Citizens of Heaven

Philippians 3:20–4:1
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Last week I attended the CREC Council meeting along with the elders of my church in beautiful Lake Tahoe, and was witness to the work of the Spirit throughout the far reaches of the world.  People from nations who are enemies, and indeed at war with each other, came together in one place and were united in the purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

No, not all tension was gone.  There is deep seated animosity and distrust that must still be overcome.  We all must be continually reminded that we do not belong ultimately to the nations in which we reside.  I am an American, as Paul was a Roman.  But my citizenship is in heaven.  Whether we hail from Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary, The United States, France, or Japan, we are fellow citizens and have one King, and we must therefore affirm a common purpose.

We must daily put to death the flesh and walk in the Spirit.  This must mean, then, also putting to death our loyalties to earthly authorities wherever they may raise themselves as an obstacle to our ultimate loyalty, not only to Jesus Christ, but also to each other as brothers and sisters.  Blood must be stronger than national allegiance.  For it is the Blood shed for all of us that unites us.

Hebrews 11:13–14
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

“Why is the Wine Gone?”

At the wedding of Cana, the wine runs out.  This could be disastrous!  It is very poor form to run out of wine, especially at a wedding.  A wedding is a blessing, and invokes the blessing of God and of the people upon a new union.  Yet instead of the blessing of God at this wedding, is a sign of curse.  The wine is gone (Isaiah 24:7-9, Lamentations 2:11-12).  This is indicative of the state of Israel.  She is the bride of YHWH, but the blessing of the land has vanished.  It is the responsibility of the bridegroom to supply the wine.  What has gone wrong?

But the wedding of Cana is saved and redeemed, for YHWH is in attendance.  Jesus is the great husband of the bride, for he takes water and glorifies it in the making of wine.  Water is to quench the thirst and to give life.  But wine gives merriment.  Jesus shows himself to be the giver of life when he brings us through water; he shows himself to be the bridegroom of the Church when he gives her bread and wine.

On Books and Movies

“Oh, the book was better than the movie.”

It’s a commonly heard phrase whenever a film adaptation of a book is released.  Scads of book fans flock to the theaters to see (and judge!) how the the director has envisioned the same material that they have already experienced.  Usually it’s objectively true that the book is far more complex thematically and philosophically than the film adaptation.  You can only cram so much into a 2-3 hour film, after all.  At the same time, there’s more to be said here.

A film is a fundamentally different medium than a novel.  Not only in the way it’s presented, but also in what it asks the audience to do.  In fact, a book does not have a mere audience, for a reader is not a passive viewer or listener, even in the case of one listening to a book in audio format.  The medium of the word, whether written or spoken, is essentially different from visuals.

When an author writes a book, what is asked of the reader is that they be a co-creator with the author.  Oh for a muse of fire!  But the reader’s imagination is just such a muse.  Or it can be.  When an author paints a scene with words, he relies on the reader to fill in all the color and texture, to see the movement in the mind, to hear the voices spoken by actors in their head.

Reading a story is a participatory act.  The author hands you the unfinished materials and submits it in part to your imagination.  “Here, lets create this together,” she says.  And it takes a practiced and imaginative reader to effectively do so.

A film is entirely different.  In film, the director, together with the actors, the lighting crew, the cinematographers, the set builders, the effects department, and the music score composers ask something different.  They ask that you sit passively and watch their vision.  Sure, your mind may consciously engage with the thematic aspects of a movie, but the movie is what it is.

It is a completed work of art.  Self-contained and self-sufficient.  The film I see on the screen is the same film you see on the screen.  We may have different reactions to what we have seen, but we have seen essentially the same thing.  This is what makes film such a fun medium.  The viewer gets to see how someone (or someones) else imagines a thing, which is a thing that cannot be experienced apart from the visual.  And film has come a long way in being able to visually present what could before only be imagined.

Film watching is, by and large, a passive event.  “Here is how we all have imagined this story.  See how we have interpreted the word,” the filmmakers say to the viewer.  And they all ask that you submit for the next couple hours to the vision they have created.

It’s also fun to watch the end credits on a huge summer blockbuster.  If only to remind myself just how many hundreds (or thousands) of people with specialized skill sets it requires to visually represent what one person’s mind can imagine simply by reading words on a page.

The Worship of Angels

Blog is finally up!  So this is a repost, as I am adding it here.  I am indebted to Pastor Wes Baker and Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society on the last Trinity House session’s reading list for a great deal of the following.

Colossians 1:15–16
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Paul begins by telling us that Christ is preeminent above all things.  He is the firstborn of creation.  The “firstborn” speaks not so much of Christ’s origin (though being the eternal Son, He is indeed the first in order as well), but of his status as the heir of all things, worthy of a double portion.  For all things are through him.  So why does Paul’s mind turn immediately to “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities”?  Why not name the heavenly bodies of the stars or the various grand features of creation?  While it is true that Christ is creator and preeminent above all those things as well, that is not the burden that Paul has for the Colossian church in this letter.

The four categories Paul names must be read in light of what has immediately preceded them in the text.  Namely, things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.”  Thrones are the visible earthly continuous manifestations of invisible dominionsRulers are individuals, visible persons, behind whom influential and invisible authorities stand.  Christ is creator of, and therefore rightful ruler all these powers that exercise rule over the earth.  Paul’s cosmic worldview, also evident in Ephesians 6 (we wrestle not with flesh and blood, that is, against the rulers and thrones, but against spiritual forces in heavenly places), is based in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 32:8-9
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
But the LORD’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.

Here, each nation was allotted to a “son of God.”  And while “sons of God,” may sometimes mean His covenant people, this reference must mean angelic powers in the same sense as Job 1:6, for we are told that Jacob is then reserved for YHWH Himself.  Each nation has an angelic force behind it, and in most cases, it is become a demonic force.  Each angel was given by YHWH an earthly dominion to rule.  Satan himself is called “the god of this world,” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the demonic hosts (and therefore the nations) are under his command.  We can see in the temptation of Christ that Satan offers Him the dominion over this world—a way to dominion that does not include the cross—which would be temptation indeed only if it was in some way the devil’s to offer.

It is with this worldview that Paul refers to the thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities.  The “worship of angels” in Colossians 2:18 is integrally connected.  Are we tempted to worship angels today?  In the sense of Colossians, most certainly!  We may not bow down to a spirit named Lucifer, or Wormwood, or Screwtape, or even Gabriel, but we are tempted to bow down to the will of the Roman Empire, or the United States, or the United Kingdom, or Russia, or wherever we may live.  If the State would be God, then inasmuch as we equate the will of our government with the will of God, we are in danger of worshiping angels in the way Paul speaks of it.  That is, we are in danger of submitting ourselves to the dominions and powers which stand behind thrones and rulers, rather than submitting to the kingship of Jesus Christ.  A certain kind of patriotism or nationalism can easily become that worship of angels that Paul is warning us against.

Now, Paul tells us, no longer are we to be enslaved to those authorities and dominions.  All things, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, being created by our Lord Jesus Christ, rightfully belong under His dominion.  Once, we Gentiles were under the dominion of these “elemental spirits.”  We were not of the heritage of Jacob, but under the dominion of the devil.  No longer:

Colossians 2:13–15
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Christ is not only creator.  He was always creator of these things, and had a Divine authority over them, and yet YHWH allowed them to exercise rule in the earth.  But now, things are different.  The nations are no longer given over to demonic powers, for Christ has disarmed those rulers and authorities by His death and resurrection.  He is become the firstborn, not only of creation, but the firstborn from the dead, “so that in all things He might be preeminent.”  By conquering the grave, Jesus has put rulers and authorities to open shame.  We are freed in Him from the dominion of sin and death.  Therefore can Paul say that we are heirs with Christ:

Colossians 1:11–12
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

So the state of affairs in Deuteronomy is no longer the case.  Because Christ has risen from the dead, He is the one who has dominion.  Through His co-heirs and those He has qualified to be called “brethren,” He continually brings those nations under their rightful ruler.  And He will reign until all those enemies have been put beneath His feet.

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