Monthly Archives: December 2019

Your Name’s Above All Names

There are a few songs that, without fail, transport me straight into the Throne Room of God. My spirit is lifted and my heart sings, my hands raise up and I am filled with gratitude for all that God has done for me. Usually there’s tears as well, so full is my heart with love for my King.

Two such songs that I have shared on here are When I Look into Your Holiness‘ and Great is the Lord, and another is ‘My God and King (With Eyes for Only You).

And there are likely a few more that would have this effect on me, should I listen to them. I have so many worship songs in my repertoire that I don’t remember all of them, and one of Jesus’s favourite tricks is to drop songs on me at random and completely out of the Blue that remind me of things He’s done in my life. This song that I present to you today, ‘Your Name’s Above All Names’, is one of those songs, and He dropped it on me a couple of weeks ago. For some reason, this song melts my heart and causes the spirit of worship to bubble up from deep inside. I’ll make some more comments later, but first, here’s the song:

Your Name’s above all names
Your power is above all powers
And Your glory, Your glory fills this place

Your Name’s above all names
Your power is above all powers
And Your glory, Your glory fills this place

And that’s it. Nice and simple, but for some reason utterly, utterly profound. And it’s gorgeous.

It may be that this song’s effect on me has a lot to do with the idea of Jesus* having the ‘Name that is above all names’ (Phil 2:9). In a similar way to how the knowledge that Jesus defeated death removes all fear from life, so too the knowledge that He is the highest authority in the Universe (and that’s what it means when people say things about His Name being above all other names) removes all the fear that things will not work out right in the end, both in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. And this song reminds me of that belief.

I have written on the idea of the Heavenly Perspective before (here and here) and this concept of Him being the ‘highest authority’ goes along with that idea. I have many friends who believe that God is not in control of things on this Earth. I have many friends who believe the opposite, that He is indeed in complete control of every minute detail. I understand about theodicy;  the Big Question about why God, if He is all-powerful and all-loving, does not prevent evil. I’m aware of the phenomenal amount of good things that happen, unheralded and unannounced, on a daily basis, between ordinary people in all walks of life, and just from nature in general too. Sunsets, nice food, cool air, single malt whisky, mountains.

I am also aware that  life’s Big Questions deserve Big Answers, and that these answers are usually discerned over a lifetime of walking with God and hearing Him explain things to us. Like all of the really Big God Questions, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes. God is in control, but not necessarily in the ways that we think He should be. The way we frame our questions almost predicates a particular kind of answer, and that answer is not available in any form which would make sense. Instead, the answers to the Big Questions are based more upon a form of trust: trust in the goodness of God and trust in Jesus (Jn 14:1 (NLT) ) and that that trust is something that is learned as we go along. Every time you see God work something amazing in your life; every time you are thankful for something (whether you think He’s been directly responsible for it or not), you lay another little brick in your building of trust.

Over time, it’s not so much that Life’s Big Questions are answered, more that the questions themselves morph and change into a mode that incorporates the known goodness of God that you have seen and felt and experienced in your life. Increasingly, then, the concept of the Name of Jesus being above all other names and being Lord over your circumstances and those of others, becomes a fluid, trusting reality that incorporates your experience, your worship, your life and your very existence into the life of God. And that Life of God is also present within you too, by His Spirit. All in all, then, it’s a win-win for the believer as we learn to live in this mode of awareness of God’s Presence and yet the freedom to influence events in our own lives ourselves too. You can come to no lasting harm, because underneath are the everlasting arms (Dt 33:27), He will never let go of you (Jn 10:28-29), and nothing can separate you from His Love (Rom 8:38-39).

Maybe that sounds like a huge stretch from the idea of Jesus being the Name above all names. But it’s not, not when you think about it anyway. Because if that Name of Jesus is indeed above everything else, and if indeed He’s ‘exalted to the right hand of the Father’ (Acts 2:33), then His Presence in your life simply has to be the greatest thing you can imagine. No wonder St. Paul waxed so lyrical and enthused so thoroughly and comprehensively, in his letters, about the Love of Christ, and the Grace of God that that Love revealed to us. Salvation is more than just a ‘ticket to heaven’. Amazing though Heaven is going to be, the concept of it all being relevant only after we die is cheapening and reducing the Gospel to just effectively life-insurance. As a great preacher friend of mine once said, your salvation is “…not ‘pie in the sky when we die’. It’s meat on a plate while you wait!” It’s here and now – and yes, of course it’s after death as well.

Maybe, then, that’s why the song has the effect on me that it has. Maybe it’s because it brings home to me how huge, how wide-ranging, how magnificent, how permanent** and how complete is the salvation that Jesus has provided for us. As we are ‘in Christ’, everything that is His is ours too (1Jn 4:17). Grasping that marvellous truth is nothing short of life-changing, and indeed we will spend the rest of our earthly lives increasing in our appreciation of just what Jesus has done for us.

Plus, as I said earlier, the song is just gorgeous. From a worship point of view, it doesn’t actually need any theological discussion!

Is it any wonder, then, that this song causes the spirit of worship to rise up within me?

Indeed His name is above all names, and the ramifications of that are huge. Thank You Jesus! Can I encourage you to listen to the song, maybe join in the singing if you like and while you do so, use the song to meditate on the amazing truth of the Name of Jesus being the Name that is above every other name, circumstance, happening, idea and situation, no matter how huge and/or important that thing might be. This is your birthright, it is for you, and it’s for today. Grab it and run with it!


The song is from the Harvestime tape Celebrate’, recorded at Christ for the Nations Institute, Dallas, Texas in 1987. There are mp3 files of all the songs from that album, including this one, on my website VintageWorshipTapes.com.


*Of course, Jesus is simply the Anglicised version of the original name that we also call ‘Joshua’, meaning simply ‘God is my Saviour’ or ‘God saves’ (Mt 1:21).  The name can also be rendered as things as exotic-sounding as ‘Yahuwah’, ‘Yeshua’ (to which, of course, the only correct response  is ‘Bless you!’) or even ‘Yehoshua’ or ‘Yehushua’ for goodness’ sake. I’m sure some people use these names to make themselves sound more ‘spiritual’, like those people who miss out the ‘o’ in the middle of ‘God’ (so, ‘G_d’). Who cares how it’s spelled when the main thing is the Person that the Name is referring to? It’s really pretentious, if you ask me. Would you believe there are even churches where they insist that people not use the word ‘Jesus’. Call me critical if you like but how bloody silly is that….


**Permanent, in that I firmly believe in ‘once saved, always saved’ because ‘once in Christ, always in Christ’. If you died ‘in Christ’ (Rom 6:8, 2Tim 2:11), then you cannot be ‘un-died’ back ‘into the flesh’ again.  Death is a one-way deal. There are those people (mainly legalists, of course) who believe that you can lose your salvation by things you can do. If you are ‘saved’ from drowning by a lifeboat, then that lifeboat sinks, then you have not been ‘saved’. The ‘once saved, NOT always saved’ brigade believe that Jesus is merely a lifeboat, and that we can sink it. Baloney. He’s the Rock, and He doesn’t sink. In any case, as we have seen, salvation is not just about a ‘ticket to Heaven’; it’s far more wide-reaching than that. Praise God, this is good stuff!

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Autumn

As I said in a previous post, my supremely talented daughter Ellie had prereleased her first EP, the four-track album ‘Autumn’.

Recently, the album became available for download on Amazon for the very reasonable price of £2.36, so as her dutiful and very proud Dad I really had to post a link.

If you’re interested in getting hold of a copy of ‘Autumn’, just click the image below to go to its Amazon UK sales page. It will also be available on your own country’s Amazon page. All proceeds go to our local Hospice, Rowcroft Hospice, where Ellie’s Mum was looked after for her last few days on this earth.

 

10

Against a Dark Background

Would you believe that there are Religious people on the Internet who think of themselves as ‘heresy hunters’?

It’s true. You may even have encountered them yourself.

They are the people who prowl the social media sites, faith sites and forums looking specifically for people with whom they can disagree. They castigate those people who believe different things to what they themselves believe (even if only slightly different!), lambasting their victims with vicious messages of rejection, condemnation and judgementalism. And usually the occasional threat of ‘hell-fire’ thrown in for good measure, and all ‘said in love, brother’, of course ;).

It seems that they see themselves as the people who hold the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven; imagining they are God’s ‘gatekeepers‘ and that they have the (God-given, of course) right to say who gets in and who doesn’t. They strike hard and fast, hang around for a short argument and then go on their happy way, leaving a trail of bruised and broken people in their wakes.

Some of these people have actually opened their Facebook accounts with the sole purpose of the online hunting down of ‘heretics’ like me. They are easy to spot; you go and look at their Facebook profile and the last time they posted was like May 2017 and that was just a photo of their washing machine or something. Sad, sad people who create their own Hell by living in a world of judgementalism and critical spirit, not finding the joy in their own salvation (which I have no reason to believe is not genuine) and at the same time trying to not allow anyone else to find the joy in their ‘salvations’ either.

Now, we ‘hunted’ heretics are in good Company. Jesus Himself was followed everywhere by groups of Religious heresy hunters – the Pharisees – who did things like this:

So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him” – Mk 3:2 (NKJV)

Yep, you’ve got it. These people had nothing better to do than to follow Him around all day and pick fault; missing out on the amazing truth that Jesus healed people – and even ignoring it! – they concentrated instead on whether they considered He was following their Religious Rules or not.

Sounds familiar? 😉

I also find it incredible that bad-news mongers will even contradict direct quotations from their Rulebook the Bible, which, remember, they hold to be inerrant and infallible, when those Bible quotations do not reflect their doom-and-gloom mindsets. For instance, last week, I saw on Facebook a post where a chap said that he’d simply posted the famous verses from Romans 8:38-39 on nothing being able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. Here’s what he wrote:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“I put no commentary on it, just that. I am frustrated by the fact that multiple people felt the need to reply with things about how WE can separate ourselves from the love of God through unrepentance and so forth. Why do people have this immediate urge to qualify the good news, to make it less than it is?”

As far as the Bible is ever ‘clear’, this verse is about as ‘clear’ as it gets. NOTHING can separate us from God’s Love, not even stuff we do ourself. That’s what makes it unconditional!

Apart from its being incredible, I also find it very sad that such people not only choose to believe (and it is a choice) the worst news about God that they can (while still probably claiming that ‘God is Good, All the Time’ (talk about cognitive dissonance!)), but also that they feel the need to get on the Internet and spread their horror and darkness so others can join them in their misery. Misery loves company, as the old adage says!

And I just don’t get that. At least, not from people who are supposed to be spreading the ‘…good news of great joy for all mankind’ (Lk 2:10). Some indeed seem to prefer the bad news over the good, and furthermore they will do all they can to negate whatever good news you try to give to them or to others; they are thus not open to Really Good News at all, and this mindset is therefore one of my definitions of ‘hell’.

As G. K. Chesterton wrote,

“…pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”

No, they can’t cope with levity, nor can they lose their seriousness. And so, when they happen across a thread where the idea of Grace (the unearned, light, completely full and free favour of God) is being put forward, they go absolutely ape. Cries of ‘Licence to Sin!‘ ‘Cheap Grace!’ and other such rubbish abound, usually touted by those who haven’t actually read the original post properly anyway.

Who’d want to live like that?

So, I have set out the problem at some considerable length. How to cope with these people?

Well, first up, we need to remember that they are usually in it only for the argument. They are interested only in putting across their point of view and not listening to anyone else’s. Like only the most diehard religious zealots, they are convinced that they are not only right, but that they have a divine commission to ‘go forth’ and fight what they see as heresy. Therefore, arguing/discussion with them is usually pointless, if your reason for participating in the discussion is solely to have the chance of influencing them towards your point of view. But there is another reason why such open and visible ‘discussion’ can be good, as I  will be getting to – eventually!

They mistake courtesy (from their victims) as weakness. They mistake the lack of people biting them back, as being that their victims don’t actually have a proper argument, when in actual fact the Grace-filled person is usually being just that – Graceful (Grace-full). Let your speech always be graceful, seasoned with salt and all that (Col 4:6). They’re giving that heresy hunter the benefit of their Christike gentleness and not sinking – and it would be sinking! – to their level by going back at them with the same sort of stuff. And it’s lost on them. Behaving like this violates so many of the heresy hunters’ ‘Biblical’ Rules, which they feel they can conveniently ignore or justify away with the sorts of argument that only the terminally religious could come up with.

It can be soul-destroying, though, listening to their endless naysaying and negativity all the time. I don’t know how Jesus coped with being followed around by these leeches in His day because, make no mistake, they are exactly the same type of people. Were the concept of reincarnation actually true (I personally am convinced that it’s not!) then these people would simply be the reincarnations of Jesus’s Pharisees 😉 I suppose His attitude was simply to get on with God’s work – doing what He saw Father doing (Jn 5:19) – and if the Pharisees got some of the splash of God’s power and joy, great; if not, He wasn’t going to let that stop Him blessing those who already needed it. When He said that it was the sick that needed a doctor, He meant that the Religious, the Pharisees, didn’t feel that they needed Him because they thought they were ‘all right’ thank you very much; whereas those who realised their need of Him were the ones who actually received the blessing. And so He didn’t let the Religious stop Him blessing those who needed it. Interestingly, some Pharisees actually did become Jesus-followers, and, equally interestingly, were almost as legalistic afterwards as they were before, albeit a little less unbendingly so. Check out their story in Acts chapter 15, where it relates the story of the ‘Council of Jerusalem’.

I have written before on the idea of why Grace-preachers like me continue to post messages of Grace on Internet forums, in the face of people like these bad-news mongers.

The first reason is that our posts bless more people, and bring more people into wholeness, healing and freedom, than we will ever know. I call these people the Invisible Listeners. I would repeat here a comment sent me by someone in New Zealand, that was mentioned in that blog post above; I repeat it here because it applies to you as well as to me:

“One day, when we are in His Presence, you will find out just how many people were encouraged by what you are doing”

The second reason, for me, is that it shows our Invisible Listeners that not all Christians are harsh, disapproving and judgemental. I mention that in my article linked to above, but I have reiterated it here in case you don’t want to follow the link.

I also asked a good friend and fellow Grace-preacher, who regularly engages publicly with Pharisees online (yes, they actually follow him around on his Facebook profile!), how he puts up with the hassle of the online Pharisees.

His reply was firstly that he doesn’t let it bother him, as he realises that they are all at a different stage in their faith-walk. He, like me, is a strong proponent of the various theories of faith development, and this helps him to recognise these faith-stage dynamics and the types of behaviour they elicit.

Secondly, he very wisely told me that he believes that all the naysayers do is to provide a dark backdrop to the beauty of the Good News he preaches; the Good News of Grace, and that dark backdrop makes the precious diamond all the more obvious in its magnificence.

For those ‘invisible listeners’ who read his work without commenting – I estimate that for every person who comments, there are another nine or ten who do not* – this is the stuff of life. In fact it’s completely life-changing, in the sense of changing their lives from being nearly empty to being full; full of Life in Christ.

And it’s enhanced, not detracted from, by the negative comments.

I mean, how cool is that? It’s an idea which is utterly, utterly golden!

The idea that the ‘enemy’ – (and by that, I do not mean the modern-day Pharisee people themselves, but the ‘accuser of the brethren’ (Rev 12:10 (KJV) ) – be that an actual spirit, a ‘satan’, who actually accuses, or simply the accusing consciences of some believers) the ‘enemy’ has its accusations turned against it and used for the benefit of the saints, for their upbuilding and encouragement – is simply priceless. The love and power and Grace of God are emphasised because of the dark setting in which they are seen! The fury that must exist in the hearts of the heresy hunters when/if they see their judgementalism turned against them, well, it must burn like Hell, literally Hell, no cuss-word intended. Again, this is part of my definition of Hell (I must do a piece on that some day!)**. One hopes that this pain might help them to see sense, but I suppose that in this case most of the good fruit is not visible online because it is borne in those Invisible Listeners I talked about earlier.

So, if you are a Grace-preaching blogger or forum poster, please be encouraged. You are reaching, and blessing, far more people with your Grace message than you will ever know. And all the Pharisees’ comments do is to make your news even more glorious. Boom!

If you are a self-styled ‘heresy-hunter’, firstly kudos to you for reading this far without blowing a gasket; and secondly, remember that every. single. time. you respond to someone bearing a good-news message of hope, healing and reconciliation with one of your condemnatory, judgemental, divisive and possibly infernalist*** replies, all you are doing is to provide the black background setting that emphasises the beauty of the very diamond you are trying to tarnish. But there is hope for you too – God is nowhere near as mad with you as you imagine, and remember that some Pharisees were actually Christ-followers. He accepts all sorts, and He accepts them unconditionally. He knows how lost you are in your Religious struggles to conform, and He came to offer you His yoke which is easy and light. (Mt 11:28-30 (Message))

And if you are someone looking for a message of Love, Hope, Healing, Comfort in your weakness or in your sadness; a message of Reconciliation and/or a definite sense of ‘coming back’ to God, then rest assured that He has already accepted and welcomed you, without any cost to yourself, without any conditions (that’s what ‘unconditional’ means), with His arms open wide and a huge grin on His face. Read and believe the Good News messages, and use the Bad News messages, thoughtfully provided by the modern-day Pharisees, simply to highlight just how good the Good News is when compared with the struggle of having to keep up the appearances of Religious ‘good behaviour’ and conditional love that they try to push. Because that’s not the way that God is; not at all!

Be encouraged! Grace is there for the taking; it’s freedom, it’s light, it’s life in its fulness!

And it never ends!


*I estimate it by looking at website statistics. Am I sad or what 😉


**I do not believe in Hell as an afterlife place of burning torment for those who do not [insert Religion-based qualification/requirement for not being thrown into Hell] before they die 😉

As opposed to,   ***An infernalist, who is someone who does believe in this concept.

10

This is it…

Well, today is an historic day for Star Wars fans.

Today, the movie Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is released here in the UK; I understand other countries might have to wait until tomorrow, but don’t worry, you will find no spoilers in this article.

The Rise of Skywalker is the final instalment of the third Skywalker Trilogy, completing the sequence of nine movies depicting the saga of the Skywalker family and their fortunes in the ongoing Galactic Civil War that took place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”.

I have my ticket for today’s 10:05 performance of the movie at my local cinema, and have to say that I am going with some trepidation as well as a quiet hope.

My trepidation comes from a complex story of complete cock-ups by Disney, who own the Star Wars franchise.

The first episode of the final Trilogy, Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – was written and directed by the legendary J. J. Abrams, and what a superb movie it was. Released in 2015, it left loads of unanswered questions and cliff-hangers, as well as many subtle hints at what was to come. The Force Awakens culminated in the final scene, known as The Jedi Steps, in which not a word was spoken but which, through a combination of masterful music, stunning scenery and wonderful acting, finished the movie on such a moving note and a brilliant cliff-hanger, simultaneously leaving the fans satisfied and still hungry for more, what with all the unanswered questions.

Fast-forward two years to the end of 2017, and the release of the second movie in the Trilogy: Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie had a very polarised reception with reactions from both extremes, from absolute hatred on the one hand to total joy on the other. Personally, I didn’t like the movie at all – in fact, I consider it one of the most rubbish movies I have ever seen, Star Wars sacrilege notwithstanding – and I was especially incensed by the cavalier treatment of the cliff-hanger from The Force Awakens’s final scene – The Jedi Steps, where that incredibly moving masterpiece was ridden over roughshod by Johnson’s storyline. Added to that, many other bad story choices – I won’t go into details – meant that The Last Jedi, for me, and for many other life-long Star Wars fans, was a complete flop. Indeed, so unpopular was the movie that when the DVD came out, it sold so badly that my local supermarket was giving it away for free with a mere £10 grocery purchase. To me, that’s an objective indication of just how bad a movie it was.

In fact it was so bad that the next Star Wars movie – Solo – A Star Wars Story, released at the end of 2018, and not directly a part of the Skywalker saga – did not do at all well in the cinemas mainly (in my opinion) because The Last Jedi had been such a terrible movie. Disney blamed Solo for its own poor reception, but in my opinion it was a simply excellent movie with so much potential for follow-up stories, with, again, all its unanswered questions, dangling threads, and intriguing little plot twists. But we will never know, now, where those story threads would have gone, because Disney announced that they were not going to do any more movies of the A Star Wars Story’ type, supposedly as a result of Solo‘s poor showing.

Anyway, back to the Trilogy. I remember thinking, during the months leading up to the release of The Last Jedi, that having three different writers (Abrams, Johnson and then an (at the time) unnamed writer for Episode IX) construct separately the story arc for a full trilogy over the space of five or six years of writing, filming and post-production, was a bit of a daft idea.

I likened it to that children’s game where one child draws a person’s head on one end of a piece of paper, then folds their handiwork under so that it cannot be seen by the next child. The next player then draws a torso and arms, and folds the paper so that neither the head nor torso are visible. Finally, another child draws the hips and legs, after which the paper is unfolded and their combined monstrosity is revealed in all its silliness, to the accompaniment, of course, of gales of laughter.

And that’s what The Last Jedi came across to me as being like. It was almost like a different story; parts of the characters had been changed, and huge swathes of the story from The Force Awakens were ignored. In fact, Mark Hamill, who played the legendary character Luke Skywalker, was reported to have asked writer/director Rian Johnson, “What have you done with my character?” Few of the actors who played parts in The Last Jedi were pleased with the story and the twisting of their character profiles, some being more vocal than others about their opinions. Of course, Disney are very tightly controlling about the way their people are allowed to express opinions, and a lot of the stuff that was said had to be ‘retracted’. Of course, all of this obfuscation is completely transparent to those who have seen, over the years, how Disney work. They know they made a mistake with The Last Jedi, but there’s no way they’ll admit it.

Fortunately (I hope), the final part of the Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, was given back to J. J. Abrams to complete the story. This means that the person who drew the head, in our illustrative children’s game, will get to draw the hips and legs, notwithstanding the efforts of Johnson to mess things up with an abysmal torso and arms. I understand there was some reluctance on Abrams’ part to take up the reins again, but I am hoping he will have done it well. But there’s always the overarching shadow of the possibility of Disney causing yet another dog’s dinner of it, despite J. J. Abrams. He will, after all, have to do as they tell him.

So, it all boils down to today. I will go to see Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, as I said, at the 10:05 performance today. I am hopeful that the genius of J. J. Abrams will recover something beautiful from the catastrophic mess left by Rian Johnson – a mess which even included the pointless death of Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi. I am wondering quite how Abrams is going to achieve that feat. I am wondering how he’s going to bring together all the story threads from his masterpiece that was The Force Awakens: how he’s going to bring in the obvious Force-sensitivity of Finn; if Kylo Ren will turn to the Light Side of the Force; how he’s going to explain Rey’s parentage and her Force-sensitivity; how he’s going to explain why the Skywalker lightsaber called out to Rey in a Force dream in The Force Awakens. How (and even if) he’s going to incorporate any of the canonical back-story from books like Star Wars: Before the Awakening which included many important attributes for the characters Finn, Rey and Poe. And will Luke reappear as a Force-ghost? How is he going to incorporate the much-touted reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, who supposedly died at the end of Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi, without rendering the story arc of all six of the original movies pointless?* All these questions and more, I am hopeful, will be answered by Abrams’ story today, because he wrote the original story that introduced the new characters (Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo), and he knows what he had in mind for them in the first place.

Well, we shall see. The trepidation of being able to sort out the balls-up that was The Last Jedi. The hope that Abrams will successfully work his genius to make everything right again.

I’m sure there’s a spiritual parallel there somewhere 😉

But I do hope that I will emerge from that cinema this afternoon with a sense of closure. Star Wars is an extremely important part of my life; I have so much invested in the characters and the stories, and I really don’t want to be disappointed. But I’m hopeful that J. J. will do a good job.

The Force will be with you. Always 🙂


*The original movies were Star Wars – A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi. These were then succeeded by the ‘Prequel Trilogy’ consisting of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. The whole overarching theme of these stories was the fall and subsequent redemption of Anakin Skywalker (later Darth Vader) and his destruction of the Dark Side powers known as the Sith when he destroys Emperor Palpatine, thus turning back to the Light after his long sojourn under the Dark Side of the Force.

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Apocalypse

The book of Revelation, sometimes also called ‘Apocalypse’, ‘The Revelation of John’, or even (incorrectly) ‘Revelations’ (like ‘Trivial Pursuits’, ‘Cliff Richards’, or ‘Tescos’; all pluralised words that definitely shouldn’t be 😉 ) is probably the most confusing book in the entire Bible, and it is certainly the most confusing in the New Testament.

Its weird imagery often reads more like a nightmare than anything else. And, in fact, so uncertain were the early Church as to its origins or relevance, that it was almost left out of the Canon of Scripture that we know today. The early Church fathers, in considering whether to include the book of Revelation into the Canon, took the decision to include it only under the following strict conditions: 1) It was not to be used for any major doctrine or in any liturgy of the church; 2) It did not have the canonical authority of the other New Testament writings; and 3) It was never to be taken literally in any way, but only metaphorically, as an encouragement for Christians about to undergo major persecution and bloodshed. Naturally, these conditions have been conveniently forgotten, or more likely never even heard of, by those in the church today who love to misuse this book to the detriment of others.

Of course, because of what I am increasingly thinking of as ‘Chalke’s Law’, which states:

“There are some people who will always find the angry verses in the Bible to confirm their obsession with anger and exclusion” (Steve Chalke)

…the book, with its weird and (on the surface) violent imagery is just perfect for those certain Christians who rejoice in – and indeed savour with eager and gleeful anticipation – the idea of the horrific mutilation, deaths, slaughter, and then endless torment of those who don’t agree with them, to the tune of rivers of the blood of the ‘unrighteous’ to the depth of a horse’s stirrups. Yes, that imagery is there in Revelation, but of course it doesn’t mean what it says on the surface.

This is because we need to remember that Revelation was written in the ‘apocalyptic’ style (which is why in some quarters it’s referred to as the ‘Apocalypse’), and as such it is written in a sort of code, some of which has been lost to antiquity, but some of which can be inferred by its historical context, and from whom the book was written to. In fact I think this is why, in some apocalyptic writings, the author is instructed to ‘seal up what is written’ *, because it concerns things that need to be worked out properly. A good example of this would be in Daniel 12:4; the second half of the book of Daniel is written in the apocalyptic style, as are parts of Ezekiel. For more on this subject, I would far rather defer to more learned scholars than myself, who know far more about it than I do. For example, N. T. Wright’s ‘Revelation for Everyone’ would be a good starter; it is a very informative book and is written in a style that is very easy to understand.

The worst thing that can be done with apocalyptic literature like Revelation is to read it literally, because it was never intended to be read as such, and indeed the misuse of this book by ignorant people (ignorant in both or either senses of a) not knowing, and b) being unimaginably unintelligent) has caused untold harm to millions of people all down through history. Indeed, I would say that no book has been misinterpreted and misapplied to others’ detriment as has Revelation. And all because people haven’t a clue what they are doing with this most lethal, and yet most blessing, of all the books in the Bible. The very last thing we should do with most of this book is to take it literally.

And yet, so much of modern theology, in terms of both ecclesiastical theology and common theology, is based on passages in Revelation. Without discussing these ideas specifically here, the concept of Heaven as an afterlife idea and the concept of ‘hell’ being a lake of burning sulfur, are both concepts which are strongly based on passages from Revelation. Even the ‘Pearly Gates’, where St. Peter is reportedly employed as a receptionist; even they are entirely from Revelation. Reference for the Pearly Gates? Revelation 21:21 is where that comes from. Go and take a look 😉

So, read in the light of the idea of an angry, retributive ‘nasty god’ like that found in much of the Old Testament, Revelation will of course be seen as incredibly bad news for most people, most of whom are going to be sorry they were born, according to the gleeful claims of those ‘certain Christians’ I mentioned above.

However, read in the light of Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the King of Love, the book can in fact instead be seen as excellent news for everyone. Again, I have here neither the time, the knowledge, nor indeed the inclination to expound on why this is the case; instead I would again refer you to people who really know what they are talking about. However, I would like to share with you today a brilliant piece by my friend Mo Thomas, where he presents an opposite view to the Evangelically-accepted ‘violent’ view of Revelation. No-one should read Revelation without having to hand several huge pinches of salt, and the definite guidance of the Holy Spirit to glean what it means for us today, and, more relevantly, what it means for you personally today. Formation of major doctrine from Scriptures in Revelation is a serious error, as we have already seen. Personally, I happen to think that formation of any major doctrine is also an error, but that’s just me 😉 I’d far rather live a life in the Spirit, completely unbound by others’ doctrines, rules and strictures. I’ll listen to others’ ideas, of course, but let’s just say there’s a lot of bones I spit out while I eat the meat 😉

Anyway, less of the masticatory** digressions; I will hand you over to Mo:


The term for “Revelation” is the Greek “Apocalypse”, or the “unveiling”. John’s revelation then in the scripture is primarily about the “unveiling” of the Person and Work of Jesus, not primarily the symbols, timelines, and events. But once seen through this lens…the symbols, timelines and events start coming into focus.

The subversive nature of the apocalypse can trip up many who are looking for a violent overthrow when Christ returns, much like the Messianic expectation of those in the 1st century. This type of overthrow requires a calamity-filled blood-soaked eschatology, which unwittingly fosters a perspective of escapism – with no authentic desire to engage and participate in God’s Kingdom here, now.

Here’s the thing. The book of Revelation may just be the most non-violent war scroll ever recorded in the history of apocalyptic literature. But we can’t ever see this unless we read as it would have been interpreted by those 1st century folks. It would have filled them with hope in the midst of evil Empire, Roman oppression. Victory is achieved – not by the methods of war and violence, but by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.

What better way to motivate hope for our role in the Story than to paint an optimistic view of the Shalom and Care of God for all that He reconciled to Himself, for His Cosmos.

The subversive way of the Slain Lamb continues to make its way forward.
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“Jesus is not coming back to renounce the Sermon on the Mount and kill 200 million people.

If that’s your reading of Revelation, what can I say? Lord, have mercy.”

– Brian Zahnd
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The brilliant, subversive narrative we find at the end of our Bibles hinges on the throne room scene in Revelation chapter 5, where John hears an announcement for the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He turns, expecting to see a ferocious beast that tears His enemies apart, limb from limb, as Israel had long hoped and expected.

Instead, John turns and sees a tiny Lamb, looking as if it had just been slain. Ahhhh… the crucified Christ! From that point on, we no longer see ANY mention of a lion. But 29 more times, we see the Lamb of God, the prevailing theme of the Story.

This is masterful apocalyptic literature.

Yes, this King is victorious, and He reigns in power. Yet, this power is most clearly and succinctly displayed on the Cross, where we see that He would rather die for His enemies than kill them.

The book of Revelation is the Apocalypse, the “unveiling”, of Jesus the Christ, who displays His Power as the Crucified and Risen and Victorious Lamb. Don’t distort the brilliant subversion by making it a literal book about “end times” and Anti-Christ figures and the necessity of bloody violence.

Make it about our Beautiful King, the Crucified One who overcomes.

Rev 5:13. And I heard every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth [in Hades, the place of departed spirits] and on the sea and all that is in it, crying out together, To Him Who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb be ascribed the blessing and the honor and the majesty (glory, splendor) and the power (might and dominion) forever and ever (through the eternities of the eternities)!

Come, let us worship.

Shalom

– Mo Thomas


Regarding the return of the ‘Warrior Jesus’, and regarding a couple of other Revelation points, I once put it like this:

“If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, it follows that He will be the same Jesus when He returns. The angels at the Ascension said that ‘this same Jesus…’ will return; they never said He’d return as someone different. In addition, the passage (in Revelation 5:6) about the Lamb on the throne describes Him as a Lamb, not as a Lion. He will return as a Lamb, because He left as a Lamb. That whole scene is about the literary bait-and-switch of the throne of a mighty King, the King of the Universe, in fact, being the Lamb looking as if it had been slain in the centre of the throne. The power and right to rule comes from the power of God, which is the power of the Cross – as in, the submission of the Lamb to the point of death, thus showing where true power actually lies, in the self-giving nature of God and NOT the desire to lord it over others.

“Furthermore, Revelation is very much a book of metaphysical imagery and weird Apocalyptic, coded writing. To interpret it literally would be a mistake, for most of the book at any rate. I personally think that Revelation is something where John was seeing things that were very hard to describe from a human point of view, and so they need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. Or a dose of magic mushrooms”.

As one final comment, and as a general tip for reading Revelation, I would say that if you come across a passage in that book that the Spirit does not make come alive for you, then by all means feel free to set that passage aside until such time as She does make it come alive for you. Some of it you may never understand, and this is not surprising as the book was in fact not written to you anyway (Rev 1:4). But that’s all right. We don’t have to ‘get’ it all; not by a long chalk.


*Yes, that’s why there’s a sealed scroll for the header image. Much of Revelation is still sealed for many people, including myself, and the ‘Secret of the Lord‘ notwithstanding 😉

**Related to chewing. Just so you know.

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If I’m Wrong…

Here’s an excellent article by Ryan Harbidge, on the Evangelical misuse of the idea of ‘Pascal’s Wager’:


If I’m Wrong

Sometimes religious people post stuff on social media that just makes me roll my eyes.

This meme is one of them.

It originates from the thinking of Blaise Pascal and is thus called “Pascals Wager”.  It is one of those which has been making the rounds online lately.  This is a classic manipulative tactic designed to target your deepest existential fears. It’s an attempt to bypass your ability to reason with the intent of herding you into the corals of fear based religion.  I would like to point out some problems with the thinking it represents:

There is an assumption going on in the background that the only reason we are brought into material existence is to see if we can pass a divine final exam. To hopefully come to find and believe in the only correct information about God. The purpose of acquiring this information is not for the good of this life either. It is only so you can escape this earth someday and more importantly….escape the default destiny of being tortured forever in hell for the crime of not finding the right information in time.  The end goal is to end up in some blissful place called “heaven” for eternity.   Based on this thought process which is the foundation of evangelical Christianity, there are two logical ways of thinking about this meme.

1.  There are thousands of religions around the world.  Apparently there is only one belief system which will exempt you from eternal torture. Christians claim that theirs is the only one.  However, most other religions make the same claim.  I’m not much of a gambler. In fact, I once had to walk through the casino on a cruise ship to get to another part of the boat.  I saw the slot machines and was about to put a quarter into one, when I realized I would likely never see that quarter again.  I put it back in my pocket and kept on walking.  The stakes are much higher and the odds are not in your favour in this supposed eternal gamble.  Wouldn’t it be smarter to embrace and practice all religions?  I would be much safer becoming a Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist Christian just as a start!  Exhausting, yes.  But hey…who wants to be tortured forever?  Might be worth it to diversify.

2.  Most Christians believe that hell is a place where the presence of God is absent. They also believe that somehow, while loved ones who died without believing correctly are being tortured endlessly, they will be enjoying heavens bliss.  I won’t presume to know your capacity for relationship with dodgy people, but for me, I would have a real hard time trusting someone who claims to be good and merciful, then finding out that he tortures people in his basement.  I just couldn’t bring myself to have a close, vulnerable relationship with that person.  Why?  Anyone who tortures someone else—for any reason is a monster and cannot be trusted!  If the religious people are right and God is truly like that, then God is indeed a monster. If heaven is a place where that god is, heaven is really hell.  “Hell” is an excellent name to call a place where you are trapped for eternity with someone you can’t trust. Someone you cannot ever feel safe around.  Knowing that people you love—people this god claimed to love while they were in physical form are being mercilessly tortured with no chance of reprieve. Also, if hell is a place where that god is absent, it must be heaven.  It becomes a place of bliss.

What if Jesus was right?  What if there isn’t and never has been some quid pro quo intellectually or morally for enjoying a nice afterlife?  What if Jesus was simply introducing to us a way of living (the way of Christ) which shows us how to be fully human and live fully alive on this earth as we were meant to live?  What if the “heaven” we create on earth from living this way simply continues in the afterlife?  What if we have always been unconditionally loved and accepted by a God who is incapable of doing anything else and all we need to do is to participate in the love and acceptance we have always had?

If I’m right, we live in a very safe universe where we truly can be at peace, where we can experience joy, where authentic relationship can flourish as we live in a reality which is saturated with love.

If I’m wrong, we’re all screwed.  No matter what you believe.

As brilliant as Mr. Pascal was, his thought process is rooted in the wrong presuppositions. I choose to believe Jesus and His way of living!

– Ryan Harbidge, shared with his gracious permission.


Here is the link to the original article

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