St. Nicholas, Gifts and Christmas

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , | Posted On Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 6:16 AM

In the Centuries following Jesus’ death Christianity was outlawed in the Roman Empire.

Late in the third century a man named Nicholas was born, who went on to become at a very young age the Bishop of Myra, while Christianity was still outlawed. This Bishop of Myra, Nicholas, later was recognized as a saint and called Saint Nicholas. He was known for his generosity to people in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

One of the most famous stories about Nicholas demonstrates his great love for children. The story says a poor man had three daughters. He was too poor to offer a dowry, which likely meant the girls would never marry and would probably be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home, providing the needed dowries.

It is said Nicholas tossed the dowry through an open window or down the chimney and landed in stockings left by the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings to eagerly await a gift from St. Nicholas.

Through this story and many more, Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, and later, St. Nicholas, became known as a very generous, loving person, especially known as a gift-giver who had special concern for children, especially those who had little.

Within a few hundred years the story of St. Nicholas merged with the Christmas story, and it became common to give simple and needed gifts at Christmas, especially to children.

Genuine gift-giving should never be out of compulsion or to see what we get in return. Giving gifts is a way of expressing love and gratitude. Giving gifts at Christmas isn’t simply about what we get, but reminds us of what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT2): “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” 

Salvation is a gift from God – something we can’t earn or cause or bring about ourselves. It is a gift, given out of sheer undeserved grace that tells us so much about God. True gifts are always like that – they tell us more about the giver than the one who receives it. As St. Nicholas gave to needy children, it said everything about his true character and concerns.

Yet, God doesn’t give us a gift just to sit around and admire – He gives us this gift of grace in Jesus Christ to transform our lives, so that He can use us to transform the lives of others.

God’s Christmas is about giving a gift that no one deserves, but He gives anyway, so that we, too, can give that same gift to others. And they don’t deserve it anymore than we do. Yet, when we fail to give this gift, we’ve missed the point of the gift in the first place. The gift is always given to encourage others to give.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 (NLT2): “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’”

Symbols of Christmas - Greenery

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, November 27, 2010 at 8:06 PM

In these weeks leading up to Christmas it is so easy to get lost in the activities and shopping and overlook what Christmas is really about. Symbols of Christmas are all around us, if we just know what they're trying to tell us. Over the next few Sundays we'll be sharing some of this to help all of us remember the Christ of Christmas as we go through these days surrounded by the rich symbolism of Christmas. And throughout these weeks I'll be posting additional materials.

I'm beginning this week with greenery - specifically evergreens. Evergreens remain green throughout the year, including the cold, dark winter. They are unchanging, reminding us of the nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8 NLT2)

My message on November 28 shares a good deal about this (and is available online on our Gateway website), and I may come back and put some of that material into my blog. But there's more material than I can possibly include on Sunday morning, so I'm sharing some of it here. 

In today's blog I'm sharing some of the legends (and actual origins) that grew up around some of the greenery of Christmas. I don't believe the legends are literally true - they are myths - but that doesn't mean they don't teach us truth. And some of the stories below are not legends but based on history. Together, legend and history have created symbols that remind us in this Christmas season of the Good News that "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11 NIV)

Legend of the Origin of Evergreens
As reported beginning in Matthew 2:13, shortly after Jesus was born, an angel appeared to Joseph to warn him to take the infant Jesus and his mother Mary and escape to Egypt. King Herod was looking for him in order to kill this new king who had been born. Herod sent soldiers to find this child of whom the Wise Men had spoken. No one could know that Joseph's young family was leaving or where they were headed. It was a difficult journey as they left under the cover of night and traveled through the night and next day. 

The Bible attests to these events, but now the story moves into the realm of legend. By mid-afternoon dust could be seen rising behind them, indicating Herod's soldiers were headed their way. Where could they hide or find protection? Quickly, Joseph led his family into a clump of cedars on a hill, which at that time of year had already lost their leaves. Immediately, the bare cedar twigs greened with color and thickened with growth to hide the Holy Family. The white berries of the cedar tree turned to sapphire blue to match the robe Mary was wearing and help her blend into the cedars.

The soldiers passed the young family, never seeing them, but since that day cedars and plants like them have never shed their leaves or lost their green because they sheltered the Holy Family. 

Legend of the First Christmas Tree
Seven hundred years after the birth of Christ, Pope Gregory called upon Winfred of England (later known as Saint Boniface) to serve as a missionary for three years to the pagan tribes of Northern Germany. One day, as he was traveling among the people there, he came upon a pagan ceremony in the forest to worship the spirit of the forest using a human sacrifice. Typically, in this pagan ceremony the blood of a child was sprinkled around an oak tree to please the god of the forest. Winfred begged that this terrible thing not happen, but he was ignored. In desperation to stop this horrific act and save the infant, Winfred grabbed a ceremonial ax and cut down the oak tree. The people were furious, but their anger quickly turned to amazement as they saw a small fir tree spring up to replace the fallen oak. A shaft of light caused each twig of this new fir to glisten. The people listened as Winfred told them the tree was a symbol of the birth of life through Jesus Christ. And this began the custom of the German people using a fir tree as a symbol to remember the birth of Jesus.

Legend of the Poinsettia
This legend from Mexico says that the Bethlehem star shone over the manger where Jesus was born. Its light was so bright that up sprang a beautiful flower that symbolized that moment. The plant was star shaped with pure white petals and golden star centers. It was considered the Flower of the Holy Night, symbolizing the Bethlehem star. This beautiful creation glorified and commemorated that holy night. But thirty three years later Jesus died on the cross. The petals became blood red to remember the sacrifice of the Christ who was born under the star in Bethlehem.

In the 17th Century, Franciscan priests found these beautiful red blooms, then called, "Cuetlaxochitle," growing on the slopes near Taxco, Mexico. In the early part of the 19th Century the first American ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Robert Poinset, also saw these beautiful red flowers (actually leaves) blooming profusely at Christmas. In 1828 he brought this brilliant tropical plant, known in Mexico as the "Flower of the Holy Night," back to the United States. Here it gained the name poinsettia, after the man who brought it to the United States.

Legend of the Holly
Legend has it that the crown of thorns made by the soldiers and placed on the head of Jesus early on the morning of Good Friday was made from holly leaves. In those days the berries were white, but when the crown was pressed down on Jesus' head, the blood that flowed from his head turned the berries a bright red.

Long before Jesus was born greenery was used in several cultures in special celebrations. The Jews used boughs of trees to adorn the booths they set up for the Feast of Tabernacles. As a part of a Roman celebration of the winter solstice, Romans lavishly decorated their homes and temples with boughs, garlands and flowers, and carried greenery in their processions. German tribes used green boughs to remind them that winter would not last.

As Christians began celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25, which closely coincided with the winter solstice celebrations, they took over some of these customs but gave them new meaning. Their green decorations and garland remembered the new life and salvation which the birth of Jesus brought into the world. They were meant to be joyful reminders of this holy time. 

Wreaths are circular, with no beginning or end, representing the eternal nature of God. The Christmas wreath is said to have originated with Jesus' crown of thorns, reminding us that the Child of Bethlehem is also the Christ of Calvary whose great love for each of us led him to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of the world.

Halloween Origins and Christian Connections

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 9:28 PM

Halloween falls on Sunday this year (2010). Should Christ followers ignore it because of the dark and unChristian aspects to the holiday, or fully embrace it because our culture does, or something in between? My message on October 31 addresses some of this, and I've included a portion of it below (The entire message, "Turn the Light On," can be listened to online on our website, But, there is no way to cover it all, so I've also added additional material here that explains the origins of more of  Halloween's activities and practices.

It’s believed Halloween has its earliest connections in a pagan Celtic feast in Ireland and Britain before the time of Christ, called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween or Sow-ane, and derived from Old Irish and meaning roughly "summer's end"). Like most primitive cultures that struggled with survival, Samhain was tied into the cycle of the seasons and food production. Samhain, on November 1, seems to have had multiple focal points:

  • celebration of the harvest, and make offerings to their gods (over 300) to express gratitude. It was also a day when animal herders moved their animals into barns and pens to ride out the winter. Weaker animals were slaughtered at this time for food during the winter, since frost and cold had already arrived and the meat could be safely kept.
  • the ending of the summer season (according to Celtic tradition, the "light" part of the year) that now leads into the cold, dark, winter ("dark" part of the year). Sacrifices were offered to encourage the gods to bring about the rebirth of the world in the spring.
  • the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year, because the Celts believed dark precedes light.
The Celts believed that on the "eve" or night before Samhain the boundary between the spirit world and our world became very thin. It was believed that deceased spirits or ghosts roamed the earth freely, seeking to attack the celebration feast and perhaps look for a new body to possess. 

Burnt sacrifices of crops, animals and sometimes humans were offered in bonfires, representing the sun, by the Celtic priests, called Druids, to placate the gods, to ensure the sun and light would return after the dark winter and to scare away evil spirits. The word bonfire comes from the words "bone fire," for it was literally the bones of sacrificed and slaughtered animals, along with the occasional human sacrifice, and wood that made up these fires. All other fires in the village would be put out on Samhain and villagers would relight their fires from this sacred bonfire.

Celts tried to appease the roaming spirits by leaving them gifts of fruit and nuts on their doorsteps. Centuries later Irish farmers went door-to-door collecting food and supplies for a village feast and bonfire. Those who gave were promised property and blessings, while those who didn't received threats of bad luck. When Irish immigrants came to America in the 19th Century this custom of trick-or-treating came with them.

To scare off these spirits, the Celts also dressed up in costumes to look like demons, witches and goblins, and wandered through the streets making loud noises to try to confuse and frighten away the spirits. From this we get the tradition of wearing costumes.

The Celts sometimes carried ugly, monstrous faces on hollowed out turnips, gourds, or beets, lighted with candles. These Jack-o-Lanterns were meant to represent the souls of the dead or goblins freed from the dead. It was believed that if a demon encountered something as frightening or terrible as itself, they would run away, sparing the homes from attack by the evil spirits. When the Irish brought this tradition to America, they had difficulty finding turnips but found plenty pumpkins. Over time, the pumpkin became the traditional "lantern." By the way, the name jack-o-lantern comes from a legend about an Irishman named Jack who was completely self-centered and so was forced to roam the earth with a burning coal inside a turnip (and then when the story came to America, a pumpkin) to light his way.

Nocturnal animals such as bats and owls were feared because people believed that they could communicate with the spirits of the dead.

Black cats were considered to be reincarnated beings with the ability to see the future. During the Middle Ages it was believed that witches could turn themselves into black cats. So, when a black cat was seen, it was believed to be a witch in disguise.

During the middle part of the first century (shortly after the death of Jesus Christ) the Romans conquered most Celtic lands, and introduced their own Romans festivals that morphed Samhain. One festival honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol for Pomona was the apple. This is probably connected to the tradition of "bobbing" for apples, which used to be a bigger part of Halloween activities until concerns about health and germs became significant.

Then, starting in the 2nd Century, Christian missionaries made their way into the area and began converting the Celts. In 313 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine declared the entire Roman Empire was Christian, so the missionaries' task was now a part of the purpose of the Roman Empire itself.

The missionaries pointed the Celts to Jesus Christ, their Creator and Savior, who had defeated Satan, death and evil at the cross, and before him these evil spirits lost their power and were considered simply superstitions.

Samhain became, instead, a time when the Celts learned about Christian heroes and martyrs, as well as celebrate the lives of their deceased family members who had become Christ followers. This practice began to spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire, now Christian.

In the 7th Century Pope Boniface IV officially instituted All Saints’ Day on May 13 to remember and honor these saints and martyrs who had died, and to replace pagan festivals of the dead. In 834 AD Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day to November 1, and October 31 became All-Saints Eve, or using the word common then for saint – hallow – All Hallows’ Eve, from which we get our word "Halloween."

The word “saint” in the Bible actually has its roots in the word “holy,” and means someone who is set apart for God – a Christ follower. "All Saints" was a day to remember and recognize all the saints who had died, and not just specially recognized Christians.

While Halloween's origins are older than Christianity, it was adapted by Christians to displace pagan festivals and practices. This has always been a common practice of Christianity, though in modern times it seems that our culture is making an effort to take back events such as Christmas and even Halloween, copying the practice of the early Church and attaching additional or other meanings. There is no mention of Halloween in the Bible, though many of the early practices associated with the day are clearly prohibited by God in the Bible. "'Don't dabble in the occult or traffic with mediums; you'll pollute your souls. I am GOD, your God.'" (Leviticus 19:31 Message)

My intent here is not to suggest that Christ followers should or shouldn't participate in Halloween. After thought and prayer, our family has chosen to participate in some Halloween activities, but we have tried to avoid dark or occult costumes and activities (my son has decided to dress as a hobo, and we're hosting a neighborhood party for some  friends). I believe this is a decision that has to be carefully weighed, because of all the dark and occult practices from Halloween's past as well as some modern practices, especially those connected to the occult. Sincere, dedicated Christ followers have argued for complete avoidance of Halloween as well as participation for the fun and as an outreach and witness to others. Either way, Christ followers must be diligent to avoid the dark practices of Halloween. "Put everything to the test. Accept what is good and don't have anything to do with evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:21 CEV)

Membership Update - Exercising Stewardship (October)

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Monday, October 25, 2010 at 5:24 PM

This month I'm wrapping up my Membership Series for our Gateway members (and anyone else). I began this series in May, and each month I've added more to this series, explaining what we call our GUIDE. The GUIDE (part of our Membership Covenant) is a tool we use here at Gateway that not only describes what a "fully devoted follower of Christ" looks like, but also lists biblical practices and disciplines that help guide us in our spiritual journey.

This month I conclude by examining the "E" of GUIDE: Exercising Stewardship. I'm defining stewardship as the process of managing that which belongs to another. Modern-day examples in the business world include bankers and managers.

The biblical idea of stewardship is rooted in the belief that God created all there is, and it is all His. Because God is the Owner, He has rights, while we, the "renters" or "stewards" have responsibilities.

“‘You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.’” (Revelation 4:11 NLT2)
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.” (Psalm 24:1 NLT2)
The implications of this belief underlie much of how Christ followers are called to live their lives. It calls us to care for the earth, because it is God's, and we have been entrusted with the care of the planet and all that is on it. To that end, Gateway has begun recycling. Our church family has really helped us here as we've sought to learn what that means and looks like here.

Another implication of this belief is that our lives are gifts from God to be used for His purposes. Christ followers have been bought for a price - our lives are no longer ours but belong to God to be used for His purposes and His glory. We were created to love God and love our neighbors. We were created to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Quite simply, we were created to do good for God's sake and glory.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT2)
But perhaps the most difficult implication for us to accept is how we use the resources we have. The Bible tells us that everything we have, all our resources and even our ability to produce those resources, belong to God. Yet, our sinful nature too often grabs these resources for ourselves as means of security and greed and idolatry. We may not do this consciously, but we do it none the less. 

“…What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NLT2)
“If you start thinking to yourselves, ‘I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!’—well, think again. Remember that GOD, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth….” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 Message)
Out of gratitude and obedience God calls us and invites us to exercise faithful stewardship of all He has entrusted to us. But perhaps even more importantly, God calls us to give back a portion of all we've received - the tithe, or 10% of our income - as a concrete statement of faith in God and His provision for our lives. God understands this is a challenge for us, so in this one instance He allows us to test Him.
“‘Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! ‘But you ask, “What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?” You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, ‘I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!’” (Malachi 3:8-10 NLT2)
For all these reasons, we believe it's important to exercise stewardship in our lives as testimonies of faith and faith-building tools. I encourage you to be good stewards of our earth by recycling. I encourage you to be good stewards of your life by using it to bless others and by serving. And I encourage you to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to you by tithing. And to help you do that, we've set up our 90-Day Challenge. The details about it are below if you'd like to take God at His Word and discover how trustworthy He really is.

As member of Gateway, stewardship is an important part of our spiritual journeys. I hope you will allow God to encourage you in this area. It has the potential to grow your faith like few disciplines do. Susan and I have tithed (and given above) for over 25 years. I've discovered time and time again God is faithful, and I've been blessed - not necessarily with more resources, but with the experience of knowing I can put my whole faith in God through Jesus Christ. Stewardship has been a great guide for my life!
The 90-Day Challenge
I would like to test God's faithfulness by accepting the 90-Day Tithe Challenge. I agree that for the 90-day period, my household will contribute to God, through Gateway Community Church, a tithe equal to 10% of our income. At the end of the 90-day period, if I am not convinced of God's faithfulness to bless my life as a result of my obedience to His Word, then I will be entitled to request a refund, up to the full amount of contributions made during that 90-day period.
To begin, I will mark my first tithe “90-Day Challenge” or contact Elsa Salinas: or (281) 286-1515. (Gateway must be told you are beginning this challenge for this refund offer to be in effect.)

Membership Update - Dedicated to Reaching Others (September 2010)

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 4:44 PM

Late last Spring I began a Membership Series for our Gateway members (and anyone else) that is intended to help us grow and become more and more like Jesus Christ. I'm using a tool that we at Gateway call the GUIDE (which is a part of our Membership Covenant). It's an acronym that both describes what a "fully devoted follower of Christ" looks like, and at the same time lists biblical disciplines and practices that God has given us to guide us in our spiritual journey. You can read more about the GUIDE in my May Update.

This month I turn to the "D" of GUIDE, which stands for: "Dedicated to Reaching Others." We understand this to mean that "I will seek opportunities to develop relationships with everyday people, recognizing my role as an ambassador to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ."

As you probably know, "Reach" is an important part of our church's DNA, and has been from our very beginning. It's a part of Jesus' own mission: "And I, the Son of Man, have to come to seek and save those ... who are lost." (Luke 19:10 NLT) Every ONE matters to Jesus. No one is beyond his love or his desire to develop a relationship with them.

In the Great Commission Jesus told us, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19 NLT) The Apostle Paul wrote:

"So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!' For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." (2 Corinthians 5:20-21 NLT2)

Paul says reaching others is what Christ followers do. It's not up to some of us. It is a fundamental part of what it means to be a Christ follower - period!

But before you start sweating that out and wondering if that means we're supposed to all head out to the street corners and stand on our soap boxes, hear me out. That may be true for a few of us, but notice that our statement above says, "I will seek opportunities to develop relationships..." Reaching others is almost always done best and most effectively and most naturally through relationships. Most often it's relationships we already have, though Christ followers also seek to develop new relationships to share the life-changing message and love of Jesus Christ. It means looking at those around us to see whom we can become more intentional about growing our relationship and, at the right time, sharing our story of our journey with Jesus Christ.

Think about it - an ambassador represents his or her homeland to others. Paul tells us we are Christ's ambassadors, so we represent Jesus Christ and the hope and joy and life-changing love he offers us to others. God often uses us as the "go-between" to help one of our existing friends or relatives get to know our best friend and brother Jesus Christ. We aren't responsible for their relationship with Christ, but we are responsible for looking for natural opportunities to make introductions and even walk alongside our two friends as they get to know each other better.

Our dedication to reach others begins with wherever that person is in their relationship with Christ. From no relationship to a relationship that has slipped, to a relationship that is growing. A significant part of this dedication is coming alongside others in what I would call a mentoring relationship, regardless of where they are on their journey. Mentoring is simply being intentional about sharing with another person or persons about our journeys with Christ. It's an intentional decision to reach out to another, but it invariably becomes a two-way street as God's Spirit works in and through both of us to grow both of us. We may think it's all about the other person, but God has designed this act and process of reaching out to others, of being ambassadors for Christ, as a growth opportunity for both of us. We are always blessed as we allow Christ to use us to reach others, and, in fact, there are some blessings God has reserved for us that we will never experience unless we do reach out to others.

Ultimately, this dedication to reaching others isn't a program or something we do only when the church is making a push. God intends this to be a part of our lifestyle as Christ followers. He intends it to be a natural part of the culture of any church, and we certainly want that here at Gateway. We offer opportunities for you to invite a friend, including regular events such as our Sunday services, and special outreach events, such as Ladies Night Out or our recent Date Night or our regular Bring-A-Friend Sundays (the next one is October 24!). 

I know many of us have some feelings of insecurity or even fear about reaching out to others - I certainly do, and I have to work on it! Yet, Christ wants to use us, and God has already been working in the person we feel led to reach. Even if the results don't seem to go anywhere in our first tries, God is using us to plant seeds. Sometimes we see the fruit of our efforts, and sometimes others do - and we reap the harvest that others planted before us. 

But nothing happens if we do nothing. That's why this begins with us dedicating ourselves to this journey - of allowing God to work in and through us to make the choice to be Christ's ambassador to reach out to the relationships around us. After all, in Christ we represent the one and only way to help people live forever in heaven with Jesus. There's no more important work or task in our lives, because nothing else we do can affect the eternity of another like this. God has given you and me the greatest opportunity there is - to be a part of His life-changing plan to save lives and change the world!

Angels - Part 6: Fallen and Deceptive Angels

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Friday, September 17, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Today I'm wrapping these posts on angels looking at fallen angels, sometimes called demons, and their leader, Satan.

The biblical story about Satan, or the devil, is not clear. The Bible does not set out to tell that story. Many of our ideas about Satan and his dark angels come from popular folk lore or classic literary works such as Dante's Inferno or Faust. Isaiah 14:12-15 (NLT2) seems to give the best picture of what happened, if, in fact, it refers to Satan and not Israel, as some have suggested:

“How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world. For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’ Instead, you will be brought down to the place of the dead, down to its lowest depths.”

Jesus said, ‘…I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning! 
Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions (sometimes symbols for the devil and his demons) and crush them. Nothing will injure you.’” (Luke 10:18-19 NLT2)

We don’t know for sure where Satan came from, though he was probably a cherubim and possibly the highest of all the angels; he fell to earth at God’s bidding due to his sin, and continues as a superhuman opponent of God and his people. Demons appear to be angels who followed him and fell with him. It appears about one-third of the angels fell with Satan, according to Revelation 12:3-4. The name Satan in Hebrew means “adversary.” His other well-known name is the devil, which means “accuser” or “deceiver.” It is his title, but it really describes what he does. In fact, lies and deception are his primary instrument in human lives. Scripture also offers several other names for him:
  • the Wicked or Evil One (Matthew 6:13) 
  • the Enemy (Matthew 13:25, 28, 39) 
  • Murderer (John 8:44) 
  • Deceiver (Revelation 20:10) 
  • Beelzebub (Matthew 9:34, 12:24) 
  • Belial, or Beliar, “worthless one” (2 Corinthians 6:15) 
  • Ruler of this World (John 12:31) 
  • Prince of this World (John 12:31) 
  • Prince of the Power of the Air (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12) 
  • the Great Dragon (Revelation 12:9) 
  • the Ancient Serpent (Revelation 12:9) 
  • Abaddon, Apollyon, the Destroyer (Revelation 9:11) 
  • the Tempter (Matthew 4:3) 
  • Father of Lies (John 8:44)

There is certainly a great deal of interest in angels these days. An incredible number of books have been written about them in recent years. Yet, not all are written from a Christian perspective. But, if we’re talking about angels they must be God’s good angels, right? Not necessarily, for notice there are evil or fallen or dark angels. People are claiming to be told by angels to write books about angels, to seek your angel, etc., but this doesn't fit with the ministry God has given angels.

Certainly this interest in angels indicates a spiritual hunger in our land today, and that is positive. Yet, not all angels are answers to spiritual hunger. Angels can deceive us, even when they are not trying to do so. John of Revelation describes a dazzling appearance of the resurrected, glorified Christ (Revelation 1:14-17). John worships him. Yet, at the end of the book we again see John falling down to worship, but this time it is an angel, who objects to him doing so and tells him to worship God (Revelation 22:8-9). If John could be unintentionally fooled, how easy is it for us to be fooled. So, how do we recognize the wrong kinds of angels? Here are some suggestions:

  • Are angels identified by non-biblical names? In the Bible only two angel names appear: Michael and Gabriel. 
  • Are the angels given an extrabiblical description? In other words, what do they look like? The Bible is very minimal about angelic descriptions because the emphasis is on the message. Angels do not draw attention to themselves but to their message from God. Too much detail means the angel has become the focus of the appearance rather than the message, and that is not biblical. 
  • Are the angels performing roles beyond what the Bible reveals about them? Many of the claims of modern-day angels far exceed the biblical norms. 
  • Are angels sources of additional information beyond the teaching of the Bible? For instance, the Book of Mormon includes revelation to Joseph Smith by an angel. Much of this new revelation contradicts the Bible. Paul himself wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:8). 
  • Are the angels in any way proclaiming another gospel, another way to heaven, a “revised” form of Christianity? In the Book of Mormon this is certainly true. We must be careful.
I hope these posts have helped clarify what we know about angels (and what we don't know). They are certainly beautiful creations of God, serving Him constantly and faithfully (except those who are fallen). Someday we will enjoy God's creation alongside the angels, and I'm sure that will be an amazing and glorious time. And the stories they can tell, since they have seen just about everything!

Angels - Part 5: Organization, Guardian and Encounters

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Today I want to look at some miscellaneous topics about angels and wrap up tomorrow looking a fallen angels.

Medieval scholars argued over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. That was mere speculation, however. So, what can we ascertain about the
number, organization and rank of angels?

In terms of numbers of angels, the Bible speaks of “multitudes” of angels praising God at the birth of Jesus, and this was only a part of the heavenly host (Luke 2:13-15). At his betrayal Christ said he could call upon God for twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53), which would calculate to about 72,000 angels (6,000 x 12). There are some references in scripture that the number of angels is comparable to the number of stars in the sky. Hebrews 12:22 speaks of “an innumerable company of angels” which probably is as close as we are going to get.

Angels seems to be gathered in an organization. There are hints at assemblies or large gatherings, an army of angels that is obviously organized, and several different titles, probably for various levels of organization for both good and bad angels: thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, powers, angels, world rulers, wicked spirits (Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21, 3:10, 6:12; Colossians 1:16, 2:10, 15).

The ranking of angels is not very clear from the Bible. There seem to be broad classes of angels with ranking within each class. Classes might include cherubim, seraphim and living creatures. Cherubim seemed to hold the highest position. Among the cherubim, Satan appears to have held the highest rank (Ezekiel 28:12, 14, 16).

Archangel implies a ranking of first among angels, since the Greek prefix
arche means first. This title is applied directly only to Michael (Jude 9). However, he is also called “one of the chief princes” (Daniel 10:13), implying that there are others of high rank, but we cannot say for sure whether they are archangels or not.

There is also reason to believe that there is a descending rank among the following: thrones, principalities, authorities, powers, world rulers, wicked spirits, and angels. Some of these titles apply both to good and evil angels.

Guardian angels are probably the most popular kind of angel that most of us are familiar with, because we all know how fragile life is. It is comforting to know they are there to watch over us.

The idea of guardian angels was fairly well developed in Judaism by New Testament times. Judaism taught that each individual had their own personal angel. The early church fathers and later Christian theologians held similar beliefs. Some “Catholic children are still taught that a good angel sits on your right shoulder and a bad one on your left, and you get to choose between the two at every moment of your life.” (Gary Kinnaman,
Angels: Dark and Light, p. 83) Catholic beliefs are based on Genesis 48:16, Matthew 18:10 and Tobias 3:25, which is one of the apocryphal books which appear at the end of the Old Testament of Catholic Bibles, but is not included in Protestant Bibles.

While Protestants (and Gateway is a part of the overall Protestant movement) are certainly not opposed to the concept of guardian angels, we have to acknowledge that scripture is not very clear about this. Only a few references suggest the possibility of guardian angels, and none directly states this to be true. Psalm 91:11 says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” The devil used this passage to try to tempt Jesus. This passage does indicate there are angels around us to protect us, but it is not clear there is one guardian angel assigned to you. In the passage in Acts 12 where Peter is freed by an angel from prison he returns to the house of Mary. The servant girl who answers the gate is startled and rather than let him in she rushes back to tell everyone its Peter. When they say she’s crazy she continues insisting it is him. Then in vs. 15 they respond to her with this: “It must be his angel.” The implication is that the early church believed each person had an accompanying angel that resembled him or her. These passages and a few others hint at guardian angels, but, again, they do not come out and state this as a biblical teaching.

As Protestants we cannot unequivocally say there are guardian angels, at least by biblical standards. Yet, we can acknowledge several allusions to the possibility of them. In addition, there are passages that indicate that angels are there to protect and watch over us, even if no one angel is assigned to each one of us. In this case, each of us will need to draw our own conclusion.

Sometimes, the Bible indicates,
angels appear in disguise. In Genesis 18 and 19 Abraham entertains three “men.” They sit with him, talk with him, and eat with him. Only as they share their message with Abraham does it become known that they are angels. Two of these “men” then go on to Sodom where Lot provides them shelter. Neither Lot nor the men of the city recognize them as angels. Yet, the men of the city that try to take the two are struck with blindness. Obviously, these angels appeared to be completely human, yet they were angels.

Just as other stories in the Bible corroborate this truth, that angels do often take on the appearance and activity of humans to accomplish their purposes, so it would appear they continue to do so today, as many individuals will attest. I suspect we really don't have a clue just how active and prevalent angels are in our daily lives on behalf of God.

Angels - Part 4: the Ministry of Angels

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 12:01 AM

I'm continuing my postings on angels, related to a series we've been offering at Gateway on Heaven. I began on Sunday offering an overview of angels. On Monday we looked at what we know about the origin and nature of angels. On Tuesday I listed the various kinds of Bibles as found in the Bible. And today, Part 4, we're looking at the ministry of angels, again as detailed in the Bible.

Angels minister in both heaven and earth, but what are some of the specifics that they do? We’ll look at their ministry in three areas: in relation to God, in relation to Christ, in relation to Christ followers.

In Relation to God: 
Angels’ primary ministry seems to be that of worship and praise of God (Isaiah 6; Revelation 4:6-11). Much, if not all, of this praise is in the form of song. Angels serve God and His purposes and are His messengers. Angels seem to carry out certain aspects of God’s government, including controlling nature (Revelation 7:1, 16:3, 16:8-9) and guiding nations. Angels protect God’s people, delivering them from wicked works (Psalm 34:7; Isaiah 63:9). God uses angels to execute His judgments, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1, 12-13), or bringing plaques on Egypt (Psalm 78:43, 49), or destroying many Assyrians in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kings 19:35).

In Relation to Christ: 
While all that was said about God above would apply to Christ, there appear to be some special ministries of angels in relation to Christ. Angels predicted his birth (Luke 1:26-28) and announced his birth to the shepherds (2:8-15). They protected Christ as an infant when they warned his parents to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath (Matthew 2:13-15). They strengthened him after Satan’s temptation (Matthew 4:11). Angels announced Christ’s resurrection. Once he was resurrected the angels worshiped and served him. Angels have predicted his return (Acts 1:11). Angels will accompany Christ when he returns (Matthew 25:31).

In Relation to Christ Followers: 
Angels minister to Christ followers as signs of God’s love. They are “sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). God uses angels to reveal His will to people. They guide people, as in the case of the angel who told Joseph to take Mary as his wife and virgin-born son as his own (Matthew 1:20-21). On a few occasions the Bible shows angels providing for the physical needs, such as food, of people (Hagar and her son, Genesis 21:17-20). Angels protect people from physical danger, as in the three youth in the fiery furnace (Daniel 6:20-23) or when Israel’s king sent an army to capture Elisha at Dothan and an army of angels protected Elisha (2 Kings 6:16). Angels encourage, as in the case when an angel freed the apostles from prison and then encouraged them to continue preaching (Acts 5:19-20). Angels are sometimes agents in answering prayers.

An important distinction, however, is necessary. The ministry of angels is “primarily external and physical, whereas the ministry of the Holy spirit is internal and spiritual. Angels minister for us; the Holy Spirit minister in us (John 14:16-17; Hebrews 1:13-14). They guard our bodies and pathway; He guards our spirits and guides us in the right way. They may be agents to answer prayer, but He is the Prompter and Director of our prayers (Romans 8:26-27; Jude 20).”

What Angels Do Not Do: 
Though we’ve looked at many of the things angels do, we need to also say a few words about what angels do not do (from Angels: Dark and Light, Gary Kinnaman, pp. 78-80):

  • Good angels never try to change Scripture. Messages of angels never change or contradict the Bible. 
  • Good angels refuse to be worshipped. Good angels can be respected, but never worshipped. Neither are they objects of prayer. They may help God answer prayer, but nowhere in the Bible do we see any suggestion that we are to pray to anyone but God. Good angels always point people back to God, never to themselves. 
  • No one in the Bible ever initiates conversation with an angel. Pay particular attention to this. People may talk to angels, but angels always talk first. Some new age authors suggest you are to call on your angels like calling on a friend on the telephone. Good angels are always there, but they don’t answer our calls—only God does that! 
  • Angels are not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. They are not all-powerful, though they are very powerful. They are not all-knowing, though they are very intelligent. They are not everywhere at once, though they can be at any one place immediately. 
  • Angels do not violate the free will of humans. Angels play an important role in the purposes of God and affairs of people, but they do not control people or violate their free will.
Join me tomorrow as we look at the organization of angels and a little more about how they work in our world today.

    Angels - Part 3: Kinds and Positions

    Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , | Posted On Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 12:01 AM

    Today is day 3 of my posts on angels, related to a series we've been offering at Gateway on Heaven. I began on Sunday with an overview of angels. Yesterday I offered a deeper look into the origin and nature of angels. Today we're looking at the various kinds of angels mentioned in the Bible and their positions.

    To begin, let me just make it clear that Jesus Christ is not an angel. He is superior to the angels. He is God, and angels were created by Him. Hebrews 1 & 2 presents a biblical argument for Jesus Christ being superior to the angels.

    Angels are a little “higher” than human beings. Hebrews 2:5-7 quotes Psalm 8:4-6 that human beings are “a little lower than the angels.”

    "And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. For in one place the Scriptures say, 'What are people that you should think of them, or a son of man that you should care for him? Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them authority over all things." Now when it says 'all things,' it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority." (Hebrews 2:5-8 NLT2)

    But, what does “a little lower” mean? Possibly it refers to man’s nature as mortal and subject to death, as compared to angels. Angels are God’s messengers, sent forth by God to minister to people. People, however, have the ministry of witness, of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, of preaching and teaching of him that others may come to a saving relationship with God through Christ. There does not seem to be any mention of this kind of ministry for the angels in the Bible. In addition, the Bible seems to indicate that in the coming Kingdom human beings will rule over angels, or at least have some role of judgment related to angels. (1 Corinthians 6:3 (NLT2): "Don’t you realize that we will judge angels?...")

    Within the broad category of angel there seems to be at least two special classes or orders of angels, which are spelled out below:

    Cherubim - “…angelic beings of the highest order or class, created with indescribable powers and beauty.” (C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect & Evil, p. 61) It seems impossible to adequately describe these celestial beings. They are seen in Genesis 3:24, guarding the gate at the Garden of Eden; Exodus 25:17-22, as golden images on the mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant; Ezekiel 1:1, 28, 10:4, 18-22, as very complex creatures with four faces and four wings and the overall appearance similar to a man. Perhaps because they never carry messages for God, cherubim are never referred to as angels. Their main purpose and activity appears to be summed up this way: “they are proclaimers and protectors of God’s glorious presence, His sovereignty, and His holiness.” (ibid., p. 63)

    Seraphim - The Hebrew term means “burning ones,” and probably refers to their all-consuming devotion to God vs. any particular kind of ministry. They are mentioned only in Isaiah 6, where they are calling out to each other, around the throne of God, "'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!'" (6:3, NLT2) These angels seem to perform a priestly function for God. They proclaim His holiness and that human beings must be cleansed of their sins in order to stand before God and serve Him. Hence, Isaiah is cleansed through the hot coal before he can speak to God.

    Living Creatures - The identity of the four living creatures of Revelation 4:6-9 is unclear. While their appearance is similar to that of cherubim, there are several differences. There are also some similarities with the seraphim and their actions more closely reflect that of seraphim. Whether they are a type of seraphim or another type of angel is uncertain.

    In the Bible only two angels have names: Michael and Gabriel. Michael seems to be the greater, serving possibly as a military leader while Gabriel is the leading messenger. Let’s look at each of these a little closer:

    Michael - He is the only angel designated an archangel and is classified as “one of the chief princes” (Daniel 10:13). He is assigned to the welfare of the nation of Israel, as others are assigned to other nations by God or Satan (Daniel 10:13, 20). He is the military leader of an army of angels in combat with Satan (Revelation 12:7).

    Gabriel - His name means “mighty one of God,” speaking of his great strength from God. He has permanent access to God, standing in His presence (Luke 1:19). Each of the four times he appears in the Bible he seems to be God’s special messenger of His kingdom program.

    Raphael, Uriel, and Jeremiel - These three angels are mentioned in the apocryphal writings (which are typically included in Catholic Bibles, but not Protestant or Jewish Bibles), but are not mentioned in the Bible.

    Notice that each angel's name ends in "el." In Hebrew this means "of God." Even the names of angels show us their intimate connection to God.

    Tomorrow we'll look at the ministry of angels.

    Angels - Part 2: Origin and Nature

    Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Monday, September 13, 2010 at 12:01 AM

    Today I'm continuing my postings on angels, related to a series we've been offering at Gateway on Heaven. I began yesterday with an overview of angels. Today I'll take a little deeper in the origin and nature of angels.

    In Genesis chapter one's account of creation there is no mention of the creation of angels. We don’t know if angels were created before the universe or while it was being created, though there are some indications in scripture that it was probably before (Job 38:4-7). We can definitely affirm angels were created by God (Psalm 148:2-5, Colossians 1:16) for everything that exists was/is created by God. They were created as angels, not as people who went on to become angels. Interestingly, while angels and stars in the Old Testament are not the same, they are often used in parallel or are closely associated with one another. In Isaiah (14:12-15) and Revelation (9:1-2), as well as in Luke (10:18-19), there are allusions to angels, including Satan, where the word "star" is used.

    Angels were created for God’s purposes. They primarily glorify Him and serve Him, doing His will in many matters (Hebrews 1:7). Angels were created good, for God said everything He created was good (Genesis 1:31).

    Since angels are creatures (i.e., they are created by God) they can only be in one place at a time—they are not omnipresent, though they are immediately present. They are primarily spirit in nature and are subject to time (Daniel 10:10-14). Angels have greater power than human beings (2 Peter 2:11) and can even control some aspects of nature (Revelation 7:1, 16:8-9), but they are not omnipotent. They are sometimes taxed to accomplish their duties, such as the ongoing struggle with evil angels (Revelation 12:7). Yet, all angelic actions and power are due to God’s choice, His assignment. Angels are not all-knowing—omniscient. They do not know when Christ will return (Matthew 24:36) and are amazed and interested to learn more of the wonders of salvation (1 Peter 1:11-12). Angels are not perfectly holy, for some turned from God’s will and fell into the bondage of sin (Isaiah 14:12; Revelation 12:3-4).

    Angels are intelligent and have emotions. Scripture shows them expressing joy at God’s creation (Job 38:7) and the salvation of a repentant sinner (Luke 15:10). Angels also have a will of their own. While they were created to do the will of God, many chose to go against His will and followed Lucifer, or Satan.

    Scripture describes angels as “ministering spirits” (Hebrew 1:14) and therefore being spiritual beings, or without material, fleshy bodies. Yet, they cannot be in more than one place at a time. Scripture really gives no insight into what form their “bodies” do take. It appears that angels are without sex. From Matthew 22:28-30 we know that they do not reproduce and are not a race. They are generally referred to in the masculine sense in the Bible, but that may be more a limitation of human speech than anything else. When they do appear in the Bible they generally take on the form of a man (Genesis 18:2, 22). Angels are immortal, never ceasing to exist or dying (Luke 20:36).

    Angels are normally invisible (Colossians 1:16). Yet, they do appear on occasion. The Bible gives many examples of angels appearing in dreams and visions. But, on occasion they also appear to our natural sight. Sometimes they are recognized as angels (Daniel 8:15-17; Matthew 28:1-7), and sometimes they are not recognized, at least not right away (Numbers 22:23, 31; Judges 6:11-12, 21-22, Hebrews 13:2).

    Generally, when angels do appear to people, they appear as men. Abraham entertained three men in the plains of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8). He did everything with them that you or I would do in the presence of another person, including talking and eating. But, they were angels. Mark and Luke describe the angels at the empty tomb in male terms (Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4). Only in Zechariah 5:9 do we see angels in the form of women.

    Sometimes angels may appear similar to men, but have some strange or different aspect about them. In chapter 10 of Daniel an angel is described that resembles a man, but many other special attributes. The angel that appeared to the two Marys at the empty tomb frightened them because “His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:3).

    There are also examples of angels appearing as unusual living creatures, with Revelation describing one with many eyes, faces resembling a lion, a calf, a man and an eagle, and six wings.

    When humans are confronted by angels their reactions vary. Mary became agitated when Gabriel announced the news of the Christ to her (Luke 1). Zacharias was afraid when the angel appeared to him in the temple (Luke 1:12), as were the shepherds who received the message of Christ’s birth while tending their flocks out in the fields (Luke 2:9). Yet, others, such as Joseph, seem to give no special reaction to the presence of an angel.

    Most artwork depicts angels as having wings. Certainly the Bible shows that some angels have wings. Both seraphim (Isaiah 6) and cherubim (Ezekiel 1:5-8) are shown to have multiple wings. There are also references to angels “flying” (Daniel 9:21; Revelation 14:6-7). Yet, many angel passages say nothing of wings, and in those where angels take on human form there is certainly no mention of wings. The question of all angels having wings is really up in the air.

    What about the spiritual state of angels? Well, we know they were created holy by God, but some chose to rebel against God. Scripture shows Satan to be the leader of the rebellion, which apparently began with evil thoughts of pride from unexplained origins led him to try to overthrow God (Isaiah 14:12-17). When Satan failed he took a great number of angels with him. From that point on there is no further mention of angels “changing sides.” It seems they became set in their spiritual states. Those who fell seem to have no option for redemption for Jesus says they are consigned to the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41). Since then, these two groups of angels have been at war, both on the spiritual plane, the world plane and the individual plane.

    One other note about angel’s nature relates to a survey Gary Kinnaman did of people who claimed to have had angelic encounters. While this information is not directly from the Bible, it generally seems to be consistent with biblical norms. In his accounts of what seemed to be good angels, by tests that I will mention later, angels are “almost always very tall, usually around ten feet. They are bright, glowing white, often with a slight bluish tint. Their faces are indescribable, so their gender is unrecognizable. They are usually dressed in a full-length robe and frequently girded with a belt or sash of gold.” (Angels Dark and Light, p. 52) Unless they appear as humans, their appearance often seems transparent. Their appearance always seems to be very brief. Communication with angels is usually in terms of speech as we know it, but virtually always some form of direct communication. In most reports the angels do not have wings. When we look at the Bible we notice many of the same general features. By that I don’t mean the details, but rather that descriptions of angels in the Bible, when they are not appearing as humans, are vague. The emphasis is never on the angel’s appearance, but on the angel’s message. For example, when Gabriel appears to Zechariah and later Mary in Luke 1, his appearance is completely left out. Nothing is mentioned, which would seem to indicate the message clouded out the messenger.

    Tomorrow I'll look at the position of angels and the different types of angels.

    Angels - Part 1

    Posted by Randy | Labels: , , | Posted On Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 12:01 AM

    We're in a series on Heaven, and it's been really exciting for me to learn so much about our resurrected lives on our future home on the New Earth. In my third message I'm talking a little about angels, but I really only touch on the subject. A few years back I did a program on angels, and I've dug up the material and plan to share some of it over the next few days on this blog. I'm starting below, but check back each day as I put up more material.

    The movie It’s a Wonderful Life with the angel Clarence Oddbody has become a Christmas tradition for many. While serving as God’s messengers, they are also getting credit for helping people lose weight or find their keys. A Wisconsin homemaker has a collection of 11,161 angel artifacts. There are angel clothes, brass cherub flushers, angel mouse pads and screen savers for our computers, angel soap, angel towels, Cherub air freshener, angel night-lights, angel sheets and pillows and angel suitcases. There are people who claim to help you get in touch with your guardian angel.

    Yet, for all our interest, even our need, for angels, we must be careful. Virtually every major religion through the years has had its own form of angels. Christianity is no exception. And while the Bible has a great deal to say about angels, we want to be careful as Christians that we don’t get caught mixing our angels to create something that is not pleasing to God. In fact, the Bible indicates that not only are there good angels, but evil ones as well, that are very skilled at fooling people until it is too late. So, if you are interested in being aware of the angelic presence around us, do it from a biblical viewpoint so all that you do will give God honor and praise and not lead you astray.

    Angels are found in 34 of the 66 books of the Bible (17 - Old Testament, 17 - New Testament). The word “angel” is used 108 times in the Old Testament, 165 in the New Testament.

    Two classes of angels are shown in the Bible:
    • the "elect" (1 Timothy 5:21) and "holy" (Matthew 25:31) who worship God and serve Him completely
    • the evil angels, including Satan, their leader (Matthew 25:41), and demons (Matthew 12:26-28), who oppose God and all His servants, both humans and angels.

    Charlie Shedd says two words come closest to a true biblical understanding of what an angel is: "manifestation" and "servant." Servant is fairly clear, and the word "manifest" means "to reveal, prove, display, and put beyond doubt the nature of that which is being manifested." Since God is love and angels exist to manifest and serve him, then what angels do is to reveal, prove, and display God’s love.

    Our word "angel" is derived from the Greek word angelos, which means, very simply, "messenger." In the Greek world just before New Testament times, the role of the human angelos was fairly simple: "he delivered messages, answered questions, and expected payment for his services—and he was protected by the gods." These ancient human angelos could also serve as envoys, making treaties and delivering official communications. In the New Testament an angelos is a celestial being with a divine message from God. This idea generally comes from the Jewish understanding of angels.

    In the Old Testament the term most frequently used for angel is malak. It, too, means messenger or representative. Malachi, one of the Old Testament prophets (and the last book in the Old Testament) is a name that literally means "my messenger." However, even though malak is translated messenger, its meaning is broader than our modern day understanding. There weren't phones and email, nor did they have mail or cars, so delivering a message was not easy. Sometimes it took weeks to deliver a message. The malak represented the concerns and desires of the one who sent him. Sometimes, because of the distances and length of time involved, the malak had to interpret the message and its meaning. Angels in the Bible often directly represented God to their intended audience.

    Come back tomorrow for information about what we know about the origins of angels and their basic nature.

    Membership Update - Involved in Biblical Community (August 2010)

    Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    A couple of years ago our family was vacationing down on the western part of Galveston Island. There's a house down there that we've stayed at before (though not since Ike). One of the things I did down there was some grilling on a portable bar-b-q grille.

    It was a little breezier than usual one evening as I was preparing to start up the grille. I set the charcoal in a pile and tried lighting it, but it was hard because of the wind. I finally got it started and stepped away to bring some things from the kitchen. When I got back most of the charcoal bricks were burning, but a handful had rolled off the pile and they were still dark. I got some tongs and put them into the flames, and they soon lit up like the rest of the coals.

    As I watched those coals begin to heat up, I realized God was showing me a metaphor of why small groups in our church - any church - are important. Together, in a group, we can do more and accomplish what we're there for, but by ourselves we cool off and don't provide much heat or light. 

    As I write this we're getting ready to take my daughter to TCU as she begins her freshman year there. One of my big hopes for her is to find a group of peers, of friends, that she can live life with, who have similar values and interests as she does. I know if she finds the right group it will make a huge difference in her college and life experience.

    The truth is, all of us need smaller groups of 5-15 folks, where we are known, where we can let down our hair, where we can be real, where we can ask questions, where we can help others, etc. In our worship services of 500-800 it's easy to remain anonymous, and that can be a good thing as someone is checking out our church. They don't feel pushed, and they can take it at their own pace. But surveys have shown over and over that if a person doesn't connect with some small group of people, there's a 70-80% chance they will become inactive within a year. We were created for community, for being together, for doing life together. Whether an introvert or extrovert, we all have some level of need in this area.

    God created us to go through life together. In Genesis, after creating the man, God knew He wasn't finished: "Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.'" (Genesis 2:18 NLT2 - italics added) This passage is about more than marriage between a man and a woman - it shows that God created us for community, to be with others and help others: "The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part…" (1 Corinthians 12:25 Message) 

    In smaller groups we know what's going on each others' lives and can help: "Share each others burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2 NLT2) Life in smaller groups is also a way God has provided for us to help each other grow in our faith: "I want us to help each other with the faith we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you." (Romans 1:12 NCV)

    The bottom line is that small groups are one of the primary places where we live and receive love. God is love, and love describes the motivation behind everything Jesus did. And love is the goal for Christ followers. Certainly a family is a small group, where love is the basis for the relationships, but the same is true for small groups in churches. We call them Life Groups here at Gateway, but we also have small groups in our Celebrate Recovery ministry, our Women's ministry, and even in our children's and student areas.

    Here at Gateway we lift up what we call the GUIDE. It's an acronym that both describes what "a fully devoted follower of Christ" looks like, and it lists biblical practices and disciplines that guide us in our spiritual journey (read more about the GUIDE in my May Update). The "I" in GUIDE stands for "Involved in Biblical Community," because we know it is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to follow Christ. From Jesus' beginning in ministry he had twelve others alongside him, and if he lived this way, it says a lot about what each of us needs.

    Biblical community comes as we try to live out the love of Christ with others. It happens in Life Groups and Celebrate Recovery. We have an event coming up in September called Group Connection on Sunday, September 19 at noon. Last year we placed over one hundred folks in small groups through this event. If you aren't in a Life Group, you can sign up this Sunday at the Ministry Booth or by contacting the church office. Yet, it's important to realize that biblical community is also available through our serving teams. When we serve alongside others, we experience community with those folks, too. 

    What I want to do is encourage you to be intentional in your biblical community. Find a place(s) to experience it, and then help others do the same. We all need it, and the cool thing is that we can all give it.

    Membership Update - Using My Gifts to Serve (July 2010)

    Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 12:01 AM

    Two months ago I began a Membership Series for our Gateway members (and anyone else) that is intended to help us grow and become more and more like Jesus Christ. I'm using a tool that we at Gateway call the GUIDE (which is a part of our Membership Covenant). It's an acronym that both describes what a "fully devoted follower of Christ" looks like, and at the same time lists biblical disciplines and practices that God has given us to guide us in our spiritual journey. You can read more about the GUIDE in my May Update.

    This month I turn to the "U" of GUIDE, which stands for: "Using My Spiritual Gifts to Serve." We understand this to mean that "I will seek opportunities to serve my church family utilizing my gifts, talents, and time."

    The reason we serve begins with Jesus himself, who said: “‘For even the Son of Man (a title Jesus used for himself) came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Matthew 20:28 NLT2) Jesus came to serve, and those who follow him do likewise. Certainly, obedience is a big part of following Jesus. But we also follow (and serve) out of gratitude for all he's done for us, including especially his death on the cross. We live out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) to love God and love our neighbors through serving. And the Bible teaches that if we claim to have faith but don't live it out in our daily lives, then our faith is "dead and useless." (James 2:17 NLT2) It's no faith at all.

    But there's another very important reason we serve - it not only reflects that we are trying to live as Jesus lived, it also helps us actually become more and more like Jesus:

    “Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 CEV; italics added)

    The Bible says that in learning to serve, we will become "completely like him (Christ)." Serving grows us as it teaches us to put our faith into action. And again, faith means nothing if it's not lived out in our daily lives. Our lives bear this truth out:

    • In one study, when folks in a congregation were asked, “To what extent has your ministry or service to others affected your spiritual growth?”, 92% answered positively, and none responded that ministry had had a negative effect on their spiritual growth.
    • Over half (58%) of those who were not actively ministering to others felt either “not satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their level of spiritual growth. 
    • And a recent study makes it clear that “serving is one of the most important expressions of being Christlike”.

    We have a high expectation that members of Gateway will serve. It's not to keep our members busy or to handle things we can't get to. It's our calling as a church to lead us in obedience to Christ and help us become more and more like him. We were made for this! "God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds..." (Ephesians 2:10 TEV)

    I wish I could tell you that everyone in our church family is so convinced of this that we have all the volunteers (or, a better word might be servants) we need, but that's not the case. There's not a Sunday that goes by when we don't need loving Christ followers serving in our children and student areas, serving on our Team Gateway (hospitality) or in our Arts Ministry (performing and technical). We also have a Great Day of Service coming up July 31st, and there are always other mission opportunities. 

    Some of you reading this right now have been gifted by God to serve in some of these areas, but you aren't ... and there are folks missing out because you aren't doing your part! And those of us who are regularly serving have a responsibility to carry this value to others and encourage others to serve.

    If you have a question about where to serve, contact any of our staff or a friend who is already serving, or just try something for a while and see if it clicks for you. The first area you try may not be the right fit for you, but stay with it and you will find the place you were created for, that fulfills you, that grows you, and that blesses others. And in the process, God will be working in you, transforming you, growing you!