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.
This long-tailed tit came into my garden while I was writing this post.
One of the stories in the Gospels which most people are familiar with is that of the paralytic man whose friends had to make a hole in the roof to let him down so he could get near Jesus. It occurs in Luke Chapter 5 verses 17-26. Why could they not get near him because of all the religious people who had come to see Jesus. How many other needy people gave up and went away because of all the religious types in their way? Now, most of us would be very pleased if people came from miles around to hear us speak as the Scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus. But our natural instincts would be to try and please them. But instead Jesus set off their alarm bells rather than tick off their mental check lists. The thing is are we any different? If Jesus had just healed the man they would have been wowed, but he said “Your sins are forgiven.” There must have been a deathly silence after this because instead of ticking a box in their minds, the tick was replaced by a cross. With one mind they were all thinking one word “blasphemy!” Only God can forgive sins, they thought, but Jesus was God and he was challenging them. So he then proved he had the power to forgive sins by healing the man.
Now, we may not physically impede those are trying to get to Jesus in their need, but with negative attitudes, unjustified criticisms of other Christians and churches, etc. We put up psychological barriers which can deter people by putting Christianity in such a bad light. Considering that secular forces are reinforcing these negative perceptions of Christianity in the media we should be looking long and hard at how others perceive our thoughts and actions. In the West religion is increasingly seen in negative terms as a cause of problems rather than the answer. They forget how many have died at the hands of atheists. On the other hand we must not be afraid of listening to challenging messages and not just those that tickle our ears and egos. We must admit our imperfections, yet strive to become more Christ-like, however much we fall short. That is why we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and not overrule Him. Otherwise we revert to Pharisaism. It is by God’s grace that we are saved and not by our own merits. Nor must we assume that others are beyond redemption. It is our role to lead others to Christ and not stand in the way.
David Rose, 2018.
This is a picture of a female red-breasted merganser and it was the first time had seen one. At first I was unsure of what I was seeing. It is slightly smaller than a goosander of which I am more familiar. In fact there was also a male goosander within sight of this bird which confused me because on the one hand you could tell by its size that it was smaller, yet I was worried that there might some variation in the plumage of a female goosander that I was unaware of. So when I got home I checked my bird identification books and found that the closest to what I had photographed was a female red-breasted merganser (only the male has the eponymous red breast). I still had my doubts though. While the feathers that stick out of the back of its head are characteristic of the merganser, maybe I feared this was just a scruffy looking female goosander so to make sure I decided to consult a work colleague who is more expert than myself in these matters. When I showed this picture to him he immediately confirmed that this was a merganser though when I had first broached the subject he was somewhat sceptical. So as a result it was several days before I felt it safe to post this picture on Facebook. However, another person posted a picture that he claimed were red-breasted mergansers which were in fact goosanders.
So what are the lessons that we can draw from this? Simple, check your facts before you post your comments on social media. However, there is an aversion in some Christian circles to scholarship. All you need is The Holy Spirit so you don’t need to bother with reference books. I once turned up at a Bible study on Matthew with a Bible commentary on Mathew and the person leading looked at it as if he had never seen or heard of such a thing as a commentary. I was shocked. Sadly, just because atheist intellectuals virulently attack Christianity, and traditional centres of Christian learning have watered down their theology, all academia and learning is tarred with the same brush. It is just that the secular media only reports on things that appear to question Christianity and put it in a poor light, ignoring those who still support Biblical values. But that is no reason why Christians should use sloppy nonsensical arguments because of woeful ignorance. “After all logic was invented by the pagan Greeks” seems to be their reasoning. It is not that God is illogical but that His logic is higher than man’s logic, and thus better than the greatest of the Greek philosophers. Let’s face it, it is very easy to get our facts mixed up with our faulty memories, so spending a short piece of time checking the facts is better than having admit you have got them wrong.
David Rose, 2018.
The parable of the ten virgins at the beginning of Matthew 25 is a parable that many Christians are familiar with but there are some questions you need to ask yourself. 1) Who is the bridegroom? Christ. 2) Who is the bride? The Church. 3) Does the bride have any difficulty getting into the marriage feast? No. So if you are a Bible-believing Christian why are so many of us worried about being one of the foolish virgins being left out in the cold? In part this may be due to those who argue that a Christian can lose their salvation, and see this parable as evidence for a loss of salvation. But as the bride is symbolic of the corporate body of Christ, are the ‘virgins’ to be interpreted as individuals or bodies? The virgins are symbolic of persons known to the bride but not necessarily the groom. There are many pseudo-Christian sects about that in this day and age the secular public think as being Christian (such as the JWs and Mormons). Could those be the foolish virgins? If so who are the wise if they are allowed in? Maybe what Jesus is trying to get at here is that there are out there whom you would label as heretical because of their views in one particular area or another but they may not be as bad as we might like to think. The virgins were the bride’s “fellow-travellers,” a phrase that has fallen somewhat out of fashion these days, but before the collapse of communism it was often used of left-wingers who sympathised with the communists but were not actually members of the party. Of course when communists did come to power the fellow travellers would often be the first to be lined up and shot. Just merely being associated with the church will not guarantee salvation. So what was the difference between the wise and the foolish virgins in the end. Now most commentators argue that the oil is a metaphor the Holy Spirit. But that does not necessarily mean they were all speaking in tongues. The Holy Spirit’s role in salvation is first to convict the sinner. So by responding the wise virgins received the seal of the Spirit. All ten had fallen asleep but maybe there was also an unbelief among the foolish virgins that the Bridegroom would not come for his Bride, hence the lack of preparation. People looking at the Church today can see many obvious imperfections and doubt that Christ would have anything to do with it.
But let us consider the positive things about this parable, the Bridegroom meets with His Bride and takes her into the feast. The five wise virgins get into the feast because they are with the Bride. To get in we need to be with the Bride. True, mainstream denominations seem to be compromising in many areas to such an extent that we may begin to doubt that a particular denomination has ceased to be a part of the Bride. And there those that are always looking to criticise and find fault for the sake of it. They would write off all ten of the virgins on one ground or another. But the five wise virgins still get in. The thing is if we witnessed the scene beforehand we might have come to wrong conclusions about who would have been considered wise and who would be foolish. The virgins strictly speaking were not invited by the groom by name, he was inviting the bride and she was expected to come with her friends and they would get in only because they were with her. So the bridegroom was never coming for the five foolish virgins only the bride so make sure you are part of the Bride then all your fears are baseless.
David Rose, 2018.