Category Archives: Insights

Fear is the Path to the Dark Side

“Fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.”
– Yoda

You won’t find this in the Bible, so don’t even try to find it 😉 Instead, once again, the wisdom of Yoda, from the Star Wars saga, illustrates perfectly a life-giving principle in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s hear it from Yoda first of all, shall we:

Well now, I was sad to read, the other day, posts on Facebook from a bloke who was spouting all kinds of nasty poisonous religious stuff, in response to my friend sharing things he’d discovered about Jesus and His take on homosexuality. I came away from that with a heavy heart, because I felt sorry for the man who had said all those nasty things. It was clear to me, reading between the lines (something I normally find difficult due to having Asperger’s Syndrome, but in this case I think the Spirit was leading me in my feeling) that this guy had some serious anger issues against those who did not quite agree with his doctrinal position.

This chap kept ‘warning’ us that our thinking was ‘dangerous’, ‘idolatry’ and other such words. And, predictably, he issued threats that we were going to Hell (handbasket probably optional, though he didn’t stipulate that). To be honest, I don’t really think he knew what the words he’d used meant. But the entire thing was shot through with anger, hatred, and fear. He expressed hatred both for us and for what we believed in. It seemed that he was terrified that if he didn’t ‘point out our error’, that he too would suffer the ‘same fate’ as we would for our heretical beliefs. I don’t think that, even in my rabid Fundamentalist days, I ever thought like that, although I have to admit that I felt a lot of anger about the way that certain cults, especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses, had ‘twisted’ many, many Scriptures to make them look as if they ‘supported’ their doctrines. And so I know how it feels…

Living a life like that leads inevitably to suffering, because there are consequences to our actions. That’s what sin is and what it produces. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering because it burns us up inside. And instead of exercising our freedom and following Jesus, we once again get all tangled up in ‘sin’ – both ours and others’ when we take it upon ourselves to ‘corect’ others – just like it says in Hebrews 12:1.

So today, then, I would like to develop this idea that, indeed, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering”. Fear has, as Yoda says, ‘Everything!’ to do with it.

You see, people in Religious circles insist on perpetuating fear-based theology, despite (and indeed ignoring) reassuring passages like 1 John 4:18, where the writer says this:

This is about as clear as the Bible ever gets. If you are afraid of God punishing you, then you will live in fear. But there is no fear in Love, not God’s Love at any rate. Those who have experienced God’s love do not live in fear, because the experience of that perfect Love drives out all fear of punishment. We know for a fact that God will never, ever punish us for anything. And so there is no need to fear God, either in terms of punishment or anything else. Once you have been made perfect in Love; once you have experienced His Love, nothing and nobody can take that away from you, and therefore you do not live your life in fear anymore. I can testify to this, in that the worst thing that could possibly happen to me has indeed happened (Job 3:25), and yet here I am rejoicing still. Because I know the Love of the Father, and fear no longer has a place in my life 😀

It is easy to see why people have a god that they fear. Quite aside from the misuse of ancient English language as used in the King James Version of the Bible, where the word ‘Fear’ is used in the context of ‘fearing God’ – where actually it refers to being in reverent awe of Him, not being scared of Him – the whole message of humankind in regards to our position before god has always been one where we should be afraid. Be really, really afraid.

And that despite the most common phrase in the Bible . “Do not be afraid!”

In my article, Graven Image, I wrote this:

“So effectively the religious authorities of [Jesus’s] time had made a ‘graven image’. They had built themselves an image of God in their minds and in their writings, and they thought that God was like that image. This image of God they had made was of course, like all graven images, completely incorrect; even in the Old Testament, God describes Himself as a God of Love, which their graven image did not reflect. They had set up, in the place of the Loving Father, a man-made, stone-faced image of a ‘nasty god’ which bore no resemblance to the loving Creator of the Universe. Ask any person even nowadays what they think of God, and the chances are that they think of him as an angry old man up in Heaven just looking for people to get radgy with. This is the legacy of the graven image that these people worshipped – and, sadly, that many people still worship today.

And tragically that’s the case for many Christians too. Many Christians are driven by a fear of ‘going to Hell fire’ if they put so much as a toe out of place. This fear is perpetuated by church leaders who fuel this fear in order to maintain control over their ‘flocks’*. And so, Christians like that Facebook contributor fear God because they believe – incorrectly – that He’s a pretty nasty piece of work. The Pharisees in Jesus’s day believed that, and look where it got them – condemned to live lives where they had to observe all the minutiae of an impossibly complex religious ruleset in order to make themselves ‘acceptable’ to God. Who wants to live like that?

It is well known that we become like that which we worship. And so, believing in a nasty killjoy god and worshipping it means that we become like it. We will be wary of having fun, and we will condemn others who have fun, in case such behaviour – or allowing such behaviour – leads us into ‘sin’. We will become harsh, judgemental and intolerant.

However, if we believe in – and therefore worship – a God of goodness, joy, love, healing, peace and wonder, as demonstrated by Jesus, we will become more like Jesus instead of more like the nasty god. And the fruits in our lives will reflect that – love, joy, peace and all the rest, and this too will manifest itself in the way we relate to others.

But this fear of God, and what they fear he will do to them if they ‘get it wrong’ is deeply rooted in so many Christians’ lives.  It appears that this man on Facebook became angry that others – especially the ‘unrighteous’, but also other believers – had got it wrong and he couldn’t stop us getting it wrong, and he was angry at us because he felt that we would drag him down, along with the rest of society with him, given half a chance.

And for that, he hates us – although he would doubtless say that he was being ‘loving’ in pointing out our ‘sin’ and ‘heresy’, but believe you me, there was nothing loving in his speech. But hate is a form of unforgiveness, and the only solution to that is to forgive us for our perceived ‘sin’; to let it go, to not worry about correcting us but to leave that up to God to correct us should He so wish.

And finally hate leads to suffering because it burns us up inside. Because it’s unforgiveness, it will eat away at us from the inside out. And thus the Dark Side triumphs in that person’s life, in that, like in John 10:10, “The thief cometh not but to steal, kill and destroy”. He steals our assurance, kills our joy, and destroys our peace.

To illustrate how this works, I will return for a while to the Star Wars analogy. I present this as a parable; a fictional story with a meaning. Let’s take a look at the main protagonist of the ‘first’ six episodes, from The Phantom Menace through to Return of the Jedi: the young Anakin Skywalker, whom I have featured in my blog before.

For Anakin Skywalker, the progression from Fear, through Anger, then Hate and finally Suffering is encapsulated brilliantly by his transformation into the evil Darth Vader

A bit of background for those unfamiliar with the story. As a young slave boy, Anakin Skywalker was recognised as being powerful in the Force, the Star Wars universe’s equivalent of God. Rescued from a life of slavery, but sadly not being able to free his beloved mother as well, Anakin is taken to the planet Coruscant in order to be trained to be one of the Jedi, warrior-monks who use their powers in the Force to maintain peace and justice in the Galaxy. The movie clip at the beginning of this piece shows his interview before the Jedi Council, of which the wise Yoda is a member. Anakin falls in love with a young lady called Padmé Amidala; a liaison which is forbidden by Jedi laws, but Anakin secretly marries Padmé in defiance of those laws. The evil Senator Sheev Palpatine – who is a Sith Lord, a follower of the evil Dark Side of the Force – then uses Anakin’s fears  to corrupt him and turn Anakin too to the Dark Side. Firstly, his fears for his mother – who dies in his arms after being abducted by the ‘Sandpeople’, all of whom Anakin then murders in revenge for his mother’s death. His fear led to anger, his anger led to hate, and his hate led to suffering. Secondly, Palpatine then uses Anakin’s fear for Padmé’s safety to twist him subtly towards the Dark Side; Anakin’s anger flares because he perceives that his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, does not treat him fairly. And finally, that anger changes to Hate. Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader, his new Sith name. And his hatred for Obi-Wan spills over into his relationship with Padmé, and he chokes her almost to death. The very last thing Anakin/Vader says to Obi-Wan, before being left for dead – are the words, “I hate you!” (Be warned, this is quite graphic. And it illustrates the dangers of waving a lightsaber around 😉 )

And Vader has to live with the destruction caused by that hatred – the suffering which Yoda mentioned and which, tragically, he was so correct about. “I sense great fear in you”, said Yoda, and he was right. Padmé dies of a broken heart (after giving birth to Padmé and Anakin’s twins, Luke and Leia) and Vader blames himself because Palpatine lies that Vader killed her. His anguish, in this penultimate scene of the film, is so terrible that the Dark Side of the Force overwhelms him and causes massive destruction in the room around him. As you can see from Palpatine’s face, this is all pleasing to him as Vader succumbs more and more to the horror and despair of the Dark Side of the Force.

And then the rest of the Star Wars saga is about the results of Darth Vader’s anger, fear, hatred and bitterness as they fester inside him and destroy all that is dear to him, especially the Galactic Republic that he fought for for so long; instead, it becomes the Galactic Empire and Palpatine names himself Emperor. This next picture illustrates beautifully the regret, grief and destruction that Vader contains within himself:

For Anakin, then, his fear leads to anger; his anger leads to hate; and his hate leads to suffering – not only the loss of his beloved wife, but also the unnumbered sufferings of those whose lives Vader destroys, and that deadly, destructive regret and self-blame that feeds the Dark Side of the Force within him. He’s full of anger, hate and suffering; anger at himself, at Palpatine, and at everyone else who he feels has betrayed him. Until eventually his love for his son, Luke, compels him to save Luke from being murdered by Emperor Palpatine – albeit at the cost of his own life – but in the process, Vader comes back to the Light and dies in Luke’s arms, but as the redeemed Jedi Anakin Skywalker once more. He has let go of his hate at last.

Now to return from that parable into real life. Quite a jump, isn’t it? Star Wars is simply brilliant….anyway, the Vader example is hopefully a slightly extreme comparison for our contributor in the Facebook story, but still it illustrates the point. Existing with a fear of God, in the sense of being scared of Him, is not a healthy place to be in at all. I don’t know why people hold so hard onto the fear aspect when all along there’s the Loving arms of God underneath (Deut 33:27), although as I said above, fear is its own vicious cycle. But it’s easy to see the chain reaction of fear-anger-hate-suffering that some of these people have, and, I hope, that they long to break free of. They don’t need to be scared of God, they don’t need to be angry with others who don’t agree with them, and they certainly don’t need to hate us. Because the only outcome is suffering. These people will never be free to enjoy the freedom of the Kingdom of God unless they first break free from this fear-induced cycle.

But that takes God’s Love. It takes a realisation, and indeed a divine revelation, of God’s Love for us. You can’t make it up. You can’t even make it happen. It’s got to be from Him Himself. But, you can ask Him for it. Ask God to reveal His Love to you. Ask Him to show you the perfect Love that drives out all fear! You see, fortunately for us, God’s Grace reaches us even in our hopelesness, darkness, blindness and despair, in our suffering, in our anger, hate and fear and regret.

And He heals us.

Fear is indeed the path to the Dark Side. It leads to anguish and suffering. But we do not need to follow that path. Don’t persecute those who believe things differently from you. Let go of your anger, your fear, your hatred and let God heal you.

Let me tell you, the relief, the sense of a huge weight lifting off you, is immense. This is my testimony:

My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!

 


*There may be some reading this who would love to break free of that fear, but paradoxically they are afraid of what might happen – what God might do to them – if they are wrong. Well, I feel for you people, I really do. And I testify that there is indeed freedom out here, free of the chains of fear-based religion.  And it’s a safe freedom!

I would say to you, along with many other voices in the Bible: Do not be afraid!

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Love Keeps No Record of Wrongdoing

A superb and moving piece by my friend Dan Shaffer, a man of great wisdom and insight:

One of the most beautiful majestic words ever written, were from Paul:
‘Love keeps no record of wrong doing’ [1Cor13:5]

Yet Christianity strangely forgets these words when grappling with Salvation and Judgement.

We forget these words were not from a man who was the epitome of righteousness; rather a man who embarked on a murderous quest to rid the world of Christians. A man, with whom Jesus literally intervened and asked “why are you persecuting me?”

Ironically, we could ask many Christians the same question today. Those who “have discovered the error of their ways” and then enthusiastically pick up the banner of the Law and condemnation. Then proceed to rid the world of sin, or so they think.

However, Paul realized something different than so many Christians. He discovered who God really was. God was love and Grace.

You see, God doesn’t just extend love, or act in Love, He is Love. God doesn’t just extend Grace or act graciously, He is Grace. Love has never kept a single record of wrong doing, but the Law does!

Those who believe in the God of Law struggle with forgiveness and mercy.

Because the Law demands retribution as justice. It demands payment for wrong doing.

Love, on the other hand, desires restoration and completeness. Love’s agenda is to see you restored to the image of your loving Father.

This is your true identity.

Love is not interested in your past or your mistakes.


It keeps no record of wrong doing, therefore doesn’t remember your failures and transgressions.

There will be No big movie screen in the sky to judge and review your life.

When your body reaches its end, the corruptible has put on incorruptibility, you are changed in the twinkling of an eye.


Your soul and spirit are free of their hindrances.


Love has won, and your spirit reunited with it’s giver.


Love keeps no record of wrong doing.

Thanks, Dan! 🙂

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Matt Distefano on Biblical Inerrancy

Matthew Distefano is a regular contributor on the Patheos blog ‘Unfundamentalist Christians‘, where I tend to hang out if I’m on Patheos. I’ve even had a couple of my own articles published on there. I love his insights and his thinking, which amazingly (but unsurprisingly) often gels exactly with what God has been saying to me only hours before I read Matt’s pieces.

Here’s a link to Matt’s article on the problems he has found with the idea of ‘Biblical Inerrancy‘, that is, that the Bible “…is without error or fault in all its teaching”

Click here to go to the article


If you found that item interesting, you might also like Matt’s companion article to that one, ‘Jesus is the Reason the Bible is not inerrant

 

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The Weaponization of Scripture

Here’s a great post from Mo, one of my Facebook friends:

“Jesus and the teachers of the law both quoted a lot of scripture.

“The stunning difference was in the lens through which they saw it, the lens that defined its purpose and set its context.

“The Pharisees used the scriptures to condemn, to accuse, to prove guilt. Present-day people are pros at this pastime and propose plenty of proof-text piles to penalize perpetrators.

“I’ve done this too often, sad to say.

“Jesus came to show that the entire scriptures pointed to Him (Luke 24:27), the One who came to bring healing, forgiveness, wholeness, restoration, peace and Life.

“The Pharisees “weaponized” the scriptures, while Jesus came to disarm them and bring to us an entirely new way of engaging with the world. . .

“A way informed by His Love, built on
the foundation of His Shalom.

“Selah.”

I have written on this subject before. Some people see the Bible as the Word of God, and that the ‘Word of God’ is not only the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ (Eph 6:17), but also ‘…quick and powerful, cutting [really deeply]’ (Heb 4:12). I personally have likened the idea of the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ as being the ‘Lightsaber of the Spirit‘, albeit jokingly.

But I am concerned when Christians conduct what I would call ‘friendly fire’ attacks on fellow believers by wielding the Bible as a club, sword or other weapon. As I quoted in the first of the articles in the paragraph above,

“Every time [Scripture] is used, it should be used in a way that matches the heart of God. If it is not, it is being abused.”

How true that is. The great Christian theologian and apologist, C. S. Lewis, also agreed:

A-flippin’-men to that. Yes, it is Jesus Who is the Word of God (Jn1:1), not the Bible, although it does contain some of the words of God – some of the things He said. And the Bible is, as Lewis says, is one of the devices God can use to bring us to Christ. It is so sad, then, that in these days, people use the Bible as a judgemental weapon to beat up both those in the Church, and those outside it. Is it any wonder that I get so frustrated seeing, time and again, ‘believers’ hurting others with this powerful book – albeit a book that only has real power when people agree that it has. In other words, for those that do not believe in things written in the Bible, it holds no power.

Conversely, though, the Bible holds the power both to build up or to destroy those who do believe in what the Bible says. This is why the message of inerrancy  – that the Bible is always right – is so damaging, because firstly the Bible was never intended to be always right; secondly, those who have dogmatically decided that what they believe is right are the ones who batter people over the head with their own beliefs, based on their own interpretation. That there are many ways of interpreting the Bible is beyond doubt; that is why there are tens of thousands of Chistian denominations all across this world of ours.

The damage caused by this sort of behaviour is at least twofold. Here are the two principal types of damage I can think of: firstly, those who believe the Bible is an authoritative document are led into lives of slavery and misery by those who claim to have everything all ‘right’; all their doctrines lined up neatly like ducks in a row. Secondly, people outside the Church see all this theological infighting and decide, quite rightly, that they want nothing whatever to do with this sort of thing. In a very real way, the ‘gatekeepers of Heaven‘ are shutting the doors of Heaven in men’s faces by their misuse of this book which is such a precious spiritual resource but which is misused so often, as in the Lewis quotation above.

Instead, then, let’s use the Bible as the way to build people up. Let’s use it for its primary purpose, which is to lead people to the true Word of God, Who is Jesus Christ – not in an accusatory or condemnatory way, but in portraying God as Jesus portrayed Him: full of mercy, compassion and Love. When we lift Jesus up, He draws all men to Himself (Jn 12:32).

This is so much more upbuilding than causing vast spiritual and emotional damage akin to waving a razor-sharp sword around.

Or even a lightsaber…

So, to my mind, it’s about time people stopped waving this lightsaber around like that.

They’ll have someone’s arm off….* 😉


*This is a reference to how, in most of the Star Wars movies, someone’s arm gets lopped off by a lightsaber. I have heard it jokingly said that it’s not a proper Star Wars movie unless someone loses an arm… 😉

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Jeff Turner on Righteousness and Good Works

I’m sorry to say that many Christians today think that the very best efforts of humanity, to do good, appear as ‘filthy rags’ (Is 64:6) in God’s sight. I have written on the subject before, but I’d like to say that I’m not the only modern thinker that believes that this idea is utter rubbish.

In this piece, Christian writer and theologian Jeff Turner tackles this issue with his usial clarity and insight. Over to Jeff:


“Are all of your “righteous works” *really as filthy rags?

“In short, no.

“To insult a person for poor decisions or immoral actions is one thing. But to insult them for actions that are admirable is an entirely different thing. If even your best attempts are met with mockery and derision, your soul will quickly shrivel and die.

“Today’s popular form of Christianity is a belief system that comes with a message of scorn and derision, not simply to the morally bankrupt sorts, but even to those whose hearts and souls yearn only to do good. It assures them that their best attempts at being kind, upright, decent humans appear as disgusting, filthy rags in the sight of God. It humiliates, denigrates, dehumanizes, and demoralizes, even the best among us.

“If one makes a careful read of these “filthy rags” type of passages in scripture itself, though, one won’t find the God who rubs our faces even in our successes, as though they were indistinguishable from our messes. Rather, one will find that the people being rebuked in such instances have sunk to depraved lows in their behavior, and become morally bankrupt. It’s not that even their good has become bad, but that there is no good to be had, or when there is, it’s merely an attempt at hiding greater evil. Scripture does not teach that *your every attempt at being a decent human appears as filthy rags in God’s sight, but that Israel, at particular times in her history, had embraced a mode of being in which the good was almost utterly absent. This is not the same as claiming that, from birth, even the smallest of babies is counted as a sinner, and that even the most kind, decent, loving of humans is a filthy sinner in the eyes of God!

“How awful and destructive a doctrine we spread when we make these claims!

“Listen, that people believe in anything *at all is a major accomplishment in a world like ours. That people can get themselves out of bed most mornings is an act of God. That the whole lot of us aren’t tearing one another to bloody ribbons, what with the chaos and tumult our world is in, is miraculous. Let’s be honest, that most of you are still even breathing is a feat you deserve to be commended for. To look then, upon suffering people, who are simply doing the best they can to live and get by, and tell them instead that their best attempts are vile in the sight of God, is reprehensible, and so outside the character of Christ that I think it could rightly be called satanic.

“We have our issues, to be sure, but Jesus does not come to assure us that even our struggling through life just to smile and raise our families is a disgrace in God’s sight. No. That message is a disgrace. Not you. God is near the broken-hearted and present with the suffering, struggling one. And he’s present in the form of one who is for you and on your side.

“Peace”.


Brilliant piece. I have to admit that, once upon a time, I was a judgemental Christian like that too. I believed that any good that non-Christians did was worthless. It makes me feel sick to remember that I once felt like that… but thank God He gave me the chance to change. Every good deed has value, irrespective of its source. The value of the deed is to the recipient. The homeless man doesn’t care whether the hot meal comes from a believer or a non-believer; the main thing is he gets his meal. All good things come from God. What about when Jesus said ‘if anyone gives you a cup of water because you are My disciple, he will certainly not lose his reward’? He didn’t specify any required belief structure!

No, all good deeds are good; they are not filthy rags. The context in Isaiah 64:6, where the ‘filthy rags’ comes from, is about thoe who put on righteous acts for their own sake; for show. That’s what it’s about, not about secular people’s deeds being worthless. They are indeed not worthless.

This is yet another example of how the Spirit is using modern-day prophets like Jeff, to put out there these ideas that so many other believers are hearing at the same time! Truly the Holy Spirit is at work in these days 🙂

 

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The Unforgivable Sin

It always amazes me how people who say they believe in the Love of God have this idea that there’s one ‘Special Sin’ that God just can’t find it in Himself to forgive.

Like if someone insults your mother, y’know, that sort of thing.

It just doesn’t make any sense, and the passages in Mark 3:28-30 and Matthew 12:31-32 must mean something different from what people usually think, because Jesus did not deal in harshness; He dealt in love, compassion and gentleness.

But, we are told, there is such a ‘sin’, and it’s called the ‘Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’.

All you need to do is to Google ‘Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ and you will come up with a huge swath of hits, not only of people waving this idea around condemnatorially, but equally of people worried (sometimes literally) to death that they are destined to burn forever in Hell because of a few careless words.

We must remember that the ‘angry God’ model of the Scripture always defaults to the harsh, threatening interpretation, whereas the Jesus model takes us to the better, more gentle and loving interpretation. However, today’s Pharisees, just like those of old, love to find condemning Scriptures that they can use to bash people’s heads in, and because of this they will always default to the harsher interpretation.

Naturally, they seem to revel in the idea that there’s an ‘unpardonable sin’, which seems to be tailor-made for them to wield against the latest set of hapless believers to whom they have taken a dislike: maybe those who believe in Grace; maybe the inclusionists; maybe those who don’t believe that the Bible is infallible and inerrant; certainly anyone who does not agree with them on all small points. (Which is just about everybody, when you think about it!).

The idea is that they gleefully swing this horrific weapon and leave bleeding and despairing people in their wake, feeling that they have passed forever beyond all hope of forgiveness. In truth, there are fewer Scriptures that have brought more misery than this one. Think about it. As a Pharisee, using this most beloved of all your Scriptures, you can verbally condemn someone to believing that oh they’ve really gone and done it now; they will never, ever be forgiven. What better weapon could a Pharisee want?

But this is not the way of Jesus. Of course God forgives all sin.  But because this verse is wielded as such a powerful weapon, joyfully weaponized by those who are almost the Enemy’s servants in order to bring all that untold misery and despair to people, it needs to be addressed.

So, what did Jesus mean when He mentioned the ‘unpardonable sin’?

Well, here’s a beautifully simple exegesis of the Matthew passage by my friend Nathan Jennings, where he puts it really clearly. This explanation of the text closely dovetails with my own opinion on the matter. Over to Nathan:

“BLASPHEMY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Thoughts on Matthew 12:31-32

“Often, I am asked what to do with these verses in light of what we know of the grace and mercy of God through Christ. There are probably a few good ways to look at this. First we have to remember that Jesus, being the full revelation and character of God, forgave his enemies on the cross and throughout his time pre-resurrection. Also if you look at the verses leading up to this we see the Pharisees denying Jesus having the spirit of God as being the means of his healing people and said that it was the spirit of the devil. Immediately following the next set of verses, which begin with a “therefore” indicating the message about to be given is a response/result of the previous text, it states:

Therefore, I tell you that people will be forgiven for every sin and insult to God. But insulting the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Human One will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven, not in this age or in the age that is coming”
Matthew 12:31-32

Immediately we can see and deduce that insulting /blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unbelief in the work of the Spirit due to the passage in the text right before this.

Also the word ‘forgiveness’ is better translated as ‘freedom’ or “freedom from something” so, to me, what is basically being said here is:

“Therefore, I tell you that people will be freed from the power of every sin and insult to God. But unbelief in the power and work of the Holy Spirit will result in the enslavement and the freedom it offers you, because you’re not believing the truth. And whoever speaks a word against Jesus can still see freedom because the spirit can still be seen. But whoever doesn’t believe in the work of the spirit won’t experience the freedom of their true identity, in this age or the next.
Matthew 12:31-32″

I think that’s brilliant. And, if you feel that you have blasphemed the Spirit, be reassured: youre not. Because the ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ means essentially a refusal to recognise that it’s the Spirit at work, if you are conscious of the Spirit’s work then you can’t be ‘blaspheming’ Her.

And, in any case, all sin was dealt with at the Cross, once and for all, forever. All sin, including this one. Don’t concentrate on sin, concentrate on Jesus. Christians today are far too preoccupied with sin; they need to leave it in the grave where it belongs!

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God’s Autobiography?

I have previously written three pieces* explaining how the Bible, despite being the book that speaks to us about God more than any other, is sadly sometimes effectively given a higher spiritual standing than God by some Christians. The main reason it’s sad is because these people are missing out on a real, full relationship with God Himself; they are missing out on much of what Life in all its fulness is about (Jn 10:10). And that’s more than sad; it’s tragic. And then telling others that their narrow way (<sarcasm on> because Jesus mentions a ‘narrow way’ in the Bible, therefore it must be true! <sarcasm off>) is the only way; that’s even more tragic because then they spoil it for others too; indeed, they shut the doors of heaven in men’s faces (Mt 23:13).

I’d like to recap a little before I begin. In my piece, ‘A Relationship With a Book??‘, I quote from a website where the author claims that the only way to have a ‘relationship’ with God is through the Bible, and that’s the only place you can find such a relationship. Now, (apart from the obvious flaw here in that we should ask exactly what sort of relationship believers had with God before the Bible was compiled!) this is clearly a major issue. This is because the overarching theme of the books of the Bible is that God wants to have a loving, close Relationship with each individual human being, and therefore the Relationship (deliberate use of the capital ‘R’ because this is the most important Relationship there is) is one that must be God-centred, and not Bible-centred. Sure, God speaks to us in the Bible, and for some of us, presumably including the writer of that website, there is a definite sense of His presence when we read it. But this is not the pinnacle of the experience.

And, in fairness, I should also say that most Evangelical Christians do not believe that this Bible-based relationship is the whole package; I write this piece not to them, but to those who have been told that the Bible is indeed all that’s available for those seeking a Relationship with God – because it’s simply not true! There is more!

I’d therefore like to use an analogy to explain why there is more – far more – to the Relationship than simply meeting God in the Bible.

I’m sure that website author would agree with me that many Evangelical Christians think of the Bible as ‘God’s Love Letter’ to His people; some also see it as ‘God’s Autobiography’. Certainly it is mainstream Evangelical doctrine that all Scripture is inspired by God (2Tim 3:16) and many also see it as inerrant and infallible. (This is not entirely my viewpoint, but that’s not really relevant here except in that I am approaching this argument from the standpoint of Evangelical Christianity). But the take-home message is that if God ‘wrote’ the Bible, through the ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit’, then even though it was actually penned by humans, in a way it is still God’s Autobiography because He inspired their writings**. Had it simply been humans writing about God without any kind of inspiration, then it would have been simple biography, and not autobiography. Clear so far?

So, if the Bible is indeed ‘God’s Autobiography’, then here’s how I see things with regard to the Relationship:

An autobiography is a book in which a person writes about themselves. So it might be their life story so far, it might be just a part of their life, but it’s me writing about me; you writing about you. If you write your autobiography, it will be about you.

When you read an autobiography, you can learn a lot about the person who wrote it, much more indeed than if someone else wrote the book (and that would then be simply a biography, as we saw above) because you get an insight into their thought processes, the things they have done, the way they work. Remember that although the Bible was written by humans, we are still working with the assumption that God wrote the Bible ‘through’ those humans. And so, this Bible, we presume, is the nearest thing we can get to getting God’s thoughts in written form. And therefore we can learn a heck of a lot about Him, and especially about people’s interactions with Him and their impressions of His character. In short, we get a pretty good picture, and especially when Jesus comes along and shows us how to interpret the Old Testament by showing God’s nature as being loving, kind, longsuffering, forgiving, serving, and many, many other characteristics. And to cap it all, He sends His Spirit not only to teach us more about Him (Jn 16:13) but also, wondrously, to actually live in our hearts. That’s just incredible, isn’t it? And so it is easy to see the mechanism by which God does indeed speak to us, and in fact conduct a relationship of sorts with us through the pages of the Bible.

But here’s the thing. There is so much more to it than that book-based relationship. You see, unless an autobiography is published posthumously, you can also potentially go and meet the author. You could go to a book signing; you could correspond with the author, you might – if you are lucky – even get to know the author personally and go out for a pint with him, maybe catch a movie; you get the idea.

So, if we can meet a human autobiographer, how much more will this be the case with God, who is not only alive and well, but everywhere at the same time and instantly available to all who would seek Him? It simply makes no sense whatsoever that the Living, teeming-with-life, love and creativity Creator God is not available to chat about His autobiography and maybe even go out for the proverbial pint with those who would seek to know Him better.

Now, Jesus said that eternal life is ‘…to know the Son, and the Father who sent Him’ (Jn 17:3). Jesus said also to the Religious people of His day:

‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life’. (Jn 5:39-40)

This is a plain as day. Yes, study the Bible, but let the Bible lead you to come to Jesus Who is the One who gives Life. Again, that Life in all its fulness (Jn 10:10). That’s the Relationship – that we know the Father and the Son Whom He sent. That’s a Relationship – knowing Someone.

Jeremiah 31:34 foretold this when he said, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest

So, how then can anyone say that the only way to know Jesus is through the Bible, when Jesus Himself expressly says that the Life is with Him? Let’s therefore meet the Autobiographer in person, as well as reading His book!

It’s also analoguous to love letters – as I said above, another analogy that some believers use about the Bible is that it’s ‘God’s Love Letter’ to His people. So, let’s imagine two people who have met on an Internet dating forum and are falling in love. They will write letters/emails back and forth, professing their mutual affection and growing love for one another. Also, they discuss their intended future lives together; what they will do, where they will go, what their hopes and dreams are. And this is all very good and right and proper, but there comes a point where they actually have to get in a car/bus/train/aeroplane and actually go and meet each other face-to-face. The letters alone are simply no substitute for this; indeed, at some point, the letters will actually express the desire to meet up at last. And then, once they have met, sure, the letters will still be important (I still have the letters Fiona and I wrote to each other when we were at separate Universities!), but once they move in together the letters will become largely redundant because they have been replaced by a real live face-to-face relationship. Sure, they can still write little letters and notes to each other, but their relationship itself becomes the primary focus.

And so it is with the Bible. I still meet God in the Bible, but I also carry Him around with me in my heart (that’s evoking really funny images in my head; carrying the Creator of everything around with me like some sort of pet, lolz). I am aware of His presence most of the time. I talk to Him, and He talks to me. It’s real. Of course, I am by no means advocating throwing out my Bible as useless; no, I love my Bibles and I treasure them.

My Bibles: a 1939-printing KJV and a 2008 NIV cross-reference edition which uses the better 1979 translation

But still the Relationship with God in addition to and external to the Bible ‘relationship’ is far more important to me. It’s interesting that one of the ‘heresies’ levelled against ‘The Shack‘ (the article is linked to in this piece) is that the book promotes this same idea of a relationship with God over and beyond that in the Bible. This belief that there is nothing beyond the Bible is apparently quite deeply-rooted in some believers’ theology.

But the Relationhip with God is exactly that. Jesus says things to me, and to countless other believers all across the world (ironically, almost certainly including those people who claim that the Bible is all there is!) that are not in the Bible. God cannot, almost by definition as God is infinite, be contained only within the thousand or so pages of a book.

I suppose that one reason why some believers (especially leadership) have a problem with this ‘free’ Relationship is because it’s outside the limits of their control. Either controlling leadership or those believers who would like to have, shall we say, ‘constructive input’ (read: sin-policing!) in others’ lives; both these groups stand to lose much of their control if each individual believer has their own individual, autonomous Relationship with the Higher Power that we call God. All of a sudden, these fortunate individuals with this Relationship are answerable only to God. And some of these controlling people might say, ‘Well, we can’t have people just ignoring the Rules in the Bible and going off doing their own thing’. Well actually this is precisely what God lets us do, once we are free from the shackles of Religion and its controlling influence. We are free to walk as God would have us walk, not answerable to men with their home-made doctrines (Mt 15:9).

It seems that, according to the ‘controlling’ types, we ‘sinning’ humans cannot be trusted to have a Relationship with God that is free of Rules (or even Guidelines, which in the hands of legalists always become the same thing!) because we will always wander off into ‘sin’. No, we have to adhere to what the Bible says and that’s the only source of our relationship with God. Back to that again.

Do they really think that God has not factored human freedom into His plans? That freedom of choice is essential in order for us to make decisions at all; else it is no freedom at all? And so the Relationship, yes, becomes ‘risky’; God actually takes the risk that we will go our own way, we will ignore Him, we will see our freedom as a ‘licence to sin’ – but nothing could be further from the truth. Because, you see, that Relationship removes the desire to sin; in fact, the Relationship is indeed the life lived ‘in the Spirit’ which is the life of perfect freedom. And therefore, because we love Him, we live our lives to please him, not because someone (or the Bible) tells us to, but simply because that is our desire. The risk has paid off; we are His people by our own free will, which is the only way that Love works anyway, through free will. If it’s not a free choice, it’s not Love.

So, then, let me encourage you – which is always my objective in my blog posts anyway. If you have become frustrated with the relationship you have with God in the Bible, let me assure you that there is more. Do not be afraid (the most common phrase in the Bible!) of ‘wandering off’; God knows your weaknesses and He works with them. This is not error; this is the overarching theme of the Bible, the redemption of humanity in order to enable us to walk in Relationship with God in the power of the Spirit. If you are worried that maybe this growing Relationship you have felt is somehow dangerous or anti-Scriptural, please be assured that it’s not. Remember that you died to the Law (Rom 7:4). Remember also that if you are afraid of ‘punishment’ for ‘sinning’ in any way, that God’s perfect love drives out all fear, for fear has to do with punishment (1Jn 4:18) and as a believer, you are eternally unpunishable in any case. But of course those who would ‘control’ don’t want you to know that!

No, you can rest in your Father’s Love at all times, because underneath are the Everlasting Arms (Dt 33:27). In God is the Relationship that the Bible hints at. Yes, there is indeed more, and it’s found in the Relationship with Father God through Jesus and the Spirit. In the same way as Father, Son and Spirit have existed forever in the eternal dance of mutual love, so you too can join in and be part of that Relationship. All you need to do is to ask God to lead you into it, and then take the first steps as He leads.

Grae and peace to you. Be blessed!


*Here are links to the previous articles I mentioned:

Free to Love

Missing the Point…

A Relationship With a Book??


**The natural extension of this idea is that when modern-day people write about their experiences with God, people like me, people like any moder-day Christian writer, some of it is going to be inspired too. My writing stems directly from my Relationship with Jesus, as does that of other similar writers. In that way, what I and others write is also inspired writing. We too are bringing God’s Word, that is, Jesus, into the limelight for people to see and learn about.

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Rest In Your Love

This entry is part 16 of 16 in the series Fiona

This post marks the ninth month since we lost my gorgeous wife Fiona. Once again, like last time, it’s another musical post, to celebrate Fiona’s tremendous musical talent and at the same time to take a look at more of the tremendous Love of God that has kept me afloat for three-quarters of a year.

Fe and I used to sing a lot of songs together, sometimes with both of us singing, sometimes with me just backing her on the piano or guitar. One of our favourite songs was one that ranked in our ‘personal memories’ scale nearly as highly as ‘our’ song ‘Where you go, I will go‘, and it was called ‘Rest in Your Love’, by Phil McHugh, and recorded by Mo James, a gifted Leeds-based singer whose talent was sadly never really recognised nor developed as far as it could have been. The song is from her only album. More Love, released in 1982*.

I must testify that, for all our lives, we have rested in God’s Love. I have especially rested in that Love since Fiona died, for ‘underneath are the Everlasting Arms’ (Dt 33:27). That’s why I chose the top picture for this post: firstly to illustrate Fiona’s stunning, radiant beauty, and secondly to show little Lucy, our grand-daughter, ‘resting’ in Fiona’s love as she feeds her. This picture is such a good illustration of what this song is about – resting in God’s immense, illimitable parental Love. Fiona and I loved singing this song, and, in so doing, giving the testimony of the words that meant so much to us and which were so real in our lives.

This is why I have shared it in this post.

Here we are, then; Rest in Your Love, sung by Mo James.

It appears that the tempter never sleeps
It seems my best is always just out of reach
But I take comfort from the promise of Your unending care
I will rest when I reach out and find You’re there

And I can rest in Your Love, I’ll rest in Your Love
It brings such a healing,
When life’s got me reeling
There’s no sweeter feeling than to rest in Your Love

It’s not easy to be human, You know that first hand
The flesh and the Spirit both make their demands
But here I am on this road of life, I’ve got to walk it through
And the best way is to walk it right beside You

Well I can rest in Your Love, I’ll rest in Your Love
It brings such a healing,
When life’s got me reeling
There’s no sweeter feeling than to rest in Your Love

I’ll always need You, I’ll always need You

Rest in Your Love, I’ll rest in Your Love
It brings such a healing,
When life’s got me reeling
There’s no sweeter feeling than to rest in Your Love

 


*Tragically, Mo died of a brain haemhorrage in 1999

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Giving up the Bible Debates

Recently, I have found, when reading my Bible, that instead of hearing the gentle voice of the Spirit, I have instead been feeling the dry, grating, harsh legalism from those harsh people with whom I have engaged in Bible debates. I have found that I can’t read the Bible without its passages being contaminated with the nastiness and horror of some people’s worldviews that, while purporting to be Christian, still are not reflections of the loving Christ that I know so well.

It’s time for me to step back for a while from all the Bible debates on the forums, and to let myself bask in the closeness of the Holy Spirit once again. Time for worship; time for just rejoicing in His goodness.

Even after my recent post expressing why I do these debates (for the upbuilding of the invisible, silent listeners), still I need to recharge every so often. I still need to learn to pace myself and to give myself space.

Just a few short hours after I made the decision to do this, the following post appeared on the Unfundamentalist Christians channel on Patheos. And it was like an RAF air strike: right on time and right on target. Thank You, Lord!

This article is so perceptive and penetrating; it’s one of those pieces that you can immediately see is really outstanding. It describes things really well, so, why not take a look for yourself and be encouraged.

These are wise words, from a wise man.

If this is your burden, be released and be free.

Click here to go to the article, or click the graphic below:

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