Christianity has never existed in a vacuum but always in the context of social and cultural values. At times in the past Christianity has been able to influence popular culture but in more recent years the boot has been on the other foot. There have been times when Christians have loudly protested at times such as when Harry Potter novels became very popular, though that only surfaced in America when the large sum of money that J. K. Rowling was earning from the novels that patriotic Americans were objecting as much to the funds crossing the Atlantic as to the dangers of the occult which they were officially protesting about. At other times when popular culture attacks Christian values it is met with apathy, possibly because of the previous failures to turn the tide of secular thinking. In fact there are so many attacks from all directions that many Christians are often unaware of the more subtle ones.
Several years ago I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larsson because I had heard people talking about in the media. I was surprised how morally challenging the books were. Being set in Sweden I was not surprised that they were written from a left-wing standpoint. But I was surprised to the degree the whole ethos of the characterisation of the various plots and subplots was opposed to Biblical values. Though I have to admit that this was in hindsight. Initially the first character you come across is the proprietor of a monthly magazine called Millennium which champion the “new morality,” who has just lost a libel/defamation case and gets sent to prison. To get his own back on the capitalist who brought the case, he is assisted by the eponymous girl who is an expert hacker. Though there was a warning early on when his daughter (he is divorced) makes a couple of brief appearances she is described as an evangelical Christian but he thinks the people she is associating with have brainwashed her, It was not so much that fact that he seemed to have sex with every woman he worked with that was disturbing to me. It was when the heroine uses the knowledge she has obtained by illegal methods to perpetrate a massive fraud on the aforesaid capitalist. Though this is treated as a side issue through the main twists and turns of the main plot where the heroine is depicted as a victim. She is never even suspected of the fraud by the Swedish authorities though falsely accused of other crimes including murder. All those the author deems good guys are secular, and left of centre or centre in politics. Anybody right of centre turns out to be fascist and treat their wives appallingly. Looking back I now see clear double standards being applied, I also heard that when the author died he left his unmarried partner nothing in his will even though she claimed she had helped him with ideas for his books. So much for the morally superior tone of his works.
When I look at the media today where many express similar views, and look to Sweden and other Scandinavian countries as utopian societies, one can see similar double standards operating. It is just that they are blind to their own prejudices. Too often people overlook the failings of people with similar views as mere foibles yet demonise those of their opponents as abhorrent. One of the problems the Church faces is that it is often unaware how much their congregations are taking in unbiblical attitudes and beliefs in without often realising how they absorb the ethos of the world around them. Instead of being the salt of the earth as Jesus said and impacting the world around it.
David Rose, 2018
One of my earliest posts on this blog was entitled- “Lurcher’s Crag, a question of revelation,” It used Lurcher’s Crag, which gets its name from the fact that it resembles in shape a breed of dog called a lurcher. Two photographs depicted the difference between head knowledge and revelation.
This photo represents head knowledge. With head knowledge one often only vaguely see why lurchers crag was so named.
Hopefully you will see the lurcher more clearly in this photo, at least the head, back and rear.
The background story to my first post was that when I first came to Aviemore I was told how Lurcher’s Crag got its name but when I looked at it I only vaguely saw it. Many years later its features were pointed out to me more clearly. And when you can see it in conditions like the second picture you can make it out easier in the first. The same is true when God reveals something to us through His Word or Spirit. When we look back we can see events in a different light. However, God reveals different things to different people. Sometimes we appear to be at cross purposes with unbelievers or even other Christians because we see the second picture in our minds when what they see is the equivalent of the first. This can lead to frustration on both sides and requires patience to overcome any difficulties.
There a second point that I would like to add. There are times for days in end when the Cairngorms are covered in cloud and mist and there is no chance of discerning the lurcher. The fact is that when God reveals Himself to Christians in some way oy other he does not do so to give them some warm fuzzy feeling. More likely the exact opposite. The testimonies of many of the great Christians of the past have shown that their greatest spiritual experiences often happen just before if not during periods of great trial in their lives. You want an Isaiah chapter 6 revelation of God? Well tradition has it that Isaiah was the person referred to In Hebrews chapter 11 who was sawn in two. Still sure you want an Isaiah chapter 6 encounter? Be careful what you pray for, God might just give it to you.
David Rose, 2018. [The original post “Lurcher’s Crag, a question of Revelation.” was published in December 2012.]
When you read the account of Nabal and his dealings with David and his men in 1 Samuel chapter 25 the first reaction is liable to be along the lines of – “I am glad that I am not like him.” But I find that when I think those kind of thoughts alarm bells should be ringing – Hypocrisy Warning! As a descendant of Caleb, Nabal had a great spiritual heritage but it did not do him any good in the end. It has often been said that God has no grandchildren and Nabal is a case in point. I suspect that Nabal’s surliness was, at least in part, due to him thinking he was superior because he was a descendant of Caleb and not mere coincidence. If you come from a situation where you have a good spiritual heritage it is easy to become arrogant and complacent. You are in danger of becoming an old and cracked wineskin. Back in Genesis Jacob had prophesied about the tribe of Judah, that the “sceptre will not depart from Judah.” Nabal, no doubt, assumed that this referred to his family when it in fact referred to David and his line, and ultimately Jesus. Hence his attitude to David, even if he had heard that Samuel had anointed David he did not recognise the anointing. When you look at the history of the church and revivals the harshest critics have come from within. Many English Christians dismissed the 1904-5 Welsh revival as “Welsh emotionalism.” I have to admit that at times I have been very sniffy about some of the newer expressions of Christianity and styles of worship. It does not take very long for what was the cutting edge of the Lord’s work to become the ‘stick-in-the-muds’ in the next generation or move of God. Now you might not be from some great Christian church or movement and have found yourself on the receiving end of other’s disapproval. It is quite likely that David expected better treatment from Nabal because he was a descendant of Caleb, but I hope your reaction to that was less extreme than David had his men. But beware lest one day you find yourself dismissing others in the same way. Having said that, there a lot of false teachings and practices out there to be sniffy about and we need to be careful. Nabal made a serious mistake and he paid the price and it would have been worse had not his wife Abigail not placated David and his men.
David Rose, 2018.
Last week I bought a jigsaw that had a picture of the Mona Lisa on it. As I have been doing it I have been thinking of the similarities between solving jigsaw puzzles and theology. When you first start a jigsaw you are faced with a large number of pieces, most of which do not make a lot of sense as to where they fit in. Likewise when we become Christians we look at the Bible and it is easy to get confused with the different parts, trying to make sense of it all. One of the great dangers when you work at solving a puzzle is that you try and force a piece into the wrong place. At first, when it is only attached on one side, it might seem right but as you progress it begins to look wrong. If only because you cannot find any of the other pieces that fit in around it. However, just because the pieces do not fit in the way we want it to, does not mean that some of the pieces are missing. In fact you may have noticed that I have deliberately chosen a picture of the puzzle as a work in progress. This is because our theological understanding is a work in progress. I have even found out that some of the pieces shown in the picture were in the wrong positions. Too many Christians are making their theology fit their world view, instead of letting their world view be formed by their theology, i.e., Bible based and God centred. I have to admit that some of my theological opinions have changed over the years, though I am not talking about core doctrines here. The problem if we persist in the analogy of trying to force pieces in the wrong place we reject some of the pieces we have and look elsewhere for ones we hope will fit. That leads to many errors and false teachings. So beware.
David Rose, 2018.
Large fritillary taken earlier today.
At the beginning of Acts Chapter 16 Luke refers to Paul and his companions as “they” but in verse 10 he begins to use the pronoun “we” though no clue is given in the text how Luke suddenly appeared among the group. This change is so innocuous that it is easily overlooked. Considering that it is generally believed that Luke was a native of Antioch and a brother of Titus, you would expect some clue to the circumstances of him joining Paul at Troas. The fact that Luke never mentions his brother in Acts might suggest that Luke blamed his brother for getting him into a lot of tight scrapes as a result of accompanying Paul on his journeys. It seems unlikely that Luke was called upon because Paul was seriously ill because Paul managed to survive a severe flogging in Philippi a relatively short time later. But have you ever considered what might have happened if Luke had not met up with Paul before he departed to Macedonia? Might it have been that both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts might not have been written? Now the preceding verses relate that Paul had not been intending to go Troas at all. Instead he seemed to have zigzagged across what is now western Turkey. The question that I found myself asking was to what extent the delays that Paul and his companions experienced allow Luke to catch up with them. Now it is only human for some of Paul’s companions to begin to question Paul’s sense of spiritual direction so it might have taken some time to persuade them that his vision of the Man from Macedonia was actually genuine. In the meantime Luke appears on the scene coincidence or God-incidence? [For more on my views on Luke’s influence on Paul see the post “Parts of the body” which was posted in December 2016.]
I suspect that there are some people out there who will read this post who have gone through, or are going through, times where the Lord seems to lead you into a series of cul-de-sacs. I put it to you that you might be waiting for a “Luke” to catch up with you before you get on the boat for the next stage in your spiritual journey. In fact I found that I have had to put a previous post I had started in the trash before I started this one, so I know the feeling. If Luke had failed to catch Paul at Troas, then the best next thing would have been less of the Book of Acts being written as an eye-witness, the worst case scenario would have been that Luke then gave up chasing after Paul and went back home, in that case there would only be 25 books in the New Testament.
David Rose, 2018.
Five years ago I noticed a splash of colour on my front lawn which consists of more moss than grass. On examination it was a flower I was unfamiliar with. I posted a couple of photos on Facebook and a friend suggested a type of orchid. Subsequently, I looked it up and found that it was a northern marsh orchid. By that time I had been living in the house for over a decade and had not seen it before. The following year another showed up in a different spot. A couple of years ago another appeared in a grassy part of my drive. But it did not flower last year though two new ones also appeared in the lawn. On examination I began to spot other orchids that had not come into flower, possibly because they were only in their first year. In total I counted 12 orchids. This year though spring was late there was a prolonged warm dry spell which brought the older more established orchids to develop earlier and begin to flower but a couple began to shrivel up before it rained again which brought most of the others on. However there was another dry spell so I began to water the orchids until it rained again. This year, apart from the two that only partially flowered, 12 flowered plus two more plants giving a total of sixteen. So these orchids are showing signs of fruitfulness.
However when it comes to spiritual fruitfulness is it so straightforward? For example, it is easy to look at a church that is growing in size as being fruitful. However, sometimes church growth may be down to Christians moving between churches rather new converts. Demographics rather than a move of God. Yet when we hear of a large and growing church our assumptions are that it is because of a spiritually fruitful ministry. But what of people in more difficult situations. What about Jeremiah? He found himself being disbelieved by almost everybody he preached to. On a superficial level it would seem he had a very unfruitful ministry if you judged it by the numbers of his followers which by the end of his ministry was none. The danger is that we judge the fruitfulness of others by our own enthusiasms, Charismatics looking for evidence of the gift of tongues and healings, and more traditional Evangelicals by the Biblical teaching. Likewise when we examine our own lives how fruitful are we? We may not be the best judge of our fruitfulness. We might look to something we consider big when, in fact, we may be at our most fruitful when we do small humble things well.
David Rose, 2018.
An osprey after an unsuccessful visit to the fish farm.
To recap, in Part 1 that the ‘works’ of James’ faith with out works is dead can reconciled with Paul’s fruits of the Spirit. In Part 2, I argued that the Council of Jerusalem was in essence a debate about Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith which in the end James agreed with.
There is the story about the prospector in Colorado back in the nineteenth century who discovered a source of lead ore. So he started a mine. However, he found that the ore was difficult to separate from the rest of the material that was extracted. The lead was amongst a heavy black mineral he was unfamiliar with. After some time somebody else came along looked at this waste residue, examined it and had it tested and found out that it was actually high grade silver ore. So the prospector had actually stated a silver mine though he was unaware of it. When we first come to faith we might think that we are taking out a fire insurance policy but we are getting actually something far more valuable. We are entering into a relationship with God through Christ, becoming children of God by adoption. We tap into a rich seam of God’s grace and love, but all too often we act as if we are unaware of its true worth. Sometimes it seems as if we are picking out the lead and leaving the more valuable silver as dross. When we read through Romans, despite the reality check of chapter seven, part of us, at the back of our minds, thinks that this is to good to be true. Therefore it is easy to fall into the faith plus works mentality. The prodigal son in the parable expected that he would have to work as a slave for his father so that he might work his way back to his father’s good books. Instead he was surprised to be welcomed back as a son. Of course, if the prodigal son had somehow turned up unexpectedly and demanded to be restored as a son and tell the father to kill the fatted calf to celebrate his return without a hint of remorse he would have been unlikely to find that his father would agree to his demands. In the parable itself it was the very fact that the prodigal was penitent and humbled that enabled the father to restore his son. But the elder brother in us fails to accept God’s grace when he bestows it on others, especially after we think we have been let down by them. So we expect others to jump through hoops that we are not prepared jump through ourselves.
For a moment let us look at the relationship between natural parents and their offspring. What would it take for natural parents to disown their children? Despite the sleepless nights, nappies to be changed, the babies being sick all over them, etc., most parents will still love their children. Of course, they do expect their children to grow up and be less dependent on them. The children themselves do nothing to earn their parents love, especially in their early months, the parents love them because they are their children. Likewise, with God, He first loved us and while we were still sinners Christ died for us. However, if all we think we are doing as we mutter a version of the ‘sinners’ prayer’ is buying a fire insurance policy then we will be looking for exclusion clauses that will exclude us form its protection. They will be prone to fear. They begin to doubt the sufficiency of Christ as a covering. The danger might be after all that they might wish to exchange that for a nice set of the “emperor’s new clothes.”
David Rose, 2018.
This blue tit allowed me to photograph it.
In part one I talked about the confusion between the doctrine of justification by faith and the letter of James where he states that “faith without works is dead,” and “you must be doers of the Word.” The dating of the letter of James and also its authorship has been debated over the years. There is no detail that can specifically date it, though the general consensus these days is that it was written fairly early on in the church era, by James the brother of Jesus. Though there those who would argue otherwise. On the other hand we are certain that Paul’s letter to the Romans was written before Paul’s journey to Jerusalem in the late 50s AD. The main source of history of the early church is the Book of Acts, and in chapter 15 it records the Council of Jerusalem in circa 49 AD which was a debate between those termed “Judaisers” and Paul who argued for what is now known as justification by faith. The background to this is that men arrived in Antioch claiming to have the authority of James, who had become the effective leader of the Jerusalem Church after the Apostles had been forced to leave Jerusalem because of persecution. Initially, they had great influence when Peter and Barnabas disassociated themselves from the Gentile fellow-believers, but Paul managed to persuade them to re-engage. But in order to persuade the likes of Peter and Barnabas did the Judaisers try and use the letter of James as evidence for their position that Gentiles needed to become Jews to be saved? Luke summarises the debate as ending generally in Paul’s favour. Though none of the speeches used by those in favour of the Judaisers position are recorded but Paul asked in Romans the rhetorical question: Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? This has been a charge brought against those who preach justification by faith since Paul’s time. Paul emphatically denied the charge but that is how human logic using unspiritual eyes sees the Gospel. So I am sure that many of the contributors to the discussion would have raised that point from every possible angle. Especially because it hides that fact that their basic objection was actually a prejudice against Gentiles. The important point being that non-Jews did not have to be circumcised. Luke even records James as agreeing with the basic concept of justification by faith. This was deliberate by Luke to demonstrate that those who were trying to use the Letter of James to undermine justification by faith were taking it out of context. The letter of James is about hypocrisy and if you had been brought up in a family with an elder brother who was perfect you would probably intolerant of it as well. However, the Judaisers, and others who have since adopted their faith plus works view of salvation, did not go away they just became more subtle in their methods.
Today, there is an increasing number of Jewish believers in Jesus as their Messiah. The downside of this is that many of these have a problem with the predominantly Gentile Church, finding many of the practices of the traditional church as alien to them. There is a tendency to attribute any difference between Judaism and Christianity as being as a result of pagan influences. Everything is blamed on the Gentile Christians as if Judaism was perfect. Their arguments sound spiritual but when you try and engage with those who have been influenced by them, you find that they regard the Jewish Torah as being more inspired than the New Testament, and therefore it trumps all of Paul’s teachings. Though they will not formally admit this. They may go on about observing the Jewish Sabbath instead of Sunday, but their observance of “thou shalt not bear false witness” leaves something to be desired.
David Rose, 2018.
Northbound steam special approaching Aviemore on 21st April 2018 hauled by BI class 61264 and Jubilee class 45699.
Most Christians have a problem with the relationship between faith and works. Paul argues in Romans that we are justified by faith, and most believers come to faith listening to such arguments. Then when we become Christians somebody comes along and mentions the letter of James who says that faith without works is dead and we are utterly confused. Especially if it is the same person who told us about Romans in the first place. So how do we resolve this?
Part of the problem is in the order we have come across the two letters. We tend to read them in the wrong order because most scholars believe that the letter of James is the earliest of the New Testament books to be written. So James was not written because he criticised Paul’s reasoning for justification by faith. That may be the impression we are given because it comes after it in the canon of Scripture. If anything it was the other way round because Paul wrote his letters to correct false ideas that were going around, including that of the Judaisers who often claimed to have come from James. Yet Paul did not disagree with anything in the James itself, but, probably, he would have preferred to use the word “fruit” rather than “works.” If you substitute the phrase “fruits of the Spirit” instead of “works” in James chapter 2 verse 26 it makes perfect sense. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without the fruits of the Spirit is dead.” The works that James is talking about are evidence of our faith showing that it is alive. It is not an argument against Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Nowhere in the his letter does James suggest that one can earn their salvation through good works. All he is saying is that you do not expect to find apples on a dead apple tree. The fruit is a sign of life.
David Rose, 2018
Have you ever wondered why Jesus always seemed to be most critical of religious people, especially those who put a “hedge” about the Law? I suspect that the answer lies back in the book of Genesis. Back then there was only one law given and that was not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This law was given to Adam before Eve came on the scene. So he had the responsibility of passing on this instruction to Eve. But in chapter 3 when Satan asks Eve “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” It would seem from Eve’s reply that Adam put a hedge around God’s instruction because she tells Satan “and you must not even touch it, or you will die.” So Adam must have added the instruction not even touch it. Did he mean just not to touch the fruit or the tree? But Eve seemed to have taken it as the whole tree. Now Adam was without sin at that point so in adding a hedge around God’s instruction was not sin itself. However it gave Satan an opening to put doubt in Eve’s mind. There is a parallel today in our health and safety culture in Western society, where by being risk averse it brings the opportunity for ridicule when absurdities of safety rules are pointed out. Forgetting how many lives and injuries have been prevented by the same rules. Putting a hedge around a law seems a sensible thing to do, but hedges grow, and then instead of questioning the hedge Satan ends up by questioning the law itself. The hedge instead of protecting the law becomes the means of its breaking. As a result sin came into the world.
By the time that Jesus started His ministry the Jewish religious establishment, as a reaction to the events that brought about the Babylonian exile, had developed their own interpretation of the law. Hedges were built up around every law but they also devised loopholes to get round them as well. Jesus ruthlessly exposed their hypocrisy time and time again. Jesus never broke the law, but he continually broke their interpretation of the law. As a result they began to plot how to kill Jesus. And in so doing they brought about the very thing that had been prophesied in Genesis chapter 3 that “the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head.” Which, of course, was a consequence of putting a hedge around the first law of not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Because of Adam’s hedge Jesus would have to die in the cross. No wonder he hated the other hedges of the scribes and Pharisees. Yet when we give instructions to others how often do we not add a similar injunction:- “So, don’t even touch it!” Life is full of well-meaning things that have unfortunate consequences.
David Rose, 2018.