Posts Tagged ‘angels’

Schutzengel (English: "Guardian Angel") by Bernhard Plockhorst depicts a guardian angel watching over two children

Schutzengel (English: “Guardian Angel”) by Bernhard Plockhorst

Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life

Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life

Angels are a challenging topic since they have now developed a following of their own. It is no longer just Christians who speak of angels but all kinds of folks are communing with them, protected by them, and traveling with them in some other dimension. Angels are the subjects of books, both nonfiction and fantasy, and they are even seen in stories doing battle with demons and vampires. Angels are no longer like Clarence in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” or mere messengers who play harps all day or hover over sleeping children at night. Angels are hip.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. . . . Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” [Luke 2:9-10, 13-14]

Fantasy Angel wallpaper

Fantasy Angel wallpaper

Aggelos in Greek means messenger or envoy, someone who is sent. This role seems to have lost its significance in all the angel lore of recent years. In truth, if this meaning is true to their nature, they are merely brokers of information. They do not really operate with a lot of free will. At least, I don’t remember any examples in scripture of angels having a negotiation with a human outside the intended task assigned by, well, that is the question, who sends them: God? Jesus?

Angel of the Lord by Bill Osborne

Angel of the Lord by Bill Osborne

In the Old Testament, the term for angel(s) is malakh (or malach) and malakim for plural. The word also means messenger or ambassador, although a hierarchy appears in Judaisms angels that is not as prevalent in the New Testament. In fact, there is a reference to “angel of the Lord” that seems to be more deity than angel and in many circles, some have claimed it was an early representation of the Christ. Of course, no way to validate that, not really. In the Old Testament, these angels are referred to as masculine in gender. A summary discussion of the many angel roles in Jewish history is on Wikipedia.

In the New Testament, the hierarchies seem to be delineated by arenas of responsibility and strongholds or spheres of influence. I turned to Wikipedia for this review as well. It’s all more than I can relate here or want to.

Angels of Peace by Marlina Vera

Angels of Peace by Marlina Vera

So, let’s return to our original story: an angel appears to the shepherds, gives the “down-low” on the birth of the Messiah and where to find him. Then, it goes from one angel to a multitude. What would that look like? I can’t really imagine it or perhaps, whatever I do see in my mind is proscribed by the various artist renderings of the “Angels we have hard on high” variety.

I’ve been watching consecutive seasons of Dr. Who starting back about five years ago. In so many of the episodes, alien vessels appear in the sky, sometimes huge, sometimes fast and small, sometimes pointy crystals, and sometimes dark and forbidding. But in all cases, people run out of their houses and gape, looking up. Who else saw the multitude that night? If they really filled the sky, then there were other witnesses. Would they have explained it all away the next day?

I’m also reading a new book by Mitch Albom, The First Phone Call from Heaven. The reactions of people are fascinating, from disbelief to total belief to manipulation of the situation for profit. People are funny in the face of things they don’t understand. Even messengers from heaven.

crying angelI wonder. Have I seen angels, really and just not noticed or remembered because my logical mind could not process it? That would be a shame, to miss an event of pure wonder.

So, do I believe in angels? Sure. But I think they have a unique and limited role in the workings of reality. We are living in the age of the Christ within. Angels do not operate in that place. My faith is not extended by the presence of angels; but they would be key to unlocking my ability to see/process multi-dimensionality. They aren’t people/human and don’t look like them. imho.

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shepherdsHow many of us know a shepherd. Honestly? At best I may have met a 4-H person at the Farm Fair. Oh, and one of my library colleagues used to raise a few sheep for the wool which she sheared and spun and created beautiful things. But she wasn’t exactly Little Bo Peep. And although nativity story shepherds have been romanticized, the truth is they were on some of the lowest rungs of the ladder. They were a necessity for the economy, the protection of the sheep, but their jobs were B-O-R-I-N-G. In modern day, I might compare them to a rent-a-cop on the graveyard shift of a storage unit.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. . . . When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. [Luke 2:8-9, 15-16, NIV]

I’ll look into angels tomorrow but for now, let’s look at shepherds. Back in the day, the shepherd metaphor was a good one. The Greek word poimēn word means herdsman or shepherd, but even then, it was seen metaphorically, the one who watches over the flock, the one who protects the herd from outside danger, the one who seeks for lost ones, the one who heals the sick. For these reasons, many have compared shepherds to pastors in a church. And certainly, even Jesus himself, allowed this comparison [John 10:14-16].

What’s funny about shepherds to me is that despite their humble station, the critters they guarded appeared to be quite stupid and over the years, and this has stuck. Despite some contrary information in recent years about sheep being able to recognize faces of other sheep and human caretakers, build relationships, and possibly know how to eat certain plants to make themselves feel better. But mostly, we find sheep to have such a strong flocking instinct and “follower” genes that they will do themselves harm based on who they follow. That metaphor has never been complimentary to the church or people who follow leaders blindly.

But no matter how much we imagine this shepherd/flock relationship, it’s not really in our modern ken or culture. We don’t have a modern counterpart to the stinky, smelly sheep workers who were more comfortable alone with their animals than they were with other people. They were undoubtedly loners and nomadic by nature. They often endured taunts for unappealing acts with their ewes. Was it true? I really don’t know. And yet, these most lowly of men were, according to the story, visited by angels in such a large number that many shepherds (scattered over the fields) saw the spectacle and responded.

It is so often the case that the poor and “least of these” type folks get the message. They have nothing to lose, having little to begin with. The grassroots campaign for the Christ began with them. Come see–go tell. The Messiah has come.

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angelic protectionFor 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.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent. [Psalm 91:11-13]

When I was planning a Lenten devotion series for my church along with my daily responses to the selected scriptures, I accidentally switched the weeks. As a result, the theme of “My God, My Protector” ended up now instead of week two. Funny, I don’t know how it has worked out for anyone else, but this is the week I have needed confirmation of God’s loving protection more than ever.

I am feeling so tenuous and unsure of myself. Every task feels gargantuan and I am unable to get anything done on time, with hours and days racing by with no benchmarks. I guess some of these feelings might be as a result of my previous commitment to the peeling away of outer self and exposing of inner self. In theory alone, it’s a dangerous possibility; but this chaotic reality is unexpected. And why? For this very reason: I am not familiar with this person, this tremor, this confusing cacophony of feelings and thoughts.

So often, I am the bull in a china shop, I plunge into tasks with no subtlety whatsoever and simply trust my knowledge and instincts. But these days, I am on tiptoe, softly treading, unsure of my steps, unsure of the surroundings, unsure of my choices. Everything looks and feels peculiar.

Another devotional book I have been following this season is A Day in Your Presence: A 40-day journey in the company of Francis of Assisi compiled by David Hazard. It’s an old book and a series from the early 90’s, but the entries are very short and hit directly to the matter at hand. Then, in the midst of this study, the new Pope takes on the name of Saint Francis. Why did his choice strike such a chord? I don’t really know; it’s not like I’m Catholic, and yet, the synchronicity of it gave me pause. Something is happening: like a secret revolution.

God is speaking to his people about the Way again. And it’s not big and dramatic and full of signs and wonders. It’s a quiet revolution of the heart. But in that kind of change, it’s important to surrender to the protection of the Holy Spirit. It’s important to trust God in the midst of change. I ask now that God send those angelic messengers to hold me close and prick my spirit to submit to the Presence within.

Amen. Selah (pause and calmly think of that). Amen.

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Lot Fleeing Sodom
by Benjamin West c.1810

When Lot and Abraham’s households parted, Lot chose the lush land and the river plain that included five cities, one of which was Sodom. When the angels went to witness the “abominations”in that city, they had a first-hand encounter at the house of Lot where they were threatened with gang rape. Gadzooks! Wouldn’t this experience be enough to flee the city even without the threat of imminent destruction?

Genesis 19:15-17a
 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he [Lot] hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back . . .

Had Lot become complacent about the activities in his city? Had he lost sight of right and wrong and oblivious to the sin around him?

According to the story, in the night, his house was surrounded by ALL the men of the city (even if only a handful had been there, the story is horrific), and these were men who were sexually charged and blindly so. I understand that some people have sex with one another in a kind of cannibalistic way, wanting to “take in” the characteristics of the other, to be one with the beauty or success or talent. I can well imagine somehow that the “angels” might have been desirable in this way, in their “wonder.” I can even imagine them as “light” in the dark, illuminated from within.

But whether this is true or not, Lot refused the crowd and offered his virgin daughters. I have never understood how that was possible. How could a father offer his own girls to a gang? But, now I conjecture tat he was mocking the men outside for he knew they had no interest in women because the crowd’s reaction to his suggestion was indignation as though Lot was judging them. All very odd.

The story gets more “supernatural” when the angels blind the crowd which then protects the house from entry. The tale sounds like something out of the movies or Dr. Who. What is the point? The Genesis story hadn’t had a miracle on this order for several generations. Why now?

And then, after all this, Lot hesitates about leaving the city. Doh! (as Homer Simpson would say).

It’s so easy to get caught up in these Bible stories and wonder what is God doing? But the stories are really about God more than they are about Human. Ever since Adam, we should know, mistakes were made every day. Just like us. Biblical scholar, Andrew Whyte wrote: “Lot is the father of all those men whose righteous souls are vexed with the life they are leading, but who keep on enduring the vexation.”

There is only this then: God saves Human from destruction by grace, not because of worthiness. Lot was dragged out of the city even after he hesitated (more than likely, he had invested his wealth in the city), and it’s even possible that he didn’t understand this action at the time as “saving him” since he lost everything except for his life and the lives of his two daughters. It was a close save.

And yet, it was a second chance, or perhaps a third chance or a fourth chance to enter into a God covenant, to turn a life over to God. This particular chance appears to be as a result of Abraham’s prayers (negotiations) with God.

I try to remind myself daily: there is no one who cannot be saved. I think on this a great deal since I was one of those, I was in the crowd of Sodom as a young woman living in New York City. There was no reason for God to pull me out of the City. I had not earned it. My transformation came by grace, despite my hesitations and pre-conceived ideas of what it meant to follow Christ. I was a close call too.

And God’s grace continues still. Thanks be to God.

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photograph by Angelica Cotos

Whether it’s angels, prophets, or the “son of man” speaking to a human, at least seventy times in scripture, they each instruct people not to fear. A clue: their appearances and proximity must be downright terrifying, and I infer, equally hard for the human to describe or process. What is happening to me?

Revelation 1:17-18
When I [John] saw him [“someone like a son of man”], I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

God is so different from us and even Jesus, who walked as human among us for those short 30 +/- years, altered after his resurrection. Oh, I know, most paintings or prints of his resurrected self show him looking pretty normal, but I’m thinking that normality was only during his 40 days on earth before he finally ascended [see Acts 1:3]. After that, I think he went on to a different manifestation, perhaps more like his transfiguration on the high mountain with Peter, John & James [Matt 17:1-13 & Mark 9:2-13]. Here is a whisper of the brilliance and light, power and energy, the “otherness” of the Christ.

Years ago, I used to joke with my husband that I wouldn’t go on a mission trip to some remote or dangerous place unless Jesus sat on my bed and told me to go. It was a silly way to insist that mission work was not for me. Eventually, I did travel to Africa and I’m grateful Jesus didn’t have to go to one of those extremes to get my “buy-in.”

Transfigured appearances of the Christ are significant. Anyone who has had a supernatural experience should know. And I’m guessing the phenomenon would be no less terrifying to us today. I would have strong doubts of any story was told otherwise. God light encompasses and penetrates the soul.

When John heard a voice and turned to look at its source (verses 12-16), he describes what he saw as best he could: 7 lampstands, “someone like a son of man” (which I interpret to mean that he looked human-like but not completely) who appeared to be dressed in white with blazing eyes, glowing feet and a voice that sounded like rushing waters (very loud, in case you haven’t stood by a mountain stream lately). John lost all composure and collapsed to the ground. Would I do any better?

And yet, this bright one, touched John and spoke, “Do not be afraid.” Everything John saw and felt gave him fear. It was all outside his experience; it made the mountaintop transfiguration seem like nothing.

John also described a two-edged sword coming out of the Christ’s mouth. There is nothing appealing to me about an image like that. I have seen artists depict this sword and it gives me the creeps. As I ponder the idea of a two-edged sword that cuts through anything and everything, back and forth, one swath at a time, I imagine, instead, John experiencing the truth of his life uncovered and revealed. Whatever the self-deceptions had been were exposed. The sword, the breath, the light, cuts away the dross.

And perhaps, then, the fear is not just from the presence of a holy God but from the impact that holiness has on us. The bonus is that Christ embraces us all the same.

The mystery of the sacrifice, once and for all, allows us into the Presence. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit recognizes God and vice versa.

Do not be afraid of the two-edged sword and its revelations. Do not be afraid of the Light that illuminates us both within and without. Do not be afraid of Spirit that transfigures us. Selah.

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I wonder if I would be a nicer person if I honestly considered that the person driving that car that just cut me off or the person who insisted on paying with coins in the checkout line or the huge person who just sat in front of me at the movies was an angel?

Hebrews 13:2
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

All right, I know that’s far-fetched, but isn’t it unfortunate in our current age that strangers equal danger? All children are told to avoid them; women fear them in parking lots while men suspect nefariousness or come-ons. Most strangers are wearing black hats.

And of course, I understand that “stranger danger” is very real, but have we overdone it? Have we extended this assumption to regular people who might be visiting from out of town or drop by our church one Sunday or just want to help with directions–have we demonized them all?

I don’t know the answer.

We have a family friend who is very quick to speak to strangers. He usually feels led of God and because of that, he has no fear. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and something terrible to happen, bu nothing has endangered him in the last ten or twenty years (both in the U.S. and abroad). On his way to visit us (driving up from Georgia with another friend), they picked up a hitchhiker (as is his custom). They talked at length and as he got closer to our home, he telephoned ahead and said we would have an extra guest.

When I found out it was a young man, generally high on something and recently out of jail, my heart skipped a beat. All I could envision was a complete takeover at knife point. My fears were over the top, but for safety’s sake, I did insist that they all crash in our basement guest room.

The boy was not an angel but he was in need and in the end, the two friends took him all the way to New York and got him connected with Dave Wilkerson’s ministry.

I am embarrassed that I was so afraid. I will never be like my global traveling missionary, but I do think I could be generous with my eyes, my voice, and my mind. I could be more interested in the stranger. I could be kind. I could be willing to help.

Something to think about.

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Two Angels by Peter Shor

Part of the mystery of God’s plan for the Messiah was that he would enter human life fully, and although he would be restored to that greater place in the Kingdom, he would first live among us, that life lower than the angels, yet full of potential for kingdom living.

Hebrews 2:5, 7-8a
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.
“You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” [Psalm 8:5-6]

Jesus spent his short but intense ministry doing everything he could to explain, describe, and illustrate the mystery of living and loving in the kingdom of heaven on earth. Undoubtedly, if all else fails, once we let go of our mortal bodies, a fuller understanding of heaven will manifest. And yet, I have to agree with Rob Bell in his latest book, Love Wins, that we are missing the opportunity of our lifetimes: to experience heaven now, to be fully present and responsive to the Holy Spirit now, and thereby, “draw all men [and women] unto Him” [John 12:32]

Currently, I am still reading Sun Stand Still by Stephen Furtick and was caught off guard by another aspect of this idea (which he has reworked from A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy), that our view of God drives how we live out our faith. If our God view is that of a disciplinarian, then we will work hard to “perform” well for God. If God is a dictator, then we’ll limit our actions to what we believe God allows. If God is loving and kind, then we will live freely and in confidence that we can make mistakes. “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” [A. W. Tozer]

If it’s true that God provided a Redeemer, a Messiah, to help all human beings “start over” and establish direct and intimate relations with God, the supreme and sovereign One God, then why bother? What are we supposed to be doing with this renewed relationship? Is it just a personal escape from the fires of Hell or are we supposed to be living out our lives more like the Christ?

We are still “lower than the angels” but I do believe that we are called to be higher, blessed and reunited through our life with the Holy Spirit.

How many times did Jesus chastise his own disciples for their “lack of faith?” [Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 16:8, to name a few]

“Whoever finds his [lower] life will lose it [the higher life], and whoever loses his [lower] life on My account will find it [the higher life].” [Matthew 10:39, Amplified]

What might that look like today?

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