Monthly Archives: June 2019

What God is Like

The nature of God is tucked away ‘in disguise’ in 1 Corinthians 13. If your vision of God does not fit with Paul’s description of Love in that chapter, then there’s something out of focus.

Here is a magnificent piece by Brian Zahnd, which goes into even more detail on this. Read and enjoy; this stuff is life-changing:

What God is like?

Is God harsh, severe, demanding, petulant? God is often depicted this way. Or, to push a little harder, is God vicious and vengeful, malicious and malevolent? Is God (dare we say it?) monstrous? I’ve met many Christians who think so. Or at the very least, they think God has a monstrous side. For them, the hope of salvation is that Jesus will save them from the monstrous side of God. Jesus is beloved as the One who will save them from his angry Father. They usually don’t say it just so, but this is essentially their theology of the cross. When the cross is viewed through the theological lens of punishment, God is seen as an inherently violent being who can be appeased only by a violent ritual sacrifice.

Those who are formed by this kind of theology will harbor a deep-seated fear that God is a menacing deity from whom they need to be saved.

But is this right? I know that if we are inclined to do so we can find a way to make the Bible support a monster-God theology. But is it true? Is God a vengeful giant whose essential nature requires him to vent his wrath upon sinners with omnipotent fury? Or is God co-suffering love whose very nature is to offer unconditional forgiveness?

These are honest questions. The term “God of the Bible” does not give as coherent a picture as we like to pretend. Is the God to whom the Bible points chiefly revealed as infinite anger or as immeasurable love? It’s possible to read the Bible in support of both.

What we need is a way to center our reading of Scripture. We do this by reading from the center of salvation history: the cross.

When we view the cross in the light of resurrection, we are looking at salvation, but what do we see? Are we looking at the appeasement of a monster God through the barbarism of child sacrifice? No, we are seeing the very opposite.

The crucifixion is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive; the crucifixion is what God endures in Christ as he forgives. The monstrous aspects of Good Friday are of entirely human origin. What is divine about Good Friday is the completely unprecedented picture of a crucified God responding to his torturers with love and mercy. Golgotha offers humanity a genuinely new and previously unimagined way of conceiving the nature of God.

For eons human beings conjured and internalized a monstrous vision of God. Every flood, storm, earthquake, and plague was interpreted as the contrivances of a vindictive god. Calamities were made a bit more bearable by attributing inexplicable disasters to the wrath of the gods. These gods could be worshiped in dread and appeased by appropriate sacrifice and ritual, but these capricious gods could never be truly loved. Only love begets love.

Across the ages the religious imagination of humankind was haunted by monstrous gods. And if monotheism takes hold, the monstrous gods are absorbed into a single monster god. (Or at least a god with a monstrous side.)

But at the cross we find the death of the monster god. By this I mean it is at the cross of Christ that our wrong idea of God as a vengeful monster finally dies. Among the many meanings of the cross is this one: in the crucified body of Jesus we see the death of our mistaken image of God. God is not a monster. God does not have a monstrous side. God is whom we find in the Word made flesh. When Jesus dies, he does not evoke revenge; instead he confers forgiveness. Jesus does this for one profound reason: this is what God is like. A forgiveness-centered view of the cross saves us from a pathological anxiety about God, which is so detrimental to the soul.

We can now understand that the monster god is our own creation—a monster born of our projected issues of anxiety, anger, and shame. We are the Dr. Frankenstein who created the monster god.

The image of a terrifying god is created in the hearts of anxious people. The image of a raging god is born in the hearts of angry people. The image of a condemning god is created in the hearts of ashamed people.

Because we are such anxious, angry, and ashamed people, we imagine horrors where we should be seeing salvation. If we persist in looking at the cross through the distorted lens of fear, anger, and shame, we will imagine that the cross is what God does in order to forgive, instead of perceiving the cross as what God endures as he forgives.

Jesus’s entire life was a demonstration of the true nature of God. As Jesus heals the sick, forgives the sinner, receives the outcast, restores the fallen, and supremely as he dies on a cross forgiving his killers, he reveals what God is like. To see Jesus is to see the Father.

At last we know that God is not like the thunderbolt-hurling Zeus or any of the other angry gods in the pantheon of terrorized religious imagination. God is like Jesus, nailed to a tree, offering forgiveness. God is not a monster. God is like Jesus!

The truth is that there are monsters in this world, but the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not one of them. We have an imagination for monsters because we know of their existence. Venomous and vicious beasts were a daily peril for our earliest ancestors. Volcanoes and tsunamis can swallow whole cities. Hurricanes and tornadoes roar from the heavens, leaving hell in their wake. Epidemics of disease are lethal predators taking their pitiless toll. Worst of all, there are monstrosities of men—conquerors and warlords, tyrants and despots—galloping across history like ringwraiths, bringing conquest, war, famine, and death. We can imagine monsters because we have met them. But the living God is not one of them. Not the God whom Jesus called Abba.

Oh, the pagan gods are monstrous; of course they are. They are mercurial and merciless, petty and vengeful. They have to be mollified by a virgin flung into a volcano or a victim sacrificed on a stone altar. They always demand a violent and bloody appeasement…or else!

But we know about these gods now; we know what they really are. They are personifications of those beasts and disasters and epidemics and wars and tyrants that frighten us so. They are deified projections of our own rage and fear. They are the desperate attempt to deal with our own sin, suffering, and shame.

The good news is that the God revealed in Christ does not belong to the category of Mars and Molech, of Ares and Zeus. These are the false gods of our frightened and shame-laden imaginations.

The Creator God, the One True God, is not vengeful and retributive like those gods of the primitive pantheon. In his triumph Jesus put these petty and vindictive gods out of business. It’s only their fading ghosts that haunt us today.

In the dread of night we may be tempted to think that the true God shares the fearsome attributes of the vanquished monster gods. In our horror we imagine how Scripture confirms our nightmares. In our terror we may use the Bible as a palette to paint a macabre and monstrous image of God. But then the day dawns and we hear Jesus say, “It is I; do not be afraid.” With the dayspring of Christ the terrors of night fade away.

Jesus is perfect theology. And the perfect theology of Jesus saves us from our primeval nightmares about the divine. The hands of God are not hurling thunderbolts. The hands of God have scars; they were nailed to a tree as he forgave monstrous evil.

– Brian Zahnd

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Tim

It is with tremendous sadness that I acknowledge the passing of my friend, brother and fellow blogger Tim Chastain, owner/writer of the blog ‘Jesus Without Baggage‘. Tim was called home on 9th June and he now stands in that place where all suffering, pain and tears are but dim memories.

It was about four years ago that I discovered Tim’s blog, at about the time that I started writing mine. So much of what I found on Tim’s blog I found to be so refreshing, and so similar to aspects of my own faith walk, and yet so different as all our walks are different. I immediately ‘followed’ the blog and have been blessed by it ever since.

I contacted Tim via his website, and we began our friendship by email, reinforced by mutual blog comments and reblogs. This was at around the time when myself and my family were in the process of fighting my wife Fiona’s terminal cancer, and Tim was very gentle, understanding and supporting towards me, having himself faced into a similar situation.

Tim’s gentle wisdom and scholarship always shone through in his thoughtful and yet easy-to-read blog articles, and he gathered a devoted following of commenters who always brought different facets of insight into the discussions, which Tim moderated with openness and fairness. Tim’s writing brought immeasurable freedom, healing and Grace to countless lives, many of which of course we will never know about until we stand before the King.

I always received a warm glow in my heart whenever Tim commented on one of my blog posts; he was always encouraging, always positive (even if he didn’t agree!), and we learned so much from each other. Examples of Tim’s comments can be found scattered througout my blog posts, and I would encourage you to read some for yourself.

This tribute to Tim would not be complete without acknowledging his tremendous, uplifting support after I lost Fiona. Tim’s words were always gentle, edifying and encouraging, and played a great part in my working through of my grief.

Tim, although we never met face to face, I will miss you terribly. I will miss your gentle humour, your kindness and your unpretentious wisdom. Thank you for being you, and thank you for all you have done – most of it without even realising you were doing anything.

Heaven is a better place now because you are there.

I wonder if there’s a blog post in that idea, somewhere? 😉

Rest well, my friend 🙂


Here is the link to Tim’s obituary

…and to the farewell post on JWOB

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But is it Biblical?

Once again, I am privileged to share the work of the brilliant Phil Drysdale on my blog, writing on a subject that is close to my heart:


As Christians we’ve all thought “is this biblical?”

It’s a great benchmark to see if something we are believing or doing is in line with scripture.

But there is a concern in this framework.

The Bible can lie to us.

Or more specifically – we can lie to ourselves when reading the Bible.

There are technically two ways to read the Bible – exegesis and eisegesis.

Exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” It’s when we read something in the Bible and it informs our opinions and changes the way we live life.

Eisegesis literally means “to lead into.” It’s when we read our own opinion into the Bible and it confirms our opinion and stops us from changing.

The truth is we all think we are doing exegesis when we are reading the Bible. But studies have shown, again and again, that most of the time the most well meaning of people perform eisegesis when reading their Bible.

It’s no surprise if you are a democrat there are passages to support you – and they do!

But it’s also no surprise if you are a republican there are passages to support you as well – and they do!

(sometimes they are even the same passages!!)

Same with how to raise your kid. Firm hand – its biblical. Soft and meek – it’s biblical.

How about that decision at work? There are dozens of “biblical” solutions in that Bible of yours. But you’ll most likely pick the one you want to or the one that makes the most sense to you.

Now hear me right, we frequently break out of exegesis by the grace of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. So don’t hear me say reading the Bible can’t guide you or help you change, or that there is no point in reading the Bible.

I’m simply saying we need to be aware that we can be biased in finding what we want when reading the Bible.

In fact, it’s perhaps the only thing we can do. Be aware of this bias and pray God helps us navigate our subjectivity.

But I have another strategy I’d like to propose to you.

It’s more solid than asking, “is it biblical?”

It’s to ask, “is it Christ-like?”

You see when Jesus came He told us we had read the scriptures wrong!

Not just the common folk like you or I. No, the guys who had dedicated their entire lives to studying the scriptures. He told them that they had studied the scriptures to find out a “biblical” view of God and they couldn’t recognize God standing in front of them in the flesh.

Jesus redefined their reading of the scriptures.

He must also be our benchmark for reading the scriptures.

In fact, I would go as far as to propose if your “biblical” view does not work out to look “Christ-like” then it is not in fact truly biblical as Jesus would see it.

And Jesus did some drastic stuff to do this. He edited the scriptures. Selectively quoting them. Cutting out some bits. Inserting His own thoughts into others. Discrediting some while validating others many had ignored.

Jesus messed with the Jewish concept of scripture… and I think He needs to mess with our “Christian” one at times too!!

So that’s my challenge to you today. Will you allow Jesus to inform your concept of biblical?

After all, the Word of God should be the one who tells us what the words of God mean.

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One for ‘Father’s Day’

I don’t usually stand on any kind of ceremony for ‘special’ days, especially Father’s Day, which is simply a commercial copy of Mother’s Day. I won’t go into any further details on that.

But today – which, I am told is ‘Father’s Day’ – I saw a superb piece by Lee O’Hare, whose work I have shared before but which I have not posted a lot of recently. And it’s relevant to ‘Father’s Day’. Over to Lee:


“But his father said . . .” (Luke 15:22)

There is probably no passage in scripture that reveals the true heart of God as powerfully as the story told by Jesus of the incredible father who came running to his repentant wayward son after having wasted his father’s inheritance and brought incredible shame to the name of his father. The story known as “The Prodigal Son” really is not about the son at all; it is about the amazing love of a Father who refuses to treat us as anything other than deeply loved, cherished and totally forgiven children.

I realize that everybody reading this is all too familiar with this parable, but I would ask you, do not let that familiarity keep you from receiving the glorious truth which this reveals about the love of Abba God. In seems every time I read this story something new and fresh is revealed to me about the heart of my Heavenly Father. I would like to simply share a few thoughts that have recently come from my meditations on this wonderful story.

The most obvious thing that I see is how completely wrong both sons were in their perception of who their father really is. This makes me remember Jesus’ words in the “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17:25, “O righteous Father the world DOES NOT KNOW YOU.” That is the problem. Without the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit we really have no idea who God is or what He is really like. We carry around in our hearts distorted images of Him which have been forged on the anvils of our personal past experiences of rejection, shame and disappointment. This is only exacerbated by the wrong images we receive from well meaning parents, teachers, preachers as well as our own innate sense of guilt and unworthiness. We then try to relate to God out of those distorted perceptions and find ourselves feeling hopeless, confused, weary and often times utterly burned out and even resentful towards God. I don’t know how many times I have heard frustrated Christians say in one way or another, “It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to be a good enough Christian.” We can know all about grace in our heads, but what we need is a true Holy Spirit revelation of who our Abba really is in the deepest recesses of our hearts.

So what strikes me above all else in this story is how utterly and completely different the father really was. The “prodigal” son had to go to incredible extremes in order to be brought to a place where he was able to finally experience the truth of who His father really was and had always been – including the time that he had been living in the father’s house, as well as all that time he was living far away from home in rebellion and ultimately in complete and utter shame and filthy disgrace. I could easily inject some personal testimony right here, but suffice it to say, I can very much identify with this story today. I know what it is crawl around in the filth of a “pig pen” with distorted and perverted images of who I thought God was filling my heart and mind. I know what it is to finally “come to my senses” and say, “I don’t have to live like this any longer” and to begin the journey of returning to the father’s house. I also know what it is to feel I have to negotiate with God in order to be allowed back on the father’s property.

Pay close attention to the repentance speech the son had prepared and memorized as he was heading back to the father’s house:

“I have sinned against heaven and against you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Just treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:18, 19)

I have actually read in some commentaries that this was a correct and proper understanding and attitude of repentance for this good for nothing, rebellious sinner to have in approaching his father. But, let’s look at how the father, representing Abba God, actually responded when his wayward son returns with repentance speech in hand to plead for acceptance back home “as one of your hired servants.”

Of course, everybody is familiar with this part of the story: “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). It is at this point that the story gets really interesting. It is while the father is “falling upon his neck” (KJV) with love and compassion and smothering his swine infested flesh with kisses of fatherly affection, that the son begins to recite his prepared speech of repentance. But he only gets so far. What so many miss here is the fact that THE FATHER DOES NOT ALLOW HIM TO FINISH HIS SPEECH. He has just confessed that he is no longer worthy to be called a son and is about to say, “Just treat me as one of your hired servants” that Jesus interjects, “BUT HIS FATHER SAID . . .” Feel the power of that. I call this the “Divine Interruption” Just as he is about to place himself in servitude as a slave in the father’s household he is interrupted by the father who then turns to the servants and says, “Quick bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet . . .” It is as if the father is saying, “I refuse to hear this nonsense about you being my servant. I will have nothing of it. I am not interested in servants. I do not want a servant. I only want a son whom I can shower with my love and affection.”

Can you feel the power in this? While we are trying to negotiate with God out of our feelings of shame and guilt, which inevitably drag us into legalism and promises to do better and try harder, He is wanting to embrace us with love and kisses of fatherly affection and to lavish upon us His own gifts of grace and mercy.

Through this story Jesus profoundly reveals the heart of His Father and shows us so clearly what it really is that Abba wants most from us, who are His beloved children. It obviously is not simply obedient and responsible behavior. He already had that from the elder son who, the story reveals, also had no idea who his father really was, nor what he was like. The returning son was prepared to sell himself into lifelong servitude to pay his father back for years of shameful rebellion and waste, but as we have seen, the father would absolutely have none of that. What the father wanted, and what Abba wants from us, more than anything else, is a loving relationship. That is what he did not have from either of his sons and he wanted it so desperately that he would spare nothing to have it.

The heart of this story, and what personally speaks powerfully to me at this time, is the fact that the father, out of his love and desire for true relationship, was willing to let his son completely go so he could come to the absolute end of his own self-sufficiency in order to find out who his father really was. Only by coming to the end of himself was the son able to finally recognize what had been important to the father all along.

– Lee O’Hare, shared with his kind permission.

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There Is A River…

Another piece from Jamie Englehart:


Maturity celebrates diversity, and those who think, lead, believe and function differently than each other. When we try and put everyone into our paradigm and way of doing things and our way of thinking and believing it will only lead to breaches in our relationships. No one likes to be put into a box they do not belong in, and everyone wants to be celebrated for who they are and what God has graced them to do and become in His Kingdom.

David tells us in Psalm 46 that there is A river whose streams make glad the city of God. There is only ONE River, but there are many streams and if we would just flow in our lane and bring to the city the life that it needs thru the streams that we release then the river will continue to make the city glad.

However, when the streams think that they are THE River and there is no need for the other streams is when the life flow is dammed up and the city becomes sad. So flow my friends in the streams of life that God has you in and celebrate the other streams that are bringing joy to many. If another stream is not your taste or flavor, remember it is ministering gladness to those you are not.

– Jamie Englehart, used with his kind permission

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The Wonder of it all…

I’m a member of a Pilots’ group on Facebook, and recently one of the other group members wrote this:

“I’m on my way to my PPL with around 18 hours and just a few more lessons before the solo…
Have you ever during your training became unmotivated or suddenly having doubts of your goal of being a pilot?

I always dreamed to fly (hundreds of hours on flight sims, hanging on airport fences, etc) and I enjoyed every single minute of the training. Just suddenly it hit me “what is after the PPL”.
Is it normal or is it just me?”

In addition to others’ very wise and encouraging responses, I of course had to add my two penn’orth. Here’s what I put:

” Well, as a Pilot you will find that you never stop learning. There’s always a new adventure, a new trick, a new lesson. Awe, wonder, freedom, solitude, seeing the reaction of others when they see the world from ‘up there’ for the first time, the technical stuff, the practice, the skills, a good precision navex, landing away at an impossibly short grass farm strip, low-level cross-country and attacking a dam at the other end of it (imagining the gust response is flak!), night flying in the pitch darkness pretending you’re looking for Lancasters, fighting down through a pernickety wind gradient and an unpredictable crosswind, seeing the ocean with the glitter of the sunset at 10,000 ft (picture)…. so many great memories and so many adventures yet to look forward to. Keep it up, bro, you have all this to look forward to as well as still enjoying your training, which is in itself a series of adventures and milestones…”

I also shared with the group the picture from the top of this post. This was the view over the Atlantic Ocean from 10,000ft up, above the north coast of Cornwall, on December 8th, 2012, at about 1600 GMT. The picture was taken not long before sunset, with the external air temperature a very friendly eight degrees below freezing, and the clouds below carrying amazing little rainbow colours of ice crystals which are not easily visible in the photo – that sort of thing is not easily captured on camera. But the sheer magnificence of it is breathtaking. It’s an entirely different world up here; the light is harsh, white and blinding in the crystal-clear, freezing air, and you can see for at least a hundred miles in all directions. It’s simply indescribable.

It’s true that my friend on the Pilots’ group has all this to look forward to…every flight is different, and you learn something new each and every time you go up. This is why we fly!

Wow! This is why I love flying so much….

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