Calm in the Canoe – a parable

canoeFrom the shore we can see the man in the canoe.  He is not paying attention to the danger he is in, because his eyes are closed.  What he does not see, we can see clearly.  Just down river is a quick succession of rapids through large boulders and then a 30 foot waterfall.  We call out, but he is not connected to the world.

I am in my canoe.  It is taking me on a journey.  I do not strive or turn, but am satisfied to follow the path of water and current.   I have closed my eyes and taken the position.  I have been breathing slowly, allowing myself to be completely in this time and place.  The flow of the river, the lapping of the waves, the gentle breeze on my face all are sensed, not as separate sounds, but part of one sound.

We start to shout, but he is not listening.

I heard chattering monkeys just then, but now they have receded.

We call out: Danger is ahead!  Turn to Shore!  Your life is in danger.

Quietly I flow, the water flows, the canoe flows, all time flows, we flow as one.
He must have fallen asleep.  We try tossing a stone against the boat, but it is hard to reach.  The first and second try miss, but on the third we hear the “clunk” of success. He stirs, but then returns to his sleep.

Nature and I are one. The river and I are one.  Time and I are one.  Words have no meaning.  All is at peace.

Just now we see the boat enter the rapids…he awakes at the third stone he hits, but not in time.  He starts to paddle, but will he get to shore in time?

What is that, the flow is interrupted. I open my eyes and the peaceful waters are shouting. The mirror water is mist.  There is a roaring just ahead.  Rapids!  Waterfall!

I grasp my paddle and pull deeply in the water, but the roaring grows louder.

Just as he goes over the edge, he reaches upward and cries out. Then he is gone.

It’s too late.  I’ve come to the edge.  Someone help me!

 

David Carlson

9/26/17

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Marks of the Beast – Part 1

666           In Revelation we have hit the jackpot.   In chapter 12, we meet the great Dragon – who is Satan. Then in chapter 13 we discover two Beasts; the first is identified with the Anti-Christ and the second with his High Priest.  To top it off, we have a secret code, the number 666.  Oh what fun we can have with this!

Let me start with a quote.  This is written by a man whose last name is Boring.  He is Eugene Boring.  Yes, that makes this a boring book, by a boring author.  I will leave the rest of the jokes to you.   I do not agree with everything that he says, but this is true.

“…this text about the ‘mark of the beast’ has through the centuries been a happy hunting ground for religious quacks and sensationalizers…[so] it is important to give some clear guidance for preaching and teaching.”  (M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, WJK, 1989, p. 161)

I have heard lots of speculation: the anti-Christ was Michael Gorbachev., because of his birthmark that looked like a wound to his head.  I’ve heard many theories like that. The number 666 could be a tattoo.  Maybe it is three rows of 6 numbers. Maybe it is a microchip inserted beneath the skin.  We actually do have that technology.  People tried to change the name of State Highway 666 in New Mexico, but I think it is good for tourism.  In the Reformation era, Lutherans said the Anti-Christ was the Pope.  The Pope returned to say it was Luther.  So there are many ideas, and little information.

I believe the best way to understand Biblical teaching is that there will be one anti-Christ with a Capitol A.   That term does not come from Revelation, but from I John 2:18

 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.

There will be one Anti-Christ with a capital A in the last hour.  However, even in the early church, there were many little a anti-Christs.

Big A will have  all the worst characteristics of the worlds despots and dictators – wrap up Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and Kim Il Jung into one  and you get the idea.

But in the meantime, the spirit of anti-Christ is in the world. There have and there will appear again those with the marks of anti-Christ.

Today I do pretend to solve the mystery of the number 666  I want to talk of the things that define all of the anti Christs, the ones with the small a and the one with the big A.  These are the Marks of the beast – marks are plural on purpose.

(Note: there is a prediction that the world will end with a wandering planet tomorrow, September 23. This is based on Revelation 12 and some star charts.  So you better read quick!)

 

The Lion is the Lamb – Revelation 5

Lionlamb-3          There is a TV show called Madame Secretary. It is about a fictitious Secretary of State.  In one of the story lines there is a dangerous religious cult.  This cult believes that it is their calling to bring about the events of the book of Revelation.  They turn out to be terrorists in their own right.

Such groups exist. But they are wrong.  No one can bring about the events of the end but the Lion, who is also the Lamb.  He alone can open the scroll of God’s decree.

Up to the time of Christ, people were looking for a Lion. They wanted a great military leader. They wanted their own Alexander the Great, or their own Caesar to lead in conquest.

When Jesus came, he rode into the city on a donkey, not a war horse.  He was a teacher, not a terrorist.  He started with only 12 men – who had to follow him as a homeless preacher of righteousness.  He came to Jerusalem, not to reign, but to purify the house of worship from money making.

He was not a Lion as the people had hoped for. He was the Lamb, as John had called him.   Like a lamb, he accepted his arrest, his false trials, and his death at the hand  of the Roman governor.  Like a lamb he was a substitute, he gave his life to save his people from wrath.

All of that history of the Gospel is summarized when the Lion of Judah is revealed as the Lamb of God.

He went to the Almighty and took the scroll from his hand.  He alone is worthy.

What we see here is that the path for God’s will to come to the earth, the path to victory is not a military path.

In history the Roman General Constantine had a vision where a cross appeared in the sky, He took that as a sign to become a Christian. He baptized his army by marching them through a river.  That made them Christians (in name only). Later when he became emperor, he made Christianity a legal and even a favored religion.  Now the kingdom of God was tied to the power of Rome.

Through history the Gospel has been entangles with various political causes or parties or leaders. It always ends up as a disappointment.  Why, because we can only be lead by the Lamb of God.  The Lion of Judah is the Lamb who was slain.

Do not think that we can make our nation righteous by the use of Governmental power.  Government can do good and it can certainly do harm. But it is not capable of bringing about the kingdom of God.

Reading Companions?

scribe.2

This is an excerpt from a lecture at a local Christian College class taught by community pastors – my assignment was Neo-Orthodoxy to what is going on now!  The following introduction has to do with our reading companions – who do we consciously or subconsciously rely on to interpret the scriptures?

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Theology is written by very human theologians.  The truth of God is eternal and unchanging but our understanding is often tied to the other things we know, or think we know.  We interpret the Word of God by our world, our experience and through our culturally conditioned eyes.  We read the Bible through cultural lenses.  So we see that:

  • The Church Fathers were very influenced by Plato and Neoplatonic thought.
  • The Medieval theologians were influenced by Aristotle.
  • Modernist Theologians were influenced by science, Darwin and a view of human progress.
  • This is seen in how we view Creation, for example. Galileo did not so much challenge the Bible, but a consensus view that was based on Aristotle, Ptolemy and the Bible.
  • This is seen in how we view Revelation – is the Bible a Divine Book only (Neoplatonic church fathers), a human book only (higher critical modernists) or both ( Evangelical – e.g. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy)
  • This is seen in how we view Salvation – The Christ pictured in the Sistine Chapel is unapproachable and busy sending sinners to hell and saints to heaven (is it any wonder that the people turned to Mary?); the Christ of Liberalism is kindly and humane. Albert Schweitzer said of the “quest for the historical Jesus” that European scholars searched carefully and found that Jesus was just like themselves.

C. S. Lewis said that one should alternate reading current books with old ones. This is one way we help see the trap that is the world view of our own times. Reading church history raises this question for us.  Who or what do we use to stand next to the Bible to interpret it?   Tradition (officially co-equal to scripture in Catholic Theology); Theological schools (Calvin v. Arminius); Popular Culture (church should entertain); the Business world (Pastors are CEOs); Social Media; Psychology (as practiced by Oprah, Dr Phil);

Question: What lens do you use to understand the Bible?

(Full notes – NeoorthodoxyEtc.notes )

Jesus as Servant

washing_feetI have been to a few councils for ministry ordination. One frequent passage that is brought to the candidate is Philippians 2: 7 which says that Jesus “emptied himself.”  What exactly did he do in that passage?

Did he empty himself of his deity?  That is contrary to the teaching of the church through the ages, and contrary to the scriptures itself.

There is a passage in John’s Gospel that sheds some light in this question. It is when Jesus washes the feet of the Disciples in John 13.

I could go so far as to say that Philippians 2 is a commentary on Jesus as a Servant. If not a commentary, a song: many hold that it is actually a hymn of the early church.

Here is John 13:1-5:

 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

John speaks of what Jesus knows, that he is from the Father and returning to the Father.  That he has god-like power in that “the Father had given all thins into his hands.”  As the LORD, Jesus removed his regular clothing and took on the clothing of a house servant and set out to do a very humbling work – he washed their feet.

Philippians says:

…he made himself nothing  taking on the very nature of a servant… (2:7)

The link is made stronger in that Philippians begins with an challenge to believers to serve each other, to be humble and considers others first.  (Phil 2:1-4). This is to be done in imitation of Christ (Phil 2:5).

In John 13 Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you….”

So there is an ethical link – Jesus act of foot washing (John) and his submission to death on a cross (Philippians) are motives and models of Christian service.  I do not believe that foot washing is now a sacrament, but a picture of the way of life of all who follow Jesus.  If he, the Lord, the Master lowers himself to serve, what should we do?

 

 

John the fleshly Gospel!

john-9-healing-blind-man-mosaic

I’ve thought of John as the spiritual gospel because of the more theologically themed way it is structured. This time through the gospel in my Genesis/John/Revelation program, I have come to see that John is very related to the flesh.

It starts in chapter 1 with “..the Word became flesh…” (1:14).  Of course this is a classic text on the Incarnation of the Eternal Word.

What follows are various physical entry points to the Gospel:

  • Taste – water turned to wine at the Wedding of Cana – chapter 2
  • Birth – the need to be Born Again (or Born from Above) – chapter 3
  • Thirst – living water and the Woman of Samaria (begun with a request for actual water because of actual thirst) – chapter 4
  • Speech – Jesus spoke and the officials son is healed – chapter 4
  • Sight – the idea of signs and asking for signs  – Chapter 2, 4, 6…
  • Walking – healing the man crippled from birth – Chapter 5
  • Hunger – feeding the 5,000, talk of bread – Chapter 6
  • Thirst – water at the festival of Tabernacles – Chapter 7(v. 37)
  • Sight – mud, spit and water to cure blindness – Chapter 9
  • Hearing – sheep hear the shepherd – Chapter 10
  • Death – Lazarus raised – Chapter 11
  • Feet – Jesus anointed at Bethany – chapter 12
  • Voices – Triumphal entry – chapter 12
  • Washing – Jesus washes feet – Chapter 13

So far this is an observation, but John is, pardon the pun, grounded in the material world and is revealed by physical senses and actions.

Do you find any other examples?

Circular* Reasoning in John

john-9-healing-blind-man-mosaic

The Johannine books (John; I,II, III John) share a number of characteristics in style.  This is why John the Apostle was held until modern times as the author of all of them.  Of course there are as many other theories as there are scholarly treatises on that.

I’ve been struggling in John’s Gospel with the discourse sections.  There are two that are fairly easy to track: John 3 with Nicodemus, and John 4 with the Woman of Samaria.  But the discourses in chapter 5 Miracle at Bethesda; Chapter 6, Feeding the 5000; Chapter 7, at the Festival of Booths; John 8; John 9 with the healing of the man born blind are all more difficult.

Even the discourse in chapter 4 is rambling – Jesus and the woman talk about water and worship and the holy spirit before all is done.

I’ve struggles to make sense of the shape of these discourses.  They seem to ramble or on occasions bounce between Jesus and some opponent or opponents.  So there is no neat or linear way to represent the discussion.  You know that outline method you learned in school? throw it out!

In desperation I went to my library.  There I found a book I had not spent much time with.  “John: Evangelist & Interpreter” by Stephen S. Smalley.  Smalley made some helpful observations. In the “first act” of John, there are a number of sign/miracles which are followed by discourses.  He describes their structure as being “spiral” in nature.

“John…structures his discourse material so as to advance his subject, almost in spiral fashion, through a series of dramatic disclosures towards a climax.” p. 147

So we have this: a sign/miracle followed by a discourse or disputation with Jesus and another party or parties. The theme of the discourse tends to be repeated in some way in each division in the discourse.

In John 9, the man blind from birth is healed by Jesus who anoints his eyes with mud and asks him to go and wash.

Then there these sub sections, each one except the concluding two repeating something about the man born blind: (p. 143)

  • v. 8-12 Man and Neighbors
  • v. 13-17 man and Pharisees
  • v. 18-23 Man’s parents  and “Jews” (i.e. Authorities)
  • v. 24-34 Man and “Jews”
  • v. 35-38 Jesus and Man
  • v. 39-41 Jesus and Pharisees

The last two parts leave to two conclusions: The man comes to believe in Jesus as the Son of Man and even worships him.  the Pharisees reject Jesus as a sinner because he healed the man on the Sabbath.

Through this we have woven themes of sin (was the man or his parents responsible for his blindness, Did Jesus sin by breaking the Sabbath, are the Pharisees sinners for rejecting Jesus?) and blindness (the man’s physical blindness which is cured, his spiritual insight. the Pharisees who see Jesus’ works but are blind to his light.)

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind”  v. 39

*This is misnamed “circular reasoning” because a circle returns on itself. A spiral however is circular but it also moves from beginning to end.  One has to hang with all the turns and not get lost.

I am still figuring out how to preach such a passage.