Sa pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan at pagguhit ng mga linya sa buhangin: Kailangan bang mag-alala sa akin ang katotohanan na ang lahat ng katotohanan ay pinag-uusapan?

Read in English.

Lumilitaw na nabubuhay tayo sa isang panahon kung saan ang katotohanan ay nakataya. Ang postmodernism ay madalas na sinisisi para dito higit sa lahat dahil ipinapalagay ng mga tao na ang postmodernism ay katumbas ng post-truth. Sa katunayan, wala nang hihigit pa sa katotohanan. Hindi talaga itinatanggi ng postmodernism ang realidad ng Ganap na Katotohanan ngunit sa halip ay isang kritika na nalaman ng sinuman ang Ganap na Katotohanan. Ito ay isang panawagan na muling bisitahin ang mga katotohanang alam natin na may layuning dalhin ang mga ito sa mas malapit na pagkakahanay sa Katotohanan.

Nagsasalita ang Bibliya, sa pamamagitan ng pagtukoy sa misteryo, tungkol sa kahirapan ng paglapit sa Ganap na Katotohanan. Ang pahayag ni Pablo sa 1 Corinto 13:12 ng “Sa ngayon, para tayong nakatingin sa malabong salamin. Ngunit darating ang araw na magiging malinaw ang lahat sa atin. Bahagya lamang ang ating nalalaman sa ngayon; ngunit darating ang araw na malalaman natin ang lahat, tulad ng pagkakaalam ng Dios sa atin” inilalarawan ang problemang ito para sa atin sa napaka-unawang paraan.

Ang problema kapag pinag-uusapan ang katotohanan ay madalas nating nalilito ang ating sariling mga katotohanan sa Ganap na Katotohanan kung sa katunayan ang isang pag-angkin laban sa aking katotohanan at isang pag-angkin laban sa Ganap na Katotohanan ay dalawang magkaibang bagay. Ang pag-aangkin laban sa aking katotohanan ay talagang isang pahayag na nagsasabing wala pa akong Ganap na Katotohanan at higit pang trabaho ang kailangang gawin sa paglapit dito.

Huwag mo sana akong intindihin. Naniniwala ako sa Ganap na Katotohanan. Naniniwala ako na ang Diyos ng Bibliya ay ang Pinaka Realidad. Naniniwala ako na ang kuwentong nakapaloob sa Bibliya ay ibinigay sa atin upang magkaroon tayo ng access sa Ganap na Katotohanang ito. Ipinapahayag ko na si Hesus ay PANGINOON. Ang hindi ko pinaniniwalaan ay nalaman ko na ang lahat (kahit na ayaw kong magkamali!). Ang napagtanto ko ay ang lahat ng katotohanang pinanghahawakan at minamahal natin ay mga katotohanang pinag-usapan.

Pakikipag-ayos ng Katotohanan.

Halimbawa ang iba’t ibang konseho ng simbahan na naganap simula sa Jerusalem gaya ng inilarawan sa Gawa 15. Ang mga konsehong ito ay nagtampok ng malaking bilang ng mga pinuno ng simbahan na nagtipon upang talakayin, at makipag-ayos, kung ano ang hitsura ng kinikilala na Kristiyanismo. Ang kanilang mga desisyon ay patuloy na nakakaapekto sa mga simbahang Kristiyano hanggang ngayon. Ang kagiliw-giliw na tandaan ay kahit na ang konseho ay humantong sa isang pagkakahati, ang parehong partido ay naninindigan na ang katotohanan ay nasa kanilang panig kumpara sa kabilang panig. Ang resulta ay isang simbahan na mayroong 5 pangunahing sangay — Orthodox, Romano Katoliko, Evangelical, Mainline, at Pentecostal/Charismatic — ngunit ang mahalagang tandaan ay ang bawat sangay na ito ay nananatiling bahagi ng simbahan.

Ang mga denominasyon ay isa pang paraan ng pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan. Ang bawat denominasyon ay may sariling pahayag o pagpapatibay ng pananampalataya na nagtatakda ng alinman sa mga hangganan o pokus para sa bawat grupo.

Ang hapag-kainan pagkatapos magsimba tuwing Linggo ay isa pang tradisyonal na lokasyon para sa pakikipag-usap sa katotohanan habang ang pastor at ang kanilang sermon ay pinaghiwa-hiwalay. Ang katotohanan na ang mga katulad na negosasyon ay nagaganap sa maraming mga hapag-kainan ay ginagawang mas kumplikado ang pagtuklas ng katotohanan!

Ang isa pang halimbawa ay sa mundo ng agham kung saan nagaganap ang negosasyon sa pamamagitan ng peer review at mga Q&A na bahagi ng mga presentasyon sa papel, na humahantong sa mga rebisyon bago ang paglalathala.

Minsan nangyayari ang mga pagbabago ng paradigm na binabaligtad ang mga kasalukuyang pag-unawa sa katotohanan pabor sa isang ganap na bagong paraan ng pag-iisip. Isang magandang halimbawa nito ay ang paglipat mula sa paniniwala na ang mundo ay nasa sentro ng sanlibutan patungo sa paniniwala na ang araw ay nasa centro ng sanlibutan.

Nakikipag-ayos tayo Upang Gumuhit ng mga Linya.

Bakit tayo nakikipag-ayos? Dahil gusto nating malaman kung saan iguguhit ang linya sa buhangin! Sa isang tiyak na punto ang negosasyon ay magtatapos at ang mga linya ay iguguhit na. Sa simbahan gumuguhit tayo ng mga linya batay sa teolohiya. Ang nakatutuwa ay iniisip ng bawat isa na ang ating teolohiya ang tama at ang lahat ng iba ay mali.

Ang lahat ng ito ay nagpapahirap na malaman kung saan dapat iguhit ang linya. Siyempre, gusto nating iguhit ang linya sa pagitan ng katotohanan at kasinungalingan ngunit paano kung ang linyang iyon ay palipat-lipat pa? O paano kung ang mga pagkakaiba ay kulay abo?

Sa aking nakaraan, nakapagguhit ako ng maraming linya. Ang isa na namumukod-tangi ay na sa aking mga kabataang taon ay tinanggap ko ang katotohanan ng 5-point Calvinism, na may espesyal na diin sa dobleng predestinasyon. Ang ibig sabihin ng dobleng predestination ay hindi lamang itinalaga ng Diyos ang mga tao na maligtas niya, itinalaga rin niya ang iba sa kapahamakan sa Impiyerno. Ito ay humantong sa akin minsan na ituro sa publiko na ang mga sanggol na namamatay ay hindi kinakailangang mapupunta sa langit dahil sino ang nakakaalam kung sila ay pinili o hindi pinila? Yup ginawa ko talaga yun. Sa kabutihang palad, ako ay sinaway at itinuwid (sa pag-ibig) ng aking tagapagturo at higit na mabuti na nakita ko kung paanong ang mga bagay ay hindi lubos na nasusukat laban sa banal na kasulatan.

Mga Susi sa Pagguhit ng mga Linya.

Iniisip ko kung posible bang gumuhit ng mga linya – kung ang pagguhit ng mga linya ay talagang kailangan nating gawin – batay kay Jesus? Isang susi ay ang pagsasagawa ng WWJD? (Ibig sabihin, What Would Jesus Do? o Ano ba kaya Ang Gagawin ni Jesus?). Ang isang tawag sa personal na kabanalan batay sa pangunahan na ang pamamuhay tulad ng ipinamuhay ni Jesus habang nasa lupa siya ay isang magandang bagay. Syempre itinataas nito ang tanong kung sino si Jesus para sa atin? Ngunit iyon ang paksa para sa ibang panahon!

Ang isa pang susi ay ang pag-uusap. Ang pag-uusap ay nangangahulugan ng pakikinig sa lahat ng boses. Ang isang halimbawa ay kapag tayo ay mga bata, lahat ay nagsasalita tulad ng ng ating pagsasalita — hanggang sa unang beses na marinig natin ang taong na may accent. Bigla nating napagtanto na hindi lahat ng tao ay nagsasalita sa parehong paraan na ginagawa natin. Minsan gusto pa nating gayahin ang ibang accent. Mas matagal bago natin mapagtanto na mayroon din tayong accent at ang realization na ito ay humahantong sa atin na magtanong kung ano ang iba pang mga bagay na maaaring hindi natin lubos na maunawaan.

Ang ikatlong susi ay ang paglipat mula sa katotohanan na tinukoy bilang isang hanay na may hangganan (bounded set) patungo sa katotohanan na tinukoy bilang isang hanay na may sentro (centred set). Tinutukoy ng hanay na may hangganan, sa pamamagitan ng mga palatandaan, kung sino ang mga nasa loob at sino ang mga nasa labas. Ang isang hanay na may sentro sa kabilang banda ay kinikilala ang isang direksyon ng paggalaw patungo sa isang karaniwang layunin.

Kung saan Gumuhit ng Linya ang Bibliya.

Gumuhit ng isang linya ang Bibliya. Nakita natin ito sa buong Bagong Tipan (Gawa 8:16; 19:5, at 1Cor 6:11; at 1Cor 12:3). Matatagpuan ang isang lugar sa Filipos 2:9-11 kung saan mababasa natin, “Kaya naman itinaas siyang lubos ng Dios at binigyan ng titulong higit sa lahat ng titulo, upang ang lahat ng nasa langit at lupa, at nasa ilalim ng lupa ay luluhod sa pagsamba sa kanya. At kikilalanin ng lahat na si Jesu-Cristo ang Panginoon, sa ikapupuri ng Dios Ama.” Ang ideyang ito ay inulit sa Roma 10:9 na nagsasabing, “kung ipapahayag mo na si Jesus ay Panginoon at sasampalataya ka nang buong puso na muli siyang binuhay ng Dios, maliligtas ka.” Ang nakatutuwa ay ito ay isang linya na hindi iginuhit sa paligid ni Jesus ngunit sa kanya!

Paano ako magsisikap sa pagguhit ng mga linya patungo kay Jesus ngayon?

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On negotiating truth and drawing lines in the sand: Does the fact that all truth is negotiated need to worry me?

Basahin mo sa wikang Tagalog.

Apparently we live in an era where truth is at stake. Postmodernism is often blamed for this largely because people assume postmodernism is the equivalent to post-truth. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Postmodernism doesn’t actually deny the reality of Absolute Truth but is rather a critique that anyone has Absolute Truth figured out. It is a call to revisit the truths that we know with the goal of bringing them into closer alignment with the Truth.

The Bible talks about the difficulty of approaching Absolute Truth by referring to the mystery. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:12 of “Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me” illustrates this problem for us in very understandable way.

The problem when talking about truth is that we often confuse our own truths with Absolute Truth when in fact a claim against my truth and one against Absolute Truth are two different things. A claim against my truth is really a statement saying that I don’t have Absolute Truth figured out just yet and more work needs to be done in approaching it.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in the reality of absolute truth. I do believe that the God of the Bible is Ultimate Reality. I believe that the story contained in the Bible is given to us so that we can have access to this Absolute Truth. I do declare that Jesus is LORD. What I don’t believe is that I have it all figured out (even if I don’t like to be wrong!). What I have come to realise is that all the truths that we hold near and dear are negotiated truths.

Negotiating Truth.

Take for example the various church councils that took place starting with the one in Jerusalem as described in Acts 15. These councils featured large numbers of church leaders who gathered to discuss, and negotiate, what orthodox Christianity looked like. Their decisions continue to impact Christian churches to this day. What is interesting to note is that even if the council led to a schism, both parties maintain that the truth lies with their side as opposed to the other side. The end result is a church that has 5 main branches — Orthodox, Roman catholic, Evangelical, Mainline, and Pentecostal/Charismatic — but what is important to remember is that each of these branches remains a part of the church.

Denominations are another way that truth is negotiated. Each denomination has its own statement or affirmation of faith that sets either the boundaries or the focus for each group.

The dinner table after church on Sundays is another traditional location for negotiating truth as the pastor and their sermon is dissected. The fact that similar negotiations take place at multiple dinner tables makes the discovery of truth all that much more complex!

Another example is in the world of science where negotiation takes place through peer review and Q&A portions of paper presentations, that lead to revisions before publication.

Sometimes paradigm shifts occur that turn current understandings of truth on their head in favour of a completely new way of thinking. The shift from earth-centric to heliocentric understandings of cosmology is a great example of this.

We Negotiate in Order to Draw Lines.

Why are we negotiating? Because we want to know where to draw the line in the sand! At a certain point negotiation ends and lines are drawn. In the church we tend to draw lines based on theology. What is interesting is that we each think that our theology is the correct one and that all others are wrong.

All of this makes it hard to know where to draw the line. Of course, we want to draw the line between truth and falsehood but what if that line keeps moving? Or what if the differences are grey?

I have drawn many lines in the past. One that stands out is that in my younger years I embraced the truth of 5-point Calvinism, with special emphasis on double predestination. Double predestination means that not only did God predestine people to be saved, he also predestined others to damnation in Hell. It even led me one time to teach publicly that babies who die don’t necessarily go to heaven because who knows if they are elect or not? Yup really I did that. Thankfully I was rebuked and corrected in love by my mentor and even more thankfully I have since seen how things don’t entirely measure up against scripture.

Keys to drawing lines.

I wonder if it’s possible to draw lines — if drawing lines is indeed what we need to do — based on Jesus? One possibility is the practice of WWJD? A call to personal holiness based upon the premise that to live like Jesus lived while on earth is a good thing. Of course that raises the whole question of who is Jesus for us? But that is the subject for another post!

Another key is dialogue. Dialogue means hearing all the voices. One example is when we are kids everyone talks the same as we do — until we hear our first person with an accent. All of a sudden we realise that not everyone talks the same way we do. Sometimes we even want to imitate other accents. What takes us longer to realise is that we have an accent too and this realisation leads us to question what other things we may not completely understand.

A third key would be to move from truth defined as a bounded set towards truth defined as a centred set. A bounded set identifies, through a series of markers, those who are in and those who are out. A centred set on the other hand identifies a direction of movement towards a common goal.

Where the Bible Draws the Line.

The Bible draws a line. We see it several places in the New Testament (Acts 8:16; 19:5, and 1 Cor 6:11; and 1 Corinthians 12:3). One place is found in Philippians 2:9-11 where we read, “This is why God has given him an exceptional honor— the name honored above all other names— so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will kneel and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” This idea is reiterated in Romans 10:9 that says, “If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved.“ What is interesting is that this is a line not drawn around Jesus but toward him!

How can I work at drawing lines toward Jesus today?

I love hearing your voice so please let me know your thoughts on this post in the comments below.

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Image by Mediensturmer on Unsplash.

Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®.
© 1995, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020 by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society. 
Used by permission.

Alabaster, going all in, and moving from darkness to light.

I overheard the young virtual tour guide as she interacted with a school class in some other part of Canada. She held a phone on a gimbal and narrated as she walked through the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I was particularly interested when she started talking about these wonderful ramps that lead from one floor to the next. The ramps are covered by this translucent yellow stone that the guide said was alabaster.

The design is intentional, leading the eye as one looks up. As you can see in the above picture, the eye moves from darkness to light and is a metaphor for the entire purpose of the museum — to move people from darkness to light in the realm of human rights. As the website says, “Alabaster ramps carry visitors between galleries. Glowing with LED lights, they criss-cross upwards for 800 metres between chalkboard black concrete walls – a literal path of light through the darkness.”

The alabaster was significant for me because it reminds me of the woman with the alabaster jar in the Bible. You may recall the story that is recounted in all four gospels. Here is how Matthew tells it:

“Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon, a man who had suffered from a skin disease. While Jesus was sitting there, a woman went to him with a bottle of very expensive perfume and poured it on his head. The disciples were irritated when they saw this. They asked, “Why did she waste it like this? It could have been sold for a high price, and the money could have been given to the poor.” Since Jesus knew what was going on, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing for me. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me with you. She poured this perfume on my body before it is placed in a tomb. I can guarantee this truth: Wherever this Good News is spoken in the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

The thing about alabaster jars was that you had to go all in to open them. There was no cap — you had to break the neck of the jar in order to get the perfume out. That means that it was saved for a very special occasion. The theme of all in is important.

This story is in the context of the Passover feast celebrated by Jesus and His disciples (also known as the Last Supper — also in Mt 26). Passover celebrates God’s salvation of His people from oppression and its associated punishment of the enemy. It’s when both parties went all in so that they can assure the salvation of God’s people.

The same could be said for the fight for human rights — we need to go all in. If we only wanted to go half way it would be called “human right.” But all humans have rights. Saving the world means looking at everyone’s rights, not just those of a few.

Jesus alabaster jar experience, meaning his decision to be the saviour of the world, was also all in. Jesus couldn’t go half way in His plan to save the world.

There is the other side of the story that makes alabaster all that more symbolic for a human right museum. The story also talks of those opposed to the woman’s actions — namely Simon, the host, and Judas.

Simon’s criticism merely sees the woman’s actions based on their monetary value and tries to redirect the investment somewhere else — not realising that the woman and Jesus are planning something priceless — the salvation of the world!

Judas decides to betray Jesus to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. I guess Judas’ decision was to go all in in the wrong direction.

What is your alabaster jar experience? What are you willing to go all in on?

Your voice is important to me. That’s why I look forward to your feedback.

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Image taken at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is mine.

Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®.
© 1995, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020 by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society. 
Used by permission.

Thinking about the “This” in “This do in remembrance of me.”

It was written on the table at the front of the church I grew up in and chances are it was the same for you. I always thought the wording was strange — Why “this do” rather than “do this”? — but it is a part of my tradition.

But one thing we often forget is that communion or the Lord’s Supper is a complete construction. Originally a part of the Jewish tradition of the Passover meal, the bread and cup had specific roles to play in the meal. The Lord’s Supper that many evangelicals today practice is a far cry from that: It’s not a meal, the bread is as small a piece as you can get — sometimes it’s a wafer, the cup is also as small as you can get. There is no hope of eating too much or getting drunk — practices we are warned against in 1 Corinthians‬ ‭11:20-22‬‬‬ but are in no danger of doing today. We commonly practice it once a month but the original passover was a once-a-year occurrence. So when Jesus commands us to do “this” until his return what is the “this” that he is referring to?

It got me thinking of how we shape memories and recollections in our lives. The Lord’s Supper was derived from the Jewish Passover. I wonder what other corporate memories other cultures have that are equivalent to Passover?

I guess what I am really asking is this: Is it possible that other cultures have ways of remembering Christ’s death until he comes in as powerful a way as communion? If so, what elements would be needed?

There would need to be some sense of inclusion in the collective memory of the people group in question. The passover was one of the big events in the history of the children of Israel. It was when God physically saved his people from slavery and oppression by preserving (or passing over) their houses and eliminating those of their oppressors. This lead to their Exodus from the land of Egypt back to the Promised Land. To be of Israel meant that one had experienced the Passover.

There would also need to be some symbol of salvation. This is closely connected with my previous point in that the experience of the Passover was an experience of salvation. Jesus use of the symbols of the Passover connects the Exodus event near the beginning of the Bible withthe salvation Jesus would enact later on.

It would also need to be include some hope for the future — “until he returns.” The Passover was more than just a historical event. It also pointed ahead to the Passover that would occur in the end when God returned to judge the living and the dead. What God had done in the past would be repeated for his people in the future. Once again, Jesus’ use of these symbols connects his salvation into the future salvation of the world.

It would also have to be as powerful symbolically as “bread” and “cup.” Both of these are powerful words in the Bible. Of course, they often simply refer to food or a drinking vessel. But they also have symbolic meanings. Bread is used so symbolise the abundant life in God’s Kingdom (Luke 14:15; John 6:31). Cup tends to refer to wrath and suffering in the Bible. Drinking of the cup means to accept the suffering associated with Jesus (Mark 10:38-39).

But some cultures value other things higher than bread or the cup. The various Philippine languages, for example, have hundreds of words normally translated as “rice” in English [palay, bigas, kanin, kakanin, tutong, etc.]. The opposite is true for the Tagalog word tinapay — there are probably hundreds of English equivalents [bread, cookies, cake, crackers, pizza, etc.].

Apart from foods, smells and sounds make me remember. They can be so powerful that when I smell or hear them I have no choice but to remember. When I was in university I only had to smell diesel smoke to be transported back to where I finished High School. When I broke up with my girlfriend (now my wife) for a couple of weeks the sound of the telephone was the most horrible thing I could hear. Too many memories that (I thought) I would never have again.

What kinds of things elicit memories for you? How can you utilise them to help you remember Jesus death until he returns?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Geda Žyvatkauskaitė on Unsplash.

Of monuments and unmarked graves: Is it right to commemorate those responsible for the residential school system while ignoring its victims?

There have been many calls over the past years to either remove statues/honours or preserve them. Most recently in Canada these include people connected to the Indian Residential School System, including statues of Sir John A. MacDonald, the university named after Egerton Ryerson, and the honorary degree given to Bishop John O’Grady by the University of British Columbia. Those on social media who oppose removing memorials see them as a part of history that shouldn’t be changed.

How can we navigate issues like this? One good place to start is by understanding the difference between the Past and History — and no, they aren’t the same thing.

The events of the Past are unchangeable. The past rolls on continuously and inexorably. But there is no DVR or VHS for the past. The only thing that can be changed is the future. As Jose Rizal said, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” [“Whoever doesn’t know how to look to where they came from will not arrive where they are going.”]

History, on the other hand, is different from the Past. History is the interpretation of the events of the past. Because it is interpretation it is subject to change and reassessment.

Now let’s apply these ideas to statues. Is a statue the past or is it history? It’s history because it is the commemoration of a person deemed significant in the past. As Charlottetown, PEI, Coun. Greg Rivard says, “I don’t think removing a statue erases any history. A statue is symbolic of something, and I don’t think right now that the statue is symbolic of the right things.”

What about a grave? Is a grave the past or is it history? Graves are the past. This is because in most cases, actual people are buried in a grave. There are of course many types of grave. There are marked graves, complete with gravestone and epitaph. There are commemorative graves — for example the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — where the person buried within is unknown but is representative all those who died for their countries but remain unidentified. Then there are mass graves or unmarked graves. Mass graves generally hold the bodies of those who have died in a tragedy.

Now what about when the victims of those memorialised and commemorated with statues are buried in unmarked graves? In May 2021, the unmarked graves of 215 First Nations children, whose deaths were undocumented, were discovered on the grounds of a former Residential School in Kamloops, BC. It doesn’t seem right to continue to commemorate or memorialise those responsible for the residential school system when these children have been abandoned and forgotten does it?

But it is one thing for this to be socially reprehensible. We also need to ask what the Bible says about stuff like this. I can think of two ideas in the Bible that apply here.

The Bible has a high regard for children:

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord. They are a reward from him.”

Jesus had a high regard for children, even when society seemingly didn’t. We see this a couple of times, including Mark 10:13-16 that says, “Some people brought little children to Jesus to have him hold them. But the disciples told the people not to do that. When Jesus saw this, he became irritated. He told them, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me. Children like these are part of God’s kingdom. I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive God’s kingdom as a little child receives it will never enter it.” Jesus put his arms around the children and blessed them by placing his hands on them.”

Matthew 18:2-5 says, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Caring for widows, orphans, and foreigners is important to God:

James 1:27 says, “Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world.”

The Bible even has harsh words for those who don’t treat children appropriately:

“These little ones believe in me. It would be best for the person who causes one of them to lose faith to be drowned in the sea with a large stone hung around his neck” (Matthew 18:6).

A millstone around the neck certainly isn’t commemoration is it?

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

What should be my place in the church’s pecking order?

My wife and I have spent the past week on a farm and one incident reminded me of the common saying, “Pecking order.” There were a bunch of eggs in the incubator waiting to be hatched and our arrival at the farm was the due date. One by one the little chicks pecked their way out of their shells and began the next phase of their lives. Which is when we noticed an interesting occurrence. Those chicks who hatched first began to peck at the chicks born later. This is the famous pecking order that determines who gets to peck whom?

It’s the most basic form of relationship and while I can’t begin to try to understand the way a chick’s mind works it does illustrate the way some relationships are oriented around power and domination.

Sometimes the same thing happens when people come to faith. Those who come to faith first set the rules for the next who come to faith. There are countless examples in the Bible, perhaps the most famous being the Pharisees and the prodigal son’s older brother.

Acts 15 is a great example of how the pecking order was challenged and a new way of relationship was hatched. Apparently some of the early Jesus followers decided that non-Jews also needed Jesus and so they began to proclaim Jesus to others. The first stage was Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, who was a Jewish proselyte. Others, however, went further and began to talk about Jesus with people with an entirely different worldview. This of course created turmoil in the early church as people accused both Peter and these other Jesus followers — now called “Christians” — of violating God’s laws.

Peter’s rebuttal is simple: The same Holy Spirit that guides us also guides these new Jesus followers.

The result was the order issued by the early church leaders that is recorded in Acts 15 that outlines how these new Jesus followers could be folded into the church.

This was a reversal of the pecking order concept where the old timers get to set the rules. Now the newcomers could create their own rules. In fact, it was the very rules themselves that lost their ability to shape culture. Rather, the Holy Spirit would somehow intervene in the lives of these others and help them to reshape their own cultures for Jesus.

Jesus says, “Be the one who gets pecked. It’s ok to be pecked because I have been pecked, too.”

So what other pecking orders exist within the church? What does the Bible have to say about these pecking orders?

Intergenerational pecking orders. But Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Don’t stop children from coming to me!” and also a few verses earlier in Matthew 18, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.” What does this mean? Sometimes people whose faith is fresher have a better approach to faith.

Favourite Bible Translation pecking orders. It is interesting that most of these debates are about English translations of the Bible, even though English is not one of the original languages. It doesn’t make sense if we are happy accepting other language translations but are only happy with one English one. What is important is that God says in Isaiah 55, “My word … will not come back to me without results.” What does this mean? God’s word works.

Favourite preacher pecking orders. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 — “some of you say, ‘I follow Paul’ and others say, ‘I follow Apollos,'” — talks about the teamwork involved in church ministry. What does this mean? Be a team player when it comes to church. Listen to a variety of voices. Engage in conversations rather than monologues.

Theological pecking orders. People love to fight about theology. I can remember to this day some of the theological arguments that I had more than 30 years ago — and I loved debating because I knew that I was right! That is the problem with theological debates because the goal is to find out who is right and who is wrong. The bible advises us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). What does this mean? Be prepared for the reality that you may not always be right!

Hermeneutical pecking orders. Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation and for many years one hermeneutical system has reigned supreme: the grammatical-historical method. The problem is that this isn’t necessarily the default hermeneutical system used either in the Bible (eg. take a look at how Peter interprets scripture in at the end of 1 Peter 3) nor in various parts of the world. What does this mean? Sometimes other people know how to make sense of things too. It’s best to dialogue with them rather than condemn them.

Where is your place in the pecking order? How can I embrace being pecked rather than pecking others?

Note: A few days later I happened to see all the chicks huddled together because it was cold. I guess a common problem is more important than pecking each other! Is that why persecution sometimes makes the church stronger?

How can we move our way towards a lamb-like government rather than a wild-animal one?

“In my visions at night I, Daniel, saw the four winds of heaven stirring up the Mediterranean Sea. Four large animals, each one different from the others, came out of the sea.”

Daniel‬ ‭7:2-3‬ ‭God’s Word‬‬

Sometimes we are disappointed with the political leaders we have trusted. We suddenly discover that they don’t entirely embody the values we thought they did. People lauded Justin Trudeau when he first got elected Prime Minister of Canada but then the SNC-Lavalin affair, Aga Khan, and WE charity scandals came out and we realised that he was not all that different from other politicians. Or take the the whole Democrat-Republican divide in the USA. Regardless of where a party is on the political spectrum there are still a variety of issues that face leaders of all stripes that are more nationalistic rather than political, ala this tweet by Mark Charles:

I have been reflecting on a video I saw a few weeks ago from the Bible Project on Daniel. We just finished a study in Daniel where there is a series of visions that feature animals. Some animals have small horns and others large horns, representing presumably their varying levels of animal nature. These themes continue on in Revelation as well. One idea they had that has stuck with me until today is that governments tend to be animals and the only way that these beastly governments are defeated is by the “lamb who was slain.” Note that the difference between “wild animal” and “lamb” is significant.

It got me thinking about the “mark of the animal” and I wondered if having the mark on your forehead and right hand is in essence having faith in government as gospel rather than Jesus as gospel? The gospel genre in the Bible is, after all, a political genre developed by the Roman Emperors to show how great they were. Ratzinger, in his Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46-47, has this to say about “gospel:”

“This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, & redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message … a changing of the world for the better.

“When the Evangelists adopt this word … what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save & transform.

“Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word & deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action.

“The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

This is why Mark begins his account of Jesus’ life with “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Another place we see this is in Mark’s account of Jesus temptation in the wilderness:

“At once the Spirit brought him into the desert, where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days. He was there with the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.”

Mark 1:12-13 God’s Word

If Pope Benedict is right and Mark chose to call his account a “gospel” based upon the political meaning of the word, then it is not unreasonable for him to use the terms “animals” in the context of Jesus’ temptation.

If the gospel is performative and not just informative, how can I daily perform Jesus as gospel in a world where most place their trust in wild animals?

If the gospel is performative and not just informative, how can I daily perform Jesus as gospel in a world where most place their trust in wild animals?

A good start in performing the gospel is to focus on four areas: Kerygma, Koinonia, Diakonia, and Marturia. In other words, we should focus on proclaiming Jesus as Lord of the Universe, on developing the values of Jesus’ Kingdom, on serving God & serving others, and on bearing witness to the Truth.

A good start in performing the gospel is to focus on on proclaiming Jesus as Lord of the Universe, on developing the values of Jesus’ Kingdom, on serving God & serving others, and on bearing witness to the Truth.

Only then will our desire for the wild become a love for the Lamb.

Image from https://unsplash.com/@quinten149

“Kenosis” is a theologically charged word that is loaded with hidden meaning … for me.

Kenosis is a theologically charged word that is loaded with hidden meaning. It appears in Philippians 2 and is used to describe the way in which Jesus humbled himself. It says he “emptied himself ….” Of course the question is always put from the perspective of Jesus: of what did he empty himself? I don’t know how many discussions that I have had related to understand this concept of “emptying.”

Today I had an insight. The context of the passage is not focused on defining for us exactly what it was that Christ emptied himself of. The context is actually a question: Of what will you empty yourself?

What is your understanding of kenosis? What needs emptying in your life?

Pondering Matthew 5:42. Is Jesus serious?

Pondering Matthew 5:42. Is Jesus serious about this? Do you have any thoughts?

I mean it’s not like I disagree with Jesus or anything but this verse tells me something that I not only don’t really want to do but even conventional wisdom tells me is wrong. Here is the verse according the the God’s Word translation:

“Give to everyone who asks you for something. Don’t turn anyone away who wants to borrow something from you.”

Here are a few thoughts:

1. If I did this I would have a lineup outside my door (literally).

2. What about the money I need for my own needs or even better for my family’s needs? Is Jesus telling me to give my money away when asked and then to ask others when I need money?

3. How inclusive is the list? Is it just money or does it apply to other things like my car, my house, my office, my tools, etc.? Is there a line that needs to be drawn or is it always “all in”?

4. What about the whole “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime” thing? Is that just a cute way of getting out of my responsibility?

I guess I can take the typical discipleship talk of denying myself and taking up my cross and following him daily but that is still pretty abstract. When it comes to my wallet, that is pretty real.

What has this verse meant for you? Do you even include it as part of your becoming more like Christ?

The Church, the World, and the Kingdom of God

My favourite theological motif is derived from the story of the Loving Father (also known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son). It is in fact a story about the world, which is synonymous with the family of God. The story is about a Father with two sons. One son wanders off in search of his own joy in life (but ends up realizing that true joy only lies in his father’s household). The other stays at home and faithfully works for his father (but ends up developing a non-loving attitude toward his sibling). The father is very interested in both the return of his “lost” son, as well as the proper attitude of this other son.

This is a picture of God and his relationship with the world. Some people of the world have wandered off in search for joy. Many return to God. Others are safe in the church but sometimes end up having a dim view of those who are not yet there.

It reminds me of something I read from David Fitch over at Reclaiming the Mission. He made a statement about in March 2010 that has stuck in my head. Here it is:

“There is no dividing line between the church & the world. The church may precede the world today, yet it is only living today what the world itself is ultimately called to in the future. The church in essence bleeds into the world ever calling it to its true destiny. As a foretaste of the renewal of all creation, the church cannot be discontinuous with creation. It cannot be discontinuous with the world because the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ. Neither can it merely blend into the world for then all Mission & renewal is lost. Its presence will be in, among & for the world even as it will be distinct from the world. This is what it means to take on the incarnational nature of Christ. It is this very incarnational nature that requires the church to be a discerning community which at times both refuses conformity with the world while at other times joining in (with what God is already at work doing).”

This resonates a lot with me because it is where I see the church’s role in the world right now. We can’t transform something if we are not involved in it. Note that the very concept of transformation implies that there is not a wholesale accommodation to the world, just a participation in what God is doing to enact that transformation.

I just have a nagging question: What is the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God? David points out that the church is a “foretaste of the renewal of all creation.” But if it is a “foretaste,” it can’t be the final product. In the following sentence we read, “the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ.” Is it the church that is becoming the world renewed in Christ or is the renewed world the kingdom spoken of in Revelation 11:15 – “The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will rule as king forever and ever.”

I guess what it comes down to is this: Is it ok for me to work at building the church or should I instead work at building the kingdom? Or is to do one to do the other as well?