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?