Monday, February 26, 2007

Damning with faint praise...

I went to a church I'd never been to before last night. It was fine. There was a good number of folk, the music was well played and all the congregation sang along. The sermon was fine too, reasonable points, well made and fairly interesting. The folk were friendly and welcoming. I really can't find any particular faults in it. But I won't be going back again.

Just as there was nothing specific in the service which would drive me away, there was nothing particular that would make me want to go again. While I might have looked like I fit in on the surface (most of the congreagation were in jeans & a jumper, just like me), I didn't feel like I would fit in in practice.

Maybe some places are just 'not me'.

Having said that, there was a period of 'open prayer' in the service and I really appreciated that - I haven't been to a church where they do that in a very long time. It was one of thise things that I didn't realise I'd missed it until I saw it again.

The search for a church where I 'fit' continues...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The revelation of Abram

I read the story of Abram this morning, from his first revelation from God (Genesis 12) through his name change to Abraham to the birth of his son Isaac (Genesis 21). I also flicked through a few of the surrounding stories.

What I noticed was this: Noah had direct revelation from God. Abram did too, but this was over 300 years later. The bible does not record any direct revelation from God between the two.

If you look at the biblical history stories later on in the bible, you will notice that the people are quick to turn their backs on God, be deceived, be confused and follow false religions (or perversions of the real one) mere moments after the revelation has been received. Just look at what happened when Moses went up a mountain for a few days - he comes back and the whole nation are worshipping a golden calf! If that's how far people stray in a few days, how far must folk have strayed in 300 years? How confused must the peoples' belief systems have got?

A few days ago I blogged about the character of the Most High God. It seems to me that as Abram went on his travels he encountered folk like Melchizidek, a priest of the 'Most High God' (Genesis 14) and others who worshiped 'Jehovah' and still others who worshiped 'El-Shaddai' and so on - I wonder if these were perceived by the Canaanites as being distinct gods?

That being the case, Abram had a great revelation - that the 'Most High God' and 'Jehovah' were one and the same (Gen 14v22) and further, God directly revealed to him that He was also 'El-Shaddai' (Gen 17v1).

It is hard to think back to Abram's day. He did not have any of the bible that we have, he did not have the same theology that we have, he saw the world in a totally different way to how we perceive it. But he heard the call of God and followed.

I believe that (for lack of a better term) the Christian 'religion' has evolved over the years. It more-or-less started with Abram and the few things he knew about the God who called him. Over the years it has grown as different beliefs have been added on - some by revelation, some by deduction, some through experience and so on. Occasionally some of these deductions have been wrong and experiences have been misinterpreted, these mistakes have often been corrected by new revelations and prophecies. However, I expect some errors are still in the mix today. While we worship the same God as Abram, we have a totally different understanding of Him - hopefully this is a more mature understanding in many ways, although that sometimes doesn't seem to be the case.

What is my point here? That belief is a dynamic thing - it will change with new revelation, deduction and experience. We will see further than those who went before us, because we do stand on the shoulders of giants (as it were). That doesn't mean our forefathers were wrong, only that they saw things differently.

God has revealed himself to us in discrete chunks. I believe that revelation must be ongoing, because there is so much more to learn!

In some ways its kind of like a jigsaw - Abram put the first few pieces together. Moses assembled a few as well, and so on. By the time of Jesus there were many sizable chunks of the picture already assembled. The cross was the missing piece which united all these assembled chunks together. Once the cross was in place the picture could mostly be seen. But I don't think the jigsaw is finished yet - there are still pieces to be added.

We still need more revelation today.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Charge / Discharge

This post is not a doubt or a question. But some folk (hello Chris!) have occasionally commented on the lack of positives on this blog, so here goes...

I was at St. Mungo's church on Sunday night. It was all in all a truly amazing church experience (if you happen to be in Edinburgh, go along on a Sunday evening, 6pm, Balerno High School, it is always good). The worship was excellent, the sermon was spot on (download it here - should be online soon, I guess called '2007-02-18-pm.mp3', for a limited time only) and, most importantly, God was there and active.

In St. Mungos they have a ministry time where everyone gets prayed for (unless folk choose to opt out and sit at the back) and during this time, two folk prayed for me. Occasionally when people pray for me I feel like I am being filled up or recharged. On this occasion I felt much more charged up than 'usual' - I was almost unable to sit or stand still afterwards, I was so full of the Spirit. I was buzzing. (And folk who know me will know that I am not usually that animated - I am generally very able to 'chill' at every opportunity). I knew I was being charged up for a reason - but what did God want me to do?

Mere moments passed and I noticed that the person next to me (who I know quite well) was not buzzing. Not even looking very happy. Quite the opposite in fact. As the worship turned from 'intimate' to 'celebratory' this person was clearly not in tune with what was going on. Out of the blue they asked me a really profound question. I can't go into details here becuase all of what was said here was private. But over the next twenty minutes or so (as the worship went on around us) we had a very significant conversation. And the Spirit of God discharged through me. I can't really put it any other way. After 20 minutes I was completely discharged!


You see, God can still use doubters like me. Hallelujah!

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Most High God

Deuteronomy 32v7-9
Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. When the Most High [Elyown] gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he [Elyown] set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel [or 'sons of God' in several of the earliest manuscripts]. For the LORD's [Jehovah's] portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance. (NIV)
If you read this passage from a modern monotheistic perspective, the meaning of the text is clear; God divided the nations but kept Israel as his own.

However, if you read the passage at face value, with no presuppositions, the meaning is totally different. Here you read of one character 'Elyown', the Most High God, who splits the nations of the world and gives each to one of his (many) sons. 'Jehovah' is only one of those sons and it is he who gets the nation of Israel as his inheritance.

That is the meaning that would have been understood by most readers in the polytheistic times that the words were originally written in.

Archeology has uncovered several ancient artifacts which clearly show that the ancient Canaanites worshipped Jehovah as one of many gods, not as the only God, and combining this text with that evidence suggests that there was believed to be a God even higher than Jehovah - 'Elyown' - the Most High God.

So who do we worship today?

Is 'God the Father' really 'Elyown' and 'God the Son' (Jesus) really 'Jehovah'? What about the other 'sons of God', what happened to them?

Whatever happened to Mary?

Mary the mother of Jesus plays a huge role in the early gospel story (obviously). She then pops up occasionally in the gospel stories, during Jesus's Galilean ministry and again at his Crucifixion. She was with the disciples between Jesus's ascension and the Pentecost.

Then she vanishes and is never referred to ever again in the bible. Acts 1v14 is the only reference to her outside of the gospels. Paul never mentions her, Peter never mentions her, James (supposedly her own son) never mentions her.

Where did she go?

As it happens, no other Mary is referred to outside of the Gospels either...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Revelation to only one

I listened to an interview with a Raelian the other day. Raelians base their system of beliefs on the stories told by one man. This guy, Rael, claims to have had a revelation in 1973 (and again in 1975) - he claims that the aliens who made us contacted him (and only him) to spread the word about them; that there is no God, that we were created by aliens and that we should live in peace and harmony.

Most of what they believe is, of course, nonsense. It denies modern science in a way that even the most fundamentalist of creationists does not - for example, they believe that the seven races of men were independently created by the seven races of aliens who visited us (these aliens are called 'Elohim' by the way).

The main issue I have with this belief system is it all comes from an alleged revelation made to only one man. Nobody else had the revelation, or indeed any proof of the things that were 'revealed'. Everyone else who believes has been won over by the persuasiveness of that one man.

The same, of course, applies to the Mormons - their beliefs are all based on an alleged revelation to only one man, Joseph Smith. He allegedly found the ancient book of Mormon and he alone was able to translate it (with some special glasses he was given) into English. Once again, nobody else had the revelation, believers were taken in by his persausiveness, and by the persuasiveness of those who followed.

It is easy to pick out other cults or religions that were established through the alleged revelation to one man (I can't think of any that were revealed to a woman). Indeed, I can't think of a religion, who's origins aren't lost in pre-history, which doesn't owe its origins to the teachings of a single man. Muslims believe the revelation was made to Mohammed, Buddhists believe that the Buddha discovered the path to enlightenment, and so on.

Can you trust a belief system or way of life which is based on revelations only made to one person?

I would say no. Why wasn't the revelation to more than one? Why no proof? If any way of life is based on the sayings of one man only, as a result of revelations he has allegedly had, I would exercise extreme caution - even if the way of life seems to work and there are no apprently negative aspects of it.

But is Christianity any different? Our faith is based largely on the teachings of one man too. This man was held to be the Son of God by his followers (although, apparently, he called himself the 'Son of Man'), but the followers didn't seem to receive any direct revelation at first, did they?

Some skeptics claim that Christianity was actually founded by Paul - who had a revelation experience on the Damascus road - and that it was his persuasiveness that got the whole thing started. Could that be the case?

Or is Christianity the 'religion' that is different? Was the revelation actually to the initial twelve disciples, and then to Paul, and also to Peter and John the divine later on, and so on? Have we assurance that it is not simply through one man that we are persuaded?

And does Christian revelation happen to people today?