All posts by Tony

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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Elevenses

“Jesus: ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’; but I say to you, love your enemies.’ For the 1st century Jews, the effect was the same as if a preacher stood up today and said, ‘The Bible says……but I say to you…..’”
– Brian Zahnd

Deconstructing our faith is letting go of any part of whatever you believe that does NOT tell you that you are absolutely, unconditionally acceptance, included, loved and beloved. It can be scary and feel overwhelming.  But it is one of the most beautiful things you will ever do. What remains is real and pure and celebrates who you are, without condition.
– Susan Cottrell

When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try and control those around you, and how those around you perceive you
– Sacha DeSouza

If you love, and love well, I don’t really care what you call yourself. You embody my faith, which, so said Paul, counts only when expressing itself through love.
I know a great many people who, in silence and anonymity, better flesh out the faith many claim to have than most (including myself) who insist on labeling what they have.
– Jeff Turner

Religion: You have to understand an ancient Jewish text correctly to have knowledge of God.
Spirit: No, you don’t. Realize it was the story and descriptions of their experiences, centuries ago and create your stories with your own descriptions of your own experiences today.
– Ken Etter

Troll comment [talking about brother Christians who don’t believe the same as she does]: “And they will also be going to hell for their sins against God/Jesus”

Me: “Nah, God says ‘I will remember their sins no more’. It’s right there in your Rulebook, with no conditions attached”
– Me

Everyone fails at being who they’re supposed to be. The important thing is to succeed in being who you really are.
– Sue

Grace does not close your eyes to sin. Grace opens your eyes to your identity as righteous, and behaviour always follows identity.
– Don Keathley

“Love Me or burn”. Put like that, it’s easy to see that God just isn’t like that.
– Me

[commenting on incorrect apostrophe use in a ‘credible’ video] It seems like people put in extra work to look less intelligent
-Anon

Grace teaches that the Father gives gifts, not merit badges.
– Don Keathley

[To a judgmental person on a forum] Is it your entire calling in life to judge others, or is it just something that you do in your spare time?
– Me

I’ve decided to stay up on New Year’s Eve this year. Not to see the New Year in, but to make sure this one leaves…
– Graham

To believe God cannot look at sin is anti-biblical.
Habakkuk states otherwise.
Jesus being with sinners states otherwise.
Jesus becoming human states otherwise.
Jesus becoming sin for us states otherwise.
Be careful what you believe and have been taught.
– Dale

“Christianity is like a swimming-pool. All the noise comes from the shallow end.”
– Quote from a US theologian.

Do you know why old men study the scriptures? it is because they are cramming for final exams.
– Richard Carlin

[In response to a really wise statement] “I am tattooing this to my soul.”
– ‘Lace’

 

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Taking a Break

Just a quick post to let my readers know that I will probably not be posting quite as regularly over the next few weeks, if at all.

I am going to be taking a bit of a break, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I see this as what Father is doing with me at the moment; He’s teaching me in the quiet of my heart and, like the Teacher in Matthew 13:52, I will be learning new things and be reminded of old things from the storehouse of my heart.

Can I encourage my readers maybe to do the same – if that’s what you feel Father is calling you to do – and revisit, in this New Year, the foundations, the truths and your experiences of Him that form the basis of your faith. Cast off the shackles of men’s expectations, sit at Jesus’s feet, and listen. That’s what I am going to be doing.

Secondly, I am currently suffering from a long-term illness (not life-threatening!) that is, amongst other things, preventing me from thinking clearly, and from doing justice to the subject matter with which I Iove to bless my readers. That also means that flying is off the table for me at present due to the illness, and that’s a real bummer as this time of year is the heart of the night flying season – I love night flying so much – and I was really looking forward to flying G-VIZZ at night this year. Well, hey-ho 🙂

So let me just leave you with these exhortations: Stay close to Jesus; carry His burden and no-one else’s; and remember there’s nothing at all that you can do, or fail to do, that can change how God feels towards you.

Grace and Peace to you 😀

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Sovereignty

The question of ‘Sovereignty’; whether God is ‘really in charge’, is a really interesting one, and raises all kinds of questions: some of them comforting; some of them awkward; many of them unanswerable; and just about all of them questions that people have been asking for centuries.

It touches on the concepts of ‘Theodicy’ (If God is all-loving, and all-powerful, why does He allow suffering?) and human free-will; predestination; future-fluidity (is the future fixed?); and many other ideas too.

Of course, I can’t answer those questions; no-one can. As I have mentioned in a previous article, Life’s Big Questions are only answered over the space of years; lifetimes even. But every so often, something comes up that sheds just another smidgen of truth; a piece of the jigsaw if you will[1], that puts into our hearts just another small insight to add to those already there.

Here is just such an item: a short essay by Ken Nichols, whose work I have published on this blog several times.


When you view God’s “sovereignty” as meaning CONTROL, then you miss the whole point and run into all these “conflicts” with man’s free will.

Sovereignty doesn’t mean God CONTROLS everything. It means He has a plan that will ultimately come to pass. He doesn’t HAVE to control it for that to happen.

It’s like shooting an arrow at a target. If you are a good archer, you know once you’ve released the arrow, that it WILL hit the target, though it may take time to get there. You don’t have to course adjust and control it while it’s on the way there.

That is how it is with the plan of God for the universe. He “released” the plan long ago. It’s on it’s way to it’s completion (target). He doesn’t have to micro-manage and course-adjust in order to make sure it gets there. Because He’s the BEST archer that ever was, and never will He ever “miss the mark” (sin).

We, on the other hand, LIVE for micro-managing, and can’t see how God could NOT, while looking through our lens of the desire to control events, need or want to control every element of His creation, either now or at some point in the future. Us, who OFTEN “miss the mark” (sin), do not grasp a God who never can.

Once set in motion, it will come to completion. And all without the violation of any man’s free will.

THAT’S God’s sovereignty.

– Ken Nichols, used with his kind permission

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Hence the header picture being one of a jigsaw with several pieces missing.

Thanos

I don’t know how many of my readers have seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s epic story arc spanning twenty-three films, and more are in the pipeline.

The main story is that there’s a bad guy called Thanos[1], who wants to collect the ‘Infinity Stones’, which will give him the power to destroy half of the population of the entire Universe, for the purposes of ‘balance’.  My friend Mo Thomas wrote an excellent piece using Thanos as an illustration, which I wanted to share with you here. He followed it up with a quotation from the great A. W. Tozer, too; can’t go wrong! 🙂

Here you go:


Thanos – Compassionate Supervillain?

Did you watch Avengers: Infinity War? Consider the character of Thanos the villain – his “noble” desire was to collect the stones, and then wipe out 1/2 the population for the greater good of the world. Agree? If you haven’t seen it, imagine Hitler wiping out 6 million Jews, and many other evil, sadistic dictators throughout history who kill off portions of humanity in the name of progress.

What would you say, if you had no familiarity with the Bible, and you heard the following about God:

1 He wiped out the ENTIRE world’s population – including women, children, and babies – except for saving 8 people to start over (Noah and family), all for the greater good of the world.

2 He directly caused rape and infants being bashed against rocks. (Isaiah 13)

3 He authorized that virgins should be kept as spoils of war after a victory against another people group.

4 He will sustain most of the world’s population in excruciating torment for billions upon billions of years, without hope of repentance, for NOT loving Him in response to His unconditional love.

As an “unbeliever” hearing this unfiltered truth, what image of God would come to your mind? What is the essential character of God that you’re being asked to believe, and follow???

Is this a biblical case of both terrorist/rescuer residing in the same deity, like…
Jekyll and Hyde?
Thanos and Ironman?
Hitler and MLK?
God the Father and God the Son?

What we need to be saved from is our counterfeit, distorted views of God. Don’t confuse the Abba of Jesus with a Marvel terrorist villain or an evil human dictator, which can easily happen when one reads the Scriptures using the distorted lens of dead-letter literalism without any aid from the Spirit of Christ.

The portrait of God we have in our mind and heart is an important and powerful indicator of one’s perspective towards life, and towards others made in Their image – we become Who we behold.

________________

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.

We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church.

Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech…”

A.W. Tozer


– Mo Thomas, used with his kind permission

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Header picture shows Marvel’s arch-villain Thanos, played by actor Josh Brolin

The Reign of God

Here’s an insightful little meditation adapted from the work of Richard Rohr:


Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated for history a new social order. He called it the Reign or Kingdom of God and it became the guiding image of his entire ministry. The Reign of God is the subject of Jesus’ inaugural address (see Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:17, and Luke 4:14–30), his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), and the majority of his parables. Once this guiding vision of God’s will became clear to Jesus, which seems to have happened when he was about thirty and alone in the desert, everything else came into perspective. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel says, “From then onwards” (Mt 4:17), Jesus began to preach.

In order to explain this concept, it may be helpful to first say what it is not: the “Kingdom” is not synonymous with heaven. Many Christians have mistakenly thought that the Reign of God is “eternal life,” or where we go after we die. That idea is disproven by Jesus’ own prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

“Thy Kingdom come” means very clearly that God’s realm is something that enters into this world, or, as Jesus puts it, “is close at hand” (Matthew 10:7). We shouldn’t project it into another world. What we discover in the New Testament, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, is that the Kingdom of God is a new world order, a new age, a promised hope begun in the teaching and ministry of Jesus—and continued in us.

I think of the Kingdom of God as the Really Real (with two capital Rs). That experience of the Really Real—the “Kingdom” experience—is the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It’s Reality with a capital R, the very bottom line, the pattern-that-connects. It’s the goal of all true religion, the experience of the Absolute, the Eternal, what is.

God gives us just enough tastes of God’s realm to believe in it and to want it more than anything. In the parables, Jesus never says the Kingdom is totally now or totally later. It’s always now-and-not-yet. When we live inside the Really Real, we live in a “threshold space” between this world and the next. We learn how to live between heaven and earth, one foot in both worlds, holding them precious together.

We only have the first fruits of the Kingdom in this world, but we experience enough to know that it’s the only thing that will ever satisfy us. Once we have had the truth, half-truths do not satisfy us anymore. In its light, everything else is relative, even our own life.

— Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 3–4, 29, 109–110, 111.

(Source: Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation)

 

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Le Pique-Nique

Pique – Nique is of course French for ‘Picnic’

Another collection of (hopefully) profound and/or interesting quotes from across the Internet. Oddly, many of them this time around are by anonymous people.

Oh well. Enjoy 🙂 :


People seem to have a tendency to treat their notions about God as though the notions are God.
– Anon

I’ve been struggling to sleep recently, but I got half way through your comment and was out like a light for a solid 8 hours. Thank you so much!
– Anon

The [high-control religious cult] are entitled to their own beliefs, but they are not entitled to their own facts.
– Gordon

A baby bird honors the egg by breaking it, not by remaining inside of it longer than it should and dying. There are some things in your life that you are meant to honor by breaking.
– Jeff Turner

If God desires us to love Him in any serious way, He would be stupid to threaten us with Hell. Or any other punishment. Once punishment is introduced, any action comes from fear, not love.
– Susie

If wrath would be a property of God it would be the 10th fruit of the Spirit. It is not.
– Anon

Do not be concerned so much with what people say and think about you. That only causes you not to believe what God says about you.
– Dave Adams

God Has
More Faith In You
Than
You Have In God
– Mo Thomas

That’s one of the major reasons I left [a well-known Fundamentalist church]; it’s difficult to take a church service seriously when it’s basically Sunday School with bigger words.
– Dane

Probably the number one thing that has given me hope is the idea that I’ve always been good underneath all of the lies; that the truth is for me and not against me.
– Amy

The Bible worshippers think God stopped speaking after the last word in the book of Revelation. Then they limit God to just be a sign poster pointing you back at the Bible.
– Kehinde

We often say that the good is the enemy of the best, and we should add to it that the familiar is the enemy of the possible.
– Jeff Turner

Jesus says in John on one occasion that the Spirit would lead the disciples into all truth. In another, He says no one can come to Him unless the Father draws them. Nowhere does it say the Bible will do either. So when evangelicals put a greater emphasis on the authority of the Bible, they minimize the Spirit’s role in both the incarnation and resurrection. The Bible did not become incarnate nor was it raised from the dead. Jesus was and did.
– Anon

Only love that cannot be changed by our behaviour can actually change our behaviour.
– Dave Griffiths

The only “sinner’s prayer” that will ever matter was not prayed by you, but on your behalf: “Father, forgive them. They have no idea what they’re doing.”
– Jeff Turner

“The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom – it’s how we first begin to take God seriously. But if we stay on the road of divine wisdom long enough, we finally discover that God is love and One from whom we have nothing to fear. Indeed, perfect love casts out all fear.”
– Brian Zahnd

“Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”
– Lenny Bruce

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is; it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.
– Richard Feynman

Have you learned that you can’t speak butterfly language with caterpillar people?
– Don Keathley

 

 

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The Misinterpretation of Grace

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Grace and the Believer's Freedom

I read a great little piece earlier this year by Jamie Englehart, whose work I have featured before here on my blog.

To conclude my short series of reblogs on the nature of the believer’s freedom under Grace, I thought it good to share his short piece here in order to sort-of sum up.

Be free!


“The litmus test of if what we are preaching and listening to is the Gospel is best summed up by British pastor and theologian D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones ‘There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that understanding, then it is not the gospel.’

“If we are afraid of that [concept], then we will preach a mixture of law and grace which is worse. Paul called that witchcraft in Galatians and taught that is how you fall from grace. When you sin you fall into grace, not from grace, because where sin abounds grace much more abounds (Rom 5:20). Now does that mean we should just run around sinning? Of course not; the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:12). Plus there are consequences to sin and we will reap what we sow, but that is why we need to leave the sheriffing of the Kingdom to the Holy Spirit and trust that He that began a work in people will bring it to completion” (Phil 1:6).

– Jamie Englehart, used here with his kind permission. Scripture references inserted by me.

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