objectives. He is passionate about His creation, and He is involved. This is the testimony of Scripture.

Throughout the Old Testament we read of God calling people and nations – but especially Israel – to repentance and faith in Him. We find that He punished the disobedient and is portrayed as accepting those who turn from rebellion and return to Him. We read that God is a “jealous” God. This is all true testimony.

Yes, God is almighty and transcendent, but He is also immanent and active. God is neither weak nor static. In His inmost nature and character He is unchanging, as are His purposes (the salvation of the world and its complete restoration to communion with Him). At the same time, it is accurate to describe God as changing His mind as He works out His grand plan of redemption. God is holy but also intimate, completely other yet personable.

God loves us, and He is committed to showing us this truth. So passionate that He assumed human nature and suffered both a father’s loss and a son’s humiliation.

The Creator of the universe is passionate about you, and wants you with Him. Seek Him, for He is waiting and watching for you. He is there. Reach out to Him. Be reconciled to God!

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NRSV).

Now What?

Last night my wife and I spoke about the church incident for the first time since it happened. She pointed out that I had used pretty strong language (including questioning the statement that the missionary is not a “leader” by stating “…he’s either an evangelist or a dog!”) but then affirmed that the de facto “Pastor” was in the wrong. He had no authority or even a valid reason to state I’m not a member of the church.

The “Pastor’s” wife had apparently coached one of the women, one I mentioned in an earlier post, to attack the missionary. When someone called her on a statement she made, she looked at the “Pastor’s” wife and asked, “Now what?”

The “Pastor” didn’t like that I was going against him, so he used the one thing he knew would shut me down.

He’s a filthy wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing.

I’ve had only bad experiences with a cappella Church of Christ people. Bad experience after bad experience, and even at the instrumental Christian Church in New Mexico, the people who gave me the most trouble were former a cappella people, plus one “wannabe.”

My wife doesn’t like the idea of us going to separate churches, and I know she won’t like any American church. I won’t go back to the Brazilian church again, and I won’t join an a cappella church, so…now what?

Community in God

“For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.”
– from The Athanasian Creed

My daughter asks me the hard questions from time to time, like “When was God born?” Oh, it’s easy to give the right answer (never, He has always existed). The hard part is explaining that answer to her. Another tough one is laying out for her how God is triune and only one.

Another good question – one she’s thankfully not thought to ask yet – is how God could have loved apart from His creation. You see, love must have an object. Self-love in the sense we usually mean it is narcissistic.

God, on the other hand, is a triune being. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is one God, undivided but existing in three distinct persons. As such, in His inner nature He is a sort of community.

Self-sufficient, God is also loving…and has been always.


Relucantly I went to a church meeting after work last night, one scheduled to discuss the future of a missionary brought from Brazil to work with the church. He’s been here about two years working with the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark, NJ. My wife really wanted to be there for this meeting, and arrived before I did. Arriving late, I walked in to hear the majority affirming the unbelievable: What members do is voluntary, and the minister is “hired” to do their work. This disgraceful attitude is one I had only seen in American churches, but now I find that it is part of human nature. The primary advocate of this position is a woman who does nothing for the church, but spends a lot of time and energy worrying about whether she’ll get caught and deported.

My wife spoke up attempting to defend the missionary/minister (who wasn’t there) only to be repeatedly shouted down by the others, especially one or two of the women. When the woman I mentioned above commented that the minister wasn’t a part of the leadership, I spoke up. I had spoken up before, but this time I really cut loose. Having said a few things (choice words that I may well recount here later), one of the leading men (the one who virtually always preaches on Sunday) said to me “You shouldn’t even be here, you’re not a member of the church.” I was stunned, not believing I’d heard correctly. I asked him to repeat, and he said it again, elaborating that I’ve never shown sufficient interest to be considered a member.

I walked out.

My shadow will not fall again on the doorstep of that congregation.

The Faithfulness of God

“God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
(Numbers 23:19 NRSV).

The above passage is often trundled out by adherents of divine immutability as “proof” that God is absolutely changes. Frankly, I don’t see that here or elsewhare in the Scriptures. In this passage, at least, it seems absolutely clear that the way in which God is changeless is in His moral nature. If God gives His word, that is absolute. God’s complete “Yes” will never be changed into a “No.” God makes promises, then keeps them.

“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 NRSV).

This passage from James further illustrates God’s changelessness. The way in which God is not subject to change is precisely in His fidelity. To make it perfectly clear, God is “immutable” in His moral character, though not in the sense that He is in a perfect, eternal stasis.

The majority of Christian theologians hold to the Platonic tradition of divine immutibility, saying that past, present and future are all present to God. He is surprised by nothing, saddened by nothing, and rejoices in nothing. To Him, they say, these things are impossible due to His unchanging nature.

I disagree, and I believe the Scripture does as well. The one thing I’m sure of in this regard, without a doubt, is that biblical testimony declares a God Almighty who is faithful and intimately involved in His creation. Our Creator is a God who weeps at our errors and celebrates our repentance. In this, He never changes.

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2 NRSV).