bible

Good Friday – It is finished

Good Friday

Joh 19,30
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Mt 27:50-54
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Face to Face with God

I longed to lift my own will up and give it completely to God. How infinitely richer this direct first hand grasping of God himself, is than the old method which I used and recommended for years, the reading of endless devotional books. Almost it seems to me now that the very Bible cannot be read as a substitute for meeting God soul to soul and face to face.

~Frank Laubach

Culture and Bible translation

Culture and Bible translation.

Jim Wilder brought an interesting example in his webinar of how our culture can even influence a Bible translation. He discovered this when speaking to churches in Poland. His interpreter was very surprised when Jim read Hebrews 12:2 from his English Bible:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2)

The Holy Bible : New International Version, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).

The Greek word αντι can be translated in two ways:

a) for, because (instead of)
b) because of

In the case of in Hebrews 12:2 this results in the following difference. It can be translated either as:

1) Jesus … who instead of the joy set before him endured the cross, or as
2) Jesus … who because of the joy set before him endured the cross

Most English translations chose the second option.

The New Living Translation also chose the second option but provided the first option as alternative reading in a footnote.

Because of the joy* awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

* Or Instead of the joy.

Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible : New Living Translation.,  (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004).

The Polish Bible translations chose option one. This is understandable when we consider the history and cultural context:

The culture in Poland is rather low joy and the church is considered to be about suffering, not about joy. Therefore joy did not belong in the church and is even perceived as offensive. The Bible translators therefore chose the first option because of their cultural background and Jim’s interpreter was quite surprised when Jim quoted this verse from his English Bible.

Does God still speak today?

In one of our last Bible studies we discussed another chapter of Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God.“ It was on the spoken word of God.

We read a whole series of verses about God’s word and suddenly I realized that we usually assume that these refer to the Bible, even though most of them do not necessarily say that. It’s so easy to hear “God’s word” and think of “God’s Word” as if it was the only word of God.

This reminded me of a book that I had read two years ago, and it motivated me to do a little summary of what I learned through it. The book is Hearing God, developing a conversational relationship with God, by Dallas Willard (1984)

Willard starts the introduction with a story of his wife’s grandmother: When somebody in her house group mentioned that God had spoken to him, she remarked “I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.” She is in good company. Maybe you have had the same question. Many believers like her have a rich interactive relationship with God but are unfamiliar with God’s voice and the possibility of having a conversational side of a relationship with God.

“Our failure to hear God has its deepest root in a failure to understand, accept and grow into a conversational relationship with God, the sort of relationship suited to friends who are matures personalities in a shared enterprise, no matter how different they may be in other respects” (29)

He defines this conversational relationship as telling God what is in our hearts and hearing and understanding the “still, small voice.”

In the following chapters, Willard treats different aspects of this question, misconceptions and arguments why God cannot, would not, and does not want to speak to people. These arguments are partly influenced by “naturalism,” leading people to believe it is unscientific to think that God speaks.

(If you don’t have time to read a long post, jump to the end of the post for the summary.)

Willard is very clear on the question that the Bible is the primary manner of communication. However, the second way as expressed in Ps 32:8 is guiding us with his eyes. This means an awareness of what the other person is thinking. This is what Willard calls the conversational relationship, an outworking of Jesus living in us and his presence in us (Col 1:27, Gal 2:19-20).

Jesus promised us that we can hear his voice (Jn 10:1-16). One aspect of hearing his voice is to receive guidance. He can use dreams, visions, voices, the Bible, extraordinary events, etc but the most important one is the “still small voice” or “gentle whispering” that Elijah heard. It is easily overlooked and disregarded. It can be audible, or a human voice, or through messengers including angels, but most often we will hear it inside our spirit.

Willard addresses some common misconceptions:

– “a message-a-minute view” – every movement needs to be ordained by God, and people are unable to act without clear guidance from God even for daily tasks.
– “it’s all in the Bible” view – leading to the assumption that we do not need to hear his voice today. He also call this “Bible deism” – similar to the Sadducees, there are those that believe that God stopped speaking, but this is a wrong way of honoring the Bible.

When the Bible refers to the “word of God” without further qualification it usually means God’s speaking, communicating, his thoughts and his mind (Ps 119:89-91). God’s word is powerful and in speaking God created the universe (Gen 1) and through it he rules the kingdom. In the same way that the word of a king is powerful and can have big effects (including heads rolling), the same is even more true for God’s word. This is what the centurion recognized (Mt 8:10) – “just speak a word and it will happen.”

The reality in the kingdom responds to the spoken word! God also gives power and authority to people (e.g. Num 20:8-12). God handed over power to Jesus, and Jesus handed over power to us, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (Jn 20:21, Mt 10, Lk 9)

There are different degrees of power – sometimes we are called:

– to ask for God to speak a direct word (pray)
– to speak on his behalf (Acts 3:6; 14:10)
– to take action on his behalf (Acts 9:40)

We need to keep in mind that THE word of God is Jesus (Jn 1:10-11).
And the Bible is God’s Word, his written word, and one result of God’s speaking.

Willard makes it very clear that:

“the Bible is the written Word of God, but the word of God is not simply the Bible” (141)

When we examine Bible passages with this in mind, we will discover that

– the Bible is the Word of God in its unique written form
– but the Bible is not Jesus Christ who is the living word
– neither is the Bible the word of God mentioned in many Scriptures passages: e.g. Ps 119:89, Ps 19:1-4; Acts 12:24; Mt 13 – in comparison to 2 Tim 3:15-17 which refers specifically to the ‘sacred writings,’ or Scriptures or 1 Pt 1:23-24 where both are mentioned next to each other.

All of these are God’s word, including when we hear from him individually!

God’s word is portrayed in the Bible, and available to every person through the Bible, but it is not limited to it. God uses the Bible to renew our mind, but it is mainly through his speaking to us that we are transformed in a character for whom listening to God’s voice is natural. This is what our union with Christ looks like (Gal 2:20, Phil 1:21).

In chapter 8, Willard provides detailed answers on how to recognize God’s voice. It is a learning process. We need to learn to discern his voice, both while reading the Bible and when listening to the “still small voice” because even Satan can abuse the Bible. In this learning process it is good to have help from others, who have a close relationship with God. But first we need to accept that God does speak, and wants to speak to us, then we can grow in experience and ability to hear his voice.

On the question how to distinguish God’s voice from our subconscious voice, Willard cites E. Stanley Jones who points out that the subconscious voice argues with you, tries to convince you, but the inner voice of God does not argue, it just speaks (175).

When God speaks we can sense the weight of its authority. This is combined with a spirit of peacefulness and confidence, which is similar to the godly wisdom mentioned in James 3:17. We should test it because it has to be consistent with God’s character and the principles of his written word, e.g., fear motivation does not come from God.

It also helps to accept that there is no guarantee for perfection, or infallibility of discerning God’s mind. It is impossible to never be mistaken and nowhere promised, but maintaining a close relationship to the Bible helps. Willard warns us that this is not the same as scholarship.

“Scholarship does not replace experiencing the living voice of God.”

Concerning fear of not being able to discern God’s will: “God is not a mumbling trickster” (191) – when we are willing to listen, he can make himself understood and is able to communicate plainly.

God can direct us mechanically, without speaking, like driving a car or directing a robot, “but when he guides us with conscious cooperation, he speaks to us.” The necessary conditions are:

– our willingness to listen
– asking him to speak
– being still

We should not be anxious if we don’t hear from God, but trust that he gives us a lot of freedom to determine our life, and sometimes he wants us to make our own decisions.

Concerning the “perfect will of God”: when we follow God’s general counsel of his written word, we are right in the middle of God’s perfect will, and if there is any specific word, we should be obedient to it.
Beyond that we have a huge freedom, because God does not always have a specific plan for each moment – “no ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely for each believer.”

Two final thoughts:

– Hearing God does not exclude risks or suffering.
– The greater goal of listening to his voice is to move beyond it to living in the kingdom (211).

Willard summarizes the book with the following steps (213)

A) Foundational steps

– having entered into an additional life by the additional birth, including the commitment to find out more what is morally right and commanded by God
– seeking fullness of the new life in Christ at the impulse of the spirit of God, growing in faith, moving beyond living in our own strength

B) Steps to hearing God

– meditate on God’s principles of life in the Scriptures
– be alert and attentive to what is happening in our life, mind and heart
– pray and speak with God about all matters that concern us
– listen carefully and deliberately for God’s voice
– if God does not speak

o ask him about possible hindrances
o seek counsel from other believers who live in close relationship with God
o correct whatever comes up
o if nothing comes up, act on what seems best to you.

It is finished!

2 Cor 5: 19-21

19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,* so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
* Or: to become sin itself.
Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004

It Is Well with My Soul

Text: Horatio G. Spafford  Music: Philip P. Bliss


1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
(Refrain)

3. My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(Refrain)

Source:  HymnSite.com – allows you to listen to the tune.


Scientific Theology

Quotes from the final chapter of „The Bible or historical criticism of the Bible? Which is credible?” by Eta Linnemann (in German 2007, my translation):

When I studied under Rudolf Bultmann at that time, he made it clear to us that we had to work according to the New Testament science, irrespective of our personal faith, “ut si Deus non daretur“, as if God did not exist. … The evangelicals who thump scientific recognition because they use the same “methods” are not aware that this is the basic assumption. … A living faith in God’s revelation and in his Word, and a “scientific” theology, which works “as if God did not exist” exclude each other. This balance act cannot succeed. … (After my conversion) I recognized that the atheistic theology and the treatment of the Bible which did not accept it as God’s revelation, was equally sin and I brought them under the cross. …

Prof. Dr. Eta Linnemann was specialist in Bible criticism. Her first book was a benchmark of historical-critical theology. After her conversion in 1978 she distroyed these books.

Joy strength

About two years ago I heard for the first time about the so called joy center in our brain.1 It was fascinating for me to learn how important joy is for the healthy development of our brain and for the maturity of our character.2 This joy center is especially developed when we enjoy healthy and secure relationships. Our joy center grows always when we perceive that another person enjoys our company, when our presence brings a sparkle into the other person’s eyes. Normally this happens completely subconscious and therefore cannot be imitated. This joy flow starts in our right brain hemisphere, is expressed on our left half of the face, flows to the left half of the face of the other person and then to his right brain hemisphere. Our vis-à-vis sends the communication back on the same path. All this happens six times per second and is amplified the longer we look at each other.3 Wow!

Shortly after reading about this I had two opportunities to observe this sparkle: in the eyes of one of our friends in the village and in the face of the 3-year old daughter of my colleagues. And I noticed how much this warms our heart. Since then I have seen it in many faces and always rejoiced how wonderfully God has created us.

On this background I started to notice how often the Bible speaks about the importance of joy, about the joy in the Lord. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read “The joy of the LORD is your strength (your protection, your protecting wall).” During the last year I have often meditated about this verse and understood in a new way, that it is probably our joy of being together with Him, no matter what our circumstances. This gives us the strength and enables us to overcome difficult circumstances. This joy strength makes a huge difference whether we experience something as suffering or as trauma.

I find especially fascinating what Zephaniah 3:17 says: “For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty savior. He will rejoice over you with great gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will exult over you by singing a happy song.” Is there a better description of God’s joy for being together with us? God has this sparkle in his eyes when he looks at us – no matter if we are doing well at the moment or not, whether we are successful or not, diligent or lazy. He rejoices over us because we are his beloved children. From my own experience I know how difficult it is sometimes to believe and accept this in our heart of hearts. We are deeply influenced by our society that is so achievement-oriented. Therefore it is all the more important to remind ourselves that God’s joy does not depend on what we do (our performance or accomplishments) but on who we are.

This is for us a two-fold invitation:

  • Be more conscious about bringing joy to other people by showing them that we enjoy being together with them;
  • Increase the sparkle to God’s eyes by spending time with him, and showing him that we enjoy his company.

When was it the last time that you looked at the Lord with sparkling eyes, rejoicing in his jubilation about you and jubilating back to him?

Footnotes:

1 Through reading “Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you” of Shepherd’s House, CA
2 These insights are a combination from pastoral counseling and latest research results from brain science.
3 This sparkling at each other is one of the most important nutrition for a baby. It starts to develop at the age of 3 months and reaches a climax at the age of 9 months. At this time they can smiles at their mothers for up to 8 hours per day. The fascinating thing is that this part of the brain never stops growing. Therefore we can always catch up any deficit in this area – through safe relationships with other people and with God.

What is normal?

I am reading in 2 Corinthians at the moment. There are all kinds of things that speak to me and seem to be relevant to my situation. Possibly the most important insight happened this week, when I meditated on 2 Cor 6:4.

I patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.

This sentence is prefaced with the remark that Paul shows in everything that he is a true minister of God. Following this, Paul writes about several kinds of problems which he endured and through it proofed that he is a minister of God. But is this normal?

It nearly sounds as if Paul considers it normal to have problems!

This is in stark contrast to what I want to experience – a more or less stress-free and unproblematic life, or at least low stress and less affected by problems than what I experienced, e.g., during the last two years. Already two chapters earlier Paul mentions a whole list of unpleasant adversities that he experienced (2 Cor 4:8-12), and in the first chapter he mentions problems that were really beyond his ability to endure (2 Cor 1:8).

I am wondering how anybody can endure that? I guess the answer is given in 2 Cor 6:7 – “God’s power is working in me”. This is one of the marks of and a recommendation for a minister of God that Paul mentioned – not to live in our human strength but in the inner strength that comes from God (2 Cor 4:16). Again and again he states – that is why he never gives up (2 Cor 4:1, 16). Wow!

I still find this hard to stomach – does this really mean that we are to consider problems as something normal? I don’t like this. I am light-years away from this attitude.

Slowly I am realizing that I was off base and made things more difficult for myself when I rebelled inwardly against difficulties. I did this more often than not during the last two years. This has probably only resulted in wasting my energy where I could not accept problems and resisted them. Slowly it dawns on me – some things might have developed differently if I had accepted problems as a normal part of my life.Especially in one case (I am slowly realizing) did I really waste my energy, when God seemed to speak to me about something unpleasant, incomprehensible. I just could not imagine this really being God’s will, and accordingly I refused to accept it. Looking back, I can see that I really burnt myself out over it and how this has probably contributed to my general exhaustion.Of course, nobody enjoys problems, but there seems to be a difference if I accept them with a weary smile, or if I am getting upset about them and rebelling against them.How often during the lat two years have I waited for my life to become “normal” again. Under “normal” I meant no or at least less difficulties. However, if I consider as “normal” a life with problems (such as Paul does), I will encounter them with a different attitude. Even if I don’t know what lays around the next corner, problems won’t hit me with their full force and catch me completely flat-footed. I am more likely to endure them and they won’t unsettle me as much. If my strength is not sufficient, then I can still trust that Jesus lives in me and gives me his strength. When I don’t see a purpose in the negative things, it is also helpful to remember that God promised to “work all things out for good”, that he will use even negative things for our good (Ro 8:28). [By the way, I don’t know if you ever noticed, it does not say that God takes away negative things or that he will turn negative things into positive things, but that he will use them for our good.]Along these lines, I hope that in the future I will encounter problems with a new attitude. I am already curious what God will make out of it.

Don’t rock the boat!

I was pondering the question posed in Don’t rock the boat. For some time I was aware that the biblical context is more group-oriented than today’s culture in Western countries, and therefore I would guess that churches in our countries probably do not as fully grasp what it means to be “the body of Christ” as people from a group-oriented culture. Therefore, I too find it hard to believe that a group-oriented society could be more abusive than an individualistic society.

This morning, when reading in Ephesians 4, I discovered a possible answer to this question:

15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. 

The church is the body of Christ, he is the head of this group, and he makes it fit together. This group-orientation is important but at the same time God is interested in the individual. We are called to be personally responsible for what we do, and “stand straight” before God, not “bending ourselves” to the group (cf. Leanne Payne). God is there to encounter each of us in a very personal way, interested in bringing out the full potential of the gifts he gave us, and giving us freedom to go our own way, even if it is detrimental to ourselves and the community.

On the other hand it is important to note that “the fullness of the perfect man” can only be reached as a group, not as an individual (Eph 4:13 according to the German Good News Bible. Unfortunately, this is less clear in most English translations.)

So, what does this mean in terms of the original question?

Every group that is not centered on God and has Christ as its head, will most likely make the group to an idol, the harmony in the group top priority, and the statements of the leader sacrosanct. That can work well for some time. At the moment where the individual members are no longer encouraged to listen to their conscience and “stand straight” in responsibility before their Lord and creator, the group dynamic easily becomes dysfunctional and abusive. This principle applies probably to any group – including Christian groups and churches. The individual needs the group, but the group also needs healthy individuals. This won’t work if the group becomes more important than the individual, and the group harmony is enforced at the expense of the individual.