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Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?

moses460

People talking today about the 10 commandments often loosely quote* the reformer Martin Luther saying, breaking any of the commandments is always a result of breaking the first – i.e. idolatry – or trusting in and worshiping someone or something other than the personal God who gave Israel the 10 commandments.

Background to the 10 Commandments

The first time the 10 commandments appear in the Bible is when God gave them to Moses. Israel had just dramatically escaped 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The introduction to the first commandment mentions this, even though it is often left out.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” – Exodus 20:2

The 10 commandments are not a list of morals foisted on children or society so they can become blessed by God in some way. God gave them to Israel AFTER he rescued them. The laws govern the relationship and identity of Israel AFTER their escape from slavery. You could say, first God rescues/saves someone, THEN he calls them to follow him as a student (the bible word used is “disciple’).

If you say breaking the 10 commandments is the reason someone is immoral or going to hell, or that keeping them gets you into heaven, you are getting things back to front in more ways than one.

Luther’s Comments on the First Commandment

Luther mentions a few things to unpack his idea that breaking any of the commandments is a result of breaking the first.

“What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress … upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.”

In other words, Israel fled from the suffering of national slavery and exile because they wanted to freely enjoy and celebrate being identified with the God of their ancestors.

Luther goes on to explain how this idea of “god” works where we look for enjoyment, freedom and identity.

“… one thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one.

… He who has money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise.

… whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor friendship, and honor has also a god, …

… the chief explanation of this point is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.”

What does it mean to have a god?

According to Luther, it means the same thing for ancient Israel as it does now. What do you think gives you the freedom to enjoy and celebrate something?

Unless your “god” demands that you exclude everyone from your experience, you will probably influence others to share in the same experience. Maybe you do it via posting pictures of your version of happiness – family, beautiful scenery, favourite food, the ideal job.

Maybe you do it by telling everyone about your mad weekend at the club/resort/shopping centre/casino/stadium. Or if you’re a bit keen, maybe you do it by “sharing the good news” in some other way.

Luther said to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts. That defines how you understand things like safety, significance and success.

God is not known today by obeying 10 commandments. God is known in the historical person of Jesus. One of Jesus’ first followers connected that with the first commandment:

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
~ 1 John 5:20-21

———-

* The origin of the loose quote is derived from Luther’s booklet, “A Treatise on Good Works” and his commentary on the Large Catechism. Both of these are available in public domain via the Project Wittenberg website.

 

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Forgiveness is possible after locusts destroy everything

This is the third of a 3-part note on the theme of forgiveness. After this I’ll move onto some other topics.
Part 1
Part 2
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after-the-locusts

In this post I touch on a similar idea to one I mentioned a few weeks ago when talking about the differences between forgiveness and trust.
(read more at “Tell it to the Church“, “The truth about trust” and “Forgiving the untrustworthy or trusting the unforgiving“)

When forgiveness is mentioned in the Church today, it can sometimes comes across a little trite. Not always! But, sometimes, it can sound like being a Christian (especially the minister or pastor!) means you must “forgive” and “accept” and accommodate everything about everyone. If not, you can get charged with being intolerant, impatient, being a stumbling block and all sorts of other misconstrued names.

Meg Guillebaud’s book, “After the Locusts” is a story of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda during 1994, and the following years of healing and forgiveness still taking place. Meg goes through the idea of practicing forgiveness and makes a distinction between that and trust and is careful to not fall into the trite and false idea of what it really entails for each of us.

Christian Forgiveness does not:

  • Say that it doesn’t matter
  • Pretend that we have not been hurt
  • Simply obeying a command to do so
  • Simply “forgive & forget”
  • Find an excuse for what has been done
  • Gain peace at any price (sometimes involves a conflict)
  • Leave it with God (i.e. in a way that avoids personal responsibility)
  • Always end in complete reconciliation (between the people involved)
  • Come without restitution

Christian Forgiveness does:

  • Begin with an understanding of what Christ has done
  • Refuse to take revenge (c.f. Romans 12:19)
  • Require an act of the will, not just a feeling
  • Face reality (it is very often painful, but necessary)
  • Accept and forgive ourselves
  • Recognise God’s love and His justice go hand in hand

So it may be that “locusts” have attacked and destroyed your life. That doesn’t mean, as a Christian, you are expected to just shrug it off, absorb and ignore the pain and hurt. As a Christian, if you do that, you’re trying to do something that only Jesus can, did and should do. Nor should you be damning others for not doing so. Forgiveness is a decision – but is it not a choice to be naïve and ignorant or to overlook an offence. It is a means to refer something to a higher and more powerful figure who can address the problem fully and justly.

Forgiveness is not simple. It is not trite. But it is possible, even after your life has been ransacked. Whether by locusts or by heartless, gutless, uncaring buffoons.

 
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Posted by on 27/09/2015 in discipleship, Gospel, Theology

 

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A new blog Under The Water

I have started a new blog site called, Under the Water.

I will maintain both sites, but Under the Water will have a more specific and narrow subject as summarised on the About page:

Under the Water is a writing project that I plan to use to tease out some questions about whether a Baptist Church has a place in Australia. Along the way I will deal with practical and theological issues on Baptist beliefs and behaviours. I am writing from the perspective of both a Church Minister (or to use the common Baptist terminology, Pastor) and a potential research student working towards completing a post-graduate theological degree. At some point in the next few years I am planning to write a formal thesis dissertation and the articles on this blog are a way of thinking through that process in smaller, less academic, bite size pieces.

I have kicked things off with a small chat about defining ‘Church‘.

So, add the site to your feedreader or subscription and come along for the ride.

What topics or issues, related to Under the Water, would you like to see or discuss there?

 

 

 
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Posted by on 10/09/2013 in church, Culture, leadership, Theology

 

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The Bible in 3D – Press Release

3Dpromo

The full website and details are here. Below is the press release which was prepared today after we did the photo shoot.

For most people, reading the Bible is like watching a foreign movie with no subtitles. A seminar in Katoomba on 22 March 2014 will take the mystery away and make it jump off the page… in 3D.

Doug Haley and Mike Bull, both from Katoomba, and Albert Garlando from Sydney, are holding a one day seminar in the ballroom of the Carrington Hotel for Bible readers and lovers of great literature. It is designed to show how the ancient texts use the same techniques to connect with people as the screenwriters, directors and musicians behind today’s pop culture.

“Modern readers see texts as flat transmissions of data, so they miss a whole channel of communication,” said Mike Bull. “To compensate, Bible scholars have given us a list of rules which is as long as the Bible itself! But the Bible is just like any other well-crafted book. You just dive right in and let the author fill you in as you go along. We’ll show you how the ancient writers added depth using clever tools like symbols, symmetry, repetition and fractals.”

“The good thing is that the best TV shows and movies are using these sorts of things more and more in their stories. The Bible is a very visual, artistic and musical book, so this new generation raised on visual media already has all the skills they need to understand and enjoy it.”

“The most surprising payoff is the book of Revelation. Readers don’t get what it’s about because they don’t have the books of Moses under their skin. It’s like watching Shrek with no familiarity with the fairy tales, nursery rhymes or pop culture behind its clever references and ironic jokes. Watching Shrek is good training for Bible study!”

Doug Haley, who is doing a PhD on Isaiah and tutoring in Old Testament at the University of Sydney, will introduce the Bible’s visual language. Mike Bull, a local graphic designer and theology blogger, will explain the literary devices. Albert Garlando is a pastor in Sydney, and he will talk about how all this highbrow stuff plays out in life and ministry.

For info on the seminars and a free ebook, visit www.readingthebiblein3d.com

Full contact details:

Michael Bull
PO Box 331
Katoomba NSW 2780
T 0419 415 056
info @ readingthebiblein3d.com

 
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Posted by on 24/07/2013 in Bible, Hermenutics, Theology

 

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Abra Kadabra … Whamo! You’re a Christian

There is a type of thinking that is popular among Christians that says you become a Christian simply by repeating the words of a prayer to God. This prayer varies in exact wording among different denominations and branches of the Christian Church, however the basic elements are all the same. Say the prayer, and hey presto you’re now a Christian. If you ever struggle with your faith in the future or fall away completely, that’s OK, because once upon a time, you prayed a prayer so you have a spiritual insurance policy against fire damage.

One of the problems with that idea is there are no examples of it in the Bible. Another is that it is not a common practice throughout Church history until very recently (last century). But, the biggest problem is when you base your spiritual confidence in something you do instead of something God has done in the person of Jesus then you are “placing all bets” on your own personal worth and accomplishments. If that’s the case, you had better make sure your record is completely, 100%, perfect.

I prayed a prayer, therefore I am going to heaven. In other words, I’ve paid my dues, so God owes me one.
Christianity is never presented this way in the Bible. Instead what we see is Jesus calling people to repent of self-confidence and self accomplishment and instead trust in his accomplishment on their behalf. i.e. to trust in his completely, 100%, perfect record and perfect offering of himself to satisfy the justice of God on your behalf.

My self-confidence and sense of personal peace or enjoyment of my faith will vary all the time, but the accomplishment of Jesus stands and remains consistent. If I doubt my sincerity when I prayed such and such a prayer, my confidence could waver. But, if I doubt, or am discouraged, defeated, depressed or disillusioned in myself Jesus has called me to look away from myself and look to him. I am not a Christian because of something I have done or haven’t done. Rather I am a Christian because I am relying and trusting in what the Bible says Jesus has done on my behalf.

J.D. Greear has written a little book called “Stop asking Jesus into your heart”. He explains the difference between relying upon Jesus and “praying a special prayer”.

“Repentance and faith are heart postures you take toward the finished work of Christ. You might express the beginning of that posture in a prayer. But don’t make the mistake of equating that prayer with the posture. The sinner’s prayer is not a magic incantation or a recipe you follow to get a salvation cake. The real stuff—the stuff that matters—is the posture of repentance and faith behind the words you speak. The prayer is good only insofar as it verbalizes the posture.

we might express our assumption of that new posture in a “sinner’s prayer”—or by “asking Jesus into our hearts,” or some equivalent thereof—but just because we’ve prayed that prayer doesn’t necessarily mean we have repented and believed. The flip side is also true: just because we haven’t prayed that prayer (or can’t remember praying it) doesn’t mean we haven’t repented and believed. “Repentance and belief” and “asking Jesus into our hearts” are not always interchangeable.”

~ Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by J.D. Greear

Are you repenting of your sin and trusting in Jesus or are you trusting in some words you once recited as a prayer?

 

 
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Posted by on 22/03/2013 in Bible, Culture, discipleship, Evangelism, Reading, Theology

 

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Modernising the Apostles Creed

a not-so-sacred cow in Edinburgh via karen_roe in flickr

a not-so-sacred cow in Edinburgh via karen_roe in flickr

During a baptism class on Sunday, where many children were present, I was briefly explaining some of the key phrases of the Apostles Creed. Who is God? Who is Jesus? What does “ascended” mean? etc. I also noticed that the version of the creed we were reading had retained a few archaic English terms like “thence” instead of “there” and “Ghost” instead of “Spirit”.

I told the parents present I would update that language so the kids understood what we were talking about. If they read in the Bible, and hear in Kids Church that “God the Holy Spirit” is the third person of the Trinity and then read “Holy Ghost” in the creed, are they going to become confused? I think it’s very likely and not just for the children.

Here is my suggested modern rendering the Apostles Creed. The creed has changed much since its earliest appearance as a Latin statement of belief. Some of those changes have attracted controversy. Others were simply to modernise the language. In my version below, I have changed the wording in a few places. Have I retained the meaning adequately? Is the Apostles Creed an untouchable “sacred cow”? What do you think?

The Apostles Creed – A Modern Children’s Edition by Albert Garlando

I believe in God the Father, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth,

I believe in Jesus Christ, God the Son, our Lord:
He was made into a baby by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary; he suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, then he died, and was buried; he went down into the grave.
The third day after, He arose again from the dead;
He went up into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
He will come back from heaven to judge everyone who has ever lived.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; He brings every believer into the holy Christian Church and gives them the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and everlasting life.
Amen.

 

 
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Posted by on 26/02/2013 in church, discipleship, Theology

 

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EVERYONE who asks RECEIVES

Smore! You want SMORE?!

Smore! You want SMORE?!

I certainly have not received everything I have ever asked for. Sometimes that has been a good thing, especially when my mother used to say, “You’re asking for it kid!

What about the times, when I sincerely, politely, humbly, even altruistically, asked for something and still did not receive it. What was the deal there?

Have I not received it “yet“? Is it a case of timing or delayed gratification?

Have I received it in some other form I am unable or unwilling to recognise?

Perhaps the premise or the promise is flawed. Merely a delusional distraction of some kind?

What on earth was Jesus going on about when he said, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” in Matthew 7:8?

I read it again the other day and it jumped out as a dogmatic statement. When I flicked back a couple of pages I noticed that “asking” and “seeking” featured regularly in the section of scripture, commonly referred to in Matthews Gospel as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, where this verse is found.

At the start of the Sermon, Jesus said,

“”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and

“”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” – Matthew 5:3,6

If, as seems to be the case, he is using a poetical form of rhetoric to make his point, this would show that those who are the poor, the impoverished, the ones who lack in some way, thus their hunger and thirst, are the ones who will be on the receiving end of God’s grace, mercy and generosity. There is a sense in which they do not need to ask or seek because they will be pre-emptively supplied by God in some way.

This seems to be reenforced in Matthew 6:8, where Jesus said,

“your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.

However he then goes on to teach the Lord’s Prayer, which has a series of requests in which the petitioner first asks for God’s kingdom.

Later in Matthew 6:33, he tells them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. Previously when I’ve read that verse, I took it as a sort of reassurance that Jesus was referring to my temporal comforts. i.e. there was some sort of theistic bargain taking place. If I “seek” his kingdom, I will taken care of in the food and clothing department, ignoring the full context of the sermon.

The verbs and participles in Matthew 7:8 are all in the present tense (except for “will be opened”), so it could be read as;

“For all those who are asking are receiving and all those seeking are finding and to all those knocking it will be opened”

Putting this together with the preëmptive statements in Chapter 5 and 6 and the imperatives of the Lord’s Prayer (“pray like this…”) and Matthew 6:33 (“seek first the kingdom…”) God is using the means of prayer (asking, seeking, knocking) to carry out his goal of giving us his kingdom, his righteousness etc. It is not a case of bargaining; “If you bow down and worship me then I will give you these riches” – that offer came from someone else. Instead it is more the sense of; “God is giving you new life, and a new world view, as you worship him, apart from self interest, self justification, self vindication, and realise your own radical spiritual depravity.”

This is the only way “your righteousness exceeds that of (the self-appointed religious élite of their day) the scribes and pharisees.” When it is derived, or better understood as, received from God through Jesus. The difference between the first century application and today is merely context and politics. Then it was nominally religious posturing in defiance of an incumbent foreign government to look more self righteous before ones peers. Today, the posturing still happens, but its in the form of token environmental salvage or political endorsement of a minority whim both of which are fashioned to appear as gracious and tolerant and yet, like the scribes and pharisees of old, is dresses up in elaborate, eloquent, scolding arrogance towards any who buck the trend.

It may be said of them, as it was of me in my belligerence, “they’re asking for it.” Jesus assures them, they’ll “get it.” We all will. The question is not, are you getting what you asked for, but, what are you asking for? 

What are you asking for?

 
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Posted by on 03/01/2013 in discipleship, Jesus, Reading, Theology

 
 
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