Friday, May 8, 2020
Monday, October 23, 2017
Alert! This review contains some small spoilers.
First I haven’t read the best selling book, The Shack by William P. Young. By the way did you know that he is worth 2.2 billion dollars from this franchise? Evidently a lot of people besides myself enjoyed his book or movie. I was a little hesitant to watch it because many people I respect have criticized the theology of the book, but I'm not on a heretic witch hunt here. For one thing an author who is writing a fictional work should not, in my humble opinion, be held to the same standard as professional theologians. He is writing fiction - fiction whose main message is we are not God - we do not see things from God’s perspective - we are not the ultimate judge of people or events. To which I say “amen.”
The Shack tells the story of a man who has been damaged by an abusive father who claims Christ. Mack, the main character, manages to overcome his childhood, marry well, and have a lovely church going family when the worst kind of tragedy hits. His small daughter is kidnapped (and we assume raped) and killed. It is over the top bad. I think he used this as a device for the worst thing that could happen to a father. Young comes to his grief over abuse honestly, however. He was the son of missionary parents in Papua New Guinea, where (unbeknown to his parents) he was repeatedly molested by some of the leaders of these stone age tribe people. It’s a really horrific secret that he kept for years.
Mack is, of course, devastated by what has happened to his daughter and has pretty much withdrawn from his hurting family. He is also very angry with God. That is when he has an encounter with the God of the universe (called Papa) in a shack in the middle of the woods where his daughter was murdered. The God of the Universe happens to be a warm plus size black woman who likes to cook. She happens to also look like a neighborhood woman who befriends him as a child. At one point in the movie she said that she didn’t think he would be ready to see God as a father (because remember his father was an abusive drunk who beat him and his mother). This is OK with me. Yes God is referred to as He in most of the Bible, but really isn’t God beyond gender? God is spirit, and we should worship him in spirit and in truth. Moreover, there are places in scripture that God is compared to a mother (Matthew 23:27).
Besides God the father as a black woman, The Shack portrays the Holy Spirit as a beautiful Asian women named Sarayu, and the Son is a young Middle Eastern man. I’m not particularly fond of these personifications - it seemed a little too politically correct, diversity police approved to me, and it was all a little confusing. I wouldn’t suggest this movie as a way to explain the trinity. Ironically, it is probably Young’s unorthodox portrayal of the godhead that brought it much of its popularity (and certainly most of its controversy). In case you haven’t noticed white men are sort of out of style at the moment - and I guess that includes their portrayal as the divine. Another complaint I could address but won't is about all that tricky Second Commandment stuff. Anyways the message of Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu was, as far as I could tell, about love, faith, trust in God, and forgiveness. My favorite part of the movie is Mack’s encounter with Wisdom in a cave. (She also happens to be played by a woman.) She has Mack sit on a throne representing God’s work as a judge because in the whole story, Mack has been judging God for all the terrible things that have happened in his life. It is an old question. How could a loving God let such terrible things happen to an innocent child? When Mack tries to sit on the judgement seat he realizes, to no surprise, that he is totally incapable of judging God for anything.
The end of the movie helped me to understand the literary devices and choices that Young chose for his story. I would not use this movie as a replacement for the bible or good biblical exegesis from a pastor, but that is not Young’s purpose here. My favorite line from the movie is when Papa tells Mack that everything that he (and by inference all of us) do and say is important and makes a difference. Again to that I say a hearty “Amen.” I think this move could be of help to anybody who has suffered loss and tragedy. And isn’t that most of us? A warning - be prepared with handkerchiefs if you plan to see this.
Posted by The Valley of Achor at 10:08 AM
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Posted by The Valley of Achor at 4:19 PM
I was infant baptized by my father under the flag of The United States of America and in the Name of the Declaration of Independence. I’m serious. My mother told me about it when I was a teenager, and I assumed it was some rite that my agnostic father had made up and didn’t think much more about it. Then I was doing research on my German ancestors a few years ago who had settled in Wisconsin and discovered that this was a thing. Freethinkers baptize their babies under the flag and Declaration of Independance. My great great grandfather on both sides of my family happened to be a Freethinker. Henry Thien bought land in Southern Wisconsin and built a mill there in the 1840’s. Freethinking was a small popular movement in Germany at the time called Freidenkerbund. It is considered one of the philosophical parents of Humanism and Socialism. Henry Thien believed that people should worship God in nature not in churches, and when he chartered much of his land to start the town of Thiensville, he sold lots on condition that no churches would ever be built there. It didn’t make him very popular with his devout Lutheran neighbors or many other people come to think about it. After his death, his son revoked the charter; churches started moving into Thiensville like they have in every other town in America.
In my mid twenties after years of being in the New Age movement, I began studying the Bible and became a believer. I believed that Jesus Christ is Lord and rose from the dead. A few years after that I was baptized in a lake in the name of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and my eight year old daughter was baptized at the same time. I didn’t think much more about the subject of baptism until a few years later when I was fellowshipping with some Mennonites. One of their most important books is the Martyr’s Mirror which is like an Anabaptist version of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The Martyr’s Mirror (the full title is The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660.) is filled with, among other things, first hand reports of Catholic priests who kept records while torturing Anabaptists for the sin of having a believer or adult baptism. (Anabaptist was originally a derogatory term used against those who were “re-baptized.”) That was when I got my first inkling that the rite of baptism was a big deal in church history. That people were actually tortured and burned at the stake if they got baptized as an adult after they had been baptized as a child. It seemed to me pretty obvious which ones were on the wrong side of the argument.
I didn’t become an Mennonite - I disagreed with some of their doctrines, but I had no problems with a believer’s baptism. All the Christians that I ever spent time with or went to church with had believer baptisms. My Episcopalian mother and my Presbyterian dad had been baptized as infants, and most of the people I knew who had been baptized as infants were like my parents -borderline Christmas and Easter type Christians, more of a cultural Christianity than a belief based one. So this confirmed to me that infant baptism was a problem. However, I am a bit of a historian. The more I studied church history, the more I realized that infant baptism was practiced from the earliest times and is still the most widely form of baptism for Christians around the world.
I became more reformed as I grew in maturity in Christ, and I went to reformed believer baptistic churches. I knew that my Puritan ancestors (my mother's side of the family) baptized infants. I had visited Presbyterian churches (the heirs of the Puritans) a few times, but found them to be too liberal for my tastes with women preachers and elders and other teachings that I found unbiblical. After I started regularly reading reformed pastor Douglas Wilson’s entertaining and pertinent blog, Blog and Mablog:Theology That Bites Back, I began to attend a CREC church where not only infant baptism is practiced but also paedo communion. I knew that I needed to revisit the subject of baptism.
I have to admit, sometimes all the terms and debates concerning baptism can be confusing. It seems to me that most theologians must believe why makes things simple when they can make them as complicated as possible? Dr Michael Heiser has clarified the issue for me - even though I don’t think he calls himself reformed and is better known for his “Divine Council” studies (The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible). What I like about Heiser’s teachings on baptism is that he doesn’t have a denominational axe to grind; he studies the subject from a scholar’s perspective, and, for a scholar, he writes clearly. Part One of his series demonstrates how complex a subject baptism actually is (http://drmsh.com/the-biblical-teaching-on-baptism-part-1/). The disagreements include when, where, who, how and why to baptise.
As a reformed Christian, I believe in the continuity of God’s people in the Old and New Testament and that God guides his people through covenants. The typical justification of infant baptism for the traditionally reformed is that circumcision in the Old Testament is similar to baptism in the new. Heiser says that circumcision in the Old Testament didn’t guarantee salvation or mean anything for Israelite women (actually it performed a very important health benefit for Israeli women but that is off topic.) Heiser states: “Circumcision granted the recipient admission into the community of Israel. Female children were also admitted by virtue of being the property of an admitted male (this is standard patriarchal culture, so women were NOT excluded just because they could not be circumcised).” Heiser continues in Part Six of his series that baptism, in the same way, grants admission into the community of the church whether the one being baptized is an infant or an adult.
It is pretty obvious that being baptized whether one is old enough to confess one’s faith or not, in no way confers salvation because, unfortunately, people fall away from Christ no matter what method of baptism they receive or how old they are when they received it. If you believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and that he has risen from the dead, you should certainly be baptized and be part of a church that believes the same thing. In my opinion, if you were baptized (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as a child and only come to faith as an adult, there is no need to be baptized again, but if you are, it is no sin. I once heard a Messianic rabbi teach that there were five different baptisms performed by the Jews in Old Testament times. Perhaps that is part of the reason why the rite of baptism is not more clearly defined in the New Testament.
My views of baptism have evolved to a satisfying place where my family history and church practices and traditions come together. My father baptized me into the community of Freethinker where I did not choose to stay. In fact, I am the opposite of a freethinker. I try to confirm my thoughts, beliefs, and practices to the Word of God (aka the Bible). Confirming my thoughts to God’s thoughts is a radical act which actually produces true freedom. Biblical thinking frees us from conforming to the ever changing current trends and philosophies of our society. Biblical thinking frees us from the slavery of sin. Biblical thinking values the acutely logical and delights in the supernatural. And the best part is I get to fellowship with others who think the same way I do. I am part of a community of believers through baptism, a community of saints who believe in loving God and loving one another. I think of it like this: Many are called, but few are chosen. Baptism proves one’s calling not one’s election. Election is demonstrated by continuing love and obedience towards God and persevering to the end.
From accepting infant baptism, my church’s practice of allowing children to partake of communion seems perfectly reasonable. For one thing, it is generally agreed upon that the communion of the very early church was a meal. Surely children were included. I also look to the first passover meal as a model for communion. Each household of the Jews living in Egypt were protected by the blood of the lamb upon their doorpost the night that Death came visiting for each first born. When the Angel of Death saw the lamb’s blood protecting the family, he would “passover.” Inside the home, the whole family ate the passover meal. They were all “baptized” together in the Red Sea. Clearly Jesus was showing the connection when he initiated communion (this is my body: this is my blood) during Passover. Some are concerned about the injunction in Corinthians 11 to not receive communion in “an unworthy manner.” But small children cannot receive communion in an unworthy manner because they are innocent. As they become older, the parents teach their children what communion means and the importance of faith and confession. Sharing communion with children installs in them the practice of being part of the Christian community from the earliest age instead of keeping them out of that community. It is a blessing to them that should not be withheld.
I love sitting in church on Sunday morning; watching all the well behaved children sitting with their parents through our rather long service, and sharing in the bread and the wine of our Lord’s supper. Belonging is a very good thing.
Posted by The Valley of Achor at 12:52 PM
Friday, July 21, 2017
Deuteronomy 32:10 (KJV) “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.”
Psalm 17:8-9 (KJV) “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about.”
Zechariah 2:7-9 (ESV)“Up! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon. For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:“Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me.”
בָּבָה bâbâh, baw-baw'; feminine active participle of an unused root meaning to hollow out; something hollowed (as a gate), i.e. pupil of the eye:—apple (of the eye).
I am the apple of Elohim’s eye. He follows me everywhere I go. He sees everything: what is behind me, and what is in front. I am like his cherished infant, his beloved wife, his greatest treasure. He never lets me out of his sight.
He sees me from all directions at once- inside and out. What I feel; where I walk. Since I walk in his sphere, his influence is everywhere. Each person I connect with, each object that I touch all exists within him. If an accident should befall me, it would only be by his permission, in his purpose, and for his glory.
When I remember the Lord in this life, he is pleased. The yellow snapdragons that delight my sight are for me. The lilacs fragrance the air for me. The warmth of my blanket upon my lap, the light of the lamp at my side, the friend who calls me on the phone - are all his good and perfect gifts.
The mystery is how does God see all the apples of his eye at the same time? When we meet with each other, are we not each chosen and precious in his sight? It is like a circle within a circle -his eye on me and around me - yet also on all of those he calls his own. My eyes upon him and upon those I love. So we circle round each other and live in interconnecting rings. Yet we are more than rings - we are three dimensional and full. Like polished stones built upon each other creating a living structure greater than our individual parts.
How mysterious - how this takes me outside of myself and my own small world - Are we not also becoming transparent - seeing His Spirit in each other? Like glass stones filled with light? Like streets of gold and buildings bright? Like fruit hanging from a tree? Or Christmas lights hung on boughs and eaves? Like stars flung across the night: we twinkle and dance and build the very structure of the great expanse called space. Even in the tiniest cell of life, are we not still quarks of light?
So the universe becomes our playground, our building site, our garden bright, our amphitheater.
Posted by The Valley of Achor at 3:01 PM
I was thinking about the veneration of saints as practiced by Catholics and Orthodox believers. To most Protestants, this is a strange custom and practice, but I think I understand its beginnings.
Let’s say my pastor is arrested for the sermon he gave this week. A rather uncompromising exposition on Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God.” As you can imagine, not a favored verse by the ‘transgender community.” Reverend Spratt explained that anything that messes with God’s image or human sexuality (which is made in God’s image) is called an abomination by the Lord. Of course the thought police think that anyone who calls transgenders or homosexuals an abomination are themselves abominable. Which puts us into a difficult dilemma - Do we believe God’s word or current cultural beliefs and practices?
Let’s say the thought police have taken over all government offices (or have they done that already?). My pastor is found guilty of hate speech and (after refusing “reeducation”) “accidentally” dies in prison. The rest of the church is put on notice. We would certainly have the greatest respect and reverence for our martyred pastor who basically died for preaching God's Word. We might even put a photograph of him on a wall in our church. We might even have a yearly remembrance of his bravery and sacrifice.
I am sure this is how the veneration of the saints began. Early Christians remembered their leaders who stood firm and loved not their life unto death. Some of my former Soviet Union students - adults and mostly Baptists - have told me that in their churches in Ukraine and Russia, they fasted on Fridays for all of their loved ones who had been sent to Siberia and were never heard from again. Remembering our brothers and sisters in the faith who have sacrificed much is a good thing. It puts our lives in proper perspective. It reminds our children that at many times in history, being a Christian has required great sacrifice. It gives us courage to stand for difficult and unpopular positions. There is one potential problem with this kind of veneration however.
Synonyms of venerate include regard highly, reverence, worship, hold sacred, exalt, adore, honor, respect, and esteem. The multi-faceted definitions of this word are part of the problem. To regard highly, respect, and honor a Christian (and fellow saint) who has lived and died for the Lord is good. To worship, hold sacred, or exalt this person is not. We are to only worship our God and creator. We are to only pray to him. Praying to a fellow servant of Christ is idolatry. Jesus told us and showed us how to pray - we are to pray to our father in heaven, not to our brother who died before we were born. Worshipful veneration of a human being does not happen in a person's life time. It takes time - at least a generation or two after a person has lived when most of his/her friends and family are dead - before one would consider praying to this person to ask for assistance. Because our acquaintances are well acquainted with their friends and families' many shortcomings. Even though I think my Pastor Spratt is a very nice man, if you actually knew him, it would probably not occur to you to pray to him. Human beings only get that kind of reverence if no one actually knows them.
This extends to all the saints who have passed before me. Even the Lord’s mother - who perhaps I would be tempted to kneel before if I ever met her - but I am most certain she would refuse this kind of attention as do the angels from heaven (Revelation 22:9). “Look to my son,” she would say. “Pray to our father in heaven.”
Posted by The Valley of Achor at 2:51 PM
“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).
The term tribulation comes from an ancient agricultural tool that was used to separate the wheat from the chaff. The tribulum is a thick rectangular board that has sharp razor like blades which are used to cut up the wheat so when it is winnowed, the wheat kernel is easily separated from the straw or chaff. The Greek word thilipisis is used 42 times in the New Testament. The King James Bible usually translates it as tribulation, but other translations often use the terms affliction, anguish, burdened, persecution, pressure, and trouble instead. Besides wheat and barley harvest, thilipisis is also a term used for the grape harvest when the grapes are pressed down to release their juice. Breaking up grains and crushing grapes is what humans do to increase their enjoyment of these crops. However people do not usually want to experience any breaking or crushing in their own lives because that sounds painful! Very few among us volunteer for afflictions, burdens, and troubles except maybe those headed to the mission field. However, if we view our Lord as the harvester who wants to enjoy his crops (his followers), perhaps we can see our problems in a better light.
When Jesus told John that in the world we (the followers of Jesus) will see tribulation this is an observation for all believers in all times. Life itself is filled with trouble and pressure that beats us down. When burdens, affliction, and persecutions are added to this we can feel the metaphorical blades of the tribulum cutting us up into small pieces. The greater the trial, the more superfluous the worthless chaff in our life becomes. We experience a divorce - how important is the steak we planned for dinner? We find out a parent is dying - Do we even think about whether we can afford to buy the latest gizmo in those times? Sometimes it is not a sudden problem but a small trial that has been festering for a long time. When unexpected troubles hit our faith either grows or shrivels up. Has the word of life been planted in good soil or in rock? If our faith grows, then we trust that when God is done winnowing us there will be something of value left behind - some wheat that can be ground into flour to make bread that nourishes others.
The most difficult affliction may come from circumstances out of our control. Tribulation for believers is now occurring throughout the world. Christians are being persecuted in many countries and even in the US, many see increased persecution in the near future. However without the tribulum, we get no wheat. The winnowing not only works within our life but also in the greater body of the church. Tribulation separates the casual Christian from those who are willing to give up their lives. And persecution gathers together those who claim to follow Jesus Christ. When the chaff is blown away by the wind, I expect we will be delighted and surprised at who remains - especially those who worship in a different houses on Sundays.
Tribulation is a gift to the church and in our own life. Tribulation tests our faith. It spots our weaknesses and our sins that yet need to be burned. For the chaff that does not get blown away gets burned in the fire. This shaking of the church is leaving behind what is true and good. Yes, an occasional stone is left in the wheat, but this too will get picked out before the final grinding. That grinding when flour is turned into bread and our lowly bodies are transformed into something beautiful and eternal.
The uniting factor of tribulation is perhaps the most exciting aspect, for although we strive for unity, it is really a work of the Holy Spirit. Our unity will not be found in church affiliation, but in our our love and obedience to Jesus Christ. This love and obedience is most evident when we stand together on his word and his creation. In our day and time both marriage and gender seem to be the defining issues that bring us together or divide us. For the Christian the issue is not political or cultural but a matter of trust in God’s good and perfect design and in his word. The instruments that the Lord uses to thresh us are different in different ages and cultures, but these instruments help us to grow in faith. Faith in the final work of our bloody savior, his resurrection from the dead, and his glorious ascension to the right hand of the father.