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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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.

Is the Kingdom slipping away from us or is God shifting towards a new centre for the church?

I hear a lot of talk about the how the Christian influence in the west is slipping away. Sometimes this is referred to as the culture wars. Other times it’s referred to by terms such as multiculturalism, open borders, and statements like, “When people come to our country they should learn to do things your way because this is our country!” This is coupled with an uptick in things often labelled as “persecution” often tied to complaints that others are now calling the shots when it comes to values and morality.

And one can’t deny that change is happening. There is a definite change in Western societies’ values and morals and the influence of the church is definitely waning. Values that have long been identified as being Judeo-Christian are being replaced by other values and this has some Christians worried that the church is dying.

There is another perspective to this, however. Sometimes we confuse church with Kingdom and assume that our little corner of what God is doing is everything. Change can happen in various parts of a Kingdom without the Kingdom itself being destroyed. I grew up in Saskatoon, a small city in Western Canada that was fairly homogenous. Most people living there 30 years ago had a European heritage with some First Nations and Metis peoples seemingly on the fringes of society. That has all changed. Saskatoon is now a very cosmopolitan city boasting citizens from all around the world, with large non-European immigrant populations. The voices of the First Nations and Metis peoples are also stronger in the new society. In spite of all these changes Saskatoon is still Saskatoon — it is just a better and more interesting Saskatoon than when I was younger.

Andrew Walls, a missiologist and church historian, talked about the nature of the church worldwide. He saw how through church history the centre of the church would shift from one place to another. Walls described this is shifting “serial” rather than progressive. This means that the centre tends to shift from one place to another. For example, even though the church may have started in Jerusalem, Jerusalem is no longer the centre of the church today. That centre has shifted throughout history from one place to another. When we look at the current situation in the west that has been the centre of the church for so many years we can see that centre is shifting away. A 2009 study by Johnson & Chung tracks this center around the Mediteranean from Jerusalem, north through Europe, and currently moving south in Africa. Others have made similar claims.

So what does that mean for us today in the west? Well, we can mourn the loss of influence that we are having in the world and will have. We can also rejoice that God is moving the centre of his church to other places who are taking up the challenge of leading his church into the future.

We can understand that we can also survive on the fringes. After all, many of our fellow Jesus-followers have been there for a long time. They can teach us how to live under persecution, how to live even though no one focusses specifically on our spiritual needs, how to live when theologizing happens primarily in a language foreign to us, and how to live when the recognised spiritual authorities are from somewhere else.

Part of our responsibility is to help facilitate this transition. How can we help the transition to become smoother? We need to be gracious and realize that the things are changing are important. We need to listen to the voices of those who were previously been a minority even as we now move into being a minority now. We need to be open to the challenge to our traditional ideas — that have up until now been standard in the church — the challenges that are brought to these traditional ideas from new perspectives. We need to prioritize the voices of those who are now at the centre and submit to their leadership, realizing that even as God may have placed us in a place a priority in the past we are moving out of that.

If indeed God is the one who oversees the shifting centre of the church, then that means the things that are happening today in the world are of God. We need to honour that. What will you do to honour your changing role in the church today? How will you give way to those who have previously been minorities as they take up the mantle of leadership in the church today?

I want to hear your voice on this issue. That’s why feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Matthias Speicher on Unsplash.

Magpakalalake tayo! Let’s be men! Understanding how the power of manliness comes through joining God on his mission.

Let’s be men!

Today there are lots of phrases designed to help men be men, ranging from the rather tame, “Man up!” to the more crass “Grow a pair!” In the Philippines we say, “Magpakalalake ka!

Did you know that this term is used in the Bible? Try and guess where. You may be surprised. It isn’t used as a command for Jesus’ followers to emulate. It’s not used to stir God’s people to serve Him in a more faithful way. In fact it is used by a group of people who are so inspired that they defeat God’s people and capture their most important religious artifact. 

The story is told in 1 Samuel 4. The scene opens on a battle between Israel and the Philistines where Israel ends up losing. As a way to ensure that they win the next battle, they quickly run home to get the Ark of the Covenant. When the Ark arrives the men of Israel “shouted so loudly that the earth rang with echoes.” This causes the Philistines to be afraid and they say,

“A god has come into ⌞their⌟ camp.” They also said, “Oh no! Nothing like this has ever happened before. We’re in trouble now! Who can save us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every kind of plague in the desert. Be strong, Philistines, and act like men, or else you will serve the Hebrews as they served you. Act like men and fight.”

What was the result? “The Philistines fought and defeated Israel!” I don’t know about you but this is very surprising to me. This story seems to be saying that if men are men that they can do the following:

  • They can defeat ancient Israel, God’s chosen people. 
  • They can chase everyone back to their own home. 
  • They can kill 30,000 enemy soldiers.
  • They can kill the priests that God has annointed and cause the death of their father, the nation’s leader.
  • They can capture the Ark of the Covenant and take it home as the spoils of war. 
  • They can keep themselves from being slaves of their enemy.
  • They can defeat the God of Israel!

This raises a lot of questions, doesn’t it? One of the key aspects to interpreting the Bible is “if you have a question, keep on reading.” If we keep on reading we will find out more.

When we keep on reading, we find out that the battle was in fact a part of God’s judgement against the evil things that Israel had done over the years. Perhaps the best sum up that we have of how Israel was acting during that time is in Judges that reads, “In those days Israel didn’t have a king. Everyone did whatever he considered right” (God’s Word). Even their priests are described in 1 Samuel 2:12 as “good for nothing,” which is pretty bad, they are also said to have “no faith in the Lord.” God saw what they were doing and pledged to fix things. He gave a sign to Eli, the High Priest, that this would all happen. “What is going to happen to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you: Both of them will die on the same day” (1 Samuel 2:34; see also 1 Samuel 3:13).

In 1 Samuel 5 we read that the Philistines placed the Ark in their own god, Dagon’s temple. This resulted in Dagon’s humiliation. In addition to that “The Lord dealt harshly with the people of Ashdod. He destroyed them by striking the people in the vicinity of Ashdod with tumors.” In an effort to appease the LORD, the people shuffled the Ark around from city to city. Finally they had enough and sent the Ark back to Israel. 1 Samuel 6 tells the story of the Ark’s return to Israel. So in the end, manning up didn’t really work out all that great for them.

There are other accounts in the Bible of how when people banded together, they were able to do the impossible. Genesis talks about the tower that people started building in what was to become Babylon (a name that eventually stands for humans grouping together against God). God, when he saw that they were going to be very successful, ensured that they wouldn’t be able to finish it. He said, “Now nothing they plan to do will be too difficult for them.” He confused their communication systems because he knew that his plans for them were much greater than their own. It wasn’t until Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit removed the language barriers, that God’s purposes are fully revealed. Rather than building a tower to reach the heavens (ie. their own kingdom), God wanted them to build his kingdom, which in the end is a much better kingdom. We know this because Babylon eventually stands for humans grouping together against God and we see it’s animal-like nature every day. I have written about that here and here.

So what does trusting God as men look like?

The enmity between Israel and Philistia continued for generations. One of the most famous encounters we know as the story of David and Goliath, where Israel emerges as the victor. What is interesting about the story of David and Goliath is that Goliath is the epitome of the man’s man — big, strong, famous, and arrogant. David, on the other hand, is just a kid. Even King Saul says, “.”

Paul’s claims to fame that reads almost like a manly bucket list of fame and adventure in 2 Corinthians 11:21-28:

  • Hebrew? Check.
  • Israelite? Check.
  • Abraham’s descendant? Check.
  • Christ’s servant? Check.
  • Worked hard. Check.
  • Been in prison because of Jesus? Check.
  • Been beaten? Check.
  • Faced death? Check. 
  • Beaten with 39 lashes. Check x 5.
  • Beaten with clubs. Check x 3.
  • Almost stoned to death. Check.
  • Shipwrecked. Check x 3.
  • Drifted on the sea for a night and a day. Check.
  • Faced dangers from raging rivers, from robbers, from my own people, and from other people. Check.
  • Faced dangers in the city, in the open country, on the sea, and from believers who turned out to be false friends. Check.
  • Gone without sleep, been hungry and thirsty. Check.
  • Gone without proper clothes during cold weather. Check.
  • Daily pressure of my anxiety about all the churches. Check.

What’s interesting is that Paul doesn’t give us this list to show us that he grew a pair or manned up. Rather he says something rather odd and seemingly unmanly. He says “If I must brag, I will brag about the things that show how weak I am.” Paul then goes on in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 to say, “Satan’s messenger, torments me to keep me from being conceited. I begged the Lord three times to take it away from me. But he told me: ‘My kindness  is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.’ So I will brag even more about my weaknesses in order that Christ’s power will live in me. Therefore, I accept weakness, mistreatment, hardship, persecution, and difficulties suffered for Christ. It’s clear that when I’m weak, I’m strong.”

Paul’s appeal for healing and Jesus answer can help us find answers on how best to be men. Jesus’ “No!” may seem unfair at first until we look closer. We need to remember how Jesus expresses his own masculinity. First of all, Paul’s appeal for healing and Jesus answer can help us find answers on how best to be men. Jesus’ “No!” may seem unfair at first until we look closer. We need to remember how Jesus expresses his own masculinity.

First of all, Jesus himself was a man who gained victory through his weakness. His cry of anguish in the garden of “take this cup ⌞of suffering⌟ away from me” is also answered by his “However, your will must be done, not mine.” He knew that he could achieve victory for himself in his own power but that the victory God wanted through him was achievable only through God’s power because it was so much bigger than just for him.

Secondly, Jesus’ answer to Paul is that he will provide the strength for Paul’s struggle, because Jesus’ dream for Paul is far bigger than Paul can accomplish.

So what should we do instead? It’s clear that the call to “be a man” is powerful enough to cause us to do impossible things. We can defeat the enemy. We can build a tower that reaches to the heavens. It’s also clear that the impossible things we can accomplish are not necessarily good in the end nor are they necessarily what God wants us to accomplish. To truly be men we need to join God on his mission and await his power so that we can help him accomplish it!

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do!

Image by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash.

How can the church partner with the world while maintaining its identity? By imitating Jesus’ Changing Water into Wine. Lessons from Thomas Aquinas.

“All truth is God’s truth.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this while I was in seminary. And that was a good thing because I needed to hear it. I had spent the years leading up to seminary developing my understanding of truth that was pretty much limited to what the Bible (or at least my interpretation of the Bible) had to say. Any claims to truth outside of the Bible were suspect for me.

I even remember a time in a class I took at USask on Religious Perspectives on Death and Dying when I had to comment (in a test) on the validity of the fictional Death of Ivan Illich to my understanding of death and dying. My reply was that since it was fiction it wasn’t true! Wise Professor Robert Kennedy pointed out that truth can be found in a variety of areas of life including fictional accounts.

And it appears this debate isn’t all that new. The other day I took a look at Mitchell Atencio’s interview Why Nathan Cartagena Teaches Critical Race Theory to Evangelicals with Nathan Cartagena on Sojourners and saw a great idea from Thomas Aquinas.

In 1261, a few years before I went to seminary, Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on Boethius’ On The Trinity. Apparently some agreed with my early ideas — that blending God’s Truth with rational truths somehow muddies the mixture. Article 3 of Super Boethium De Trinitate by Thomas Aquinas answers this question in a very interesting way:

“5. It may be said: No conclusive argument can be drawn from figurative speech, as the Master (Peter Lombard) says. Dionysius also says in his letter to Titus that symbolic theology has no weight of proof, especially when such interprets no authority. Nevertheless it can be said that When one of two things passes into the nature of another, the product is not considered a mixture except when the nature of both is altered. Wherefore those who use philosophical doctrines in sacred Scripture in such a way as to subject them to the service of faith, do not mix water with wine, but change water into wine.”

Part of the problem that I faced in the early years of my theological formation was that I somehow believed that the world was divided into two parts: Sacred and Secular. As as young Christian I was warned about the dangers of the world — the danger that I would become worldly. This came out in many areas, including concepts like Christian music, Christian schools and colleges, and Christian bookstores. There was also the idea that people needed to leave the world and join the church. Interestingly there was never an idea that through my influence the world would become holy.

How can we apply Aquinas’ concepts of changing water to wine to the whole sacred-secular debate? The sacred-secular debate keeps the two worlds apart because of fear of contamination — but a contamination that always goes from good to bad. Aquinas says that in order for two ideas to mix that they both need to change. When it comes to God’s truth however, the end result is not a mixture of good and bad but a transformation of the bad into good, much in the same way that Jesus changed water into wine.

So, that brings us to current issues where this can be applied. I can think of three examples. When I was younger the bad guy was psychotherapy. Psychotherapy was bad for reasons that I can’t remember. Fortunately today I have personally benefitted from people who have been successful in blending the truths of God that can be found in psychotherapy with the truths of God found in scripture and have applied those truths into my life.

Christians have also had a love-hate relationship with science throughout the years. Some have suggested that vaccine hesitancy among some Christians is a direct result of the religion-science debate. The argument seems to go along the lines of, “Science promotes evolution that directly goes against the creation accounts of the Bible. If then scientists tell us that vaccines are ok that must mean that they aren’t ok.” What we as Christians often forget, though, is that the early scientists were in fact men and women of faith who desired to know more about God’s creation and started an in-depth study of it.

There has been a lot of talk of late in the church about Critical Race Theory. And that is in fact with the Nathan Cartagena interview is about. The main objection appears to be something like, “CRT is bad because it is Marxism.” Once again the fear of the world influencing the church rather than the church influencing the world rears its ugly head. What we often forget is that justice is one of the key aspects of the Kingdom of God but since it has been neglected so much by the church we need the expertise of those who have thought about justice issues in depth.

Of course I am not advocating an uncritical approach to these issues. As Aquinas himself tells us to “subject [rational philosophies] to the service of faith.” But what I am advocating is that Christians tap every resource available as we seek to turn the water of the world into the wine of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, establishing the values of the kingdom of God, serving God and neighbour, and testifying to God’s truth.

After all, Jesus promises that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the church. Why should we act as if it already has?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash.

Of Governments and Hope: Where should I look for hope?

The Bible doesn’t really have all that great a view of governments. Certainly we are to obey governments but that’s not what i mean. The bible’s best option for human governance is always presented as being God.

We see this throughout the story of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel is freed from Egypt because Egypt’s government had enslaved them. God then led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

We see this in the story of Israel’s first king — Saul — a move that God saw as being a rejection of his rule, and even the most cursory of reads of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles shows us the failure of this system.

We also see this in the choice of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to use the term “gospel” when identifying their story type; gospel or good news being the term Roman Emperors used to describe their own ascension to the throne. The four are in essence saying, “Jesus is a better emperor than Rome’s!”

That’s why government in the Bible is often referred to as an animal (most translations maintain the archaic expression “beast,” but as I’ve said here and here that that leads to strange interpretations). What this means is that we shouldn’t be surprised when the government tears us to pieces. The example in Canada at the moment is the whole Indian Residential School system (which I have written about here, here, and here) but I am sure we can come up with countless other ways governments around the world mess things up. Some organisations —such as Transparency International, Amnesty International, and Wikileaks — exist merely to evaluate the level of mess that governments make. Of course in the Biblical examples we also see some animals that have fatal wounds but don’t die, perhaps indicating domesticated governments who aren’t as powerfully bestial.

This is of course the danger of identifying any human political theory or system with God’s way. One recent Facebook conversation I had highlighted this. My friend pointed out the abuses that more leftist firms of government were guilty of, including the top echelons becoming rich while the rest remained poor. Of course the same could be said for rightist governments and their billionaires. Apart from this there are the similarities between parties on a vast range of issues — their differences are often highlighted but their end policies often end up being the same.

Regardless of the level of wildness in government, it is clear that something else is needed. So what’s the solution? I see at least two:

Lamb of God. The Bible describes Jesus as being more like a lamb than an animal. Certainly He is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but in the context of the animal or beast language used in some parts of the Bible, Jesus as lamb is contrasted. No one in the created world — animals included — is found worthy to get God’s plan rolling: “” Eventually it is the lamb who was slain who is able to open the seals.

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.” It’s the phrase “has become” that I would like to focus on. How does this process happen? There are some that view eschatology as something God does at the end of time. Our only tole as humans is to be the cause of the end because of our unbridled wickedness.

But I wonder if that is indeed the way things are meant to happen? If our wickedness brings about the end, is it possible for us to work together with God in the transformation of the kingdom?

Certainly God has included humans in his plans. Jesus did after all commission his human disciples (including us) to make disciples of all nations. Whose disciples are these to be? Jesus’ disciples of course. What will these disciples do?

Disciples are filled with the spirit, whether that means being empowered to do the work of God, to a way to cope with the troubles of the world without using addictions.

Disciples reconcile people to God and to each other. Paul talks about the ministry of reconciliation that we have on earth. This reconcilition imitates what God through Jesus began. He then says that “has given us this ministry of restoring relationships” as well.

Disciples bear fruit. We often interpret this to mean make disciples but fruit in the Bible more often than not refers to a personal transformation. This is best exemplified in lists of comparisons, most famously enumerated in Galatians 5, but also found elsewhere.

Disciples continue Jesus’ Isaiah 61/Luke 4 tasks of proclaiming Good News, forgiving others, giving sight to the blind, and freeing the captives.

Unfortunately the church hasn’t always been successful at fulfilling these tasks. What’s also unfortunate is that I have not always been successful at fulfilling these tasks. We have a lot to work on, both corporately and as individuals, in the process of working together with God for the transformation of our societies.

I wonder what we should work on first?

Feedback is always appreciated.

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Image by Bill Fairs 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.

Nightmares vs Daydreams: Which do you think are more dangerous?

People often said when I was younger that I lived in a dream world — and that was true. I did spend a lot of time dreaming of an imaginary world. It is strange, however, that daydreams are often thought of as being a trivial waste of time. “It’s better,” they say, “to live in the real world.” What is also interesting is that we often think of nightmares as dangerous We worry about nightmares. We try to stop nightmares. We even make movies about them that frighten us into even more nightmares!

In reality, we should really spend more time concentrating on daydreams. Nightmares, after all, only last for a few brief moments. It’s the dreams that we have while awake that are truly dangerous because we can dream them for a lifetime, and in the end make them come true. 

As TE Lawrence says, 

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Here are my daydreams:

  • I dream of a world where the rule and leadership of Jesus makes the world a better place. A place where the poor hear good news, where prisoners are made free, where the blind can see, where the oppressed are set free, and where the Lord looks with favour on all people. 
  • I dream of a world where the values of the world are the values of God’s kingdom. 
  • I dream of a world where we love each other like we love ourselves. This is best expressed by the Tagalog word kapwa, or “shared being.” 
  • I dream of a world where the truths we shape is the Truth that is revealed to everyone by God, applied to our own cultural and local contexts. 

It is easy to dream such dreams. It is harder to make these dreams come true. But as the old saying goes, “Begin with the end is sight.” 

Keep on daydreaming!

Photo by Jonathan Mabey on Unsplash.

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

I Claim this place in the name of …

New Chinese passport map of disputed area.

New Chinese passport. The dotted line in the lower right corner shows the disputed area that China is claiming.

Have you ever thought about the idea of laying claim. I remember as a child looking at pictures of early European explorers visiting “new” lands and, after planting a cross or a flag, claiming that place in the name of the king (or queen or whoever). Now before you get offended remember that I share both European and First Nations blood 🙂

Recently you may have read one of the following articles regarding China’s new passports. Apparently the show a map that includes disputed portions of the “South China Sea” as being a part of China. As you can guess, various countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the USA have made their opinions known. That’s because they also have claims in the area. It is a problem that has been brewing over many years but has recently come to a head. Time will tell how this will be resolved.

I began to think about the church and about missions. Do we lay claim to things that don’t belong to us? I wonder what people in the 10/40 Window think about all the maps of their countries that have been distributed over the years? I wonder what “Manila Ben” or whoever Saddleback named their target audience thinks when s/he sees the various effigies of who they are and how to “reach” them?

The concept of “claiming” implies concepts like good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil. Those doing the claiming always come out on the good side, while those who are claimed are always on the wrong side. But is this really the way missions works? Can any of us claim to be perfectly and totally connected to God? Aren’t we all on a journey?

Are we making unfair claims upon the people of the world? Do we have any other choice? Do those people then have the right to make a similar claim upon us?

What do you think?