Monday, July 23, 2018

Sacrifice (1) Guilt

The fall created a third serious problem for humans. God was present in the Garden of Eden. Humans could see the spiritual as well as the physical world. They could receive the wisdom of God by listening to the Holy Spirit speaking. Life on earth was amazing.

When humans rejected God’s wisdom and aligned themselves with the deceiver, they created a huge problem. God is holy, so their guilt caused them to withdraw from his presence. They still needed his wisdom, but choosing the wrong side of the battle created a barrier between them and their creator. They could not come near God, because their sinfulness made them scared that his holiness would overwhelm and destroy them.

God was not the problem. The problem was with humans. We were created with a capacity to communicate with God. We could see spiritually and hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Once sin corrupted that ability, humans cannot bear to be near to God. Guilt shuts down our ability to communicate with him.

When the humans heard God coming into the garden they ran away and hid.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Gen 3:8).
They could not bear to be close God any more. God knew that they had obeyed the serpent, but he still came to spend time with them. He was still happy to relate to them, but they could not. Their guilt meant that they could not bear to be close to God.

God did not have a problem. He was happy to communicate with them.

But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you? (Gen 3:9).
There is no anger in this question. God was looking for his friends to share with them. He realised they were lost and wanted to find them.

Later, he explained the curse they had placed themselves under by submitting the spiritual powers of evil (Gen 3:14-19). Even then, there is no anger, only sadness at what his friends had lost and the pain they would experience. God knew better than they did what life would be like for his people once they rejected him.

Guilt separated humans from the God who had created them. This was a huge problem. Humans needed God’s wisdom to care for the world. They had submitted to the spiritual powers of evil, so they needed him to rescue them, but they could not come close to him. God had given them authority over the earth, so he could not intervene without their permission. But because of their guilt, they could not bear to let God into the earth. Guilt left humans isolated from God, when they needed him the most. Worse still it shut God out of his creation, at the moment when the powers of evil had gained control.

Once God was shut of his creation by the ugliness of human sin, the powers of evil went to work and expanded their evil empire. For more than a millennium, they wreaked havoc on earth, as humans rejected God’s call to return to him.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Political Hysteria

I am disturbed by the hysteria in the news media and political circles about the Trump-Putin summit in Helskinki.

I am old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I had just started high school. There was a heightened awareness of the dangers of nuclear war back then (families in the US were digging fallout shelters). I can still remember the fear that we felt, even far away in New Zealand.

The two nuclear powers, the United States and the Soviet Union were attempting to stare each other down, with the leader of each side threatening to launch their nuclear arsenal, if the other did not back down. No one knew who would blink and pull the trigger first. Confidential files that have been made public in the last few years show that the world was much closer to conflagration than we even realised at the time.

Fortunately, the two leaders, Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy were able to roll back the tension, and arrive at a solution, despite their political and military advisors wanting to amp the tension up. One reason they were able to do this was that they had met at a summit a year earlier in Vienna. I presume that they did not like each other, and they did not agree on much, but they did establish a working relationship that enabled them to resolve a crisis when this became necessary.

Therefore, I am amazed at the hysterical reaction of the western media and political leaders to the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki. I think it is good that leaders of nuclear powers sit down and talk with each other. They don’t have to like each other, or trust each other, but dealing with a crisis can be much easier if they have got to know each other a bit.

The greatest threat to the world is still nuclear annihilation. We seem to have got used to it, but the risk has not gone away. Big wars start when the news media get hysterical and stir up political and military leaders. Rash actions are more likely when tension is high. The anti-Russian frenzy of the news media is creating hatred and anger that increases the risk that conflict between nuclear powers could get out of control. This is far more dangerous than any chat between two not-very-nice men in Helsinki.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Salvation (4) Two Holds

Following the fall, humans had two big problems, because the spiritual powers of evil had two holds over us.

  • They had taken humans captive and demanded a ransom. They had gained control and demanded a ransom before setting them free.

  • They also use the law to demand the death penalty for anyone who sins.

Both problems had to be solved.
  • Dealing with the accusations of the accuser was not enough. If the ransom was not paid they could keep them captive.

  • Likewise, paying the ransom was not enough on its own, because they could still prosecute them and demand the death penalty.

Jesus dealt with both problems.
  • The blood he shed on the cross satisfied the demands of justice. The accuser prosecuting the case against humans lost his power, because the penalty that he demanded was already paid by Jesus. Those who trusted in Jesus were declared innocent.

  • Jesus death was the ransom that the spiritual powers of evil demanded. The death of the son of God was sufficient price earn the freedom of all humans. This was necessary, even once sin had been forgiven.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Salvation (3) Economic/Business

When humans sinned, they withdrew their submission to God’s authority and submitted to the authority of the tempter. By obeying his suggestion, they give him authority over their lives. They lost God’s protection and unwittingly placed themselves under the accuser’s authority.

The devil is a cheat, and once he gained a sliver of authority he used it to take humans captive. He refused to set humans free and demanded a ransom they could not afford before setting them free. The ransom that he demanded was blood.

Even when the prosecutor lost his court case because the judge declares the people accused to be righteous through faith in Jesus, the devil refuses to set them free. He does not care whether they are guilty or righteous, because he continues to keep them captive regardless. Even after they were declared righteous in God’s court, the spiritual powers of evil had a hold over humans. They had taken them captive and demanded a ransom before setting them free.

Jesus death paid the ransom that the spiritual powers of evil demanded (1 Tim 2:6). He went into Hades and set the captured free. He did not use physical or spiritual force. He simply went to the devil and said that the ransom was paid. The life of the Son of God was so valuable that it paid the price for all humans. This left the spiritual powers of evil powerless. They had set their price so high, they thought that it could not be paid, but Jesus paid it. They had to set the captives free, because their demands had been met.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Salvation (2) Judicial/Forensic

The judicial forensic language used in the New Testament is often misunderstood. God is seen as demanding a death penalty for sin, but this is wrong.

Paul uses the language of a courtroom, but we must understand who undertakes the various roles.

  • Humans are in the dock. We are on trial.

  • God is the judge. He is righteous and good, so he will do right.

  • The defence lawyer/attorney is the Holy Spirit. He is called the paraclete (John 15:26). He comes beside us to work for our defence.

  • God is not the prosecutor. He is not the one bringing the charge against us. He is willing to forgive us because he loves us.

  • The prosecutor is the one with the name. Satan is the accuser who bring the charge against us. He is the prosecutor who demands the death penalty for our sin.

  • God is the law giver. He gave the law to enable his people to live together in peace. The prosecutor uses God’s law against his people.

God is willing to forgive the failings of the people he created and loves. However, the prosecutor demands the full penalty for sin. He says that it would be unfair if God forgave humans and let them off free, but refused to let Satan and the fallen angels off free.

God’s solution was to send his son to die. Jesus paid the penalty that the law requires and the accuser demands. His payment covers everyone who is united with him by faith. Those who trust him, died with him.

Why did God set up the world in a way where humans had the ability sin and the spiritual powers of evil had the right to demand the death penalty for sinners. We have to trust that God knew what he was doing. Anyway, looking at the amazing ability of humans, to think, to love to create, it seems that God did a great job.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Salvation (1)

I hate the way that some theologians say that there are many metaphors that point to the meaning of the cross, but that we cannot fully understand what the cross accomplished. The expressions used are not just metaphors. Something actually happened. The cross dealt with a real human problem(s) and we must be able to say what they are. If we cannot explain what the cross has done then we cannot really proclaim the gospel. Sharing metaphors is not enough. We must be able to explain what the cross does. We must be able to explain why Jesus had to die.

When Paul describes the effect of the cross he uses both judicial/forensic language and economic/business language. These are not different metaphors describing the same thing. Both are real effects that are important for understanding what Jesus achieved on the cross.

I will explain what these achieved in the next few posts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Spiritual Warfare

When praying against the spiritual powers that control a nation, God’s people should be careful.

  • Followers of Jesus should make sure that they are led by the Holy Spirit. Human efforts will fail. We need discernment to understand what we are dealing with, and wisdom to understand how to deal with it.

  • Authority is really important. I explain why in Kingdom Authority. Christians should be careful about taking on governing spirits that they do not have authority over. If a spiritual power has been given authority in a town, city or nation by its political leaders, ordinary citizens will not be able to push them out. Many Christians have been beaten up when they took on spirits that they did not have authority to deal with.

  • Prophesying God’s word into a situation is a good way to deal with political spirits and government spirits. Prophecy releases the angels and helps them know what to do. It also wears down government spirits.




Monday, July 09, 2018

Studying the Scriptures

I try to take a holistic approach to the scriptures. I attempt to avoid a proof-texting approach, as I believe it leads to distortions. I have been reading the entire bible over and over again for forty years. I did this to develop a biblical way of thinking. I now find it hard to think in any other way.

So when I come to a new issue, I do not just look for relevant proof texts, I bring the entire scriptures to it (that I have absorbed over many years). When I look at a particular scripture I often see things that others don’t, because I read it through the lens of the rest of the scriptures.

I also try to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. He often points me to other scriptures that I had not considered relevant to the issue.

When I write an issue up, I do not list every relevant scripture because there are usually too many.

I realise that my approach has some risk, but on the whole, I think that it has worked fairly well.

I do not claim that everything I write is absolute truth. I do not care if people reject some or all of my teaching. They are accountable for their own lives.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Kindle

I enjoy reading on my Kindle. It is easy to carry around and gives me access to a wide range of books. Shipping a paperback book from Amazon to New Zealand usually costs about $20.00, which is more than the book costs. A book has to be really good to justify the expense. Using my Kindle eliminates the shipping costs.

The other great thing about a Kindle is the ability to download a free sample of a book I am thinking about buying. I can read the table of contents, the introduction/preface and the first chapter of the book, before deciding whether to buy it. This supports a good decision.

Recently something annoying has started to happen. Christian authors have started filling the front of their books with vanity recommendations from big-name Christians. I presume that this is a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” activity, so I don’t take them seriously. Negative reactions will never get published, so the process is obviously biased.

I presume that publishers expect their authors to collect these recommendations. The problem is that most of them are so vague that they could be placed on many books and not look out of place.

I will not read a book because a big-name Christian says that it is good. The book might be helpful for them, but they do not know if it will be useful to me. I prefer to look at the content and decide if it is relevant to me. Unfortunately, this is getting more difficult to do, because the free sample is almost entirely made up of celebrity recommendations.

There are a few good exceptions. I recently downloaded a sample of The Devil’s Redemption by Michael J McClymond, which is a survey of attitudes to “universalism” throughout the history of the church. In hardcover, this book is 1376 pages long, so the free sample is quite substantial and not cluttered with junk. It included most of the first part of the book, which outlines his thesis and summarises his approach. Reading this gave me a good understanding of the book. The book is too heavy for me to digest, so I will not be buying it, but good on Michael for giving readers a useful sample.

I have several books available on Kindle. I refuse to fill the front of the book with recommendations. I want people to purchase my books, because they understand what the book is about and are interested in the topic. I do not want buyers being disappointed because they acted on a recommendation from someone who does not know them.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

OT Prophets

The OT prophets were not turned in automatons by the Holy Spirit. They were human just like us. They had the same Holy Spirit, but in a more hostile spiritual environment. It was not easy for them to hear the Holy Spirit. When they were learning, I assume they would have got things wrong from time to time.

The Holy Spirit made sure that their mistakes did not get into the prophetic books of the Old Testament (Isaiah to Malachi), so there are not examples of mistakes in these books. These books were their best work, not their first work.

There are examples where I presume that they spoke without being led by the Holy Spirit. That often happened when they became too attached to their words or their ministries.

  • Elijah calling down a bear attack on the cheeky youths seems to be an example, as Jesus ruled that kind of behaviour out.

  • Samuel got attached to Saul and found it hard to let go when God moved on and was blessing David.

  • Elijah told the people he was the only prophet of God left in Israel (1 Kings 18:22) although Obadiah had just told him that he has saved 100 prophets of the Lord by hiding them in caves (1 Kings 18:13). I presume that Elijah’s false statement opened the way for the spiritual powers behind Jezebel to attack him and fill with fear, causing him to run and hide.

Only Jesus lived a perfect life. The prophets of the Old Testament were special people, but they were not perfect, so we should not put them up on a pedestal. They had to learn to hear the Holy Spirit speak just as we do, and it is not easy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Patriotism

Last night I read an article by a theologian comparing patriotism and nationalism. He said that patriotism is good, while nationalism is bad.

Patriotism can be loyalty to any or all of the following, but none are valid for the people of God.

  • Land
  • People
  • History
  • Government.
We need to think about each one separately.
  • All land belongs to God. He created all land and declared that it is all good. If we raise one piece of land above another, we are dishonouring God’s judgment about it.

  • God loves all the people of the world equally, so we must not raise one group of people above another. We cannot say that one group of people is better than another, because we do not them all, and we are not their judge.

    We are required to love the people in the part of the body of Jesus where we belong. We are also required to care for his body in other places. People who are not following Jesus belong to “the world”. They all need to hear the good news. We must not place one group of people of the world above another, because they are all in the same situation (vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil). We must not be more loyal to some of the people of the world than to others.

  • We can only honour the history of a nation, if we forget about all the bad stuff that the nation has done, and only remember the good stuff. The history of all nations is full of ugliness. God is the judge of nations. We do not know enough to judge the history of our nation. If we honour the history of our nation, then we are believing a lie.

  • Some Christians want to celebrate their form of government, but we are to be loyal to the Kingdom of God, which is the Government of God. Loyalty to any other government is hostility to God. Confusing a human government with the Kingdom of God is a serious lie.

We must remember what Paul wrote to Timothy.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1:17).
We must be loyal to the King of Kings and celebrate his glory. Giving glory to anything else is idolatry.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Seventy

Jesus told the seventy disciples sent out to share the good news that they should take no money with them. Instead, they should stay with a person of peace and eat the food given to them (Luke 10:7).

This seems odd.

However, the seventy disciples were healing the sick and casting out demons, so they gave far more than the received. This makes a big difference.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Racial Injustice

The beneficiaries of oppression and injustice have difficulty understanding its impact on its victims. These effects don’t just disappear when the injustice is removed.

In the 1980s, I was asked to attend a small conference at Moerewa about the links between the gospel and the Treaty of Waitangi. This was the covenant between the British governor and the Maori chiefs gathered at Waitangi that opened the way for the colonisation of New Zealand. Despite the promises made in the treaty, the Maori were quickly lost their land in a series of illegal political and military manoeuvres. My talk is here.

On the first morning of the conference, a young Maori Christian leader spent two hours recounting the history of Maori dealings with European colonists. For many of the Maori people listening, this was the first time they had heard a detailed account of the injustices that previous generations had experienced. As they listened, they all began to weep.

This experience was an eye-opener for me (When I talk about the experience I still feel like weeping). The reason that these people wept was that their hearts still carried the pain of the injustices their forefathers had experienced. They did not know what had happened, but they still carried the emotional scars from the injustices experienced by previous generations. As they listened, I saw the lights coming on for them. They got an understanding of the pain that they knew they still carried (despite their faith in Jesus).

When the injustices occurred, the people who lost their land felt terrible pain. Their children picked up that pain. Because their pain was real they passed the hurt on to their children. The history of the injustice was gradually lost, but the spiritual and emotional pain was passed on from generation to generation.

Hearing the history explained the pain, but it did not heal it. That would require repentance and restitution by the descendants of European colonists who benefited from the injustices. I hope that my talk contributed a little to making that happen.

When injustice and oppression occur, emotional and spiritual pain is passed on to subsequent generations. As time passes, the reason for the pain is forgotten, but it remains with the victims' descendants, crippling their lives. Those hurts need to be healed before they can live in true freedom.

I can see the same pattern in the United States. Many Christians assume that because slavery has been abolished and the Jim Crow laws have been repealed that blacks should just get on with becoming as prosperous as they are. They simply don’t understand the emotional and spiritual scars that slavery left behind, and how these are passed on from generation to generation. These need to be healed and the pattern broken. But that will not happen if the injustices are minimised and excused by its beneficiaries, because that just creates anger that deepens the scars.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Tom Skinner

In the early 1970s, a friend asked me to go and listen to the American evangelist Tom Skinner when he visited Christchurch. This was before I became a Christian. I was really impressed with the integrity of his message. I did not respond to his altar call, but this was probably the first time that I heard a clear statement of the gospel, so it was an important part of my coming to faith a few months later.

I recently came across a recording of the message he gave at Urbana 1970 called The U.S. Racial Crisis and World Evangelism. I gather that this message was not well received in some quarters, but he speaks boldly and shares the gospel clearly. It is a message that still needs to be heard.

Friday, June 22, 2018

No Staff

When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, he told them not to take any staff with them. He was not telling them to leave their personal assistants and media teams behind.

He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt” (Luke 9:3).
In Jesus time, people often carried a wooden staff as a defensive in case they were attacked while on a journey. Jesus told them to go into the world without any means of defence. Instead they were to trust in God for their safety and everything that they needed.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Gospel of Kingdom

Jesus went around announcing the good news of the Kingdom of God.

After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1).
I am sure that many followers of Jesus can explain in a few sentences why Jesus death on the cross is good news. How many can explain in a few sentences how the Kingdom of God is good news?

Yet this is what Jesus did. Huge numbers of people followed him, so they obviously understood what he meant. And it brought change. In the subsequent verses, Luke explains that rich women were giving away some of their wealth to support poor disciples (Luke 8:2-3).

How can a new kingdom with a new king be good news? A kingdom is the people in a place ruled by a king? Even if the king is top class, the place and the people must be pretty special for the people to be attracted to the Kingdom.

Could you give a description of the Kingdom in a few sentences that would get people so excited that rich women would start giving away their wealth?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Body Love

Followers of Jesus were baptised into one body.

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many (1 Cor 12:14).
The members of the body of Jesus are dependent on each other.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body (1 Cor 12:15).
The hand cannot say to the foot, your pain does not affect me, so I do not care about it.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it (1 Cor 12:26).
If the foot is suffering, every member of the body should be feeling its pain.

The eye who has a professional salary, cannot say to the hand that has lost its income, your suffering does not affect me.

This is why John said,

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person (1 John 3:17)?
In one member of a body of believers has worldly wealth, and another is suffering in poverty, the love that Jesus requires is missing.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16)?
If love is working, there will be caring and sharing with one another. People will not be able to stay in poverty for long.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Luxury Prophets

Jesus said that prophets who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are in the houses of kings and political leaders (Luke 7:25). Leaders like to have these prophets around because they build up their power and authority.

Most are not in the king's house physically, but to many are there spiritually.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Liberated

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he describes what Jesus has done for us. Those who have been buried with him in baptism and raised with him, have been given full life in him. While we were dead in our sin and controlled by our sinful nature, he did the following for us.

  • He forgave all our sins.
  • The ordinances that held us captive were cancelled by the cross.
  • The spiritual rulers and powers that controlled us were stripped of their power.
(Colossians 2:13-15).

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Community and Culture

In an article called Will Loss of Religious Liberty Doom Evangelicalism? George Yancy has some interesting comments.

Evangelicals have gotten used to being the most powerful religious group in our society. That is not going to be the case for the foreseeable future, if ever again...

So beyond politics, it is also important that we think about protecting ourselves by building up our community. If there are fewer of us, but those of us who are left are more committed, then we can make demands on each other that will strengthen our larger community. Groups that do not have majority group power do well to have a strong notion of community so that their subculture can thrive.

What are some of the implications of building up our vision of being a Christian community inside a larger secular society? We can develop a powerful in-group loyalty that allows us to help each other. We can develop supportive economic structures that serve our subculture. We can focus on socializing our children to be ready for the struggles of a post-Christian world. These are only some of the important ways having a community mindset can provide us with the social means to persist in a society that wants to remove us from the public square.

It can be as a community that we can renew a focus on reaching out to the marginalized. A powerful group tends to ignore those who struggle in our society. In a society where we no longer have majority group power, we can humbly use our in-group loyalty to work together so that we can better minister to those society left behind. Such efforts not only enlarge our community by bringing some of the marginalized into our community but also provides a powerful witness of love for the least of these.

Ultimately, it is going to be these acts of love and a true demonstration of the values we say we hold to help us deal with the threat to our religious liberty. Since the threat comes from a change of cultural values, we can begin to neutralize it by impacting the culture. And the best way to impact the culture is to have a Christian community where we are encouraged to live with integrity, transparency and to love those around us. Building the right type of Christian community is vital for what we need today.