Archive for April, 2008
Our old hymnal had a song titled, “God Bless America” and as a boy I delighted in joining the chorus that instead mischievously sang “God Bless Australia”.
For me, it was a savoured patriotic moment tempered by the ongoing friendly rivalry between the English speaking brothers of USA and Australia. Nothing more. Nothing less.
You see, the general perspective from “the land down under” is that America is a jigsaw of enigmas. My father often reminisced of his boyhood experiences during World War II when the “Ummies” (US troops otherwise known as Kaugummisoldaten [Chewing Gum] soldiers) helped liberate Europe from years of war. What followed was an international aid program probably never previously equalled.
For me, the closest I have gotten to see the iconic Statue of Liberty was in the glossy pages of a holiday magazine. The sheer dominating size of this bronze statue and what “she” represented for millions of migrants who for the first time set their eyes on “the land of the free” was enough to ferment any boy’s imagination.
America seemed so big, rich and yet fair and friendly. And yet, I couldn’t understand why such a freedom loving country would allow it’s citizens to bear arms; we used to hear as much about the starving people in India as we did the shootings and muggings on the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In recent times, I have also wondered about the United States’ inability, in spite of its greatness, to meet the needs of so many homeless people on its own turf following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Then there’s the USA’s ailing international profile – especially in the light of it’s military forces being unable to extricate itself from the bloodbath in Iraq.
Further, how can you understand that three percent of the world’s population could inherit forty percent of the world’s wealth? It’s unprecedented! Surely there was a Divine connection, an inheritance somehow connected to the imprinted words featured on US currency, “In God We Trust”?
And it is in this thread that an answer may exist. You see, the same God the USA prints on its currency told Abraham millennia ago that he would become the father of many nations, having descendants like the stars of the sky and as numerous as the sands on the seashore. Because of Abraham’s faith, God said that all other nations would be blessed.
And in many ways, in a physical sense, that is true today. But with greatness, wealth and considerable military might comes moral responsibility and an ongoing faith in the ageless, God-given values at the heart of national/family life.
Last year I had the privilege of visiting the USA, and among thousands of fellow believers sang a gutsy chorus of “God Bless America”. (And what’s more, it didn’t even occur to me to try to substitute the word “Australia”).
Whatever parochial differences I perceived as a boy are now superceded by a growing awareness that with wealth and prominence comes responsibility and leadership, something both Australia and the USA are still learning.
By John Klassek
When a leading theologian and pastor confided that there’s no scriptural support for the belief of the “Trinity”, it was hard to tell whether he was joking or not.
He was serious.
The Trinity (God as three distinct, co-equal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit) often appears as the primary doctrine of mainstream Christianity.
And yet, when you study the scriptures – the words of Jesus as well as the writings of the apostles – you can see that our attempts to understand and articulate God fall disappointingly short.
So where do we go from here? How can we understand God as He reveals Himself to us?
Because we try to articulate truth in a variety of creeds and belief statements, we should perhaps first ask, what does the Bible teach, and further, how does it present what is of greatest importance?
When God came and lived among us some 2000 years ago as Jesus Christ, a religious lawyer once asked Him, “Which is the greatest commandment?” (Matthew 22:36)
What he was asking, in other words, was: what is the most important priority in our relationship between man and Maker?
Listen to how Jesus answered:
“The first of all the commandments is, ‘…the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:29-30)
The lawyer remarked, “Well said, Teacher! You have told the truth that ‘God is one, and there is no other besides him.’” (Mark 12:32)
In being privy to this interesting conversation we gain some remarkable insight into how the Scribe understood from the scriptures, particularly that God is one.
The earliest record when God first made us, states:
And God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
Genesis is the first place where we note the distinctive plurality of, “Us?” and “Our” – where God’s self-revelation begins in plurality.
Listen to how Jesus elaborated on this:
“My Father… is greater than all,… I and the Father are one!” (John 10:29-30)
Jesus explained the Oneness in the relationship between Him and the Father. Not two, not three, but one.
Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?  If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came–and the Scripture cannot be broken–what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:31-38)
So how can we understand this? Of course, God knows our limitations in trying to comprehend the eternal – and so He didn’t leave us clueless! God tells us it is He who joins a man and a woman in a lifetime union called marriage, of which Jesus said, “They are no longer two, but one.” (Matthew 19:6)
Jesus deliberately used the same word “one” to describe the relationship in marriage, as a metaphor if you like, echoing the divine oneness between God the Father and Jesus the Son.
The Father loves Jesus the Son. We read in the scriptures of the Son’s love for the Father. Except for human marriage, this unique relationship is not equalled anywhere else.
One of Jesus’ closest followers, John, wrote:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2) Numerous other scriptures affirm the pre-existence of Jesus – the very God who spoke at creation, “Let us…”
John later penned in a letter: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We write this to you to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:3)
This is quite a testimony. John explored that the divine love between the Father and Son also includes us. Jesus prayed, “That they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
In sending greetings to the faithful, John wrote:
“Grace will be with you, mercy and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” (2 John 1:3)
Likewise, the early Christians were often greeted by their leaders with the familiar words of:
“Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are greeted by God the Father and Jesus Christ! [And they are ONE, not two!]
We are specially invited into this Godly relationship. Jesus said that He no longer calls us servants, but friends. The actual depth of friendship is no better conveyed than in Jesus’ prayer just prior to His crucifixion:
“And I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who shall believe on Me through their word, that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)
The Biblical subject of Oneness is important, because it establishes the kind of relationship we’re invited into. God is one. This was what the patriarchs of old understood thousands of years ago.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Later, in the early Christian era, Paul addressed the idolatrous problem of many gods that existed in Corinth. He wrote:
“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone knows this…” (1 Corinthians 8:5-7)
Even today, not everyone knows this. Biblical scholars are often divided in thought, offering varying explanations that have developed from creeds convened over the centuries. For example, Trinitarian thinking and documentation emerged hundreds of years after the final passages of the Bible were canonised.
Amidst historical controversy and dishonest manuscripts – the insertion of 1 John 5:7 KJV being just one well known example – an explanation emerged asserting the nature of God.
And yet, to suggest that God is triune in nature – three co-equal persons – simply goes beyond what the scriptures reveal; anything else only reflects our limited capacity when attempting to construct “a model” using mere human terms of reference. How we try to adequately understand the Holy Spirit! It is not better to simply admit that we know a little, and the rest must be left for the fullness of time.
God is perhaps best understood and taught as being “One”. God the Father and Jesus Christ are one, distinct but not separate. The best we can illustrate this is that husband and wife are one; we may see two people, but in God’s eyes, they are one. Anything beyond this lacks credibility.
Jesus Christ revealed the Father, saying, “The Father is greater than I”. (John 14:28) The mystery of “Us” and “Our” found in the opening words of Genesis, is resolved in Jesus words when He said, “I and the Father are one.”
Jesus Christ promised He would send the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit comes from God, conveys His words and will (and brings to mind Jesus’ teaching), empowers us, and enables us to become a new creation in which the image of Christ grows. In a letter Paul wrote we read: “And the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:13)
A little later, he wrote:“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
That’s as far as Paul could go. In this passage there is no explicit acknowledgement of the God the Father, just Theos in Greek meaning God. [Other manuscripts still have further variations on this].
So, what is our relationship with God? Jesus explains: “At that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” (John 14:20)
This is not as complex as it seems.
Remember, that we are created in God’s very own “image and likeness”. Unlike the animals, God created man differently, receiving the very breath of life from God. Then, woman was created even more amazingly, coming from man. How amazing it is that we’re invited to share in the oneness of God.
The Holy Spirit comes from God, and dwells in us. In a graphic example of this, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) The intentional breath of Jesus conveyed the Holy Spirit to His followers in an unique personal way. Perhaps we can better understand what had happened at creation when God had breathed into the first man the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7) Now, when hands are laid on a new convert at baptism, he or she at that moment receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit then lives in us. Paul wrote:
“Or do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit in you, which you have from God, and you are not of yourselves. (1 Corinthians 6:19) LITV
“But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
The Holy Spirit comes from God, and is given to each of us who believe with works of repentance and faith. The Holy Spirit is given to us from the Father. A follower of Jesus has the Holy Spirit in them.
Within weeks of Jesus ascending into heaven, many more believers received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, when they heard a rushing wind, and the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire that came to rest on each of them. Then, as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit, foreigners heard the gospel being preached in their own native languages. It was a miracle that has never since occurred.
And yet today, the Holy Spirit enables us to understand that which is spiritually discernable.
The Holy Spirit is given to us as a gift; according to scripture, we can drink of it, partake of it, and we can quench it.
The Holy Spirit renews us, and must be stirred up within us.
The Holy Spirit is likened to a dove and fire, (and depicted as such in Christian art, yet never as a “person”) also to water, wind and oil.
In rare cases, the Holy Spirit is given from birth.
The Holy Spirit is a down-payment on eternal life.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak on its own – but only conveys what Jesus says.
In Revelation, when the Spirit speaks, we hear the words of Jesus.
(The word “Spirit” in the Greek language [as used by God to have the New Testament recorded], is in the neuter gender, whereas “Father” and “Son” are in the masculine gender. The Hebrew word for “Spirit” in the Old Testament also means “breath, air and wind”).
A clear, Biblical understanding of what the scriptures actually say can help us discern truth from error. It’s not the sort of subject to take lightly. Jesus said that, “everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10)
It’s a subject that really demands our attention, as well as humility.
A well-known theologian recently discussed the “nature of God” by saying, “The divine Father and Son are consistently mentioned in the salutations, benedictions and doxologies of New Testament epistles; the Holy Spirit is rarely mentioned there. The Father and Son reign on heaven’s throne, as seen in vision; the Spirit is not depicted as reigning there. The Father and Son engage in dialogue of “I-You” sort, and love for the other is expressed; the Holy Spirit never enters this dialogue.”
He explained that, “The Holy Spirit is not addressed in prayer or worship as are the Father and Son, nor are we taught to worship the Spirit as a distinct divine person. Given the importance traditionally assigned to the Trinity doctrine, these omissions are so striking that they can hardly be dismissed as arguments from silence. They suggest to us that the Deity may exist in two personality centres rather than three.”
“I think of the Spirit as the personal presence of the Father and Son among and within God’s people, rather than as a third person of the Trinity. Our trust is that God has bestowed salvation by His grace in the person and work of Christ and that salvation is realised in human experience through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, not by the affirmation of any extra-biblical creed.”
How honestly articulated!
The Holy Spirit is very much at work in faithful believers today, guiding, comforting, and strengthening us. Because of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are living in the express image of Jesus Christ. And so we can pray, “Our Father in Heaven…”
Today’s message is just an introduction to an enormous subject. It’s a subject that has been discussed and debated for thousands of years, and will probably continue to do so until Jesus returns.
Nonetheless, it is our hope that what we’ve covered here has been thought provoking as well as a blessing to you. It is important we respect the work and beliefs of those whose scholarly research may lead to different conclusions, but it is equally important to probe what we believe in the light of scriptures that we do have, and then the courage to live and share them.
Until next time, on behalf of the MessageWeek team, take care, and God bless.