Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ascension Thursday

Here in Lancaster County, we are familiar with Ascension Thursday, which is celebrated by many faith communities among us exactly 40 days after Easter Sunday each year. We look around and find businesses closed and Amish buggies on the move all around our area, going to various services and gatherings to remember this spiritual event. What is it really all about?

The Ascension is a redemptive event of incredibly profound importance. This amazing event marks the moment of Jesus Christ's highest point of exaltation prior to His visible and physical return as glorious reigning King over all the material and spiritual omniverse. It is in the Ascension that Christ Jesus re-entered into His glorious spiritual dominion once again.

Jesus described His departure from this earth as being better for us than His continuing physical presence among His disciples. In ascending, God the Son would both rule and abide internally within every one of His true followers with His Father God, through the outpoured third Person of the Triune Godhead, the Holy Spirit of God, Who would be sent forth within days of Jesus’ Ascension.

When Jesus first announced His departure to the disciples, they were saddened by the news, not understanding and only recognizing Him in complete humanity He shares with all of us. However, in the actual experience of Jesus’ Ascension, they came to realize the amazing significance of this great event.

Luke records the actual circumstance of the Ascension for us:

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." (ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 1:9-11)

In these few Biblical texts, we are given the bare outline of this astounding experience, which is attested to have been seen by the Eleven remaining apostles in Luke 24.As we look at these verses of Scripture, we notice that Jesus departed in a cloud. This is probably a reference to the Shekinah, the cloud of God's glory, which had accompanied the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness at the time of the Exodus, and enveloped Solomon’s Temple at its dedication.

The Shekinah exceeds in radiance any ordinary cloud. It is the visible manifestation of God's radiating glory. Therefore, the manner of Jesus' departure was not at all ordinary. It was a moment of remarkably ineffable splendor.

To ascend means "to go up" or "to rise." However, when the term Ascension is used with respect to Jesus Christ, it has a deeper, richer, and more specific meaning. Jesus' Ascension is absolutely unique. It goes beyond Enoch being taken directly into heaven or the departure of Elijah in a chariot of fire. Jesus' Ascension refers to His going to the uniquely special divine place for the singular special purpose of His ongoing intercession for His flock, His peculiar people, His royal nation of born of the Spirit children!

The Bible helps us to understand the interaction between Jesus and His Heavenly Father God, through the Kingly picture of Jesus being enthroned at His Father's right hand. This is an anthropomorphic picture of Jesus returning to the fullness of exaltation sharing again the magnificent splendor of His Father and the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Revelation, Chapter 5, Jesus’ return to the Father is heralded in a deeply worshipful, visionary manner:

And I saw lying on the open hand of Him Who was seated on the throne a scroll (book) written within and on the back, closed and sealed with seven seals;And I saw a strong angel announcing in a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the scroll? And [who is entitled and deserves and is morally fit] to break its seals?And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth [in the realm of the dead, Hades] was able to open the scroll or to take a [single] look at its contents.And I wept audibly and bitterly because no one was found fit to open the scroll or to inspect it.Then one of the elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin] said to me, Stop weeping! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root (Source) of David, has won (has overcome and conquered)! He can open the scroll and break its seven seals!And there between the throne and the four living creatures (beings) and among the elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin] I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God [the sevenfold Holy Spirit] Who have been sent [on duty far and wide] into all the earth.He then went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him Who sat on the throne.And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin] prostrated themselves before the Lamb. Each was holding a harp (lute or guitar), and they had golden bowls full of incense (fragrant spices and gums for burning), which are the prayers of God’s people (the saints).And [now] they sing a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the scroll and to break the seals that are on it, for You were slain (sacrificed), and with Your blood You purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation.10 And You have made them a kingdom (royal race) and priests to our God, and they shall reign [as kings] over the earth! 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voices of many angels on every side of the throne and of the living creatures and the elders [[f]of the heavenly Sanhedrin], and they numbered ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands,12 Saying in a loud voice, Deserving is the Lamb, Who was sacrificed, to receive all the power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and majesty (glory, splendor) and blessing! 13 And I heard every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth [in Hades, the place of departed spirits] and on the sea and all that is in it, crying out together, To Him Who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb be ascribed the blessing and the honor and the majesty (glory, splendor) and the power (might and dominion) forever and ever (through the eternities of the eternities)! 14 Then the four living creatures (beings) said, Amen (so be it)! And the elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin] prostrated themselves and worshiped Him Who lives forever and ever.

Jesus’ ascent to this completed place of universally exclaimed exaltation, followed after completion of His eternally chosen descent into humiliation in His incarnation as a human being. This state of humiliation, from Jesus’ miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, to His impeccable, sinless life for 33 years, to His powerful ministry of compassion and redemption, to His Passion, was the culmination of God’s eternal plan of salvation for humanity.

In His going to a shamelessly contrived trial, to a shameful crucifixion tree, to a shadowy cavern-like tomb, to Sheol’s cold terrors, to showing complete triumph, Jesus emerged as total Victor, rising out from the depths of the lower regions of the earth. After Jesus’ resurrection, His appearances to so many in the forty days that followed, with His teaching, instruction, and commands to His disciples in a variety of places and at various times, to as many as 500 at once, were all  infallible evidences of His rising again. (1 CORINTHIANS 15)

In returning again to His proper seat of absolute cosmic authority, as the victorious Messiah ascended through the heavens.(i.e., angelic levels of the Gnostics or the seven heavens of the rabbis, - 1 PETER 3:22; EPHESIANS 4:9).  II Enoch 7:1-5 also says that the fallen angels are imprisoned in the second heaven. Jesus, by this very act of ascending, announced His victory over all the angelic realms, as He lifted above and beyond all other realms and dominions to the ultimate pinnacle of all that is, standing astride all the created order, both material and spiritual. (i.e., beyond every possible spiritual opposition, cf. the Jerome Bible Commentary, p. 367)

Once and for all exalted above and beyond all heavenly realms, Jesus entered again to His place exalted over the heavens, for His coronation, His confirmation as the eternal King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In this current age, with Jesus ascended beyond heaven for His coronation as King of Kings, this new reality has been Biblically expressed as, Jesus being seated at the right hand of God.

This Scripture picture of Jesus at the right hand of God represents the seat of authority. From this position Jesus rules, administrates His kingdom, and presides as the ultimate Judge of heaven and earth. At the right hand of the Father, Jesus is seated as the Head of His body, the church.

Jesus’ entrance was not in the same state as His pre-incarnate existence as the Logos Word, God the Son, but instead both then and forever, as the Theanthropos. (the God Man, with a human nature and body in eternal hypostatic union with His divine nature as the Second Person of the Triune Godhead)

As the eternal divine/human God Man, Jesus also ascended to enter the heavenly Holy of Holies to continue His work, as our great High Priest, representing redeemed humanity before the Father as One of us. Jesus has remained both in heaven, embodying fully and eternally all of the indwelling Deity or Godhead, while simultaneously filling the entire universe with Himself! (EPHESIANS 4:1-10, COLOSSIANS 2:9-10)

As we focus in on Ephesians 4:10, which is translated as, “He Who descended is the [very] same as He Who also has ascended high above all the heavens, that He [His presence] might fill all things (the whole universe, from the lowest to the highest),” we come into a sense of both the intensity and immensity of Paul’s revelatory insights into the true deity of Jesus. Although the apostle John’s Revelation is filled with amazing imagery, Paul’s declaration in this text conceptualizes and communicates the fullest sphere of divine authority that Jesus wields over all things, as well as expressing His divine attributes as God the Son, Second Person of the Godhead.

In heaven, during this present Church Age, when the dead exist in a spiritual Intermediate State, Jesus reigns as King and intercedes for us as our High Priest, until He returns to earth in His appearing or Parousia. Jesus’ filling the entire universe with Himself, is a mystery that can only be seen dimly by our limited understandings, but has special qualities that we can meditate upon and be edified by.

The question that was considered by scholars of the Reformation period, was whether this statement included Jesus’ human nature as well. Lutheran scholastics gave their firm affirmation to this understanding, linking it with their view of Holy Communion and the doctrine of consubtantiation, which focuses on the “real Presence” of Jesus as,"truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms of,” the consecrated bread and wine of Lord’s Supper.

The Swiss Reformers, following Calvin, who strongly proclaim that Jesus’ human nature is inexorably connected to His physical Presence in heavenly realms, which His followers commune with through faith, receiving Him into themselves, by His emanating power dynamically, or by the grace of the Holy Spirit pneumatically, in the individual believer partaking of Communion.

From His position of ascended authority, Jesus has poured out His Spirit upon the church, and this outpouring is intimately connected to His omnipresent filling of all things. John Calvin remarked, “Being raised to heaven, he withdrew his bodily presence from our sight, not that he might cease to be with his followers, who are still pilgrims on the earth, but that he might rule both heaven and earth more immediately by his power.”

In this position, Jesus' authority and governmental jurisdiction and His administration also extend beyond the sphere of His church, to embrace the continued upholding of entire multi-verse, and the destiny of every nation and person in the whole world. (HEBREWS 1 )

Through these lines of heavenly authority, church and state may be distinguished within Jesus' domain, yet they are never separated or divorced, as He guides the eternal destiny of billions of humans acting freely in their own choices, to the ultimate outcome. His authority extends over all spheres of willful actions, both by human beings as individuals and a groups, governments, and societies, and all spiritual dominions, whether elect angelic beings or fallen.

All earthly rulers are accountable to Him and will be judged by Him in His office as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Everyone in heaven and on earth is called by God to reverence Jesus' majesty, to be ruled by His hand, to do Him proper homage, and to submit to His power, to the glory of God the Father. (PHILIPPIANS 2)

Everyone will ultimately stand before Him as He sits in final judgment of both those living at the time of His Second Coming, and all those who have ever lived on the earth as sentient beings, as well as all of the angelic orders of creation. Jesus has the authority to pour out His Holy Spirit upon His church, His “ecclesia or “called – out ones.”

Jesus did not pour out the Spirit until He was first seated at the right hand of His Father God, as this event was another shared work of the Trinity, just as each other salvific milestone was integral to the entire Godhead’s prerogative and purpose in redeeming humanity. Although sharing fully with the Father and Son in the divine Essence, the Holy Spirit has embraced from all eternity His ministry as “the One like Jesus, called alongside to help,” in subordination to the Father and the Son.

It is the Father through the Son, Who together sent Him to apply Jesus Christ's self-sacrificing work of salvation to all of Jesus’ followers, with holy enabling, internal energizing, and extraordinary empowerment, available in  every place and in every time until the Redeemer’s visible, physical return to earth. While seated at the right hand of God, Jesus not only exercises His role as King of Kings, He also fulfills the role of eternal cosmic Judge.

Jesus is Judge over all nations and all people and all spiritual dominions, principalities, powers, rulers and minions. Although Jesus rules as our Judge, He has also been appointed by the Father to be our advocate. He is our defense attorney. At the last judgment our court-appointed defense lawyer will be the presiding Judge over all.

A foretaste of Jesus' compassionate and Personal intercession on behalf of saints can be seen in Luke’s recording of the martyrdom of Stephen, who was the first to die for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, after Jesus Himself:

But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look!

I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (ACTS 7:55-56)

May we each have the blessing of Stephen, to give our all in this life to the very end, knowing that Jesus awaits us with His arms wide open to us, His nail-scarred hands reaching out to receive us!

Neil Uniacke, Executive Director

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Lost Son

Jesus’ parable of the lost son in Luke 15 is one of my favorites and speaks to me of the deep love of the Father as he waited for his lost son to return home. About two years ago I counseled a young man who, in many ways, was like this lost son. Jeff (not his real name), called me because he was in trouble with the police for having crossed sexual boundaries with an underage young woman. Jeff actually was arrested and served a year in prison for the numerous offenses he pleaded guilty to; I counseled him in prison weekly for nearly a year. One of Jeff’s homework assignments was to write his own version of “The Lost Son” and share it with me. I am sharing it with you today. Names and some references have been changed to protect Jeff’s identity.

*******                                      *******                                      *******                          *******

I was a happy young boy growing up with my parents on the Georgia farm, but then I started the transition for boyhood to adulthood. I no longer liked what my parents were doing for me; I wanted to live on my own and have fun. I was convinced that I knew more than they and that the spiritual atmosphere of my home was keeping me from having a good time and was keeping me from becoming successful in life.
I started partying and hanging out with all the wrong people in my Georgia community. My parents were worried sick and so they asked me if I would want to move to Pennsylvania where some of my parents’ relatives lived. At first I didn’t want to, but then I thought I might have more freedom in Pennsylvania and be able to live it up more, so I agreed to move. Luke 15:13 says the conceited young man took off for a distant country, and Lancaster County in Pennsylvania was my distant country.
This lost son (me), wanted to “sow his wild oats” – he wanted to have a “fling.” I had not yet learned that one of God’s unchangeable laws it that we reap what we sow. I was attracted by the allurements of the world and I misused my money, in other words, I had my fling; I invested my life in sinful pleasures. I believed that to be happy one must indulge in the pleasures of the world and really live it up! So I partied hard and got drunk every weekend. I bought my first car and wasted my money and also started going out with a young woman who was way too young for me. I crossed sexual boundaries with her and then one night we were caught by the police.
The arrest made me understand that I had reached the end of my out-of-control road. I had run against a wall, so to speak; as it was with the lost son in Luke 15, I had “run out of money.” My “friends” all left me and I didn’t know what to do. I actually thought about taking my own life, but something kept me from doing that.

The police came to my house one day and took me to prison. I thought my charges would go away and I would be free, but instead, I found myself in the worst kind of bondage. Such is the power of sin; it usually starts off as a small, seemingly innocent thing, but continues to grow. I squandered my money, lost my “inheritance,” wasted all the spiritual things I had learned, and now I found myself in prison. I was in a deep pit emotionally, and really depressed. The four walls of my prison cell made me sick. This is the picture of the condition of every sinful person. Sin may satisfy for a short time, but soon brings one to a place of unhappiness and disappointment.

I sat in prison and began to think of my home and my parents in Georgia, and how good I had it there. I asked one of the prison guards for a Bible and began reading. My spiritual values had been twisted and lost by my months of rebellion and wild living, but now I was beginning to see life more clearly, from a spiritual point of view. I began to realize that not only had I done evil things, but I had sinned against God and my family, and I had also, through my immoral actions, harmed another person and her family.

Luke 15:17 says “he came to himself” – that is, he reflected on what had happened since he left home; this is exactly what I was doing now. I remembered the days of my childhood when I used to play with my older brother; I remembered the smell of the good old farm, and the bedtime prayers my parents taught me when I was a little boy. God permits hardship and “famine” to come into our lives in order to cause us to think on what we really have or have had in life.

These thoughts brightened into a resolution: I would return to God. That night I got down on my knees in my cell, I cried and prayed, and told God I had sinned and wanted to come back to him. I confessed all my sin to God and asked for his forgiveness and began to feel the weight of my sin lift from off my shoulders.

In that same spirit of confession and repentance I wrote numerous letters to people I had wronged and told them of the change in my life, confessed my sin to them, and asked their forgiveness. I was also able to talk with my parents on the phone and confess to them. To my astonishment, everyone rejoiced when they read the letters I had sent them and they wrote back to me and assured me I was forgiven. My father also traveled the 1000-plus miles just to see me; when we met in the prison Dad greeted me with open arms, a kiss, and crying at the same time! I will never forget his words of forgiveness to me.

I am still in prison, but I have made a 180 degree change and am looking forward to a new life when I get out in a few months. I will always remember, with gratitude, this picture in Luke 15 of God as a loving Father who delights in forgiving his lost children who return to him. He longs to see people lay aside their sinful lifestyle and come to repentance. The road back home for me was hard and humbling and required confession and repentance, but God is waiting to forgive anyone who comes to him! I also learned that the true Christian brother/sister rejoices when a lost son/daughter repents; he/she will never look coldly on some poor sinner who limps back to Father God!

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Jeff was released from prison in May 2013. He is now living with family relatives in central Pennsylvania and doing well.

Submitted by Tom Horst
Marriage and Family Therapist

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In Honor of Mothers

In honor to and the memory of all mothers…
What is a Mother?
It takes a Mother's Love
to make a house a home,
A place to be remembered
no matter where we roam.
It take a Mother's Patience,
to bring a child up right,
And her Courage and her Cheerfulness
to make a dark day bright.
It takes a Mother's Thoughtfulness
to mend the heart's deep "hurts,"
And her Skill and her Endurance
to mend little socks and shirts.
It takes a Mother's Kindness
to forgive us when we err,
To sympathize in trouble
and bow her head in prayer.
It takes a Mother's Wisdom
to recognize our needs
And to give us reassurance
by her loving words and deeds.
It takes a Mother's Endless Faith,
her Confidence and Trust
To guide us through the pitfalls
of selfishness and lust.
And that is why in all this world
there could not be another
Who could fulfill God's purpose
as completely as a MOTHER!
Helen Steiner Rice
Submitted by: Ann L. Gantt, Ph.D., LCSW, NEW HOPE counselor


Monday, May 5, 2014


I have a Peanuts poster in my office that says, "Attitude is Contagious...Is yours worth Catching?" Some of the teenagers that come in my office have remarked that it is in their guidance counselor's office at school. Questions are asked about what the poster means. Have we become so apathetic that we don't understand the meaning of words?

According to Webster's American English Dictionary, attitude means an opinion or mood. As a counselor, I am to have a servant's attitude, one of humbleness and meekness and non-judgmental.

Contagious means transmittable or infectious. Other people will be affected by my behavior and attitude. As God's servant is my behavior Christ-like or do I need to have an "attitude adjustment"? The Bible has many verses that deal with all kinds of attitudes from bitterness and gloom to having a new and right spirit. We get so caught up in everything going on around us that we forget that others are watching our behavior which includes our attitude.

So we need to be reminded and ask ourselves, "is my attitude worth catching"?

Elaine Campbell, MA, MHC