19 Jun

Lessons from India Part 2

Do you believe there is more to the universe than what we see with our eyes; that there is a spiritual world too?  “More than meets the eye”!  One of my kids was just watching episodes from the 1980’s cartoon “Transformers” and that is one of the main lines in the theme song. (More than meets the eye)  It got me thinking, and then I thought about India: they believe that there is more to the universe than what we see with our eyes.

In fact, the strategy that Christians have for sharing Christ with people there is that they pray for the sick to be healed, and they are healed in Jesus’ name.  They even cast out demons from people and the people are set free, just like Jesus did in the Bible.  They also experience dreams and visions of Jesus and then people are open to hearing about who He is and His love for them, and they trust in Him, even in Him alone.

I believe there is a battle between light and darkness in the universe and that Christ is the light.  We too have seen folks set free from demons and have seen miraculous healings, but the greatest evidence for God is the effect He has on people.  It has been said that we cannot see the wind, but we can see its effects.  So it is with God.  Though we cannot see Him, we do see Him in those who believe in Him, when they love sacrificially and that is the greatest evidence for God and Christ Jesus.

I have learned from India, that these are also our greatest evidences  in America.  No amount of arguing will help, but lives lived in real love (and some miracles that flow from that love) are our greatest allies in the battle.  It is the Holy Spirit of God that convinces people of the Truth.  We don’t have to try to convince them, but we can share what God has done for us in Christ.

 

 

22 May

Entitlement

Entitlement:

That would be my word to describe the mindset of Americans after spending time in India. I never saw a child whine; not once. And their lives are much harder than American kids with much less toys, conveniences, etc.

And the poor: we had church on a road, so people just didn’t use that road while we were there for the church service. The rains had ruined their yard and leaked into their very poor home/hut. That’s why we had church on the road. The family wanted to feed us but didn’t have the resources. Their son was working in the salt fields as a teenager for $3 a day to support his mom and sisters. When the Pastor’s wife tried to give them money they put their hands up to refuse it. She insisted, they still refused. She finally put it in their hands and said it was from the LORD.

This is a far cry from what I encounter daily in my work. People ask for money after they have foolishly spent it on cable television, outings, fun stuff from the mall, and run out half way through the month. When we refuse they tell us we’ve rejected them and are not a compassionate church. This kind of thing is a common occurrence. I hear complaints about how difficult it is to get free services from the American government and when it doesn’t come through enough for them, we hear about it over and over again. I’m probably in the midst of culture shock, so I’m sorry if this is negative, but I don’t want to have an entitlement attitude. I want to be grateful for salvation, grateful for life, grateful for so much that I don’t deserve and live in great joy! May the LORD help us all to this end. Shalom.

24 Apr

The 7 Trumpets

The 7 Trumpets

               When I was in high school, the LORD put seven sins on my heart that the Church in North America needed to repent of, myself included:

1-     Apathy (not caring about the things of God; being lukewarm)

2-     Fear of man (caring more about what people think than what God thinks)

3-     Divisions (being divided against other believers who don’t agree with us on points of theology or practice but are in fact our brothers and sisters)

4-     Self-righteous traditions of men (trusting in our own little traditions we’ve come up with as our righteousness)

5-     Busyness (being caught up in the things of this world)

6-     Love of money (making comfort and affluence our master, rather than God)

7-     Insincere worship of God (worshipping God with our lips but not our hearts or actions)

I still believe these are relevant today and I repent of them daily for myself and the Church here in North America.  May God give us zeal, boldness, unity, dependence on His Word and Spirit, simplicity of heart, treasure in heaven and sincere worship of Him!  Shalom in Jesus

03 Apr

Shining Billy

When three trees coffeehouse was still open, in about 2010, I started an experimental album called, “Jimmy Rig” based on a dream I had about the future.  I don’t know if it was prophetic but in the dream musicians worked in music factories where music was recorded live, houses were dilapidated and poor musicians had special medical insurance and clinics they went to.  Jimmy Rig was an African American man in the dream who just got out of jail, had been a famous musician in his time and now shared his music again.  He started to play in one of the factories and this guitar part at the beginning of “Shining Billy” is what he played.  I woke up and wrote the song, as well as many songs like it.

“Shining Billy” is about a drug dealer who turns his life around, and wants to be famous, but no one knows his name.  Yet he shines because he got off drugs and is living a good life instead.

The lyrics are impressionistic, not exact:

“Billy looks grim, his face in a shim, he doesn’t know who to tell

But in a day or so, there won’t be grass to mow; then his dance won’t sell at all.

All the world doesn’t know, why poor Billy’s head hangs so low…”

And then as with other Jimmy Rigs, the lyrics are inspired by an old folk song or a mother goose rhyme:

“Oh where have you been Billy boy, Billy boy, oh where have you been shining Billy?

You’ve been sitting in the sky, with an eagle in your eye, waiting for the world to sigh, shining Billy!…”

Enjoy more on our media page: www.envisionmission.org/media and follow the instructions to download a CD

 

06 Feb

Riding on the Wings of Love

Cary, Mississippi and Lynden, Washington are very different places, but when I was in high school, somehow I knew God was going to call me to go to Mississippi in my wood paneled station wagon. So I wrote a song about the idea of riding on the wings of God’s love, as if I was already on the road and singing it for my girlfriend at the time, Rochelle Van Ry.

Well, it came true and I remember singing it when I got to Mississippi. It was exactly how I felt when the dream became a reality. The song has made more sense to me now than it did then as people gather with us in Jesus’ Name and we continue to ride on the wings of his love.

Here’s a sample from the song:

Let me sing to you a song that I’ve sung while I’m riding on the wings of love

It’s a song that I love to sing when I’m coming back home my love

In the desert or in the rain, even while I’m on the road

I’ll be singing to you all of my days, singing to you while I’m all alone

And I’m riding, riding on the wings, oh I’m riding on the wings of love…

And a child cries in the night, and we really don’t know why

A young girl takes out a knife, oh it’s going to make me cry

So I’m singing trying to give all the happiness I have found

Innocent children cling to it and they’re gathering all around

…I’m riding on the wings of love

Listen to the whole song and the whole album on this website by following the instructions given on the media page”: www.envisionmission.org/media

23 Jan

A More God-like Christ Part 5

Here is the final part of my book review for Bradley Jersak’s book: “A More Christ-like God”:

From Chapter 13, Jersak conveniently ignores much of the Torah, Psalms and Prophets references to sacrifice for sin and claims that some paganize God by citing them (page 256) as God’s punishment against sin and understanding Christ’s sacrifice by them.  If we must read the Torah through the lens of Christ, we must understand them all to foreshadow Christ.  Jersak simply uses a double standard here by picking and choosing from them that which he agrees with.  But they all in some way point us to Messiah and that was the entire point of them.  If we view God’s actions as temperamental like the gods of the pagans, then one wonders who is paganizing the sacrifice here.  It is disconcerting that Jersak is willing to quote a Hindu early in his book and hail atheists’ critiques of Evangelicals, displaying an openness to them, but considering much of what Moses and the Prophets say to be childish in their understanding of God.

Maybe we should go rather, to Genesis 6-9 where the Lord destroys most of the world with a flood because of its wickedness but saves a few folks who believe in His Word.  He then Himself says that blood must be taken for blood and life for life.  Is this just mythology or God’s Word?  He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, except for a few, we’ve cited his wrath towards not only the gods of Egypt but clearly the unbelieving Egyptians themselves and especially Pharaoh’s house; how he protects his people from His own wrath at Mt. Sinai, how it was His will to not destroy the Israelites even though His wrath was kindled against them, but Moses stood in the gap, the punishments listed in Leviticus for sin and the sacrifices made as well for atonement, fire from the Lord in Numbers 11, a banishment of Miriam in Chapter 12, the destruction of Korah and his household, the destruction of Arad, the judgment against Sihon and Og understood even by the Psalm 136 to be God’s wrath against them, the atonement of Phineas from Chapter 25, the judgment against Midian, judgement in the days of Joshua against the nations of Canaan described in Deuteronomy as God not giving the land because of Israel’s righteousness but in order to punish the wickedness of these nations and make God’s name great in the world, the similar deliverance of the judges and the Kings of Israel, always made clear when it is God’s judgment against wickedness as opposed to the foolishness of men taking vengeance as seemed best to them; this narrative of God’s punishment of the nations is described in detail by the Psalmist, and most certainly by all the Prophets, by Jesus Himself and by the Apostles and many of the Early Church Fathers (See Justin the Martyrs debate with Trypho: “…who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will…For although His Father caused Him to suffer these things in behalf of the human family…” or see Eusebius: “And the lamb of God was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonor, which were due to us, and drew down upon Himself the appointed curse, being made a curse for us…” or see Athanasius “On the Incarnation”: “..For if He came Himself to bear the curse laid upon us, how else could he have ‘become a curse’ unless He received the death set for a curse.  And that is the Cross.  For this is exactly what is written: ‘Cursed is he that hangeth on a tree…” and those are just a few.)

What is intriguing is that if God were what men wanted him to be, I think he would look more like Jersak’s version, not the mysterious One proclaimed in Scripture.

(Next time a song…)

16 Jan

A More God-like Christ Part 4

This is a continuation of my book review of Bradley Jersak’s “A More Christ-like God”:

 

Does God not give the Son over to become a curse for us, as it is written?  Does He not become sin for us, from whom God Father and Spirit must turn His face away?  Certainly the curse cannot hold on to him, but He did this so that we might never be forsaken, as He was.  Does He feel forsaken by God or not really?  Does He not in some way experience this hell for us?  Is that not what Gehene represents in Jesus’ sayings?  If not then what does it represent?

The serpent metaphor that Jersak gives is from Numbers 21 where God sends venomous snakes to bite and kill the Israelites.  They must look to the bronze snake, which is a curse and indeed the Messiah becomes a curse for us and we look to Him to be saved from the curse of God.  Who else initiated the curse?  Even from Genesis 3 it was God who declared it on mankind and on the earth itself.

Why is the goat sacrificed and burned as a sin offering in the Torah?  What is the purpose?  What does it represent?  Is it merely mankind’s consequence in and of itself by the laws of nature that God has set up?  Even if it were set up by God, He is the source, but surely it is more than that.  God prescribed those regulations as a picture not only of man hurting himself, but what is required by Him to have happen to that which is tainted by sin.  That picture was continually given to the Hebrews.  Jesus and the Apostles were quite familiar with it, but we are not, unfortunately.  From page 238, we have Jersak giving us the classic liberalism of expiation theory, but then he quotes Romans 3 and it leaves us wondering, who left the sins unpunished, unpunished by who?  Ourselves?  No, He left them unpunished.  He was crucified outside the city according to Hebrews, which the readers would have understood as a reference to the scapegoat of Leviticus.  The sins of the people were laid on the scapegoat and it was sent out of the city to die for the people’s sin.  This was the verdict of God.  Why was the lamb killed at the Passover and its blood applied to the doorposts?  So that the wrath of God would pass over their house and not come on them.  Every Hebrew knows that.  And at every Passover the destroying angel is understood as an agent of God’s wrath.  It’s certainly not an agent of satan nor of mankind, but of God and His wrath comes on all those who refuse to obey Him through lack of faith.  Those are the metaphors of Scripture that Jesus continually refers back to, even in the most important supper before His crucifixion.

I have no issue with his metaphor of ransom paid to death itself, but I also have no problem acknowledging at the very same time that we owed a debt to God.  The very prayer the Lord taught us teaches us that we owed a debt to God, which He forgave and we ought to forgive the debt owed to us by others.  Jesus frequently used this metaphor in his parables, Paul certainly picks it up and so should we.  The idea that is presented by Jersak is that if God forgave us, why would He need further payment?  In other words, if a bank forgives a debt, then it is forgiven.  They don’t then demand payment.  But the faulty reasoning there is two-fold at least: 1- If the bank forgives the debt, then they themselves are paying the restitution for the debtor.  2- Restitution is also a very Christian idea and part of the process of reconciliation.  That was the importance of the guilt offering analogy in both Leviticus and the prophecy of the Messiah’s sacrifice in Isaiah 53, “He makes his life a guilt offering.”

If it was only death that Jesus faced in the Garden of Gethsemane, even if death by crucifixion, then why did He sweat drops of blood and ask that the cup be taken from Him?  Many of the saints and lesser men than Christ have faced such death with calm and courage.  But if it was indeed the curse of sin that He would take on Himself and the very wrath of God towards that sin which turns away the Face, then his stress and request become very appropriate.

(Final part 5 next time…)

07 Jan

A More God-like Christ Part 3

Here follows the continuation of my book review of “A More Christ-like God” by Bradley Jersak:

 

I do not deny Jersak’s happier metaphors from Jesus, although defining repentance as merely being “welcomed in” from page 233 is a weak definition.  But he conveniently leaves out so many more metaphors: Jesus teaches us to fear the One who can throw both body and soul into hell fire.  Jesus speaks of the wide road that leads to destruction.  The message of repentance from Matthew 4:17 and 10:28 is given in the context of John the Baptist’s ministry, which Jesus carries on, including his description of Messiah: having a winnowing fork and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  Those who do not believe stand condemned already…  We get the picture of being thrown into hell not from the Old Testament or even from Paul, but from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Not only does Jesus speak of some not entering the Kingdom of Heaven from 5:20, but here He speaks of hell fire: 5:22 and 30.  He speaks of the wide road of destruction: 13, of God not forgiving those who refuse to forgive :15, of casting away evil-doers :23, and then right after the Sermon on the Mount we see that the demons fear being tortured by Jesus the Son of the Living God in the flesh- 8:29- at an appointed time that they are all aware of, Jesus comes with a sword in 10:34 and brings words of judgment on cities 11:20-24, He speaks of folks never being forgiven either in this life or the one to come in 12:32, condemns a wicked and adulterous generation in 12:39-42; gives a metaphor of the wicked as being burned like weeds in a fire in 13:30, casting those who cause sin and law-breakers into a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and again in :50.  In Chapter 18:6,8 and 9 he speaks of such punishment for the wicked that it would be better to have a millstone tied around the neck and be thrown into the sea because they lead little ones astray, a clear call for justice, and goes on to describe those who lust as being cast into hellfire that is eternal.  In verse 35 He explicitly ends the parable and interprets it for us by telling us that His Father will likewise hand us over to be tortured to pay off our debt to Him…  The metaphor of putting wretches to a miserable death and giving the vineyard to others can’t be missed in 21:41 and in 22:13 the metaphor is of a man being tied up and thrown out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The entire chapter of 23 is a stirring judgment against the Pharisees, even asking them who would save them from the coming wrath- how will they escape being sentenced to hell on judgment day?  Who sentences them?  The Judge of all, of course.  We get all of these metaphors, not from the Prophets or the Apostles, but from Jesus Christ Himself and we are informed by these metaphors very much as to what God is like.  In Matthew 24:50 the master comes at an unexpected hour and cuts the abusive servant in pieces, throwing him outside with the hypocrites where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It is the same in 25:30, 31-46 where we develop of our understanding of eternal punishment, since that is in fact how to best translate the Greek of 25:46.  And those are the relevant metaphors just from the Gospel of Matthew.

But we must first come to the Crucifixion itself, which is where Jersak takes us in Chapter 12 and following.  Here he describes all atonement theories except his own as doctrines of men, ascribing his own view of the Gospel as the only Gospel, or the Gospel itself.  At first it seems he will only describe the Gospel in terms of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  But then it becomes very clear that he takes the expiation theory of atonement and holds it up as the only Gospel.  (If the reader is not familiar with this, it is a pretty old argument within Evangelicalism and arguably within the Church historical, between whether man is actually in an impossible bondage to sin through its rebellion against God and thus God is in a posture of punishment towards mankind which Jesus dies to set us free from by appeasing God’s wrath, taking away our guilt, and suffering death for us OR if man is actually able in himself to choose God and only the guilt of mankind stands in the way of full reconciliation which Christ took away by suffering death for us.  The first view is called Propitiation and the second view is called Expiation.)  Jersak claims that we make a mistake when we make our theories tantamount with the Gospel itself, but then he makes this very mistake in writing that “Christus Victor is “an indisputable New Testament metaphor.” (p.229)  Propitiation is the best translation of the Greek word, hilasmos, to make atonement for as by appeasing the wrath of.  It is used both by Paul and John the Apostles.

(Next time Part 4…)

02 Jan

A More God-like Christ Part 2

This is a continuation of my review of Bradley Jersak’s book, “A More Christ-like God”:

Jersak goes into great detail about spiritual maturity in the book, explaining that those who take such things (examples of God’s wrath in the Bible) literally are child-like in maturity, it seems that Jersak has had a different journey than some of us who are apparently quite underdeveloped in our understanding of God.   For me, as I view maturity, I’ve come to admire those who try less to explain the more difficult passages with metaphor (or dogged literalism), but rather humbly receive the Word planted in their hearts.  They seem to learn to love who God is, not just what we want Him to be.  I would even suggest, acknowledging that I see through a glass dimly, that we need to mature beyond the simplistic understanding that if God is personally involved in judgement to persons or nations in anger this somehow makes him immoral or monstrous.  Instead we need to acknowledge the mystery of His incommunicable attributes.  Teaching that if He does what the Scriptures say He does in the Old Testament he is a moral monster is anthropomorphizing Him to the maximum degree.  I would also suggest that we are not the ones ascribing to Him a petty temper that plays itself out in heinous acts of violence.  We are bowing to the mystery of His almighty power…  He is slow to anger, but not ever-ceasing from it.  Yet His anger is so different than human anger and the tendency of immaturity then is to attribute our human means of anger to His, which is where the blasphemy really is, in my view.  His anger and vengeance is real, but can only be compared with ours in an extremely limited way, most of how He executes His is beyond our comprehension

It is telling that Jersak on page 192 suggests that Old Testament writers “sometimes” wrote from the perspective of mythic-literalism, presumably when he doesn’t agree with their views of God.  What is amazing to me about Jersak here however is that he acknowledges that Jesus Himself says, “this is how my Father will treat you if you do not forgive from your heart” in Matthew 18, referring to handing the offender over to be tortured.  Yet Jersak insists that this too is only metaphor.  It appears that Christ Himself must be interpreted through Jersak’s lens.

As to his writings of the source of the “Wrath” in Romans 5:9 it seems like double-speak.  That we are saved from “the wrath” must somehow be explained away by Jersak, even though 5:9 is informed by 1:18 that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, by 2:5 that the disobedient are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, by 2:8 that where He will give eternal life to those who seek Him, there will be wrath and fury for those who disobey the truth, and by 9:22 where he bears with great patience the objects/vessels of His wrath, prepared for destruction; all of these clearly attributed to God as having wrath towards mankind.  Why would wrath be different in this verse when it is attributed to God in all the other verses of Romans?  It’s difficult not to think of Paul’s statement in his book to the Ephesians: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”  (5:6 ESV).  Who is doing the anthropomorphizing here?

From Chapter 12 on the atonement it is interesting that the word the NIV translates as “atoning sacrifice” for Paul and John in their letters is properly translated “propitiation” because the Greek word is defined as “appeasing the wrath of”.  Paul and John could have chosen a different Greek word, but they didn’t.  In the Hebrew context that is a good translation for the atonement that God gives His people.  When Phineas made atonement for Israel in Numbers 19, it appeased the wrath of God; when Moses circumcised his son he made atonement for his family; at Mt. Sinai God wanted to protect the people from His own wrath, so He told them not to even touch the mountain.  That is a Father heart that knows when sin comes into the pure Presence of Holiness it must be destroyed/cast away, but He wants the offender to not suffer wrath, but rather to be saved.  Clearly then to suggest that Paul did not have punishment of sin by God in mind when he wrote of atonement is quite disputable, in fact I will argue the opposite…

(Next Part 3)

28 Dec

A More God-like Christ Part 1

A review of the book, “A More Christ-like God” by Bradley Jersak:

From the title of this essay of response one might surmise that these are “fighting words”.  But that is not my intention.  Bradley Jersak is clearly an educated, intelligent and whimsical man.  However, I believe a critique of his thesis is warranted and I do so for the sake of those in the small flock for which I’ve been appointed to help shepherd and influence.

Jersak’s first statement is that “If there is a God…we don’t get to make Him up.”  I quite agree.  But if we as Americans were to make up a god in our own image, what would he be like I wonder?  Jersak begins rightly with Scripture and then does a brush stroke of popular Christian voices, contrasting Piper and McClaren, for instance.

Then he quotes Bill Maher and Charles Darwin as voices Evangelicals need to heed as prophetic, affirming such atheism as a first step to true worship.  In his trigger questions section he then sets Jesus against much of the Old Testament narrative and refers to this as the “Bible-God”.

His final section of the first chapter on “The Father’s love revelation” calls the God of his childhood a judgmental, threatening and condemning God.  He refers to this God as the “punisher-God”, the “Mighty Smiter” and calling the words of those who presented such a view “silly.”  He contrasts this to the revelation of the Father heart of God given through YWAM and Vineyard, describing the Father as one who gives hugs rather than blows.  Then he states that every human conception of God is uprooted by the Cross and seeks to demolish such notions in his next chapters.

Let me be frank.  If I were to make a god in my own image he would be far from the punisher-God that Jersak describes.  Growing up as a good Postmodern North American I would have him be loving and fun in the sense that he would always make me feel good, he would never even dare to think about such a thing as hell, he would want everyone to have fun and that would be the purpose of our existence.  In my experience the reason any person, especially a North American, would conclude that God punishes sinners is not because they want it to be true, but because it is so clearly established in the Scriptures and such persons have sought to submit themselves to those Scriptures, whether they naturally like what they encounter or not.  (It is a needed critique of Evangelical Americans that some of them have used the Bible to justify a nationalistic desire to justify unjust war and even call on God to help them strike down Muslims, but Jersak could find better sources than Maher for that prophetic critique I would hope.)  I can see an argument for some folks wanting punishment for other people, especially those they don’t like.  But even then few would choose everlasting torment as the punishment from a human perspective.  And no one would naturally come to the conclusion that they themselves deserve such punishment.

From the 10th Chapter, which is the beginning of his larger section named “’Un-wrathing’ God”, I think Jersak reveals His core issue with the Biblical texts on wrath.  He describes Jeremiah’s book entitled “Lamentations” in great detail, showing unabashedly that Jeremiah understood all the horrors of what happened to Judah as God’s direct wrath on them.  He then points out the beautiful saying within Lamentations, “Your mercies are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  And he calls this juxtaposition “manic”.  He asks if Jeremiah can be describing the same God.  Do we take it then that Jeremiah was manic?  Is this not the word of the LORD?  Jeremiah understood that both of these thing can be true at the same time.  Why can’t we?  This, I think is the core issue I have with Jersak’s understanding of the Biblical text.

(Next entry Part 2…)