Category Archives: Bible

It’s Crazy Uncle Time

I am convinced that in every family there is that crazy uncle… ok it may not be an uncle but when I say family and crazy you picture someone…

That person you have in your head right now… yep that’s them. The one you hope you never run into in public with your new girlfriend or out for lunch with your boss.

And if you don’t have anyone in mind then… well… like I said every family has at least one… just saying, you do the maths.

Anyway I digress… Every family has one or more crazy uncles. And the church has in my opinion more than our fair share…

I actually had to google this to check that it was not parody and sadly enough all seems legit.

These guys have seriously been having at the communion wine behind the family reunion picnic table!

(HT: Jamie)

Stop Spiritualizing the Bible when it comes to Social Justice

Christopher Wright on the evangelical tendency to spiritualize the Bible when it comes social justice and economic exploitation.

“This spiritualizing way of interpreting the Bible, and the missiological implications that go with it, requires us to imagine that century after century, the God of the Bible was passionately concerned about social issues – political arrogance and abuse, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, the suffering of the poor and oppressed, the evils of brutality and bloodshed. So passionate indeed, that the laws he gave and the prophets he sent give more space to these matters than any other issue except idolatry, while the psalmists cry out in protest to the God they know cares deeply about such things. Somewhere, however between Malachi and Matthew, all that changed. Such matters no longer claim God’s attention or spark his anger.”

The Mission of God p280

We are Scheming Swindlers

My wife read me this Soren Kierkegaard quote recently from Shane Claiborne’s book, The Irresistible Revolution.  It hit a little too close to home for me.

“The matter is quite simple.  The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly.  Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.  How would I ever get on in the world?  Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship.  Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close.  Oh priceless scholarship, what would we do without you?  Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God.  Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” (71-72)

Here is my review of The Irresistible Revolution (even now I might want to nuance some of my thoughts in that post a bit more)

Why your Bible teaching is not enough

This past weekend I went to a conference that in all honesty I would never have gone to a few years back.  And if by some miracle of teleportation I had found myself there, I am sure I would have been incapable of learning from those whose stories are so different to my own.  At times I suspect radically different.  (I say suspect because that really was not the point of the conference and neither I nor they presumably felt the need to get into our differences)  Perhaps even different to the extent of the basic tenets of the gospel different.  But yet I must confess there was something vibrant, something alive about their faith and their spirituality, something deeply attractive.  Something I wanted…

For all my good Bible teaching and wrestling with exegesis I suspect my life, my spirituality, my faith is often as dull, as rational, as safe and as attractive as a three-day old sandwich. You could eat it but given the choice you would probably choose not to. How can it be that having given years of my life to studying the biblical text, fine tuning my doctrine and training other to go and do likewise I can now find myself deeply attracted to the spirituality of those who I have regarded as having a “lesser theology”?

The obvious first point of examination must be the possibility that my theological convictions are wrong? I have tossed that idea around a bit lately and while I can conclude that I have moved on a few issues, it is more the moving of nuance than of relocating to a different theological neighbourhood altogether.  Perhaps, I am being naive but I am not sure it is my theological convictions that need moving.  It is my heart!

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Doctrine matters!  Right doctrine leads to right living – breaking down the walls of exclusion, eating together, loving one another, joy, hope, freedom and life.  Bad doctrine leads to division, strife, confusion, bitterness and hatred, just read Galatians if you are not convinced.

If this is true, and I would stake my life on it being true, then how can it be that those whose of us who have spent most of our lives studying, teaching and contending for what I would regard as good doctrine have lives that are so profoundly mundane and unattractive?

I suspect that what we need is not more information but rather some deep contemplation, sustained meditation and some profound experiences of the Spirit as we seek to live the information that we already know.  We have become drunk with our quest for more knowledge.  Like giddy schoolgirls we flock to hear, download and read yet more and more information on our latest theological crush.  And somehow as we “just teach the Bible” we expect that transformation will just magically happen.

What makes these “lesser theological lights” (by my tribe’s standards anyway) so effective and vibrant and attractive?  Faith.  They actually believe in a God who wants to redeem and restore all of creation.  So much so that they actually act on it.  They base their lives around it. Make intentional choices to be downwardly mobile, committed to prayer, reaching the lost in the toughest neighbourhoods, speaking out against injustice, racism and exploitation. When God says that money enslaves and that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, they listen, they obey and they build lives on the words of Jesus.  Faith.

It is after all not Bible teaching that matters but Bible living.  It matters not how well you exegete the text but how deeply the text exegetes you!  Will you follow where the text leads you? Will you meditate deeply on the implications of the text for your life, your aspirations, your lifestyle, the lost and the broken or will it merely become another interesting sermon to be tucked away until next we meet?  Will you follow the text to where it leads to the end of you and your resources?  Will you follow the text where it leads to a deep dependence upon the Spirit to lead you, guide you and sustain you for mission and in fact for life?

Strangely, I remain committed to my tribe theologically. Some days I wish I was not so convinced. But yet I long for my tribe to do so much more than contend for, teach, exegete and understand the truth.  I long for the days when evangelicals will be known for their spiritual vitality, their love for the poor, their stand for justice, their care for the planet, their love for homosexuals, their lives of simplicity and sustainability, their radical generosity, their fight against consumerism and wastefulness.

Not at the expense of the gospel proclaimed. But precisely because we have believed the gospel proclaimed we are no longer conformed to the standards (comforts, securities, importances) of this world but rather our minds are being renewed by that gospel.  Precisely because we have believed the gospel we will give our lives away in service of the last, the least and the lost just as Jesus gave his life away for us.  We intentionally join our small story with God’s Great Big Beautiful story of redemption, resurrection, restoration, hope and beauty.

What if money was no object?

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If money was no object what would you do with your life?  Great diagnostic question to get you thinking and evaluating your life right?  But not really a practical question at all… we all need money and money for most of us is always an object.  So is this the type of question that makes Oprah a cupboard full of cash and leaves the rest of us chasing the wind?

But what if money really was no object?  What if when it came to the Kingdom of God, money really was no object.  What was it again that Jesus said to his disciples again when they were worrying about clothes and food?

“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

“Do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I spend a lot of time in the week working to supplement our income the bulk of which comes from “missionary support”. The supplementary work is good, honest, hard work.  I even think we are rather good at it.  I think it could even develop into a mainline source of income if we wanted it to.  As a sideline business, though there are some aspects of it (namely the ones that bring in most of the cash) that stink as a sideline.  As a sideline it struggles to know its place.  Like a cameo actor always trying to squeeze into the limelight, and upstage the main actors.  Or like details in a verbose novel that distracts from the main story.

But money is an object.  I have bills to pay.  Kids to feed and clothe.  Medical aid, pension, car payments…

But what if this ministry really was not my ministry… not in an abstract, read it in a textbook kind of way.  But what if it really is God’s work, his ministry, his Spirit changing lives, opening hearts… What if money was no object for Him?  What if following Him meant giving up my right to a self-perceived security?  What if it made sense in every other sense except in the money sense to give up a sure stream of income to follow a reliable God into an unsure future?  I don’t simply believe in a closed, rationalistic universe  but most days you would not know that.  Too much of my life can be planned, organised, drawn on a graph, explained, reasoned out or reasoned away.  Most days my life could be quite easily explained as if there were no God.

But start acting like I believed all that Jesus talk about feeding the birds and clothing the flowers and I can almost guarantee you that I would have any number of Christians eager to remind me to be “a good steward” and not do anything rash.  Quite frankly I don’t think most of us would know a rash if it broke out all over our body.  When I read the gospels I cannot help but think that if we did half of what Jesus did we would certainly we would not be considered for the church council or invited to run the youth group.

What does it mean to live by faith?  Sure faith says that God has given me work so work at in gratitude and worship to Him.  But what if it just felt wrong to follow the money stream?  What if my reasonable, non-Charismatic, evangelical theology feels like it is a burden wrestling me to the ground when all I want to do is love people, trust God and forget about the money!  Sounds so simple when I write it like that… but we all it’s just not that simple.  Is faith reasonable or is it crazy? What if both ways sound like they are trusting God?  Do I go with my feeling, my gut?  What if the people I trust agree both ways?

Just thinking out loud I guess… what if?

Photo credit: nycandre via photopin.com

Great Stories Have Great Endings 5

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This is part 5 of our series looking at Revelation 21-22

You may also like to read parts 1, 2, 3, or 4

5) It is a Place of Wealth and Beauty:

It is not insignificant to notice the size and the beauty of the city, its walls and its gates.  The city was 2200 kilometres long, and, as high and as wide as it was long. It was made out of pure gold (21v18).  The city walls were 65 metres thick, made of jasper and clear as crystal (21v18).  The foundations of the city were decorated with every kind of precious stone (21v19-20).  And the twelve gates were each made out of a single pearl (21v21).

It is important to remember that much of this imagery is figurative.  And so while we cannot say for sure what the city of the new creation will look like, the imagery of the city is mean to take our breath away with its size, wealth and beauty. The language John uses is meant to fill us with wonder and awe.  And captivate us with its immensity and beauty.  The new creation will not be a place of mere function or sterile uniformity, it will be a place of wonder, of beauty, creativity, awe and splendour.  Life in the city of God will be good and rich and free and beautiful!

The Kings of the earth will bring their splendour: (v24)

Twice it is mentioned that the treasures of the nations of the nations will be brought into the city.  “The Kings of the earth will bring their splendour” (21v24) and “The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it (21v26).

John seems to suggest that all the wonder of song and story, of artefact and design, of art and architecture  of imagination and engineering, of function and beauty, of wealth and engineering will somehow be brought in and incorporated into the new creation.  The new creation will be a place of staggering diversity.

This life will somehow count for something in God’s restoring of all things.  German engineering, Italian art, French cooking, Brazilian football, Xhosa singing will not have all been amusements to keep us busy and then burnt up and forgotten.  The genius of Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and Lauryn Hill will perhaps somehow not be in vain… I don’t know where they all stand with Jesus but somehow our world and our lives have been enriched by their music, their legacy.  Perhaps it will not all have just been a meaningless distraction from the march to be rid of this life?

And what of us?  Is it perhaps true that what we do now somehow echoes into eternity?  It seems that perhaps despite our sin and rebellion God chooses to ennoble our efforts, our work, our art and our lives.  He chooses not to simply wipe away all our fallen, weak and imperfect attempts at taking up and shaping his creation.  Is it perhaps possible that the creation mandate though deeply marred and broken, is not altogether forgotten?  Is it possible that God in his grace and mercy, when he finally wipes away sin and rebellion and restores all things, somehow still chooses to include and redeem our work and make it new along with the rest of creation?

The Tree of Life:

Finally notice in 22v2 that occupying a central place in the city of God is the Tree of Life.  And it will always be in season, bearing fruit every month.  Firstly note it is the Tree of LIFE not of duty, of necessity, or of drudgery. It is the Tree of LIFE!  In the New Creation there will an unlimited access to life – full and free.

Secondly note that there is an abundance of fruit from the tree of life.  The new creation is a place of abundance and of provision.  In a world of scarcity, of fighting for survival, of starving children and economic oppression this is good news! One day there will be a world where there will be an abundance.  Where children will not go hungry, where you will not look the other way at the traffic lights, a world where there will be no more sweat shops or workaholics or the dehumanizing drudgery of factory workers, working long hours for minimum wage.

The New Creation will be a place of wealth and provision, of beauty, freedom and joy. It will be a place of life and of wonder.

Great Stories Have Great Endings 4

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This is part 4 of our series in Revelation 21-22.  You may also like to read parts one, two or three.

4) It is a Place of Rest:

When you read these chapters there is a real sense of safety and security.  It is a picture of a world at peace and at rest.  In the first creation account, the goal of creation was rest. Not a sleeping type of rest, per se, but a rich, beautiful enjoyment of God’s creation. At the end of the story we see the rest which was lost restored.  We are set free to once again enjoy and marvel in the beauty and splendour of the Creator and of his creation.

In 21v1 John notes that there is no longer any sea.  Firstly, before all the surfers faint, remember this is all picture language.  These images are not meant (in large) to show us what the new creation will look like.  The intention of the picture language is to show us what the new creation will BE like.

So in this instance, for the people, of the ancient world the sea commonly represent a place of fear, of uncertainty and of chaos.  In the new creation it is not necessarily the sea that will be absent but fear, uncertainty and chaos certainly will be absent.  It will be a world of peace, of safety, of rest and of order.  It will be a return to the character of Eden.

Central to these chapters are the image of the New Jerusalem, the city of God, the bride of Christ as a massive secure city with giant walls and huge gates (21 v 15-21).  The imagery itself is beautiful but when we remember that this was written in a day where invading armies, vengeance killings and marauding bandits were still very much a reality, then the idea of this huge, impenetrable city was a beautiful, comforting image.  The new creation will be a place of safety and refuge, no longer will there be any danger of invasion, of plunder, of slavery, of rape, of vengeance, or of wanton destruction.  No longer will there be a need to anxiously guard your property or your family, to hide from evil-doers or to fear the unknown.

But it gets better, the gates of this huge city will never be shut!  City gates were shut at night!  Night time, even in our days of electricity, is a time of danger, of fear and of uncertainty.  The gates of the New Jerusalem will never be shut because there will be no more night.  The new creation will not be a place of fear, of violence, of danger.

All these will be gone and those who practice those things will not be welcome in the city (21 v 27).  It is a beautiful and paradoxical picture of this imposing, massive city- impenetrable.  But yet its gates stand wide open…  As if to give a powerful visual aid to Jesus’ words “To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.” (21 v 6)

Photo Credit: Olivander