Jesus and the Identity of God

In his essay entitled "Jesus and the Identity of God" anglican bishop and theologian NT Wright writes:
I have argued elsewhere that a central feature of Jewish expectation, and kingdom expectation at that, in Jesus’ time was the hope that YHWH would return in person to Zion. Having abandoned Jerusalem at the time of the exile, his return was delayed, but he would come back at last. Within this context, someone who told cryptic stories about a king or a master who went away, left his servants with tasks to perform, and then returned to see how they were getting on must—not “might,” must point to this controlling, over-arching metanarrative. Of course, the later Church, forgetting the first century Jewish context, read such stories as though they were originally about Jesus himself going away and then returning in a “second coming.” Of course, cautious scholars noticing this, deny that Jesus would have said such things. I propose that here at the heart of Jesus’ work, and at the moment of its climax, Jesus not only told stories about the king, who came back to Zion to judge and to save. He acted as though he thought the stories were coming true in what he himself was accomplishing. This is the context, at last, in which I think it best to approach the question with which this essay began.
He summarizes his treatise with this:
What are we therefore saying about the earthly Jesus? In Jesus himself, I suggest we see the biblical portrait of YHWH come to life: the loving God, rolling up his sleeves (Isa 52:10) to do in person the job that no one else could do, the creator God giving new life the God who works through his created world and supremely through his human creatures, the faithful God dwelling in the midst of his people, the stern and tender God relentlessly opposed to all that destroys or distorts the good creation, and especially human beings, but recklessly loving all those in need and distress. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall carry the lambs in his arms; and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 40:11). It is the OT portrait of YHWH, but it fits Jesus like a glove.

Let me be clear, also, what I am not saying. I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself “Well I never! I’m the second person of the Trinity!” Rather, “as part of his human vocation grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be.” I commend to you this category of “vocation” as the appropriate way forward for talking about what Jesus knew and believed about himself. This Jesus is both thoroughly credible as a first century Jew and thoroughly comprehensible as the one to whom early, high, Jewish christology looked back.
I recommend you to this writing and to NT Wright's website. He is orthodox, balanced and a voice of Christian reason.

Slave Mentality

My friend and coworker in the Lord, Jim Bailey, gave a wonderful talk today on Overcoming a Slave Mentality. In this message Jim tells of how the Israelites "physically" came out of the bondage of Egypt's slavery but never quite got free mentally. His text was out of Numbers 13 & 14 and addressed the two mindsets that the Israelis had when the spies came back from the promised land. Jim contrasted the discouraging fear-filled reports of 10 spies to the encouraging faith-filled reports of 2 spies (Joshua and Caleb). Here are a few points that Jim made on the subject of having a slave mentality.


  • assume weakness and are exploited by people who keep them weak,
  • choose not to stand with God and His promises,
  • live with a temporal time-based perspective instead of an eternal one,
  • plan for defeat rather than preparing for success,
  • are governed by past pain and suffering,
  • have unredeemed eyes that see the worst, and
  • spread dispair dragging others down.
Jim ended his message referencing part of Proverbs 30:21-22 that says:
"Under three things the earth quakes, And under four, it cannot bear up: Under a slave when he becomes king"
He spoke of how God chose Moses to lead the Exodus from Israel because he was not raised as a slave and did not have that mental framework. He challenged us to humbly embrace our call to be royal people and not live as slaves. I found the message to be challenging and liberating.

Our Heart, God's Will

A brief follow up to my last post. Here are a few thoughts from the bible about our heart and God's will:
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)
The connection of our heart to the will of the Almighty is eternally connected. Love, joy, peace, hope and faith are all matters of the heart. The Father has designed our hearts to be wellsprings of life that get us through dark days and connect us with His purposes. When we live out of our good hearts we connect with His will ... when we cower in fear and suppress our hearts we keep ourselves distant from His will for us. God's will is truly the best when it is lived out of the heart!

Healing and the Will of God

John Piper is an author, speaker and the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. One the eve of prostate surgery earlier this year he wrote to his congregation. This is how he started:
I believe in God’s power to heal—by miracle and by medicine. I believe it is right and good to pray for both kinds of healing. Cancer is not wasted when it is healed by God. He gets the glory and that is why cancer exists. So not to pray for healing may waste your cancer. But healing is not God’s plan for everyone. And there are many other ways to waste your cancer. I am praying for myself and for you that we will not waste this pain.
In my youth John’s words would have been a bit controversial because I approached healing from a Charismatic Fundamentalist perspective. Back then I embraced a theology that said that it was always God’s will to miraculously heal and I thought that to entertain something other than healing when you prayed was being double-minded. That kind of theology is problematic for several reasons:
    1. It reduces God to Santa Claus. It predetermines God's answer based on our desires. It puts us in charge and makes God our servant.
    2. It makes prayer a spiritual formula to be chanted instead of a conversation to be had with a close Friend. This kind of prayer stifles transparency in prayer and keeps us from connecting with God at a heart level.
    3. It enables the denial of reality and keeps us from dealing with our pain. It keeps us in hiding and causes us to not get help.
    4. It blocks wisdom and clouds our decision making process. I know of people that have gone off insulin, delayed surgeries and avoided doctors in the name of miracles and healing.
    5. It causes us to judge rather than help. This is the dark side of this theology. It relegates sick and hurting people to those who are either faithless or sinful.
    6. It has is a narrow perspective of trials and tests. It doesn't embrace and help the many people in our church communities with chronic illness and pain.
    7. It offers a false hope and sets people up for disappointment. The vast majority of people who pray for healing are not healed miraculously.
The last point is the heart of the issue. A theology that doesn't help people to live with hope is an inadequate theology at best. The people who are most inspirational are not the ones who were miraculously healed some time in their life. Those who inspire me the most are people like my online friend Karen at The Sword's Still Out. Karen occasionaly writes about her battles with Tinnitus. Here are a few excerpts from her writings:
I started having some kind of hum in my head but didn't think much about it. By the next morning, though, I had full blown jet engine noise on the left side of my head, static in the middle, and ringing on the right. If you want an example, go drive your car outside some mega air conditioning unit, open the door with the keys in the ignition so the ringing starts, and tune your radio to a static state. That would be it. 24/7.

I found out that 20% of people with tinnitus that drives them crazy started out with getting hit with it suddenly like this. That percentage of people are often totally disabled, unable to keep a job, marriage, etc.

I'd end up on my knees, pleading with God to make it stop, weeping, slobbering prayers; considering suicide because I felt worthless to everyone, including myself.

I started ministering to people with tinnitus; and found that I was "habituating" it more rapidly than they were, or still are as I write this. Some are still under very expensive treatment to try to get where I got in a relatively short time. I thought...what is different between them and me? Why am I surviving this better than them?

I praise God that He has brought me out of bondage with this. The noise is still as loud. It annoys me a lot. But it doesn't devastate me. Please pray for these other folks....that they will let Him in to cause a change, to give them peace. Now, it's my time to minister to them.
Does this sound like the writings of a sick woman? Not hardly! Oh, that we were all this healthy ... that we would walk out God's will with transparency and vulnerability. In retrospect maybe that is what, in part, God's will is all about ... being healthy in spite of sickness and pain. Something to think about.

Bibliolatry, the Rainbow & Evangelicals

Andy at Enter the Rainbow asks this question:
“Is a thing true because the Bible says it is, or does the Bible say a thing because it is true?”
Andy follows up the discussion by asking the question:
What's Wrong With Sturking?
These are really good questions and get to the heart of bibliolatry. For many years I often didn't engage my brain (and really my heart) when it came to the bible. My "biblical" views about life, church and the world were very narrow ... those views caused to me live an arrogant and unloving life. I am growing these days in love and beginning to understand how little I know of love, humility and the bible.

Michael at Addison Road explains Why I am (still) an Evangelical. In it he presents these views about the bible:

The evangelical hermeneutic rests on this assumption - that if God is omnipotent, present, and interested in revealing things about himself, we can expect His revelation to have certain basic characteristics. Things like:

1) Inspiration - God was involved in the production of the texts.

2) Infallibility - the texts do not err in their purposes.

3) Historicity - the texts were written at a place and time in history, by people situated in history, and as such, they are products of their historical/cultural perspective.

4) Textuality - text as text: the normal tools for interpreting meaning in any text are the appropriate tools for interpreting meaning in biblical texts. In other words, when we read “Joseph was lowered into the well”, the meaning is conveyed by the content of the words “Joseph”, “lowered” and “well”, just as it would be if those words were written in personal letter, a historical footnote, or any other work outside of the biblical canon. Attempts to use “secret codes” or numerological sequences to unlock the “true” meaning of the text are therefore inappropriate to interpretation (think Kabbala, or “The Bible Code“).
I agree with what Michael writes - it is a balanced view ... a view that presents the bible in a way that makes sense ... in a way that shows that the bible points to God ... in a way that does not incarnate the bible as God.


When I was in Bible College 25 years ago a professor asked this question:
"Does the bible contain the word of God?"
I'm sure that most of us answered yes. The teacher's response was:
"The bible does not contain the word of God, it is the word of God!"
An interesting and somewhat fundamentalist delineation. How would you have answered? I think that I would still answer yes :)

I came across a new word reading an old post at the Internet Monk's blog. The word is bibliolatry and one definition of the word is a "worship of the Bible". Here are a few excerpts that I agree with from Monk's blog:

What I heard as a young man was Bibliolatry. It’s a word that conservatives hate to hear, but we must hear it. The Bible is ours for dozens of good, God-inspired, Christ-exalting reasons. But we can exalt the Bible in the wrong way. We can go too far.

The more we feel the need to elevate and exalt something as “true” or “from God” or “God’s Will,” the more likely that we will become excessive, and often uncareful in what we say and do, and the more likely we are to wind up teaching error as a result.

It is the nature of religious language and religious dogma to make authoritative claims based upon revelation. It is the nature of human beings to extrapolate, connect and exaggerate. Put these two tendencies together, and there is a great need for us to be cautious in our claims for ultimate truth and ultimate authority.

My “turning point” helped me to find the Bible as the Word that presents the Living Word, God’s mediator, given for us and for our salvation: Jesus Christ. I learned to listen for the difference between Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture, and to not equate God and His written word in ways that abuse both God and those who love scripture.

Interesting comments about the bible and how people can misuse it. Coming from a Charismatic Fundamentalist background I found his statements consistent with some of my experiences. I think that he presents a challenging and healthy point of view.

My internet buddy Danny Sims puts it this way "The Point Of The Bible Is Not To Know The Bible" ... the point of the bible is to know God. I think that we can get to a place where we place the bible as the fourth member of the Trinity ... we can know it but not know God ... worship it and not worship God.

Spiritual Laws

A number of years ago Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, wrote a booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws. The introduction says:
"Just as there are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so are there spiritual laws that govern your relationship with God."
From a fundamentalist perspective I have always enjoyed this idea of 'Spiritual Laws' ... seems neat and orderly ... but I have been thinking about this lately and have been wondering about this whole idea of legalistic rules masquerading as spiritual laws ... hmmm. I have been thinking about what Jesus said to Nicodemus about being born again:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." (John 3:16-19)

I highlighted a few words to emphasize the universality of this passage. What I love about this passage is it's simplicity. The message is simply:

  • God reached out to everyone by loving and giving ... His gift of love is Jesus.
  • God offers the gift of eternl life to whoever believes in the Jesus ... you know I really want to leave off "believes" because it draws a line ... not everyone believes. Notice that the scripture doesn't say how to believe but it does say believe.
  • God's plan for all people is salvation and not judgment ... He simply asks that we would love the Light more than the darkness.

I think that if Jesus didn't say these things I might not believe it ... it is too simple ... just believe. In light of this I really wonder about all of the Spiritual Laws that I have embraced over the years. Here is another quote from Jesus where He conveys that same simple message:

"This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." (John 6:29)
I don't think that it gets much simpler than that. Maybe ... just maybe ... I have made life a bit too complex by embracing rules around spiritual stuff. Maybe life is truly all about believing in Jesus ... believing that He loves me ... believing that He loves you ... believing that He will be there no matter what. I think that truly believng this at a gut level transforms us.

Having said all that I have to admit that there are other sides of this. Some believe that what I have espoused is form of easy believerism ... these embrace a few rules around what it means to 'believe'. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who say that believing is not required ... they say that Christ's redemption is universal ... some are saved in this life and others after they die. Wherever you are in this debate you have to admit that it is good to just believe in Jesus ... even if it breaks a few of your spiritual laws or maybe creates a new one for you :)

Kanner Lake

Kansas Bob has landed a role in Scenes and Beans, an entertaining character blog based on the new Kanner Lake suspense series by best-selling author Brandilyn Collins. KB will be writing posts for Hank Detcher, an Idaho born and bred pastor who loves to fish and is always ready to listen.

According to the Kanner Lake Blogsite, Scenes and Beans is “brought to you by Java Joint,” the coffee shop in the fictional town of Kanner Lake, Idaho, where the eclectic and eccentric locals hang out. Writers for the blog are from the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand. “Bob was chosen because of the creativity in his auditioning post,” says Collins. “Bob is a talented writer, and I’m thrilled to have him as a part of this international project.”

Eleven characters from Java Joint post Monday through Friday, telling humorous and poignant stories about their lives in Kanner Lake—until tragedy strikes. The posts are in real time according to events in the suspense series, which launches in August with Violet Dawn. In the novel, Paige Williams, a newcomer to the town, slips into her hot tub in the blackness of night—and comes face to face with a corpse. Fleeing a dark past and afraid of the police and media, Paige must make an unthinkable choice about what to do with the body. Soon the whole town is in pursuit of the truth, and the killer in their midst.

The blog lists the eleven characters and links to the Kanner Lake Website that explains the suspense series and lists the writers for Scenes and Beans.

The Kanner Lake series is published by Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins. Senior Acquisitions Editor Sue Brower said, “We fully expect Violet Dawn to be the biggest best-seller yet for Brandilyn Collins. The Scenes and Beans bloggers are a select group of writers who will gain exposure through their character posts, which will be read by many fans of the series.”

Spiritual Vertigo

Julie at julie unplugged writes about her experiences with "inexplicable vertigo" in her UPI column entitled Spiritual Vertigo. I liked the way Julie related her experiences with vertigo to her vertigo-like spiritual experiences. I particularly liked the way Julie relates the following:
To stand.

To be immovable.

I have always wanted that. I want to know that I am secure, won't fail or fall, won't be wrong again, that I can say, "Here I stand" and mean it. But Rich Mullins sang, "We are not as strong as we think we are." Inside I know he's right — all the way to my core.

When my wife died in May of 1994 my spiritual world was rocked to the core ... I found that I was not as strong as I thought I was ... it was a humbling experience as I discovered that I could no longer maintain many of the daily 'spiritual disciplines' that had brought my ego so much validation ... it was like vertigo.

One dictionary gives this definition for vertigo: "A confused, disoriented state of mind." I think that God designs many things in life to confuse and disorient us ... to bring us to a place where we examine who we are and why we are. I am reminded of a quote from our American history

“These are the times that try men's souls,” wrote Thomas Paine, who rode with the army during a retreat from Cornwallis, a time of low morale, wavering popular support, and abandonment by Congress of Philadelphia.
I think that it is in these trying times that believers shine ... when all is lost ... when everything is dark ... when we are depressed and despondent ... this is the place where faith can rise and hope can be born. Only in these times can we understand Paul's words to the Corinthians:
For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:6-11)
The truth of the matter is that you only need light when things are dark ... you only see a need for God when you have come to the end of yourself. Life is designed to bring us to this place ... where only God will satisfy ... where nothing else will do. This place can only be found through humility, vulnerability and transparency ... it is not an easily traveled road ... it often costs us ... but it also brings us to a place of discovery.

For me one of the discoveries was that spiritual formulas, principles and philosophies were impotent when I began to deal with my pain. Only Jesus could heal my heart ... only He could free me from the bondage of religion. Only Jesus could deal with Spiritual Vertigo ... but not in the way that I wanted Him to.