Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Weird Miracles of Jesus: Walking on Water

In my previous post I spoke about the peculiar nature of some of Jesus’ miracles and suggested that the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana had symbolic significance. Today I want to look at another one of Jesus’ miracles that at first glance seems slightly odd which is the time that He walked on water. Usually Jesus’ miracles were clearly helpful to other people but walking on water is a bit odd, one might even take it for a bit like showing off. But this was Jesus and that would hardly fit His profile. Now a lot has been said about the faith lessons that can be learned from Peter’s stepping out of the boat and subsequently sinking into the water but I believe that there was something deeper going on beneath the surface (see what I did there?). Yes, there is a lesson in faith to be learned in the story but there is more.

Beginning in John chapter 6 we see that immediately following the water-walk that the crowds are said to have been unaware of how Jesus had gotten across the sea therefore they asked Him how He had arrived, Jesus says to them in verse 26 that, “You seek Me not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”. I believe then that this was more than a miracle but a sign as well communicating something else to us.

The sign I believe that walking on water reveals is that Jesus was and is God. Let me explain, in the previous chapter (John 5) we see that the Jews sought to kill Jesus because He said that God was His Father, thereby making Himself equal with the Father (verse 18).  So how exactly would walking on water be a demonstration of that? According to the Torah, Yahweh had power over the sea and most Jews would have been familiar with the passages below:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. – Exodus 14:21.

And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together; the floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea. – Exodus 15:8.

He stirs up the sea with His power, and by His understanding He breaks up the storm. – Job 26:12

This one is particularly interesting because in Matthew 8 Jesus calmed a storm simply by rebuking it. We read a similar verse in the Psalms as well:

He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. – Psalm 107:29

Perhaps even more convincing is this gem that I stumbled across in Job:

He alone spreads out the heavens, and treads on the waves of the sea. - Job 9:8

Then this one as well:

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters - Isaiah 43:16

So Jesus was clearly doing something beyond amazing by walking on water, He was doing something only God Himself could do. In fact, in Matthews account when everyone saw Him walking on water and started freaking out. Jesus called out, “It is I, do not be afraid”. This is actually a poor translation and most English Bibles get it wrong. Jesus does not say, “It is I” but rather, “I AM” This of course is a reference to Exodus 3:14. It is fitting therefore that when Jesus climbs into the boat that it says that those who were in the boat ‘worshiped Him’ (Matthew 14:33). Were a bunch of Jews deliberately breaking one of the Ten Commandments or had they grasped something of whom Jesus was in that moment? I believe that it was the latter. Perhaps Jesus walking on water was not so strange then after all...

To see the previous post in this series, click here.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The weird miracles of Jesus: water into wine

The four gospels contain numerous accounts of the miraculous. Everywhere Jesus went He cast out demons and healed the sick, even going as far as to raise the dead. He also did some crazy things with fish on certain occasions, whether it was catching them, feeding a few thousand people with a small quantity or finding money inside of them. Most of these miracles though could either be categorized as healings, helps, signs or by weirdness. And it is the weird ones that I am interested in looking at and there are actually quite a few of them; for example, the coin in the fish’s mouth, spitting in the dirt to heal a blind man and walking on water. To start off though, I want to look at the water into wine miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.

This particular story is recorded in John 2 and there are several aspects about it that are weird. Firstly, it appears to be helping inebriated people get even more intoxicated than they already were. Verse ten suggests that the wine had been flowing generously before it had run out. Secondly, Jesus’ words, “My time has not yet come” are immediately followed by Him doing the miracle anyway. Thirdly, at a glance turning water into wine seems more like a cool party trick than a miracle. John said that Jesus performed so many miracles that he could not possibly document them all, yet he chose to include this one right at the beginning of his book. Why?

The key I believe to understanding the water into wine miracle is twofold. First we need to recognize that His actions were recognized as a ‘sign’ (verse 11,) thus there is symbolic significance contained within the narrative. Secondly, verse 6 tells us that the water containers were not the usual clay pots used for storing drinking water in but were very large stone pots used for the purification rituals. What I find interesting is that wine later becomes symbolic of the blood of Jesus and the New Covenant:

Then He took the cup (of wine), and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the new covenant.” – Matthew 26:27-28.

Consider this then, what would have happened when people were looking for water for the ceremonial cleansings? The account does not tell us that Jesus said to fill one or a few of the waterpots but to fill all of them. I can imagine someone going, “Um, sorry guys there is no more ceremonial water left for purification because of Jesus’ wine…” Verse 7 tells us that the waterpots were “filled up to the brim”, in other words, there was no more space left for anything else. This I believe then is the sign behind the miracle. The new covenant was coming making the old soon to be obsolete. Verse 10 in the story is particularly interesting in that it has a double meaning behind it.

The servants drew some wine out and took it to the master of ceremonies, who then told the bridegroom, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now”.

Jesus is the better wine, filled to the brim and running over that never runs out as the unfortunate hosts wine had done. His time had not yet come but He still did the miracle because the old wine had run dry. In His death a new covenant would soon be established by His blood (symbolized by wine). The union of God and man (how appropriate that this occurred at a wedding) was never going to be fully realized through the law, only Christ could accomplish it.

What do you think?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Bracing for The Shack (Attack)

Not long from now William Paul Young’s novel The Shack will be hitting the big screen. And in preparation for the inevitable wave of warnings about watching something that will no doubt plunge one into the depths of the eternal abyss; I have decided to post some thoughts of my own on the Shack. The reason that I am doing this is because when the book was initially released I was among those who were forwarding posts and telling others why they should not read it. The catch though was that like many of those who were writing about it or condemning it from their pulpits I too had not read the book for myself. Yet after hearing the author respond to some of the criticism in his own words and eventually reading the book for myself, I found myself having to repent for the irresponsible manner in which I had conducted myself and for my contribution to the false accusations that were being flung around regarding the book.

I think that it is safe to assume that we can expect a similar uproar surrounding the movie from those whose arguments will be based purely on hearsay. In fact they have already started popping up in my Facebook stream. Now we do not know for sure how true to the book the movie adaption will be, but let me help people out a bit by sharing which accusations laid against the book I found to have substance and which were blatantly unfounded. Starting with the charges that I believe had truth to them; people were highly upset by the idea presented in the book that God suffered along with Christ during His Sons crucifixion. This idea is in direct conflict with the theory of penal substitution which says that God was the one pouring out His wrath on His Son during the events that lead to His death. So if you are looking for the God of penal substitutionary theory in The Shack, not only will you not find it, but you will discover the exact opposite portrayal of a God who had not forsaken His Son but was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.
Secondly, others have said that the book claims that through Christ God has forgiven all of humanity, no longer counting their trespasses against them. I did indeed find this to be taught in The Shack. It seems to draw from the same verse (2 Corinthians 5:19) in the authors thinking as the first accusation did. On a personal note, the problem which I see here is that people seem to be confusing forgiveness with salvation. As if being forgiven automatically makes one ‘saved’. I find this to be problematic when we look not only at verses like the one already mentioned above in Corinthians but also in others as well. For instance, consider when Jesus was hanging on the cross and forgave those who crucified Him. I did not assume that to mean that all who were present at the execution in Calvary would one day be joining Him in eternity. Forgiveness is related to salvation for sure but I would not go so far as to say that they are one and the same thing.

Another charge laid against The Shack is that it promotes the idea that there exists no hierarchical structure within the Trinity. I observed this as well; Young seems to believe and teach that Father, Son and Spirit are fully equal and that submission and obedience are not necessarily signs of rank within the godhead but can also emanate from other sources such as love, trust and unison. Lastly, you will not find the concept of eternal conscious torment in hell in The Shack. I speak under correction here because I read the book many years ago and have only glanced over it briefly again for this blog. But I don’t actually recall any particular view of hell, be it eternal conscious torment, universalism or annihilation being championed in the book. Rather, I found the emphasis to be on God’s heart to save those who are damaged, broken and lost. As to how each individual’s story will end, the book never really gave us anything solid with which to form an opinion on, the author seemed more concerned with bringing across the idea that God is in the business of seeking, saving, restoring and healing those whom sin has entangled.

So if you are part of the reformed tradition within the church chances are that some, if not all four, of the above things might sound like downright heresy to you. Personally I try to read and listen to viewpoints that are different than my own from time to time because our primary objective, especially when it comes to theology, should be about discovering truth rather than about trying to defend the beliefs that we are already comfortable in. If what we know is true, then we have nothing to fear as it will stand strong when it is tested. But if we choose rather to live in a box, well, perhaps you may never be deceived into new falsehoods but you will most likely never grow out of any current flawed ideas you may have either.

Moving on then, there are a lot of charges that are laid against The Shack that range from perplexing to simply ridiculous and I will mention some of the main ones here. I find this to be rather disturbing because many of the claims that don’t hold up under the light lead me to believe that those making them were at best uninformed or at worst deliberately malicious and deceptive. Consider Mark Driscoll’s 8 minute Youtube video given in 2008 before his old church which accused Paul Young of promoting Modalism and goddess worship. The video (which has since being removed) had hundreds of thousands of views but here is the thing, the book does not promote either of those things and it has been reported that Driscoll later admitted that he had not actually read the book when he made his comments public. Now Jesus Himself warned us not to accuse anyone falsely so if we are going to say something publically, it is good practice to go to the source rather than blurt out accusations based on hearsay.

To quote from the book, on page 103 it says, “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” This is not Modalism nor is it Tritheism, this is orthodox by any of the major Christian creeds. Similarly, the charge of goddess worship does not hold up. Many people were offended by the presentation of God as a black woman. Let’s be clear, the book does not teach that God is a black woman and it goes through great lengths to explain this. Mack (the main character) had a stereotypical religious image of God in his head of a Gandalf-like character which is the reason given as to why Pappa (the Father in The Shack) appears to Him as a black female. The book is trying to smash our religious perceptions by turning them on their head; it’s not trying to build new ones. On page 95 we read the following, “I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.” Now we know that God is Spirit, yet scripture always refers to Him in the masculine. So even though I appreciate what Paul has done here I have to admit that a lot of people these days speak of God using words like ‘She’ and ‘Her’ and I wonder if the popularity of The Shack may have contributed in some way to people speaking in this manner. While God is indeed Spirit and even though both genders are derived from His nature; I believe it is wise to stick with the masculine pronouns which Jesus, the Bible and the church have always used.

It is interesting to note here though that the word for the Spirit (ruach) is feminine in Hebrew and gender neutral in Greek. This is probably why Young went with a female character named Sarayu for the Spirit. This brings me to another accusation that has been made which is that The Shack contains New Age teachings in it. People have based that conclusion largely on the name and ethnicity chosen for Sarayu. But the name simply means ‘wind’ and is a clear reference to John 3:8. ‘Wind’ and ‘spirit’ are actually one and the same word in the original biblical languages so the name is actually quite clever (IMO).

Let me end off with a few closing comments and this applies to other books as well. There are things in The Shack that will rock the boat with many religious groups, much of that rocking was and is probably a good thing though. As to how much of what was put forward in the book will make it into the movie adaption remains to be seeing but as ambassadors of Christ let us play fairly in the following ways.

- If you have not read the book and do not intend on watching the movie then be brief and honest in your commentary on it. Stick with something safe like, “From what others have said I think I would rather just not watch/read it.”
- If you have read the Shack or do go out and watch the movie and end up disagreeing with something in it then by all means, voice your concerns but do so in a spirit of love, gentleness and humility. People are more likely to hear you when you reason with them rather than when you are arguing with them.
- Where uncertainty reigns, rather keep quiet. Try find podcasts or interviews with the author to hear his explanations before speaking up. I have heard countless of times authors actually agreeing with the people who are accusing them of certain heresies. Oftentimes, the accusers don’t even realize that the person is saying, “I am with you, I don’t believe that either and I was not saying what you think I was saying.”

For some good insights into what is ‘behind’ The Shack, check out the links below.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Jesus Untangled - A book review

I am a long time admirer of Keith Giles and his work, from every book and blog of his I have read I honestly can’t think of another person whose views across the board are as similar to my own as his are. So I was very excited to receive a review copy of his latest and greatest work thus far entitled Jesus Untangled: Crucifying our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb.

This book is very well written and convincingly argued. What Keith has brilliantly done here is take the plain teachings of Jesus and placed them alongside the commonly held views of many American Evangelicals and revealed the vast contrast between the two. In his own words:-

"What if you cannot serve both Caesar and Jesus? What if you were actually called to live here as "a stranger and an alien" in this country? What if you were an ambassador here who was forbidden to pledge allegiance to another flag or nation? What if you were told not to become involved with the affairs of this world but to devote yourself completely to Christ and his kingdom?"

Keith makes a strong case from Scripture that we cannot serve two masters. Honestly I was surprised at just how much the New Testament had to say on this topic. He has also documented how the early church distanced itself from earthly politics up until the time of Constantine, even to the point of separating from those who were trying to live in both camps. He also documents how things went downhill once the church put down its cross and picked up the sword with the power of the state behind it. Historically speaking, every time we have tried to use the state to further the Christian cause we have ended up tarnishing the name of God. The two are at their core, are directly opposed to one another.

This book will challenge you to impact peoples lives from the inside out rather than through the power of politics, not for 'country and flag' but for the sake of Gods kingdom here on earth. It will challenge you to trust in the words of Jesus, particularly those found in the Sermon on the Mount, rather than in the power of your local authorities. A word of warning, Jesus Untangled will challenge you to lay all pride, including that of nationalism at the foot of the cross, it is deeply unpatriotic while simultaneously full of love for America and the people who live there. If that sentence doesn't make sense to you, you might just be a little entangled as well and should read the book.

You can learn more about Jesus Untangled or purchase a copy by clicking over here and you can connect with the author on Twitter by clicking here.

I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Monday, 16 January 2017

John MacArthur versus the emergent church

I recently read the transcript of an old interview Phil Johnson did with John MacArthur, the interview was entitled ‘What’s So Dangerous About the Emerging Church?’ The discussion itself could be summarized in MacArthur’s concern that post-modernism denies the truthfulness of scripture or at least that it can be understood with any degree of certainty. Despite the arrogance that oozed off of the pages much, though certainly not all, of what was said I would probably have to agree with.

However I am not overly concerned as to the actual topic of discussion that was had on the show, I am neither a Calvinist nor part of the emergent tribe. I will provide a link at the bottom of this article for those who want to go and read the particulars of that discussion for themselves. But the reason I have drawn attention to the interview is because it sort of confirmed some things about the NeoReformed crowd that I have long feared. That is that they often sound more like Bible-worshipers than Christ-followers. Yes, I do believe that one can actually make an idol out of the Bible.

Before reading the article, I decided to do a little experiment and jot down how often some key-words were mentioned. The word ‘Bible’ for example came up 47 times, ‘scripture’ 54 times, the ‘word of God’ 22 times, ‘New Testament’ was mentioned 4 times and ‘Old Testament’ 11. In total, 138 times Phil and John referred to the Bible, how much they love it, how it is the foundation of our faith, how it is central to our faith, how it is the truth, how committed too and anchored in it they were and how supreme it is over everything else.

Now I love reading scripture as well, it is the testimony of the prophets and apostles pointing to our Lord Jesus Christ. And we can and should be encouraging Christians to read it, to study it and to test what they have being told about it. It is good to do so, provided that we are using it as a tool to move people toward Jesus. This however is not what I see from the New Calvinists, in this lengthy interview Jesus was only mentioned 10 times and none of those occurrences had anything to do with His supremacy and centrality in all things. He was mentioned from a book title and in a quote from the book which they were condemning. He was mentioned in a couple of scriptural references to belittle two other men and the rest of the time He was mentioned only to validate their point regarding the supremacy and centrality of the Bible.

While I do believe that both Phil and John's  intentions are good and that they mean to lead others to God. I fear that the message they are sharing is unhealthy. The Bible is NOT central to our faith, Jesus is. The Bible is NOT the foundation on which we build, Jesus is (1 Corinthians 3:11). The Bible is not even the Word of God; I know that because the Bible tells me that Jesus is the Word of God (Revelation 19:13). Using Jesus to elevate the written word is like lifting a horse on your back and taking it for a ride, it’s all backwards.

“You search the scriptures because in them you think that you have eternal life but these are they which testify of me” – John 5:39.

If Jesus is only getting 5% the amount of attention as ANYTHING else does in your messages then something is wrong. And I do believe that this same experiment done over again with their writings as well as with like-minded preachers and teachers would yield similar results. When I read the New Testament, I see a bunch of guys who were constantly quoting from scripture with the intention of seeing Christ in it and pointing others to Him, what a man speaks most of is probably a fair reflection of what is dearest to him. Regardless of your tribe, I would encourage you to take the words below to heart.

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. – Hebrews 12:2.

Post referred to - http://www.gty.org/resources/Sermons/GTY107 , October 19, 2006 GTY107

Monday, 2 January 2017

Book Update #2

Hi all and happy new year to each and everyone of you! For the last 4 years I have being working on a book but due to the business of life and other commitments progress was extremely slow. Eventually, I had to stop blogging as I was not getting anywhere trying to do both. I am happy to say though that the end is nigh, the book is in the editing and proof reading phase now and even the cover design is done! My goal is to release it in time for Easter since it is a book about the cross after all. There will be a limited print run (at least initially) to go with my limited budget but ebook versions will be available as well. I am looking into the possibility of making the ebook version available in a ‘Pay what you want’ format from my own blog space as well meaning that you will hopefully be able to get it for free!

Below I have posted some sneak-peak images as well which were taken from one of the earlier drafts to give you an idea about the content. In addition to more book updates there should be more and more regular blog articles popping up here again now as I am once again able to put some focus into other writings. Thanks for sticking around!

Grace and peace to you.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Patmos – Baxter Kruger book review

Although I have visited C.Baxter Kruger’s blog before, this was the first time that I have read one of his books. The book description for Patmos really grabbed my attention and was enough for me to break my sabbatical from blogging to pick it up and to do a review of it; the novel is about a guy named Aiden (from modern North America) who somehow lands up in a cave on Patmos with the apostle John for company. What follows are three days of conversations and experiences that will forever change his theological views and his relationship with God.

There are several conversational topics that are brought up along the way, from John’s explanations of his own gospel and the book of Revelation to what he insists are poorly translated texts in Aiden’s modern English Bible. Many of the conversations that we are invited to share in are amazingly beautiful simply because of the centrality and emphasis of Christ in all of them. My personal favorite chapter deals with the nature of the Trinity which was highly insightful but then again what else would you expect from someone who runs a website called http://perichoresis.org/? The main emphasis in Patmos though is the idea of separation verses union. Did God in Christ reconcile the world to Himself or is mankind still separated from God but now able to find our way back home? That statement can be interpreted and misinterpreted in numerous ways and it probably will be by many readers. Many will no doubt read universalism into it which the book sometimes did seem to imply even though it never directly speaks of it.

One cannot help but draw comparisons with The Shack when reading Patmos. The concept is similar in that you have this story taking place in a remote place where a guy has this supernatural encounter resulting in a lengthy dialogue that turns the persons world upside down. The story is also used as a means to share certain truths about God (and destroy some false ones) which, on a personal note, I believe to be a powerful and underused method for teaching. I think that it is so easy to take a ‘left brained’ approach to God and systematically put all of our ideas into these neat little boxes that we can make sense of. But fictional works like Patmos and The Shack are probably closer to Jesus’ own style of teaching people about God and about kingdom living. Many of the red letters in the New Testament are found within the parables told by Christ Himself so there is definitely something special about conveying theological truths through the means of stories.

One of the small criticisms that I have is that even readers with a bit of a Charismatic background like myself might find it hard to keep up with the amount of dreams, visions and mystical experiences that are crammed into the three days which cover John and Aiden's time together. I found myself making a conscious decision to not think about it too much and chalk it off to a tool for the author to keep the story flowing and moving in the direction that he wanted it to go in. But let me emphasize that even if you disagree with the author on some of his ideas, Patmos contains so many wonderful ideas and truths that have for the most part been forgotten by the Western church at large, that one would be hard pressed to read it and not be touched by something of the beauty of Christ in it. I really did enjoy Patmos; it is more than just a novel in that it will have you chewing on the theology behind it just as much as the story within it. I love how it portrays the gospel as the news that Jesus is not just some accessory that we add on to our lives but rather it is the good news that He has received us into His own life. Our oneness with Christ and the oneness enjoyed between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as seeing in John 14 and 15 is perhaps my favorite portions of scripture and Baxter’s book expounds on this theme in such a way that you cannot help but excited about it. I highly recommend giving it a read.

You can learn more about the book or buy it by clicking over here and you can connect with the author on Twitter by clicking here.

I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.