Friday, 28 August 2015

John 3:16 from the Sons perspective

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. - John 3:16

It is probably the most widely known verse in the bible; most of us were familiar with it long before we were even capable of reading it for ourselves. So much of our evangelistic programs are built on and around it and for good enough reason. But have you ever read it from Jesus’ perspective? One could be excused for thinking that Jesus may have felt like He was getting the short end of the stick here but that line of reasoning would nevertheless be incorrect.

Modern Christianity is largely blinded to the depth of the love, the complete unity, the single mindedness, the exact likeness, the perichoresis and the shared attributes within the Godhead. I was reading through the book of John recently and when I came to the last verse of chapter 14 my heart just jumped. It reads:-

“But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.”

The context here is chapters 14 through 17 and is sometimes referred to as ‘the Farewell Discourse’. Jesus is speaking to the disciples the evening before He will be crucified. A great deal of the content within the 4 chapters reveals the intimacy found within the Trinity and our glorious inheritance received in Him. “In my Fathers abode there are many dwellings…the Father dwells in Me…I in the Father and the Father in Me…and He will give you another Helper that He may abide in you forever…He dwells with you and will be in you…I will come to you…At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you…We will come to him and make our home in him…Abide in Me…He who abides in Me, and I in him bears much fruit…by this the Father is glorified…As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you, abide in my love” (snippets of chapter 14 and 15).

One should see immediately that Jesus was not talking about inheriting a 5-bedroom mansion up in the sky one day as is so commonly believed. What a pitifully diluted picture of heaven that is... But getting back to that last verse in chapter 14; I was suddenly struck when reading it that it so echoed the words of John 3:16 but from Jesus’ own perspective. What it says and reveals to us about Jesus is this:-

For the Son so loved the Father that He gave Himself, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life; found only in Him.

Short, sweet and amazingly beautiful.    

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Embracing a more holistic view on what it means to be pro-life

This month the Synchroblog which I often participate in is all about what it means to be pro-life. At the end of this post you will be able to click on some links to see how other bloggers tackled the same topic. 

I want to start this off with a quote from Joan Chittister that was part of the prompt that I received for this topic :-

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

While I have no idea who Joan Chittister is, I have to say that I completely agree with her perspective on what it means to be pro-life. While in the popular sense all the term means is that one who is pro-life is opposed to abortion. Yet the word itself suggests a far deeper commitment to something beyond just a person’s right to be born. Consider for a moment some other areas which may reveal just how pro-life we really are.

Pro-life means ALL life.

Many Christians are strongly opposed to abortion yet at the same time they are in favor of capital punishment. I have always felt an uneasiness toward the death penalty even when pastors tried to prove that it was 'biblical'. But when Jesus told us to love our enemies, I am pretty sure that that included not killing them. The one that we claim to follow is the same one who stopped the execution of a woman caught in the act of adultery even though the law demanded her death. To be pro-life means to err on the side of mercy and always hope for the possibility of redemption and restoration for all. I remember several years ago reading Tex Watson’s (a former member of the Manson family) book, “Will you die for me?”. It is the story about how he got caught up with Charles Manson, his participation in all sorts of evil deeds and and how his life turned around in prison. During his trial he was sentenced to death for his participation in several murders (although the state laws were changed before his execution). While in prison he later came to know Christ and make some sort of a life for himself from within the walls again. But it makes you wonder just how many people never had the opportunity he did because justice (execution) was dealt out more swiftly? 

If true life is found in Christ then as far as I am concerned to seek the death of one’s enemies, whether it is by the electric chair or on the battle field in some war is to commit an act of spiritual abortion. To end a life prematurely is to rob someone of the possibility of redemption.

Pro-life includes the middle and end bits of life.

The bible has much to say about the poor, the downcast, widows and orphans. It is clear that God cares about the quality of life that we have and this was reflected in Christ’s ministry which included healing people of their afflictions and helping them out of the pits that they found themselves in. So it should be natural to us as Christ followers to be concerned with people’s needs beyond the maternity ward. Food, clean drinking water, healthcare and education for all are just some of the more obvious areas that should all fall under the pro-life umbrella. Each person should be allowed to live with dignity and have their basic needs met.

Pro-lifers should not oppress others.

In my part of the world issues like racism and xenophobia are still major problems that we are trying to deal with. The bible has much to say about how we treat foreigners, the Israelite's were foreigners in the land of Egypt as was Jesus Himself and so when the shoe landed on the other foot they were commanded not to oppress the strangers in their land (Exodus 22:21). Many people over the world are denied certain rights simply because of their sex, race or nationality. Rather than protecting our positions of privilege we should, wherever possible, be advocating for others and giving a voice to those who have none. 

This is only a start but it is probably further than most of us have considered going already. While the abortion topic is certainly an important one, I believe it is necessary that we expand the conversation to consider the plight of those who have already been born as well so that we might wear the label of pro-life in a more holistic sense.

Be sure to check out the links below to see what other people who contributed posts to the August Synchroblog have written.

Justin Steckbauer – What Is The Truth About Abortion?
Tim Nichols – Firm Foundations
Tony Ijeh – What It Means To Be Pro-Life
Glenn Hager – Pro All of Life

Saturday, 22 August 2015

John Hagee, September 28th and another facepalm moment for Christianity.

It is probably safe to assume that by now you have heard of the latest dates set by the end of the world prophets and conspiracy theorists. This time around we have not one but two authors, John Hagee and Mark Biltz, who are claiming that the end is nigh and the signs are there in the heavens for all to see. The basic idea is that the occurrence of four ‘blood moons’ during 2014 and 2015 are a sign that Jesus will return on or around the 28th September which is the date of the fourth and final blood moon in the series. Hagee is far vaguer than Biltz here and only says that something big and of eschatological significance will definitely take place sometime in 2014 or 2015. Believers point to scriptures like Revelation 6:12 and Acts 2:19-20 which speak of the moon becoming like blood before the end of days and Christ’s return. Some of the additional reasons given to back this theory/prophecy up are that these moons coincide with some of the Jewish holidays. September 13th for example marks the end of the Shemitah cycle and the start of Jubilee. The Pope will visit the US around about this time and the Jade Helm military exercises end in September as well. There are also a bunch of Armageddon type movies (Mad Max, Mission Impossible etc) which have end of the world scenarios with September dates in them which are said to be conditioning the masses using subliminal messaging. Some also say that a giant asteroid is headed toward earth and will crash near Puerto Rico around about the 24th September.

So what should we make of these claims? Ignoring the more outlandish claims, over here I would like to look at just two things, starting with the blood moons themselves and then looking at a few scriptures that relate to the topic at hand. Firstly, Hagee and Biltz suggest that these blood moons in the past have coincided with significant events such as the Jewish people been expelled from Spain, the discovery of America by Columbus, Israel becoming a nation and then the Six Day War in 1967. This may sound more than coincidental to some but those who have gone and checked the actual dates of these moons and events will tell you that the Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478, some fourteen years before the particular tetrad been associated with it. The actual decree ordering the expulsion of the Jewish people was in 1492, also a year before the tetrad. Similarly, Israel regained its statehood in 1948, a year before the tetrads of 1949 and 1950. The dates don’t appear any more significant with the Six Day War either with three of the four eclipses happening over the year and a half that followed.  If I start prophesying events a year after they actually take place, how much credibility would you give me? Blood moons are not actually as rare as one might think either, there have been 62 of them since the first century and the reason that occasionally some of them (eight) coincide with the Jewish feasts is that the feasts and Jewish calendar also follow the lunar cycle. Critics have also pointed out that only one of the four current eclipses will be at best only partially visible from Jerusalem. So at the end of the day what we are left with is a sign that won’t be visible to the people it is for which in the past has only appeared after the events actually occur and usually passes without any significance either.

What does scripture have to say?

Let’s look first at the scriptures which the theory/prophecy is based around:-

And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. – Acts 2:19-20

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood. – Revelation 6:12

While John Hagee’s argument is built on Acts 2:19-20, it should be noted that it forms part of Peter’s epic speech made on Pentecost. The Spirit had just fallen on the 120 who began to speak in tongues and Paul quotes from Joel 2:28-32 to explain to the skeptics what is going on (Peter’s implication is that Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled before their eyes rather than it being directed at other people some 2000 years later). Additionally, whether we are reading Joel 2, Matthew 24 or Revelation 6, we read of only one eclipse and it is accompanied by what is possibly a solar eclipse and a great earthquake as well. To my knowledge these other elements have been left out of the prophecies concerning Israel for next month. Also, nowhere does the bible mention a tetrad of eclipses so claiming it carries a special significance seems to be a bit of a stretch.

Despite the fact that Jesus tells us that no one knows the date of His return (Matthew 24:36), despite the fact that Christians have a long and embarrassing track record of failed date settings and despite the fact that the bible specifically condemns divination and astrology (Deuteronomy 18:10, Jeremiah 10:2, 27:9-10, Isaiah 47:10-14) we just can’t seem to keep away from this sort of thing.

Why do we keep buying into the ideas of men who have a history of throwing dates out that repeatedly come to naught? Based on what I see on my Facebook feed I am aware that I run the risk of offending many of my friends with this post (which is not my intention at all). If your instinct is to dismiss this post as rubbish I implore you to come back here in October and reread this last part again. Every time we promote a false prophet the church loses credibility in the eyes of the world. Every time we share a news story that turns out to be false we sow untruth in the name of our Lord. When we as the church lose our credibility with others Jesus does as well. People out there don’t read these outlandish claims and say, “Yeah John Hagee, Edgar Whisenant and Harold Camping are nutters”. No, they think Christians are gullible and always the most likely to fall for a good conspiracy theory. I know the intention behind posting these warnings is good; many of the people I know personally who believe September will be a big month for biblical prophecy are wonderful brothers and sisters who I look up to. But come October the only people who are not left broken and disillusioned are the authors who are left counting the revenue made from their book sales and speaking engagements.

A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thoughts to his steps. – Proverbs 14:15

Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear, and do not dread it. – Isaiah 8:12.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The symbolism in the feeding of the 5000

Christ’s feeding of the five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish has to rank up there with His most famous miracles. But most people see it as nothing more than that, a display of divine power. Yet reading through it the other day I realized that there is more to it than that; I kept noticing the word ‘sign’ popping up (see John 6:2, 26 and 30) all over the place. So when a friend of mine happened to mention the other day that he thought it was strange that Jesus requested after the feeding that all the remaining food should be gathered up and to “make sure” that nothing was lost, a light bulb suddenly went off.

Allow me to expound, when scripture speaks of something being a sign it means that there is something deeper going on than what we see on the surface. For example, the cleansing of the temple was not a sudden outburst on Jesus’ part but a symbolic action being played out signifying something prophetic. After turning over the tables and driving out the animals the Jews did not say, “I knew it! I knew that eventually he would crack and reveal his true colors!” No, they responded by saying, “What sign do you show to us, since you do these things?” (John 2:18).  So here too in the feeding of a great crowd, we see a similar scenario. First, we see Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 men (not including woman and children) and then specifically requesting that the remnant of food be gathered together which added up to twelve baskets. It is no coincidence that the following day Jesus rebukes the crowd (v26-27) and tells them that He is the true bread from heaven. Jesus tells them that they were only following Him because He filled their bellies. The feeding of the five thousand is then immediately followed with the teaching that Jesus is the bread that gives eternal life to those who eat of it. This confused and offended those who heard His words as He shared them in a synagogue in Capernaum and from that day on many of His disciples turned away from Him. But when Jesus asked the twelve if they too wanted to go away, they said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

So here is the sign of the feeding of the 5000. Many were fed on just two fish and five loaves of bread and when everyone had satisfied their flesh, only twelve baskets remained. When the bread from heaven was offered to the same people, only twelve disciples (vessels for the bread of life) remained with Him. I think that Jesus knew what was in the people’s hearts and prophetically demonstrated what was going to take place the following day.

Interestingly, I noticed a chiastic structure contained within John 6 as well which is illustrated below. Notice the parallels throughout and then the culmination in part E, emphasizing the central theme of the chapter, Jesus, the bread of life!

A – 12 baskets (v13)
  B – Great wind (same word for spirit) was blowing (v18)
    C – Food which endures to everlasting life (v27)
      D – Faith in Christ (v29)
        E – The bread from heaven (v31)
        E - The bread of life (v35)
      D – Rejected by His own (v41-42)
    C – Food which leads to everlasting life (v54)
  B – The Spirit gives life (v63)
A – 12 left (v67-68)

What do you think? Am I reading too much into it or does it make sense?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

4 legged snakes, creation and evolution

                             Tetrapodophis catching a lizard. Credit: James Brown, University of Portsmouth

Even though I personally find the whole creation vs evolution debate quite interesting, I have purposely avoided writing about it in the past. I find that those on both sides of the fence are completely closed off to the possibility that they may be wrong (even on a single point) so the whole conversation nine times out of ten seems pretty meaningless. But a recent article I read written by Ed Yong was to fascinating not to bring up. The post is about the discovery of a four-legged fossilized snake called Tetrapodophis. The specimen should be great news for young earth creationists. How in the world did the people of old (from Adam to Moses) know that snakes used to have legs? According to evolution, snakes lost their legs more than 90 million years ago which would remove them quite far from the time period that Genesis was written let alone the time that mankind appeared on the earth.

                                      Tetrapodophis hindlimb. Credit: Dave Martill.

But the discovery is not all good news for creationists, the mere fact that you have a dead 4-legged snake presents a problem already because most literalists believe that there was no physical death before Adams transgression in the garden. Then to complicate matters further, found inside the stomach of tetrapodophis were the remains of his last meal, the bone fragments of what was most likely a lizard or frog. If you were not aware, most creationists believe that all animals were herbivores before the fall. What was a snake, which at the very least predated the fall, doing with a meat sandwich in his mouth? These are interesting questions which I have my own theories and opinions on. But as someone once said, "you are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts”.

Wouldn’t it be great if people on both sides of the fence here could learn say to one other, “you know what, you raise some good points; overall I still think that you are wrong but I concede that I may need to reevaluate one or two things on my side as well”. I can't see it happening but still, it would be nice...