Thoughts on God, Faith and Transformation: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader part 2


Faith

In part one I discussed how the Chronicles of Narnia related to my image of God. In this post I will zoom in a little further on the topic of faith, which is an important theme in the movie.

I love this scene.

To find all that you seek, there is the utter east, doubt not…

Lucy wondering if Aslan’s country is a place you could actually go and the mouse advising her that there is only one way to find out. Besides the clever world play as Aslan’s country as the end of the world, there is something very profound in the song and  this communication between the old friends. The mouse is actually laying out his faith very similar to what Hebrews 11:1 tells us about faith:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Our chivalrous little mouse is quite confident as to Aslan’s country where he one day hopes to live and even while there is no guarantee that there is such a country in the “utter east”: the fact that Aslan comes from the east when and if He comes is enough assurance for him it seems. Assurance enough to hope to one day earn the right to see this country. Our little mouse is ready to do whatever and go wherever it takes him so as to earn the right to see Aslan’s country. Again a parallel emerges with Hebrews, 10:39:

39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

When Paul wrote this letter he was concerned about the perseverance in faith. And I guess that that is what it comes down to as a start and an end in Christianity. And that is not always easy in our western secular society with all it’s temptations and controversial opinions. I certainly have had my doubts over the past period, about Christianity in general, the church, God, Jesus.

It brings back memories of when I handed over the wheel to Christ slightly over a year ago. At that point in time besides being saved I felt like all I had left was faith in the sense of Hebrews 11:1. All the (traditional scientific) evidence I had been collecting for the previous years  turned out to be inconclusive as to whether God was a reality. Do not understand me wrong here: I could not find the scientifically sound and conclusive evidence for and against God. But there I said it: scientific evidence. It took me another year and the evidence of an American court case before I realized that I would always run around in circles because as per definition and creed, supernatural explanations are excluded from science. And there is in fact a good argument for such a naturalist, material approach. It will always keep on challenging us to keep on looking for natural explanations an in that we discover more about nature. But at the same time it will never tell us anything conclusive about whether or not a living God, that created the universe, that became flesh and was among us and died on the cross so that out relationship with God was again a possibility because the price for out sins was paid, a Holy Spirit that guides us and comforts us, a Christianity that comes with miracles and signs as a result of God among us and who’s working through us.   In order to appreciate a miracle you will need to know what is the norm or what is standard in nature. And that is exactly where science comes in.

Science and religion appear to be eachother’s greatest enemies yet they are in fact complimentary in that they cover overlapping areas of interest from different perspectives. If anything science is about knowledge while religion is about meaning, about wisdom. But I am wandering off here.

As said, when I converted to Christianity, all I had left to go on was faith. And in that sense I guess my first year has been a personal Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a journey in any event and a journey to my own dark island to be face to face with the evil trying to corrupt me. I have found that the evidence that has made the biggest impact has been experiential and subsequently science may provide some sort of explanation and  faith comes after that as a sort of trust and assurance that is indeed all to do with the God I am hoping to be in a relationship with. That assurance again is strengthened not so much by by experiences alone but on the basis that God is indeed working in my life. And if there is anything I learned from that it is that Christ is not a guarantee for an easy life, that suffering for whatever reason may well be part of the equation but the rewards are greater than any of the pain and or suffering. In a secular society the individual is placed in the center of the universe, his or her own universe for that matter.  Self empowerment, self power, self strength, self(ishness under a coat of humanism or new age spirituality) are very central in our thinking: Christianity opposes that with the empowering image of servant-hood. As Christians we hand over the throne of our lives to Christ, or that is what I understand it is we are to do. And even if I am wrong in that, I have found it to be a very rewarding exercise so far.

It is I think even though I may be on this journey only short that it is in faith that we find endurance and victory.  The more I think about it the more everything seems to be boiling down to faith. It is one thing to say: “He is not safe but He is good” but it is another to live it. It is one thing to have faith in God’s healing and transformational power but it is another to live it. It is in faith that we (I) find peace.

Throughout the Matthew we read about the importance of faith. It is in faith that Jesus was completely at peace when a storm broke out on the water.

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Here is a boat of men fearing for their lives, waves crashing over the deck and what does Jesus do? He’s sleeping! And when he’s woken up by disciples fearing for their lives he is sort of irritated about their lack of faith and subsequently calms the storm. I guess we, in any event I, am probably exemplary of Peter when he is invited to walk on the water. As long as he keeps himself fixed on Jesus he’s going great, but then he starts looking around and in worldly terms looks at what he is doing and starts to sink. It was faith that healed many, that made Jesus perform miracles, made the apostles and disciples live a supernatural life.

If anything I find that the past year has been one where I learned that nothing is impossible if I keep my eyes fixed on God but at the same time a year in which I am slowly but surely have been learning how difficult it sometimes is to do just that when your mind turns your attention to your circumstances and you look at them in worldly terms instead of Godly terms. Perhaps we should look for Jesus, Aslan first and the answers will come. I guess that is what all great men and women of the Bible have in common: they had a relationship with God and from that came the faith in His plans for them. But that means we’ll first have to seek Him and if we do He will be found.

In Prince Caspian Lucy makes a very good  The children and the dwarf have gone to find the Prince, and they have been following Peter’s direction. They come to a ravine where there’s a stream running many feet below.They decide that they must go around somewhere down the river.  Then Lucy sees Aslan, and he seem to signal that she should follow him. There are four different reactions to her statement:

  • The dwarf doesn’t believe there really is an Aslan.
  • Peter wonders why Aslan wouldn’t have made himself visible to him.
  • Edmund says that they shouldn’t question Lucy because she’d been right before.
  • Susan wonders why no one else saw him.

To Susan Lucy makes a classic response:

“Perhaps you weren’t looking for him.”

Is it not the same with many of us, myself included? We sing about a living and ever present God.  We say that we believe that He is at work, and at the same time do we actually look for Him? Do we give credit to the things that happen in our lives?  To what do we attribute blessings?  Who sustains us and allows us our very lives? We read our Bible and pray, we believe that that is it.  We think that He might heal our sickness or help us get a job. At the same time we (I) can be truly oblivious to what He is at work doing right now in our area or in our own hearts.

Lucy’s got it. Many times we don’t see God because we aren’t looking for Him.  He’s explained away or we attributed something that is His provision to ourselves, our abilities or our job.  As it proved to be the case in terms of crossing the ridge.  It ended up that He was there, and He did have a direction. Lucy asked later what the cost was of not following him, and so should we. But in order to follow we first need to listen and hear what He has to say. And as I am finding regularly that may well be not what I hoped to hear, I thought that would come, on other occasions  I am surprised and find it to be better than I could have hoped for.

So thus for now we have God as the beginning and the end, Aslan, Jesus as God becoming flesh and the savior, and faith as they key to our relationship with God. Our minds and hearts may well be closing our eyes for the good we are getting because we are so focussed on what we did not get or because he’s leading us where we do not what or imagined ourselves to be going. And that is where faith comes in “He’s not safe but he’s good”, and only by placing our faith completely in Him we’ll find out what He really has in store for us. I guess there’s my new years resolution. More on that in the final part in a next post.

Stand


Two beautiful versions of this Donnie McClurkin song.
A song close to my heart.

What do you do
when you’ve done all you can
And it seems like it’s never enough?
And what do you say
when your friends turn away,
and you’re all alone?
Tell me, what do you give
When you’ve given your all,
and seems like
you can’t make it through?

Well, you just stand
When there’s nothing left to do
You just stand
Watch the Lord see you through
And after you’ve done all you can
You just stand

Tell me,
how do you handle the guilt of your past?
Tell me, how do you deal with the shame?
And how can you smile
when your heart is broken
and filled with pain?
Tell me what do you give
when you’ve given your all
Seems like you can’t make it through?
Child you just stand,
when there’s nothing left to do
You just stand
Watch the Lord see you through
And after you’ve done all you can
You just stand.
And be sure
After you’ve done all you can
After you’ve gone through the hurt
After you’ve gone through the pain
After you’ve gone through the storm
After you’ve gone through the rain
Prayed and cried,you’ve prayed and cried
Prayed and cried, prayed and cried
After you’ve done all you can, you just stand.

Is it God or my imagination? – TheologyWebsite.com


While reading through my Bible, I see places – many places – where God speaks to people: Adam, Moses, Abraham, Samuel, David, Paul and many more. In some cases, he was downright chatty, and there were some fascinating conversations between men and God.And as I read, I think, “What’s so special about these guys, that God talked to them? Were they better than I am?” I just can’t see a fundamental difference between us. What sets them apart was that God in most cases called them to some exceptional task for him. They were not in some way intrinsically superior.So does God speak in a similar manner to us today? Can God speak to us today? More to the point, does God speak to me today? As I read and pray and think, I can find no reason, either biblical or logical, that God would speak then but not now.So I concluded that I might be missing out on something I considered important. And I did not like it.

As a result, I began paying closer attention as I read my Bible and as I prayed, listening for the voice of God speaking to me.

Read the rest via Is it God or my imagination? – TheologyWebsite.com.

Comment:

Now that’s a story I can relate to.

An Inconvenient Truth?


32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32)

Today is visited an acquaintance. We were supposed to be visiting the Healing Room Christchurch but it was closed because of the school holidays. Upon my arrival I saw his state of being was not too flash. He felt rejected by society and most of all by what are supposed to be his brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Being the person whom he is, he did not blame or curse any off the people with whom he shares his faith; instead he wondered whether God had abandoned him and that as a result his fellow Christians were abandoning him.

I was reminded of some of the lessons I got when going through Law School. I thought back at how revealing it was to me that in law ot was not just what you did that could be legally relevant but also what you did not do: your omissions.  Paul very eloquently does not use any words that could indicate actions, he uses the verb causing. Which could also mean omission or in-actions. Could it maybe be that this was not a case of abandonment by God but by fellow Christians?

Admittedly, a wrong impression may easily occur. But looking through Christian goggles, that still does not mean that this man does not deserve a chance, no matter how different and needy he may be. And speaking from personal experience; give this man a chance and you will find a beautiful creation with a considerable depth in terms of faith and spirituality, despite some mental/psychological/psychiatric background and problems. Personally I can say, I have learned a lot from my acquaintance with him first and foremost that THERE IS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL IN EVERYONE IF WE ARE WILING TO LOOK FOR IT. But are we all looking for it? Or are we feeling more at ease with just staying at a distance.How sad is it really if a pastor from Auckland need to shop around and see whether there is a church that will accept this man for who he is?

Well what about your own church?

He does not want to go there any longer because of how he has been approached. He wouldn’t go there even if I tried to take him and believe me I will, again and again, despite his objections. What do you say to someone that cries out to you: “I have no church to go to anymore.” What do you say to someone that is experiencing a paradox daily as a resulted of the well meant but safe advice of fellow Christians.

You should be more amongst people.

However implicitly or explicitly it is also made clear that this does not include ‘the people’ that form part of the body of the ‘wise adviser.’ It all reminded me of the healing through Jesus, most of all the healing at the Pool of Bethesda. On several occasions people are urged by Jesus to go to the Temple. This is not so in the text of John 5 but thee a second encounter with the healed invalid takes place in the Temple. A number of the healings performed had a another significance:  hey did not just mean a physical healing, but also a spiritual healing which ensured that people could be entering the temple again. People that were crippled, or had other physical or mental conditions were not allowed access to the Temple, the core of their faith as a result of the Mishnah, the laws for Israel derived from the scriptures. Jesus did not just physically heal them, he ensured that the could be reconciled with the core of their faith in God. It fits in perfectly with his mission, with the concept that God wants to reconcile with His creation and uses Jesus and so illustrative are the words

“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5: 14)

He did not say “Stay well” but “stop sinning.”  At the same time how harsh a law that prevents people that need it the most to have entry to the core of their faith. What else is there left than to stumble? What else is there left than to think that ‘you are not worthy of God’s grace because God’s law ordains it’?

At the same time I now wonder what is harder for a man: being denied on the basis of a religious law that is supposedly put in place by people that knew what they were doing, or being denied by people that purportedly care about your health and well being also in the spiritual sense?

You’d be better of finding another church, you would not or do not fit in. You are better of where there are more people like you.

Is this not the word upside down, and certainly not in line with what Jesus was teaching?  Paul, referenced at the start,  continued:

For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many so they many be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10: 33)

Do we need to fit in with the worldly standards of the congregation of who is acceptable and who is not or do we as a Body of  Christ show the world that there is a place within the body for anyone and everyone no matter what their state of being is.  Yes it may be inconvenient in worldly terms, bit is that a reason to deny access, whether explicitly or implicitly?

I could well imagine someone saying to me referring to 1 Corinthians 10: 13:

Well if this man is tempted to turn away from God because of out alleged actions and omissions should we not expect God to provide a way for this man to stand under this temptation?

My rhetorical answer would be:

You are absolutely right, but given what I said earlier on, could it maybe be that we as the church, as the body of Christ arre that way out if we are willing to face the inconvenient worldly truth that comes with that.

Paul said:

20For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (1 Corinthians 4:20)

With that in mind as well as out claim to be living out the full Gospel what is holding us back to restore this man to a state where he is no longer denied the core of his faith.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

10“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. 11 “The son of man came to save what was lost (only according to some manuscripts)

12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. (Mathhew 18: 10-14)

Can we really look ourselves in the eye when we have to admit that it is our worldly standards rather than our spiritual that is keeping such a man away from a fellowship in Christ? Is it maybe time for a “gutter bucket” ministry? And if so, “why me?”

What am I to do? Your words of wisdom would be appreciated as I am lost in this all.

August Rush, Belief, Conviction, Faith and God’s Plan


You never quit you music no matter what happens. Cause anytime something bad happens to you, it is the place you can escape to and just let it go. I’ve learned that the hard way. And anyway look at me. Nothing bad’s gonna happen. You gotta have a little faith.”

August Rush, a little orphan following the music in an attempt to find his parents hears these words after having a little jam with what turns out to be his father later in the movie ends up indeed finding his parents through his music. The movie itself is all about the power and mystery that is music, but more than that it is a movie about straying true to your belief, in fact about staying true so much that they become your convictions. There is a subtle difference in that beliefs may change but for your convictions you are willing to die. A remark came back to min that was made by Chad Dedmon during a seminar organized through Harmony Church:

“You cannot let your circumstances determine your theology.”

August Rush stayed true to his belief, that the music he was hearing everywhere would one day lead him back to his parents and of course it did. One of his parents did not know of his existence, the other his mother was trying to locate him and indeed in the end recognized his sounds as something that could well have been coming from her son. All that time however the world was telling August Rush that his convictions were not going to bring him anywhere and that he should be getting back to reality. But AUGUST WAS IN HIS REALITY! He did not just believe what he said, it was HIS CONVICTION; HE KNEW!

For those interested here is the final scene of the movie, with the piece of music that would reunite a scattered family:

Make your Belief your Conviction

I guess the following bible quote illustrates and summarizes the movie completely:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

That is exactly what the movie is all about. The lesson for me personally: trust, patience, and endurance will get me there.  My conversion has not come without challenges and temptations and it seems sometimes that every time I think I know, something will come along to distract me or get me off track even. Never before have I found myself to realize how good I am in screwing up: in the sense of not being able to live up to God’s standard. But through prayer, conversations and meditation (which is actually just playing music without thinking about what I play), God’s plan for us reveals itself, and than it is up to us to pursue and persevere. In an email Rick Warren wrote:

I like the definition of conviction I once heard from the great Bible teacher Howard Hendricks: “A belief is something you will argue about. A conviction is something you will die for!”

I guess that is what the movie August Rush can teach all of us Christians but most of all me. First of all that we should make our beliefs our convictions as that will make us sure of the things unseen. I know it works for me: despite all the challenges it is posing an despite all the failures on my part along the way.

Conviction ==> Purpose

5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
1 Thessalonians 1:5

Jesus’ life was dominated by his conviction that he was sent to do the Father’s will.  This produced a deep awareness of his life’s purpose and kept him from being distracted by the agenda of others. It was exactly the same with August Rush. When invited to have his Rhapsody played by the NY Philharmonic, all he want to know is whether or not a lot of people will be hearing it: he is convinced that they need to hear it so as to enhance the chances that it will lead him back to his parents. His talents serve his purpose.

Jesus’ convictions become clear through his words: just study all the times he used the phrase “I must.”
I a slowly learning that in developing Christlike convictions a new and deep sense of purpose.

God’s Plan for You or Your Plan or God

It’s one thing to pray and ask God to make you to person He wants you to be, but it is a second thing of  His plan does not seem to make sense or poses foreseeable challenges straight away. Repentance is a challenge in itself but His plan may well go even further. That is where faith comes in I guess. That is the moment where you have to decide on the question of whether or not to follow through and place your faith in Him or to continue with your plan for God? I choose the first what about you?

The Jesus We’ll Never Know: Scot McKnight


In the times prior to my conversion I read a lot of material about the historical Jesus, by the way with great interest but something was not quite alright.

McKnight, author of the article quoted below and one of the historical Jesus researchers himself makes the comment:

Furthermore, these scholars by and large believe in the Jesus they reconstruct. During what’s called the “first quest” for the historical Jesus, in the early 20th century, Albert Schweitzer understood Jesus as an apocalyptic Jesus. In the latest quest, Sanders’s Jesus is an eschatological prophet; Crossan’s Jesus is a Mediterranean peasant cynic full of wit and critical of the Establishment; Borg’s Jesus is a mystical genius; Wright’s Jesus is an end-of-the-exile messianic prophet who believed he was God returning to Zion. We could go on, but we have made our point: Historical Jesus scholars reconstruct what Jesus was really like and orient their faith around that reconstruction.

The comment very much resounds my own sentiments when reading these studies: could it maybe be that we are creating out own desired reality. If, as we may suppose, historical research departs from the same methodologies, should the outcomes not be more alike? Yet very similar to the students mentioned in the first lines of this article, it appears that the historical methods lead to similar results: a Jesus construct that is potentially more who we want him to be or a Jesus construct that is in our own likeness.

In his closing paragraph McKnight comes to the same conclusions I had to admit to myself prior to conversion: at some point methods run out of steam and energy. And where McKnight makes this point for historical research, I think it is not that dissimilar for other disciplines as well. Simply put perhaps we should start to be more open about the limitations of our methods and about what exactly it is they can and cannot prove. Most of all about our own potential biases prior to any research as they may influence our findings or lead us to conclusions that are no longer carried by our findings.
No matter how I look at it: science an the human sciences included are all involved in telling us about the supernatural from a position of limitation to the natural and natural explanations. So, let’s try to be honest about this limitation, which in my view is exactly the strength of science and leave the rest to our own non-scholarly experience and doctrinal understandings, as an individual and a church as well as a community of researchers.

On a personal basis: it seems to be that the best way to get to know Jesus, God, has proven to be the opening up for a relationship again.  Of course that goes outside any methodological realm but at the same time science can at no time go where the Holy Spirit may take us, whether that is measurable or not, it seems to me that that’s the most secure way to fill up the blanks.

Who needs faith when science and history could ‘prove’  it all. At the same time I acknowledge that it is exactly science and  historical method that provided me the (rational) basis I needed for my faith.

SCIENTIFIC AND HUMAN SCIENCE METHODS PROVIDED A REASON FOR FAITH, BUT IT WAS IN TAKING THE LEAP OF FAITH AND ENTERING INTO THE RELATIONSHIP  THAT MY EYES WERE REALLY OPENED.


The Jesus We’ll Never Know

Why scholarly attempts to discover the ‘real’ Jesus have failed. And why that’s a good thing.

On the opening day of my class on Jesus of Nazareth, I give a standardized psychological test divided into two parts. The results are nothing short of astounding.The first part is about Jesus. It asks students to imagine Jesus’ personality, with questions such as, “Does he prefer to go his own way rather than act by the rules?” and “Is he a worrier?” The second part asks the same questions of the students, but instead of “Is he a worrier?” it asks, “Are you a worrier?” The test is not about right or wrong answers, nor is it designed to help students understand Jesus. Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves. If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.Since we are pushing this point, let’s not forget historical Jesus scholars, whose academic goal is to study the records, set the evidence in historical context, render judgment about the value of the evidence, and compose a portrait of “what Jesus was really like.” They, too, have ended up making Jesus in their own image.

Read the rest of this very commendable article at The Jesus We’ll Never Know | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Beyond Believers


The study of religion is too important to be left in the hands of believers.

So claims David A. Hollinger, a professor of American history at the University of California at Berkeley, in his response to religion emerging as the hottest topic of study among members of the American Historical Association (AHA).

Perhaps surprisingly, leading evangelical scholars voiced general agreement with his basic premise.

“The practice of history is best served by many historians working from all their separate angles,” said Rick Kennedy, president of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) and a professor of history at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. “What is good about the new surge in religious history is that something that was neglected is now gaining its rightful place.”

Barry Hankins, resident scholar at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, said he shared Hollinger’s sentiments, “as long as the understanding of faith is not left only to unbelievers.”

“The trick for insiders is to think critically about their own tradition, while the trick for outsiders is to try to develop a feel or affinity for the group he or she is studying,” said Hankins.

Read the rest at: Beyond Believers | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.