What Are Fundamentalist Christians So Afraid Of?

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Dark Night

Well, I’ll tell you what they’re afraid of. At least in terms of the beliefs of Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians, one of which I used to be.

They are most afraid of believers and even unbelievers coming into a proper relationship with Jesus Christ, instead of into the relationship with the Bible in which they themselves find their own security.

And this is extremely ironic, because it is the avowed intention of Fundie Christians to introduce the whole world to Jesus, in line with the ‘Great Commission’ in Matthew 28:19-20. Sadly, though, what usually happens is that there’s a ‘bait-and-switch’ where they advertise Jesus (albeit not very well) and then once their unfortunate victims ‘buy into’ Jesus, they find out – once they have their feet under the table – that the package they have just opened does not contain Jesus after all, but instead that same dusty old Bible along with a list of rules, expectations, prohibitions and whatnot.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” – Mt 23:15

And, of course, that package also contains the ‘dire warning’ that this group has all the correct answers, and, if the new adherent listens to anyone else, reads the wrong books, or breaks any number of unwritten, tacitly assumed Rules, then oh guess what, it’s the same old, same old, fear-based threat of the fiery pit for you. In short, they are afraid of anyone else demonstrating that there is Life outside their little bubble, because that would introduce fatal flaws into their closely held belief structure. They are the only ones who are right, after all. Which is about as much cultic behaviour as it gets. No wonder they are afraid of the real Jesus. No cult wants anyone else to be in charge except their leadership.

And so, most of the foul treatment of others, that Fundie Christians are so well-known for, flows from this exclusive and toxic belief structure, and the need to protect it.

Because, lets make no bones about it, they have a set interpretation of the Bible, and therefore they have a formula – that everything pertaining to life is in their Rulebook – and once you have a formula, you don’t need God. They would deny this, of course, but when you really dig deep, almost the entire reliance is placed on the Bible and not on Jesus. There is more irony there: the Bible does not itself claim such an elevated position. But when it boils down to it, the Bible is seen as being more reliable than our own Relationship with Jesus.

To be fair, not all Fundie Christians are like that. But their underlying belief structures, about the depravity of humanity, ‘original sin’, hellfire and damnation, judgment, and policing others’ morals, are pretty similar across all the groups who would identify as Fundamentalist; it’s just they express it differently, either more or less overtly but still present. Like I said, I know whereof I speak, because I too used to think like that.

Anyhow, here’s Keith Giles, one of the presenters of the Heretic Happy Hour podcast, with some ideas on why Fundies try to keep Jesus bound up in their Rulebook and don’t want to let Him out. This passage is reproduced with Keith’s kind permission:


…’What if the Word of God is more than a book?’ and ‘What if I can hear the voice of God directly, without any help from my pastor, or the Bible?’

            These are challenging questions, I know. But, I believe the Scriptures themselves reveal the answers to these questions, and that what we find might surprise you.

            Honestly, I am becoming convinced that the Bible is intended to teach us that the Word of God became flesh, lived among us, revealed the Father to us and now lives within every single follower of Christ at this very moment.

            Not only do the Scriptures point us to Jesus, but they place Him alone at the center of everything. Jesus, and only Jesus, defines for us who God is, what God is like, and what our lives should look like as a result of that revelation.

            This, I believe with all of my heart, is what Christians today need most to understand about their faith.

            The ironic thing is that some of us have made the Bible an idol. We worship it. We attribute characteristics to it that should only be said of Christ.

            It’s as if the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us and we have very quickly put Him back into a book again. Why? Because if the Word of God is in a book, we can manipulate, and control, and distance ourselves from Him.

            Or, to put it another way: If the Word of God is alive within each and every one of us, then that means we don’t need Christian pastors and teachers to explain God to us.

            Quite frankly, Christians today are terrified of trusting the average person with the Spirit of the Living God. We don’t really believe that the Holy Spirit within every believer can actually lead us into all truth. We doubt that His sheep can really hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. We are nervous about unleashing the Divine among the common Christian community without guard rails.

            What are we so afraid of? Is it any different from when the Children of Israel drew back from the Pillar of Fire or the Cloud that spoke to them directly in the wilderness? Isn’t it exactly the same as when God’s people demanded a King like all the other nations and rejected God as their direct ruler? We are always seeking to put mediators and mouthpieces between ourselves and God. But God is always the One who seeks to draw near to us, to place His Spirit within us, to make His home with us and to speak directly to us as a Father speaks to His own child.

            My hope with this book [link below – Ed] is to provide a fresh revelation of Christ to you and to point out how we sometimes allow good things—even the Bible—to stand between us and Him. In short, I want a Christianity that looks a lot more like Jesus.

            Either our Christian faith is Christ-centered, or it is not worthy of being called “Christianity” and we should not be called “Christians.”

 

– Keith Giles. Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible (Kindle Locations 171-193). Quoir. Kindle Edition.


Superb. I suppose that anyone who has managed to read this far is not one of the people that Keith talks about. But if you are, and you have, then please have a good think about it.

This way lies Life!


P.S. Yes, I do believe that the bloke in the header picture is, actually, a real vampire. Yes indeed.


[Author’s Note – This piece is part of my ‘Dark Night’ series because it contains insights I have managed to crystallise only because I am currently going through a Dark Night of the Soul. For more information on this idea, please see my series on the Stages of Spiritual Growth, here.]

10

Tearing the Curtain

Occasionally, I find a real gem online, usually from one of my thoughtful online friends on Facebook or on a forum or somewhere.

These two short essays are good examples. Here, Wendy Francisco comments on the curtain in the Temple being torn in two (Mt 27:50-51), followed by another related piece on the word ‘saved’.

I feel this combination might just set someone free today:


There was a thick curtain in the Jewish temple that separated the holy of holies from the common people, and when Jesus died, this curtain was ripped in two from top to bottom.

When that happened there were no notes falling from heaven to interpret this. So interpretations abound.

I only know this… the curtain represented a perceived barrier between God and people, and God ripped it in two.

We’ve been trying to sew that curtain back up ever since.

It’s no wonder we do this … that curtain is religion’s golden egg. If you can fool people into believing that God is too disdainful to hang out with us, bingo, you have a profitable religion…where people in fancy costumes go into tented places to appease a god.

Is Jesus the new and better system? Is he now the “curtain” we pass through to gain acceptance by God? No dude …the point of tearing the curtain was that God couldn’t stand being made to stay in that stuffy room by himself. Scripture says repeatedly that God doesn’t desire sacrifice. When Adam fell, God did not sew up himself a tent and sit in it. He ran after Adam.

Jesus sacrificed Himself to tell us this… because we murder pretty much anyone who brings too high a dose of enlightenment.

The point isn’t a better system, it is no system. When relationships become systems, they are toxic. God didn’t put that curtain up, we did. Jesus came to show us that our bloody atonement religions are a hoax. He died telling us that because such religions kill us. He was our lamb, our Messenger, who came with compassion in spite of knowing it would cost everything. He found the pearl of great price – us – and he gave his all for it.

If you don’t get this, you don’t benefit from it… you wind up staying behind a curtain, a cog in a machine, with a false god, and a cultish religion. That is what Jesus was saving the planet from.

That curtain tore. It takes an army of frantic religious doctrinal sewing machines to keep that curtain sewed up, and that dead system going, but we manage to keep untold millions behind our imaginary veil.

There is a verse in scripture — 23 All did sin, and are come short of the glory of God — 24 being declared righteous freely by His grace through the redemption that [is] in Christ Jesus… [Rom 3:23-24 – Ed]

It’s one fluid sentence, but we erected our money-making curtain right in the middle of it ….chopping it into two verses, and sending the first half to the top of the flagpole.

GOOD NEWS… the veil was made by humans, not by God. He doesn’t need or want one. Being born again means having a religious do-over.


We try to make Christianity into a western religion but it is very eastern. Scripture says the kingdom is inside us, that we are already citizens of heaven.

The word that is translated “saved” gives the exact meaning some pause. Jesus taught about life going on after death, but it is this same life. We are already there. We are not trying to do what is necessary to please a disgusted god so we can get TO heaven. We’re trying to see and walk in it now. We’re bringing it here, by how we see. We are already there, but don’t see it.

The evil of religion is stating that we have all sinned fallen short of the grace of God — and failing to close the thought, which states that the SAME “all” is made alive in Christ. The point of the verse is not death but life. That verse is theft…. it is stealing the captives of religion. It is one fluid sentence, like life is one fluid life. Different forms, same life.

I am not making this up. This is scripture which we have been trained not to see. That place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? That is this life too, when religion is standing in the door and keeping you from realizing who and where you are.

Jesus was talking to a deeply religious and sincerely seeking person [Jn 3:3 – Ed] when he described being born again — not to a lost person as we define it. Jesus was talking within a culture so religious even we can scarcely imagine it. He was talking about leaving religion and seeing God with completely different eyes. When he tells the rich man he will find the life of the ages by leaving his life and following him, he isn’t talking about earning heaven later, he’s talking about finding it now. It is here, all around us.

I don’t weep and gnash my teeth any more like I did in evangelicalism because I was redeemed, saved, pulled out of the ditch, redefined. Lemmings don’t like someone who is going against the flow, but I get that. I was one. I get how tricky it is.

“Blessed are those who mourn.” This is the problem with evangelicalism. We were taught that hell could exist for most of humanity and it would be okay not to mourn eternally in heaven because most of humanity really didn’t matter.


I’m not going to comment; with a bit of thought these two pieces speak for themselves.

Be blessed! 🙂

10

It Would Have Been So Easy…

Here’s a great piece by Richard Murray:


It would have been so easy.

So very easy.

If Jesus wanted to make it crystal clear for all Christian generations to come that His Father directly pulverizes men, women, and children in His holy wrath, ALL He had to do ……. was to prove it by demonstrating it during His incarnation.

After all, James 1:18, Colossians 1:15, and Hebrews 1:3, in tandem, say that Jesus came to explain the Father by personifying the full and complete representation of the Father’s nature, and that Jesus was the very image of the invisible God.

So, to confirm that His Heavenly Father WAS capable of:

—killing
—oppressing
—afflicting
—smiting
—plaguing
—disastering

…all Jesus had to do was:

—stone (or endorse the stoning of) one person caught in adultery
—afflict one evil sinner with a plague
—strike one hypocritical Pharisee dead
—oppress one double minded person with an evil spirit in order to punish them
—smite one person with a crippling accident causing them paraplegia so that they would thereafter learn humility and how to give God all the glory for their misfortune
—send one lightning storm, tornado, mudslide, or tsunami to wipe out particularly hard hearted villages or cites.

Had Jesus done ANY of these things, even just one time, then anybody who dared claim otherwise would be forever proven wrong.

But He didn’t.

Jesus’ life was described in this way:

— by the Apostle Peter, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” Acts 10:38.

—by the Apostle John, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5.

—by the Apostle James, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:13-17.

Since Jesus NEVER once did (or endorsed) any of these destructive things listed above, we can only conclude that He refused to misrepresent the divine nature as anything other as curative, protective, rehabilitative, and restorative.

We should likewise steadfastly refuse to malign God’s pristine nature. It’s the key to everything— “the renewing of our mind, to the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2.

Richard Murray, used with his kind permission.

20

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.

 

00

Battle in the Air

This entry is part 21 of 21 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

Back in 1969, when I was seven years old, the classic war film ‘Battle of Britain‘ was in the cinemas, and in this instalment of ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ I am going to showcase a superb piece of music from that film, which is an excellent example of musical storytelling.

But first, some background.

During the decades immediately following World War II, many films were made about the War. These movies told stories about the whole spectrum of the War, and depicted history – or near-history – from all theaters of the War. Films like ‘Bridge on the River Kwai‘ (1957), based on a true story of Japanese use of slave labour to build the Burma Railway. 633 Squadron (1964), from the book by Frederick E. Smith, its story loosely based on real-life exploits of crews of the incredible DeHavilland Mosquito fighter-bomber, and by which George Lucas was inspired to create his Death Star Trench attack from the final act of the movie Star Wars: A New Hope. And, of course, The Dam Busters (1955), telling the true story of the legendary 617 Squadron* and their attack on the Ruhr dams on the night of 16/17 May, 1943, using the ‘Upkeep’ mine, also known as the ‘bouncing bomb’.

This is the raid that I often simulate in my personal light aircraft flying adventures, albeit in daylight and a lot higher up than the 100ft height that 617 Sqn flew the attack at. Because they flew at 100ft in the dark. Amazing flying. And the ‘bouncing bomb’ alone weighed like five times the total weight of my Tomahawk aeroplane 😉 And of course there’s the unforgettable and iconic film The Great Escape (1963), depicting, reasonably accurately, the true story of the escape of 70 prisoners of war from the German prison camp Stalag Luft III at Zagan in Poland. Even today, the main theme tune from that film – composed by Elmer Bernstein – is sung by football crowds all across the UK during matches, and has been essentially immortalised. Such is the power of film music.

Anyway, as a young boy I was absolutely fascinated by Battle of Britain, and indeed all the war films of the time. Since my Dad is ex-RAF, and I have a deep interest in military history, and a passion for aviation in general, this is no doubt largely why I have had a lifelong interest in military aviation in all its forms. We always looked forward to Christmas because there would always be some decent war films on the telly.

But the thing about Battle of Britain that I wanted to write about is the way that the climactic battle is done almost entirely to music. In fact, the music tells the story, and it could in fact be thought of as ‘musical storytelling’. The genius of this music – a piece called ‘Battle in the Air‘ by Sir William Walton – is that it captures perfectly the desperate and fraught feel of aerial combat. The breathtaking fear, the extreme danger, the racing, speeding, swirling and chaotic nature of aerial combat; the rapidly manoeuvring fighters and the rattle of their machine guns and cannon. The menace of the German armed forces and the threat of the invasion they were planning. The triumphs, the terror and the tragedy.  It’s all there.

What I’m going to do is to let you hear the piece of music first, and then give you a clip from the film itself where the music is actually used. Get a feel for the music and the story it is telling, and then see if it matches up with what you see in the film clip.

This part of the film is narrated almost entirely by the music. Once the music starts, there is very little engine noise, gunfire or anything else, just the occasional bit of monologue from a couple of the actors, and that rarely. The visuals and the music tell the entire story, and it is sheer genius.

September 15th, 1940, the day depicted by the clip, was the height of the Battle of Britain. In the two months leading up to this day, and on the day itself, (which is nowadays celebrated as ‘Battle of Britain Day’), the course of the War in Europe was decided. The hitherto unstoppable Luftwaffe – the German air force – had been defeated for the first time. As a result of this, not long after this day, Hitler decided to ‘postpone indefinitely’ his planned invasion of Britain.

The evocative picture below shows condensation trails (contrails) generated by aircraft operating at extremely high altitudes, fighting over London during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. Yes, that’s Elizabeth Tower, colloquially known as ‘Big Ben’, although that’s actually the name of the bell in the tower, not the tower itself.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few”. – Winston Churchill, 20th August 1940

As an additional observation, I’d say that classical music, played by a full orchestra, is generally neither liked nor understood by the general populace. It’s seen as old and stuffy. But in the world of cinema, just about all of cinema music is essentially classical, and is almost always full orchestra stuff. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, there were some forays into synthesiser music – for example Vangelis’s soundtrack to the film Chariots of Fire (1981), and the soundtracks to many science fiction films of the time, such as Dark Star  – but these nowadays come across as pretty cheesy, especially the science fiction soundtracks (Chariots of Fire wasn’t too bad in my opinion; for once the synth stuff actually worked). In short, there’s nothing like a full orchestra for a cinematic score.

And the work of the legendary composer John Williams is, in my opinion, some of the finest music ever written, not just in the field of film score music. His work on so many films – Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, E.T., – is unsurpassed, and so is his genius.

Yes, music tells the story, usually as part of the screenplay, and usually very well. But today I just wanted to showcases the sheer genius of Battle in the Air, and how it tells the story with very few words and no sound effects audible. I hope you have enjoyed it!


*I’d like to tell a funny and interesting, if somewhat politically-incorrect, story about that film. The RAF officer who led the Dams raid was WgCdr Guy Gibson, and he had a black Labrador dog called ‘Nigger’. It’s an historical fact; deal with it.

As part of the operational planning for the Dams raid, the code word for the destruction of the Möhne dam was the word ‘Nigger’, to be transmitted in Morse code by the wireless operators in the Lancaster bombers taking part in the raid once the dam had been breached. Controversially, because of the somewhat sensitive nature of the dog’s name, some modern TV versions of the film were censored/edited to either blank out Nigger’s name entirely, or replace it with a more ‘acceptable’ name. I hate political correctness, and although I would not go out of my way to offend people, that was the dog’s name, and I am one of those people who thinks that history should be left alone and unchanged, no matter how ‘unacceptable’ something may be deemed to be in these present times.

But what’s funny is this.

Let’s say the dog’s name was redacted to ‘Blackie’. When the Möhne dam is breached in the film, the wireless operators back at base hear the Morse transmission coming in and proclaim joyously, “Blackie! It’s Blackie, sir!” and there are handshakes all around because the job’s a good ‘un and the dam has been breached. Except it’s not ‘Blackie’. Those who can read Morse (and I can) can hear clearly that the Morse message is in fact the original ‘Nigger’, just as it should be. ( _.   ..   _ _.   _ _.   .   ._. )

These censors are incorrectly assuming that no-one these days knows Morse, a point that, should I be so inclined, I could also get as equally offended about as do those who don’t like the dog’s name. But I don’t get offended…I learned Morse as part of qualifying as a Radio Amateur in 1985 and, although Morse is no longer required as part of the Amateur licence, I still know it and can read and send it proficiently. I also find it very useful when flying at night, as the radio navigation aids I use are identified by a Morse callsign, albeit using a much slower Morse than I am used to reading.

But still, I think the story is funny. A story where politically-correct censors try to find an offence that doesn’t really exist, and thereby create other insults into the bargain. History is best left alone!

Tragically, Nigger was killed by a hit-and-run driver just outside the station gate at RAF Scampton, the Dambusters’ base, on the evening of the raid, not long before the Lancasters set off on their mission. WgCdr Gibson’s wish was that Nigger be buried at midnight that same evening, and this was done while Gibson’s and the other crews were actually carrying out the attacks on the Dams.

Here’s a picture of Nigger’s grave:

…and its position next to one of the hangars at RAF Scampton:

00

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

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