Perfect Love

On Saturday, I posted up an article with regards to what God has been stirring in me from 1 John 4:14-18. My heart has been gripped with the reality of John’s words – We have come to know and believe the love God has for us.

These are experiential words coming from the pen of John. He is one so captured by the love of the Father seen in the Son, Jesus, that he identifies this love as perfect love. And we all know what perfect love does – casts out fear (and I suspect it deals with a few more things, though I shared how I believe fear is connected to much of our deep wounds and inner-sin). Continue reading

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John & the Love of God

Last Sunday, on Easter Sunday, I approached things from a little different perspective than the normal Easter message (at least I suppose it was not the usual approach). I didn’t focus specifically on the cross or the resurrection, but I focused in on a passage from 1 John 4:14-16.

Many will know John is the beloved disciple. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, even in his life on earth. But being also fully human, he approached life as we would, having a closer circle of friends, though he was ultimately pouring into their lives and teaching them the ways of the Father. We know there was the twelve. But there was also the closer connection with Peter, James and John. And then, within that three, you might say John was the closest friend Jesus had as a human being (at least as John presents it, and I trust John’s testimony).

And so, we read some intimate passages from the pen of John (and some extremely apocalyptic-prophetic visions in Revelation as well). One very intimate portion is found in his first epistle. He writes like a father to his children. It’s quite beautiful. Continue reading

Theological Idols

One book I have currently had ‘open’ (meaning I should have finished it by now but haven’t), is Peter Rollins’ How (Not) To Speak of God. I’ll save an overall review for a later date. But I wanted to share a thought that comes forth in the early pages of the book.

Peter Rollins hails from Belfast, Ireland, and did his doctoral studies in philosophy. He now leads the emerging group known as Ikon. It is true that Rollins is an adamant advocate for the emerging church. The book is basically an apologetic for emerging theology. But, while there are some things I appreciate and other things I might not appreciate as much within the emerging context, I think Rollins hits on a very pertinent point as we engage with theology (or studying God). Continue reading

Our Scandalous God (Part 3)

This is my final post of this short series on the scandalous nature of the God whom we follow and serve. You can click here for the first post and here for the second post. In these few posts, I’ve been looking at how God, or the God whom Scripture presents to us, though possibly contrary to our own understanding, is a scandalous God.

This is not your typical description of God as found in systematic texts explaining the nature of God. Could you actually imagine the adjective scandalous next to immutability and holy? But, if one takes a look at the 66 books of the Bible, I believe you can only walk away with such a view. Yahweh is scandalous, meaning His words and actions cause public outrage and bring severe criticism from all corners, sometimes coming from the lips of His own people.

And while, in my last post, I briefly looked at the scandalousness of God as seen in Noah, Abraham, the Psalms, the Song of Songs and how God chose women to be the first to know about the resurrected Christ, none of these really compare to the pinnacle of God’s scandal. This one is the crème de la crème.

His name is Jesus of Nazareth.

When one undertakes a simple reading of the Gospels, there are many things valuable we can gather from such. There are words of encouragement, words of healing and words of challenge. And, most of the time, Jesus seems to play nice. He plays according to the rules, or our rules, that is. But not always.

Two examples come to mind:

1) Jesus and his spitting ministry. Yes, he had such. It’s recorded three times in the God-breathed Scriptures! And you know that good ol’ Bible verse:

Every matter [is] established by two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16)

So, Jesus must have had a spitting ministry.

Mark picks up on this twice, as found in 7:31-37 and 8:22-26 of his Gospel. In the first account, Jesus takes a man aside, puts his fingers in the guy’s ears, then spits on his hands and touches the man’s tongue. Ok?! I’m not sure I’ve heard of Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley doing that one.

In the second instance, Jesus has the audacity to spit into a blind man’s eyes. Then, if that’s not enough, John gives us another account where Jesus spat into the ground to make some mud and then used this mud to ‘anoint’ the guys eyes.

Oh, this is good. This would fit nicely into our Sunday gatherings. I can see the order in the bulletin: Welcome, 3 songs, Announcements, Sermon, Lord’s Table, Anointed Spittle and Mud. Yep, that would go over real well.

Another example in the life of Jesus…

2) Jesus’ outrage at those making money off God. After seeing a handful of people making a few bucks, or drachma, off God, Jesus goes into the temple courts and does a little spring cleaning by pouring out the coins of money-changers rather than collecting them for His own ministry. He, then, goes on to overturn their tables. And, to help with such a task, he strands together a nice whip to frighten the masses (see John 2:14-16). Sounds more like Indiana Jones than Jesus meek-and-mild. Jesus must have forgotten to have his devotional that morning from the NY Times best-seller.

No doubt that both of these accounts left quite a few in outrage while also bringing down a boat-load of criticism. And, he’s going to get nailed to a cross for it.

But, though these two accounts, and numerous others, stand as a testimony that our God, and His Son, are quite the scandalous team, none of these compare to the scandal of God as expressed in those three most important events we read about in the Gospels: Christ’s incarnation, Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection.

The Incarnation
Most Christians love to focus in on the cross and resurrection of Christ, and rightly so, especially in the upcoming Easter season. They are the high point of Christ’s mission, and I’ll come on to those in a moment. But there is a sense in which the indignity of God is displayed in great measure simply at the birth of Christ.

Think about it. Christ, the divine Son, comes into the flesh as a helpless babe, nestled snugly in a feeding trough for animals. Think about it! God comes as a drooling, crying, pooping infant. I’m not sure the Christmas carol, Away In A Manger, got it correct in one of the stanzas:

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

Remember, Christ was a real and authentic baby in real and authentic human flesh. Don’t even try and claim he never cried or pooped or spit-up as a baby.

Though we have sort of an advantage viewing these things in retrospect, if we consider them in the actual ‘first-time’ context, they can leave us quite uncomfortable. Why is the divine God-Son being entrusted to a young teenage girl and her not-much-older husband? And, do we really need Pampers for this one?

It truly is undignified and scandalous.

The Crucifixion
If God coming in the form of a pooping babe isn’t demoralising enough, then we have the reality that, some 30-plus years later, He ends up crucified on a cross between two thieves.

Now, most crucifixes I’ve seen give Jesus a couple of drops of blood on His forehead, one or two scrapes on his knees, and then a nice red incision from the spear that was jabbed into his side.

Nope, not even close! Not even close!

Most of us have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Pretty brutal wasn’t it? The countless pints of blood that must have been lost, the flayed skin that had opened up all across his back. Many suggest Christ was hit with 39 lashes, as the Law prescribed no more than 40, lest someone be degraded (see Deut 25:1-3). But, we usually fail to remember that it was the Romans who were beating Jesus, not the Jews. The pagan Romans would have had no such law. So, who knows how many lashes Jesus actually received?

Spit at, mocked, beaten, whipped, nailed to a cross with only a loincloth to cover him.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your God!

Paul was right. This is absolutely foolish.

‘Come on Jesus, get angry like you did with the money changers! Call those legion of angels. Let’s make the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in the history of mankind.’

But he’s not interested. He never opens his mouth. He never lashes back. He never tries to scare them with the statement, ‘Wait til I show up next time.’

He takes it. And more than being bloodied and bruised, his Father judging him for the sin of mankind. All because of a piece of fruit a long time ago. Even more, all because of grotesque sin that has stained us to the core. It’s all on the shoulders of an innocent Lamb.

Ridiculous! Scandalous!

The Resurrection
We know the end of the story. We know the whole story. It’s really not fair. It loses its shock value. It loses its startling nature.

But, on the third day, after some women had come to anoint him, they realise that their bloodied Messiah isn’t in that cave-of-a-tomb anymore. He’s risen!

And remember, this is Jesus’ biggest day. He had just defeated sin, just conquered death, just put Satan down for the 1-2-3 count. And what does he do?! What’s he gonna do?!

He walks a seven-mile dusty road with two very disillusioned followers.

That’s the road to Emmaus. And after the extensive walk, he breaks bread with them. In it all, he takes time to comfort his closest followers. Jesus also shows up on a beach early one morning and has a little breakfast. He gets a little one-on-one time with Peter, to restore the pain and brokenness over the abandonment and denial.

What is going on here?!

I can imagine it if this had happened in the 21st century:

‘He’s out! He’s lose! Call CNN! Call the worship team! Get on your make-up! Oh, we can market this one real well! John, you head up the t-shirt campaign. Mary, you get the bracelets together. Peter, as long as you don’t insert foot into mouth, we’ll let CNN interview you.’

But that is about as far from the Gospel account as we can get. As long as the church keeps presenting God as some Hollywood celebrity or circus clown, the more we shall continue to estrange ourselves from the One we claim to follow.

Christ’s resurrection is amazing, the most important event in the history of mankind. Nothing matches it. But, in the economy of God, we find His Son evading all pep rallies. There is simply no shouting J-E-S-U-S. And it’s the same during his life ministry – following many of his miracles, Christ finds a way to slip through the crowd so that they  cannot crown him king.

For many, this doesn’t fit with how it should have been done, at least if we had been God-in-the-flesh. For us, it’s a press conference for the world to know. For Christ, it’s back to the grind as if nothing had ever happened.

Outrage! Scandal!

They could have made so much money off this one. Of course, that money would have been for ‘the ministry’.

Christ, the sum of all God’s revelation, a glimpse at what the Father is really like, the initiator of the new covenant, Love in the flesh, the King above all kings. True. But the way he walks, the way he talks, the way he acts does not seem to line up with our expectations of what God is supposed to be like.

But, in all actuality, this is our God. This is the God that Scripture presents to us. The One who causes public outrage and calls down criticism from all. You know what they say: like Father, like Son.

This is our scandalous God. And I’m ready to follow His next scandal.

Our Scandalous God (Part 2)

I am posting a short series which I have labeled as Our Scandalous God. In the first article, I used this definition for the word scandal – a situation or event that causes public outrage or censure (Encarta World English Dictionary).

I also noted the fact that referring to God as scandalous might make some of us uncomfortable. It’s too risky to define God with such a word. I might even seem almost blasphemous. But, if we stick with the definition for scandal set out above, then I don’t think it’s an out-of-the-question description of God, or at least the God presented to us in Scripture.

The ironic thing about it all is that God is not really scandalous to those who understand His ways. But, for those who do not know the God of Scripture, or those who think they know the God of Scripture because they have played the game of so-called Christianity, God will usually come out as scandalous every single time, meaning He will definitely cause public outrage and, as a result, be given heapings worth of criticism.

Yep, that’s our God. Or, again, that’s the Yahweh we read about in Scripture.

I could go right through the biblical text to present to you our scandalous God (as if I needed to this on His behalf). There is the flood in which God chooses to save only 8 people, no more and no less. The gracious and compassionate one chooses to simply save 8, not 800 or 8,000. And don’t even try and pull out the card that says Noah was righteous enough and that’s why God saved him. The KJV got it right in its translation of Genesis 6:8:

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

The Hebrew word hen can be translated as grace or favour. So, the word favour (as it is translated in most of our English Bibles) does not refer to Noah meriting anything. It is about grace! And, in line with the layout of the whole text of Genesis, we see that vs9 starts a completely new section describing Noah’s walk with God after receiving the hen, or grace, of God.

So God simply chose to save 8 people. I thought a gracious God would save more? Scandalous! But moving on….

God goes on to choose a Gentile by the name of Abram who would be the first to start the Hebrew-Jewish people, a reality that Paul takes up in his letter to the Romans (4:9-12). Whoa! God chose an unclean, uncircumcised Gentile to initiate His people. I can hear the outrage!

The scandalous one inspires quite a few songs scattered throughout the Psalms which we must label as complaints (see Psalm 13:1-2). ‘Wait a second. We are supposed to pray this way. We can only sing songs that say this.’ But the Psalms are actually filled with more complaints than praise. Uh oh!

And, of all things, to really cause the religious to blush, He has a sensually erotic love song dropped right in the middle of Scripture (it’s called the Song of Songs).

I hear the critics rising up already. Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Oh yeah. There’s the reality that, in an attempt to dash all of our religious hopes, from those of the first century to those of the twenty-first century, God has a few women show up to be the first to peer upon the empty tomb of Christ. Not the twelve (or eleven), not even just regular Jewish men. Dirty, filthy women. And, these women get to be the first apostles sent out on behalf of Christ! (Check it out in Matthew 28:1-8 and Mark 16:1-8.)

Not to mention that, time and time again, God keeps choosing the boneheads of the day, the down and out’s, the uneducated, the ignoble, the weak, whores, murderers, what we might simply refer to as sinners.

‘Ok, that’s enough God. Next time you do something, make sure you consult with me.’

We laugh, maybe even shake our heads at such a statement. But, most of the time, we are ready to chime in with such a chorus.

When I read systematic theology books, I get this sense that the God that is portrayed in such texts, and all subjects related to Him, doesn’t always have much to do with the God whom Scripture presents to us. Don’t get me wrong, I love studying theology (though I am not sure systematic theology is always the answer). But, the more I grow, the more I realise that I cannot package God. I can’t even fit him into a 1,000 page systematic text book.

Can you imagine Grudem or Berkhof or Ryrie writing a chapter in their texts on the scandalousness of God? Maybe the section would be entitled something like this – Just When You Think You Have God Figured Out, He Comes And Screws You Over. We can’t imagine finding something like this in systematic texts. But maybe Lewis or Chesterton would have taken up that challenge.

And, so, God keeps stirring up one scandal after another. And following on from that is the public outrage and severe criticism, even from His own people. It’s been going on for an extremely long time. And it will continue going on for the rest of this age.

What, or who, is the greatest scandal of all time – Jesus of Nazareth. I’m not going to dive into this Jesus character just yet. I’ll reserve that for the next and final article. But, if you know the story of Jesus at all, the true story of Jesus as presented in the Gospel texts, you know that He is the greatest scandal of the scandalous God whom we serve. I can’t wait to ponder His story……