1,000 today!

Incredibly this is the 1,000th post on rdcramblings.com – I was amazed to see that figure come up, it feels like only yesterday that I started this blog primarily to help students that I taught. God has been good!

So after a mere 1,000 posts I thought I should ask for your comments – anyone who reads this stuff is welcome to tell me just what they think – what do you like, have you liked, what is terrible and should never be repeated?

Most importantly to me I need to know if I should continue, I am undecided – is it time to retire or time to press on towards the next 1,000?

I am going to take a few days off from writing to think and pray about what you say. In the meantime I shall make sure all your replies are posted here.

I would love to hear from you.

Richard

Christianese

All too often in conversation I come out with some sort of drivel, fortunately my family and friends are gracious and gently rebuke me so that I can see my error or forgive me or sometimes just ignore it because they love me so much – I have an amazing family and set of friends.

Experience tells me that Christians are sometimes confused about what they believe and practice – and speak out such things as popular cliches or Christianese. Eric Geiger has an excellent post dealing with his 5 favourite Christian cliches. here they are.

(For more on Christian cliches look here.)

Here are my top five Christian clichés that need crushing.

5. Do your best, trust God with the rest.
I first saw this cliché on a poster of a guy playing basketball. He was attempting a dunk and was halfway to the rim. The poster seemed to imply to try your best to dunk the ball, and God will reach down and pull you up the rest of the way. It never worked for me.

The message wrongly paints the picture that God steps in and supplies the rest to our valiant efforts. And because one person’s best may be better than another person’s best, some need more help than others.

The truth is that no one’s best is better because even our best efforts are filthy rags before our holy God. And how foolish and miserable is it to only trust God with the rest, the leftovers? It’s much better to trust Him with everything. He desires and demands that we trust Him with all that we are.

4. God helps those who help themselves.
Similar to the first cliché, this one encourages you to help yourself, to attempt to live this life well in your own strength and energy. And God will look down and see your effort and provide the extra help you need.

But the message of the Christian faith is not that God helps those who help themselves. It is that God helps the helpless. And all of us are helpless before Him. We’re helpless in rescuing ourselves from our sin, and we’re helpless to live as we should. We desperately need Him each moment. We grow in Him as we remember our helplessness and rely on Him continually for everything.

3. God will not give you more than you can handle.
Maybe you were having a difficult trial, and some well-meaning person takes you to lunch to offer encouragement. He or she reaches across the table and says, “Hang in there. God will never give you more than you can handle.” It sounds so encouraging, but it is deeply wrong.

Actually He will give us way more than we can handle in our own strength. In His goodness, He will allow life to overwhelm us so that we’ll continually recognize our need for Him, so we’ll humbly seek His strength and wisdom. When we realize that we’re utterly helpless without His grace and strength in our lives, we are placed in a vulnerable posture that welcomes His power. Sometimes, God allows circumstances to completely overwhelm us to put us in that posture.

2. Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.
My friend and co-worker, Ed Stetzer, wrote an excellent blogpost about the famous quote, “Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.” The quote is often attributed to Francis of Assisi, though there is no record of him offering this statement.

Those who use the quote often do so with good motivations, encouraging people to live out their faith in action, not merely words. Unfortunately, the cliché can cause people to believe that the gospel doesn’t need to be spoken or declared.

The reality is the gospel means “good news.” It is news that must be declared, news that must be heard for salvation to occur (see Rom. 10:17). You can’t “be the news.” The news must be heralded.

1. God is my co-pilot.
Perhaps you have encountered the bumper sticker and thinking that articulates, “God is my co-pilot.” The thought is that God comes alongside us as we live our lives. He is there to offer encouragement, to keep us awake when we get tired, to point out where we should turn. He is there to help us live our lives. After all, we’re the pilots, the ones in charge.

In our sinfulness, we like to be in control, but the Christian faith is relinquishing the pilot’s seat to Jesus.

In the gospels, Jesus never responded positively when people attempted to come to Him on their terms. Jesus continually gave one invitation to His would-be followers: follow Me. If we think we’re the leader in our relationship with God, we’ve not yet understood the Christian faith. He leads. We follow. He reigns. We bow. He is Lord. We submit and follow.

What's in your eye?

Some Biblical expressions puzzle me, for example in the ESV the phrase “the apple of your eye” appears on four occasions:

Dt 32:9-10 “But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.”

Psalm 17:8-9 “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies whosurround me.”

Proverbs 7:1-2 “My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;”

Zechariah 2:8 “For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:”

It appears a strange expression to me. I don’t readily mix apples and eyes together – the thought of getting an apple in my eye is not a positive one. Yet looking at the biblical context above we see it is a wonderful expression, in modern idiom the apple of your eye is something that is very special to you, a thing that is treasured and often preferred above others. One website offers these synonyms: angel beloved darling, dearest, fair-haired boy, favorite honey, light of one’s life, loved one, object of one’s affections, sweetheart, treasure.

And then we read that God sees us as the apple of his eye, we are special to him – in fact one explanation of this saying is that when you look at someone their reflection can be seen in your pupil. It is an amazing thought that the God who created all the universe somehow sees all that is happening with each individual believer as the centre of his vision and this results in protection and provision, declaring his love and commitment towards believers.

In turn we are to treasure the commands and teaching of God indicating our treasuring of God and his word. This is a strong call to read, study and memorise the scripture – something that is “in your eye” is getting constant attention and is the point through which you see everything else. If we do not know and memorise the Bible how can it filter all the messages we receive from the world each day?

All we have to do now is live in the light of such revelation from God – will you live today knowing that in all situations, in every happening God sees you aas the apple of his eye and his attention is not wavering from you? Will you study the scriptures, memorise them and apply them to every part of your life (not just the God bits)?

Checklist Christianity

Any regular reader of this blog knows that Monday’s are a time I use for asking questions and examining how to live a Christian life of worship and devotion in the week ahead. Today I am cheating and putting in a checklist on living out our Christian faith that I found at Missional Challenge. Some of these 30 points might simply be ‘ticked off’ others are worth taking time and praying through asking God for grace to live the gospel out in your environment this week.

Maybe you would add others to the list – please let me know what you should also be included.

30 Key Areas in our Christian Walk

Beliefs

1. Trinity. I believe the God of the Bible is the only true God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
2. Salvation by Grace. I believe a person comes into a right relationship with God by God’s Grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
3. Authority of the Bible. I believe the Bible is the Word of God and has the right to command my belief and action.
4. Personal God. I believe God is involved in and cares about my daily life.
5. Identity in Christ. I believe I am significant because of my position as a child of God.
6. Church. I believe the church is God’s primary way to accomplish his purposes on earth today.
7. Humanity. I believe all people are loved by God and need Jesus Christ as their Savior.
8. Compassion. I believe God calls all Christians to show compassion to those in need.
9. Eternity. I believe there is a heaven and a hell, and I believe Jesus Christ is returning to judge the earth and establish his eternal kingdom.
10. Stewardship. I believe everything I am or own belongs to God.

Virtues

1. Love. I sacrificially and unconditionally love and forgive others.
2. Joy. I have inner contentment and purpose in spite of my circumstances.
3. Peace. I am free from anxiety because things are right between God, myself, and others.
4. Patience. I take a long time to overheat, and I endure patiently the unavoidable pressures of life.
5. Kindness/Goodness. I choose to do the right things in my relationships with others.
6. Faithfulness. I have established a good name with God and with others based on my long-term loyalty to that relationship.
7. Gentleness. I am thoughtful, considerate, and calm in dealing with others.
8. Self-Control. I have power, through Christ, to control myself.
9. Hope. I can cope with the hardships of life and death because of the hope I have in Jesus Christ.
10. Humility. I choose to esteem others above myself.

Practices

1. Worship. I worship God for who he is and what he has done for me.
2. Prayer. I pray to God to know him, to lay my requests before him, and to find direction for my daily life.
3. Bible Study. I study the Bible to know God, the truth, and to find direction for my daily life.
4. Single-mindedness. I focus on God and his priorities for my life.
5. Biblical Community. I fellowship with other Christians to accomplish God’s purposes in my life, others’ lives, and in the world.
6. Spiritual Gifts. I know and use my spiritual gifts to fulfill God’s purposes.
7. Giving Away My Time. I give away my time to fulfill God’s purposes.
8. Giving Away My Money. I give away my money to fulfill God’s purposes.
9. Giving Away My Faith. I give away my faith to fulfill God’s purposes.
10. Giving Away My Life. I give away my life to fulfill God’s purposes.

If you are seeking to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples, consider how this checklist can help you.

 

Jesus’s wife?

For a couple of days there have been numerous news items regarding the discovery of a manuscript giving details of Jesus’s wife. The article below is one of the best I have read on the subject and might be a useful read for any Christian who is likely to face questions on the subject. If you just want the punchline then the last section entitled ‘What does it say?’ is the part to read.

The article originally appeared here.

Did Jesus Have a Wife?

Peter Williams, the Warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge, England, just sent out this evaluation of the manuscript discovery that to some people suggests Jesus was married. It also includes the evaluation by Dr. Simon Gathercole, another expert in these matters. Dr. Darrell Bock has also weighed in on this issue.

Did Jesus have a wife?

The Web is by now awash with stories of an ancient text in which Jesus says ‘my wife’. The story which broke yesterday in the New York Times and some other sources, is being carried today by outlets too numerous to list. Some of the reporting is responsible, but not all. Consider this extract from The Daily Mail:

“If genuine, the document casts doubt on a centuries old official representation of Magdalene as a repentant whore and overturns the Christian ideal of sexual abstinence.”

We are of course in a context where there is so much ignorance of basic facts about Christianity that even when the media properly relay facts they get completely distorted and misunderstood in popular perception. This can be seen in the way derivative media put spin on the story and in the online comments below the news items.

Here we try to establish a few facts.

The scholarly article upon which almost all knowledge of the fragment is based is here (PDF). [UPDATE: This link is now dead. There appear to be two articles now. The original 2012 version now found here*, and a 2014 version which can be found here. Edited by Simon].

What do we know from this?

What’s in a name?

First, let’s start with the name. The scholar involved, Professor Karen King of Harvard, has decided to call this The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. However, it might more appropriately be named The Fragment about Jesus’s Relations, since there’s no evidence that it was called a gospel and the text mentions at least two family members. Of course, such a name would not generate the same publicity. Despite this unfortunate choice of name, Professor King is to be commended for publishing a good photograph and detailed scholarly analysis of the fragment simultaneously with the press release. Usually in the case of controversial text the media hype comes long before the availability of the text.

Genuine or forgery?

Professor King has provided pictures of the papyrus, but it is not publicly known who owns it, or where it came from. If genuine, it almost certainly came from Egypt because that is where papyri like this are found.

Because it was not found in situ it is obviously possible to doubt its genuineness. Scholars at Tyndale House think that, on the basis of the limited evidence currently available, it is possible it is genuine, though there are good reasons for scepticism — see the comments of Dr Christian Askeland, an expert in Coptic manuscripts.

What about date?

It is written in Coptic, the language of Egypt which descended from the even earlier language of the Hieroglyphs. Coptic is Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet with a few extra letters. Because Coptic was only emerging as a written language in the third century and papyrus went out of use in the seventh century the 8 cm x 4 cm fragment has to be dated some time from the third to the seventh century and the scholars involved with this fragment have stated that it is fourth century on the basis of the handwriting.

Since we have virtually no firmly dated Coptic handwriting, this date is just an educated guess.

Then we turn to the date of the contents. Here Professor King puts the text in the late second century, but all that we really know is that the text is at least as old as the manuscript.

The papyrus at the centre of the publicity

What does it say?

This is King’s translation of the text, with square brackets used where the text does not survive:

FRONT:

1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”

2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[

3 ] deny. Mary is worthy of it[

4 ]……” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[

5 ]… she will be able to be my disciple . . [

6 ] Let wicked people swell up … [

7] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [

8] an image [

BACK:

1 ] my moth[er

2 ] three [

3 ] … [

4 ] forth which … [

5 ] (illegible ink traces)

We believe this to be a largely reliable translation. But is it evidence that Jesus had a wife? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Not even Karen King is claiming that it is, though it’s inevitable that some of the news outlets will present it otherwise.

What we have here is a typical sort of text which arose after Christianity had become very popular and when derivatives of Christianity began to emerge. The language of the text is very similar to the Gospel of Thomas, sayings 101 and 114, and the Gospel of Thomas saying 101 shows influence of Luke 14:26, as the Gospel of Thomas does elsewhere. This way of speaking belongs to the mid-second century or later, in other words generations later than the books of the New Testament.

We asked Dr Simon Gathercole, an expert on apocryphal gospels and Senior Lecturer in New Testament in the University of Cambridge, for his comments.

He concluded: “Harvard Professor Karen King, who is the person who has been entrusted with the text, has rightly warned us that this does not say anything about the historical Jesus. She is correct that “its possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus”. But she is also right that this is a fascinating discovery which offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate. If it is genuine.

Best wishes,

Peter Williams,
Warden, Tyndale House, Cambridge

 

*Many thanks to Amanda for bringing this to our attention

Deep faith or deep change?

I am still enjoying reading Multiplying Missional Leaders by Mike Breen (though I might have finished it by the time this post appears). In chapter 3 he talks about people who want to go deeper in their faith and suggests they are not looking for something new but for,

“…simple, radical discipleship…to put the teachings of Jesus into practice…Too often, what people are seeking in their desire to “go deep” is the hit they get from hearing something they’ve never heard before.”

Ouch!

He then follows up by quoting Richard Rohr,

We operate with the assumption that giving people new ideas changes people.  It doesn’t.  Believing ideas is, in fact, a way of not having to change in any significant way, especially if you can argue about them.  Ideas become defenses.

If you have the right words, you are considered an orthodox and law-abiding Christian.  We burned people at the stake for not having the right words, but never to my knowledge for failing to love or forgive, or to care for the poor.  Religion has had a love affair with words and correct ideas, whereas Jesus loved people, who are always imperfect.

You do not have to substantially change to think some new ideas.  You always have to change to love and forgive ordinary people.  We love any religion that asks us to change other people.  We avoid any religion that keeps telling us to change.

As has often been said, we have taught people far beyond their obedience levels. They don’t need more information. They actually need to do what scripture says to do!

I guess I would love the words of these men if only I didn’t realise how powerfully they apply to my life and how radical the call of being a disciple of Jesus Christ really is.