Speaking about the Son of God.

posted in: Tony Thompson 0

I have just read a very thought-provoking blog by Andrew Wilson on the way we speak about the Son of God. The original blog is found here.

https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/should_we_call_him_jesus

Andrew quotes from a forthcoming book by Jen Wilkins, Ten Words to live by. In it Jen points out that the gospel writers use the name Jesus to describe the historical person, this is true in the gospels and the sermons recorded in Acts addressing unbelievers. However, everyone else in the gospels calls him teacher or Lord. The only exception is a group of demons who call him Jesus of Nazareth.

Then in the letters Jesus is mentioned 28 times, the title Lord or Christ is mentioned 484 times. 95% of the time a title of respect is used.

I am not surprised by this now it has been brought to my attention, but it was not something that I had considered before.

My 6-year-old granddaughter is told to refer to her teachers by their first names, she goes to a “progressive school”. Being more old fashioned I find this unusual and feel it results in a lack of respect for authority.

What does my habit of mostly speaking of Jesus rather than Lord Jesus or Jesus Christ say? Whilst it recognises the intimacy and friendship that exists, does it display a lack of respect and reverence? Does it bring Christ down to my level rather than acknowledging that he is even now sitting at the right hand with the Father?

Even in writing this blog I have had to resist the temptation to continually describe the Son of God as Jesus!

I have concluded that I need to work harder to break my habit, to get in line with Scripture and to usually refer to the Lord Jesus or Jesus Christ rather than always use the more familiar term Jesus. To offer due reverence and respect to the Son of God.

Something you too might like to ponder.

Refining, pruning and discipline all for our good.

The Bible uses a variety of different metaphors to describe the process by which we work with God to become more like Jesus. All of them describe the fact that this process can be challenging and at the time is not always easy or fully understood.

Peter talks about the testing or refining that happens to metal when it is heated up in a furnace so that the dross or impurities are burnt away to leave the pure metal. Peter equates this to what was happening in the church at the time. They were under pressure, they were suffering. This was for their good so that they may become purer. The pressure we are under causes imperfections to come to the surface so that they can be dealt with. Insecurities, fears, unhelpful emotions such as anger and rage, desire for control which may have been unnoticed suddenly surface and can be dealt with.

1 Peter 412 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Jesus says something similar using the image of pruning, so that we may become more fruitful.

John 151“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.

The writer to the Hebrews quoting from the book of Proverbs to describe the discipleship process as similar to a loving Father disciplining his son. At the time it does not feel pleasant but it for our good.

Hebrews 12And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

 

These different perspectives create this overall picture of the difficulties and challenges we face are used by God to help us grow. These are important truths for us to embrace as we face different challenges associated with the restrictions and the uncertainties of the current pandemic. God is using the circumstances to refine us, prune us, mature us. We may not fully understand what he is doing, but he is at work and we will come to understand. We shouldn’t be surprised. He is our loving caring Father.

 

Coronavirus and mystery

This pandemic has been going on much longer than many of us ever thought possible. I remember reading early on that we need to be thinking along the lines of an ice age rather than a blizzard. At the time people could not get their minds around it, but now we must. We are six months in, and the truth is none of us know when we are going to get through this.

Increasingly I am finding some Christians confidently asserting that they have a hot line to God and that variously, this is all a tactic of the Devil to force us to have the sign of the beast or that this is God calling His people to repentance or …….. The list is exceptionally long and mostly contradictory and frankly unhelpful. This has finally provoked me to speak into the discussion and declare that we need to allow for a level of mystery. A level of humility. We must be incredibly careful when we claim to speak on behalf of God. We also need to be focusing on the right questions, not why but what should I be doing. The coronavirus seems to have provided some people with a megaphone to say, more loudly, what they were wanting to say anyway! I do not think this is at all helpful.

We need to allow for mystery.

I think this is clear in many places in the Bible. E.g. the book of Job. Any sensible reading of the book will result in us being cautious about making grand pronouncements. Job’s friends concluded that he needs to repent, it was obvious that sin was the problem. The point of the book is that may seem obvious, but it was the wrong conclusion to draw. In fact, the book of Job does not have a simple answer, no satisfactory resolution to the issue of suffering. Job gets more sons and daughters to replace the ones he lost, but does that make it all right? Of course not. God has revealed his power and might to Job, and Job realizes he cannot compete; but does even that make it all right? I think the point of the book of Job is that the issue of suffering is not easily and quickly answered. As Paul says, all creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. It points us to God, leaves us breathless in the face of Him. It leaves us with mystery.

We need to focus not on the why but what.

A similar truth is taught in the gospels, but they go further. Jesus heals a man born blind; this is described in John 9. His disciples ask Jesus whose sin caused this man to be blind, was it his sin or that of his parents? Jesus refuses to speculate, neither he nor his parents sinned, it happened so that you might see the works of God displayed in him. Jesus is saying, stop looking back, looking for someone to blame. Jesus says, do not focus on why but focus on what God is going to do about it. God is going to demonstrate that He is the Light of the world.

We need to look at Jesus before we look at the world.

We must start with Jesus, when we start looking at the world around us and jump to conclusions about God, we will get it wrong. If we do not start with Jesus, we may come up with something that looks attractive, sounds spiritual but is wrong. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. If Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.

Looking at Jesus we find the answer to what.

His death and resurrection are now the single, ultimate ‘sign’. The cross is where all the world’s sufferings and horrors have been heaped up and dealt with. The resurrection is the launch of God’s new creation, of his sovereign saving rule on earth – starting with the physical body of Jesus himself.

Trying to jump from an earthquake, a tsunami, a pandemic or anything else to a conclusion about ‘what God is saying here’ without going through the Gospel story is to make the basic theological mistake of trying to deduce something about God while going behind Jesus’ back. If there is One God, and if he has come in the person of his own son to unveil his rescuing purposes for the world, then there can be no other signs, no other warning events, to compare with this one. The call to repentance, the unveiling of the kingdom comes through Jesus not through wars, earthquakes, or plagues.

Looking at Jesus we see that our understanding of God’s sovereignty, his being in control, must centre around his death on the cross.

We see that God’s purpose is about restoring God’s Kingdom to how it was meant to be before the fall. The fulfilment of this will be at the end of the age when Jesus returns, then he will be seen by as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the meantime, we work towards bringing the future into the present.

That purpose is worked out by loyal human beings serving God. We can ask why doesn’t God send a thunderbolt and put things right? Why doesn’t God just take control and stop disasters of various forms? The answer is he does get involved. His intervention is through the poor in Spirit, the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers, the people hungry for justice. They are the way God wants to act in his world. These people, prayerful, humble, faithful, people will be the answer, not to the question Why? But to the question What? What needs to be done here? Who is most at risk? How can we help? Who shall we send? God works in all things with and through those who love him.

From the time of Jesus onward we see Jesus’ followers telling people about God’s kingdom, and summoning them to repent, not because of any subsequent events such as famines or plagues but because of Jesus himself. When the world is going through great convulsions as at present, the followers of Jesus are called to be people of prayer at the place where the world is in pain.

When we read the gospels, we expect God to be, as we might say, ‘in charge’: taking control, sorting things out, getting things done. But the God we see in Jesus is the God who wept at the tomb of his friend. The God we see in Jesus is the God-the-Spirit who groans without words. The God we see in Jesus is the one who, to demonstrate what his kind of ‘being in charge’ would look like, did the job of a slave and washed his disciples’ feet. That is what God sends us to do.

God has in fact delegated the running of many aspects of his world to human beings. In doing so, he has run the risk that they will grieve him to his heart. But when this happens, he will hold people responsible.

In conclusion the signs of God work in the world are not things like earthquakes or famines, plagues, or floods. These things are not sent to frighten people into belief or warn them of the world coming to an end. There are signs of new life, new creation around us though, signs of God at work in the world. They are signs of God coming into the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Coming to bring healing to a world of sickness. Giving bread to the hungry; sight to the blind; life to the dead. They are signs that the world was coming into a new springtime. A new beginning. We are part of that.

I think we need to stop speculating on why and focus much more on what am I called to do at this time. Allow a level of mystery. Embrace the fact that each of us is meant to be a sign of the Kingdom. What better time to do that than now?

This blog has been heavily influenced by God and the pandemic by Tom Wright. I highly recommend it.

The Life of David

Throughout the Autumn we will be looking at the life of David, as described in 1 Samuel 16 to 31. We will be seeing how the life of David is intertwined with the life of Saul, but that the main character is neither of these guys, nor Samuel who the book is named after, but the Lord.

The first sermon on the series can be listened to via the website.

It may be that you want to study the book of 1 Samuel alongside our sermon series. If that is the case, there are two devotional commentaries that I would commend to you.

Both cover both 1 and 2 Samuel. They are available from Amazon, the local Christian bookshop and other online retailers.

Both are books in series of OT commentaries, the first by Phil Moore the second by John Goldingay. Either will make the scriptures come alive for you. Enjoy.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Straight-Heart-Samuel-Bite-sized-Insights/dp/0857212524/ref=sr_1_16?crid=2QE7MINQOZJQE&dchild=1&keywords=1+samuel+commentary&qid=1601375210&sprefix=1+samuel%2Caps%2C253&sr=8-16

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Samuel-Everyone-Old-Testament/dp/0281061297/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=1+samuel+commentary+goldingay&qid=1601375261&sr=8-1

 

Being fruitful.

I am currently reading A Public Faith, How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Croatian author Miroslav Volf and finding it stimulating.

At one point he describes why for many their faith does not produce fruit. He describes it as idle faith. It is well worth reflecting on and seeing if it applies to us.

Idleness……… is one major malfunction of faith. Instead of setting goals and propelling a person toward them, idle faith spins in one place, like a tire stuck in an icy hole. I suggested that there are at least three reasons for faith’s idling. The first concerns the character of believers; for some people, the faith they embrace demands too much, so they pick and choose, as in a cafeteria, filling up their tray with sweets but leaving aside the broccoli and fish. Second, believers find themselves constrained by large and small systems in which they live and work; to thrive, or even to survive, they feel that they must obey the logic of those systems, not the demands of faith they embrace. The third reason for faith’s idleness concerns the faith itself; the faith either is not applied to new circumstances or does not seem relevant to contemporary issues—from nuclear power to neuroscientific discoveries. With these three reasons for faith’s idleness combined, no wonder people misconceive faith and treat it as a performance-enhancing drug or a soothing balm rather than as a resource to orient their life in the world.

Actions we can take as individuals to combat racism

I have recently found several blogs from my friend Adrian Warnock very encouraging; he has walked a similar path to myself. I have shared some on my own personal Facebook page. His recent blog on racism, explaining the guilt we share and then outlining some tentative steps towards repentance is especially helpful.

The full article can be accessed below, which also will give access to more of his blogs.

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2020/09/our-racism-deadly-as-covid19/?fbclid=IwAR3UnhdMUJKV6gpBY5c1Eoq1qis4eMFXhrx5L0jUF854zinh_g8RG6DsQcE

His headlines on what repentance might look like are worth reflecting on. I have put my own experience below each of them.

Repentance is not mere words but includes action.

  1. Intentionally meet and befriend people different to yourself

Whilst this has been true over the years, from my early days I refused to just have friends within the church, it is in the last few years that I have enjoyed friendship with a wider group of people than ever before. People from different socio-economic backgrounds and racial backgrounds. Whilst initially challenging I have found spending time and building friendships with Muslims especially rewarding.

  1. Try to understand and enter the experience of rejection many feel

This seems to be the experience of so many in our society, however it takes time and trust to fully grasp it. However, hearing of the impact of racism and islamophobia on people I have got to know within and without the church has been so helpful and I would say even lifechanging.

  1. Find a wise tutor from a different racial group to yourself

It is so helpful having a small number of people who can explain things you don’t understand. What is culturally expected in different circumstances.

  1. Forge deep life-long friendships that allow real honesty and openness

This has been a real joy and so important. The weekend after the death of George Floyd one of my friends told me how shocked they were that I had not alluded to it on the Sunday. They were clearly upset and helped me see how I had missed how important what had happened was. I needed someone to show me my blindness, thank God I have friends who will.

  1. Build multicultural churches lead by multicultural teams

Moving to Luton this was my plan, however it has taken many years to even get close. It has taken many people to make the costly decision to be part of a predominantly white church, pioneers who made great sacrifices which others have benefited from. I would not want to be part of any other sort of church, however we have still so much to learn about building diverse teams. As the culture gap between those in the church and those outside the church grows, unless we can relate and work with people different than ourselves, we will become increasingly irrelevant. We desperately need multicultural churches lead by multicultural teams. It must be a priority.

  1. Learn everything you can from leaders from different church groups to your own. Refuse to remain in your echo chamber

Most books are written by white British or American authors, it makes is exceedingly difficult to get a different perspective. I have started to go out of my way to find and read books by authors from other backgrounds. I have also found it enriching to work with Black Majority Church leaders and those from more traditional backgrounds to my own.

  1. Actively campaign for societal justice and take steps to lead real change

As I have sought to do this, sharing articles and thoughts on social media, being engaged with those in power locally I have received criticism. In doing so I am challenging the concept of privatised religion. That a church leader should just be involved in caring for his flock and reaching the lost. I have concluded that I as a white educated man have power that others do not have due to our system. It is crucial and Biblical that I use the privilege I have to help others, to seek to create a fairer system.

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