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Archive for March, 2016

Why the Cross (Part 1)

March 23rd, 2016
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There stands in the middle of Christianity a rather controversial and stark reality: the crucifixion in Jerusalem, with the horrors of the cross.

One writer wrote:

Girls and women – just imagine you are with the bloke of your dreams: handsome, charming, strong, considerate (I did say in your dreams). He’s hired a box at the theatre and during the interval he presents you with an ornate jewellery box. You open it and pull out a long, delicate gold chain – on the end of which you notice is a replica electric chair.

You’d think he was a sicko – someone from a Stephen King novel.

But romantic men have been buying their girlfriends little gold crosses forever . Yet the cross is a symbol of the most ghastly form of public execution ever devised.

The Cross is a means of Roman torture and bloody execution

But the overwhelming question you are left with is “Why?”

Why did Jesus so deliberately co-operate with a series of events that took him to a place of torture and bloody execution?

As we quoted from Gary Deddo last year, Jesus was not a victim but a willing sacrifice. He did say to the daughters of Jerusalem “Do not cry for me.”

So why did Jesus die and in the manner he did? And who was responsible for the manner of his death?

 And yet as we will see the real question is who is Jesus for us, and what that reveals about the Father.

But a lot of arguments polarise people about the why.

Lets hear some typical explanations. As you read them do you see the primary metaphor being used?

 John Piper:

 The atonement is the work of God in Christ on the cross whereby he cancelled the debt of our sin, appeased his holy wrath against us, and won for us all the benefits of salvation. The death of Christ was necessary because God would not show a just regard for his glory if he swept sins under the rug with no recompense.

Romans 3:24-26

24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished 26  – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

In other words the death of Christ was necessary to vindicate the righteousness of God in justifying the ungodly by faith. It would be unrighteous to forgive sinners as though their sin were insignificant, when in fact it is an infinite insult against the value of God’s glory. Therefore Jesus bears the curse, which was due to our sin, so that we can be justified and the righteousness of God can be vindicated.

Basically we can agree that we all deserve to die because of our sins. Jesus dies in our place. He dies by the shedding of blood. This takes care of the problem of sin which has held us in death. There are a lot of discussions on what some of these terms means but that is not my purpose today.

Whether God needs to vindicate his righteousness is an assumption of the writer: it does say it demonstrates his righteousness.

But if we are not careful the cross and its torture becomes a necessity. This begins to see the Father requiring the torture and suffering on the cross to satisfy his anger at sinners (or appease his holy wrath against us).

Another writer addressing what in his mind is the trivializing of sin in Christian circles wrote:

Misconception: Our sin doesn’t present any danger to us

This misconception is to underestimate the significance of our sin and the danger we are in. That’s why the death of Jesus looks like gratuitous violence.

The Bible is crystal clear on our predicament: ever since humans rebelled against God, we forfeited the right to eternal life. God cannot permit sinful, proud, selfish humans to live forever – we would only ruin the new paradise he has created.

I think we would agree with that.

It’s as if God was saying: “I made you. I made a world for you to live in and yet you live without any reference to me. You are self-centred, proud, aloof and ungrateful – yet you have little to be proud of since everything you have is a gift from me.”

It’s not very flattering but you have to wake up to the fact (as I had to some years ago) that your rebellion and cold-heartedness constitute a great offence to God.

This needs some reflection. God is not shocked by us. He hates what we have become because it is so far from what he wants for us. So I would wonder about the word offence:

hurt someone’s feelings,, affront, upset, displease, distress, hurt, wound, pain, injure, be an affront to, get/put someone’s back up, disgruntle, put out, annoy, anger, exasperate, irritate, vex, pique, gall, irk, provoke, rankle with, nettle, needle, peeve, tread on someone’s toes, ruffle, ruffle someone’s feathers, rub up the wrong way, make someone’s hackles rise, insult, humiliate, embarrass, mortify, scandalize, shock, outrage, spite.

That is how we are –not how God is. He is not reactive and he definitely does not respond like us.

That’s why the suffering of Christ was so terrible – it was commensurate with the seriousness of our sin. That sin will disqualify us from the presence of God’s love and care and beauty and goodness forever. And that is an appalling prospect.

That would imply that sin death are more powerful than God’s love for us.

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Message for the Day

Unwrapping the mystery of God

March 21st, 2016
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I remember how Jean Vanier described Peter’s spiritual crises:

Vanier:

Peter went through four crisis while following Jesus. I imagine it was a crisis when Jesus called him: part of him must have regretted leaving his family and trade. But his love for Jesus and his hope enabled him to get over this.

Then there was the crisis when he discovered that Jesus was not as he would have wanted him. He would have preferred a Jesus who was prophetic and messianic, who didn’t insist on washing the disciples’ feet, who didn’t speak of dying.

The greatest crisis was when Jesus became weak and died.

Then, Peter denied him – and that was the crisis when he lost all the illusions about himself.

And over the Christian journey we can experience similar things about our relationship with the church.

But it also can be in our understanding of faith and who God is.

Michael Jinkins is president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and is the author of more than 100 papers, articles and reviews and 12 books, including “Invitation to Theology”. He studied with Gary Deddo.

MJ:

To put a larger picture on it, I think that real faith develops, grows over a lifetime, and I think that any time you feel that you have come to the end of the growth, you have misconstrued the relationship with God. I think the pilgrimage with God and the pilgrimage of faith is for a lifetime, and in many ways the key to being human is humility toward that knowledge that continues to unwrap.

When I was a pastor (this goes back a long way, but the mid ’80s), before going to Aberdeen I had gotten to a place where my faith was cold, and I think that comes out in this, that I don’t think I believed much in God. It wasn’t so much just intellectual, it was just kind of a coldness that I’d come to. I have told this story a million times, but I remember coming in from pastoring one day and I was in Aberdeen. This was my first semester or maybe second semester there. Very early. I took off my dog collar. In the Church of Scotland you wear a dog collar, and I took off my dog collar and threw it on the bed and said to my wife, “Debbie, I don’t believe in anything anymore.” She said, “I know. I can tell.”

I had come to a point, and you know it well, because we were friends and we would talk about this a lot. I said to you, “It just doesn’t add up. You put this statement to this statement to this statement, it just doesn’t add up.” I remember you saying to me, we played this little exercise, “Imagine that Jesus Christ is a pair of spectacles and you put them on, does life come into focus better?”

I played with that some, but in many ways, the critical event occurred that summer when I began to explore other vocational options. Very quietly I went to University of Durham for a summer program in literature and history (I have a lot of interest in both literature and history). Two things occurred. I found myself right after moving in, this is a very funny thing that happened. I’m just moving everything in. I’m down there by myself, completely incognito. Nobody knows me as a minister. I’m putting my bags away and I can hear someone crying out on the stairwell. I thought, “What is that? That’s sad.”

I opened the door to the stairwell and I stuck my head around. There was a very young charwoman, one of the maids for the dormitory. She was sitting on the stairs just weeping. I sat down next to her and I said, “What’s wrong?” There was an illness in her family and I listened to her and she just poured her heart out and I said, “Would you like to pray?” She said, “Yes, I would,” so I prayed with her.

I got up from that conversation and I said, “Now what is going on here. I’m not sure I believe in God and yet I found myself drawn into a pastoral relationship that was the most natural thing in the world.” I go into this class and I consistently found myself unhappy when the class found itself stuck. We were studying Shakespeare’s plays, the Henry IV, Henry V cycle, and I found myself consistently frustrated with the lack of transcendent reference. For Shakespeare there was, and in the class there was resistance to finding a transcendent reference.

I found myself thinking, “Well, I’m not happy with this either. I’m not happy with not having this transcendent reference.” I found myself about a day later in the place that I have come to just love. It’s one of my most important sacred places in the world, the Durham Cathedral. I remember going in and bowing and praying, “God, I don’t believe you exist but I think we really need to talk.”

This began a a fresh journey. This mean we cannot just stop in our cosy knowledge.

MJ:

All of that, I think I’m just on this long trajectory. I think all of us are on a long trajectory and the key to it is remaining humble in the face of the mystery of God.

This means we are all have to be theologians – learning about God.

GD:

I want to talk a little bit about you’re president of a seminary, you’ve taught in seminaries. A lot of people are skeptical about theological education – about theology itself, actually. I was, years ago. I only believed in biblical studies, when I was in my first years in seminary and didn’t come to appreciate the place of theology. Not that it’s everything. What is the place of a theological education for those doing pastoral ministries but possibly also for lay persons? What do you think about the place of theological education?

MJ:

That’s a wonderful question. I didn’t know you started out in biblical studies. I did, too. I started out in biblical studies as well in college and probably for the same reasons. I grew up in an evangelical church and I’m thinking to myself, “What do you study? You’re going into ministry, so you study the Bible.” I did my undergraduate degree in biblical studies with a minor in New Testament Greek.

In my last semester of college, I took my first theology course. Very first time. It was a Christian Doctrine course. I got into it and I thought, “Now these are questions I’m wrestling with. These are questions at the heart of the Bible. Who is God? What is God like? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live in community? What does God require of us?” In many ways the fundamental questions that are being asked again and again in the Bible are the questions that are the bread and butter of theology.

We get stuck so often in asking questions of how and the great question is who. The great question first of all, is asked by Jesus Christ, “Who do you say that I am?”

That is the question that came to dominate so much of my own theological life. Expanding and impressing it then, what does it mean to stay with the “who” question? Not “how is Jesus Christ both God and man?” That’s a mystery. It’s wonderful, but in a way it can become simply a matter of speculation and curiosity. The real question is the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Then we turn that question on ourselves. If Jesus Christ reveals this God, what does it mean to be one who follows Jesus Christ? You get those questions; those are the core theological questions. Anytime theology gets off the track, it is stuck in asking “how” or “why.” When theology is doing its job, it’s asking the question, “Who?” That goes to the heart of being a human being.

Thus we are continually growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Why?

2 Corinthians 4:4-6

4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

We see who God really is in the face of Jesus Christ. But we also see who we are meant to be in Jesus as the true image of God.

To watch the full interview please click here.

Message for the Day

The Worship of the true God

March 15th, 2016
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To watch The Old Testament Told in Only 5 Minutes please click here.

That’s a very quick overview of the OT.

Today I would like to finish our present series from the OT.

I think it is fitting to understand the pagan world Abraham and the Israelite descendants came out of to worship the true living God. This will help us understand what is the magical, superstitious thought behind a lot of religion and to appreciate how the OT is so different.

As we go through the world of ancient gods, have back in your mind the totally different revelation about God we have in Genesis1. This is the Israelite contribution to the ancient world and it is unique in history.

The gods in the ancient world were themselves subject to an original realm that was before them and above them. Even the gods were dependent on this realm and had to obey it. They came out of this realm.

And the nature of this realm will vary from pagan tradition to pagan tradition. It might be water. It might be darkness. It might be spirit. Or in ancient Greek religion, a more sort of philosophical polytheism, it might be fate.

Once you believe in some realm that is beside or beyond the gods, that’s independent of them and primary, you have automatically limited the gods.

They are not the source of all. There can therefore, be no notion of a supreme divine will, an absolute or sovereign divine will.

The will of any one god ultimately can be countered by the decrees of this primordial realm and the will of all the gods can be thwarted by the decrees of the primordial realm. And the will of any one god can be thwarted by perhaps another god. So the gods are limited in power.

They’re also limited in their wisdom: that falls under this as well. They’re not going to be all-knowing or all-wise because of the existence of this realm that’s beyond them and which is in many ways mysterious to them as well. It’s unpredictable to them too. It’s not in their control or in their power.

Individual gods might be very wise; they might be wise in particular crafts. There might be a god of healing, very very wise in healing, or a god of some other craft or area of knowledge. They don’t have to be wise. It is not an essential characteristic.

Mythology is basic to pagan religions. Mythologies are the tales of the lives of gods. In pagan religions the gods are born, and they live lives very similar to human lives but on a grand scale and then they die. They might be reborn too. Pagan religions contain accounts of the births of gods.

Very often in these creations stories there is some sense of some realm from which life begins to emerge usually beginning with gods. They will describe the generation of sexually differentiated divine beings; also the generation of the natural world; also the generation of human beings and animals: in other words, this is the primordial womb for all that is — divine, human and natural. It is the source of everything mundane and divine.

What that means, is that in pagan religion there’s very often a fluid boundary between the divine, the human, and the natural worlds. They blur into one another because they all emerge ultimately from the same primordial world stuff. These distinctions between them are soft.

We see this in the fact that the gods are very often associated with natural powerful forces. The sky is a god; the fire is a god; fertility — a natural process — is a god. So there’s no real distinction between the worship of gods and the worship of nature.

Second, because humans also emerge ultimately from this primordial realm there’s a confusion of the boundary between the divine and the human that’s common. Humans becoming gods; perhaps after death for example becoming immortal, or very often kings when they ascend to the throne become gods.

Whatever power the gods have, is not due to the fact that their will is absolute or their spirit is absolute. The realm that transcends the gods, which precedes them, is that which has ultimate power and the stuff of which it is made is what has ultimate power. So power is materially conceived.

So if it’s blood, then blood that courses through the veins of living creatures is seen to have some deep and powerful connection with this realm and that is where power resides. If it is water, then water will be viewed as particularly materially powerful in that particular system.

That means that magic is possible in such a system. Because power is materially conceived, then magic is possible by manipulating those material substances in certain ways. It might be clay. It might be water. It might be blood. Then whatever is believed to hold the power of this original life force, humans can tap into, and through manipulation, magical manipulation of certain substances, they can harness these forces, these independent self-operating forces.

And so the human magician is really a technician and he can make these forces come to bear on even the gods, to coerce the gods to do his will and so on. So magic in a pagan system is a way of getting around the gods, circumventing the capricious will of the gods and demons. His magic is not directed at the gods. It’s trying to tap into the ultimate source of power to use that power to influence the gods in a particular way or protect oneself against the gods.

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