A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In

July 24, 2017

The Importance Of Discernment: Who Do We Believe?

     I know for a fact that we are not the first Christians who have faced a multitude of different teachings about Jesus, and have struggled with whose teachings to follow.  All we have to do is look at the Early Church and we can see the problems that arose -- problems not unlike those we face today.
     In Scripture, we can see an explosion of faith after the experience at Pentecost in the Book of Acts.  Important Christian doctrines were established, such as the Incarnation of the Son of God (fully Deity and fully man); His death, burial, and resurrection; man's fallen nature and his need of a Savior; and Salvation is by God's grace through our faith in Jesus, just to name a few of the foundational doctrines.  We see the Gospel Message [of the Kingdom] taken to distant lands, as the Apostles carried out their commission from Jesus to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and preach that Kingdom Message.
     But we can see that things must have become distorted as the decades and centuries passed, because the Church today doesn't teach that full Gospel; it has been reduced to the "Gospel of Salvation" alone.  A fleeting glance at history shows us some of the problems that began arising in the Church, especially after the deaths of the Apostles and the martyrdom of Paul.
     It isn't hard to imagine the early Christians meeting together for worship, and someone stepping forward to give their oral testimony of how they had heard an Apostle or other eyewitness tell of hearing the Lord say this or that. Or how they had seen the Lord heal the sick and give sight to the blind. Persecution of the new Christian faith soon thinned out these credible eyewitnesses, so that it wasn't long before very few persons remained who could give firsthand testimony regarding the teaching and activities of the Lord.
     Fortunately for us, the Synoptic Gospels were soon written, verifying those oral testimonies and preserving them for posterity.  But before we ascertain that the First Century Church was all sunshine and roses, we can see in Paul's writings and the epistle of James that differences of opinion and various disturbances among groups of Believers were beginning to cause dissension.  Once that first generation of actual eyewitnesses and the second and third generation of those who had known the eyewitnesses were gone, the Church became subject to teachers and theologians who applied their own personal subjectivity to the Bible, and Christians had to decide whose teachings were the most credible and true to the original teachings of Jesus.
     Nothing has changed in all these centuries.  Today we are presented with a wide range of teachings -- all purported to be in alignment with Scripture.  And as in the past centuries, we are presented with various "movements" that may or may not be in strict agreement with the Bible.  Let's face it, the modern Christian has to be serious in their discernment.  And it is not uncommon to agree with parts of a particular ministry, while having difficulty with other parts of its theology because it doesn't exactly align with Scripture.
     There is such a huge number of teachers, Bible scholars, authors, ministers, and internet personalities for us to choose from, that it can be difficult to know how reliable their teachings are.  We are rightfully concerned about being deceived; and any teacher or movement whose foundation is anti-Biblical should be dismissed. But at the same time, I have found that I can oftentimes get a nugget of Truth [from Biblical teachings] that I can apply to my theology, and then discard other parts of the message until I can study them further to see if I agree. As my husband often reminds me, "We can eat the meat and spit out the bones".
     I can understand the hesitancy to accept any part of a teaching that may have questionable doctrine.  But we must remember that even in the early Church there arose various opinions about what constituted "faith" because people misunderstood the teachings of Paul.  For Paul, the word faith meant complete reliance upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and we know that this is correct teaching. But some converts were using the word faith to mean nothing more than they were members of Christian groups, and so on.  So James, the brother of Jesus, and a leader of the Jerusalem Church, wrote his epistle to point out that Paul was speaking of "saving faith".  He wrote to clarify that faith required "doing", not just hearing.  These differing opinions did not mean that groups within the early Church discounted each other. Rather, it called for further study and clarification.
     Also, during this first Century there was a difference in how some of the Jewish Christians regarded the concept of "works".  For some it was the observance of the strict Jewish ceremonial law; while to others, it referenced charitable acts, or the fruits of Christian living.  As you can see, there were differences of opinion that resulted in different theologies, although these disparate groups all proclaimed obedience to Jesus's teachings and Christianity.
    So, how should we look upon the variety of teachings that are available to us today?  Do we submit them to a stringent test, and require that they be 100% in accordance to Scripture?  Or is it OK to extract the Biblical truth from a teaching, while discarding those ideas that we are skeptical about?  I think we can agree that it is impossible today to find any teacher that meets the standard of Jesus.
     I can only answer for myself, and tell you how I apply discernment.  I try to follow Jesus's example in Mark, Chapter 9, when the Disciples came to Him and said, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.”  And what was Jesus's reply?  “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in My name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For the one who is not against us is for us".  Jesus understood that not everyone would be part of the intimate group of His followers.  But if they did the works that He did, and credited Him [instead of themselves], then they were doing the work of the Father and advancing the Kingdom.  In effect, they were part of God's team and not Satan's -- for them, and not against them.
     And that's what I try to do.  I truly believe that God's character and knowledge are so great that He cannot download it all into one man or woman --- we are simply unable to contain the vastness of Him.  But He can impart a piece of revelation to each of us -- this man might understand repentance at a really high Kingdom level; while this woman might receive God's wisdom regarding seeing in the spirit; and this person has had God's heart revealed in the area of Deliverance in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  See what I'm saying?
      I don't think it is possible to receive all God wants us to know about Him from one person.  Yes, He has revealed Himself in the Bible, and it is up to us to seek Him through His written Word.  But I also believe that He has no problem with us sharing what we have come to know through a heart seeking Truth.  And just as Jesus said of those who were doing mighty works in His Name, we can discern whether today's teachers/scholars/authors/ministers are producing fruit for the Kingdom, and if they are, then it's safe to say they are for us, and not against us.  It is not necessary to discard the sum total of their teachings.  Use your God-given discernment, along with confirming Scripture and prayer. Then keep what has worth, and toss the rest. If you are seeking genuine Truth, the Holy Spirit within you will guide you and counsel you; He will not lead you astray.  Above all else, God isn't interested in limiting what we can know about Him, and I want all the Truth about Him I can get!

Proverbs 2:3-5    "Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God".

July 21, 2017

God, Molly & Me

     Forgive me, but this post is going to be quite personal, and in a way is a conversation I am having in my head with God.  And I want to share this experience with you because any one of you might be going through a similar scenario with a friend or family member.  And if you aren't at the moment, I want you to remember this conversation, so you can encourage others in the future.
     While on vacation last week, I received a text message regarding a young woman from our community who had been in a terrible accident.  Her name is Molly and she is a beautiful young wife and mother of a three-year-old daughter.  She and her husband were returning home from their own vacation, when Molly grew tired and climbed in the back seat to rest.  Tragically, her husband fell asleep at the wheel and hit a tree.  Both he and their daughter were buckled in; Molly was not.  She suffered a compound fracture of her right leg, and during the surgery that followed, Molly developed an embolism which traveled to her brain, and she is now in a coma.
     Mark and I received the text asking us to join with all those back home in prayer for Molly and her family.  I knew that there would be those  faithful Believers who were going to travel to the hospital to lay hands on her -- it was two hours from our little community -- and we made the decision that as we returned from our own vacation and passed near the hospital, that we would go by the ICU unit and lay hands on her, too.
    There have been small signs of hope; she opened her eyes a little bit after we approached the throne room of Heaven in boldness and confidence that we could petition God on her behalf.  There was also some slight movement which offered hope that our prayers were heard.  The opinions of the doctors and nurses have varied ... they were discouraged two days ago when we visited the hospital, and just a couple of hours ago [as I write this} the report was that she had developed shingles and no one would be allowed to visit her but family.  There was slight improvement in the swelling of her brain and the fluid in her lungs was decreasing.  I am believing that the power that was released into Molly's body by people praying and following Jesus's model of laying on hands is taking effect!
     And the fact that no one would be allowed to see her [because of the shingles] might preclude that we wouldn't be allowed to pray over her anytime soon, but that didn't keep me and my husband and our neighbor from going in the spirit and laying hands on her. And I will tell you that I felt [even at this 2-hour distance from her] something happening... my spirit was in that hospital room with Molly and I knew that God was delivering His healing power.
     The prayers will not stop, neither corporately nor individually. Mark and I approached God this morning with a heartfelt request and this is how that conversation went ... "Father, Jesus says in John, Chapter 14:  I assure you and most solemnly say to you, anyone who believes in Me [as Savior] will also do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these [in extent and outreach], because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in My name [as My representative], this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified and celebrated in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name [as My representative], I will do it.
     So, Father, we have been obedient. We have done what Jesus did, and what You ask of us [in extent and outreach] -- We have acted as Jesus's Representatives and we have laid hands on Molly to heal her.  So, now, Father, we need You to do what Your Word says -- to do what we have asked in Jesus's Name, and heal Molly -- completely and wholly.  She is a daughter of Your Kingdom and You tell us that if we believe in Your Son, our spirits are seated in the heavenly realm with Him.  So, as Molly is in Heaven, we ask that You make her here on earth --- healthy and healed.
     And, Father, we aren't going to quit asking until You deliver this promise in Your Word.  Because Jesus also tells us in Chapter 16 of John that whatever you ask the Father in My name [as My representative], He will give you. Until now you have not asked [the Father] for anything in My name; but now ask and keep on asking and you will receive, so that your joy may be full and complete. 
     Father, I am telling you now, that our joy will not be full and complete until Molly returns home, fully restored.  Molly needs You to fulfill this promise; her husband and daughter need it, and so do her parents.  But, Father, the small group of faithful servants who are stepping out in faith to be obedient to Jesus's Great Commission of healing the sick needs it, too.  Father, we need this miracle -- not as a test of Your Power -- but as validation to other doubting Christians that when we submit ourselves to Your Word, our obedience will bear fruit.  Father, we want to see You glorified and Your Son celebrated. We trust You to be faithful to our service to the Kingdom".
     As I have been sharing [with you] our conversation with God, I have received an update on Molly.  Another doctor was called in for a second opinion, and his perspective is that Molly has made "substantial strides".  Furthermore, he stated to her parents and husband [point blank] that Molly was "going to make it".  He said everyone should keep praying that she doesn't develop any blood clots, and he thought her MRI showed minimal brain damage.
     Now, I will let you decide if you think this latest turn of events has anything to do with the fervent prayers or laying on of hands.  And I know Molly is far from out of the woods.  She is still in a coma and has a long way to go.  But I believe in God's promises, and those statements that Jesus made in John 14 and 16 are hard to deny.  I fully expect to report back that Molly will soon be going home to finish out the number of days God has appointed for her.  Until then .... I go on praying and believing.

Psalm 139:5    "You [O Lord] have enclosed me behind and before, and [You have] placed Your hand upon me".  

July 18, 2017

How Fasting Changed My Life

     As I prepare to write this post, I am well aware of what the Bible tells me regarding how I am to speak of fasting.  And it is not my intent to call attention to myself by writing about my fasting experience -- that is personal between me and God.  But I want to share the results of my fast in order to encourage others to consider this practice as a means of opening revelation from God to the sincere  Believer.  Let me explain...
     I have instinctively known the importance of fasting because of its significance in the Bible.  Before Jesus began His public ministry, He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness in preparation to resist the temptations of the devil that were coming.  Remember, Jesus lived His life on earth as a man, so if fasting was a critical tool for Him in defeating the devil's schemes, then don't you think we should have it in our spiritual arsenal?
     In addition, as Jesus taught His disciples how to carry out the Commission He was assigning to them, He shared that some of satan's spirits aren't defeated except by prayer and fasting ... again showing us that fasting is a powerful spiritual weapon.
     Without sharing the details of my week-long fast, I will tell you that I approached this time of fasting as a means to achieve a spiritual breakthrough with God.  I knew of some issues that I had been struggling with; issues that I felt were keeping me from experiencing the intimacy that I so desperately desired.  The Lord spared no spiritual matter that needed addressing.  I was humbled by facing the truth of my deficiencies and inadequacies, yet also experienced the Grace of God in confronting them with a heart that sought cleansing.
     But it was the consequence of that week's fasting that I am most surprised and grateful for.  The reason that I stopped my fast at a week was because I was leaving the next day to spend several days with my family in Illinois.  And it had been nearly 10 years since I had returned to where I spent my grade school and high school years.  I am in constant touch with my brothers and sisters, and we have visited each other on vacations.  But most of my four siblings have strong ties to the state, while I do not.  And my two sisters and their husbands and children still live there, so they are the only reason that I even consider going back.  You see, when I graduated from high school, I couldn't wait to leave there -- not from any difficulties with my family, but because I instinctively felt I didn't belong there.  There was always a sort of subtle darkness or heaviness that my 17-year-old self could never explain, but I felt it nonetheless.  And I sensed it every time I have returned over the next 46 years.  I thought it was just me; that I was unfairly casting this place in an unfavorable light --- until this time.
     As I look back on the last few days, the word "amazed" doesn't even cover what the Lord has shown me.  And I believe that, because for the first time in my Christian life I had just finished a sincere and devout time of fasting, I was able to receive new revelations and a new consciousness of seeing through spiritual eyes -- something I had been unable to do in all my other return trips to my childhood home. And here is what was revealed to me... Everywhere I looked was evidence of Freemasonry: Masonic lodges every few miles; the Masonic symbol of the square and compass was displayed openly and conspicuously on government and public buildings -- even on the City Limit sign of the town I grew up in!  And when I went to visit my parents grave, I was shocked to see the immense section of the cemetery devoted to the Masons. Freemasonry was everywhere, yet I was unable to perceive it for all those years.
     Now I understood why I felt such an oppression there and knew I didn't belong.  Now I understood why I was so anxious to leave and escape to an out-of-state college.  Now I understood why the state of Illinois is bankrupt and the people seem so defeated and unhappy.  And especially sad for me, was that I could see the effect of the occult spirit of Freemasonry on my beloved nephews.  And I began to see the path that God had designed for me.  It is no coincidence that I felt I needed to leave that area at a young age. And it was now obvious why I would suffer a terrifying car accident in which I was rear-ended by what I assume was a car (all I saw was bright lights in my rearview mirror, and then something slamming into my car) and then rolling my car five times up an embankment that stood at the foot of a known Freemasonry "dark site" -- yet no one stopped to help me.  It was as if no one saw it and it happened in the spirit realm -- even though I had a totaled car to prove it, and six stitches in my scalp.  Or that years later, the subject of Freemasonry would cause a rift with a local church community because it offended some that I could personally testify that Jesus had set one woman free from the effects of Freemason oaths.
     These last few days, it has become startlingly clear to me that God truly does know all the days of our lives and what we will be faced with.  Although He has given us free will to make important decisions throughout this life, I believe He has a purpose for each of us to advance His Kingdom here on earth.  And I also believe that He knows how the Enemy is going to try to thwart our assignment.  But even more importantly to me, at this moment, is the fact that I believe that my time of fasting succeeded in opening my spiritual eyes to see "the big picture" of what has turned out to be a pretty consistent spiritual battle throughout my life.
     I'm sure there are some of you who will dismiss this as either the product of an active imagination; and even some who will discount my thoughts as unjustified vilification of Freemasonry.  But this last trip "home" was different than the other 30 or 40 times.  It was as if a veil had been lifted from my spiritual eyes and all the unanswered questions and inexplicable feelings of unease I had felt were accounted for. I now could understand why I had always felt in a funk when I was there, or sensed that family members were struggling just under the surface.
     And I am convinced that my genuine desire to get closer to God [during my fast] opened the lines of communication between Heaven and earth and I could see with a new heart and transformed mind.  Needless to say, I am grateful for this revelation, and more determined than ever to storm Heaven with prayers and intercession on behalf of my family as I continue my battle with the occult forces existing in Freemasonry.  And it goes without saying that I will continue to fast because it opens this dark realm to the Light of God's heavenly realm. Fasting pours out His revelations on me, and helps loose the power of Heaven so that His will might be done in our lives.  And, best of all, fasting allows us to partner with Him to see Him glorified in all circumstances.  So, the question is this ... Have you considered fasting?

Isaiah 58:6    "Is this not the fast which I choose, to undo the bonds of wickedness, to tear to pieces the ropes of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and break apart every [enslaving] yoke?"

July 16, 2017

Getting To Know My God

     Anyone who is truly seeking God knows that our concept of Him changes as we mature in our faith. We know all His attributes ... that He is all-knowing and all-powerful; His immutability; His holiness; that He is eternal and incomparable.  King David, Isaiah, and the Apostle Paul all declared Him to be inscrutable, unfathomable, unsearchable, and past finding out as far as understanding Him completely.  Yet He desires a personal, intimate relationship with each of us, which requires getting past all those seemingly impossible traits, right?
     So, what is He really like?  And how do we ever hope to get to know Him better?  I think that is one of the most pressing and difficult missions of our Christian life.  And I believe it takes a lifetime of devotion to the task. It requires that we continuously search the Scriptures, evaluate what the Holy Spirit reveals, and then adjust our conceptions of Him.  I am thankful each and every day that it is His desire that I seek Him and come to know Him, and that He is willing to reveal more of Himself to the faithful.  Yet I do not think it wrong to state that there will be differing opinions and conceptions as to who He really is.  But that's Ok with me.
     As I have been discussing with my amazing Christian friends, we all have our own predisposition, or "bent", as to how we perceive God.  We all have a foundation that was laid by a Sunday School teacher, a Pastor, or a particular denomination, and let's face it, our life experiences. And as we engage in edifying and encouraging conversations, those "bents" are going to become obvious as to how we see God, the Person. So coming [in unity] to a true and Biblical conception of God is not easy.  And I believe that it is absolutely essential that we maintain a reverential fear and awe towards the majesty of God, while at the same time, developing an open, friendly, and intimate relationship whereby we can ask Him anything, and expect to receive it!
     I find it quite interesting that a study out of Baylor University revealed that out of the number of Americans who believe in God, there are four different concepts of Him: the Authoritarian God; the Benevolent God; the Critical God; and the Distant God.  And all these people are reading the same Bible (or at least I hope they are reading it)! Is it because when Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the Garden (where they had personal communion with God), mankind became subject to satan's deception and we lost that true knowledge of who He is?  Do we only have bits and pieces now, and we must seek Him for more revelation before those pieces begin falling into place?
     Or, is it that as we begin to seek deep encounters with Him, we lose ourselves and are therefore able to see and know Him more clearly?  I will tell you that I am seeking a breakthrough in my relationship with my Father in Heaven. I feel that I have hit a brick wall and on the other side of that wall is more of the intimacy that I so desperately want.  I have just ended a week-long fast, and boy, did I need to deal with some issues between me and Him. And the hunger I felt in my flesh was no match for the hunger in my spirit.  Do I know Him more?  I can say that at this point, I know what He desires in me, and I am working on transforming my mind to be in sync with His.  But I will not be satisfied until I can feel my heart beating in sync with His.
     The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:17 that we know the Father through the Son.  And while I intellectually understand that, and can imagine what the Father is like through my experiences with Jesus, I am still left with this ache to know my Abba on a loving, personal level.  As a child, I knew the sound of my earthly father's footsteps, the feel of his embrace, and could recognize his voice in a crowd.  I want the same experiences with my Heavenly Father. But I also want to know and love Him as I do my husband.  I want that kind of love that is passionate and all-consuming. I want that kind of love that makes me want to be in His presence all the time; that kind of love that misses Him the minute He is out of my sight. And I want to know him completely, and for eternity. That's how much I want to know my God!
     But then I consider this, that Paul tells us in Philippians 3, that even after more than 25 years of service to the Lord, he felt he still hadn't attained perfect knowledge of Jesus, who is the image of God; and it was still his aim to know Him.  As for myself, I know that any distance I feel from God is laid at my feet, not His.  He is always seeking relationship with me.  It is up to me to be deliberate in my efforts to stay close to Him and grow more intimate. Just like any relationship, you have to work at it! I must not think I can divide my attention between the world and Him, and still maintain that intimacy and devotion.  Our relationship must be one of love and trust.  There must be no doubt where my loyalty and heart lie.
     So it is paramount that I never become content within my relationship with God!  There is always more of Him to know and experience.  I want to keep that passion alive, and never take His love for granted. To that end, one of the things the Holy Spirit has been showing me is the danger of complacency; a feeling of uncritical satisfaction with myself and my journey of faith. I know that this entire journey is about knowing Him more and more, and I want every step to bring me into closer proximity of Him.  I want to see His Face, hear His Voice, be in His Presence.
     And, so, I continue to cry out, and pray, and search for Him in His Word.  In a way, it is akin to one of my earliest memories as a child ... of sitting on the front steps of our house, waiting to see my Dad walking home from the high school where he taught.  My mother would put a clean dress on me, comb my hair, and tell me to wait until I could see him.  Even these long years later, I can remember the expectancy and the excitement, as I waited for that first glimpse of him, and when my childlike discernment was sure it was him, I flew off those steps and ran to him as fast as my little legs could carry me.  I can still see his smile of delight as he saw me running towards him, and feel the love that emanated from him as he held me tightly to his chest, and whispered in my ear that "Daddy loves you".  That memory has stayed alive in my heart for over half a century.  I know it is a mirror image of how my Abba in Heaven feels about me.  And isn't that what we are all searching for in our relationship with Him?  May your heart's desire to truly know Him be realized today and every day until we see Him in His Glory!

Psalm 42:1-2     As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.


July 13, 2017

I Finally Understand The Beatitudes!

    Are you like me ... Have you spent years in the Church and never received an explanation that made sense of what Jesus was trying to say in the Beatitudes?  Maybe, there are those of you who are smarter than me, but I don't mind saying that I have struggled with fully comprehending their significance. I mean, I have heard countless expositories on this section of His Sermon on the Mount, and I understand that He is showing us the character of citizens of His Father's Kingdom.  These are the attitudes that Christians should have.  But what does it mean to be "poor in spirit" and have the kingdom of heaven; or to be "meek" and inherit the earth?  What does it mean to "hunger and thirst" for righteousness and be satisfied; or to be "persecuted for righteousness' sake" and receive the kingdom -- all the while being blessed/happy/content to be in these circumstances?
     One well-respected commentary teaches that the poor in spirit recognize that they have no spiritual "assets." They know they are spiritually bankrupt. With the word poor, Jesus uses the more severe term for poverty. It indicates someone who must beg for whatever they have or get.  It has been taught that those who are poor in spirit, so poor they must beg, are rewarded. They receive the kingdom of heaven.  And poverty of spirit is an absolute prerequisite for receiving the kingdom of heaven, because as long as we harbor illusions about our own spiritual resources we will never receive from God what we absolutely need to be saved.  OK, I can see that, but that sounds more difficult than I think Jesus meant it to be.
     This commentary teaches that to be meek means to show willingness to submit and work under proper authority. It also shows a willingness to disregard one's own "rights" and privileges.  We can only be meek, willing to control our desire for our rights and privileges, because we are confident God watches out for us; that He will protect our cause. The promise "they shall inherit the earth" proves that God will not allow His meek ones to end up on the short end of the deal.
    I do not disagree with these interpretations, but they somehow leave me feeling ... I don't know how to express it ... a little cold in my spirit; as if they have been over-explained, if that makes any sense.  I know the Beatitudes [as a whole] are meant to convey some profound meaning of my relationship with God; an overall concept that just keeps escaping me.
     And then during a discussion between my husband and two of my dearest Christian Sisters, Mark shared with us what he had learned from listening to a lesson by Bible teacher, Chuck Missler.  And it made so much sense!  Missler teaches that in order to gain the "big picture" of what Jesus is teaching us in the Beatitudes, we must consider the order in which each characteristic appears.... we are poor in spirit; we mourn; we become meek; we hunger and thirst for righteousness; we become merciful; we gain a pure heart; we are peacemakers; we are persecuted for righteousness' sake; and finally we are reviled, persecuted, and falsely accused, with the result that we will rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven.
     When you look at the Beatitudes as a whole, and the order in which the blessed states occur you can actually see the process of our sanctification in the Lord:  We start broken (poor in spirit); have to be torn down (causing mourning) and reborn (meek and obedient).  Then we seek Him (hungering and thirsting for righteousness). This process leads us to imitate Christ (being merciful, with a pure heart, and seeking peace on earth).  But it will eventually lead to persecution and then redemption -- a full cycle from broken and sinful to righteousness.  There is an order and purpose to the Beatitudes.
     That's all I need to know, and it shows me the journey that we each take to receive our Kingdom inheritance.  I don't need a deep, Biblical exegesis.  Because, somehow, this rather simple diagram, if you will, is more profound than all the theological presentations I've heard.  It is Jesus showing me the attitudes and character I will develop as I live the Christian life through my faith in Him.  It is how God wants me to live on this earth, seen through His heavenly perspective.  I can't tell you how much more these well-known, and somewhat puzzling, verses mean to me, now! What joy we receive when the Word is taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

John 7:16   Jesus answered them by saying, "My teaching is not My own, but His who sent Me".  

July 10, 2017

The Importance of "Experiential Knowledge" To Our Faith

     I fully expect that the title [alone] of this post will result in excoriation by the Religion Police, who won't be able to get past what they think I'm going to say, and be able to read with an open mind and a willing heart to listen. That term ... "experiential knowledge" ... is most often [in the realm of religion] related to the concept of gnosis and the Gnostic teachings.  And if you know anything about the history of Christianity, Gnosticism was a pretty big challenge to the new faith founded by Christ. I would like to suggest that experiential knowledge is a concept completely within the Christian faith, and does not resemble the false Gnostic teachings at all.
     But we need to begin with an understanding of what Gnosticism is before we can look to the Bible for any evidence that experiential knowledge is different, and actually coincides with our faith.  First, the word gnosis, means "Knowledge of Spiritual mysteries".  And if you have read my last blog, then you know why this term and the Gnostic movement it spawned make Christians nervous.  According to Christianity.com, "Gnostics did not call themselves by that name and there were many variations of what we now call Gnosticism. While some forms were completely unrelated to Christianity, others considered themselves a higher type of Christian [faith]. But although Gnostic beliefs varied a good deal, we can sum up a few essential points on which all of us can agree:
•  The material world is bad, the spirit world is good. The material world is under the control of evil, ignorance or nothingness.
•  A divine spark is somehow trapped in some (but not all) humans and it alone, of all that exists in this material world, is capable of redemption.
•  Salvation is through a secret knowledge by which individuals come to know themselves, their origin and destiny.
•  Since a good God could not have created an evil world, it must have been created by an inferior, ignorant or evil god. Usually the explanation given is that the true, good God created or emanated beings (Archons) who either emanated other Archons or conjugated to produce them until a mishap by Sophia (Wisdom) led to the creation of the evil Archon who created our world and pretends to be God. He hides truth from humans, but sparks of Sophia in some humans fill them with an urge to return to the Pleroma (divine realm) where they belong".
     It is not my focus to debate Gnosticism in this blog post. In fact, these ideas had implications that could not be squared with either the Old Testament or apostolic writings, which is why early Christians rejected them -and so do I! Let me make this perfectly clear -- Gnosticism has no association to my Christian faith. BUT, I cannot ignore that term "experiential knowledge" -- which often gets confused with the principles of Gnosticism -- and I want to show you that it is mentioned in the Bible, and why it does have a connection to my faith.  Experiential knowledge is not intended to imply "secret knowledge", as some Christians suggest [and why the term is so often associated with Gnosticism].
     You know that I love to dig deep and look at the words used in the Bible in their original languages.  I think we can all agree that every true Christian yearns to know more of our God; to have more knowledge about Who He is, and His Nature and Character.  The Apostle Peter says that we can have that, in 2 Peter 1:3, His [Jesus's] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.  But guess what?  In the original Greek language of the Bible, that word "knowledge" reads like this:  through the experiential knowledge [which the believer has] of the One who called us into salvation by means of His own glory and virtue [or power].  
     So what's the difference?  Why is it important that we know that experiential knowledge is valid in a believer's life?  Experiential knowledge, in Greek, is epignosis, and if you will indulge me for a moment, let me dissect the word... In comparing epignosis [experiential knowledge] with gnosis [knowledge], the epi gives the compound word a greater strength than the simple word alone possesses.  In other words, Epignosis is the complete comprehension we gain after first knowing something. It is knowing something better and more fully than I knew it before; a more exact view of a subject as I get closer to it.
     In Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, “epignosis denotes "exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition," and is a strengthened form of gnosis, expressing a fuller or a full "knowledge," a greater participation by the "knower" in the object "known," thus more powerfully influencing him".  The New Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon says epignosis specifically refers to Christ, i.e., the true knowledge of Christ’s nature, dignity, and benefits.
     So, how is this understanding that there is a fuller knowledge of Christ [through our faith experiences] evidenced in the Bible?  In the original Greek, Paul uses the term "experiential knowledge" 15 times in his epistles.  In 2 Timothy 2:24-25, he writes, The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome ... correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a precise, experiential knowledge of the truth.
     In Philemon 6, Paul writes, And I pray that the faith you share in common with other believers may become effective in the sphere of a full and perfect experiential knowledge of every good thing in us, with a view to [the glory of] Christ.  Paul says in Ephesians 4:13, until we all attain to the unity of the Faith and of the experiential, full, and precise knowledge of the Son of God ... Other examples are Ephesians 1:10, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a lifestyle of wisdom and of revelation by means of an experiential knowledge of Him, and 1 Timothy 2:4, who desires all men to be saved and to come to an experiential knowledge of the truth. And there are many others.
     By now, it should be apparent that God desires that we come to know Him through a process of personal encounters (experiences) that result in new revelations from the Holy Spirit about the mind and character of both Christ and the Father.  Knowledge that is acquired by experience over a period of time, and from which we grow and mature into an intimate relationship with the Father, is superior to knowledge just gained, or that which is not fully realized.
     Historically, Gnostics claimed Christians were a step lower than themselves in the scale of enlightenment, and that Jesus gave secret knowledge which the uninitiated did not share.  But we can see in the Bible that the knowledge is not secret at all.  It is there for all those who seek it, and through our experiences of seeking, we hope to receive that perfect knowledge of God's Holy will and the blessings which He has bestowed [and still constantly bestows] on men through Christ.  So, I am thankful for each and every experience that brings me closer to God, and to the knowledge of His full character.

2 Peter 1:8   "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful with respect to an experiential knowledge (epignosis) of our Lord Jesus Christ".

July 6, 2017

The Fear of "Hidden Knowledge"

     If you listen very carefully, and keep your spiritual "antennae" up, you can see the latest direction that the devil is taking in keeping us Christians powerless.  I am seeing popular Christian websites condemn those Believers who are diving deep in the Word to find the "meat" of Scripture. They are hungry for a more intimate and connected relationship with God; to know Him more intently, genuinely, and powerfully.  Yet this hunger and pursuit of God -- this desire to truly "abide" in Him -- is scorned as "seeking hidden knowledge".
     That term is kind of becoming a buzz word in the attempt to warn off any Believer from seeking any knowledge of God beyond acceptable Church doctrine or man-made traditions.  If you are someone, like myself, who knows there is more to this great God we serve than what you've been taught so far, then you will probably be warned to be careful, you are straying into dangerous territory.  At the very worst, you can expect to be called a heretic, an apostate, or a false teacher.  Yet, what is so sad to me, is that my fellow Christians rarely want to listen to why I am considering something new, based on a revelation I have received concerning God's Word. They are unwilling to sit and have a thoughtful discussion, with our Bibles open, and our hearts willing to listen to each other.  It is automatically assumed that I am being deceived.
     So, I wanted to try to find [in Scripture] where this fear of being deceived originated, and why we are so distrusting of each other's faith.  The only place that I could find a warning against hidden knowledge, was in Acts 16:16, and only in the Amplified version of the Bible:  It happened that as we were on our way to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination [that is, a demonic spirit claiming to foretell the future and discover hidden knowledge], and she brought her owners a good profit by fortune-telling.  Further research told me that this "spirit of divination" was understood to be a python spirit. In Greek mythology, Python the earth-dragon (serpent goddess), was associated with the oracle at Delphi.
     I believe there are those in the Body of Christ who use this one Scripture as their basis for warning all Christians from seeking after more knowledge; as if you do, it is assumed it is only coming from an evil and deceptive spirit.  BUT, I found many other Scriptures that told of the glory of God in revealing knowledge to those who are righteous and seeking Him:
     Colossians 3:1-3 ... Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Be intent [Set your mind on] the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
     Jeremiah 33:3 ... Call to Me and I will answer you, and tell you [and even show you] great and mighty things, [things which have been confined and hidden], which you do not know and understand and cannot distinguish.
     Proverbs 2:1-5 ... My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her [wisdom] as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.
     Matthew 11:25 ... At that time Jesus said, “I praise [thank] You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants.
     These are just a few of the verses that tell me that our Father in Heaven is greatly pleased when our hearts desire more of Him, and we are willing to "keep seeking", "set our minds on" and "search for" His hidden treasures of knowledge.  I have used the following verse over and over in my writing, but it deserves to be repeated:  It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.  AND WE DON'T NEED TO BE AFRAID TO DO IT!  If we are righteously seeking to know God more, He will make sure we are not deceived.  Want to know why I believe that? If I am seeking righteousness and am obedient to God as best as I am able to in this earthly vessel, it is God revealing Himself through me; not me glorifying myself.  Now, the devil will try to get us to mistrust each other and doubt that God could renew our minds in such a way.  But isn't that what we are told to pursue throughout the New Testament?  A renewing of our minds?
     When Paul is accused of wrong thinking, or theology, what does he say in 2 Corinthians 4?  "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ ...  But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak...".
     We do not need to be afraid to listen to each other when there is a desire to share what God is showing us.  The rest of Proverbs 2 (verses 6-11) should relieve any fear we have when presented with a new understanding from a righteous Believer:
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
Guarding the paths of justice,
And He preserves the way of His godly ones.
Then you will discern righteousness and justice
And equity and every good course.
For wisdom will enter your heart
And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Discretion will guard you,
Understanding will watch over you.
     I am not saying you have to agree with what is brought to you.  All I am saying is we shouldn't be so quick to condemn our Christian brethren of wrongdoing [or being deceived] in their search for more of God and His wisdom.  I daresay all those who are righteous have a personal view of God, and mine not be the same as yours. But I think God is big enough that He probably encompasses both our views of Him. And I believe that God will shield us from deception; all we have to do is ask.  And I think He preserves the way of the righteous and gives us discerning spirits. And above all else, I think He yearns for a people who seek understanding of Him. As for me, I don't think I will ever be satisfied with what I know of Him -- or have enough of Him -- until the day I stand face-to-face. If that means I am scorned and rejected by others of the faith, then so be it.  I will never stop praying "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give me a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:17).

Psalm 14:2   "The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God".

July 4, 2017

Am I Living A Transformed Life?

     Last week my husband and I attended one of the most interesting and thought-provoking meetings that I believe will change my Christian life.  The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder, a doctor of clinical psychology and theology who has taught at Fuller Theological Seminary and various conferences around the world.
      He calls himself a "neuro-theologian", which means that he teaches his students to consider that what God tells us about His creation (including us) should affect how we think, act, and live.  In other words, reality as I know it, should be different if I'm going to call myself a Christian.  I should be living a new life, in God's presence, instead of in a body with a brain that hasn't caught up to the new spirit within me.
     But as 21st Century Christians, we are a product of our Church's belief systems, and sadly, churches in the West have stopped expecting anything new in our knowledge of God, and we have just become a thing (or product, or whatever you want to call us) of what we know.  For instance, it is a mantra within the Church (and it is true) that God is love.  But what does that mean to you? And how does it affect how you live your life?  Is that statement just a concept, or an idea -- or is it a force?  Has it transformed your life?
     And how much does the culture in which we live play a part in how we live out our faith? Dr. Wilder stated that it is okay if we use our culture to express our Christian views -- for instance, writing this blog, in which I am not afraid to state my theology -- but we should guard against letting the culture shape those views -- for instance, adopting a culture-friendly acceptance of all sexual lifestyles because we don't want to offend anyone, or we want to "fit in".  If we are guilty of that, then we have made God smaller than we are. But the reality is that He is smarter and bigger than we are, and He can teach us everything we need to know to live this Christian life.  However, the idea of "growing up" to be something -- like a mature Christian, for example -- has dropped out of our culture.  The Church in the West has decided that salvation is the ultimate goal, and there's no need to know or explore God any further.  Now, it's simply about being in the building every Sunday, and enjoying the other 6 days to the fullest, until we die and go to Heaven.  Shouldn't our salvation experience transform us more than that?  And how do we train these brains that are lagging behind our "born again" spirits to think and see ourselves as a new kind of people living a new kind of way?
     What is it going to take to raise up leaders in the Church, (and for those of us who are practicing our faith outside the building), to raise up people who live differently -- both in our churches, and in our families and communities? Well, Dr. Wilder says there are four habits that exceptional leaders and transformed people have developed, and they are centered around identity and belonging.  Who we are determines what we will do. And when we know who we are, and how people like us (human beings transformed by the Spirit of God in us) are to act, we are able to train our brains to develop these habits and therefore to traverse this life as God's representatives.  And what are these important habits?
     1. Remain relational.  God created us, first and foremost, to be relational.  He's a God that loves relationship with those He's created, and He desires that we relate both to Him, and to others.  The importance of this habit is that as Christians, whether you are a church leader, or an individual practicing your faith, you are going to run into problems -- either within your church or within the culture.  In the face of problems, we must remain relational to each other -- avoiding isolation, blame, and anger -- keeping our relationships bigger than our problems.
     As we live our lives here on earth, behind enemy lines, so to speak, it is important that we make our relationship with God a priority, and live our lives so that our relationships with people reflect Him; showing that relationships are more important than being right or getting results.
     2. Act Like Yourself.  Once you're a born again Christian, doing whatever you did in the past should not be an option.  You need to ask yourself, Who is the real me, now? What I've always been, or what God's creating in me?  Ephesians 2:10 expresses God's mindset perfectly (and should reflect ours):  "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them".  We are "a new work" [spiritually transformed, renewed, and ready to be used], created by God, with Jesus as our model, and designed by God to walk out the path He has set before us.  It's a whole new way to think of ourselves, but sadly, I don't think we, as Christians, have really discovered who we are.
     3. Return to Joy.  This is not an emotional concept, as you might expect, but rather a relational one.  This is not joy in the sense of euphoria, but the recognition that "I am not alone in this; Someone is with me in this difficulty".  It doesn't mean you are going to be happy in your difficulty, but you can train your brain to understand that God is there with you.  "I am not alone in this evil world".  And this is perhaps the hardest of the habits to form, because it means that our brains have to learn to overcome anger, sadness, and fear in order to maintain that joy in the midst of our difficulties.  But Jesus was able to do it while living out His life on this earth as a man.
     4.  Endure Hardships After A Return to Joy.  This is all about remaining relational through the hardships in life.  Keeping our relationships bigger than our problems is what it means to live your life as a Christian.  When you think about it, none of us will ever face the burdens and problems that Jesus faced in dying for the world's sins.  Yet, His relationships with the Father, His Disciples, and the  broken people He healed were His primary focus.  He continued to endure each hardship that confronted Him, knowing that He was not in it alone.  If we can do that, we will live a transformed life.
     In summary, I want to say that Dr. Wilder's book, Rare Leadership, provides a much more comprehensive look at how Church leaders can transform the lives of their flocks, and how parents can use these concepts to train up their children to live transformed lives in their real identities as children of God.  Whether in our churches or our families, we need to be building communities in which God is an active participant, and so are we.  Remember, the devil is The Accuser, and he is constantly whispering in our ears that what we did wrong (our sin) yesterday is the real us.  We need to know who we are, and see ourselves as the image of what God is creating in us -- and see others as what He is creating in them.
     If we believe that God is Love, and we say that we love God, and that love is a force -- not just an idea or concept -- then we need to be asking ourselves, How is my love for God doing today?  How is my love for others doing today?  Really knowing God, as well as being in relationship with others so that we see what He is creating in them, will truly transform our lives.  We will be in genuine relationship with Him and others.  And perhaps the greatest benefit of being this new kind of people who live a new kind of way is that we will see the transformation in others -- from people who need love, into people who give it.  When our relationship with God is experienced with thankfulness and appreciation, we want to share it with others, and the relationship cycle starts all over again.  It's time we begin to see real transformation in our lives, as we come to know who we really are.

2 Corinthians 3:18     "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit".


July 2, 2017

Ephesians 2:13

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off 
have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

     In reference to my previous post, whatever one might understand or believe about the Atonement of Christ, I think we can all agree that there is no atonement without the shedding of blood.  And from the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, it is obvious that blood has great significance to God.
     In Scripture, Blood is associated with the mysterious sacredness which belongs to life, and God reserved it to Himself (as having great significance to Him) when He allowed man the dominion over, and the use of the lower animals for food.  We see how important Blood is, as a life force, when God exclaims to Cain (in Genesis) 4:10, "What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground".  And God gives clear instructions to Noah, after the Flood, "you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it" (Genesis 9:4). 
     Then God seals the deal, so to speak, in Leviticus 17:11, when He gives instructions to Moses for Aaron and the priests in regards to His sacrificial system, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement."  
     By now, we should understand just how important Blood is to the Father.  It was blood that was applied to the doorposts and lintels of the houses that saved the Israelites from the Angel of Death ... During the sacrifices in the Temple, the blood of animals was caught by the priest in a basin, and then sprinkled seven times on the altar ... At the giving of the Law, the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled on the people, as well as on the altar, and thus the people were consecrated to God, or entered into covenant with Him. This consecration would amount to a blood covenant forevermore between God and His people.
      This blood covenant would include the forgiveness of sins, as Jesus states in Matthew 26:28, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. But I would submit to you that it is much more!  The rite of circumcision in the Old Testament was a form of blood ceremony. Apart from the probable sanitary importance of the act is the deeper meaning in the establishment of a bond of friendship between the one upon whom the act is performed and Yahweh Himself. In order that Abraham might become "the friend of God", he was commanded that he should be circumcised as a token of the covenant between him and God (Genesis 17:10-11). In Abraham's covenant, his own blood has to be shed to establish this friendship, or relationship with God.  Later, animals would be substituted, and their blood covered the sins of the people, which in the simplest of interpretations, shows us that sin is the violation of that relationship or friendship with God -- a breaking of that pledge of eternal friendship between man and God.
     And these two concepts [1) that Blood needs to be offered for forgiveness of sin and 2) it represents our eternal friendship/relationship with God] is never made more clear than, here in Hebrews 10:29:  How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
     That's why I love this verse in Ephesians ... it beautifully illustrates that the blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was the final shedding of Blood that God required for the forgiveness of our sins; for our breach of the eternal friendship He desires with each of His created human beings. And it is the Mercy and Grace of the God we serve that after warning us (in Hebrews 10:29) of the punishment we deserve for trampling on that friendship, He gives us the exhortation and encouragement of Hebrews 13:20-21, Now may the God of peace [the source of serenity and spiritual well-being] who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood that sealed and ratified the eternal covenant, equip you with every good thing to carry out His will and strengthen you [making you complete and perfect as you ought to be], accomplishing in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 
     May we each carry deep within our hearts, the significance of the sacrifice and the love that God, our Father, holds for each of us.  He not only offered His Son, as the blood sacrifice He demands for the forgiveness of our sins, He offered a part of Himself. And it's all because it is His heart's desire to never abolish that loving friendship He wants with us, now and for eternity.  How blessed are we?

June 29, 2017

How Do You Define "The Atonement" of Jesus Christ?

     All one has to do is read the various Christian-based blogs, or listen to different podcasts, and we see the differing opinions on diverse doctrines.  One of the "hot topics" of today is The Atonement, and specifically, "is healing included in the Atonement"?  And what saddens me is the ease with which proponents on either side of that debate are willing to label their counterparts as false prophets, or declare that they are teaching false doctrine.  Why can't we respect each other's exegesis instead of resorting to name calling?  Knowing that my own opinion will not please everyone, I'm still going to throw my hat in the ring because I think it is an important concept to understand. So, here goes...
     As I began my research on this subject I was surprised to find that the word atonement appears 80 times in the Old Testament (primarily in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers) in conjunction with the sacrificial rituals instituted by God as a means for the Israelites to make amends for their sins.  Atonement only appears once in the New Testament, and only in the King James version. Romans 5:11 reads "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement".  All other versions of the Bible read "we have now received reconciliation".
     But what was even more surprising to me is that there are multiple "theories" of what the Atonement is within the bounds of Christianity.  There is the Ransom theory, which originated in the early Church, particularly in the work of Origen. The theory teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice, usually said to have been paid to Satan or to death itself, (in some views paid to God the Father), in satisfaction for the bondage and debt on the souls of humanity as a result of inherited sin.
     There is the Satisfaction theory, a theory in Christian theology that Jesus Christ suffered crucifixion as a substitute for human sin, satisfying God's just wrath against man's transgression due to Christ's infinite merit. This theory draws primarily from the works of Anselm of Canterbury. It has been traditionally taught in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions of Western Christianity.
     Then there is the Moral Influence or Example theory, which teaches that the purpose and work of Jesus Christ was to bring positive moral change to humanity. This moral change came through the teachings and example of Jesus, the Christian movement he founded, and the inspiring effect of his martyrdom and resurrection. It is one of the oldest views of the atonement in Christian theology and a prevalent view for most of Christian history.
     There is also the Recapitulation theory, wherein Christ is seen as the new Adam who succeeds where Adam failed. Christ undoes the wrong that Adam did and, because of His union with humanity, leads humankind on to eternal life (including moral perfection).  And finally, there is the Scapegoat theory, in which a person (Jesus) or animal takes on the sins of others, or is unfairly blamed for problems. The concept originally comes from Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to be cast into the desert with the sins of the community.
     Wow!  With all these various theological theories, no wonder there is much haranguing among the Brethren!  But as always, when confronted with a question such as whether healing is included in the Atonement of Christ, I go back to Scripture and try to determine the original meanings of the words, rather than listen to 21st Century man explain their own reasonings.  So, let's consider the word atonement, as it is used in the Old Testament.  It is the Hebrew word k√Ęphar, which means "to cover; cancel; propitiate (placate); ransom; to pardon; to purge sin".  It is the technical term used in the sacrificial rituals in ancient Israel, and at its most basic level means "a material transaction to ransom, or to buy the freedom of".
     During the sacrificial ritual, the priests would lay their hands on an animal (bull) to transfer the sins of the people to the animal.  Then it was sacrificed and its blood smeared on the altar during the Sin Offering to God. Throughout the Old Testament, the blood sacrifices provide atonement, or a "covering over" of sin; the purpose of the atonement in the Old Testament was to hide the sin from God's eyes until the crucifixion of Christ, who as the sacrificial Lamb, takes away the sins of the world.
     There are many examples of ransom (payment) made for the covering of the Israelites' sins, but here are just two of them:  In Numbers 25, Phineas makes atonement for the Children of Israel by spearing an Israelite man in the midst of orgiastic Baal worship with a Midianite woman.  The result: the plagues that had killed 24,000 Israelites stopped.  In 2 Samuel 21, atonement was needed for the sins of Saul who broke his oath to spare the Gibeonites, so King David asked what they would require as payment, and the price was the death of seven of Saul's sons.  David paid the ransom, and then buried Saul and his sons in the tomb of Kish.  God ended the famine upon the land.
     We see the clearest picture of the Old Testament concept of atonement in Leviticus, Chapter 16, where Aaron is instructed on the rituals of the Day of Atonement, celebrated only one time a year.  Only on this day, could the high priest enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple on behalf of the people of Israel to make atonement for them (for the cleansing of their sins).
     But as I am beginning to see with more frequency, the modern Church does not make a distinction between how a concept is presented in the Old Testament and how it is understood in the New Testament.  Such is the case with "the Atonement".  As I said, in the New Testament, the only time the word atonement is used is in the King James version of Romans 5:11.  Here the Greek word for atonement is katallag√™, meaning "restoration to divine favor; or reconciliation".  It goes beyond just being covered, or making a ransom payment for sins; here, atonement signifies that sinners are actually made "at one" with God.  And as New Testament Believers, we receive so much more than just forgiveness of our sins.
     In fact, I have read a 1990 sermon by Graham Maxwell, in which he stated that in the 13th Century Oxford English Dictionary, the word "atonement" was being used to mean "Being at one; being in harmony" ... in other words, to restore in unity and harmony; a position of "at one-ness", if I may.  There is a verse in the Bible that I think expresses the New Testament concept of Atonement better than I can, and I like the Amplified version because it gives us the best picture of what is being revealed: For it pleased the Father for all the fullness [of His deity—the sum total of His essence, all His perfection, powers, and attributes] to dwell [permanently] in Him (the Son), and through [the intervention of] the Son to reconcile all things to Himself, making peace [with believers] through the blood of His cross; through Him, [I say,] whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:19-20).
     Once again, I think when it comes to the question of what is included in the Atonement of Christ, we need to see it in New Testament terms, and not limit it to its meaning in the Old Testament.   Everything about Christ is the fullness of His Father ... and this includes His Atonement.  What He did for us on the Cross brings us into full unity and one-ness with the Father. So the Atonement at the Cross -- His shed blood for us -- gives us so much more than just a covering for [and forgiveness of] our sins. We receive reconciliation (mending, bringing into harmony) in all things ... on earth as it is in heaven.  If the Atonement through Jesus's blood on the Cross brings us into the fullness of God -- the sum total of His essence [or Nature], His perfection, His powers and attributes -- then it means everything of God is available to us in the Atonement, and that includes healing as well as forgiveness.  The empty tomb is a picture of ultimate healing. All sins are forgiven in Heaven, and there is no sickness in Heaven.  That is unity between earth and heaven.
     I have seen the arguments of those who try to use Old Testament examples of God inflicting illness on people (2 Samuel 12:15; Exodus 9:8-9; 1 Samuel 5:11-12; Exodus 4:11) as their explanation that healing is not included in the New Testament atonement.  But that is part of the Old Covenant and I think we can all agree that God dealt differently with sin in the Old Covenant than He does in the New -- Jesus is evidence of that. And to use Romans 9:21 (Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?) to say that "dishonor" represents God causing sickness, is distorting Scripture, to me.
     And to say that examples of sickness in the New Testament (Epaphraditus, Trophimus, and Tabitha) prove that healing is not in the Atonement is like saying that once we accept Jesus as our Savior, we should never sin again... we are still in these fleshly bodies on earth, where sickness is a weapon of the Enemy to discourage our reconciliation with God. Our Father provided a way for us to live sinless lives through the righteousness of Christ -- but we still sin. Likewise, perfect health (and healing) are available in the Atonement -- which brings us into harmony with God in Heaven -- we just have to walk out the example Jesus gave us, and look to the Father for His perfection and power to achieve it.
     I realize that my words will likely not convince someone who has staked a claim in his or her particular atonement theory.  But I'd like to leave you with this final thought ... I find it ironic that in the Old Testament, the priests laid hands on an animal to transfer the people's sin to the animal (Leviticus 16:20-22).  Yet, in the New Testament, Jesus laid His hands on the people to transfer His Father's power to heal, while they were yet sinners.  That to me, is a picture of the Atonement of Jesus Christ; restoration to divine favor.  And I believe it is always God's heart that we be whole and restored as we are in Heaven.  So, why in the world, would we try to limit God and what He has to offer us in the Atonement of His Son? Isn't that diminishing the power of His Grace? I prefer to receive ALL He has meant for me through the atoning sacrifice of His Son!

Isaiah 53:4    Surely our sicknesses He Himself bore, And our pains He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Struck down by God, and afflicted.

Matthew 8:16-17     That evening they brought to Him many who were oppressed by demons, and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”