Category Archives: Insights

A Thoroughly Biblical Argument Against Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Here’s a great article by Christian musician, blogger and thinker Emma Higgs, where she demonstrates that there is strong Biblical support for the proposal that Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) – the idea that Jesus was punished ‘for our sins’ when actually it should have been us that were punished  – is in fact incorrect.

This is a well-thought-out piece which goes into considerable detail and addresses many points. It’s well worth a read, even if only to show that there are other tenable viewpoints out there other than PSA (which I personally do not consider all that tenable anyway!)


A common criticism of people like me who openly oppose Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory is that we are picking and choosing the bits of the Bible we like, whilst ignoring some of the trickier bits.

I intend now to try and make it super clear that this is not what we are doing.

Invisible Goggles

The thing is, we all read things into the Bible that may or may not be there, based on our own understanding, cultural background and personal opinions.

It’s really, really difficult to read the Bible objectively (impossible, actually) – we all emphasise some bits over others, reject some bits as irrelevant and project our own frameworks of understanding onto the text to help us make sense of it. This is not a bad thing – it just helps to be aware that we’re doing it.

Most Christians who believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement claim that the Bible clearly supports it, and that there is no other way of interpreting certain texts. What they don’t realise is that they are reading the Bible through invisible lenses. Let’s call them PSA goggles.

PSA goggles have been the height of fashion in the protestant, particularly evangelical church for a good many centuries now. Long enough that they’ve become so much a part of our identity, we don’t even realise we are wearing them. They provide a logical explanation of the core meaning of Christianity based on a handful of verses, through which we then view the rest of the Bible.

PSA goggles also seem to have the unfortunate effect of obscuring the wearer’s view, so that many parts of the Bible which don’t fit with PSA theory are overlooked or ignored.

Before we jump right into dealing with the specific passages that appear to support PSA, we need to look at six broader Biblical themes that will help to put them into context.

1. Sin and Salvation

In the Bible, sin is about more than just our own personal wrongdoings. It is the whole devastating human condition which separates us from our Source and will eventually lead to our destruction. The salvation that God offers is not just forgiveness from our transgressions, although that is a major part of it. It’s also not just about an afterlife. Where salvation is mentioned in the Old Testament it refers to liberation from bondage (Exodus 14:30, 15:2, Psalm 106:21), return from exile (Isaiah 45:17) and rescue from danger (Psalms 27:1, 51:12, 65:5, 69:2). The Gospels are full of Jesus offering salvation from illness, death, blindness, fear, violence…if it is all about God forgiving our personal wrongdoings so that we can avoid hell, then life and teachings of Jesus don’t make a lot of sense.

(I wrote this article on this very topic a few months back.)

2. God’s Wrath

I think there has been some confusion here. I’m not saying that God is never angry and just lets everything slide. I think he is very angry at ‘sin’ – at that which separates his children from him and threatens to destroy them. I think the full extent of his fury will be unleashed upon the powers of darkness that oppress people and bring destruction to God’s good creation.

Penal substitution claims that God actively punishes his children for disobeying him; that in contrast to his holiness, every single human being is so filthy that we deserve not just to die, but to be tortured for all eternity. That although God loves us, he must balance out the cosmic weighing scales by unleashing his wrath and punishment on anyone who has not accepted Jesus as their Personal Saviour.

So a young boy is born into a war zone, experiences a life full of fear and pain, and drowns at three years old when the boat carrying him to safety sinks. Death for him doesn’t bring relief, but eternal conscious torment in a lake of fire. Or even “an eternity separate from God” (a phrase people like to use to make hell sound more palatable).

And we are supposed to love this God.

Seriously, WTF?

This twisted interpretation continues to repulse and offend me.

God is angry at sin because it threatens to destroy his beloved children. He unleashes his wrath at that which causes us harm, because he loves us more than we can know. (John 3:16)

Like a mother fiercely protecting her young, willing to sacrifice her own life to save her children. (Matthew 23:37).

Of course our own destructive habits are a major part of sin, but on the cross we were set free from the power of sin, so we are no longer slaves to it (Romans 6:6-7). We have been separated from sin, so it no longer has to control us and be part of our identity. But we still have to choose to turn away from our lives of sin.

Do you see what a difference this slight shift in understanding makes?

(Read more of my musings on hell here).

3. Transformation

The meaning of the cross is not a transaction – a legal deal where Jesus gets us off the hook by standing in front of us and taking our punishment. This widespread understanding implies that ultimately, what we do in this life doesn’t matter as long as we’ve completed the transaction and secured our insurance policy against hell.

The meaning of the cross is transformation. When we choose to follow Jesus, we metaphorically die with him and rise to a new life. We are changed from the inside out. Sin is still a part of our lives but we are no longer defined by it, but by grace and love (Romans 6). We become agents of God’s Kingdom, which starts now and one day will come in full (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Choosing to ‘believe in Jesus’ doesn’t mean simply intellectually asserting that certain historical events took place and have eternal implications.

‘Believing in Jesus’ means choosing to follow in the Way he showed us, choosing to love him, putting our trust in him as we would a close friend.

4. Justice

We usually think of justice today as meaning criminals getting the punishment they deserve. Punitive or retributive justice. So we read the Bible with this in mind, and deduce that the ‘justice of God’ is about God punishing wrongdoers.

A better understanding is distributive justice. God wants everyone to be treated fairly, to have enough food and equal rights to a full life. Throughout the Bible God favours those who are oppressed and challenges those who abuse power. This is a major theme – from God liberating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt right through to Jesus befriending prostitutes and challenging those religious leaders who sought to control people…

God always backs the underdog.

God is passionate about the poor, the weak, the outcasts from society, and he desires justice, equality, freedom and fair treatment for everyone.

5. Crucifixion

The fact that Jesus died on a Roman cross was hugely significant. Rome was the ultimate symbol of worldly power – they maintained their control by any means necessary, crushing anyone who stood in their way. Crucifixion was the slowest, most painful form of torture and execution, reserved for people who challenged authority. To the New Testament writers, this would have been central.

Penal substitution tends to completely ignore the political significance of how Jesus died. If God killed Jesus, then the Romans were simply pawns in God’s greater plan of violently punishing sin and venting his wrath.

No, men killed Jesus. “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34). The powers of this world and the dark spiritual forces behind them did their absolute worst to him, and thought they had won.

The resurrection was God declaring once and for all that the dark and oppressive powers of this world, represented by Rome but echoing to the ends of the earth, will not have the last word.

7. Sacrifice

Sacrifice is everywhere in the Old Testament. People sacrificed animals (usually) as a means of communicating with the gods/God, to ask for something or to show gratitude. The sacrificed animal was ‘made sacred’, and it would then be eaten (often by a Priest – see Leviticus 2) to symbolise communion with God. The animal would not have been seen as a substitute, taking the punishment that humans deserved.

Where sacrifice is mentioned in reference to Jesus’ death, through our PSA goggles we have traditionally seen this as implying substitution – Jesus took the punishment we deserved.

But sacrifice doesn’t mean substitution. Think about it.

If someone sacrifices their life to save someone – a father dies in saving his child or a soldier takes a bullet to save a friend, their deaths are not in any way settling a debt owed by that person.

Equally someone can sacrifice their life for a cause – there is no implication that they were a substitute.

So, time to get down to the nitty gritty.

Here are the main Bible passages that are used to support Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and why I am convinced that is not what they mean.

Genesis 22: God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son

Abraham doesn’t bat an eyelid when God tells him to provide Isaac as a burnt offering. In the ancient world, that’s what the pagan gods did. People believed they had to do this to keep the gods happy and ensure the survival of their tribe.

So the point here is that this God doesn’t do that. They are entering a new understanding of their relationship with the divine, and learning that He doesn’t demand child sacrifice.

Thank goodness for that.

Exodus 12: The Passover, referenced in John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 5 – ‘the Lamb of God’

It’s pretty clear that the New Testament writers saw a parallel between the story of the Passover, and Jesus’ death.

Passover is a Jewish celebration of the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. The story goes that God told them to sacrifice a lamb and mark their door frames with its blood, so that when God came to strike down all the firstborn sons in Egypt, He would pass over the houses marked with blood and their sons would be spared.

The Passover lamb wasn’t in any way a substitute for sin. The blood wasn’t payment, it was a sign of faith, an indication of loyalty and identity. They were instructed to eat the lamb after it was slain – if it symbolically represented their sin, eating it would not make sense.

So when John the Baptist declares “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), he is referencing the sacrificial lamb which brought the Israelites liberation from Egypt.

No sign of substitution.

Leviticus 4-7: Sin offerings

This is a detailed and pretty gory set of instructions regarding making animal sacrifices to atone for sin. These sacrifices were intended to be a peace offering, to restore the people’s broken relationship with God. There is no sense of the animal dying in place of the person, or of sin being placed upon the animal. It is a gift to make up for wrongdoing.

Leviticus 16:10: Scapegoat

But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.”

So the one time sins are symbolically placed onto an animal, that animal is not killed.

Interesting.

Isaiah 53:4-5 (NIV)

This is the most commonly quoted Old Testament passage used to defend Penal Substitution. I’ll write my little commentary in italics

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
(the suffering that is the result of sin)
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
(WE considered him – I suspect when Jesus hung on the cross it looked a lot like he was being punished by God. Doesn’t mean he literally was…)
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
(Yes! He took the full force of sin upon himself and broke its power – sin punished him, not God!)

Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)”

I don’t even know how this has become a “proof text” for penal substitution.

God allowed Jesus to be killed? Yes. He sacrificed his Son to save us.
Jesus felt abandoned by his Father? Whilst suffering the most painful form of execution known to man? I reckon so. 

So God killed Jesus? NO! WHAT?? Why would you even say such a thing??

Mark 10:45 (NIV)

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Yes, a ransom paid to the powers of darkness and death…they demanded blood, not God!

Romans 3:23-26, 8:32 (The Voice translation)

“You see, all have sinned, and all their futile attempts to reach God in His glory fail. Yet they are now saved and set right by His free gift of grace through the redemption available only in Jesus the Anointed. When God set Him up to be the sacrifice—the seat of mercy where sins are atoned through faith—His blood became the demonstration of God’s own restorative justice. All of this confirms His faithfulness to the promise, for over the course of human history God patiently held back as He dealt with the sins being committed. This expression of God’s restorative justice displays in the present that He is just and righteous and that He makes right those who trust and commit themselves to Jesus.”

“If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him?”

Speaks for itself! Not even a flicker of God pouring out wrath on Jesus.

Gave him up as a sacrifice? Definitely.

Punished him in our place? What?? No!

2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13 (NIV)

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.””

So Jesus took the full force of sin upon himself, was cursed by sin… doesn’t mean God was punishing him.

1 Peter 3:18, 2:24 (NIV)

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed”.

Yes indeed. Still no mention of God punishing Jesus.

1 John 4:10 (NIV)

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Yep. Atonement, at-one-ment, making things right between us.

Sacrifice – still doesn’t mean substitution.

I’ve probably missed some out but hopefully by now you get the picture.


What a wonderful piece.

And here’s the link to the original article.

Interestingly, there is a classic example of a ‘nasty Christian‘ in the comments section for the original article as presented on Emma’s blog – look out for one ‘Chuck’ and bring a sick bag with you. His hectoring, dogmatic, humourless, rigid and unbending tone and arrogant attitude is exactly what I mean when I write of Christians putting others off God. He’s one of the NPCs: grey, dusty and dry. No idea who he is, but he’s not the sort of bloke I’d go out for a pint with. I did that once with one bloke, on a ‘get to know you’ basis, and he took his Bible with him, hidden in a little satchel, and proceeded to ambush me and bop me over the head with it. And wouldn’t listen when I took exception to it. Such are these people, and God is currently teaching me how to love the NPCs.

But, as you can tell, I’m not quite there yet 😉

And I fully understand that people at certain Stages in their spiritual growth find it very hard to see any alternative points of view to their own, and in my opinion only God can actually move them out of their place and into fresh revelation. And unless and until that happens, they will fight tooth and nail to defend their position.

Still, I hope you found the article interesting. At the very least, for those with an open mind, it shows that the idea of a non-PSA Gospel is certainly a Biblical one. Those who would choose to deny that are doing just that: choosing to hold on to their own interpretation – which is fine; that’s their prerogative – but we can see that PSA is not the only realistic and indeed Biblical point of view out there. And to be honest, religion is the slowest system in the entire world when it comes to changing its views!

Peace and Grace to you.

 

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Shifting Perspective

Here is an excellent piece, Shifting Perspective, by my friend Rob Grayson. It’s the transcript of a sermon he preached a few weeks ago in his church. In this insightful work, Rob expounds on one of the most important concepts of our time: the primacy of Jesus over everything else. And I share this piece here with Rob’s gracious permission.

Firstly, though, let’s look at the well-known Scripture that was Rob’s text for the day, Luke 9:28-36

…[Jesus] took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Here’s Rob:


Introduction

As many of you know, my wife and I recently became grandparents for the first time. I know I’ve talked about this a lot lately, but it’s what you do when you become grandparents! It’s been fun reminiscing about what it was like to become parents ourselves, and watching our son and daughter-in-law make many of the same discoveries we did. One of the most striking things about having kids is how dramatically your perspective on life shifts when you become a parent. Typically, it’s not something you just take in your stride: when you have a baby, your whole world – by which I mean not only the practical arrangement of your life, but the whole way you see the world – changes. Becoming a parent is a change of circumstance that causes a dramatic shift in perspective.

Becoming a parent is an example of what’s sometimes called a paradigm shift. In this context, a paradigm means a set of assumptions that determine how we see the world. We all have a paradigm – we might also call it a worldview – and it’s usually something we’re not consciously aware of until we have an experience that challenges our previously unquestioned assumptions.

One characteristic of a paradigm shift is that it’s not simply a case of acquiring new information or knowledge. You can read about having a baby; you can even attend ante-natal classes to learn about what to expect when the baby arrives; but until you actually have a baby, you’ll never experience the huge change in perspective and worldview that results from becoming a parent.

To reiterate, then, a paradigm shift is not simply about acquiring new information: it’s a change of perspective, a shift to a whole new level of awareness or consciousness.

As you might have guessed, the reason I’ve been talking about paradigm shifts is that I believe this is what today’s Gospel reading is fundamentally about. Peter, James and John needed to have their perspective changed; and, of course, through the words of scripture, we are also invited to allow our perspective to be changed.

Recapping the story

Let’s briefly recap what we heard in the Gospel reading.

Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. As Jesus is praying, his appearance changes (the King James Version says he’s “transfigured”), he becomes as bright as lightning, and Moses and Elijah appear alongside him and talk with him about his “departure”, which, the text tells us, he is “about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem”. Peter, James and John, in spite of being sleepy, witness this strange scene, and Peter wants to build three shrines for Jesus and his illustrious companions. Then a cloud descends on them, they’re frightened, and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him”. The cloud disappears, and with it Moses and Elijah: Jesus is once again alone on the mountain with his disciples.

A strange episode indeed. One of the challenges of preaching on a text like this is that there are so many angles to explore, so many different directions we could go in. For the sake of time, we’re just going to focus on the paradigm shift that Peter needed to undergo, and how what he experienced on the mountain encouraged just such a shift.

Peter’s experience

So, let’s think about Peter. We’re told that, as Moses and Elijah are beginning to leave Jesus, Peter pipes up and suggests building shelters for the three of them. Rather amusingly, the text tells us, “He didn’t know what he was saying”: as we see elsewhere in the Gospels, Peter’s approach often seems to be, “If in doubt, say the first thing that comes into your head!”

In any event, Peter is clearly overwhelmed enough by the whole experience that he wants to prolong it and commemorate it. But, besides the visual spectacle of seeing Jesus shine like lightning, what is it that impresses him so much?

Remember that Peter, like the other disciples, is on a journey of trying to figure out just who Jesus is. He’s decided Jesus is important enough to leave his home and his business and become one of his followers, but beyond that, who is Jesus? A teacher? A healer? A prophet? Something more?

At this point, we need to recognise the importance of Moses and Elijah. To a first-century Jew, these were two of the most pivotal figures in the history not only of the Jewish faith, but of Israel as a people. They were monumental, towering figures – heroes of the faith and of history – representing the twin pillars of Judaism: the Law and the Prophets. Moses, of course, was the great lawgiver, the one to whom God had given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. And Elijah was perhaps the greatest, certainly the most iconic, of Israel’s prophets. And here they are, chatting with Jesus. I wonder, is part of the reason Peter is so impressed by this appearance the fact that, in his eyes, it seems to confirm that Jesus, this itinerant rabbi on whom he’s taken a gamble, is turning out to be on an equal footing with Israel’s great heroes?

Notice again what happens after Peter tries to arrange to install Jesus, Moses and Elijah in permanent accommodation on the mountain. A cloud comes down; a voice – presumably God’s – says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him!”; and the cloud departs, leaving Jesus alone with the disciples. Here’s Peter, wanting to celebrate and commemorate Jesus’ elevation to the same rank as Moses and Elijah – in other words, to the same level of importance as the Law and the Prophets – and it’s as though God says, “No! This is the one you need to listen to!”

Peter’s paradigm shift

Peter needed to have his perspective changed to see that Jesus was not just another Prophet, or another interpreter of the Law. He was not to be put on an equal footing with Moses and Elijah. Peter needed to be awakened to the truth that Jesus perfectly reveals God in a way that the Law and the Prophets never could. At best, the Law and the Prophets could only ever cast a pale shadow of what God was like; Jesus, on the other hand, was the perfect embodiment of God’s nature in human form.

This realisation of the supremacy of Jesus as the one true revealer of God’s nature would have huge implications for Peter, as it should for all of us. No longer would Peter be able to appeal to the Law as the ultimate arbiter of God’s will: for example, where the Law said a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death, Jesus would say the one who was without sin should cast the first stone, demonstrating God’s heart of compassion and mercy and his absolute opposition to violence, even where the Law seemed to require it.

Notice, as well, that Peter’s impulse is to keep Jesus on the mountain rather than allow him to continue on to the final part of his mission – a mission that will take him first to Jerusalem, and then to the cross. This reminds me of the incident we read about in Mark 8 – shortly before Mark’s account of the Transfiguration – where Jesus begins to speak openly to the disciples about his coming suffering and death, Peter tells him off, and Peter is in turn sharply rebuked by Jesus with the famous words, “Get behind me, satan!” Is Peter harbouring hopes that Jesus will turn out to be the conquering Messiah who leads Israel to victory against the occupying Romans? Is that why he’s so reluctant to let Jesus self-sabotage (as Peter sees it), and why he’s so bemused by all this talk of suffering and death?

This is another vital aspect of the paradigm shift Peter needed to undergo. He needed to understand that in God’s kingdom, the way up is down; the way to gain your life is to lose it; the way to salvation for Israel was not to seek out a heroic messiah who would rise up against the Romans, but to embrace the way of peace – the way of the cross.

Ready, steady, shift

Of course, Peter didn’t “get the message” straight away. Like many of us, he was a slow learner. And these weren’t the only paradigm shifts he would need to undergo: there would be more to come. For example, I think denying Jesus in his most desperate hour, and then later receiving Jesus’ forgiveness on the lakeshore in Galilee, would have been an experience that triggered a massive and profound shift in Peter’s perspective on both Jesus and himself.

The question is, are we willing to have our own assumptions challenged and our own perspective changed? So often, particularly when it comes to our beliefs about God and how he relates to us and the world, we can easily think we’ve got it all worked out and we know all the right answers. That can be especially true for those of who’ve been followers of Jesus for a very long time. But when we set up camp on our beliefs and convictions by insisting that they’re absolutely, unarguably correct and must never be allowed to change, aren’t we, just like Peter, trying to build a structure to box Jesus in and keep him safely contained where he can’t do too much damage to our preconceptions?

Like Peter, we need to allow our vision and our understanding of what God is like to be shaped first and foremost by Jesus and not by anything else, even if it is in the Bible. And, just as importantly, we need to be ready and willing to have our perspectives challenged and our paradigms shifted. That can be uncomfortable and disorientating, but it’s vital if we’re serious about growing and maturing as followers of Jesus rather than just being people who keep Jesus in a shrine and only pay him any attention on Sundays and other special days.

May God give us the courage to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and be willing to set aside our certainties for the sake of the kingdom.

Amen.


I also think that Peter was one of the Disciples who was most entrenched in his beliefs. Jesus didn’t call him a ‘rock’ for nothing; you get the idea that he was big, strong and immovable, not just in his physical stature but also in his convictions too. The episode in Acts 10, where it needs a vision from God to show Peter that actually the Gospel is not just for the Jews, but for all the world, is a case in point. Where Peter had assumed that only ‘God’s chosen people’ were to hear the Gospel, it took that vision and then the evidence of the presence of the gift of the Holy Spirit in the lives of a group of non-Jewish believers, to convince him.

But there is hope in this too. It shows me that even the most firmly entrenched and, lets face it, unhealthy and unhelpful of erroneous belief systems is capable of being changed by the patient intervention of the Holy Spirit. The thing that Peter had was the willingness to learn; to be taught. Jesus said in John 16:12 that ‘I have so much more to tell you, but you can’t cope with it right now’. He knows when best to reveal things to us. And it also means that even those whom we find most annoying – in my case, legalistic Pharisees – can also have their viewpoints – their paradigms – changed by the Spirit, when He’s good and ready. I think that is most encouraging. And it’s especially liberating for us to know that it is not our job to change them, even though the reciprocal of that view is not always shared by said Pharisees; they often want to change others! Surely the best thing we can do for these people is to allow our own paradigms to shift so that we can gently share our Grace experiences with them, so that they know that there are others they can turn to when they themselves have their Grace revelation that releases them from legalism.

I want to have that paradigm shift, don’t you?


Here’s the link to Rob’s original blog post

10

Solid Food

Continuing my ‘morsels’ – themed titles for my ‘quotations’ posts…

If Jesus saves only Evangelicals who have said ‘The Prayer’, and likely also had to jump through many, many other hoops too (as prescribed by various leaders), then at best only 0.01% or so of humans will be ‘saved’. Given that we can assume that God is not a complete idiot, and that Jesus is not a failed Saviour, I would suggest that somewhere along the line we have gained a total misunderstanding of both the nature of salvation and what it takes to be ‘saved’. – Me

“The incarnation does not suggest that God became human so that we can escape our humanity, but rather that, since God has fully embraced the human experience, we can escape the trap of believing that we need to escape our humanity in order to become like God.” – Jeff Turner

“The authority of Scripture lies in the transformative process itself.” – Brad Jersak

“God’s love for you has never been and never will be based on anything you do or don’t do.
It’s based on who He is.” – Chris Martin

“I’ve just thought: if there is indeed a Judgement Day video where all our life is played back in Blu-Ray/IMAX quality, mine is going to be bloody hilarious… :D” – Me

“The only time you’ll find God in a box is because he wants to be where we are” – Wm. Paul Young

“Double negatives are a no-no for me” – Anon

“It took a real revelation – literally, a revelation – of Grace to bring me out of my pit. Once you have seen the true nature of Grace, you can’t unsee it. But the converse may also be true: until you have seen the true nature of Grace, you can’t see it at all.” – Me

“Your first love is not your love for God; it is God’s love for you.” – Paul Ellis

 

10

Oases of Light

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Dark Night

In this Dark Night of the Soul, I am having a lot of interesting insights.

Although at the moment I don’t always feel the burning Presence of God all the time like I usually can, He still gently reminds me – every so often – that He’s still there and still holding my hand.

I think of these reminders as oases of light in the dark valley. Or like pools of lamplight on a dark street, like in the header picture, which I think depicts the concept beautifully.

There are two recent examples in particular which stand out for me.

A couple of mornings ago, I woke up having just been in a dream in which I had been singing the chorus of the Don Francisco song, ‘The Power‘, with my hands lifted high in praise and gratitude. Singing the words, “Praise You, Jesus, for Your Holy Spirit!

In the dream, I knew that the song was just as real to me as it has always been, Dark Night notwithstanding. The dream, and the song within it, served to remind me of my deep knowledge that the Spirit of God lives within me, and that She is the guarantee of my inheritance in the Kingdom, both in the here and now, and in the hereafter too (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). And I could indeed feel the ‘flood of joy’ that Don describes in his song. Ok, it was ‘just a dream’, but it was a dream that I needed and a dream that bore fruit. I have absolutely no doubt that it was from the Lord.

And then today a box of old worship tapes arrived, from a very kind lady who had contacted me through my website ‘Vintage Worship Tapes, with a view to donating some tapes to the ‘ministry’. In the box was a copy of the tape ‘Thank You Lord’, by David J Hadden, whose work I have featured on my blog before. The title track, unsurprisingly called ‘Thank You, Lord‘, I have known for about thirty years, but only today have I heard David’s own version of it. I’ve even previously shared the words for the song, but been unable to publish the audio track until now – because, of course, I didn’t have it! – but today I have made an mp3 track of the song and I share it with you below, along with the lyrics. But the thing is that the song has lifted me up again, on the back of the Don Francisco song and now this David Hadden song, and once again the joy is there and it’s real.

I don’t know if this is the end of the Dark Night or not; certainly it doesn’t feel as decisive as the last time I ’emerged’, five years ago, in February 2014. Here’s what I wrote on that day:

“What a morning. First time voluntarily in a church for fifteen years, and getting thoroughly zapped by God: weeping, laughing, complete acceptance, forgiveness. Wow, wow, wow! Going again tonight hehe

It’s not like that this time! But then I appreciate that each time is going to be different. That said, I don’t feel like everything is sorted yet anyway, so we’ll wait and see. But for those of my readers going through a Dark Night of your own, and for those who simply wanted to get my perspective from within the valley, I thought I would post this today so that you have the information. I think it’s quite fascinating and in some ways this writing of these experiences here on my blog is enabling me to observe what is happening with a more analytical eye. And I trust that many of you are finding it useful. You see, there are oases of light in the dark valley, and God will lead you to them.

Anyhow, here’s David’s song, ‘Thank You, Lord‘, shared here with his gracious permission:

When I consider all you mean to me
My heart responds in worship
The songs you’ve given me, O Lord to sing
They’re songs of worship
They’re songs of praise
They’re songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord
Thank you Lord
Thank you from the bottom of my heart
Thank you Lord
Thank you Lord
Thank you from the bottom of my heart

You mean so much to me my God and King
My heart is full of worship
I long to bless you and to build a throne
Through my songs of worship
Through my songs of praise
Through my songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord……….

Great is the Lord and worthy of your praise
His name endures for ever
People of Zion come and sing your songs
Sing your songs of worship
Sing your songs of praise
Sing your songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord……….

(Words and music copyright David J. Hadden, 1985, used here with his kind permission)*.

 

Even as I Iisten to this song right now, it’s moving me to tears of gratitude, and to grateful worship, and to raising my hands in thanksgiving. I am just so grateful to Father for what He’s doing with me at this time.

And I am so especially grateful for these oases of light.

Thank You Lord, indeed 😀

Peace and Grace to you


*David is the lead vocalist on the track, and he’s also playing the keyboards and piano.

10

Dark Night – The View From Here

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Dark Night

I said in the comments to a previous post that I would write as much as I can about the process of Dark Night of the Soul which I am currently in.

First of all, I had to determine whether or not I am actually undergoing what I think I am undergoing. While there is no clearly defined set of parameters to diagnose the Dark Night, I have to say that, personally, this is what it feels like to me, that I am indeed in a Dark Night. I have no interest in church things. The songs of the Kingdom do not hold the same apparent meaning for me that they did only a few weeks ago. And I currently have little interest in developing my own thoughts and ideas on the things of God; I am happy to consider others’ ideas and post them on here, but my own ideas and developing theology are, almost by definition, hidden during the Dark Night.

So, let me begin by saying that I don’t think we should mistake this time for anything resembling true clinical depression or ‘feeling down’. I am not depressed; I have seen that close up in other people, and I know what it looks like, and it’s definitely not that. I’m not even fed-up in any way; life is fun, interesting and entertaining. Lots to do, lots to enjoy, lots to look forward to. Sure, I am going through a tough time in my life at the moment, but I would like to think that this does not affect my spiritual life. That spiritual life held me firm and fast during the trauma of my wife Fiona’s illness and loss, and through the time after that. Since losing Fiona, indeed, my faith has never been stronger. If it can survive that catastrophic loss, it can survive anything!

As I hinted in the previous paragraph, this particular Dark Night has begun at a time when I am finding life to be very difficult. In particular, I am feeling Fiona’s loss extremely strongly; I am going through another phase in the ongoing grieving process. It’s been nearly two and a half years, and I am not through it yet. I probably never will be. Also, My parents have had to go into a nursing home, and that has opened up all kinds of ramifications and thoughts that I have found most disturbing. And in a more minor, yet still disappointing, role, I was ill in the last two months of last year, so I had to ground myself and was unable to fly. This might sound trivial, but flying is my stress-buster, and I find a release in my flying that simply doesn’t happen down here on the ground. Especially galling about that illness was that I was unable to take advantage of the really dark part of the night flying season*, which I love doing so much. I love flying, of course, but night flying holds a special place for me since learning how to fly at night in late 2017. I have in fact managed to fly only about 1.4 hours at night this season, but that’s better than nothing.

And yet, despite all that, I don’t think that this current Dark Night has been actually caused by these things; rather I think these things have happened around the time of an already existing Dark Night. That said, as I have said in a previous article, sometimes a Dark Night can be precipitated by big life changes and/or big – even momentous – events, and I suppose that could have been part of what happened.

I would also say that my faith is still strong; only the other day, I responded to a commenter with an affirmation of my belief and position in God, and that in itself I found profoundly uplifting. Although I do not at this present time feel the constant furnace-hot sense of His presence, I do not doubt that He is there, and part of the Dark Night, for me at least, is to trust that He is indeed there, because that’s where He always has been. I find I can still trust that God is present.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what I do know I believe. I do not anticipate any of these things to change during this Dark Night, because they are things that have been revealed directly to me by God.

  • I know that God exists, that He loves me, and that He fully approves of me.
  • I know that “it is finished” (John 19:30). I know that there is nothing I need to do, continue to do, achieve or even be that will make me any more acceptable to God than I am already. Conversely, I know that nothing I can do, say, achieve or be that will make me any less acceptable to God.
  • I know that I am a child of God. I know this beyond a shadow of any doubt.
  • I also know that I am ‘in Christ’. This too I know beyond a shadow of any doubt.
  • I know that He is walking with me on this path, because He has done it before and He doesn’t change.

With these things in my mind and my heart, I walk this path with confidence and full security and assurance. My previous experience as a believer and as a child of God justifies me in this confidence, which I am sure is not misplaced.

Without wanting to Scripture-bomb you, let me leave you with some verses which I consider relevant, and which I have found to be true in my own experience:

(Ps 23:4)

(Jude 24)

(Phil 1:6 (KJV))

In my next post in this series, whenever that may be, I will describe some more of the things that I am feeling and thinking in this time.

Until then, Peace and Grace to you.

 


Header picture shows the view on final approach to Exeter’s Runway 26, at night, December 18th, 2017. This truly is an example of the view in the dark!


*The ‘night flying season’, because Exeter Airport (along with many other regional airports) closes at 1900 local time, so this means that there are only a few months of the year where there’s enough hours of darkness to be able to do proper night flying.

Roll on October… 😉

10

Jesus Says, “I Will Give You Rest” not “I Will Give You More Burdens”

Here is a wonderful post by my friend Tim, author of the blog ‘Jesus Without Baggage’. If your gospel does not look like this, then it’s not Good News (‘gospel’ means ‘Good News’)

Over to you, Tim:


Many say the foundational passage of the New Testament is John 3:16. Even young children can quote it:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I love that passage—even though many have corrupted what it says by adding misguided subtexts to it, so that when they read or quote the verse it comes out more like:

God so loved the world [though he can’t bear to look at us because of our sin] that he gave his one and only Son [to suffer and die on the cross in our place and take the punishment for our sins], that whoever believes in him [and prays the sinner’s prayer] shall not perish [in the eternal fires of hell] but have eternal life [in heaven].

The words in brackets are often assumed but are not present in, or even implied by, the verse. Never-the-less, I love John 3:16!

Jesus’ Wonderful Invitation to All of Us

Jesus-without-baggage-REST

Yet I believe the passage that reveals the heart of the New Testament is in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Both passages touch my heart and draw me toward Jesus, yet the first (as used by many believers) seems almost doctrinal—describing what God did, while the second is invitational—inviting me to accept what Jesus offers. In introducing Jesus to those who might be interested in him, I prefer to use Jesus’ own invitation; I believe it is applicable to all people at all times. Practically everyone desires relief from inner weariness and the burdens of life. Almost all of us want rest.

In his report, Matthew does not leave out the Father and his relationship to Jesus because the statement is preceded by:

All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Jesus Does not Attach Conditions to His Invitation

In the invitation, Jesus offers us rest for our ‘souls’ and begins to introduce us to the Father. We are pleased to learn that Jesus is gentle and humble in heart; he is no tyrant or overlord who has something we need but who will exact a price from us for it. His motives are pure. He is approachable. We do not need be on our guard with him. We need not grovel. He is gentle; he is accepting; he is safe.

To whom does Jesus make this invitation? It is to everyone! Come to me, ALL you who are weary and burdened’—unless, I suppose, one is not weary or burdened. There are no preconditions. There is no creed or doctrinal statement mentioned. There is no screening out of certain types of people. There is not even a sinner’s prayer or ‘accepting Jesus into your heart’.

There is only Jesus and his invitation: I will give you rest.’

Learning of Jesus

Jesus adds that those coming to him should take his yoke upon them and learn from him to find rest for their souls, but he goes on to say that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Following Jesus is not without any commitment at all; once we accept Jesus’ invitation, we will begin to learn of him, and he tells us important things that affect our lives, but they are not onerous requirements. This is no trick. We will not discover that accepting Jesus’ invitation ultimately involves lists of rules or demands. We will not have to accept beliefs that are contrary to our own reason. In fact, there are no doctrinal requirements at all—only rest from weariness and burdens, and learning from Jesus.

Jesus Does not Load Us with Burdens as Some Suppose

Jesus promises to relieve our burdens, not to increase them. Much of the problem with traditional Christianity is the burden it puts on its members—from  requirements of specific rules and behavior to requirements of doctrinal creeds. These are all baggage; they are not the requirements of Jesus.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Consider Jesus’ invitation. We explore the wonderful ramifications of this invitation on this blog. Do you find Jesus’ invitation appealing? I do. I am glad Jesus’ invitation is for me—and for you.

Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.


Here is the link to the original article

20

So You Believe Homosexuality is a Sin, Now What?

I have published some of the work of the brilliant Chris Kratzer before on my blog.

In this essay, Chris combines his genuine Grace-filled faith with some of the most incisive Christian thinking I have seen in a while. Read through this piece, savour the logic, and learn the lessons. There is much wisdom here.


So You Believe Homosexuality is a Sin, Now What?

At the end of the day, the debate about whether homosexuality is a sin or not will long be like the debate between Calvinist and Armenians. Each will quote their bible verses and line up their arguments with very little to any resolution between them. Those who believe homosexuality is a sin have their biblical convictions, as do those who do not believe homosexuality is a sin. As a result of their disagreements, there is unfortunately very little, if any mutual respect for one another to be found in most circles. This, in my opinion, is reflective of the sad state of Christianity in America and beyond.

For me, beyond the question of, “Is homosexuality a sin?” is perhaps a much more important question, “If you believe it is, now what?” What is the Jesus-way of dealing with that which you believe is sin?

Here are some thoughts… if you believe homosexuality is a sin… fine, now…

1) You should focus on taking your sin seriously, now more than ever.

Since you believe homosexuality is a sin, and apparently increasing in influence and presence in our culture, you should start taking your sin much more seriously as the same reality could manifest with and because of your sin issues.

Imagine if our culture had the same “outbreak” and increased acceptance of your sin issues as you perhaps feel is happening with homosexuality. That could be catastrophic.

Imagine if things like lying, gluttony, gossiping, coveting, or “not doing the good that you know to do” (to name a cursory few sins) were legalized and lit on fire in our culture. That would be world changing! Imagine if everybody adopted and legalized the sin in your life. Comparatively, the presence of homosexuality in our culture would pail in comparison to the damage potential of the sin in your life (or mine) going viral.

Furthermore, in the familiar teaching about logs of personal sin and specks of sin in other people’s lives, Christ taught how suspicious it is to be even merely looking at sin in other people’s lives when there is obviously a log-full to be taken seriously (looked at) in your own life. In fact, one could surmise, with much wisdom, that Jesus was pointing out the fact that if you properly took your own sin-log serious enough, there would be little if any time for looking, let alone, finger pointing at another’s sin. And even more, Jesus seems to set the standard, if your log of sin isn’t so serious to you that in seeing your own, you can’t even begin to dream of having the perspective from which to judge just a speck in another, you aren’t taking YOUR sin seriously enough.

Perhaps, we Christians who are often so sin-conscious in our outward gaze, but sin-justifying in our inward gaze are the reason why sin seems to be increasing in our culture. The culture sees our example, and concludes, “Double standard for you, double standard for me.”

See, a lack of needed seriousness (apparent because one seems to have time for sin finger-pointing) about one’s gluttoness face-feedings at the local Golden Coral every Sunday after service could be sending a message that a person’s homosexuality is not so serious too. A lack of seriousness about one’s church gossiping, slander, and backstabbing could be sending a message that one’s homosexuality is not so serious too. A lack of seriousness about one’s coveting of other people’s lives, ministries, salaries, homes, marriages, finances, clothes, health, etc. etc. etc. could be sending a message that their homosexuality is not so serious too. And the list goes on and on.

Since you believe homosexuality is a sin and it’s growing presence and influence in our culture is alarming, all the more reason, you better spend every waking moment getting off of their sin and on top of yours, for your’s could become even more alarming than theirs.

The way of Jesus in responding to believed sin isn’t to point fingers and focus attention externally, but to be humbled by the alarming, toxic reality of sin in our own lives that demands our internal vigilance and heavenly mercy.

The way of Jesus is to make sure you don’t take your eye off the ball. The ball is your sin, not theirs.

2) You should be befriending many more gay people.

Jesus befriended sinning, sinful, sin-ladened people. Can’t get around that.

In fact, much of his reputation was founded on it. Apparently it wasn’t a hobby, but a priority. People don’t get reputations from hobbies. Jesus saw sinners as friends, and more profound, sinners saw Jesus as “friend.”

Every gay person you meet, from the day you declared homosexuality a sin, should now conclude from your investment and interaction in their life that you are a real-deal “friend.” That’s the Jesus-way and the Jesus-result.

This is no easy accomplishment. That is, to be known as a “friend” by gay people. When gay people see you in public, they ought to be saying to one another, “he (or she) is safe, they truly get me, and love me for me.” Not an easy response to gain.

Thats why this Jesus-way of befriending means genuinely loving gay people, not for the purpose of trying to change them (as if you or I could do that anyways), but simply to love them. People don’t hang out with and call a “friend,” people who are simply trying to change them and thus put another spiritual knot on their belt. Do you call people like that, friends?

Oh, and by the way, that whole “hate the sin, but love the sinner,” thing. That’s like saying, “Love the pizza, but hate the sauce.” Loving a person the Jesus-way is loving the person, as is.

But, if you believe your befriending a homosexual can change them, all the more reason you ought to be befriending every gay person you meet. Oh, and I guess that applies to every other kind of sin and sinner; hookers, liars, murders, child abusers, sexual predators, rapists etc. Shoot, for that matter, you ought to be befriending yourself.

Dang, between taking your sin more (properly) seriously and genuinely befriending gay people (who you may believe are our culture’s worst sinners) there isn’t going to be time for much else… hate, condemnation, marginalizing, political rants, declarations of your right and they’re wrong.

3) You should be studying the “clobber” passages that relate to YOUR sin much harder

Along with your belief that homosexuality is a sin, you may believe that people hearing the so called “clobber” passages in the Bible about homosexuality is going to change their mind and heart. Therefore, perhaps you memorize them and even rehearse them in preparation for that next debate or anticipated time when you get to “restore a brother gently.”

At the very least, if you are like most people who believe homosexuality is a sin, you have studied the 6 “clobber” passages in the Bible widely believed to condemn homosexuality as sin.

By the way, you also may believe there are passages in the Bible that give you license to point out people’s sin and get them on what you believe to be the right path. Just a question… these passages, that have become important to many people now, especially with the whole homosexuality issue, have they been just as important to you in regards to sins like gluttony, cheating, coveting, divorce, etc. etc. etc.? Have you made good on those passages and leaned across the cubicle to confront or “restore” your over eating, Christian coworker? What about your gossiping small-group buddy? What about your envious worship band team member? What about your non-biblically divorced next door neighbor?

If not, why not? There are tons of other sins and corresponding “clobber” passages to choose from? Aren’t those sins just as serious?

Why is it, with this whole homosexuality thing, that seemingly it’s all the sudden now so important to make sure we dust off the biblical badges that seem to justify our spiritual policing of believers and the world?

Well, if you believe clobber passages change hearts and minds, so be it… great. But that means you should now be all the more memorizing and studying the clobber passages about your sin for the same purpose. You should be writing yourself blog posts, Facebook statements, political messages, declarations of doom and wrath, and holding yourself to the fire for the destruction of America?

See, God doesn’t need to look any further than your own sin (or mine) for cause and reason to open up a can of angel-wrath upon the world. In fact, God expects the world to sin, but you (and I) do it having “tasted and seen.” Oops, probably not good if you believe in all that judgement, wrath, and hell-fire stuff.

I mean really, if God was looking for easy justification to man-handle the planet and drum up disasters of judgement, I think we would ironically find him far more peering into the stain-glassed windows of the Church more than bedroom windows of the world.

So you believe homosexuality is a sin because of your understanding of the “clobber” passages in the Bible. What are the clobber passages that speak to your sin issues? Are you studying them with equal diligence and debate? What about your self-posts, self-articles, self-rants?

If you believe clobber passages change people, are you just as adamant to use them to change you?

4) You should be defending and declaring from the mountain tops the righteousness of homosexual Christians and God’s unconditional love for them.

So, you believe homosexuality is a sin, great… now what? Is it more of an important sin than yours?

I read somewhere, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Sin, in God’s eyes, is not placed in hierarchy. Therefore, the same righteousness declared over your life, through faith in Christ, is the same declared over a homosexual Christian.

I know, maybe you say your sin is not a “life-style” of sin. You don’t willingly choose it. Really?

Btw, how many times sinning in the same way makes for a “life-style?” Is it two, five, ten, twenty four? Who gets to determine and judge that? And, how much time in between the sin is this limit. One hour, one day, one week? Who gets to determine and judge that?

See, if you (or I) can’t shout from the mountain top that homosexual Christians are righteous in Christ; unconditionally loved, holy, sanctified, and justified, than neither can you say you are. All these spiritual realities of the believer are based solely on Christ’s performance and finished work on the cross, not the believer’s. It is Christ who makes and keeps us righteous, holy, loved, sanctified, justified, and yes, even saved.

The moment you pull back from the righteousness of homosexuals, you are pulling back from your own.

If they aren’t righteous, you aren’t either. If they are second class citizens, so are you.

5) You should be welcoming and wanting homosexuals in your church all the more.

In the same way, if you, with your sin and sinning, are welcome and wanted in your church, why aren’t homosexuals?

I know, it’s maybe because you see your sin as a sin and many homosexuals don’t. And yes, many don’t believe the way you do that their homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, perhaps in your mind they are not welcome or wanted. They, through their behavior and attitude towards what you call sin, are condoning sin. And you perhaps believe we can’t have any of that running around on in the church.

Well, maybe now you see your sin as sin, but did you always? Furthermore, do you see all your sin? Are you aware of all the areas of sin in your life and see every sin-area of your life as sin? Is not, in your beliefs, the heart wicked and full of deceit? Even portions of your heart, due to the “flesh?” Therefore, can you really trust that you see everything, and aren’t missing an area where you think you aren’t sinning, but actually are? Just like you believe homosexuals do.

By the way, perhaps you say you see your sin as sin, and that makes all the difference, is that why perhaps you overeat still? That’s why you perhaps still lie, right? That’s why you are better than homosexuals? You are better, more worthy, more wanted church-material because you are managing sin better in your life? That’s why you are the perfect leader, right? Never make mistakes that you know are mistakes, never see thing that you are doing as o.k when in fact, they are sin? Right?

I mean seriously, tell the Holy Spirit to move onto someone else. You don’t need any truth guidance, you got it all under perfect view, watch, discernment, and containment in your life. Which makes you the perfect gatekeeper for a church, right? Who better to know who should be in or out, welcome or wanted then you? You see all your sin perfectly, surely, you can do that in other people’s lives, right?

Trust me, awareness of sin makes a terrible safe-guard for sin. Just because you know and say it’s wrong doesn’t make you any more protected from acting on it, nor does it make you any better of a Christian or worthy of being welcomed or wanted in a church.

If “Church” is of and for the sin-aware, then “Church” would have never started. No one starts as sin-aware and therefore, there would have been no one to begin “Church” with on that first Pentecost.

Besides, in your mind, are homosexuals, regardless of “sin-awareness” better off in fellowship with the world or in the family of a church? If, while you were knowingly sinning, no one welcomed and wanted you, where would you be right now? Do you trust the Holy Spirit to change people, if change is needed? Point out sin, if sin pointing out is needed? Or, are you dependent on your “church-strength” and “church systems” to do it and manage it.

It’s one thing to welcome the knowingly sinning, and another to want them. It’s easy to welcome, and not want. Easy to let them sit in your pews, enjoy the same air conditioning, and sing your songs. But a whole other thing to “want” them; want them connected, want them serving, want them doing life along side everyone else.

Truth is, while you were knowingly sinning, through the cross, God welcomed and wanted you into His Kingdom, and still does. To not welcome and want homosexuals, is in all natural and spiritual reality, not to want and welcome you.

If you can’t welcome and want them, you can’t welcome and want you.

So, you believe homosexuality is a sin… now what?


Here’s the link to the original piece

10

“God is Love, But…”

“God is Love, But…”

To me, this is one of the most infuriating phrases used by people trying their hardest to squeeze Bad News from the Good News.

God is Love (or God is Good)…BUT.*

Religion always inserts a ‘But’. And, invariably, the ‘But’ implies some conditions, some Rules or other that we have to abide by in order for the ‘God is Love/Good’ bit to apply to us personally. There’s always something we have to do, say, believe, think, whatever, in order for us to ‘qualify’ the God is Love part. There’s always some reason why we might not be able to claim the ‘benefits’ of ‘God is Love’ for ourselves.**

But Grace says this is an utter pile of tosh.

Grace is an unconditional gift. We can’t earn it; nothing we can do – or fail to do – can change it; and we can’t obtain it for ourselves. It’s something that is given by God, and God alone. It is not administered through any religious ritual, organisation or bureaucracy, nor is it by any means the exclusive property of any particular organisation, either religious or secular. Grace is a gift from God, entirely, wholly, and without exception.

Once we get a handle on this magnificent concept, it transforms our beliefs and indeed our entire lives. No longer are we burdened with the need to conform to a particular human-imposed choice of ruleset in order to be ‘acceptable to God’, because Grace shows us that we are already acceptable to God.

Grace is a gift, not a wage. It’s something we are given, not something we earn. That’s why St. Paul, in Romans 6:23, contrasts the concept of earning death through sin, with the gift of Grace from God, when he says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Using Hebrew antithetical parallelism, Paul contrasts our best efforts to please God – ‘sin’ – with the unearned, unambiguous gift of eternal life in Christ.

Once you see that concept, your entire view of life changes. Gone is the focus on ‘sin’ – mine and others – gone is the need to judge others, gone is the need to try to please God. Part of the freedom that his releases into is in realising that we already please God just by being ourselves!

With all this in mind, I would like to let you read a recent piece by my friend Phil Drysdale, whose work I have published in my blog in the past, and which I will undoubtedly be publishing more of in the future. He begins with the ‘God is Love, But…’ idea and then takes our thinking in a slightly different direction from mine. Over to Phil:


“God is love” is a wonderful truth from scripture.

But I find far too often it fails to ends there. Often it’s “God is love but…

…He is also just.”

…He is also holy.”

…He is also righteous.”

Etc.

What this betrays is a terrifying truth:

Many Christians don’t think love is just, holy or righteous.

So much so, that when we talk about love we must temper it with our concepts of holiness or justice etc.

What it suggests is we either have a very misguided notion of what love is or a very misguided notion of what holiness, justice and righteousness are.

I would suggest it’s the latter three with which we struggle.

You see to say God is love, to me, 100% encapsulates the statements “God is just” or “God is holy.”

His love is a holy love. His love is a just love.

The issue we have is our concepts of holiness and justice tend not to be very loving.§

You see, the world has witnessed two forms of justice over the ages. There is a justice that is tried and tested. It dishes out punishment upon those who wrong it and “mercifully” hands out forgiveness to those who make penance.

Its focus is on people getting what they deserve.

But there is also another form of justice, albeit one much less common. One that forgives those who do not know what they do. One that calls everyone to a ministry of reconciliation and of healing. One that forgives it’s enemies seventy times seven times.

It is a justice that does not look to punish sin but instead restore the one who is lost to the sin and heal those harmed by the sin.

So the question is not, is God just? The answer to that is obviously yes. The real question is which kind of justice does God represent?

If your God is just in the sense of handing out punishment for sin and only forgiving those who do the right thing or believe a certain thing then yes… “God is love” will never be enough for you. In fact, it might be quite a problem for you without a clause to temper it. (unless you change the definition of love all together.)

However if your God is just in the sense of forgiving people solely based on His goodness not their actions or beliefs. Restoring people who have been hurt, abused and suffered unspeakable pain. That God… well… He is love. Plain and simple.

“God is love” is more than enough and says it all.

So my challenge to you today is that – if “God is love” doesn’t say it all for you then do you need to revisit who God is to you? Why do you need to temper God’s love to keep your view of God alive?

 

§ I’m aware that many could argue the exact opposite – that our form of love is not holy or righteous. To this I simply say, which do you see portrayed in the life of Jesus and described so iconically in 1 Cor 13?


 

*(And it’s not at all what the Bible actually says in 1 John 4:16!)

**Unlike in the Psalms where it says, ‘Praise the Lord O my Soul, and forget not all His benefits’ – Ps 103:2 – without specifying any conditions. Go figure.

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Deconstruction

I’ve recently concluded a series on the Stage of Faith, describing how some people’s faith structure changes and grows over the course of their lifetimes. Part of that growth can involve the ‘deconstruction’ of one’s former beliefs in the light of new revelation, evidence, study or thinking – I have referred to this as the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, also known as ‘The Wall‘, where some – but not all – believers undergo a major deconstruction and (normally) reconstruction of their faith.

‘Deconstruction’ has become another buzz-word in Christian circles, and it is in some places well-received, and in others not so well-received, probably depending on their penchant for the control of others. Of course, for those who want to control others, it is not seen as a good thing, and naturally they will seek to vilify and ostracise those who are undergoing the process. In fact, some accuse those people undergoing deconstruction (which no-one would freely choose to do, by the way) of leaving the faith, when in fact the exact opposite is true. This is a classic case of people in Stage 3 accusing those people, who are actually moving forwards in their faith, of ‘backsliding’.

Here, then, is a piece on that very subject of being accused of leaving the faith – “Deconstruction Does Not Mean Christians Are Trying to Leave the Faith” by John Williamson. While I am not including this piece as part of the series on spiritual growth, you could see it as an adjunct to that series, written by someone who is actually undergoing the process. Over to John:


“I distrust those people who knew so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B. Anthony

“There is one road to certainty – through a door marked ‘death.'” – John Ortberg

When I began my own personal deconstruction two and half years ago, it was not something I planned for or even wanted. I’d much rather have remained within my happy, blissful bubble of certainty. Let’s be honest, that’s a much easier way to live. It’s far easier to have someone spoon-feed me what I should believe in neatly defined categories. When we are able to put things in simple dualistic terms it makes the game much easier to play. I’m right, you’re wrong; I’m in, you’re out; this is up, and this is down; black and white, Democrat or Republican, and so on. However, we all know that’s not how life works.

To be human means to live in the grey, to get in the mess and deal with complexity. This is the case with deconstruction. Most of us aren’t so lucky as to have a choice. Many of us are thrown into the journey of deconstruction whether we like it or not courtesy of some sort of trauma. And like so many others I found myself on the path with no map or compass and no idea how I’d even ended up there. It all started with a genuine cry into the dark for answers.

Since starting a podcast I’ve gotten a lot of pushback about the idea of deconstruction. It’s certainly a provocative and often misunderstood term. As a result, I’ve often heard a lot of people and religious leaders say that it’s unnecessary, immature, a sign of weak faith, a sin, and even that it’s only something millennial do. Let me just say that those people, although the mean well, fundamentally misunderstand what it means to go through a deconstruction. If we are to engage with folks who may be in different phases of their spiritual journey in a loving and productive way, we need to first understand what spiritual deconstruction is, and also what it isn’t. Until we gain that understanding, we may continue to do more damage than good, and continue to see people around us leaving the faith.

People who are on a spiritual journey (AKA going through a deconstruction) aren’t bad people. They don’t have less faith, they aren’t sinners (at least not any more than the rest of the world), they aren’t being punished, they aren’t suffering from “white privilege” (or any other sort of privilege for that matter), and they aren’t doing anything wrong. People who end up in a deconstruction are people from all sorts of backgrounds, education levels, cultures, age groups, and believe it or not religions! This isn’t exclusive to Christianity.

Regardless, religious leaders and religious systems have a habit of shaming people who are experiencing a deconstruction as if they did something wrong or are lacking in some way. This is absurd! One of Jesus’ disciples was nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas needed to be show the holes in Jesus’ hands after his resurrection just to believe it had actually happened! Israel, God’s “chosen people,” literally means “to wrestle with God.” The fact is, there are people all throughout the Bible who are struggling with what it means to be a follower of the Divine.

This brings me to the second most common misunderstanding. Most people who are in the midst of deconstruction aren’t trying to leave religion or even stop being part of community. IF that was the intent, then why bother to engage with deconstruction at all? What would be the point? It would be far easier just to burn it all down and be done with it. This is not what deconstruction is about though.

Deconstruction is a careful and deliberate examination of one’s beliefs from the inside. It’s about coming to terms with what you believe outside of your inherited beliefs. It’s about growing INTO your faith, not out of it. Sure, there are instances when one’s spiritual journey may lead them away from the faith altogether. However, that is certainly not the goal. Deconstruction is a process of growth and maturation. It is not necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater as they say.

The religious leaders in our communities need to recognize that deconstruction is not a new phenomenon. Great religious figures have gone on their own spiritual journeys all throughout history. It’s something that is as much a part of the spiritual process as losing your baby teeth is to a toddler. The best thing we can do as leaders, family, friends, and community is love them through it – even if we don’t happen to be in the same place on the path – even if we don’t completely understand it. We must create safe spaces to allow for questions, dialogue, and inclusion. We must stop worshipping the golden calf of certainty, and learn to embrace the God of Divine mystery.


Here’s the link to the original article. There are also links at that website that lead to John’s blog,

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A Prophecy to the Judgemental

Here’s the brilliant Chris Kratzer on the pushy, judgemental, trying-to-change-sinners attitude of some of the Evangelical church in these times. Granted, it’s written mainly to the Evangelical church in America, but there are people in the UK that could do with reading it too. Not that they will; my blog will long ago have been consigned to the rubbish heap of heresy by these people!

This is what it looks like when the power of the Grace of Jesus overwhelms a believer to the extent that doctrines and ‘correction’ are no longer important; only the approval of Jesus. Their lack of control over such a person is the thing that really gets the judgemental types riled!

Over to Chris:


No, Christian, I’m Not Your Spiritual Bitch

I wonder if you can truly handle what’s on my mind. You’re not going to like it, I suspect, which is probably why I never give it full flight—at least, until now. Honestly, I just can’t shackle the voice in my soul any longer. Neither can I expect you to reconsider your ways if I’m not forthright with their true effect upon my life—however brutal these words might be perceived.

You believe it’s your job to change me, to partner with God to lead me to repent of my sins, surrender my life, and follow the Jesus of your understanding. In your mind, if your divine tag team efforts with the Father don’t work, my eternal destiny could be one of hellfire and forever torment. With such a daunting possibility at the forefront of your beliefs, I appreciate your concern and respect your efforts.

Yet, underneath and far beyond that, it seems you’re pridefully convinced that it’s your special responsibility to point me to the towering endless ladder of your customized, “to do” and “not to do” steps. If my careful ascension isn’t forthcoming and certain, in your mind, I’ll never be successful at activating the neon “Genuine Christian” sign you have conveniently dangling from the top—all to my sure demise and doom. Measuring up and fitting in are of the highest importance. No area of my life seems off limits to your inspection, assessment, and admonition. In the end, it feels like I have become, for you, some kind of Chia Pet-for-Jesus, where you’re hell-bent on making it your personal project to grow me into a “fully devoted follower of Christ” that, in reality, actually looks mostly like you. Oh, the horror that will ensue if I fail to come into compliance and therefore reap the consequence of your rejection.

Still, I’m going to assume that your intentions are met with a goodness in your heart. Yet, all the same, I’m not so ignorant to be devoid of the awareness that some of the greatest of evils have started from the good intentions of people who feel spiritually justified in their actions—especially Christians. In fact, if I’m honest, more so than not, your efforts to save and sanctify me, no matter how well intended, leave me feeling thoroughly defaced as a human being, raped of dignity, condemned unfairly, and judged highly hypocritically. How could that ever be the work of Jesus?

That’s why today is the day of my emancipation.

I mean no disrespect nor lack of love in saying so, but I’m finally breaking free from your apparent determination to convince me that my future and my worth are somehow tied to your spiritual opinion, discernment, evaluation, counsel, influence, and religion. I’m pushing past the seemingly required belief that God is specifically using you to save me from Himself and all that He will do to me if I don’t love Him back in return; of course, with compliance to all your specifics. I’m breaking the chains of, what feels like, your continually condescending glare into my soul that clearly sees me as an inferior person who needs your intervention, lest I perish and waste my life.

Why such resistance and seeming rebellion?

Because the mind of Christ within me has overridden your mind that’s trying to conform me. With heaping helpings of Grace overflowing, He has convinced me of perhaps the most important and liberating revelation of all, “I’m not your spiritual bitch.”

I’m not a misprint in need of your correction. I’m not a floundering vessel requiring your rescue. I’m not a lost cause simply absent of your assistance. I’m not a notch on your belt to appease your quest to earn favor with your deity.

I’m not a blemish the requires your erasing. I’m not a vote deserving of your hacking. I’m not a shame that needs your permission to be unashamed. I’m not a sinner in need of your salvation. I’m not a question mark that needs your answer. I’m not a disease that needs your cure. I’m not a stronghold that requires the strength of your religious prescriptions. And most of all, I’m not an inferior human being whose hope lies within your privilege.

No, I’m a beloved child of God—not by your doing, approval, or securing, but by His.

In fact, here’s what I’ve discovered in my awakening to Love and Grace, yours is not a position from which you should have any position in my life, anyways—only Jesus.

Besides, the God I know, who lives and dwells within me, the One with whom I have full communion unconditionally, would never use hurtful, selfish, inhumane tactics postured from religious pride in order to bring about goodness in me and from me.

So, you can stop pretending I’m your patient and yours is a medicine I need taking. You can stop putting Laws where there are none, and conditions where there never have been. You can stop pimping God as punishing, the Bible as perfect, and your interpretations as exclusively authoritative. You can stop touting your spiritual gymnastics, spiritual navel gazing, and highfalutin exegesis. God’s not impressed and I’m no longer listening.

Why?

Because…

I’m not your spiritual bitch.

And neither is He.

Grace is brave. Be brave.


Check out Chris Kratzer’s new book getting rave reviews, Leatherbound Terrorism

There is no greater evil being wielded upon the planet than Conservative Evangelicalism, and Chris Kratzer’s life and ministry journey are undeniable proof. In Leatherbound Terrorism, Chris tells of his 21 years as a conservative Evangelical pastor and the radical change of heart and mind that led him to walk away from it all. With a new sense of faith centered on Jesus and His pure Gospel of Grace, in Leatherbound Terrorism, Chris chases the evils of conservative Evangelicalism out of the shadows and gives powerful voice to the cries of the religiously oppressed. Confronting issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, religious greed, hypocrisy, nationalism, white supremacy, privilege, and the weaponizing of the Bible, Leatherbound Terrorism pulls no punches. Endorsed by best selling authors Steve McVey and Baxter Kruger, Leatherbound Terrorism will challenge you, inspire you, and most certainly cause you to rethink your faith and life.


Here’s the link to the original blog post

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