Monthly Archives: November 2021

Your Name’s Above All Names – Reblog

A couple of years ago, I shared one of the most simple and yet profound songs I know, one of those songs that instantly transports me into the Throne Room of God, so to speak.

Because the truths expressed in that song, and in the article that I wrote on it, are so important and uplifting, I thought that now was a good time to share it once again. So, without further ado, let’s continue:


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[1] 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[2] 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.

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1 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….
2 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!

Experts. Huh. What Do They Know?

Reflections on the Theologian, the Layperson and Theological Expertise

Theology: the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity.[1]

Theologian: a person versed in theology, especially Christian theology; divine.[2]

Layperson:
1)
a person who is not a member of the clergy; one of the laity;
2)
a person who is not a member of a given profession, as law or medicine.[3]

 

Two or three years ago, I had a bit of a run-in with a ‘proper theologian’, a man who had been trained at the prestigious American theological college, Fuller Theological Seminary (and who actually has that written as a subtitle on his Facebook profile!).

I made the mistake of placing a Grace-based comment/reply to an article on his personal blog, where, of course, all his sympathisers, sycophants and toadies also dwelt. I received a sharp and painful broadside from him in reply, and my mental picture was one of this guy surrounded by lots of stern, frowning, joyless grey men all with their arms folded, nodding in silent agreement with him. In essence, he told me that he knew exactly what the truth actually is, and insinuated that how dare I (a mere layperson) presume to teach something different. There was no flexibility, no love, no joy, no compassion and no gentleness in his reply, just more of a ‘get stuffed!’ kind of feel to it – a rigid, dogmatic reply leaving no room for discussion which clearly wouldn’t have been welcome anyway. I know a couple who attend the church where this chap is the assistant minister, and they too have had similar problems with him. The lady of the couple was even invited out ‘for a coffee’ by this bloke so that he could set her straight on her doctrinal differences. She refused to go, and good for her, too.

So, this leads us to the question: should ‘proper’ theologians, and especially the arrogant ones like this chap, be considered to be somehow ‘superior’ in their knowledge of the things of God? Should we modify, ignore or push down our own insights because these people tell us we are somehow wrong? Should we have respect for them bordering on total submission and an acknowledgement that in fact yes, they are right, and who am I to argue? Like the ancient Israelites did under Moses and, later, under their religious leaders like the Scribes and Pharisees?

Well, you’ve probably guessed by now that my answer would be an emphatic ‘No!’ 😀

“There are many amongst us who believe within themselves that they can never become good theologians, that they could do better in almost any other realm. Yet they cannot imagine that their existence could be anything other than theological existence. Even if they had to give up theology as their vocational work, they would never cease to ask the theological question. It would pursue them into every realm. They would be bound to it, actually, if not vocationally. They could not be sure that they could fulfill its demands, but they would be sure that they were in its bondage. They who believe those things in their hearts belong to the assembly of God. They are grasped by the Divine Spirit. They have received the gift of knowledge. They are theologians.”

-Paul Tillich, ‘Shaking the Foundations, The Theologian’

Training and expertise in a subject, especially in one like theology, does not preclude other, ‘untrained’, people from also having expertise in the subject. You can indeed have experts in a subject who have not studied it; however a lifetime of experience in the field can give the equivalent of an education in the subject – just by experience rather than study. This is why learned societies like the Royal Society of Biology – of which I was a Member (and a Chartered Biologist)  up until my retirement in April – allow the membership of people who have years of experience in lieu of study.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that nearly two years’ experience of coping with Covid-19 lockdowns, talking-head discussions and social media misinformation can in any way substitute for a proper medical, biological or epidemiological education for the average man in the street. Experience, remember, is also moulded by opinions in the process of gaining that experience, and many of those opinions will be incorrect. The University of YouTube is not definitive on matters technical. The only people who say education/qualifications have no value are the people who themselves have none. All that is achieved by people who say they’ve graduated from the ‘University of Life’, or whose alma mater is the ‘School of Hard Knocks’, is simply to advertise their lack of a University education; in my opinion it’s simply best not to say anything 😉 There’s nothing wrong with a lack of a University education, just so long as you don’t then pretend to be an expert in something you haven’t a clue about. That, in the case of medical issues, can be dangerous, indeed even lethal.

On a Covid-related thread, I once saw some oik saying, “Experts. Huh. What do they know?”

Almost a self-defeating question!

Of course, I firmly believe that having expertise is important, and having experts to put that expertise into practice is also important. If I needed some work doing with something like plumbing or gas engineering, I wouldn’t have a clue, so I’d call in the experts who do know what to do. Otherwise I’d flood my house or blow it up. A conked boiler needs an expert to come and fix it!

If someone’s up flying with me in an aeroplane, they’d be well-advised to leave the flying to me – the trained expert!

If you’re going into surgery, would you prefer the services of a trained and experienced surgeon, or the guy off YouTube?

I think I have made my point 🙂

So, what do experts know? Well, a damn sight more than most people, that’s what they know.  That’s why they’re the experts, and that’s why we should listen to their advice.

It almost goes without saying, doesn’t it?

But when it comes to theology, I personally think it’s somewhat different. You see, in terms of theology, none of us really knows anything with 100% certainty, especially not anything provable, and especially when one person’s experience of God is different from someone else’s.

Even what I consider to be my own, personally absolute assurance of God’s existence, and His total love for me that I have experienced, could still be some sort of mental illusion or something. In theology, we are all still learners, and always will be.

So theology, possibly uniquely, does not require training in the sense of the teachers tell you about God and about how to experience Him, and what it feels like when you do. Even a trained theologian has to find that out for themselves.[4]

Yes, it’s vitally important to remember that it is also good to listen to trained theologians because they can open up for you aspects of faith that you’d never even dreamed existed, and it’s always good to ask an expert on such things – provided that expert approaches the subject in a constructive way, and not in a total put-down way like that Assistant Minister bloke did in my introduction to this essay.

But, at the end of the day,  the theologians’ input should be just one of the many facets of the issue at hand that you consider, and in the final analysis you must still form your own opinions, whether or not the theologians (amateur and professional!) agree with you about them. The Holy Spirit within you is a far better, and more authoritative, teacher than all the world’s theologians put together 🙂

So, your experience of God is therefore your own, and is equally valid – in fact individually, specifically and personally valid for you – no matter what anyone else says. You have the same right to comment on the things of God as does anyone else, professed theologian or not, because theologians do not have a monopoly on God, or on humanity’s knowledge of Him. One lady, in a thread I was commenting on, asked me what theological qualifications I have, like degrees in Divinity and that sort of thing. While I reluctantly told her that, yes, I do have qualifications in theology, I wasn’t any more specific than that, and I also said that anyway here in the UK we don’t tend to stand as much on that sort of thing as they do in the USA. The validity of what I write does not depend on my qualifications, but on the fruit that it bears in people’s lives, including my own.

And it’s the same for you too; even simply sharing words of comfort with someone who is upset about something counts as theology, because you are, simply by being there, bringing the Presence, comfort and healing of God into that situation without even trying. And that doesn’t need any quaifications at all. And that’s theology in and of itself. That makes you a theologian in my book! 🙂

Therefore, I trust that you can now see that theological knowledge is not the exclusive property of those who are theologically trained. While such trained people have a valid contribution to make, so does the layperson/ So everyone can indeed be a theologian[5], even if only because of the simple fact that God deals with each of us in a unique way; we each have the same Spirit of Christ dwelling within us. Each of us has our own personal experience and knowledge of God – which is, after all, theology: Knowledge of God.

And no-one can take that away from you, nor can they deny it or rubbish it in any way. It’s yours; cherish it <3

Grace and Peace

 

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Definition from dictionary.com
2 Definition from dictionary.com
3 Definition from dictionary.com
4 I’m not knocking theological training; I even have some of it myself. It is useful in looking at aspects of the Divine that maybe others hadn’t considered. It is also useful in many facets of the study of the Divine, for example, in looking at the historical and social context of Scripture passages, so that we can glean insights as to what others from the deeps of time have thought about God. It’s good to have a special, trained insight into deeper meanings and be able to mine hidden treasures from the Scriptures. Things like that and more.
5 …although I accept that not everyone wants to be one!

The Ha-ha

It’s been a good few months now since I last shared any thoughts on my blog, which I explained at around the same time. My good friend Phil Hendry also has a blog, and oddly enough, he too has had somewhat of a hiatus in his blog posts – but today he shared his first post for some time; a piece called ‘Whitewashed Tombs’.

I liked the post so much that I thought I’d share it here, for your enjoyment and upbuilding. I particularly loved the analogy of the ‘ha-ha’, hence me naming my post with that title. So Phil and I are posting our first items in months, but it’s me who’s the pirate 😉

Over to Phil:


Whitewashed Tombs

The Church of England has begun a ‘conversation’ around the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion. The main focus at this stage is on a course, and associated supporting resources, known collectively as ‘Living in Love and Faith’. I did the course myself a few months ago, and found it interesting and thought-provoking. At the moment I am helping to facilitate another course for our deanery (a deanery is a local group of churches). It is proving, again, interesting – perhaps more so than last time, because it’s a much more diverse group.

Something has been ‘bubbling away’ in the back of my mind for a while, but really came to the boil after the most recent session, regarding how members of the church see themselves.

We seem, naturally, to identify with the characters in the gospel stories whom Jesus, rescues, ransoms, heals, restores, forgives. Understandably so, I think, given that many people in churches feel as though they have been rescued, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. But something odd, if not to say disturbing, seems to happen then, in a lot of cases – something which I think we’re usually completely blind to.

If we aren’t really careful, we can find ourselves becoming ‘defenders of the faith’ or ‘gatekeepers’ – people who see themselves as preserving the purity of the faith, defending what is ‘right’ against what is ‘wrong’ and making sure that the message doesn’t get ‘watered down’ or compromised. In so doing, we draw ‘lines in the sand’ – we divide people into those who are good and ‘in’ versus those who are ‘out’ and who must change, or show willingness to change, before we will countenance the idea of letting them ‘in’.

Without realising it, we are in danger of becoming just like the people whom Jesus railed against in (for instance) Matthew 23:13:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

How dare we judge? Did Jesus not say, in Matthew 7:1-2 for instance :

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“

Having thought about that, I had a quick read through many of Jesus’ interactions with those excluded by the religious of the day – the sinners, tax collectors, lepers, cripples, blind, etc., – all those seen, at the time, as ‘unclean’ and therefore excluded from temple and synagogue. Jesus doesn’t go in for any of that, at all. He excludes no-one, on any grounds (except, possibly, those who seek to exclude others). He makes himself ‘ritually unclean’ by touching lepers; He heals the sick, forgives sinners, makes the blind see and the lame walk… All things which would ‘pollute’ Him in the eyes of religious. He doesn’t demand repentance (change) before He heals them or forgives them – or even, usually, afterwards – though repentance frequently follows as a sign of gratitude at being accepted and treated as truly human.

It strikes me that, every time the Law of Moses gets in the way of Jesus loving someone, He sets it aside, ignores it, or changes it. With Jesus love trumps (the letter of the) law, every single time. If we are to follow him, and be truly Christlike, we must, surely expect to do the same?

We may believe that ‘the Bible clearly says’ that homosexuality is sinful (there is actually a good deal of scholarly debate about that – clear is one thing it does not appear to be!), and use that as an excuse to exclude those particular ‘sinners’ – but ask yourself – is that truly what Jesus would do? Or would He find a way, instead, to set that aside, so as to allow Him to love them instead of excluding them?

And it isn’t just LGBTQ+ people either. We have also turned against our own, bullying and excluding those who dare to believe different things from us. How is that Christlike? Jesus told us to:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Matthew 12:30-31)

He also said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.“ (Matthew 5:43-45)

What excuse do we have, therefore to abuse those who disagree with us on matters of faith, let alone those we see as ‘sinners’?

And to those who excuse themselves by saying:

‘I’m concerned for their immortal souls – I’m just saying it to warn them’,

or:

‘I’m saying it in love because I’m concerned for them’,

I would say that you are deceiving yourself. It isn’t your job. You are not a judge, and you’re fooling yourself if you think you won’t be perceived as sitting in judgment. You are told to love them… Which absolutely doesn’t include telling them they’re wrong, even if you ‘know’ they are. Have some humility: ultimately, you might actually prove to be the one who is wrong – even when, as far as you’re concerned, ‘the Bible clearly says’.

We must be so careful in our dealings with those whom we perceive to be ‘outside’ God’s grace – in whatever way that is, be it because of their gender, sexuality, theology, ethnicity, or whatever. Paul said, in his letter to the Galatians:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

If we believe that, we must treat everyone the same – in the way we ourselves would like to be treated.

We went and stayed at Lee Abbey in Devon during the summer; and I found that it has what I think was once a ‘Ha-ha’.

What on Earth, you may ask, is a ‘Ha-ha’?

Rather than being, as you might imagine, a somewhat cynical, entirely feeble, attempt at humour, a ha-ha is a wall. It’s a rather special sort of wall. From one side (which we’ll call the ‘inside’ for now), it and the field beyond look just like one open field. It appears as if the animals grazing in the field are free to wander wherever they like, even right up to those on the inside of the ha-ha.

However, all is not as it seems. From the ‘outside’, if you do try to wander towards the ‘inside’, you encounter a ditch, and inside the ditch is one face of a wall (entirely invisible from the ‘inside’), preventing those ‘outside’ from coming ‘inside’… (And preventing them pooing on the areas where people walk.)

I expect you can see now where I’m going with this.

From the inside, church appears to be or, rather, wishes to present the appearance of being, ‘open’ and accessible to anyone. But…

BUT…

If you are on the outside, or if you leave and try to come back in – then you’re likely to meet a ‘Ha-ha’ – a fence which those on the inside insist is nonexistent, but which seems all too real, and insurmountable, to you on the outside.

It is very easy for us, quite unknowingly and unintentionally, to erect barriers to people we perceive as being ‘outside’. Someone I know is fond of saying that God loves all of us just as we are, but that he loves us too much not to want to change us. It’s sincere and very well-meant. But to someone hearing that, it can be hugely threatening. I have had people say similar things around me and to me. I’m not bothered by it now, because I know now how gentle and loving God is (far more so than almost any Christian I know!) . But, ‘back in the day’, words like those made it feel as though God wanted to ‘take over’ and change ‘me’ into someone else – it felt as though I was going to lose ‘myself’, my identity, and be subsumed into some nebulous, alien, ‘otherness’, and that I’d no longer be me, and no longer know myself – that I might even become one of those terribly sincere, self-assured, Christians who actually made me feel profoundly, inexplicably, uncomfortable. That actually held me back, for decades, from truly ‘opening myself up’ to God and God’s people.

These sort of ‘barriers’ are essentially invisible to those ‘inside’ – ‘we welcome anyone and everyone’ we say. But to those outside, it doesn’t look like that. There is a feeling that if you don’t/won’t/can’t ‘conform’ with what are seen as the ‘expectations’, you won’t be welcomed – or that, if you do come, sooner or later, you’ll have to either conform in order to become ‘someone different’, or find yourself ‘outside’ – whether it be for reasons of gender identity, sexuality, doctrine, theology, colour, etc.

So have a care that you aren’t, inadvertently, whilst believing that you are simply doing what’s right, acting as one of those whom Jesus referred to as ‘whitewashed tombs’.

 


Header picture shows the ha-ha at Longleat, near Warminster, Wiltshire. This shows the view from ‘inside’ the ha-ha. The ha-ha itself is the grassy line across the picture just below half-way down, although it isn’t this obvious for its entire length.

Here is the link to Phil’s original article

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