Tuesday, 22 December 2015

We get it, Christmas has Pagan origins...

There is a very real war on Christmas out there. There are people who are hell bent on banishing the holiday to the very depths of hell. Surprisingly though it’s not Starbucks or the people that say “Happy holidays” instead of "Merry Christmas" who have the real agenda but rather it is a small group within Christianity itself who are so against it. And I have to say that I understand where they are coming from, the roots of the holiday are undeniably pagan. There is even that passage in Jeremiah 10 which paints an eerily familiar image to the trees that people put in their homes over Christmas:-

This is what the LORD says:
2“Do not act like the other nations,
    who try to read their future in the stars.
Do not be afraid of their predictions,
    even though other nations are terrified by them.
3 Their ways are futile and foolish.
    They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol.
4 They decorate it with gold and silver
    and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails
    so it won’t fall over.

But my own personal issue is not so much with the ‘touch not, taste not’ rules that people try to make Christianity about. There is nothing inherently wrong with reminding one another of the birth of Christ on the 25th of December, the issue is not with the trees, candles or the date but rather, I believe, the problem in our day (which is also expressed in the message of Jeremiah which is actually about idolatry) is that people are worshiping the god of mammon. The consumerist spirit behind the holiday reveals a more real and dangerous problem in Christianity.

But I am off on a tangent because this is not actually a post about Christmas at all. Rather, it is about the call to abstain from anything in Christianity which has its roots in Paganism which I find so ironic. Consider the picture below which has appeared in my Facebook news feed countless times over the last couple of weeks.

Where is Santa in the Bible? More than once I was tempted to write something very sarcastic, like, “Why it’s right next to the verses about church buildings, worship bands, appeasement of a deity’s wrath via child sacrifice, the philosophy of the immortal soul and the need for professional orators in church meetings”. Let's consider just how far we really want to take the syncretism argument regarding pagan influences in the church. That would be a far more constructive conversation for us to be having. What is redeemable and what is useful when it comes to the Kingdom? Certainly when Paganism influences our ideas regarding the atonement or afterlife or any other theology we would be wise to stay far away from it. But can a church building or a Sunday sermon (both having Pagan origins) be used for the extension of the Kingdom of God? Of course! Can Christmas be used for the extension of the Kingdom of God? Of course! In Acts 17, Paul uses an ‘altar to an unknown god’ to reveal the God of heaven and earth to the people of Athens. Their idols were not redeemable, they were nothing more than useless carvings made by human hands, yet Paul used them as a tool for introducing the people of that culture to Christ. So it is with buildings dedicated to religious ceremonies, sermons and Christmas, while all have Pagan origins, all can be good and useful insomuch as they are used as tools for witnessing or serving the body. The second any of them replace Jesus and become our focal point, where we start serving the building, the meeting or the holiday rather than the other way around they should be cast away.

So if your conscience is troubled by celebrating Christmas, then by all means abstain. In fact, Paul says as much in Romans 14; but before posting that next anti-Christmas meme on Facebook. Consider some of the Pagan traditions that you may have adopted and participate in on a weekly basis and consider Paul’s warnings about your motivations for doing so (see Colossians 2:20-23, Galatians 5:1-15). I am not asking anyone to go against their own convictions, nor am I asking anyone to water anything down but let's at the very least try to be gracious toward one another and exercise a bit more humility in how we think others should be following Christ when expressing ourselves.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

But only the cults teach annihilationism...

A few years back, after several months of study, I became convinced through scripture that I had previously been in error regarding the final fate of the wicked. I used to think, like most people do, that those who reject Christ will suffer eternal conscious torment in the fires of hell, wishing in vain for death only to receive more misery at the hands of their tormentors. Nowadays though I believe that the message of the bible is that immortality or eternal life is a gift that only those in Christ will receive. All will be raised for judgment but some will go on to eternal life while others will taste of death for a second and final time.

One of the most common rebuttals to the idea of conditional immortality is that it is held mostly by Christian cults or fringe groups like the Worldwide Church of God (and its offshoots) as well as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I would like to turn that argument around in this post and say yes, some groups with some very wrong ideas do believe that the wicked will be destroyed in hell rather than be tortured there for all of eternity. Nevertheless, they were at least reading the bible when they arrived at those conclusions, whereas the idea of eternal conscious torment and the modern imagery associated with hell, I would suggest, has more support in the Koran than it does in the bible. Don’t believe me? Consider the contrasting columns below of scriptures from both the Bible and the Koran and ask yourself which one more accurately presents the views that you have been exposed to.

 Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb. - Psalm 37:1-2
Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. 4:56
 For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. - Psalm 37:9-10
They will wish to come forth from the Fire, but they will not come forth from it. Theirs will be a lasting doom. 5:37
 Though the wicked sprout like weeds and evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever. - Psalm 92:7
For them is drink of boiling water and a painful doom, because they disbelieved. 6:70
 But the wicked will perish: Though the LORD's enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke. - Psalm 37:20
If thou couldst see how the angels receive those who disbelieve, smiting faces and their backs and (saying): Taste the punishment of burning! 8:50
 Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace, But the transgressors shall be destroyed together, the future of the wicked will be cut off. - Psalm 37:37-38
On the day when it will (all) be heated in the fire of hell, and their foreheads and their flanks and their backs will be branded 9:35
 May you blow them away like smoke-- as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God. - Psalm 68:2
Hell is before him, and he is made to drink a festering water, Which he sippeth but can hardly swallow, and death cometh unto him from every side while yet he cannot die, and before him is a harsh doom. 14:16-17
 He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the LORD our God will destroy them. - Psalm 94:23
Thou wilt see the guilty on that day linked together in chains, Their raiment of pitch, and the Fire covering their faces. 14:49-50
 The wicked will see and be vexed, they will gnash their teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing. - Psalm 112:10
We shall assemble them on the Day of Resurrection on their faces, blind, dumb and deaf; their habitation will be hell; whenever it abateth, We increase the flame for them. That is their reward because they disbelieved Our revelations. 17:97-98
When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever. - Proverbs 10:25
Lo! We have prepared for disbelievers Fire. Its tent encloseth them. If they ask for showers, they will be showered with water like to molten lead which burneth the faces. Calamitous the drink and ill the resting-place! 18:29
But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish. - Isaiah 1:28
If those who disbelieved but knew the time when they will not be able to drive off the fire from their faces and from their backs, and they will not be helped! 21:29
 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” … “You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the LORD of hosts. - Malachi 4:1-3
But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, Whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; And for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever, in their anguish, they would go forth from thence they are driven back therein and (it is said unto them): Taste the doom of burning. 22:19-22
…and they shall be as though they had never been. - Obadiah 16
The fire burneth their faces, and they are glum therein. 23:104
 The strongest among you will disappear like straw; their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire. They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire. - Isaiah 1:31
For those who deny (the coming of) the Hour We have prepared a flame. When it seeth them from afar, they hear the crackling and the roar thereof. And when they are flung into a narrow place thereof, chained together, they pray for destruction there. 25:11-13
 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." - Matthew 3:12
But as for those who disbelieve, for them is fire of hell; it taketh not complete effect upon them so that they can die, nor is its torment lightened for them. Thus We punish every ingrate. And they cry for help there, (saying): Our Lord! Release us; we will do right, not (the wrong) that we used to do. ... Now taste (the flavour of your deeds), for evil-doers have no helper. 35:36-37
 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. - Matthew 10:28
Those in the Fire say unto the guards of hell: Entreat your Lord that He relieve us of a day of the torment ... although the prayer of disbelievers is in vain. 40:49-50
 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. - Galatians 6:8
Those who deny the Scripture and that wherewith We send Our messengers. But they will come to know, When carcans are about their necks and chains. They are dragged Through boiling waters; then they are thrust into the Fire. 40:70-72
 …but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. - Hebrews 10:27 -
Lo! the tree of Zaqqum, The food of the sinner! Like molten brass, it seetheth in their bellies As the seething of boiling water. (And it will be said): Take him and drag him to the midst of hell, Then pour upon his head the torment of boiling water. 44:43-48
 But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; - 2 Peter 2:12
Those who are immortal in the Fire and are given boiling water to drink so that it teareth their bowels. 47:15
But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men. - 2 Peter 3:7
Then how (will it be with them) when the angels gather them, smiting their faces and their backs! 47:27


This post is not meant to convince anyone that the mainstream view of hell is incorrect and that annihilationism is a better option, it is far from sufficient on its own to make a strong enough case for that. Rather, the point was merely to point out that the accusation that annihilationism is the playground of the cults and fringe groups is not grounds for dismissal on its own; for that would be no different than saying that the mainstream view of hell is the playground of Islam. Both views (and we may as well throw Universalism in here as well) should be judged based on their biblical merit alone rather than on who does and does not believe them to be true.

PS – If you do want to dig deeper into conditional immortality, I have written more on it in the articles linked below. Also, check out the website Rethinking Hell for tons of great resources.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

What does it mean to heap burning coals on your enemies heads?

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” – Romans 12:20

I always used to wonder about this statement, it seemed to me to be a saying that had lost its meaning over the years or perhaps through our cultural differences. The old fundamentalist me used to think that it meant that we should be nice to people who didn’t deserve it because one day God would judge them and that their jerkiness in spite of our niceness would be something else that would count against them one day.Thankfully, I let go of the ‘be nice with an agenda’ mindset a long time ago but it was only recently that I arrived at a satisfactory interpretation of what this verse actually meant.
It all came together while I was reading through Isaiah chapter 6 where verses 5 to 7 say the following:-

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.

I was struck at the imagery here where the burning coal removed Isaiah’s guilt. The passage immediately made me think of Romans 12:20 and I started to wonder if there were any other references to burning coals in scripture. It turns out that there are quite a few (13 I think) but I would like to focus on the 2 that are most relevant to Romans 12:20 (which is a direct quote from Proverbs 25:22). The first is found in Leviticus 16 and deals with the sin offering that was performed on the day of atonement, verses 11 to 13 read:-

 “Aaron will present his own bull as a sin offering to purify himself and his family, making them right with the LORD. After he has slaughtered the bull as a sin offering, he will fill an incense burner with burning coals from the altar that stands before the LORD. Then he will take two handfuls of fragrant powdered incense and will carry the burner and the incense behind the inner curtain.  There in the LORD’s presence he will put the incense on the burning coals so that a cloud of incense will rise over the Ark’s cover — the place of atonement—that rests on the Ark of the Covenant. If he follows these instructions, he will not die.

The second is found in Numbers 16:46:-

And Moses said to Aaron, “Quick, take an incense burner and place burning coals on it from the altar. Lay incense on it, and carry it out among the people to purify them and make them right with the LORD. The LORD’s anger is blazing against them—the plague has already begun.”

So the burning coals have to do with the removing of sin and guilt which is important as we return to our passage in Romans because we are now able to harmonize it with the way that Jesus dealt with His enemies and the manner in which His disciples are supposed to follow Him. In turning the other cheek, in going the extra mile, even when something has been unfairly asked of us and in blessing our enemies we learn to fight like our King who laid down His own life at the hands of His enemies, knowing that His death would be the very thing that would make life (in Him) accessible to them.

What Paul is sharing in Romans 12 is that rather than getting one over your enemies, we can win them over by doing good. The verse that follows the burning coals one says, “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” This is not an easy teaching to follow, it is foolishness to the natural mind because to the world you will look like you are losing, when you are wronged and retaliate with kindness, when you are persecuted and respond with forgiveness and when you are taken advantage of but counter with service you are heaping burning coals on your enemies heads, not that they might be destroyed but that they might find life through the testimony of self sacrificial love shared with them.

Friday, 11 December 2015

2 views on power

This short thought is directly linked to my last post on the Lamb of Revelation. One of the images displays how the world sees and understands power while the other shows how God and the early church understood it. One relies on force and coercion while the other relies on self sacrificial love and 'overcomes evil by doing good'. I think that the modern church to a large degree tries to balance both views, when plan A does not work we move on to plan B. In future posts I intend to explore the idea that the two views are mutually exclusive and to be honest there are a lot of holes in my understanding on this still. There are so many "but what about.." verses that I need to reconcile with the revelation of who Jesus is still. These posts will be me fleshing out my thoughts rather than teaching the way things are. But for now I will leave you with the verse below in case you were still wondering which image the early church associated with the power of God.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Jesus, the same yesterday, today and until Revelation…?

About a month back I saw a picture similar to the one above on Facebook. I think the exact words on the picture read, “The first time he came as a lamb but this time he is coming back as a lion.” The meme had almost a thousand likes and just under a hundred comments, every single one of those comments was supportive and affirming of the slogan. The idea of course is taken from Revelation 5:5 which speaks of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who alone is worthy to open the scroll that was “in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne”.

But the popular perception of Jesus in the book of Revelation goes far beyond that of Him being the Lion of Judah. Most people believe that the meek and humble Jesus of the Gospels who turned the other cheek, who loved His enemies and taught His followers to do likewise is now long gone. The Jesus of Revelation has run out of patience, His wrath has boiled over and the One who once told Peter that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” will Himself now be waving one around chopping heads off much like the katana-wielding Michonne on the Walking Dead TV series likes to do. So what gives? Is Jesus Christ in fact the same yesterday, today and forever as Hebrews 13:8 tells us He is or is it possible that we may have missed something in what John was trying to tell us?

Now I am not denying that Christ’s first and second comings will accomplish different things or that it will not be a terrible day for those who have rejected Him when He returns. Likewise, the wrath of God and the destruction of the wicked are both clearly taught in scripture (although I think both are also often misunderstood as well). So how do we reconcile these things with the teachings and example given to us by Jesus Himself? I think the best way to do that is to look beyond the one verse in Revelation and put it in its larger context within the letter.

Firstly, Jesus is indeed the Lion of Judah, all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him; the demons and even the wind and sea obey Him. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords but the question needs to still be asked then, how does this King rule and overcome and what does His power look like? John tells us in the very next verse, of this lion he says:-

Then I saw a lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders.

The chapter carries on and tells us that the elders and four living beings sing a song to the Lamb, the words mention things like, “You were worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered and your blood has ransomed people for God…Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered…Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever”.

Funny enough, Revelation only mentions Jesus as the Lion once, immediately after that and continuing on through the rest of the book, 32 times I counted, He is referred to as the Lamb or the Lamb that was slain. The picture at the top of this article seems to kind of miss that point doesn't it? Picture this for a moment, a lion, a real king of the jungle type lion allowing itself to killed and eaten by a common household kitten. It sounds ridiculous but this is somewhat comparable to what Jesus did when He allowed Himself to be crucified and this is ultimately how He overcame sin, Satan and death, Paul said it this way in his letter to the Corinthians:-

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18

Paul says that the early church understood the power of God was revealed in Jesus laying down His life. This is how He overcame evil, not by doing evil Himself but by doing good. This is the same Jesus in Revelation 19 who rides into battle with a robe dipped not in the blood of His enemies but in His own blood which was given for them. Similarly, the Prince of Peace has a sword not in His hand but rather in His mouth, implying that the weapon He fights with is the truth which He speaks.

It’s important to remember that the people John was writing to were facing severe persecution at the hands of Rome. John was reminding and encouraging them of how Jesus overcame and of the reward that they would have by following Him, “he who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25):-

And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. – Revelation 12:11

Let us not forget that the book of Revelation itself tells us that it is “a Revelation from Jesus Christ which God gave to show His servants the events that must soon take place (1:1)”. The book, much like Hebrews is meant to encourage us to endure suffering and keep faithful unto the end.

2000 years ago when Jesus appeared people were expecting a warrior Messiah who was going to overthrow their enemies and establish Gods kingdom on earth through the same militaristic strategies that the empires of the world use (force and coercion). Of course, He succeeded in His mission but pretty much everyone was completely caught off guard by the manner in which He achieved His purposes. Oftentimes I wonder if the church is falling into the same trap that the Israelites did. Yes, the King is coming, wrath will fall on those who war against Him and evil will be done away with but how this will transpire might just look different than we have imagined it to. These are topics for future posts which I hope to explore.

Thanks for reading.  

Sunday, 22 November 2015

5 ways punk rock prepared me for following Jesus

As a kid skateboarding and punk rock were the first real things I was ever passionate about. I remember watching the movie Thrashin’ over and over again when I was probably only nine or ten years old. I remember hearing the Circle Jerks song ‘Wild in the streets’ in one of the scenes and thinking to myself that it was the best music I had ever heard and by the time that I was 16/17 years old I was playing in bands of my own, I found in the scene an expressive outlet and a community of like minded people which helped me through that awkward phase of life.

Now that I am older, my music taste has broadened substantially but I occasionally still like to pull out some of the old stuff and give it a listen. There is something timeless in the spirit of punk that still appeals to me and I recognize how it relates to my faith journey as well. below are some of the ways that I think my punk past prepared me to be a follower of Christ.

1 – Punk rock was never cool

Back in the mid to late nineties, long before the bands were getting radio play, it was the uncool, misfit kids who listened to punk. You were never going to get in with the popular kids at school and you really didn’t want to anyway. Neither were we going to play to massive crowds and sell tons of CD’s despite all of the hard work that went in to writing and performing music. Punk was in a musical sense the path less traveled. Nevertheless, it taught me to be content with and even embrace our status as a peculiar people and to stick with my convictions rather than try to be a people pleaser.

While it is hard to identify much of what flies under the banner of Christianity nowadays with the narrow road, actually trying to follow Jesus is still very much the path less traveled. Every time we speak out against injustice, every time we love our enemy or feed a hungry person and every time that we suggest an alternative to what mainstream Christianity advocates we look peculiar to those around us. The second punk rock became about selling more records and being cool, clean and comfortable everything changed, the music and message was watered down to tickles our ears, many bands flying under the punk label are making a lot of money nowadays but the old school guys will find absolutely nothing in it that they can relate to. I sometimes wonder, apart from the name, how much the New Testament Church would have been able to relate to our modern churches and the lifestyles that go with them. We have become rich, successful and likable and it makes me uncomfortable.
2 – Punk rock taught me about community

In South Africa there were about 10-15 bands that were constantly playing together to the same crowd of people week in and week out. We became one big happy family. If we toured to the coast we stayed on other bands couches and then we would return the favor when they came up to Johannesburg. There were no backstage areas anywhere that we played; we hung out with our friends in the crowd. We learned tolerance and recognized that the diversity found within only made us stronger and less susceptible to becoming too narrow minded. Without working together the scene would have folded before it had begun.

And so it is with the church; if you speak with anyone long enough who has spent any significant time studying the scriptures you are soon going to find a few things that you will disagree on. Immature believers and those that seek after power are willing to divide over the smallest of things. While there are circumstances that may require separating from others (such as unrepentant sin or those who are preaching a different gospel) we need to recognize that there is strength in unity. Christ works through the ‘one anothering’ in His church. We teach, we exhort, we pray for, we rebuke, we strengthen, we support, we give, we fellowship with, we send out and we love one another. A Christian without community is like a band without instruments, a stage and an audience.

3 – Punk rock helped shape my theology

This might sound ridiculous at first but it really did! I remember having a One Bad Pig tape (let’s hear it for cassettes, walkmans and fanny packs!) as a young kid. Listening to songs like ‘GodArchy’ left an impression on me as a young kid; while everyone else was singing about dancing on the ceiling, pouring sugar on themselves, getting dressed for success and chameleons; punk musicians tended to sing about deeper social issues like racism, greedy politicians and religion. Some of it, maybe even most of it was just angry kids venting their frustration but the point is that it was music that oftentimes encouraged deeper thought and a call to action.

Later on some of those bands like Praiser and Showbread ended up pointing me toward Anabaptist literature which gave me a different (and in my opinion more Christlike) perspective than I had previously been exposed to. Radical ideas like loving ones enemies, having no other gods and non-violent resistance (overcoming evil by doing good) were treated as ideas that Jesus was actually serious about us following. Some of those lyric sheets ring more true than the majority of sermon notes floating around today.  

                                                 Showbread - T shirt with lyrics from the song 'Anarchy'

4 – Punk rock began to suck when it became commercialized.

Punk is unique in the sense that unlike other styles of music, it was never meant to appeal to a larger audience. There was always a DIY ethic there where the artists aimed at keeping as much control over their art as possible. Some indie labels did pop up to help people get their stuff recorded and out there but it was always at a hands on, roots level. As I mentioned in point 1, as soon as big labels started signing punk bands up they had to polish up the product as well. They were never going to make money out of the Gorilla Biscuits or the Subhumans but they could sell a lot of Fall Out Boy and Good Charlotte records. I mean no disrespect to those artists but the point is that in reaching a larger audience and gaining mainstream acceptance punk rock had to give up its very soul.

                                      The Subhumans

The church is exactly the same. The early church was just a bunch of common folk; there were few wise, mighty and noble people counted among them and yet they somehow managed to turn the world they lived in upside down. There were no big productions, just simple gatherings in peoples homes. To gain Christ meant to lay everything else down at the cross. The institutionalization of Christianity was in many similar to the commercialization of punk rock. It became safe and nice, even fashionable and profitable but it came at a cost. With the power of the state behind it the Holy Spirit took a back seat and governance fell into the hands of a few select people. The outcast became the trend setter and its inner beauty was replaced with outward extravagance and apparel. To the old time purist, they took something true and made it ugly.

Organic expressions of the church have existed throughout the ages but they have always being met with derision and that’s okay. It’s kind of what Jesus told us to expect anyway. If history has taught us anything it is that the majority are generally wrong anyway.

5 – Punk rock was raw  

I just used the word organic and it is a good word to describe the church. Any good music should spring forth from the depths of a man’s soul and you will know it by the way that it smacks you in the gut when you hear it. Church should happen when Christ is expressed through the corporate life of a gathering of saints; it cannot be imitated through a repeatable program led by professional orators week after week. There may be some good organic moments experienced in those meetings but they are oftentimes extinguished because the show needs to proceed and remain on schedule. CD’s are predictable, you know the order of the songs and all of the mistakes have been edited out in production but they never quite capture the energy of seeing those same bands play live. Church should not be over produced like a good CD. It should be a place where we are allowed to fail and take our masks off. Maybe it has lost its appeal to the younger generation because they do not feel like they can live up to the standard they see on a Sunday morning. The big smiles, the well prepared and great sounding bands and the five point sermons that make up a typical service; or maybe they see through it all and just crave to see something as messy as they themselves are. It’s not that we glory in our brokenness (or limited musicianship) but that we do not pretend to be something we are not.  

Bonus thought – Anyone can play in a punk band

I love all kinds of music from country, blue grass and folk to ska and even symphonic metal. I wish that I could have started a ska band at some point in the past or have learned to play the piano, banjo and cello but when it comes down to it I am just not a very good musician. Fortunately for me punk rock pretty much required 3 chords and a distortion pedal and I was good to go. It’s not for professionals only and as one band said, “that’s the best thing about punk rock, anyone can get on the stage”. Following Christ is similar in that there are no spectators in the church, we are all brothers and each one has something to offer. If Christ is in you then you are a priest, qualified and capable to serve in whatever manner He has called you to.

Oi to the world.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Does Hebrews 9:22 teach that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood?

Throughout history people have sought to appease the wrath of their gods through sacrifice. If it does not want to rain, throw a virgin in a volcano or slit someone’s throat. You need a blessing or desire prosperity? Maybe you need to sacrifice your firstborn to the gods…Yet despite the overwhelming testimony of scripture that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not like any other god, somehow this pagan mindset has slowly infiltrated and infected our understanding of the purpose behind the death of Christ and we (the western church) have come to believe that Jesus’ death was all about satisfying the wrath of God or that God needed to be appeased and someone had to be sacrificed for His wrath to be quenched.

But before I go down the rabbit hole that is penal substitution, let me get back to the topic of this post which is Hebrews 9:22 which says this:-

“According to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no remission.”

Immediately when reading this, one realizes that we tend to delete and add a few things subconsciously to the text; most people would simply leave out the first part, change a few words in the middle and add a few more at the end interpreting it as, “Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins.”    

So was God really harboring unforgiveness in His heart and did He need to sacrifice His own Son in order to stomach the site of you and I? Well, let’s backtrack a bit right to the beginning of the letter in chapter 1 verse 3 where we read that Jesus is the exact image of God and He reveals to us exactly what our Father is like. I mention the likeness of Father and Son because Jesus had no qualms about going around and freely forgiving people when He walked the earth, something which upset the religious authorities because they believed that only God Himself could forgive people of their sins (Mark 2:7-8). Even when Jesus hung on the cross He could say, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing”. So are we to believe that Jesus was simply better at practicing 1 Corinthians 13:5 than His Father was? Of course not, all throughout the Old Testament we can see that God was able to forgive without the need to kill someone off first. Here are a few examples:-

The LORD (Yaweh) is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.  – Numbers 14:18

But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. – Nehemiah 9:17

Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all. – Psalm 65:3

Their hearts were not loyal to him. They did not keep his covenant. Yet he was merciful and forgave their sins and did not destroy them all.” – Psalm 78:37-38

O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. – Psalm 86:5

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases –Psalm 102:3

Interestingly, Hebrews 9:22 also reveals that “almost all things are purified by blood”. Under the Old Covenant forgiveness could also be obtained using, among other things, water (Leviticus 15:16-17), oil (Leviticus 14:29) and even flour (Leviticus 5:11-13). And the most interesting thing of all is that all of the sacrifices and offerings mentioned in the law were for unintentional sins only (see Leviticus 4 and 5 and Hebrews 9:7). That means that even under the old covenant people had to rely on God’s grace and mercy to find pardon for their wrong doings (just like you and I do).

So clearly God can freely forgive without needing some sort of retribution but it still leaves us with the words in Hebrews 9:22 and how we should correctly understand them. If we go back to verse 21, we see that the context is that in the tabernacle the religious items were cleansed with blood and the preceding verse (20) says that “the blood confirms the covenant God has made”. In the Hebrew mind, blood did not symbolize death as we think of it but rather it was associated with life (Leviticus 17:11). The blood therefore had to do with cleansing which is important because the Greek word  aphesis which in some bible versions gets translated as forgiveness does not mean ‘pardon’ as we may be lead to believe but rather it has to do with ‘a release from bondage’. This idea of cleansing, purifying or the taking away of sin is found all throughout this portion of Hebrews (see chapter 9:13, 14, 26, 28 and chapter 10:4, 10, 11 and 18).

Blood is absolutely vital

So if God didn’t need Jesus to die so that He could bring Himself to forgive us, the next question would be why then was Christ’s death necessary? The short and simple answer here is that the death of Christ was necessary to overcome sin, Satan, death and the law. The blood ushered in a new covenant (Matthew 26:28) and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Without the shedding of blood, there can be no release from the bondage of sin and death. On the cross Christ conquered both and not only are we then pardoned for our transgressions but we are also freed from the very power that they hold over us. In other words, the blood (life) of Christ empowers us to break free from the chains of sin and the consequences thereof (Romans 6:23).

Friday, 16 October 2015

Why Jesus is NOT the name above all names.

The title of this post may have caught a few people off guard; everyone knows that God has given Jesus the name above all other names and I wholeheartedly agree. Philippians 2:9-10 says the following:-

"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth...."

Nevertheless I stand by what I said in the title of this post but before the torches and pitchforks come out please hear me out. Perhaps I should start off by saying that although I think Paul’s words have been misunderstood by many, I think that we all can agree that God has given this special name that is above all other names to Jesus. The question therefore is not meant to cause doubt as to whom Jesus is but as will be revealed later, point us to the deeper revelation that Paul was trying to convey in his letter. Secondly, I would also like to state that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in Jesus’ name (Luke 24:47), our identification in baptism is with Jesus (Acts 2:38) and there is certainly power and authority “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 3:6). Jesus is the anointed one of God, He is our Savior and King and so much more; I affirm all of that 100 percent and have no qualms about using His name. So let’s get back to what Paul was saying in Philippians 2 then and why it is important but instead of starting there we are going to have to backtrack a bit first into the Old Testament. Let's start with Isaiah:-

I am the LORD, that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another – Isaiah 42:8

God’s name was and is so special and holy to the Jews that they would not even say it or write it out, the name Yahweh in scripture gets substituted with the word LORD in capital letters, some people like to write G-d as well these days. Of course this is an incredibly simplistic version of a longer story behind the name of God but the point and my proposition is this, that the name above all names in scripture is Yahweh or YHWH if you prefer. Consider some of the scriptures below:-

O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. – Psalm 34:3

Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise! You are the Lord God. – Nehemiah 9:5-6

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and the heaven. – Psalm 148: 13

Even Jesus got in on this in Matthew 6:9 where in the ‘Lord’s prayer’ He says “Hallowed be Your name" which is a fancy way of saying your name alone is holy, consecrated or set apart. There is indeed one name under heaven by which men are saved (Acts 4:12) and indeed, the name Y’shua itself tells us that, for it quite literally means “Yahweh is salvation”.

Yahweh's name given to Jesus

We already know from Isaiah 42:8 what God’s name is and that He will not share His glory with another. So consider the implications of John's words in chapter 17:11 of his gospel:-

"I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are."

This is the same Jesus of whom God said “My name is in Him” (Exodus 23:21). It is the same Jesus whom the Psalmist speaks of when he said, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord (Psalm 118:26)."

This Jesus who died and rose again “has by inheritance obtained a name more excellent than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4), so that God could say to Him, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8). Do you see how incredible Paul’s statement in Philippians 2 really is? He is not saying that God has simply honored Jesus’ birth name and put it on a pedestal. There are a ton of people named Jesus running around Mexico right now as well as plenty of Joshua’s right here where I live (Joshua and Jesus both come from Yeshua, they were just changed in our bibles to avoid possible confusion).

Rather, God has given Jesus His own name, meaning that Jesus is not just Lord but that He is LORD! He is wholly God along with the Father and together they are two thirds of the Trinity*. Jesus is everything we can comprehend and more.

*On a related but side note, the Holy Spirit is also called Yahweh in scripture (Corinthians 3:17). A friend pointed out to me after reading the original draft of this article that this is why we baptize people in the Name (singular rather than plural) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Monday, 28 September 2015

An open letter to those who were left behind.

If you are reading this then you are one of the many who was not raptured today after the much anticipated blood moon which was seen all over the world. Even John Hagee himself is still around so I am drawn to one of two possible conclusions as I try to make sense of all of this. The first option available to us is that Jesus did in fact return as predicted but never found faith on earth (Luke 18:8). The second and more probable thing which we might want to consider is that perhaps we need to rethink our theology and the teachers we are following a little bit. Because while I personally was not among those who expected something big to happen today; I realize now that I was wrong as well because September 28th has indeed left some major debris in its wake.

It may not be the carnage of planes falling from the skies and vehicles without drivers suddenly smashing into other cars and people when the drivers were being caught up into the clouds. Rather, lives have been spiritually damaged. Those who scoff at Christianity are laughing and mocking something that should never have been associated with Christ in the first place. Those young believers who lack wisdom and maturity may be disillusioned and their faith might even be in jeopardy as a result of our irresponsible handling of the scriptures. Even worse than the first two groups, I suspect that those who are always posting conspiracy related religiously based articles will be only be more hardened and stubborn after today’s events or lack thereof than ever. While I am highly suspicious of psychology I am a firm believer that what is known as the ‘backfire effect’ is 100% real. If you are unfamiliar with it, it refers to people who, when given clear evidence against something which they strongly affirm to be true, will usually end up rejecting the evidence and actually persist in holding to their beliefs more vehemently than ever. I suspect that John Hagee will be back and that his next end time book will be a best seller as well.

So here is my message to everyone who has been left behind. To those who have dabbled in doomsday scenarios, I pray that you will consider the ramifications of doing so in the future. We represent the One who called Himself ‘The Truth’, don’t we owe it to Him to proclaim only what is true? Avoid conspiracies and people who say, “Look, he is in the desert” or “Look, he is in the inner rooms!”, do not believe them (Matthew 24:26). I don’t know how many pictures of the blood moon I saw today with Joel 2:31 written under it. The fact that Peter quotes this passage in Acts 2:20 and then tells the listening crowd that this was being fulfilled (on Pentecost 2000 years ago) before their very eyes (Acts 2:16) seems to be completely lost on everyone. Please, please, please, let us be more responsible with how we handle scripture, if a proof text leads into error, it is not pointing people to Christ but in the very opposite direction!

Then to those who think these types of prophecies are silly and I am speaking to myself now as well, I ask that we be equally careful. Instead of mocking people, try praying for them. It was not that long ago that I too was reading the “Left Behind” series and other books with similar eschatological leanings. If I had been ridiculed for holding those beliefs, I probably would have resorted to the ‘backfire effect’ and dug my heels in myself, putting the mockery down to ‘persecution’. Instead, I was shown Christ, grace and love and when our eyes are fixed on Jesus we tend to be less interested in the doctrines and opinions of men. This can be a starting point for people in a positive sense if we can correct in humility and gentleness.

At the end of the day, not much has changed and we still have a gospel to proclaim. The gospel is not, “the moon is red” or “the pope is in America” or “Israel has a right to exist”, these are just things, current events and topics of interest at the moment. We have a King to tell people of and a Kingdom to invite them into and the date is incredibly flexible for those who want to enter in.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Was Paul defeated by sin in Romans 7?

For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” – Paul

Many a Christian has found comfort in the words above which form part of Romans 7:15. Even those whose lives have been hugely transformed in Christ are still prone to experiencing moments of selfishness and weakness. We all know what it is like to go before God and say, “I messed up again and I’m sorry”. But while each one of us experiences failure along the way I don’t think that this is the confession from Paul that most of us think that it is. Allow me to expound on why I think that Romans 7:15 has been read out of its context and in doing so we have completely undermined everything that Paul was trying to say in chapters 5 through 8.

Firstly, I think that the most popular modern theory of the atonement incorrectly focuses on God’s wrath poured out on the Son rather than on God’s victory through Christ where He defeated, among other things, sin, Satan and death. Regarding the atoning work of the cross, one of the main points emphasized by the New Testament writers is that we are not just forgiven of our iniquities in Christ but that we have been freed from the power that it had over us (see Matthew 1:21, Romans 6:1-8, Galatians 5:24, Colossians 2:11-15, Hebrews 1:3, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 1:7 and 3:4-6). Romans 6:6 is probably where we see this most clearly taught in scripture.

Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

Romans 6 ends off with the glorious revelation that having been set free from sin, that in Christ, we may bear fruit to holiness and obtain everlasting life (verse 22). So does Paul start backtracking in chapter 7 or are we missing something? I believe that it is the latter. In Romans 7, Paul addresses the role of the law in revealing our total inability to live righteously in our own strength. Verse 5 says:-

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.

Then in verse 6 he switches to the post conversion experience when he says:-

But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

This is critical in understanding where Paul goes from here in his argument because we see verse 5 expounded on in verse 14 onwards and then verse 6 is elaborated on from chapter 8 verses 1 through to 11.

Chapter 7:14-25

I am carnal, sold under sin

This section clearly does not refer to one who is redeemed from sin, it is not speaking of someone who sometimes struggles with sin or occasionally stumbles but rather someone who is totally defeated and a slave to the flesh (verses 15, 18 & 23), it speaks of one who has no victory in overcoming evil (verse 19).

Chapter 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit… 

Notice the word ‘now’ in chapter 8 verse 1; Chapter 8 moves us from the past that Paul described (probably from his personal experience as a frustrated pre-converted Jew) and into the present, he cannot be speaking of carnal Christianity in chapter 7:15; chapter 8:7-9 should make it abundantly clear:-

…the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 

Paul’s main argument

Looking at the chiastic structure of Romans 5-8 (which I have placed below) we are aided in seeing that the  main point that Paul is trying to make is that we have died to the law that we might be married to Christ who is our eternal life, the one in whom we find victory over sin. This is illustrated right at the beginning of chapter 7 using an illustration of a man and a woman who were married:-

Or do you not know brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For a woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband…therefore my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another-to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. – Romans 7:1-4

In conclusion, when Paul speaks of doing the things that he does not want to do, he is not speaking as one who is born again but still prone to failure and frustration. Though we all experience our fair share of that, Paul is in fact saying quite the opposite, we are no longer slaves to sin and it no longer holds us in its power as it once did. Under the law we experienced the frustration that Paul spoke of in Romans 7:15 but in Christ, we experience the freedom from sin spoken of in Romans 6:6.

Chiastic structure of Romans 5-8

5:1-11 Confidence of future glory
        5:12-23 Life through Christ
                6:1-23 Sin can't hold us back. We died to sin.
                7:1-25 The law can’t hold us back. We died to the law.
        8:1-17 Life through the Spirit
8:18-39 Confidence of future glory

PS - I found this chiasm over at the ntromans blogspot, go check it out over here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Third Baptism of Believers

Depending on your Christian upbringing, there were more than likely one or two baptisms that were emphasized to you while you were growing up. The more conservative churches would have emphasized water baptism either as infants or upon ones personal confession as an adult. If your upbringing was more on the Pentecostal/Charismatic side of things, then you no doubt would have heard a lot about the baptism of the Holy Spirit as well. Yet there are few who ever speak about the third baptism which scripture speaks of which will be the topic of this post, oftentimes referred to as the baptism of fire.

Just as it is with the first two, there is much disagreement about what the baptism of fire actually refers to. Some believe it speaks of Pentecost and the ‘tongues as of fire’ which came down on the 120. Others believe that the fire refers to judgment which is perhaps a more convincing theory when one looks at the immediate context of Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 where the surrounding texts speak of judgment and wrath. Yet the one thing that pretty much everyone does agree on when it comes to baptism is that it is all about ones identification with Christ. This is clearly taught in Romans 6-5 which says:-

 Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised for the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.

So if the baptism of fire has something to do with our identification with Christ then judgment from Christ does not seem to be the right answer either. So what other options are there? We know that Christ was baptized in water by John and we know that the Spirit came upon Him immediately after, Then a voice came from heaven which said, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (That is identification – Luke 3:22). So is there another baptism that scripture speaks of that we can look for? Yes there is!

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able”. So “Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized.” – Mark 10:35-39

If you know how the story ends then you know that Jesus is talking here about suffering, persecution and even death. In Luke 12:50 we see it again.

“But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished.”

 Baptism is not just a symbol of imputed righteousness, having Christ’s righteousness credited to us. The outward witness or testimony of a life truly laid down and raised up in Christ is that it will reflect Christ’s own walk. That is not to say that everyone will be killed for their faith but it does mean that, to varying degrees, we will all be hated by the world (and sometimes the religious authorities), tempted as Christ was and acquainted with grief and sorrows. These are the promises of Matthew 10:22 and 2 Timothy 3:12.

When Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, He said to him who had being persecuting the church, “Why are you persecuting Me (Acts 9:4)?” There is a union between Christ and the Church which we do not fully comprehend; though the early saints had their finger on it.

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. – Acts 5:41

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. – Romans 8:16-17.

…and not in any way be terrified by your adversaries, which to them is a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation. – Philippians 1:28

Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. – Philippians 3:8-10

After I had been meditating on these things a few nights ago I came across another portion of scripture as if with new eyes:-

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. 
 And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.  He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.  And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

Christ’s call to the Christian is not merely to believe in Him but to pick up his cross and follow Him. You may bear lighter scars than your brothers in different parts of the world but make no mistake; all who wish to follow Him will experience valleys, losses, trials and temptation along the way but for the sake of your inheritance, you will learn to be content and even joyful in all things.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Refugees like Jesus

It has been nearly 3 weeks since the photos of little Aylan Kurdi made world headlines after he, along with his mother, older brother and several others, drowned at sea when a boat carrying them from Turkey to Greece capsized in rough waters. By now, at least for those of us living outside of Europe, the shocking images have somewhat faded away as both time and the demands of daily life have distracted us from the hell that others are currently going through on the other side of the world. Facebook is once again filled with pictures of hamburger dinners, minion memes, ‘share this if you are not ashamed of Jesus’ and ‘like this if you have an awesome son or daughter’ pictures.

Nevertheless, in between all of this, if you follow the right people and pages, both the news and social media have still continued reporting on the refugee crisis. We have heard some of the personal stories of those who are fleeing, we have seeing how certain countries have taken a hard stance in saying “no more” and then we have also read inspirational stories of ordinary people opening their homes up to refugees or providing food, water and clothing to those in need. This post however is more concerned with the Christian response to the crisis, particularly those on the right who have shown a lack of love and biblical ignorance in how we are to treat ‘outsiders’.

So my goal today is simply to point out what the bible has to say about foreigners and refugees and how we should treat them and then I want to challenge people to take these commands more seriously. It is worth pointing out to the local readers here in SA that we too have a large number of foreigners among us and because of our xenophobic history this post is just as applicable here as it would be to those in the U.K., Iceland or Hungary. So let’s have a look at a few verses:-

Do no neglect to show hospitality to strangers… - Hebrews 13:2

So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:19

Thus says the Lord: “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless or the widow… - Jeremiah 22:3

You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21

You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. - Exodus 23:9

So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. – Malachi 3:5

You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe a foreigner resides, there you are to give them their inheritance, declares the Sovereign LORD. – Ezekiel 47:21-23

The thoughts in the Old Testament carry over into the New Testament as well. Jesus and his parents, like Israel before them, were foreigners in the land of Egypt, forced to flee as refugees when Herod ordered the execution of all male children in Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2:13-18). This is the same Jesus who later told us that the greatest of all the commandments was to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). He then goes on to explain who our neighbor is, the parable of the good Samaritan reveals that our neighbor is not defined by those who share our ethnicity, our citizenship, our common beliefs or even our religion. No, our neighbor looks like the Syrian, the Iraqi, the Zambian and the Zimbabwean.

The bible seems to have an awful lot to say on the subject and its teachings are pretty consistent and clear, yet this does not sit well with many of us. Perhaps it stems out of fear which is a reasonable response when ones feels that their life and freedom is being threatened. Maybe it is our instinct to look out for number one and when push comes to shove we are just not comfortable sacrificing our own comforts for the sake of others. We are happy to help so long as it does not cost us anything. Many fear that terrorists are secretly infiltrating Europe under the guise of helpless victims of war. Perhaps this is a good place for me to put in a picture of what these ‘soldiers’ look like.

As followers of Christ, we are not called to follow the ways of the world. We overcome in the same way that our Lord did, by laying down our own lives (Revelation 12:11). As followers of Christ, we are commanded to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate and persecute us (Matthew 5:44). The sad thing is that these people are not even our enemies. They are fleeing from the same people who would love to destroy us as well.

The law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).

Evil abounds in our world and it will not be overcome by building up our walls or closing up our borders. It may work for earthly kingdoms or if our goal is self preservation but for those under Christ’s Lordship, evil is conquered by doing good (Romans 12:21). Victory is not defined by being the last man standing but in persevering in Christ.

If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. – Proverbs 25:21

This article is part of a September Synchro-Blog on the Middle-Eastern Refugee Crisis.  Read more MennoNerdy articles on the topic by clicking over here.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Things that will surprise you in the Mosaic Law

A while back I wrote a post on whether or not Christians should be keeping the Mosaic Law. It is an interesting topic for me as many of my friends and acquaintances would answer that question in the affirmative. For whatever reason the Hebraic Roots Movement has taken off and is growing at a rapid pace in South Africa. Pretoria is actually home to the largest formal messianic educational institute in the world and I have heard it said (but cannot officially confirm) that South Africa is at the forefront of this movement. Unfortunately, I have not had the time to study this topic as much as I would have liked and so my views remain pretty much where they were in my previous article. I have however managed to spend some time going through the actual 613 laws that are contained within the Torah.  What I found was rather surprising and so I thought that I would share those findings here as well as sharing some reflections on them at the end.

To be clear, let me start by saying that I do believe that the Law was from God and while I may not always understand it, I accept that it accurately reflected Gods commands to the Jewish people from the time of Moses until Jesus. Most of what is contained therein makes sense and is good but as the title of this posts suggests, there are some exceptions in there that stick out like a sore thumb. I have split those laws into three categories below, the ones that are weird, the ones that are just plain disturbing and then the ones that people, even those in the Hebrew Roots Movement, don’t seem to be following.  

The weird

These laws I can only assume have some significance in being shadows of things that were to come in Christ. One example would be that it was (or is) prohibited that you would wear an item of clothing that is made from two different materials like having wool mixed with linen (Deuteronomy 22:11). Another one only applies to the Nazarites but is equally bizarre; the Nazarites are not allowed to eat raisins or anything else made from grapes like juice or wine (Numbers 6:3). That however is nothing compared to Leviticus 21:20 which says that hunchbacks and dwarves are prohibited from making offerings to God. Similarly, anyone unfortunate enough to have had his testicles crushed suffered similar exclusion and was not allowed to enter the assembly of God (Deuteronomy 23:1 – read the KJV for the funniest translation of this verse).

Then there are a few laws where you have to wonder what had to first transpire that it was deemed necessary to make these rules in the first place. Did someone actually boil a young goat in its mother’s milk triggering Exodus 23:19 to be added to the list? Or did two men one day get into a fight and the wife of one of them grabbed a guy by the testicles to try and help her husband out prompting Deuteronomy 25:11-12 (which has a rather extreme punishment tied to it) to be written?


Some of the laws are just hard for the 21st century mind to even consider; they are nothing short of horrific and unthinkable and seem more suited to groups like ISIS than followers of Christ. Let’s start off small and work our way up. The Israelite's were not to make loans carrying interest to fellow countrymen (Leviticus 25:37) but at the same time it was mandatory to charge interest to aliens (Deuteronomy 23:21). Numbers 5:11-31 contains instructions on how to deal with a wife whom one suspects of being unfaithful. To summarize what it says, you take her to the priest who would make her drink water mixed with dirt from the temple floor; the priest would then write a curse in a book and scrape it off into the drink and if the woman was indeed guilty on drinking the concoction her “thigh would rot and her belly would swell”. Can we even go downhill from there? Unfortunately yes, "if a man beats his male servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property" (Exodus 21:20-21). According to Leviticus 25:45-46, you can “buy the children of the strangers among you” and “they will become your property”.

There are several other laws that are totally incompatible with one who calls himself a follower of Christ; Deuteronomy 13:13-17 commands that you slay the inhabitants of a city that has fallen into idolatry. Then Exodus 21:20, Leviticus 20:10, 14 and 26:25 tell us that the Court shall pronounce the death sentence for certain crimes by various methods which include decapitation and burning with fire. The last two that I will mention here concern parents and their own children. Leviticus 20:9 says that anyone who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death (which would account for every teenager in the world at some stage I think) and then Leviticus 21:9 tells us that if a daughter of a priest plays the harlot she should be burned alive. Unfortunately the list goes on a little longer, some other laws that fall into the ‘uncomfortable’ category can be found in Deuteronomy 20:16, 21:14, 23:7 and 25:19.

Laws that you probably are not keeping

 Religion tends toward selective reading; many in the Hebrew Roots Movement have taken to wearing tzitzit’s as commanded in Numbers 15:38 but for some reason the tefillin’s do not seem to have caught on (see Deuteronomy 6:8) among the same people. Similarly, many Christians like to quote Leviticus 19:28 in condemning tattoos but very few seem to take the command to “not shave around the sides of your head or disfigure the edges of your beard” in the verse hat precedes it equally seriously. Then while many of us have a certain time in the morning or evening when we like to set some time aside to read the bible, how many of us have obeyed the command to religiously do both morning and evening readings (Deuteronomy 6:7)? To take it a step further, how many of us have made hand written scrolls of the Torah which we have written out (Deuteronomy 31:19)? How many people choose to dwell in booths for seven days during Sukkot (Leviticus 23:42)? If you have any ornaments in your house you are breaking Exodus 20:4 and if you pray before your meals you are breaking the law which is stated in Deuteronomy 8:10 which says that a prayer of thanks should be given after the meal. Lastly, the tithe mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:26 should be spent on yourself and your family, sharing whatever food and drink your heart desires.

tzitzit                      tefellin

Final thoughts

I cannot call this a conclusion as it is an ongoing thought process for me, as a Christian I have a high regard for scripture and so I sincerely have a hard time accepting some of the things mentioned above that come out of the law. As highly as I view scripture, I regard Christ to be infinitely higher; He is my Bread, my Truth, my Way, my Word and my Authority. It is Him who the scriptures testify of and so when I see something that seems contrary to the Jesus that we see in the gospels, I have to follow the greater command of love that He demonstrated for us. In Jesus, I see someone who does not take lives but lays down His own life for others. In Jesus, I see someone who calls for enemy love rather than enemy slaying. It should not escape our attention that the Jesus who completely fulfilled the law is the same Jesus who touched dead people and rescued a woman who was about to be stoned when the law demanded her life.

Our minds should not be as concerned with the carrying out of religious tasks as much as it should be fixed on Christ. One can practice law without ever being changed internally. As my online blogging friend Jeremy Myers rightfully said, “By living in love we naturally fulfill the instructions and guidelines of the law. Living according to law is living according to the actions of love where there is no love. Living by law is practicing the actions of love without the attitude of love.” This is the law that is written not on tablets of stone but on hearts of flesh.

To end this off, these are the questions that I would ask of my Hebrew Roots friends (who I must say have all being gracious and accepting toward me and I hope that they can recognize the spirit which this post was written in). I sincerely want to know, if the Mosaic Law has not been done away with and we are still bound by the whole of the written word (as far as it is still possible), then what do you do with the commands like the ones mentioned in this post? Do the Laws of the land override the Law of God (John 18:31)? Relating to the current refugee crisis, would you be okay with people taking the refugee’s children away and forcing them into slavery (Leviticus 25:45-46)? Lastly, regarding the section above on “Laws that you are probably not keeping”, do you recognize them as part of what Torah commands? Is there a reason for not keeping them or are they simply not as widely known as some of the more popular commands like not eating pork and keeping the Sabbath?