Time for Fresh Perspective

I often set myself a challenge to shake up my world that has become too comfortable, and to grab hold of a fresh perspective. Along the way I ponder interesting questions. ¬†Some might say that I have a complex mind ūüôā

One question I remember asking myself when I was seventeen was, “If a tree falls over in a forest and there is no one there to see or hear it, does it still make a sound as it crashes to the ground?” ¬†Perhaps this is an odd question, or one to which we assume the answer is easy, but in pondering it, I began to qualify my world view.

I concluded that, yes the tree would still make a sound even in the absence of anyone to hear it, and that the tree and the sound existed in an ordered universe with defined and knowable rules which at the very least had been set in motion by a supreme being, and would continue to exist and act even in my absence.  In short, I was not the centre of the universe, but my identity and place in this world was somehow defined in relation to an ordered universe fashioned by a god.

Thus continued my quest for seeking out and knowing God, a quest that, as a disciple and follower of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, I am still walking out today.

Recently I was pondering another of these questions, as follows: ¬†“Suppose you lived inside a big box that was sitting on a firm foundation. ¬†Every year the box was shrinking but proportionately so was everything inside the box and also every measuring device that you had. ¬†How would you know the box was shrinking, or that its position in relation to the world outside the box was changing?” ¬†In short, you wouldn’t. ¬†You would be unaware the box was shrinking and would have no reference point to relate to the larger universe outside the box.

As I thought more about this image, I realized that it was a perfect metaphor for the current condition of much of the church today.  
The church has become like a box with high walls that we hide behind and retreat from a world that we are supposed to be actively involved in.  To those outside the box, the church has become increasingly irrelevant, and we do not realize that we are no longer at the centre of society but on its fringes.

As we have retreated behind the walls out of fear and created for ourselves a comfortable, safe place with our own language, customs and practices, we have abandoned our missional calling. ¬†We wait for Christ’s return as a means of rescue, rather than as the establishment of His kingdom here on earth, which God desires no one to miss.

The walls must come down.  The church as the Body of Christ must go out.  We were not called to build walls.  We have been called to the Great Commission and to begin to build the kingdom of God on earth.

We must redefine our frame of reference. ¬†We do not live in a Christian society. ¬†We are not the centre of the universe. ¬†God and his purposes are at the centre. ¬†Our calling is not to hide away or to bring people to a church building where by “osmosis” they can learn about God and learn to talk and act like us. ¬†Our calling is not to change legislation. ¬†Our calling is to go out and to be relational and missional among all people outside the protective box. ¬†We were not called to be a social club.

We live in a very spiritual world alongside people already inclined to believe, or to want to believe, in something spiritual.  People talk of their personal belief system.

In stepping outside the box, and becoming missional, the church as the Body of Christ must avoid a couple of pitfalls.

First, in an effort to be relevant, the church must avoid shifting the goalposts.  In an age of personal spirituality, the church cannot redefine the tenets of the gospel or the identity and importance of the Messiah to leave out the uncomfortable or inconvenient parts.  To do so is to create a false or incomplete gospel and to create a manufactured Jesus.  In the above metaphor of the box, this relativizing of the gospel is akin to setting the base of the box on quicksand.

Second, in an effort to hold on to the unchanging truth of the gospel, the church cannot confuse scriptural truth with subsequent tradition, or combine the timeless truth of the gospel with a likewise timeless method of presentation and delivery.  To do so is to create a truthful but irrelevant message of hope that answers questions that no one is asking.  In the above metaphor of the box, this increasing irrelevancy is akin to having no reference point to relate to the world outside the box.  Instead, proper contextualization of the timeless truth of the gospel and the identity of Jesus as Messiah is essential, to know what people are thinking and how to reach them.

Third, the church cannot show up in the world outside the box only to oppose what it doesn’t like, or what it deems is on the top of God’s agenda. ¬†The church as the Body of Christ – you and me – must be fully engaged in the world outside the box.

Fourth, the church Рyou and me Рmust remember that there is greater power in a relationship with people than in a lobby, petition, rally, or protest sign.  To be missional requires each of us to be relational.  Each of us are called to be missional and relational to the people around us, not just as potential converts, but as people Рour family members, our co-workers, our neighbours, and indeed everyone we encounter.

It is time for the church to rise up and look up and take up the Great Commission with fresh perspective.  It is time for all of us to tear down walls and think outside of the box.

ūüôā

Go Where No One Has Gone Before.

In my childhood I remember watching Star Trek re-runs after school, the adventures of Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew as they explored “space… the final frontier”. This fueled my imagination about other worlds, expanded horizons, and different peoples, exploring the realm of the unknown. ¬†Then in my later teens came Star Wars on the big screen, which I saw four times. ¬†I dreamed of what it would be like to go to places no one had ever gone before.

I knew nothing then about philosophy or theology or world view or science. But the appeal of a future showing freedom for all, with no one left behind, regardless of race, gender, language or culture, combined with excitement and adventure and the triumph of the human spirit, appealed to me then.

It still appeals to me today.

I continue to enjoy movies and novels that portray such an exciting world and universe of possibilities where the human spirit is free and enabled to be all that we were designed to be.  Many might say that this is escapism in the midst of a decaying, dysfunctional, corrupt world.

That may be a fair statement.  However, if true, I think that this is the same escapism that fuels scientific exploration, and in particular the exploration of space itself.  The other day Stephen Hawking was quoted as saying that earth and humanity on earth is doomed to destruction, and that we need to accelerate the process of exploring space with the view to colonization and escape.

This is a gloomy picture.  It says that the earth is not redeemable.  Ironically, it sounds a lot like the end-times viewpoint of many Christian evangelicals, who expect a cataclysmic end to this current iteration of the earth which will be preceded by their escape from this imminent suffering and destruction to be with the Lord.

The problem of course, with this gloomy picture, this utopian view of a future in the stars, or waiting for the rapture to escape destruction, only to later rule with the Lord in a re-made heaven and earth, is that it removes us from responsibility to go change our world.  It denies our fundamental call to stewardship of all humanity and in fact of all creation itself.

Does it not seem strange to you that billions of dollars are spent on military weaponry, influence and political intrigue, and on space exploration, while a blind eye is turned toward the poor and disadvantaged in our midst, the oppression of women, the sexual slavery and exploitation of children, the curable sicknesses where available treatments are unaffordable and the persecution of entire people groups based on race, ethnicity, caste or belief?

Imagine instead a world where the billions of dollars spent on military strength, political hegemony and escape to the stars were instead re-directed toward transforming our world and changing the living conditions of its people. ¬†Imagine the efforts of the “haves” in our world re-directed toward transforming our world and changing the living conditions of all of its people, especially the “have-nots”.

Imagine the Body of Christ actively engaged through a full implementation of the gospel to go out and transform this world, instead of being fixated on escaping from it. ¬†We have dumbed down the gospel to mean only the spiritual salvation of souls which will then escape this corrupt world to be with the Lord in heaven. ¬†We have forgotten that His kingdom was inaugurated on earth at the moment of His resurrection, that Jesus (Yeshua) spoke more to his disciples on the kingdom of God and its practical implications for living than He did on going to heaven, that in His instructions on prayer He stated “May your kingdom be established on earth as it is already established in heaven”, and that our eternal dwelling place will be here and not away someplace else. ¬†His kingdom, through the full embodiment of the Great Commission, will be implemented through His body in people and on earth, in part as far as we are able, while we wait for His return and the full consummation of His kingdom with a transformed and renewed heaven and earth.

Gnosticism pervades our worldview, even inside the church.  Basically gnosticism is dualist, believing that all matter in this world is bad / corrupt, and the that the spirit world is good, and that at death the soul is freed from its corrupt encumbrance.

In popular thinking, exemplified by Hawking’s recent statements, this world view manifests itself in believing that the world is not redeemable, and that humanity needs to escape its destruction and shed its encumbrance to begin again in the stars, where all corruption will be left behind. ¬†This leads to a fatalism about the future, and a withdrawal from active engagement in the lives of other people and in our society.

In evangelical Christian thinking, this manifests itself in making salvation only a spiritual matter in which the soul is liberated, and, in terms of end-times scenarios, manifests itself in the glorious rapture of His faithful people to meet the Lord in the air, escaping tribulation and a world heading to destruction, finally free of earthly and carnal encumbrance. ¬†This leads in its most extreme form in a “people of God” who have interest only in people for their soul liberation and the jewels it puts in our crowns, and who display no interest in environmentalism or in social responsibility for the disadvantaged or in the liberation of oppressed people in the world, because the world is going to be destroyed anyway. ¬†One sad but amusing picture of this dualist escapist approach to our stewardship appeared in the movie Left Behind, where, on a plane filled with major Christian leaders in bit parts, the rapture takes place and their clothes are left behind.

In a recent keynote address given at Liberty University, Christian rap artist Lecrae identified the issue another way: that Christians in every day life have compartmentalized their faith in a sacred/secular divide. ¬†On Sundays and in church circles Christians tend to exercise their “spiritual side”, and then go out into the world for the rest of the time, living in their neighborhoods and working their jobs / careers to make money and to help themselves to “live”. ¬†Lecrae challenged students when they left the bubble of Christian college to go out and transform their world, and to break down the dualist sacred/secular divide, to practice a lived faith in Christ evident in all parts of their lives. ¬†In this way, our neighbours are our mission field, not just for the sake of their souls, but for the sake of the kingdom which pervades everything everywhere. ¬†In this way, our jobs are not just about us or making money but about impacting people and impacting our world.

This is a challenge to us all to a paradigm shift in world view, in the way we understand the kingdom of God and our calling (the calling of every believer) to the great commission and to living a practical lived faith in Christ.

It is a call to go where no one has gone before… to go where Jesus Christ calls us to go, and to be fully engaged in what He calls all of us to do. ¬†And others have gone before… starting with our Saviour, and with people who lived their faith in every generation since the Resurrection.

Take up your cross, and follow Him.  Go and change this world, and its inhabitants.  To this we are called!

A Day to Remember

Today is a day set aside to remember.

Why do we establish a day or event of remembrance? So we do not forget.

After G-d made it possible for His people to cross the Jordan River, they set up twelve stones as a commemoration, and Joshua spoke to the people of Israel,¬†‚ÄúWhen your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‚ÄėWhat do these stones mean?‚Äô¬†then you shall let your children know,¬†‚ÄėIsrael passed over this Jordan on dry ground.‚Äô¬†¬†For the¬†Lord¬†your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the¬†Lord¬†your God did to the Red Sea,¬†which he dried up for us until we passed over,¬†so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the¬†Lord¬†is¬†mighty, that you may¬†fear theLord¬†your God forever.” (Joshua 4:21-24)

Sometimes we remember the lives of people whose lives are considered significant, like Queen Victoria, or Martin Luther King. Other days, such as Remembrance Day or Memorial Day, we commemorate the sacrifice of people who gave their lives for a greater cause, lest we forget what they did, lest we forget them.

Today is a day that we remember the horrible deaths of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, who in the great man view of history did not achieve anything noteworthy, nor did their deaths accomplish any greater good. They were herded like cattle, treated with disrespect and hatred and contempt, processed for their valuables, murdered and buried in mass unmarked graves., all because of their ethnicity, distinctive lifestyle and faith.

They were Jewish. They were regarded as insignificant. Their individual identities were erased. Their burial was designed to be hidden and forgotten. The goal of their oppressors, and those who colluded with them, was the extermination of the Jewish people.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Today we remember them, and what their deaths, and lives represent. ¬†They are Jewish. In G-d’s eyes, every single life is significant. Their individual identities are remembered. The Jewish people, G-d’s physically, ethnically chosen people, survive, and many once again dwell in their own homeland of Israel.

Those who oppressed them were defeated… some were brought to justice, many others escaped. ¬†Unfortunately the underlying attitudes remain.

There is a need for repentance by every Christian, individual and corporate, for the Holocaust and the attitudes that led to it. ¬†For the inconvenient truth is that anti-Semitic attitudes and behaviours took root in the Christian church by the 5th century, resulting in the Inquisition, forced conversion, torture, abuse and segregation being directed at the Jewish people. ¬†Martin Luther, one of the major figures of the reformation, was virulently anti-Semitic. In one of his publications, On Jews and Their Lies, he advocated “that¬†their synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books be destroyed, their rabbis forbidden to preach, their homes razed, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, [and] afforded no legal protection.”

In large measure Luther reflected prevailing attitudes in the church, and these anti-Semitic attitudes persisted. Leaders in Nazi Germany, in perpetrating the holocaust, read his anti-Semitic works and believed they were finishing what Luther had started. During the Second World War, much of the German church and the Roman Catholic Church colluded with, or at least turned a blind eye to, the treatment of the Jews. A latent anti-Semitism existed worldwide: in a famous case prior to the war, a ship full of Jewish refugees tried to find a country in which to seek asylum, but was repeatedly turned away. ¬†A¬†Canadian official, when asked how many Jewish refugees they would take, infamously replied “none is too many.”

We might respond, rightly, that we had nothing to do with the Holocaust. Yet today, when we hear of anti-Semitic graffiti or the defacing of Jewish cemeteries in our country, or hear leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran deny the Holocaust, call for Israel’s annihilation, or perpetrate rocket attacks against the Jewish nation, we do nothing. ¬†When do you become what you don’t resist?

Latent anti-Semitism pervaded Christian theology for centuries, ending only in the mid-twentieth century, although it still persists in some circles. The prevailing view since the 5th century, called supersessionism, ¬†was that the church had replaced Israel as God’s chosen people, since “Israel” had rejected the Messiah. This view was and is blatantly incorrect, ignores Romans 9 – 11, and has coloured our understanding of God’s design and our interpretation of scripture.

In our remembrance, we can and do feel horrified at the Holocaust, yet we must be actively engaged, going forward, in fighting anti-Semitism, and indeed in combatting any discrimination based on race, ethnicity, social status, education, or gender.

Also in our remembrance, we must not only feel remorse over the event of the Holocaust, or repent and renounce the attitudes which led to it. We hear the oft-quoted number of six million Jews killed. But these were six million individual lives, each valued by G-d, and each with their own individual stories.

Psalm 33:15 tells us that G-d has fashioned each of our hearts individually. Before he formed us in the womb, He knew us, Jeremiah 1:5 says.

This is the principle behind Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust museum… Giving voice to the six million individuals who were killed, telling their stories, that we might never forget them, what led to their deaths, that we might value their lives, that we might value each life, without prejudice, and see the individual as G-d sees. ¬†The memorial is based on Isaiah 56:5 – “in my house, within my walls,¬†I will give them power and a name¬†greater than sons and daughters;¬†I will give him an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”

The attitudes and prejudices that led to the Holocaust are alive in each of us. We might not be anti-Semitic, but every time we gossip, demean or discriminate against anyone different than us, on the basis of colour, ethnicity, gender, education, appearance or social status, we are denying Christ, his death, resurrection and the new kingdom He has inaugurated.

this is a call for us to repent of attitudes and actions… it is also a challenge for us to live differently, according to the spirit of the law as the living embodiment of the gospel.

As we repent of attitudes today, as we remember, let us commit to see individuals as G-d sees them, to respond to them as He would, and actively seek justice on their behalf, and as His ambassadors go out and change our world.

The Passion, or Pascha, or Yeshua’s Pesach, or… easter

This weekend is commonly known in the West as Easter, a significant commemoration in Christianity of the crucifixion, death and ultimate resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) the jewish Messiah. ¬†Elsewhere, particularly in Greek (Orthodox) or¬†Latin (Roman) liturgy and practice it is referred to as Pascha (ő†ő¨ŌÉŌáőĪ) from which comes the reference to these events as the Passion of Christ. ¬†The origin of the term was the hebrew word Pesach, or Passover, as Yeshua was crucified during the Passover week.

In the West, in particular in the past few centuries, the Christian commemoration of the Passion has been blended and unfortunately eclipsed by the frenzy of chocolate eggs brought by a rabbit. ¬†Yet this was not always so… from ancient times the egg has been synonymous with fertility and life, and the use of eggs, painted red to symbolize the sacrifice of the Christ, was adopted by early Christians as a visible reminder of the empty tomb and life through the resurrection of Yeshua. ¬†Today the most famous of these eggs are the Ukrainian easter eggs, or pysanka (origin: Pascha).

As a disclaimer, this post will not wade into any of these controversies:

  • that Christians were nowhere in scripture commanded to commemorate either the crucifixion (Good Friday) or resurrection (Sunday)
  • that the anti-semitic early church as forced by the anti-semitic “christian” emperor Constantine, separated the commemoration of Pascha from the jewish Pesach
  • that the new date corresponded to a pagan festival celebrating the Babylonian/Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar from which the English word Easter is derived;
  • that much later, the Passion commemoration aligned with the pagan spring celebration of Eostre (April) or Ostara named for the anglo-saxon goddess of the same name
  • that the above reasons invalidate any christian commemoration of the Passion, because it is represents disobedience to God and amounts to pagan worship

These controversies, and more, rage around the internet, and elsewhere.  Of these, the one that definitely is true, and confirmed by reputable scholars, is that anti-semitism grew in the early church, with long-lasting effects. Repentance is needed on this front.

The unfortunate result of these controversies and conspiracy theories is that any discussion of the significance of the Passion events – crucifixion, death and ultimate resurrection – get sidelined. We need to talk about and testify to these with our words and our very lives.

This post will instead focus on the more important significance of these Passion events…. and why we need to talk about them.

Historical Context

Prior to the first century, and not surprising for a people long under oppression and occupation, from Greek to Seleucid to Roman, hope for the promised for Messiah was heightened, and other messianic movements and would-be Messiahs had risen, most notably within the Maccabean period.   These movements were routinely crushed and their leaders killed, thereby ending that particular messianic movement.   Yet the yearning remained, and as the centuries passed under foreign rule, belief in the Messiah as a conquering hero to rescue ethnic and national Israel and throw out the goyim (non-jewish nation) invaders grew.

At the same time, in jewish eschatology (the Sadducees being an exception), the mainstream view was that at some future date there would be a corporate/mass resurrection in bodily form of Israelites who had died and would be raised at that future day.

Thus when Yeshua spoke of the kingdom of God, and in what we call the Lord’s prayer “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, his followers understood this to mean Yeshua as Messiah who would lead them into victory and a restoration of the promised land and the overthrow of the invader. ¬†Instead, he was betrayed, beaten, scourged, condemned and killed in the most brutal fashion possible, in collusion between jewish religious authorities and the occupying and hated Roman goyim. ¬†To the disciples, this represented the end. ¬†The hoped for Messiah, and his movement, and all of their hopes for the future, were now dead.

Yeshua had also spoken of his own pending death and resurrection, but his disciples again did not understand: “destroy this temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up”. ¬†Their understanding of the Messiah and of jewish eschatology simply had no room for a Messiah who would be beaten and killed, and no room for a Messiah who would rise back to life in bodily form before the expected corporate bodily resurrection of jews who had died waiting for the restoration. ¬†This explains the disciples’ reaction to the empty tomb, and why they did not recognize him in resurrected form. ¬†It was simply not expected.

This also explains why the disciples missed the reference “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. ¬†They did not understand (how could they?) that as the Messiah, he had to die, he came to die, and what his absolutely necessary death would accomplish.

Compare these beliefs in Messiah and resurrection – and the disciples’ disillusionment and despair at what they saw as the end and the repudiation of all they had believed in – with what resulted days and weeks later.

They testify, as seen in the Book of Acts, to an empty tomb and to a bodily resurrected Messiah Yeshua, whose bodily resurrection has preceded the expected future event of the corporate bodily resurrection of the departed.  They testify to a kingdom already established, not in military or political terms to an ethnic national Israel, but as the beginning of heaven come to to earth, for all peoples and all nations.

This was a substantial paradigm shift for his followers, from believing in a dead jewish messiah whose death would have invalidated his movement and his teachings. ¬†Something real, a foundational transformation, had occurred between Yeshua’s condemnation and crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb.

Crucifixion and Death

Yeshua came in human flesh to fulfil messianic prophecy.  Messianic prophecy also predicted the suffering and death of the Messiah, for the transgressions of his people.  Yeshua came to die.  He did not come merely as a good man, and as the tender, gentle figure (typified in movies) who was unjustly beaten and slain by hateful oppressors and colluding jewish authorities. He also was not hated and rejected by the entire jewish nation.  He came to die. He came to be pierced for the transgressions of his people.  He came to bring about a new relationship between God and man, between God and all of creation, which could be made possible only by his death.

In the early centuries of the church, this essential truth was misconstrued or forgotten, and anti-semitism took root, viewing the entire jewish nation, now scattered, to be guilty as “Christ-killers” – even though Roman authorities had colluded, even though he was executed using a Roman method, even though not everyone rejected him, and even though he came for that express purpose. ¬†This grew into efforts which cauterized jewishness out of the gospel and church practice, and into teaching that the church had somehow replaced Israel as God’s people. ¬†Others, misunderstanding the significance of Yeshua’s death and his resurrection, have preferred to see him as a good man who set an example for us to follow, who was unjustly and unfairly killed.

The truth is… He came to die. ¬†He did so willingly.¬†He had to die. ¬†And here is why.

The existing relationship between God and mankind was broken.  Sin and death had entered the world through the actions of mankind, identified in Genesis as Adam and Eve.  Repeated temporary blood sacrifice, of lambs and goats without blemish, brought atonement for sin before God, yet the brokenness and the bondage remained.  In essence, through sin, mankind had entered into a covenant of death with the Adversary (identified in scripture as Satan or Lucifer, a fallen archangel).

Yeshua’s death, as the perfect lamb of God, was the all-encompassing once-for-all blood sacrifice that replaced and did away with the temporary sacrificial system. ¬†His death, in exchange, freed mankind, those who choose to believe, from the power and bondage of sin and death. ¬†By taking this upon himself, our sin was paid for before God, and he in effect freed us from covenant with the Adversary and put himself into subjection, even unto death. ¬†We could now enter God’s presence, being reconciled to him, because of the blood sacrifice of Yeshua.

His death, understood in terms of sacrifice, atoned for sin.  This was entirely consistent with first-century jewish thinking on atonement, blood sacrifice, covenant.  What was completely unexpected, in first-century context, was that the Messiah would die and be this sacrifice.

Yet his death was not enough. ¬†As a result of his sacrifice, He was in death and bondage. Yet messianic hope, as confirmed by prophecy in Isaiah and Ezekiel and Zechariah and other places, was not just founded upon the suffering servant who took the transgressions of his people upon himself. ¬†It was also founded upon the establishment of Messiah’s rule over his kingdom. ¬†A dead messiah could not rule over anything.

To misunderstand or deny the significance of the death of Yeshua the Messiah is to miss the entire context of sin, separation, sacrifice, atonement, reconciliation and covenant.  His death broke the power of sin and death over you and me.

Resurrection and New Life

Hence the essential requirement for the resurrected Messiah and the empty tomb. ¬†God the Father exerted his power and raised Messiah from the dead (impossible to do, if he wasn’t really dead), raising him back to life not just in spiritualized, disembodied,¬†luminescent¬†form, but in full bodily form, the firstborn from the dead. ¬†This was absolutely necessary as well. ¬†Yeshua’s death paid the sin sacrifice before God for all mankind, but with the Adversary, Yeshua exchanged himself for us, freeing us from the covenant of death and bondage to sin, and taking our place. ¬†After the crucifixion, he was in a covenant of death and had in essence become sin. ¬†We were freed, but he was not.

With his bodily resurrection, two things simultaneously occurred.  The Adversary became a defeated foe, and the covenant of death and sin was irrevocably broken.  God the Father had raised Yeshua to life and freedom from bondage.  The second thing that occurred is that Yeshua the Messiah assumed his kingship, and his role as the mediator of the new covenant.  His kingdom on earth was inaugurated in the very moment of resurrection, and began to be established on earth as it already was established in heaven.  Its full consummation Рthe new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem Рawaits his final return, the full consummation on earth as it is already fully consummated in heaven.

He is Risen. Because of this, He has taken possession of His kingdom. It is established.  Because of this, and by your faith in who He is and what He has done, you have now become a full-time servant and a full-time ambassador for the kingdom.

What Followed

This is why it is essential that both his death and his resurrection occurred.  This is why it matters, and why, no matter where or when or how we do it, that we commemorate the events of Passion, the Pascha, the Pesach, both the crucifixion and death, and the resurrection of the Messiah.

This is why these events come into powerful effect only for the one who believes when they believe.  This is why on profession of faith the one who believes has to repent of and renounce their sinful state, symbolic of crucifixion and death, and why the one who believes has new life, not just in spiritual terms, (resurrection) and should have such joy and thanksgiving that they daily shout from the rooftops about their new life in covenant with the Messiah.

This is why the distinctive character of new covenant (“christian”) belief developed, with a bodily resurrected Messiah, king of an already established, but not yet fully consummated, kingdom here on earth and throughout all creation. ¬†This is why we are to live now, not for ourselves or to accumulate kingdom benefits for ourselves, but to go out and establish his kingdom now, to be fully established and consummated when he returns, with part of that future event including the fully bodily resurrection of all of the departed (waiting) saints.

For All of Us Now

It is essential for us to recognize, because of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), that our lives belong to Him.  We are free from the covenant of death and bondage of sin, but we are not free.  We are His.

Also, it will change our perspective on the role we now play as his covenant disciples and followers.

We are called to more than to just blend in with our culture. ¬†We are called to more than just be against things that we don’t like. ¬†We are called to more than to be afraid of “the world” around us, pulling back and abandoning a corrupt and dying place that many believe will destructively end and which we will escape from. ¬†We are called to be more than just passive bystanders.

Instead, we are called to be active participants in every facet of our own lives and in every facet of the world around us.

His kingdom was inaugurated on the day of His resurrection, here on earth. ¬†And we were charged, through His teachings such as the parables and what we call the Lord’s prayer, and through His commandments such as the great commission, to be His ambassadors of His kingdom sharing in His inheritance (the peoples of all nations and renewed creation itself).

As His kingdom representatives through the agency of the Holy Spirit, we are to establish his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven as far as we are able, while we wait for His promised return and the full consummation of His kingdom here.  We are to bring the attributes of heaven into every area of life where we have influence, to go change our world.

This is far more than just the spiritual saving of souls to be in personal relationship to a loving Saviour… it is a commitment to transformation inwardly (holiness – “be holy even as I am holy”), and to transformation outwardly (extend the kingdom of God, not through legislation or military might, but through kingdom living and Godly character – grace and lovingkindness and the fruit of the Spirit). ¬†“You will do greater things than I am doing”.

Today and Every Day

This weekend is the special time that we remember the Passion of Yeshua (the Christ).

Commemorate. Celebrate.  Know who He is.  Know who you are.  Daily shout it from the rooftops.  Live with visible evidence the attributes of heaven.

And go change your world!

It’s Time For You to Make a Compelling Argument!

There is a passage in the bible about the Great Commission where our Messiah said…

16 “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many ;
17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come ; for everything is ready now.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’
19 “Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’
20 “Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’
21 “And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
22 “And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’

This has been variously interpreted over the years, i.e. as being about unbelievers willfully ignoring the invitation of salvation.

When read in context, it is worse than that.¬† Those who ignored the master’s invitation were not outsiders, but believers already under His covenant that didn’t value Him or honor Him.¬† And the invitation was not to enter His covenant but to join with Him in celebration of covenant renewal and restoration at His table.

It is a sobering reminder to us as His disciples to not get so focused on our own cares, concerns, issues or agendas, that we miss out on the joy of worship, of celebration and of listening to – and doing – what HE considers to be important.¬† There is also a huge warning attached… this “missing out” is permanent.¬† The invitation is revoked.

As our Messiah continued:

23 “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.
24 ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were [previously] invited [and refused to come to my celebration] shall taste of my dinner.’ ”

Unfortunately much of what we focus on in our lives and in our churches is stuff He would consider unimportant because it focuses on our desires and our ways instead of Him and His ways.  We were never created to do our own thing apart from Him or His purposes.

We were created to do His will and make His glory evident.¬† That’s it. And in this season that is the Great Commission.¬†

‘ “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.’

We are to compel those who don’t know Him to enter into His Kingdom.

An old misinterpretation of the word “compel” led to forced conversions over the centuries, and also for many centuries resulted in a legislated theo-centric communitas christiana.¬† Unfortunately many Christians would still prefer to have a legislated Christian society, which is not at all what the Great Commission is about.¬† One cannot force or legislate a change of heart and mind.

A couple of years ago I even had someone tell me that this “compel” meant that we strong-arm people into the Kingdom of God by the force of our arguments and the warfare of our prayer and by our dominion we possess in Christ.¬† Wrong again… we are not the focus nor are results the fruit of our efforts.

And “to come in” does not mean to bring them into our churches so that somehow by osmosis they will absorb what it means to be a follower of Christ.¬† “Come in” means to enter joyfully into the Kingdom of God which is not the same as your church.

Each one of us is to carry out the Great Commission out in our world, to go out into the highways and byways and our families and our workplaces and our neighborhoods, to make Him known.

So what does this mean, “to compel”?

It is all tied up with our purpose for being, and with where the focus belongs – on Him.
We were created to do His will and make His glory evident.¬† That’s it.

Compel… not as in force or legislate, but compel as in providing a compelling and irresistible argument. And the strength of the argument is not in our persuasiveness or eloquence or cleverness, but in the whole package of our very lives.

The most compelling argument for the existence of God and the need for a saviour is the visible evidence of your life, when it is lived for Him, according to His purposes and His Word, reflecting His love and His mercy and His unchanging nature.  This shows forth His glory and makes Him known to those around you.

The consequence of self-absorption and not focusing on Him is not just a personal stake.  It takes our attention and energy away from making Him known to those who we are uniquely situated to impact by virtue of our place in the classroom, the workplace, the marketplace or our neighborhoods.

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People around you are living lives of quiet desperation, and want to believe.  Through the visible evidence of your life, go out with intent today to present a compelling argument so that the people around you will want to enter the Kingdom of God.  Show forth His Glory!

Forgiving and Forgetting

In the kingdom of God, He chooses to forgive and He chooses to forget our sin. We are taught in this world that the ability to remember things is very powerful, but in the kingdom of God, the opposite is true… God’s greater power and sovereignty is displayed by His choice to forgive and forget.

Yet forgetting is not quite what we think… does God truly will Himself to forget? Maybe… although I think the picture of forgetfulness is that He knows, but chooses to not hold it against us any longer. The scripture “I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12) is thus that God chooses to remove the sin from the list of charges against us in the dock.

The difficult part is that, in the kingdom of God, He calls us to do the same.

A very challenging commandment, just after what we call the Lord’s prayer, is “if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will not forgive yours.” (Matthew 6:14-15).

The difficult part is that He makes no exceptions to this.
The helpful part is that He will enable us to do so, but we have to be a willing and active participant in the process.

I have been hurt deeply many times by other people, and the worst of it is, often from others who call themselves Christians.
Yet the imperative to forgive still applies… and is sometimes a process… even though it is the most difficult thing that I have ever done. And He has given me the strength to do so. There is no sin so great that God cannot forgive, and there is no offense so great that I am released from forgiving the person who committed the offense.

On many occasions I have held onto the offense and chose not to forgive. Yet this puts me in a dangerous place before God, and moreover, my life will get stuck in a holding pattern until I forgive (no forward motion).

On rare occasions, as He and I have covenanted to forgive another’s offense against me, He has given me the grace to actually forget the offense. Strange as it might seem, I cannot remember the details of that offense.

But the normal case is that I choose to forgive, even though it is the most difficult thing I have ever done, and it is a process. He gives me the strength to forgive. But I still remember and I do not forget.
But let me clarify… when I say I do not forget, it is like what I said about Hebrews 8:12 when God forgets our sin. I still remember the details, but I no longer hold the offense against the other person. Thus I have “forgotten” in kingdom of God terms, even though I remember what happened.

We need to be quick to forgive. The longer we nurse an offense (and I am not minimizing the hurt of an offense), the harder it becomes to forgive and “forget”. Also, refusing to really forgive actually gives the offense continuing power over us.

Forgiveness is not just an intellectual exercise. It involves the spirit, the mind and the body. It requires action, not just to release and forgive the offense, but actually do the opposite of the offense. This might even mean engaging in positive and practical activity toward the person who committed the offense.

For me, this is the litmus test of whether I have forgiven or not.
Does the remembrance of the event, or a fresh encounter with the person, recall fresh offense or bitterness, or can I remember the offense without being re-offended?
If I can remember the details but “forget” the offense, if remembering or encountering the person who caused the offense does not cause continued bitterness or fresh offense, then I know that I have truly forgiven.

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But I have to choose to forgive, and will myself to forgive, and He will enable me to do so. He calls each of us to this, and there are no exceptions, either in the offense that we must forgive, or in His strength which enables us to forgive… and “forget”.

Forgiveness – It’s in You to Give

There are many difficult things that each of us will face in our lives.  Burying a loved one.  Loss of job.  Broken relationship with someone.  Bankruptcy.  Betrayal.  Persecution.  Bullying.  Sickness.  Just getting through another day.  And we can wonder why these difficult things happen to us.

These difficult circumstances that we face will stretch aspects of our character – demanding of us to show unconditional love, to trust people again and continue to trust that God really knows what He’s doing, to be patient with annoying and difficult people, and to persevere when everything and everyone around us says we should quit.

Yet the most difficult thing we will ever have to do – and we do have to do it – is to forgive someone, and to forgive them in the same way and to the same measure that God forgives us.¬† Now that’s hard.¬† But He enables us to do it in His strength, and expects us to put forgiveness into effect, no matter what.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asked Jesus how many times was he to forgive someone who hurt him, and Jesus repled, “seventy times seven”.¬† The parable indicates that, when someone begs for forgiveness and mercy, we are to give unconditional forgiveness.¬† Jesus also taught that, if we refused to forgive others, that the Father would not forgive us.

Such a difficult teaching… and even if we can intellectually get our heads around it, putting it into practice is an entirely different matter.

But it is so important to put it into practice Рbeyond the spiritual consequences that Jesus warned about, there is a very pragmatic result: until you and I forgive Рnot just intellectually but practically and tangibly live it out Рyou and I will be stuck in a holding pattern, and God will be unable to move you forward until you do.  And the forgiveness in you and me has to be real and unconditional with visible inward and outward evidence.

It is most difficult when the object of your unforgiveness / forgiveness is someone of whom you have regular reminders, or with whom you have regular contact – especially when they repeatedly re-offend.
I have been in this situation many times…

As a side note РIf you are in a dangerous situation, physically or mentally, by all means remove yourself from it for a time.  But this practical requirement does not remove the need and instruction that you and I MUST forgive.

The need and instruction to forgive – even then – is unconditional.

To put it in terms which may offend our Canadian, post-modern, secular sensibilities – unforgiveness is a SIN.¬† No mitigating circumstances are given in scripture where it is deemed “okay” to live and breathe another day in unforgiveness.

Yet we all try to place conditions or escape clauses on the commandment that we forgive those who hurt us and sin against us.  Here are a few examples of the excuses we make:

a) conditional forgiveness – I will forgive you, but first… (add your own list). We add pre and post-conditions to our so-called forgiveness, but at the first sign of behaviour we don’t like, we bring up the catalog of offences.
It’s time to ditch the catalog and ditch the conditions.

b) payback – payback is closely related to conditional forgiveness, and may sound something like, “I’m going to make you suffer for a while before I forgive you”, or “I’ll let you know when you’re forgiven”.¬† Our goal in this is punishment, not forgiveness.

c) mitigating circumstances – we attempt to release ourselves from the need to forgive by saying to ourselves, and others, “you don’t know what they did.¬† If you knew, then you’d understand that I cannot forgive them.”¬† I tried this one on what is now a very memorable occasion for me, and I complained to God about how badly someone had treated me.¬† God then reminded me that He DID know and He showed me an image of the crucifixion and the forgiveness He showed. Then He said to me “Now go and do the same”.¬† Ouch.

d) I’ve forgiven but not forgotten – how many times have you heard or said this?¬† This is true in human understanding, but this is not the measure to which God forgives.¬† He says in His Word “I will remember their sins no more“… deliberately choosing to forget.¬† We cannot do this in our own strength, but in His… and while we will still remember the details of the offense, we will remember the details without re-opening the wound and being offended all over again.¬† He will enable us to release and forget the offense.

e) they haven’t asked for forgiveness – sometimes we take the Matthew 18 scripture above out of context and say, “Well I would forgive but they need to ask me first”.¬† There are enough other references to unforgiveness in scripture to indicate that unforgiveness itself is a SIN, and that to hold onto unforgiveness, for whatever reason, puts YOU and I into jeopardy and a position of bondage, sickness, bitterness, etc.¬† In unconditional forgiveness, you and I forgive even before someone asks, and even if they never do ask.
In unconditional forgiveness lies personal freedom.

f) running away from the problem – we can fool ourselves that, if we run away from the person or circumstance that caused the offense – or who we haven’t forgiven – then it will go away and you and I will be alright.
Nothing could be further from the truth.  Whether it is just the peculiarities of life circumstances, or whether God Himself has a direct hand in it, we will encounter again in someone else or in a different circumstance the same issue we ran away from.  It may manifest differently, but we carry the problem with us because it is you and I that have not forgiven.  And it is time Рtoday Рto release and forgive that He might begin the healing process in you.  That way lies freedom.

g) time heals everything РNOT.  Time, by itself, heals nothing.  Time allows scabs to grow over old wounds, but we pick at them and bleed again. Time allows experiences to go below the surface, but under similar circumstance or under pressure, they come back to the surface.  We need to walk continually in forgiveness and stop walking and living and breathing as the walking wounded.  In forgiveness is freedom and healing, in time.

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There are other excuses we make – but all excuses are based only upon unforgiveness – because we find it hard to forgive, or we don’t want to forgive, or we foolishly think that it’s OK with God, given the details of my circumstance, to not forgive.

But there are no mitigating circumstances.  NONE.

Think of the cross and the forgiveness it implies, even to us who didn’t deserve it, who mock it, who didn’t ask for it, who never knew we needed it…¬† Think of the freedom that resulted.

God’s love, and the measure of His forgiveness that He gives to us, and then desires for us to go and do likewise, is shown in Hosea 3, where Hosea is told to go and love his adulterous wife again who has repeatedly been unfaithful and caused repeated heartache and offense… just as God says He pursues and loves and forgives His people who continually sin against Him.¬† He forgives even though forgiveness is undeserved.

Forgiveness is a choice we MUST make, IF we are to be free and move forward.

It is the most difficult thing you and I will ever have to do Рbut we are commanded to do it, no matter what.  He will give us the extra-ordinary strength to do it, and walk it out.  That way lies freedom and He will lead us into healing and restoration.

Who do you need to forgive today? What catalog of offenses are you carrying forward in bondage?  Begin the forgiveness process today Рand let Him set you free.