Saturday, April 29, 2023

Righteous Anger

Most of us have been taught that we should not get angry, and many of us get good at pretending we do not feel it. Anger can be a sin, but it is not always wrong. Mark tells us that Jesus got angry when he saw the hardness of heart of the Pharisees (Mark 3:5). His was righteous anger. It prompted him to heal a man with a withered arm.

Righteous anger is an appropriate response if when evil has done harm or someone is being unfairly attacked, because it invigorates us to respond at a time when we could be overwhelmed. Righteous anger inspired the prophets to speak boldly for God when the truth was being ignored by his people.

Unfortunately, righteous anger is a gift that can easily be misused. If a follower of Jesus has not been taught how to channel righteous anger with grace, they can easily slip into hard anger and speak harshly. This response will aggravate a precarious situation.

Unrighteous anger and malice grieve the Holy Spirit. We must be careful to avoid them when dealing with people who are different from us. The fruit of the spirit include patience, gentleness and kindness (Gal 5:22). They will flow if we are full of the Holy Spirit.

If Christians have not learnt how to speak with grace and truth when righteous anger stirs, they will tend to suppress it, but pretending we are not angry is not the same as having a spirit of grace and peace. The problem is that this bottled-up anger will eventually explode at a time when they do not expect it. They will tend to overact to a trivial event with an angry or harsh response.

Letting their anger explode does not help because it makes it seem like a person who cares intensely is the one with a problem. Uncontrolled anger does harm, because it lets the person who is doing evil off the hook. In contrast, righteous anger exercised with grace supports the truth.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Women Leaders in the Early Church

Michael Bird suggests that in the New Testament, we have indications that women were patrons of Christian assemblies but possibly also “overseers” as well.

  • Mary of Jerusalem’s house provided hospitality to many people including the apostles, though we can say nothing in favor of any leadership role (Acts 12:12-17).

  • Lydia of Philippi sponsored a house church and supported Paul’s missionary endeavours (Acts 16:14-15, 40).

  • Priscilla and Aquila hosted a church in their home where both of them had some teaching role (Acts 18:26; 1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:3-5).

  • Philemon and Apphia, whether brother and sister, or husband and wife, seem to have been patrons of the church in Colossae where first Epaphras and then Archippus served as the main leaders (Col 1:7; 4:12, 15; Philm 2, 23).

  • Phoebe was a deacon and patron of the church in Cenchrae whom Paul sent to Rome to deliver, and perhaps instruct upon, his message to the Roman churches (Rom 16:1-2).

  • Nympha was the patron/pastor of the church of Laodicea (Col 4:15). Some would dispute the pastoral side, but as I’ve argued elsewhere, Nympha was both the patron of the Laodicean church (like Phoebe, Philemon/Apphia) but also the pastor of the church (like Archippus).

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Red Eggs

I recently came across an interesting explanation of Easter eggs.

In traditional Russian culture, the children would use, or build, a small wooden structure (the “hill”), and roll eggs, painted red, down a chute. All Easter eggs were originally painted red. The game was played on Easter Sunday, since the rolling of the eggs symbolizes the rolling away (by angels) of the stones covering Jesus’ tomb. (The picture below is “Children Rolling Easter Eggs” by Painter Nikolai Koshelev.
The reason for the red eggs is an ancient tradition that Maria Magdalene happened to be proselytizing in ancient Rome when she was arrested and taken for an audience with Emperor Tiberius Caesar. She handed the Emperor a regular white chicken egg and told him about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Tiberius exclaimed: “There is no such thing as resurrection. A man cannot rise from the dead, any more than this white egg can suddenly turn red.” And, as he said it, the egg turned red in his hand.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Widow’s Mite

Jesus comments about the Widow’s Mite are often used by preachers to justify extreme giving to the church. However, the incident is usually misunderstood due to the chapter break coming in the wrong place. We miss the connection with Jesus comments to the scribes at the end of Luke 20.

Jesus condemned the scribes for “devouring widow’s houses” (Luke 20:47). He warned that they will “receive harsher judgment”. This was a strong accusation to make without giving any evidence to justify it. Actually, the evidence is in Luke’s account of the Widows Mite at the beginning of the next chapter.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on (Luke 21:1-4).
Jesus then looked up and saw the widow putting in all she had to live on, and pointed her out as a victim of the scribe’s teaching.

The widespread belief that Jesus was praising her is wrong. A careful reading reveals that Jesus did not commend her. He simply described what she had done, compared to other people. To understand what was going on, we need to ask some deeper questions. Is this what God wanted? Did he need the widow’s coins that would have kept her from starving? Did she need to starve, so that God could have a physical house to dwell in?

When God wanted a tabernacle, he enabled the plunder of the Egyptians, so the people could give the wealth needed to build it. The people did not have to starve to provide a dwelling place for God, because he paid for it himself.

God did not want the widow's two coins. She needed them to live on, and God wanted her to have enough to eat. She gave them to the temple, because she was under moral pressure from the false teaching of the teachers of the law. They were teaching that donations to the temple were a requirement of the Law of Moses. That was not correct. The Law required that money should be given to widows by their families and their neighbours.

God would have been happier if some of the wealth being put into the temple treasury had been given to the support of the widows and the poor as the Law required. He was not that interested in funding another tourist attraction for the Roman Empire. In a few year time, the temple would be destroyed, so the widows coins were wasted.

The widow got into poverty to pay for a temple that God no longer needed because Jesus had come to earth and he would send the Holy Spirit to live in his followers. Jesus paid the price for the temple of the Holy Spirit, so this widow did not need to.

This widow was an example of the religious leaders devouring widow’s houses. They were not stealing directly from them, but putting impossible burdens on them, when the Torah required that families support their widows.

The widow was trying to please God, but because she had been given incorrect teaching about money, she was putting herself into unnecessary poverty. Pastors should be careful that they don’t fall into the same trap by misreading what Jesus was saying and teaching people to give away money that God wants them to use to support their families.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Luke's Gospel - Message

Jesus teaching was quite different from what is heard in a modern church.

His big message began with a warning that those with plenty and privilege would lose it and that outsiders and those in poverty would be raised up (Luke 6:20-26).

He followed this up with call for his people to love their enemies and be kind and generous to them, expecting nothing in return. This was accompanied with a warning about judging others (Luke 6:27-45).

Jesus warned that those who followed him would suffer (Luke 9:22-27). He did not promise a life of blessing.

Jesus told numerous parables about people being rescued and restored from disaster (but nothing about turning back God’s anger), eg lost sheep, lost coin, lost son (Luke 15:4-32).

Jesus taught frequently about money. He didn’t call for giving to the church. Rather he warned about the dangers of wealth (Luke 16:1-31; 18:9-30; 19:11-27; 20:20-26).

Jesus spent significant time confronting the people with power who were resisting God’s new intervention. He warned that they would eventually be swept away (Luke 9:11-18; 10:13-16, 30-37; 11:29-52; 12:35-13:9; 14:15-35; 20:1-47; 21:8-33). Modern preaching rarely challenges the people with power.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Luke’s Gospel Action

Reading through Luke’s gospel again, I have been struck by how different it is from the gospel and organisation of the modern church. The contrast is so huge that I can’t see one in the other.

Jesus never said, “You need to repent of your sins and trust in my blood so God can forgive you”. (That sounds more like John the Baptist’s pre-Jesus message).

Jesus just told people that they were forgiven (Luke 5:20; 7:48).

Jesus did not tell the blind man who asked to receive his sight that he would have to repent and get right with God before he could be healed.

He just restored his sight with a word (Luke 18:41-42).

Jesus never said, “Receive me into your heart, and find a good church.

He preached the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus never told his listeners that they should establish Sunday church meetings to attend for an hour each week. He told the people to love one another as he has loved us (Luke 6:27,10:27,37).

Jesus did not call people to be worship leaders (that seems to be an Old Testament model). He called people to make disciples.

Jesus never told his disciples to appoint senior pastors and submit to what they teach each week.

He sent out 120 disciples to preach the gospel of the Kingdom and heal the sick. Jesus ministry seemed to be a direct confrontation with evil (not a performance at a Sunday meeting).

  • He announced deliverance for the oppressed (Luke 4:18).

  • He rebuked evil spirits (Luke 4:35).

  • When he preached, the spiritual powers of evil stirred up so much anger in his listeners that they wanted to kill him (Luke 4:28,29).

  • Healing the sick and casting out demons was the heart of his ministry, not a Sunday sermon (Luke 4:40, 5:15, 5:18, 6:18,19, 7:21, 10:17, 13:32, 17:11).

The focus of Jesus ministry was rescuing people from the spiritual powers of evil not making peace between them and God. Jesus is a redeemer, rescuer and saviour (Luke 1:47,51,68,71,74; 2:11,30,38). We should remember that a “saviour” is a deliverer, not a sacrifice on an altar.

Monday, April 03, 2023

Distributed Power

Aurelien suggests that the US dominance that emerged after the end of the Cold War was never as powerful as many pundits believed.

There has never been a time when the world has actually been unipolar, or dominated by a single power. Things changed at the end of the Cold War, but what changed were perceptions: at least as much as reality, and often more so. The resulting fiction of a unipolar world was partly a deliberate creation, partly the result of ignorance, partly a collective hallucination of people who didn’t know any better.

American political culture generally is competitive, aggressive, power-obsessed, and prizes victories, even empty ones, over agreements and consensus. All political questions in Washington are settled by defeats for some and victories for others, and the weak are trodden into the ground. Consensus, where absolutely required, is a long and exhausting process of trials of strength, with agencies not scrupling to privately or publicly dissociate themselves from that consensus.

This culture contributed in two ways to the rise of the illusion of unipolarity. First, the decision-making process in Washington is so exhausting and time-consuming that there is little time, energy or inclination to worry about what others think and, from the US perspective, no reason to do so. With the Cold War over and the Soviet Union gone, the narcissist tendency to self-absorption became absolute.

And there were, of course, failures: Iraq became a nightmare, Afghanistan a political graveyard. But it didn’t really matter, not least because for the first time in world history the most powerful single grouping in the world had an unchallengeable and inextinguishable faith in its own rightness and in the tenets of the Liberalism it professed. And it lived in a hall of mirrors where its own glory was reflected back on itself by the media and by its acolytes elsewhere in the world. Failure was always somebody else’s fault.

Yet to the more perceptive, it was always obvious that the collective fantasy of a unipolar world dominated by a hyper-power was a dangerous illusion which concealed a much more complicated reality... So the real question is, how effectively has the West been able to use its power to determine the way the world is run, since power in the end can only be evaluated by what it produces.

The answer is, not very, at least if we concentrate less on rhetoric and theatre and more on underlying mechanisms. At the most basic level, every war, every military intervention and every nation-building enterprise the West has engaged in over the last thirty years to make the world more like itself has failed. Indeed, it could be plausibly argued that the world today is a great deal less to the taste of the collective West than it was thirty years ago... But much of what was intended and attempted was probably impossible anyway, and was never going to happen.

He suggests that we are moving back toward distributed power.

Being Church Where We Live

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