All posts by Tony

Three Short Essays on the Bible

I suppose that, given the sort of things I read about Biblical inerrancy, infallibility and whatnot, it had to happen at some point.

Today, I read the third of three pieces in the space of two days about the relevance of the Bible and why it should not be the foundation of our faith, but Jesus. Three great writers: Don Francisco; Nathan Jennings; and Phil Drysdale (only two of whom I have actually met; Don and Phil), say very similar things in their three short pieces.

Maybe God is saying something?

I will put all three of them on here for you to read.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying in this time.

First up, Don Francisco:

How should we, as believers, use the Bible? Most Western Christians read the Bible like they read other books, starting here to finish there– a rather shallow method, at best.

I usually use several translations and a Greek dictionary/grammar or two, checking anything that seems odd until I feel like I have a sense of what the writer meant to convey; I’ll generally concentrate on a few verses unless they’re part of a longer narrative. All of that must be preceded, however, by learning when, where, and in what language that particular book/letter was written, by and to whom, and the religious and cultural milieu of both author and recipient(s)– ignorance here can result in some very strange conclusions. It takes a lot of study. I’m still learning…

Understanding Scripture is a far more complex matter today than it was when the reader’s first language was the same as the writer’s. In the roughly eighteen hundred years since the books now called the New Testament were written, the world has changed radically: Whole cultures have disappeared or suffered violent repression; portions of Biblical text have been added, lost, and removed; entire books/letters have been sidelined or discarded by segments of the Church, while others– even though written by people of uncertain identity– have been included as essential. Vital, life-impacting meanings have changed over time, calcifying as religious dogma; countless translators have struggled to rise above religious control, political and cultural biases, and their own ignorance– spiritual and otherwise: It’s not an easy thing to peer through the fog of centuries to understand what a deep and serious writer originally meant in a dead and ancient language.

The Letter to the Hebrews says, “The Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The writer obviously wasn’t referring to printed text, but the living Word of God that surrounds and fills us all. When you hear God speak to you that way, the result is something deeper and far more substantial than any text, which, after all, is only paper and ink. The written words of Scripture point your attention to reality; the voice of God gives revelation, truth and understanding. Listen well.

– Don Francisco

Next, Nathan Jennings:

Why I still read the Bible

It seems many people, in my circles at least, are often conflicted by and even turned off from the Bible and it’s many narratives because it sometimes depicts God, to our modern sensibilities, as a self absorbed genocidal tribal deity that is more concerned with his (because God is mostly depicted as a guy) “glory” and reputation than his creation. I get it, because I’ve been there and still wrestle with it and I’m sure I always will.

As I currently see it, the problem happens mostly because of a flat literalism that ignores the literary genre’s of the text. This wasn’t such a big deal, say, 1000 or even 500 years ago. However due to modern thought, scholarship, and the information age that we live in, we should be able to read the Bible and realize that in antiquity, the writers and it’s interpreters weren’t even asking the same questions we ask now.

For instance, when we read the Canaanite conquest and the great flood story, we now know that tribes wrote these stories of God destroying entire civilizations because that’s just how people in antiquity wrote stories back then.

There were literally tons of flood stories circulating by the time the Israelites recorded theirs. Of course they put their own twist on it, depicting their God different than those around them. The fact that God “drowned the entire earth”, to them, was just a small aspect and really just what gods did. It wasn’t even the point of the story. The God of the Hebrew bible flood story was extremely subversive compared to the other tribes flood stories though. Click here for more of my thoughts on the flood story.

The Canaanite conquest is regarded by most modern scholars as polemic against rival tribes and part of a larger origin story, not a historical event. In their view, if a war happened, it’s because god or the gods commanded it. That’s just how people thought thousands of years ago. The conquest story, in my opinion, is less about God destroying an entire civilization and more about God being on the side of the oppressed and with those that have nowhere to lay their head. It’s a story for those that have nothing that says “God is on our side and is for us and provides for us.

All I’m trying to say is that I know a lot of people hate the Bible, and for good reason with the way many have been taught to read it. A lot of people think the old testament specifically has nothing to offer, and depicts a God that isn’t worthy of worship or following or believing in. I get it. I just want to suggest that it isn’t what it seems.

There are so many resources out there besides the bland big box store brand readings and interpretations of the text. From the modern liberation and feminist/womanist readings, to Jewish commentary, to the most recent historical criticism. There is so much available now days that don’t choke the Bibles many narratives down to some fundamentalist doctrinal agreements.

The stories are timeless and full of wisdom. If only we realize it isn’t a history book or a literal treatise of what was. It’s a theological text that used the ancient literary tools, devices and genre’s of its time (a span of at least a thousand years) from a specific tribe to record their story, with differing voices and opinions and we are all invited into that story to participate and interpret and interact with it to help bring justice and hope for a better tomorrow. Personally, I wouldn’t even read the Bible anymore if I didn’t view it this way.

– Nathan Jennings

The link to the original blog post is here.

And now, Phil Drysdale:

The other day I was chatting with someone about the Bible and I mentioned that I didn’t see the Bible as an inerrant text.

Their face said everything… they were aghast.

They replied, “Bu.. Bu… But… if you get rid of the very foundation of your faith what do you have left?”

We talked a bit and I think I put their mind at ease (slightly).

But I’m glad this person managed to put so perfectly the issue in many people’s faith.

They have the wrong foundation!

Now don’t hear me wrong! I love the Bible, anyone who has followed my ministry for any amount of time will know I use it extensively and love it to bits. It truly is a gift from God to humanity.

However, it’s not my foundation.

Jesus is!

You know; THE Word of God.

This is a hugely significant because Jesus, the Word of God, is unchanging and unshakable.

But many people have a different foundation. Their foundation is the Bible, or their church’s doctrines, or something else entirely.

But when you have a foundation other than Jesus you are setting yourself up for a very bad time.

Build your faith upon a charismatic leader – you aren’t going to have a good time if you find out they aren’t perfect.

Build your faith upon a denomination – you aren’t going to have a good time if you find out that every area of their doctrine isn’t correct.

Build your faith upon the Bible – you aren’t going to have a good time if you find out that it’s not inerrant.

This is really just the story of the wise man building his house upon the rock if you think about it.

Faith changes over the years, that’s just a part of life. We grow and evolve in our understanding of this infinite God.

When our foundation is this infinite God we are in good stead. But when our foundation is something else… well… just one simple change in your faith can bring the whole thing down.

We see this in teenagers from churches that teach “the Bible is the foundation of our faith.” Having been taught dogmatically their whole lives that the Bible says the world is X thousand years old, what often happens is they go away to a college and find out there is overwhelming evidence that it’s older than what “the Bible says.” They often walk away from their faith to one degree or another. Because if the Bible is wrong in one area and the Bible is what their whole faith is built on then the faith is not true.

What a terrible shame, it really does break my heart to see.

Regardless of what you believe about the age of the earth (it was just an example, you can exchange it for countless others if that one didn’t work for you), can you see this is a problem?

A teenager who has been taught that Jesus is our foundation is far less likely to walk away from Jesus because an interpretation of the Bible is challenged.

In fact, interpretations of the Bible are far more welcome when you put the Bible in its rightful place, at the feet of Jesus as a signpost pointing to Jesus. Not as the ultimate and final Word of God.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that any foundation other than Jesus is basically an idol.

Yes, even the Bible can be an idol when we let it take the foundational place of Jesus.

So that’s my challenge to you today, to evaluate what the foundation of your faith is? Hopefully at the end you can say Jesus.

– Phil Drysdale


Thanks, guys, for those wise words!

 

 

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What God is Like

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

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

What God is like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Brian Zahnd

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Tim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heaven is a better place now because you are there.

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

Rest well, my friend 🙂


Here is the link to Tim’s obituary

…and to the farewell post on JWOB

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But is it Biblical?

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


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

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

But there is a concern in this framework.

The Bible can lie to us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(sometimes they are even the same passages!!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s to ask, “is it Christ-like?”

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

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

Jesus redefined their reading of the scriptures.

He must also be our benchmark for reading the scriptures.

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

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

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

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

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

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One for ‘Father’s Day’

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There Is A River…

Another piece from Jamie Englehart:


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

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

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

– Jamie Englehart, used with his kind permission

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The Wonder of it all…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Great Heresy

I get accused of heresy a lot, simply because I don’t believe in a lot of what ‘mainline’ Evangelical Christianity believes in. This of course depends entirely upon my accusers’ presupposition that they are in fact right, and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. But when you’re talking about an infinite, intrinsically unknowable Being, it stands to reason that anyone who claims to have all their ducks neatly in a row is by definition wrong.

But the biggest heresy of all is the huge slur on the character of God that is perpetrated by that same group. Here’s a far better take on it, from Kevin Carter:


I truly think the great heresy of the church is the attack on the character of God that began with Augustine, continued with Anselm, and was finalized with Calvin.

God became a tyrant, who saw humanity only as worthless rags, worthy of destruction… God’s holiness wasn’t something to love, but something to fear because we could never live up to it, and it’s not our fault, because God created us with that flaw, but we’re the ones to be accountable.

God, in a moment of regret, recognizes the flaw and decides to give us an escape route, but He does so by requiring the greatest, most painful and bloody death possible, then fragments the story in numerous ways, fills it with some myth, and requires you to believe a great number of ridiculous claims that work against the fabric of what we’ve come to understand to know about the Universe. And if we simply aren’t convinced by one particular sect of people who call themselves His followers, then He torments us gleefully in Hell for infinity?

I’m sorry, but that God is not Holy, Righteous, or Pure. That God is more evil than Thanos.

Luckily, that’s not who God is, nor is that what the church believed for the first 400 years or so… There is a more ancient truth of God’s love for all humanity, Gods suffering because of the sin condition, God’s desire to conquer the sin condition and offer us a way out of that system while we live, but with complete plans to fully reconcile ALL of it eventually.

That’s a God worth loving… The first is something to be feared and reviled.

– Kevin Carter, shared with his kind permission.


Header image shows three of the Monty Python team (left to right: Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam) in their well-known and oft-quoted sketch ‘The Spanish Inquisition’. No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition, of course 😉 But unfortunately the reality was nowhere near as funny: The real Spanish inquisition were a bunch of church-approved heresy hunters who began their work in the late fifteenth century and continuing for some 300 years. Nasty people they were, and of course their heirs are still in existence today. Seriously, they were horrible. Here’s a link to the the Wikipedia article on them.

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Do Not Be Afraid

I don’t know if you know this, but the most commonly-used phrase in the entire Bible is this: “Do not be afraid”. Usually (although not always) it is used in the context of humans being scared of God or His angels.

Funny, then, isn’t it, how so much of today’s church activity focuses on fear. The doctrines, the practices, the terminology, the liturgy  – most of it is fear-based. And most of that fear is of course channeled into the idea of being afraid of God, despite the most common context of the phrase ‘Do not be afraid’.

The phrase could even be seen as the most-often-repeated commandment of God, although you won’t hear all that many church leaders preaching on that idea, because of the loss of fear-based power that would follow. So, when people trot out the inerrantists’ phrase, ‘God says it, I believe it, and that settles it’, why do they not apply it to the phrase ‘Do not be afraid’?

And given the phrase that is repeated so many times – Do not be afraid! – there really is no excuse, when you think about it, for any believer to be afraid. Afraid of God and/or what He’s going to do; of death, because it’s been defeated; of Hell, because it’s just a scaremongering idea invented by the mediaeval Church to keep people in line. No, there is no need at all to be afraid, and I would like to emphasise this by sharing below a great piece from my friend Mo Thomas on this very subject. Here we go:


Fear of Divine Punishment

Based on what I know of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, I have NO FEAR OF HELL whatsoever, for me or anyone else, EVEN IF it exists as western theology frames it. (Note: I don’t believe that it exists as a nightmarish place of eternal horror, and neither did 5 of the first 6 schools of theology in the first 5 centuries after Christ. We might be missing something?!?)

Why would I ever have any fear or worry? This is the Abba of our Lord Jesus that we’re talking about!! His Love never fails, it keeps no record of wrongs, and His mercy endures forever. I trust Him completely that it would be for our refining, that all which is not of Christ would be burned away in His holy fire.

“We have come into an intimate experience with God’s love, and we trust in the love he has for us. God is love! Those who are living in love are living in God, and God lives through them. By living in God, love has been brought to its full expression in us so that we may fearlessly face the day of judgment, because all that Jesus now is, so are we in this world. Love never brings fear, for fear is always related to punishment. But love’s perfection drives the fear of punishment far from our hearts. **Whoever walks constantly afraid of punishment has not reached love’s perfection.”** (1Jn 4:16-18 (Passion Translation))

Hear God speak into your soul, gently but firmly, with unshakable confidence in His voice…

“It is I, the One who loves you.
Trust in Me, and #DoNotBeAfraid.
Come to Me, and rest in My Embrace.”

Selah.

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There is No Balance in God

So many people these days, ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’ alike, believe either consciously or subconsciously that God is somehow a mixture, a balance if you will, of light and dark,  good and evil, yin and yang.

He’s not. In God, there is no ‘balance’ as we understand the term.

His mercy is not balanced by His judgement; instead, His mercy triumphs over judgement.

His love is not balanced or somehow cancelled out by His ‘holiness’ (as some Christians understand it, as essentially meaning stand-offishness) or His justice (usually meaning humanity’s brand of vengeful justice); instead, His Love in fact never fails.

Instead of hanging on to these cautious beliefs that always hold something in reserve, something that is fearful about trusting that God is good all the time, it’s time we realised that in fact that which we thought was too good to be true actually is true: Yes, God is good!

In fact, He’s all good, He’s completely good, and in Him there is no darkness at all. Not one bit. God is in fact just like Jesus. Was there anything dark about Jesus? Of course not, and neither is there anything dark about God either. And He loves you with a love that will not only never end, but which will never, ever let anything separate you from that love.

And this is the completely one-sided, unfair, unearned, shockingly life-changingly wonderful and brilliant truth of the Gospel – which really is Good News. All of it.

Here’s the truth: if the god that people have told you about does not look just like Jesus, then that’s not the real God they have told you about. Period.

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