Properly managed, sin is not all that bad. It is God’s hatred of it that we should fear because He hates it so much that He consigns sinners to eternal retributive punishment. Continue reading
Say you opened your front door and found God the Eternal Father standing before you, all smiles in a t-shirt and jeans, ready to spend a whole day with you… how many of your plans would be spoiled? Would you be uncomfortable if He asked to listen to the songs on your playlist? How would you react if he broke into dance with one of your earphones in His ear? Would the people you spend every day with be surprised to hear you speak politely to them? Would the beggar on the street freeze with disbelief after you dropped a coin, then two and a note into his plate?
Surely it wouldn’t be long before you relaxed and became yourself with breath finally caught and shoulders lowered. Those questions lingering in the back of your mind would break forth, catapulting off your tongue in rapid succession. Why me, why am I here? Why the family I was born into? Why did you let that loved one die? Why, oh why, is this world full of pain and suffering if you’re so loving? How deep your shock would be if instead of replying you, His shoulders shook with sobs of pain; pain you couldn’t hope to fathom because, as He would explain between sobs, only He knows the full glory of the destiny He would lead us to if only we stopped struggling.
At that very moment, your shopping list prayers would fall away as you looked at God in a different light. No longer would He be a mechanical celestial vending machine demanding presumptuous prayers in order to pop out whatever selfish treat you wanted but a loving Father longing for a hug from you, waiting anxiously for your face to light up at the sight or mere thought of Him. You would marvel at the willingness of an infinitely powerful God to be vulnerable with His creation, at the incredible courage involved in creating beings with the ability to reject Him. How petty your power games would seem then!
Overcome with emotion, the stark reality of your brokenness would squeeze your chest and pull a tear down your cheek. A new question would linger on your tongue, unsure if you would like the answer: “Why did a God like this bother hanging out with me? Was this visit a prelude to a break up? Did He come to tell me that He’d had enough of me?” Surprised, you’d feel His hand grip yours with a little squeeze. Yes, God would put His arm around your shoulder and say,
“Hey, would you want to talk about why you feel the need to be in control all the time? There’s no need to fear Me. There’s no need to fear anything, you and Me, we got this.” What a chat that would be! There’s no need to imagine either, God the Holy Spirit, comes to you every morning, longing to spend the day with you, guiding you every step of the way.
We all attempt to cover our nakedness with Adam and Eve’s leafy aprons (Genesis 3). Deep within is the realisation that something is horribly wrong, something is amiss. Our lives are filled with frenzied attempts to silence this realisation. Continue reading
You know you’re talking to a Zimbabwean if one of the first things they want to know about you is what church you attend. In my city, Bulawayo, churches have sprung up in the ruins of abandoned factories, drowning out the screaming silence of derelict machinery with mirthful praise and upraised hands with bangle-laden wrists Continue reading
Here’s the challenge: collapse the whole book of Galatians into one bite-sized sentence. How would you go about it? A lot of people (especially Seventh-day Adventists) steer clear of this book for various reasons, not least of which would be the disparaging comments it makes about the Law. Continue reading
What picture does the word “Holy” invoke in your mind? Do you see a severe preacher marching down the street with his equally somber wife on their way home to an austere dinner of steamed carrots, raw cauliflower and unsalted watery soup seasoned with nothing but the fire of righteous condemnation burning in their eyes? Perhaps you are assailed by all the bitter memories of sitting through time-warping sermons so boring they filled five minutes with the strain of an hour but went on for hours. Yes, boring, tortuous but at least they guaranteed heaven, or so you told yourself. Why do we associate holiness with actions?The pagans associated holiness with location. They had holy sites in which the physical pressed palms with the metaphysical. These locations were different, elevated and separate in their minds because they were the points of contact with their deities. Abraham and his descendants came from this background and thus were not immune from this thinking as seen by their erection of altars and monuments to mark points of contact with Jehovah.
This wasn’t the case in Genesis 1 where the demarcation between Creator and creation is clear. In the Bible, holy means, separate or distinct and so the Creator is distinct from creation (the pagans did not have such a clear distinction, as far as I know). This distinction is carried on to humans, distinct in that they are made in God’s image. At the serpent’s behest, we decided to blur the distinction between Creator and created and ushered in the breakdown of relationships, both vertical and horizontal.
God bears patiently with His children, never leading faster than they can follow. He worked within the limits of Abraham’s knowledge to bring him from faltering obedience to trusting obedience. Later, God called out ex slaves and forged them into a distinct nation, meeting them halfway by establishing a temple, a point of contact that stayed with them throughout their travels. Thus, the entire camp was holy. Every aspect of life was governed by this holiness in addition to rituals meant to drive the point home.
Alas, the Israelites spent too much time hanging out with pagans and ended up blurring the line between Jehovah and the pagan deities. Pagan gods had very little interest in people’s lives and had to be appeased, thus, the rituals surrounding their worship were meant to alter how the gods’ perception of the people. Jehovah was distinct, he was thoroughly interested in how people live and His rituals were meant to alter the people’s perception of Him. Jehovah sent prophets to point out that He wanted changed characters and not singed flesh:
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously. (Micah 6:8 The Message)
Freed from Babylonian bondage, God’s people again tied God to the temple in Jerusalem and built a system of exclusivity around it. In trying to keep God holy, they inadvertently made Him national property. There were no idols in the temple but there were idols in the mind – God was still national property to be manipulated with sacrifices and His temple became a talisman to ward off political decimation.
Jesus shifted the focus of holiness from location and mere deeds to relationship. After outlining how reconciliation ought to be at first, a matter of several people, he declared that such a situation was to be blessed with his presence (thus, holy):
And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there. (Matthew 18:20 The Message)
However, it was in the discussion with the Samaritan woman that he revealed that this holiness, freed from location, tribe and creed was to be brought about by the Spirit
But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23,24 NET)
Whatever rituals or locations you associate holiness with are fine just as long as they point you to true holiness – acting justly, embracing mercy and living with humility, for this world hungers for justice and needs mercy but we are powerless to give these without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. It is my wish that we all may become points of contact.
photo credit: -Cheesyfeet- 7th January 2017 via photopin (license)
Jesus fits so easily in my pocket. He seems to like everything that I like and shares my dislikes. When I’m angry at those in authority, Christ is a rebel but when I’m in charge, Jesus desires order for progress’ sake and nods his head when I lay down the law. Some people love following rules while some can’t see a rule without breaking it and my parents without the slightest hesitation would say I belong to the latter. Perhaps that’s why my favourite stories from the Gospels are those that tell of Jesus’ rule breaking like the Sabbath healing miracles, healing the Gentiles, chilling with Samaritans and having pizza with sex workers and corrupt government officials. Stories of Jesus restoring order in the temple with a whip in His hands (He didn’t strike anybody) and giving instructions to the disciples just fade into the recesses of my mind, subject to only a begrudging assent.
If only He wasn’t such a nice guy, maybe I could take Him more seriously. Imagine the King of the Universe hanging naked on a cross, turning the other cheek and strolling the extra mile! Fancy the King of All washing filthy feet! That was the point though. In Luke’s account of it (Luke 22), Jesus set the record straight about how His kingdom functions:
Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.
“Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God’s people.
(Luke 22:24-30 The Message)
The power of humility is incredible. Jesus is immensely powerful; speaking stars into existence and chatting corpses to life but there’s more to it than meets the power hungry eye! Jesus doesn’t want us to trust in His might but in the love with which He wields that power. The Bible isn’t a buffet meal from which I’m to choose whatever I feel like eating, it is a complete balanced meal I’m to consume in it’s entirety if I’m ever to live.
From that perspective, Jesus is more than a religious mascot for whatever cause I happen to be in support of. No! Jesus is more than a nail-pierced reflector of my opinions and feelings – that’s my parrot’s job – He is God made man. Christ is God in an accessible (not malleable) form to allow certified sinners like me the chance to see Him as He is (character) and not die but thrive and be renewed in His grace. How dare I try to squeeze Him into my pocket!
If you think, that’s bad, wait till you see how I’ve relegated the Holy Spirit to a celestial Siri whom I ignore until I’m stuck. I guess it’s partly because when I sit in the church pew and listen, He seems little more than some ethereal lotion to be squeezed out of a bottle or insecticide sprayed from a can. Why doesn’t He speak up for Himself and set the record straight? It’s that humility thing again! At the same dinner mentioned above, Jesus spoke about Him:
I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.
When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.
I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.’
(John 16:4-15 The Message)
Far from being merely some ether that leaks out of heaven, the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person, lovingly wielding power to make my feeble mind understand the abjection of my sinful situation so that I may receive the gift of righteousness and then understand that judgement is necessary to depose Satan. The Holy Spirit is the One who quickens me to live up to the lofty ideal set by Jesus. It is His efforts that give me the self control to give up the desire to control others and serve them instead. Christ offers citizenship and the Holy Spirit delivers the forms and guides me with compliance.
If the Holy Spirit were only a power, I would be right in seeking to have more of “it” but His divine personality means that in Him, I have the overflowing cup of God’s presence in my life. It means I don’t need more of Him but I just need to accept more of Him i.e. I need to admit to myself that I can’t do it all. That’s humility. Humility is hard. I don’t know why since I have very little to be proud of. That is the mysterious power of sin but thank God, He is far more powerful than sin yet He so lovingly wields His power that He and Jesus are small (humble) enough to fill my life but a little to big to fit in my pocket.
How can the Holy Spirit be Divine and yet be content to work in obscurity? From hovering over the waters at creation to filling Bezalel with creative skill, He seems leery of the spotlight and instead, content to turn it on Jesus and the Father. It is because He spurns the fanfare and accolades associated with kingly power that we doubt His Divinity. How could we not doubt when the Bible is filled with odes to the Father and Jesus but only punctuated with terse references where the Holy Spirit is concerned?
Perhaps it is time we realised that our stampeding for the spotlight has less to do with effectiveness than it has to do with pride. Pride is always befuddled by humility and can only either belittle it or reject it as false. Yet the Holy Spirit challenges our belief that the essence of life lies in the spotlight. The Holy Spirit sends a portfolio and testimonials instead of a curriculum vitae because He seeks to attract by inspiring awe and not bedazzle us.
His apparent shyness is shared by the Father and Jesus too. Have you read the rousing hymns of praise sung about Jesus by the Father in Hebrews 1? Do you remember the glorious parables of the Father’s love breathed by Jesus in the gospels? They never tire of heaping praise on each other because of the love that swirls through the very core of their essence. God truly is love, not so much in an overbearing sentimental sense but in a commitment to serve others. True humility can never flourish in bashfulness because it can only thrive in a heart so confident that it sees no need to bask in the limelight.
Satan approached Jesus in the wilderness to tempt Him to prove His Divinity by grasping the limelight (turn stones into bread and jump from the temple) but Jesus chose to prove it by holding to a loving trust in the Father. Jesus came to reveal the Father (He spoke of Him incessantly) and refused to steal the limelight from Him. It is this stubborn confidence in His relationship with the Father and the resultant contentment that gave strong evidence of Jesus’ identity.
The Father too, couldn’t restrain Himself from heaping praise on Jesus at His baptism but could restrain Himself from intervening on Calvary. As sinners jeered at Jesus on the cross, challenging Him to prove Himself by saving Himself, the Father didn’t distract them by attacking them. All eyes were to be on Jesus. Is it any wonder that the Holy Spirit doesn’t spend time attracting attention to Himself?
How different would our lives be if we proved ourselves not by claims or fanfare but by positive results? What strife we would avoid and how sweet our relationships would be, if we were so confident in our identities that we would be content to point attention to others.
Does any book have more controversy swirling around it than the Bible? Yet the Bible is not quite a book but a compilation of history (some say historical fiction), poetry and correspondence. It is a compilation that has changed over time with new additions and exclusions. Yet so much is said about, for and against it with believers, sceptics and everyone in between weighing in with their two cents’ worth about it. Love it or hate it, this is one book that leaves almost nobody neutral about it.
I am a black African who in his little corner thinks that a lot of the trouble is caused by reading Eastern writings with Western rules (Even Easterners). There is no adequate method of expressing, “Namuhla bengilabo Jason,” in English. Sure, I could come up with various attempts at translation but not a single one would do it justice. What from the Bible has been lost in translation, I wonder. Thank God for raising scholars who expend tremendous amounts of time and effort, digging into the scripture to point out things that aren’t immediately seen. From paying attention to these impressive ladies and gentlemen, I’ve come to realise that there are lots of similarities between the culture and worldview of the people who lived in Bible times and that of my ancestors. I realise of course, that there are differences.
Rigours of translation aside, it appears that the Bible effects change in both the educated and unschooled. Bearing in mind that horrendous deeds have been done in the name of the Bible, I cannot help but notice that vicious men have been rendered meek and mild by letting the Bible read them. I too, have cringed when I recognised myself in unfortunate episodes in those pages. However, it appears to me that this book is more than a self help manual.
Over the years, I a certain Someone has been revealed to me by the dead words of the book. At first, the Bible was an interesting story book, then it became a harsh disciplinarian pointing out my errors in verses that sprang to mind whenever I decided to be a less than exemplary boy. In my teenage years, it became a standard that I could never be good enough to live up to. As I wrung baptismal water from my clothes, it became a manual for achieving perfection. Read in that way, dispassionately, the Bible is just dead words that lead to heaven (at least!) with a few interesting stories and philosophical implications. Somewhere along the line, I found myself scraping the bottom of life’s barrel and suddenly, Someone flipped the light switch. As I read this book and listened to other Christians, I realised the Bible wasn’t dispassionate and thus, I couldn’t be dispassionate about it. It came alive! The people it told of were real people with real struggles. Through the ruckus of the Old Testament, I kept catching glimpses of Someone I saw plainly in the New. I began to be honest with this Someone as I spoke to Him… Trembling became rest as I learnt to open up to Him. I’m still learning to trust Him but I find, that I cannot be cold and dispassionate about the Bible anymore. Everyday it slaughters my sacred cows but I can’t get enough of the One it points to.
Why am I boring you with another testimony? It is because I’ve become less abstract about the Bible and strongly believe that it is all about relationships. It is a compilation telling how God related with people and vice versa. Some of its content was given by direct vision, some by research and some by compilation of earlier writings all in order to reveal God to humanity. Besides all this, it can so easily become a long book of dead words until Someone turns the light on and brings it to life in a receptive mind. Yes, I know I’ve made a lot of claims and all but I’m not interested in arguing about the Bible. It also seems to my mind that the greatest evidence that the Bible is true can only be found by reading it for yourself and trying out what it says. Thus, all I can say is that you should read it for yourself while I hope and pray that those dead words can be a living Gospel in your life by the enabling of the Holy Spirit who inspired them. May God bless you!