Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What the heck am I saying? (And what the heck I am definitely NOT saying)

After getting properly bashed (mainly only by one individual) on facebook, I have realized that out of context status updates, often cause more damage that what intended (stirring some thoughts and perspectives). I will not claim the next ass my own at all, as I have pretty much copied everything from a 'statement of faith' from a church in the states (I think). It is a well set out document though, and leaves little or no room (hopefully) for being labeled a universalist or other flash judgments.

So here goes, and please do respond with any thoughts or questions:

"A Brief Introduction to Trinitarian Theology, simply stated, is "God knowledge." Our personal understanding of theology consists of whatever we believe to be true about God. In one way or another, we all have a theology. And certainly every church and denomination has a theology. It's the framework that undergirds and informs their doctrines and practices. "Trinitarian theology" is a particular approach to theology that sees the Trinity, as revealed in Jesus Christ, not merely as one point of doctrine, but rather as the central and foundational doctrine that forms the basis for how we read the Bible and how we understand all points of theology. Trinitarian theology deals with not only the "how" and the "why" of doctrines and practices, but most importantly, it begins with the "who." Trinitarian theology asks, "Who is the God made known in Jesus Christ, and who are we in relation to him?" The Bible confronts us with a God who has chosen to make himself known and to actually be with us and for us in person, in Jesus Christ. That means we cannot look outside of Jesus to understand who God is. In Jesus we meet God as God really is, as the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is for us. When we meet Jesus, we find that he introduces us to his heavenly Father. In his words and actions we hear and see that the Father loves us unconditionally. He sent Jesus not out of anger and a need to punish someone, but out of his immeasurable love and his unbending commitment to human redemption. When we meet Jesus in the Bible we find that he also introduces us to his Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, who is also at work to bring to our attention the reconciling ministry of God. "Trinitarian theology," then, does not simply refer to a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity. It refers to believing in this Triune God and recognizing that this doctrine, which points to who the God of the Bible really is, lies at the heart of all other doctrines and forms the basis for how we understand everything we read in Scripture. Christ-centered Trinitarian theology is first and foremost Christ-centered. It tells us that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, has become one with our flesh in order to be our saving substitute and to represent us as his brothers and sisters in the very presence of the Father. It tells us that, in Christ, we belong to the Father and that we are the beloved of the Father. This means that the Christian life and faith are primarily about four kinds of personal relationships. 1) the internal relationships of holy love shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit from all eternity 2) the relationship of the eternal Son with humanity in Jesus Christ incarnate. 3) the relationship of humanity with the Father graciously given to us through the Son and by the Spirit, and 4) the relationship of humans with one another as children of the Father redeemed by Jesus Christ. Trinitarian theology is Trinitarian in that it begins with the understanding that the one God exists eternally in the union and communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Trinitarian theology is Christ-centered in that it focuses on the centrality and preeminence of Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Scriptures: the Son of God in the flesh, one with the Father and the Spirit; and one with all humanity. As noted by Thomas F. Torrance (a principal Trinitarian theologian of the 20th century), Jesus is both the ground (foundation/origin) and the grammar (organizing principle/logic) of the Godhead and of the entire created order, all humanity included. So everything ought to be understood in relationship to him. Jesus indicates that he is even the key to understanding Scripture. He said to a group of Jewish religious leaders in John 5:39-40: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." We seek to read and interpret the Bible through the lens of who Jesus is. So, he is the basis and logic of our theology, for he alone is the final and the full self-revelation of God. Early history Trinitarian theology formed the basis of Christian teaching. This is reflected in the early Christian Creeds. Early prominent Trinitarian teachers and theologians included Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Irenaeus (died A.D. 202) was a disciple of Polycarp (who had studied with the apostle John). Irenaeus sought to show that the gospel of salvation taught by the apostles and handed down from them is centered on Jesus. He saw that the Bible presents the Incarnation as a new point of beginning for humanity (see Ephesians 1:9-10, 20-23). Through the Incarnation, the entire human race was "born again" in Jesus. In Jesus, humanity has a new beginning and a new identity. The biblical foundation of Irenaeus' thinking included Paul's statements in Romans 5, where Jesus is presented to us as the "second" (or "final") Adam of the human race. "In Jesus," wrote Irenaeus, "God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man [Adam], that He might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man..." (Against Heresies, III.18.7). Irenaeus understood that Jesus took all humanity into himself and renewed the human race through his vicarious (representative and substitutionary) life, death, resurrection and ascension. Irenaeus taught that this renewing, or re-creating, of the human race in Jesus through the Incarnation is not merely a work done "by" Jesus. Rather, our salvation involves much more than just the forgiveness of our sins. It means our entire re-creation "in" and "through" Jesus. Athanasius (died A.D. 373) defended the gospel against false teachers (including Arius) who denied the Son's eternal divinity. This defense led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity affirmed at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. In his treatise On the Incarnation,section 20, Athanasius wrote the following: Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death in the place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption
men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. What then was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done, save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image. Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord's body; yet because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. Death there had to be, and death for all, so that the due of all might be paid. Wherefore the Word, being Himself incapable of death, assumed a mortal body, that He might offer it as his own in the place of all, and suffering for the sake of all through His union with it, "might bring to nought him that had the power over death, that is, the devil, and might deliver them who all their lifetime were enslaved by the fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15). By his death salvation has come to all men, and all creation has been redeemed. Both Athanasius and Irenaeus emphasized the vicarious nature of the humanity Jesus assumed in his Incarnation. Only through the birth, life, sacrificial death and resurrection of the Incarnate Son of God could God save humanity.. This is the essence of the gospel understood by the early church and revealed in the Scriptures. Gregory of Nazianzus (died A.D. 389) wrote of Jesus' assumption of our broken humanity through his Incarnation: If anyone has put his trust in Him [Jesus] as a Man without a human mind, such a person is bereft of mind, for that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole (Epistle 101).

Contemporary Trinitarian theologians In the 20th century, Trinitarian theology was advanced in the West largely through the work of Karl Barth and his students, including three brothers: Thomas F. Torrance, James B. Torrance and David Torrance, and their students. In the 21st century, there are hundreds of Trinitarian theologians scattered among many denominations, including Ray Anderson, Elmer Colyer, Michael Jinkins, C. Baxter Kruger, Alan Torrance, Trevor Hart and the late Colin Gunton. Who are you, Lord? Trinitarian theology faithfully answers the all-important question: "Who is Jesus Christ?"This biblically-anchored theology adds fullness of understanding to the gospel, and gives us a Christ-centered vocabulary to share the gospel with others in our contemporary world. "Who are you, Lord?" is the principal theological question. This was Paul's anguished question on the Damascus Road, where he was struck down by the resurrected Jesus (Acts 9:5).

Paul spent the rest of his life answering this question and then sharing the answer with all who would listen. The answer, revealed to us in Scripture, is the heart of the gospel and the focus of Trinitarian theology: Jesus is fully God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the divine Son of God, in eternal union with the Father and the Spirit. Scripture tells us that through the Son of God the entire universe was created, including all humans (Colossians 1:16), and he is the one who sustains the universe, including all humans (verse 17). So, when we say, "Jesus Christ" we are also saying "God" and "Creator." Jesus is fully human, the Son of God (the Word) became human ("flesh," John 1:14), while continuing to remain fully divine. This is called the "Incarnation." Scripture testifies that the Incarnation never ended, but continues. Jesus is now and forever fully God and fully human. He was resurrected and ascended bodily. He will return bodily, the same as he departed. When we say "Jesus Christ" we are also saying "humanity." As the One who is uniquely God (Creator and Sustainer of all) and also fully human, Jesus, in himself, is the unique union of God and humanity. In and through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus all humans are included in the life and love of God. As the apostle Paul emphasized, the man Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5) is the representative and substitute for all people, past, present, and future. He is the vicarious human who has come to live and die and be raised in our place and on our behalf to reconcile us to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Romans 5, Paul addresses believers, but what he says applies to all humanity, believers and non-believers alike. According to Paul, through Jesus, all are justified through faith, and therefore at peace with God (v. 1), reconciled to God through the death of Jesus (v. 10), saved through Jesus' life (v. 10). This justification, reconciliation and salvation occurred, when we were "still powerless" (v. 6), when we were "still sinners" (v. 8), when we were still "God's enemies" (v. 10) This occurred quite apart from our participation, let alone our good works. Jesus did these things for us and to us, and he did it within himself. As Irenaeus said, echoing Ephesians 1:10, it occurred in Jesus, via his Incarnation, through a great "recapitulation." The benefit of what Jesus did so long ago, extends to the present and on into the future, for Paul says, "how much more, shall we be saved through his life" (v. 10), showing that salvation is not a one-time transaction, but an enduring relationship that God has with all humanity, relationship forged within the person of Jesus Christ, the one who, in himself, has brought God and humanity together in peace. Jesus, the second Adam Continuing in Romans 5, Paul compares the first Adam to Jesus, calling the latter the "second" or "final" Adam. Note Paul's main points: "Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam], [and] all sinned" (v. 12) "How much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ [the second Adam], overflow to the many?" (v. 15) And, "just as the result of one trespass [that of the first Adam] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness [that of Jesus, the second or final Adam] was justification that brings life for all men" (v. 18). "All" really means "all" Paul is speaking of what Jesus did for all humanity.

The scope of his vicarious human life extends to all who have ever lived. But not all Christians see "all" in this way: Calvinism, for example, says salvation is not truly for all because the atonement is limited to the elect who are predestined to be saved; Jesus did not die for the non-elect. However, the Bible declares that Jesus died for all, and that his death applies to all now.

Relevant passages include: John 12:32: "But I [Jesus], when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."  2 Corinthians 5:14: "Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died."Colossians 1:19-20: "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 1 Timothy 2:3-6: "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men." 1 Timothy 4:9-10: "This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance, that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe."Hebrews 2:9: "But we see Jesus, who suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."1 John 2:2: "[Jesus is] the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."See also John 1:29; 3:17; Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Titus 2:11; and 1 John 4:14. While there is even more evidence, this scriptural evidence is sufficient to conclude that Jesus died for all humanity.

Salvation is re-creation, not mere transaction Arminianism, in contrast to Calvinism, agrees that "all" refers to the entirety of humanity; however, salvation is only potentially theirs, not actually since salvation is not actually given until a person has faith. But the Bible tells us that salvation does not come about through a mere transaction in which God gives us salvation in exchange for our repentance and faith. Rather than a transaction, Scripture presents salvation as a free and unearned gift, a gift that involves re-creation. In Jesus, who is fully God and fully human, the perfect representative and substitute for humanity, all humans are a new creation. Although it is experienced only through faith, all humans are justified, reconciled and saved precisely because they are all included in Jesus, included in his Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus did all this for us and to us by doing it with us and in us, as one of us. Jesus is the One for the many, the many in the One.

Therefore, we understand from Scripture that when Jesus died, all humanity died with him. When Jesus rose, all humanity rose to new life with him.When Jesus ascended, all humanity ascended and became seated with him at the Father's side. Let's review the relevant passages: 2 Corinthians 5:14-16: "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." As we saw earlier in Romans 5:18, the result of Jesus' righteousness is "justification that brings life for all men." We are told to accept Christ's sacrifice, but this does not cause the sacrifice to be effective; it was already effective. Colossians 1:15-17: "He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Because Jesus is both Creator and Sustainer of the entire cosmos (all humanity included), when he died, all creation (all humans included) "went down" with him, "therefore all died" (2 Corinthians 5:14). And when he rose, we all rose; and when he ascended, we all ascended. Jesus includes everyone ("all") in his Incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Romans 6:10: "The death he [Jesus] died, he died to sin once for all." Jesus' death is already effective for everyone; he died to sin once for all.Ephesians 2:4-5: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions, it is by grace you have been saved."1 Peter 1:18-20: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you, but with the precious blood of Christ. He [Jesus] was chosen [to save humanity] before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake."

The gospel is about a relationship, a relationship with God healed and made real by God's own action in Christ on our behalf. It is not about a set of demands, nor is it about a simple intellectual acceptance of a set of religious or Bible facts. Jesus Christ not only stood in for us at the judgment seat of God; he drew us into himself and made us, with him and in him, by the Spirit, God's own beloved children. The one in whom all the cosmos (including all humanity) lives and moves and has its being (Acts 17:28) became fully human while remaining fully divine (John 1:14). Many theologies present a truncated view of the Incarnation, seeing it as a short-term accommodation by Jesus to pay the penalty for human sin. But Scripture presents the Incarnation as ongoing. The miracle of the Incarnation is not something that happened "once upon a time," now past. It is a change in how the entire cosmos is "wired", it is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Incarnation changed everything, forever reaching back to all human history, and reaching forward to encompass all time as it unfolds.

Paul speaks of this in Romans 7:4, where he says that even while we are alive, we are already dead to the law by the body of Christ. Jesus' death in human flesh for us, though a historic event, is a present reality that applies to all humanity (past, present and future). It is this cosmic fact that underlies all history. This understanding is reinforced in Colossians 3:3: "You died," Paul says to the historically alive Colossians, "and your life is hid with Christ in God." Even before we literally die, therefore, we are already dead in Jesus death and alive in Jesus' resurrection. This is perhaps most clearly stated in Ephesians 2:5-6, where Paul asserts that since we are dead already in the mystery of Jesus' substitutionary death, all of us have also (right now), been "made alive together with him" and we are "raised up together with him" and "seated together with him in the heavenly realms." In other words, God in Christ not only intersects history at one moment of time, but also is the eternal contemporary of every moment in time, present there with all humanity included in him.

Perichoresis The eternal communion of love that Father, Son and Spirit share as the Trinity involves a mystery of inter-relationship and interpenetration of the divine Persons, a mutual indwelling without loss of personal identity. As Jesus said, "the Father is in me, and I in the Father" (John 10:38). Early Greek-speaking Christian theologians described this relationship with the word perichoresis, which is derived from root words meaning around and contain. Theologian Michael Jinkins comments on how this perichoretic life involves God's relationship with humanity: The idea communicated by the word perichoresis is crucial but difficult to handle. We can best deal with it by focusing our attention on the incarnation. When the Word became flesh, God poured out his very life into creation while also and simultaneously taking into his own triune being our humanity in the supreme act of self-abnegation for the sake of others. In this free act of self-surrender, God allows us to look into the very heart of his eternal being, into the Father's eternal outpouring into the Son, God's giving away of his own self without reservation. This act of self-giving is itself not merely some "it" but is God the Holy Spirit, flowing eternally from the Father to the Son and through the Son to humanity. As the Son in joyful surrender returns this love to the Father, the Spirit eternally returns to the Father, the Origin of all being (Invitation to Theology, p. 91). Everyone is in Christ In and through Jesus Christ, God reaches out to include humans in his life and love. In and through Jesus, all humanity is now included in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, although that fellowship can be experienced only through faith. Jesus said to his followers the night before he died on the cross: "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you" (John 14:20). He does not say that one day they will be included, he says they are included and one day they will realize it. Salvation is about being "in" Jesus, not merely something being done "by" Jesus, which we later accept and thus make it "real" or "actual" for us. Salvation is about a relationship, and that is why Paul so frequently in his letters (over 130 times) speaks of something being "in Christ" or similar phrases.

Salvation is ours only in union with Jesus, by which we share in Jesus' perfect human life and his relationship to the Father and the Spirit. United to Jesus, we are already included in God's triune life and love. But we cannot experience the joy of that life apart from faith. As we have seen in Scripture, through union with Jesus, all humanity is reconciled to the Father, liked, loved and wanted by the Father. Accepted "in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6, KJV), forgiven (no record of sin and no condemnation). The gospel declares not the possibility or the potential of these things being true for us, but a reality that we are urged to accept. The faith of Christ In the King James Version, Galatians 2:20 reads: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." This and other translations speak appropriately of our sharing in the faith of Christ (rather than "faith in Christ"). It is Christ's faith that saves us. David Torrance writes (emphasis added): We are saved by Christ¦s faith and obedience to the Father, not ours. My brother Tom [Torrance] often quoted Gal. 2:20. Such is the wording of the KJV, which I believe is a correct translation. Other translators, like those of the New International Version, apparently because they found it so difficult to believe we can live by Christ's faith rather than our faith, have altered the text to make it read, "I live by faith in the Son of God"!, something altogether different!

That translation takes away from the vicarious nature of Christ's life of faith. It is by his faith [not ours] that we are saved and live! Our faith is a thankful response to his faith. When we look back along our lives and ponder how disobedient we at times have been and continue to be, it is marvelously comforting to know that Christ gives us his life of obedience to the Father and that it is Christ's obedience which counts. We are saved by his obedience, not ours. (An Introduction to Torrance Theology, pp. 7-8) Thomas Torrance writes: Jesus steps into the actual situation where we are summoned to have faith in God, to believe and trust in him, and he acts in our place and in our stead from within the depths of our unfaithfulness and provides us freely with a faithfulness in which we may share. That is to say, if we think of belief, trust or faith as forms of human activity before God, then we must think of Jesus Christ as believing, trusting, or having faith in God the Father on our behalf and in our place. Through his incarnational and atoning union with us our faith is implicated in his faith, and through that implication, far from being depersonalized or dehumanized, it is made to issue freely and spontaneously out of our own human life before God. Regarded merely in itself, however as Calvin used to say, faith is an empty vessel, for in faith it is upon the faithfulness of Christ that we rest and even the way in which we rest on his is sustained and undergirded by his unfailing faithfulness (The Mediation of Christ, pp. 82-83) But what about human freedom?

If it is the life, faith and obedience of Jesus Christ that saves us and includes us in that salvation, what is our role? What happens in this viewpoint to the idea of human freedom? Consider the following points: All humanity, by God's sovereign decision and action, is included in Christ; this inclusion was predestined and has been accomplished in Jesus, apart from any action, belief, works, etc. of our own. Each person is now urged, through the prompting of the Spirit, to believe God's word and personally accept his love.God forces this personal decision/acceptance upon no one. Love must be freely given and freely received; it cannot be coerced, or it is not love.Thus human decision, the exercise of human freedom, is of great importance, but only in this context of accepting God's gift that has already been freely given. Not Universalism. When we talk about human decision, we are talking about personal response. And we must take care not to confuse what is objectively true in Jesus for all humanity with an individual's personal and subjective reception of or encounter with this objective truth.We do not "decide for Christ" in the sense that our personal decision creates or causes our salvation.Rather, through personal decision, we accept what is ours already in Christ, placing our trust in the one who has already trusted for us in our place and as our representative. The Holy Spirit leads us to trust not in our faith, but in Jesus.This objective union, which we have with Christ through his incarnational assumption of our humanity into himself, is personally and subjectively lived out in faith through the indwelling Holy Spirit. When we personally believe the gospel, which is to accept what is already ours by grace, we begin to enjoy God's love for us and live out the new creation that God, prior to our ever believing, made us to be in Christ. There is the general, or objective, truth about all humanity in Jesus, and also the personal,or subjective, experience of this truth.

Objectively all people, past, present and future, are justified already; all are sanctified; all are reconciled in Jesus in and through what he has done as their representative and substitute. In Jesus, objectively, the old self has already passed away; in him, objectively, we are already the new humanity, represented as such by him before and with God. However, although all people are already objectively redeemed by Jesus Christ, not all have yet personally and subjectively awakened to and accepted what God has done for them. They do not yet know who they truly are in union with Jesus. What is objectively true for everyone must be subjectively and personally received and experienced through repentance and faith. Repentance and faith do not create or cause a person's salvation, but salvation cannot be experienced and enjoyed without them. Repentance and faith are themselves gifts of God. In the Scriptures, we find some verses that speak to the general/objective, while others speak to the personal/subjective. Both are real and true, but the personal is true only because the general is a pre-existing reality.

These two categories are found throughout Scripture, both sometimes occurring in one passage, as happens in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Paul starts in verses 18-19 with the objective/universal: "All this is from God, who reconciled [past tense] us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." Good news for all people Here is a general truth that applies objectively to all, all are already reconciled to God through what Jesus has done in union with all humanity. Any theology that is faithful to Scripture and to Jesus himself must account for this truth. Unfortunately, many theologies tend to ignore this aspect and focus primarily or only on the personal/subjective. That does the gospel a disservice, because it is the general/objective aspect of who Jesus is and what he has done that is the foundation upon which the personal/subjective rests. Back to 2 Corinthians 5, having established the general in verses 18-21, Paul goes on in verses 20-21 to address the subjective/ personal: "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us." How can all be "reconciled" already and yet the invitation go out to "be reconciled", suggesting a reconciliation yet to occur? The answer is that both are true, these are two aspects of one truth. All are already reconciled in Christ, this is the universal and objective truth, but not all yet embrace and therefore experience their reconciliation with God. To be reconciled, and yet not know and experience it, is to continue to live as though one is not reconciled. Having one's eyes opened by the Spirit to this reconciliation, choosing to embrace it, and then experiencing it does not cause the reconciliation to occur, but it does make it personally realized. Thus, the evangelistic invitation from Christ's ambassadors (verse 20) is to "be reconciled." But this appeal is not to do something that would bring about reconciliation; rather it is an appeal to receive the reconciliation that exists already with God in Christ.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Bible is not enough

I have been mulling over this for quite some time regarding a specific scripture and then just meditating on my personal experience and things God has shown me. The other night on my roof, God said a funny thing to me, which was basically to ‘be careful of someone who only quotes scripture’. This sounded quite to me because I have heard it preached for so many years that we should not believe in anything that we do not find in scripture. If anyone has an idea or an experience, it can only be verified as legal by a corresponding ‘book, chapter and verse’ from the bible, otherwise, it was not God.

The scripture I have been contemplating is from Ephesians 3, where Paul prays that he wants the Ephesians (including us of coarse) to ‘know the love of God that surpasses knowledge’. I asked God one day why it is that He would want us to know his love, if by his own admittance, it is beyond knowledge. Then I decided to get hold of a good old faithful Greek concordance to check out the definition of ‘knowledge’ in both contexts. Basically it means, that the only way we will fully encounter and engage the fullness of His love for us, is by experiencing it, and not just approaching it in a methodical, scientific and/or intellectual way.

Jesus said to the religious leaders of his time “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39). What Jesus said here confirms my thoughts on the issue (I have a book, chapter and verse, which is wonderfully ironic) in that you can have all the biblical or intellectual knowledge of God, and yet be without any life. Dare I state this in the negative and further conclude that, you can have memorized all the scriptures and know a whole lot about God rationally (‘about’ being the operative word) and be full of death?

The point is that the scriptures in themselves are a solid foundation, that should most definitely not be neglected, but if they do not lead you to a life of intimacy with Jesus, they did not achieve their purpose and will leave you with an inferior revelation of God. 

I liken it to 2 people who have a sports card about their favourite sportsman, lets say John Smith. The card gives you all the exact details regarding his weight, height, experience, strengths, weaknesses etc and by the end of an in depth study of the information, both friends can have a very accurate insight into John Smith as a player. Then, the one friend gets to meet John Smith in person and goes for a coffee with him, chats about life and many other more personal things, and at the end gives him a handshake and says goodbye. Both people have the same basic information about John Smith, but the one friend has now actually met him and tells his friend about how big he really is in person, about his favourite food and how strong his hand shake was.  The encounter he had with John is completely foreign to his friend and he will just never get it, unless he also encounters John in that way.

That is how it is for many people. They know the scriptures about God’s character and that He loves them, they know He is kind and compassionate and forgiving, they ‘know’ all these things, but do not really know God at all. One controversial scripture often quoted and taught is when Jesus says to a group of people “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:23).  Very interesting is that Jesus said HE did not know THEM. We all know that God knows everything about every single person on the planet, but I believe this shows a key insight into the heart of God in that He desires to get to know us through relationship. It is not enough for Him to simply know everything about us for its own sake, He desires conversation, questions, sharing, laughing, hugging etc and I even add disagreement (for controversies sake). Somehow we think it is okay for us to simply know about God and never truly engage Him, when He desires more than that.

Recently God has been asking me questions, and given Janna and I amazing dreams at night. Why would God ask a question, when He knows the answer? Why would He give us dreams and want them to be sought out for interpretation when He could just have made it clear in the first place? Why give us different options in life regarding jobs, relocation, spouses, friends, church and so forth, why not just tell us plainly exactly what He wants us to do? 

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. (Proverbs 25:2)” God said of the Israelites that they “knew my works but they did not know my ways” (somewhere in the bible). Bottom line is, Jesus did not die on a cross so we can have church, reach the lost, go to heaven, heal the sick, feed the poor or any of those wonderful things that I desire to see more and more, but primarily, He came and died, so we can have relationship with our Father.

Much love,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

God is not one dimensional, but we should be

Hopefully you are still reading after seeing the title, but let me explain. I have often asked God how it works that so many different people are hearing Him on specific things so differently. Many a preacher will proclaim so emphatically from the pulpit week in and week out how God has told him something, as with thousands of other preachers around the world. The context I have been pondering is church and what that really looks like, but you can apply that to pretty much anything in life really. There are those who are convinced on mega church, others who have heard God speak to them about house church, and some have obeyed God and left church altogether. Everyone writes a book and confidently lays out their personal reason why they are right and everyone else has missed it. They say it so assuredly because God has spoken, and let us be honest, that is quite a powerful stamp of approval. The problem I have, is to decide who the heck is actually hearing God and who to trust? I venture an alternative solution to wondering who is actually right, and that is, that maybe everyone is!

Let me just state that if someone is clearly preaching law and the church is dominated by hierarchy, man-made tradition, control and basically lacks His presence, I will not be staying long at all. There are however many movements and churches who have an awesome presence of God and wonderful fruits and so therefore seem to have all of heavens unlimited resources being poured out on them in increasing measures, which brings me back to think, that surely they must all be doing something right. The big church guys judge the house church guys, the house church judge the more institutional church and every other shape and form in between. Maybe, just maybe, everyone is actually right.

What has happened in the last few years with me and many others around the world is that we do simply not just believe everything we get told as the only way to do things. There is a healthy part of us that questions things or at very least wants to make sure if there is not maybe a better way, in order to be more effective. What I have done wrong though is then to assume that because I do not feel very comfortable with something, that it must be wrong.

Which leads me to my current, and ever growing in clarity, conclusion (because no one has all the answers) If we all just stop trying to do what we think is the right thing to do, because someone told us, what God told them, maybe the church will only then be at her most effective, radiant, glamorous and effective. If you want to start a house church and that’s what gets you excited, do it. If you desire to grow a church of thousands in a building with lights and all the added extras, do it. If you want to meet with friends in Star Bucks once a week, then do it. Many people declare very confidently that scripture is clear on what the church should look like, but I find that very presumptuous. The scriptures are very clear on a few basic things regarding church: they definitely met together often; they were passionate about Jesus and His kingdom advancing. Other than that, it is really quite a grey area as to what exactly that looks like. Many take a scripture, apply it to their experience, conviction and preference, and then out comes a result that they tell everyone to follow. Someone else will take that same scripture and give you a different conclusion.

I could go on for long here, but want to end by explaining the title a bit. Many of us fall for the trap to simply get on board with something even if we do not really want to. We feel pressure because if we do not, we will get labeled as those who do not want to pay the price or are selfish etc. I think we need to be way more one dimensional in our approach and simply do what brings us joy. God will never be fully revealed to all the different nations and cultures by one approach to church. All people will not be reached if everyone thinks it only happens on a Sunday. The individual believer must stay focused and hotly pursue what burns inside of him, and in that way, a multi colorful expression of God will so impact the schools, streets, churches, market places and distant villages of this earth that Jesus will simply have to return soon. If we are more intentional, and one dimensional, in doing the joyful, good works that He has prepared for us individually, we will all together, reflect the full width, length, height and depth of God’s extravagant love.

Much love,


Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Illusion of Tommorow...

The reason for this seemingly strange topic started as a result of a question God asked me the other day, which was 'What are you doing in Hong Kong?'. It came as quite a shock to be honest as I always thought that radical obedience (since He told us to come to Hong Kong while in China) was always a great idea. Since I also know that God does not ask questions because He does not know the answer, for example, God definitely knew where Adam was hiding, but it is because God desires relationship, and not strictly blind obedience. A great Skype chat with the arch bishop himself (private joke, but you may guess who) and a few other moments recently made me think about a few things.

My first few years of christian life were dominated by this facade of immediate and drastic change that would occur when I relocate to another country 'for Jesus'. The inverted commas are not there because it is not true, but because there is an element of deception to 'the nations' that I have held on to over those years. The reality also is that all of you back in South Africa only hear from me time to time after a China trip update or maybe something else exciting that has happened, and that is not a bad thing, that is just the nature of long distance friendships, but it can bring some confusion.

For many years I lived my life thinking how different everything will be when I move to another country one day, how there will be this sovereign move of God in my life that will instantly transform me into this super evangelist or reckless kingdom warrior that has no issues or problems in life. Anyone that ever left to relocate somewhere was always put on some invisible pedestal and when we hear of them next, they share five minutes at church about life abroad or we hear a testimony of how God is using them. I use to fantasise about that day for many, many times.

Well, here I am in Hong Kong, living my dream. Now do not get me wrong, I most definitely am living my dream! No doubt about it, and I am convinced of my (obviously including Janna) call here from God and would have turned into a different person had I stayed in South Africa (for the worse). My point however (and I have one) is this, I still get sick, still have to work many hours a week, still get disappointed, still battle with fear of man, still pass up opportunities to minister (which sucks to admit), still am just the same Derik you know. For some people they chase getting married, or traveling, or finding another church, or a new job etc. Always thinking that magically it will all become perfect when they get to that place they imagine they want to be.

Only when they get there, they realise nothing has really changed and they wonder why.
The only thing that has changed for me is that I followed my hearts desire. I wanted to go to China and so I came. I want to preach the gospel, and that is what I do. When I was in South Africa, I went to prisons, brothels, clubs, the beach, the streets, wherever, and did what my heart burned for. The challenges in Hong Kong are different and I really miss the freedom there was in South Africa for that sort of thing! Being involved in China however, is a large part of the reason why I was born, I am convinced of it.

I want to encourage all of you to simply do this one thing, go hard after Jesus. Seek His presence, seek His face, do what you love to do as often as you can, but do not despise your current reality as inferior and always desire after tomorrow. Today IS yesterdays tomorrow (if that makes sense), your dreams, desires and prophecies of the past can and want to be manifested today. Do not wait until you get 'there', wherever the heck that is.

It seems a bit incoherent as I read through this, but it is only because I am still trying to answer the question myself. My conclusion is simply to live life large today, when your inspired or prompted to do something, do it now. Waiting for tomorrow or when everything is the way you are hoping it to be, is a delusion that simply results in being ineffective and possibly borders on gnosticism (always desiring some secret knowledge or wisdom that keeps us powerless, discussing much, and doing little)

Do not forget, even though many of us are on a quest for authentic christian community and there is a definite and ongoing shift in church and what church should be, church still is and always will be, the answer. Stay close to friends and even closer to Jesus.

Much love,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Resurrection" in Hong Kong

Most of you might now we are in Hong Kong at the moment, but dont think I have sent an update since we got here so this is it.
Its been just about 2 weeks and the title of this blog pretty much sums it up for me - RESURRECTION. I will fill you in on some of the developments from these last few days (or actually today). We arrived with nothing but our clothes and our last salary from China with no jobs and no real clue whats going to happen. All we knew was God told us to go and so we did. We have been staying with new friends for these 2 weeks which has been great. The guys from church are all super generous and helpful since most of them have done something similar to us (just left everything arrived with nothing) so they know how it feels and all try help where they can. We have been given heaps of contacts for work so we had been trying to setup interviews etc.
(PS - Janna just informed me of a blog mix up, so the previous mail you received was not mine, but her's, so dont be confused!!)
The basics in Hong Kong are you need at least a degree to get a visa so the agency's we have been in touch with weren't super positive but one specifically said its still possible, just not easy (neither of us have one). Also, we arrived after the new term started so it wasn't looking so good for us. Janna got an interview today for a full time position which in itself was quite huge and it turned out to be an overly fancy kindergarten as well with all the latest gadgets and things. They loved her and offered her the job on the spot! They can only employ her though subject to her getting the work visa. Our agency will therefore apply this week and now they can also add a letter of employment from this (apparently one of the top schools in Hong Kong) school with the application which will add some serious weight. When she gets her visa I can simply get a dependant visa no problem and be able to apply way more easily for full time work myself.
Up until today we were still quite unsure of our future here so today has been very big for us! We are fully trusting for this visa to come through against all odds. Most people have said we will have to do the 'visa run' out of Hong Kong at least a few months since we will have to wait quite some time before we get full time work and then the visa, so as far as Hong Kong stats go, we are already way ahead of the norm, but were on another level anyways :)
The visa process takes 4-6 weeks but were hoping its quite quick but will have to wait. Its not 100% definite by a long shot but were just going to claim it in the spirit by faith until otherwise.
As far as church etc goes, we have really felt such a new release of life, passion and a sense of destiny with these guys. Have only been here for 2 services, one prayer meeting and one mens get together tonight as far as corporate goes, but its truly been a very quick settling in for me here. Maybe just the fact that I have the freedom again to be able to minister in day to day life has really set me on fire again for what I love to do so much. Excited to tell everyone some testimonies in the near future when they come!! Had a great opportunity to prophecy over a lady at McDonalds the other day, who was nearly shedding a tear, and turned out the be an atheist. Not that I was happy for her to be an atheist, but definitely stoked to be used to share Jesus with the lost again !!!
We have Glory and Grace (an international conference hosted by CCI) in 2 weeks and then a trip into China with quite a big team - so lots happening this month also.
Other than that been enjoying hooking up with some the guys here and being stirred for great things by many like-minded men and woman.
All in all its just been way massive so far and were excited to see what Hong Kong holds for us into the future. Our plan and desire is most definitely to stay indefinitely, but that depends on us getting the visa. So you can declare heavenly favour for us in that visa area as we believe we need to here.
Otherwise its all just too huge to even write about, im not sure how I would be able to articulate everything accurately. Just loving a free church, and real people who are very passionate about Jesus and advancing His kingdom !!
Big love and will keep you updated.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Clown For A Year...

So its been a mother of a last few weeks. Or pretty much our entire time here in Foshan has been quite a thing. From contract issues, passport and visa issues, internet issues, teaching issues... Some of those issues even lead to a few tissues :) Ok not really but it rhymes so I look clever. The biggest thing is still the passport as that is our key into Hong Kong on weekends to see our mates on a regular basis. The latest is (and has been for a few weeks) that this week is it!! So in stead of getting irritated were just staying positive and hope all gets worked out this week indeed.

I have also started teaching fulltime this month and that has been quite a challenge in itself as well. I have a total of 37 classes per week (around 33 different classes) at 6 different school from Monday-Friday. Most classes are around 20 odd students and some around 40. Most student ages are around 4/5 but I do have some 2/3 year old classes. Since it was my 29th birthday mid-August I often have a laugh at myself thinking that this mature (mostly), almost 30 year old very athletically built (self affirmation) married man is a fulltime freakin singer SLASH dancer (im a wiz at the hokey pokey) for chinese infants. I have coined a phrase (that I dont really like, but its true) that "the only difference between a great kindergarten teacher and a circus clown, is the clothes you wear".

After my first week of official teaching fulltime, my boss got 6 complaints about my teaching from the schools. Now it seems very funny but no one enjoys a good sized chinese knife in your back. They will love you to your face and then complain behind your back, BUT I still love it here and love the people regardless. Understanding myself (and no one else it seems cares) that I have only been teaching kindergarten for, well, ONE WEEK I had to just get off my high horse and realise I have a long way to go before becoming the number 1 rated foreign teacher in the East (my long term goal). Had to take some shots to the head (and ego) and basically the comments that were worth anything (and true for that matter) would be solved by me becoming MORE like a clown.

Dont confuse "becoming a clown" with making people laugh either. The latter I can do quite comfortably (meaning not everyone laughs but I enjoy trying anyways). Becoming a clown means doing songs about animals and also BECOMING that animal, including appropriate sounds and body movements. This is not easy for any adult male (or not me at least) so I have to keep reminding myself Im a professional and I get paid to do this, that way I feel way more grown up :)

Dont get me wrong, I really am starting to enjoy it more and more every week and it really is fun work - if you can even call it real work.

But thats just some insight into the largest part of our daily lives here in China at the moment. Other than that we have met a few more foreigners which has been great to hook up with them at Star Bucks from time to time. They also seem to be serious social event organisers so also wanting to join them for their next trip out somewhere on the weekend. Im also hoping to get my Manderin skills polished more and more by starting private lessons this week which Im really keen for! Loving the language and I can only teach myself so much (meaning online and iPod kind of stuff) which is great but need some expert help to advance to the next level.

Janna and I agree that we really want to learn how to swear in Manderin since there are many times when you really want to but anything in English just dont cut it. Besides, dont think they really swear in Manderin but maybe il just look for the Manderin word for "crap" or something similar.

Other than that missing everyone big time and will bring news regarding our passports and our next trip with the Hong Kong guys (sounds like it will be next weekend !!!!!!)

Big love and all that other intimate stuff.
PS - Dont get me wrong WERE FULLY STOKED AND LOVING IT - just good to be honest and let you into our real lives you know...


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Slowly but surely...

Sitting here at Star Bucks where I can get wireless internet and a good cup of coffee. It has been quite an intense last week or so here in our new home in Foshan. Contract finalising, finally finding an apartment and moving in, started some teaching and just the usual stuff you feel I guess, going through some transition (again).

But looking back now on the blur of the last little while, it really has been great and were super stoked.

The current deal is as follows: Janna will be working full time this month and I will be more flexible (stay at home and Star Bucks husband). Well even "full time" is bit deceptive since Jan (and I will be from next month) teaches 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon, with about 2 1/2 hours break in the middle. I know most of you will be thinking thats not even real work, but you have the right to comment IF you have taught kindergarten before !! Between 4-6, 20-30 minute classes in a row with 20-30 students (2-6 years) old IS NO GAME. At the same time however, we are having heaps of fun and are fully enjoying it.

Our employers have been organising me part time work at pretty much the same rate as our full time salary comes to which is great. I had 2 days so far and have another afternoon tomorrow. Chinese are classic since they just want westerners to be at their events so they look good. For example, I taught for 2 days at this one school and tomorow afternoon I am going to their 2 hour graduation show and have to "perform something" for 3 minutes. I did think about dancing, but had to consider wanting to get some future job offers as well so I'm settling for a speech on "the importance of English for young learners in China". Sounds huge but I probably wont even really prepare since maybe 2 people there will "sort of"understand me anyways.

Other than that I started with a one hour per day private lessons with 3 students, two of which are 12 and the other one 13. Its very easy and pretty much consists of me having a daily topic (going to the supermarket, watching TV, restaurant etc etc) and just chatting and practising with them. I have discovered that as long as you ensure people like you, your teaching skills becomes less important. So I just speak some chinese to the parents and make them laugh and Im an instant hit before I even had my first class. In China, good social skills gives you immediate access to important people so its a worthy focus point. I say this all humbly of coarse, understanding everything I am and ever will be is firmly rooted in my identity in Jesus. He did however create us to be in relationship with others so I am convinced I should excel socially just as much as in anything else.

Our apartment is also very kif. It was a bit of a thing negotiating and re-negotiating things with our employer and the agent, but the final result is a favourable one. One bedroom, one living room, kitchen and shower/toilet in the bedroom. We have avoided the shower-in-toilet combo that prevails in China up until now, but its not all that bad. Just means your toilet floor is wet (with water of coarse) more than you would probably like it to be. Were on the 9th floor in a great location and have a lift as well (which is not that common in China - even for 8 floor apartments). Our view is only of the city but at least now we have one - haha.

Spiritual "side note" (realise how much I love my inverted commas). - we were created to be completely passionate and on fire for God. Anyone who excludes them from the passionate one's because they think its just not their personality or not their "calling" - is unfortunately under the influence of a lie. We were ALL created and destined for daily and ongoing levels of deeper and deeper intimacy with our heavenly father. The result of that intimacy will be a flow of passion that cannot be quenched. The cross of Jesus has given us access into the original design of human beings - God intimacy.... The garden... (read Genesis if your not sure how that was). Walking and talking with God in a very real and very intimate way thats not just limited to the inner voice of God. I am starting to believe our relationship with God should primarily be a very tangeable and sensual (including the senses) relationship. Also including of coarse, the inner voice and guiding of His Spirit.

Which marriage would you prefer: one that communicates only via e-mail and text message, with some flowers and gifts sent to your home and a weekly phone call to catch up. OR a daily intimate touch, laugh, sense, feel, adventurous marriage that also includes the above.

To only have the first type of marriage-relationship with God is called religion and is sub-standard, dull, boring and not reflecting the true God to the worlsd. The latter is what Jesus really died for and reflects God in a way that will attract the world to Jesus in us, and not drive them away.

Big love,