Fearless Trembling

We’ve become a little too nonchalant about Jesus. In our songs and conversations, we have reduced Him to a permissive accomplice, a smiling confidante in constant agreement with our every whim.

He is an eviscerated Christ, mutilated by our pride. It is our pride that’s behind it all. Why else would we define boundless love as unchallenging approval if we weren’t obsessed with puffing ourselves up? If, as our mantra says, Jesus fully understands and loves us, He then should challenge us to be and do better. That would involve a lot of tough conversations.

Of course, in Jesus, the Divine has been encapsulated into accessible humanity. Jesus comes to us at our level but we should always remember that He is stooping. His total humility cannot obscure His terrific condescension. He is like us but a whole lot more.

Revelation is meant to be taken seriously. That’s why John’s vision of Jesus was so striking as to make him fall flat on his face. As I heard Sigve Tonstad say, “Revelation is meaningful because understanding is possible.” Quivering fear stands in the way of understanding and so Jesus must bid John, “Don’t be afraid.”

Somebody ought to forward that memo to dour-faced evangelists bent on striking hearts with fear. Revelation is meant to inspire obedience springing from understanding. They need to learn humility too because their prophetic charts and proof texts can lead them to trust in their limited knowledge of the future instead of the Jesus who holds it.

We need to keep the balance between the “God out there” and the “God in my heart”. Both perspectives are true but both have pitfalls: fear and presumption. The line between fear and reverence is a frightfully thin one but we can and need to tremble before Jesus without fearing Him. This is only possible if we behold Him as He is revealed.
 

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

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Footprints On Water

Many men similar to Peter, have walked the earth, men whose brains find difficulty in keeping up with their minds and whose lives are a chiaroscuro of contradictions. Lest we be too hard on him, we should always bear in mind that none have ever joined Jesus in leaving footprints on water. I cannot help but wonder what Simon Johnson (that would have been on his birth certificate) would have said if he heard that he would someday stroll on the same billows that he spent so much time reaping fish from. His quick mouth would have voiced his incredulity no doubt. 

Stroll on the water he did nonetheless and so much more. Once, an angel broke him out of maximum prison without firing a single shot but long before that, Peter had the privilege of being one of three witnesses to some of Jesus’ most spectacular activities such as the resurrection of Jarius’ daughter, the Transfiguration and Jesus’ blood-sweating agony in Gathsemane although he did sleep through some parts of that it. 

Action is never far from Peter’s name in the aptly named Book of Acts. When he wasn’t breaking out of jail, Cephas healed the sick both actively and by his shadow. Ever so often, he found himself speaking with boldness before the Sanhedrin and taking a detour to resurrect the thrifty Dorcas. However, it is hard to hide from the ping ponging that Peter did – swinging to great heights in one moment before falling to great depths in the next. Declaring Jesus as Messiah in one breath, he misunderstood Jesus’ mission in the next exhalation. Once more he slipped from celebrating the salvation of Cornelius to the murky waters of hypocrisy when in trepidation, Peter suddenly stopped eating with the Gentiles when a high powered delegation from headquarters came to investigate. Surely, Jesus could have chosen better.

Choose Peter, Jesus did. Embroiled in sorting fish, Simon found himself called to join a radical rabbi’s happy band. This rabbi promised him not the excitement of skipping on water nor the pain of hearing the most dreadful cock crowing ever but He simply promised that Peter would fish men. Discarded by the prestigious rabbinical schools and consigned to a thankless life at the mercy of the lake’s generosity, Peter found himself in the presence of a Teacher who gazed upon an unsophisticated fisherman but saw only what he could be.

Despite his faults, Peter was always ready to try something new. God can bring about anything in, and through, those who are willing to learn. Peter was a learner. Intrepid in his quest to learn from Jesus, he got out of his safety zone and stood in the water. The message of that story is clear: Jesus is longing to lead us to do “impossible” but that requires us to defy our fear of failure and embrace the possibility of failure while striving for higher goals than our frivolous prayers and unimpressive plans.

Quite sadly, we the church are guilty of painting any mistake as sin. Thus we coalesce around the tried and tested, never venturing too far from the shore lest we make a terrible mistake. Thankfully, God has a grasp of reality that allows for our mistakes. It comes as no shock to Him that we make errors and so He doesn’t call us to keep from making mistakes, rather, he calls us to get up from our falls and learn the lessons we would not have learned otherwise.

Thus, when Peter, crushed by the memory of his denial and returned to fishing, Jesus returned to recall that beautiful morning when a fisherman became a disciple. Peter was called to stand up. He calls us too, albeit without fish roasting on the coals, to step out of our mediocre comfort zones to stroll on the stormy billows of life, leaving our footprints on the water. 

“Feed my lambs,” were Jesus’ words to Peter. Though faltering along the way, Peter lived up to the charge and left two letters for us to read and find nourishment within them. One week done, twelve more to go!

photo credit: sachman75 Sony a7r and Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 at Bungan Beach via photopin (license)

Dead Words, Living Gospel

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!

God wants Help

In Genesis 1, God (a perfect community) productively created a community to creatively produce offspring that would fill the earth and be productive (subdue it). To protect them from pride, He gave them a day of rest. That is a day when they stopped working and took the time to fellowship with their Creator. Thus, they remembered that theirs was not a work done in isolation but in partnership with their Creator. Unfortunately, they were rather quick to forget the lesson of the Sabbath and chose to spurn their Creator.God, however, didn’t spurn them. He was creative in reaching out to redeem them. Humanity was infected with sin but was not beyond hope – the original software remained albeit bugged by sin. Our drive to be creatively productive was alive but malfunctioning so God instituted some emergency measures. Humanity had rejected the Ultimate Source and so would inevitably turn to “superficial” sources. The man had come from the soil and would draw his sense of being from the ground while the woman would try to fill her inner vacuum by turning to her husband. God intervened. Continue reading

The Importance/Impotence of History

History is undoubtedly very important but insofar as it helps us know where we are and chart where we will be. At times, history is quoted to show potential (I’ll be great because my fathers were great) but at other times, history is quoted to excuse failure (I’m so bad because I had terrible parents). Both approaches have a grain of truth within them but they fail to take into account that most liberating of human faculties: the power of choice.

Matthew’s opening chapter brings this into sharp focus. Jesus is the seed of Abraham and the Son of David according to the genealogy but Matthew, through the unusual interjection of women’s names, points out very unsavory elements of Jesus’ genealogy: incest, Gentile blood, prostitution and murderous adultery. Even Jesus’ immediate history is not without controversy as Matthew shows his mother pregnant out of wedlock (a capital offence) and pagan magi honouring him while a respected king seeks to kill him. Yet Jesus is still the fulfillment of prophecy, he is the Messiah. Continue reading