Sunday, December 28, 2014

God's message to me for the last Sabbath of 2014

On December 26, 2014, I celebrated my eighth anniversary with my wife, Fiona. It was in the spring of 2011 that our marriage was put to a test with my having to migrate to study in Canada. Thankfully, we passed that test and are both celebrating today in Canada more committed to each other. However, I have sought from God the vision for our family for 2015 and beyond. And he has begun to answer.

On the last Sabbath of December 27, 2014 or of the Gregorian calendar, I got the same message from God that I received during my 2014 Feast of Trumpets season. From Sabbath school, to the songs sung by the singers for special music, to the sermon from the appointed speaker. The message was consistent, in that God is calling me to plunge deeper into my spiritual life with him and move beyond just believing the testimonies of others to becoming one with testimonies to give to others.

You see, God makes himself invisible unto us a human beings and cannot be accessed through our scientific empirical methods. However, he makes himself available to us via the route of faith. While he has left evidence in nature to reveal himself, he has always chosen to reveal himself after our sin in Eden to a few persons, who serve as witnesses that testify of his existence. These witnesses are sent to help us interpret the visible evidence in nature and in life. So, for example, God called Noah to be his witness to tell persons that God was about to act and send a flood.

However, God leaves human beings only with the physical evidence and the testimony of his witnesses to make a decision. However, for those who are willing to believe the testimony of his witnesses, God takes them to another step, revealing more of himself to them personally and awarding them for their faith in the testimonies or witnesses. This is what happened in the early church in Acts, when the apostles testified of Christ, and the Lord gave the Holy Spirit to those who believed their testimony, so that they too could experience God for themselves.

The New Testament evangelists basically provide two verses that help to define what faith is. First of all, faith comes by hearing (Romans 10: 16-18). It is listening carefully and attentively to a testimony. Secondly, faith is the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). Basically, witnesses are people who have heard or seen things, that they tell about or report on in order to help persons interpret evidence and make judgments. This is what Peter and John declared when a Jewish Council sought to forbid them from preaching Jesus (Acts 4:19-20). According to Peter and John stated "we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20, English Standard Version/ESV).

In fact, in Acts 1:8 Jesus proclaimed to his disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit arrived and shall be his witnesses"both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (NASB95). Further, in Acts, Jesus mirrors a prophetic passage in Isaiah 43: 8-11 (King James Version /KJV):
Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears.
Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth.
10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.
Further, God also prophesied to the Hebrew people that he would raise up someone to speak in his name rather than to speak to human beings directly. According to Deuteronomy 18:15-19 in the English Standard Version (ESV) it is reported that Moses said:

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
However, listening to the testimony from God's witness is just the first part of the process. The next is for us to have our own testimony. Even in Moses' time, God did not confine his Spirit and prophetic utterances to Moses alone, but gave it unto other Hebrew men. One event was so significant that it is recorded in Numbers 11:26-29 in the New International Version (NIV):
26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”
29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”
 Apostle Paul related a similar idea in his letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 14:5 Paul states:
I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.(New International Version/NIV)
Thus, part of God's message to me was that he no longer wants me to be content in believing in the Bible and the experiences of those recorded in the Bible, but he wants me to go deeper and the next level, that he can take my faith and turn me into someone who his Spirit can rest on and use as a mouthpiece to speak in his name. And the same is God's desire for you, whoever you are that reads this post.

God's Passover message to me back in 2011

On April 18, 2011, a friend asked: 'Can u tell me what is the significance of Passover?'

Coincidentally I was reflecting on and writing up what I had learned the even before, when I got this question from my friend. So I shared with him this message:

My friend also asked: ' What can I do today to celebrate this event?'
And what does it really mean?

I answered stating that I thought he asked very good questions. His questions are what I myself need to ponder. I know what I am going to do personally, but is what I am doing really what G-d would want from me?

This evening I am going to celebrate a home Passover with my little girls and wife. Most Jews in the diaspora will do that.

My friend asked:  What do you plan to do with your family that is different?

So I state my agenda:
The recounting of the story of the Exodus, beginning from bondage in Egypt. Drinking (non-alcoholic) wine, eating Matzah (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs, lighting candles and explaining to my 3-year-old what it must have been like to come out of Egypt. Then move on to the story of Jesus and his disciples at the night of his supper, recounting his last supper with the disciples and what he did for humanity and what was the significance of his death and why he had to die.

My friend replied stating that he found my plans interesting, but asked another question: 'Isn't that a message which we should share all year around?'

I replied, that G-d has a different focus for each season. For the Passover season, he wants us to reflect on Christ' death and resurrection. For the season of Pentecost, we focus on the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the church. During the fall festivals, he wants us to focus on the return of Christ and the second advent.

Specifically, the Passover seasons is the spiritual beginning and renewal of the year. We are renewed spiritually for the rest of the year and in preparation for the outpouring of the spirit for the harvest, that prepare us for our work and contribution to the harvest and eventually the harvest itself.

I thank G-d for friends who like me are seeking the spiritual food in the season that G-d has made it available.

My friend, you have already started to celebrate Passover, at least spiritually. Seeking G-d and his meaning in this season is how G-d intends for us celebrate his feasts, his spiritual feasts. By seeking the spiritual food that he has for us in the season that he has prepared it. Just like how you look for mangoes in their season and other fruits in their season; so with the natural, so with the spiritual

It is G-d that created the lights of the sky to mark seasons and times (

G-d binds his feasts to the seasons, communicating to us that his feasts will never be done away with. Even after the second advent, we will be invited to his commemorative feasts and celebrations (

In the Bible, G-d says that his seasons will never end  ( 

G-d in the Bible also declares that there is nothing done under heaven that is not done within a season or within time (

Lessons from a Passover service I attended in 2011

United Congregation of Israelites
5:30 PM Pesach Services
April 18, 2011

I attended and caught the last part of the services, where I heard the message on the meaning of Pesach/Passover. What I am doing here is a basic summary, as I arrived at the synagogue drained of all intellectual alertness, and was afraid to take out a pen and write down the ideas said. Instead, I  sought to follow the intellectual message with my mind and record new ideas that resonated with me. 

The meaning reflected on in this particular service was on the significance of freedom and the contribution of Jewry towards human liberation. Freedom the rabbi said is not just physical, but also spiritual. Persons do not know they are enslaved spiritually until they are set free. The Jewish experience of bondage in Egypt represents spiritual bondage from which we must become free, in order to make our contribution to the world and to usher in a "new world order" (the rabbi's words, not mine).

Jewish freedom led to the world's monotheism, as prior to Jewish freedom, the world did not know G-d. Jewish liberation from bondage in Egypt led to the world's awakening to who G-d was and established (or I would say re-established) monotheism as the standard of world religions. 

Jewish freedom will eventually lead the reign of peace throughout the earth. When the Mashiach/Messiah returns, he will lead the Jews again to freedom and establish a 'New World Order' based on the reign of peace.

As I reflect on the rabbi's message, I could summarise this thought trough these words: 
Jews were set free from a world superpower in order to get the world to recognise the one who holds supreme power.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Adventist Christmas and New Year conundrum

If there is one (of many) thing[s] that irks me about the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church today is the inconsistency of its theology. On one hand, they hand out religious liberty tracks that paint Roman Catholicism as the whore of Babylon that has lead the world away from true worship. Then in December, the church begins to observe two of Rome's holy or special days: Christmas and New Year. And in North America, the idolatry is heightened when the SDA church decorates it halls and interior with 3-dimensional representations of angels and other creatures or objects of heaven or earth (including the snowman image/sculpture) (Jeremiah 10:3-9). Further, the Christmas tree is decked with these objects and jewels. Then the church calls on the writings of Adventist pope, Ellen G. White, to justify these practices (The Adventist Home Chapter 77, p. 477-483). This is done, despite Pope White not stating that she got a direct revelation from God that Christmas and New Years must be observed.

While I have no problem with my brethren, the Roman Catholics observing these days, and even my fellow Sunday Protestants doing the same, it strikes me that for Adventists, the practices are oddly inconsistent with their theology and teachings, especially their narrow interpretation of their mission of the three angels message in Revelations 14:6-9. From what they taught me, if Rome's worship involves changing God's calendar and deciding when to observe what, then if you are calling people to the true worship, why not point them back to God's original calendar that he first gave to his people the Jews. If you point fingers on Rome, then why do you do some of what they do, but not everything? If you go part way with Rome, why not all the way?

In the Bible, God only has one new year, the Passover (the 14th of Nissan) (Exodus 12:2). However, today Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah as a second "new year", especially when it announces a year of jubilee (Gordon, 2014). However, scholars dispute this second "new year" (Gordon, 2014; Rood, 2004), with Rood (2004) indicating that the real Biblical new year is the month of Aviv or Passover.

As for Christmas, if the Adventist church developed in protest against Roman Christianity, why has it not opted to adopt the Eastern Christianity's Christmas date in January?

Nonetheless, I want to wish a Merry Christmas to all you who celebrate it without theological inconsistency! Whether on December 25th or in January.


Gordon, N. (2014, Sep. 26). Nehemia's wall: Uncovering ancient Hebrew sources of faith. [Blog post] Retrieved from

Rood, M. (2004). The Pagan-Christian connection exposed: A Rood awakening. Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos

White, E. G. (2001). Christmas. The Adventist home: Counsels to Seventh-day Adventist families as set forth in the writings of Ellen G. White. Maryland: Trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A call for a Post-Protestant and Post-Evangelical Christian community

Before making my point, let me begin with the dream I had on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

The dream

  1. A PhD colleague and I were in what appeared to be St. Catherine, Jamaica (one of my home parishes), driving to Western Jamaica.
  2. It was late evening, and we encountered traffic.  My friend decided to pull over into a church yard, to wait for the traffic diminish.
  3. We happened to pull over into a Baptist church yard (could have been any church denomination however) and it was having a late evening service.
  4. I pointed out to my colleague that this church was the denomination of my wife as a child, though not in this parish (she's from Western Jamaica).
  5. I suggested that we could go inside and sit and take in some of the service.
  6. So we went inside and sat in the pews at the back.
  7. The people were in worship with a lead singer and a live band leading them in song.
  8. After listening to the praise song for a few minutes, my colleague got up, and to my surprise (and everybody else to that matter), grabbed the cordless microphone from the female lead singer and said "Thank you, sister". (My colleague was not a Christian based on my knowledge).
  9. He then brought and handed the microphone to me.
  10. So I began to speak "Bless the Lord..."
  11. Before I could finish my sentence, the lead, grabbed the microphone back and said "you have no right to speak!"
  12. My colleague departed and I followed him.
  13. For the rest of our journey in the car, I embarrassingly sought to explain to him the actions of the lead and about how different denominations regulate who can speak during worship services. 

End of dream.

I will not render an analysis of the dream, but on the other hand, I find it useful to  make a point. The point that I think it can make is that we need a new Christian community and way of being to meet the needs of a new generation of skeptics and Bible doubters.

The Christianity that I was raised in has served its time. While Christianity rightly assumes that God exists and that the Bible is his revelation to humanity, the way that we go about our worship services and our mission needs to be more oriented around the teaching aspect of the great commission, and less around music and songs. Our church experience can not just be oriented around sermonizing and acknowledging God through music and liturgical ceremony. The needs of my generation no longer fit with the model in which we conduct our services or ministry. No longer are people certain that God exists and that God is good. Further, they are not so sure about the Bible.

My generation wants a community that provides answers and respond to concerns that they have about the goodness of God and the difficult passages in the Bible. My generation wants to believe in a benevolent God and want to believe in the Bible, but there is no guide or shepherd to help them process doubts and questions. Our church services do not help. Structuring it around music and praise do not meet the needs of this new generation, who need teaching and a forum for questions and answers. We need more church services structured around teaching with live Q & A.

This model is not alien to Christianity. Jesus, our chief example, did "sermons" where unbelievers could ask questions and where he gave candid answers, questions or parables in response. The church in Acts, also provide evidence that the apostles spent more time teaching and expounding upon Scriptures and the life events of Jesus than in any scripted music, song and liturgical ceremony. The early dynamic community of Christians had lots of teaching and doctrine, and seemingly had less good singing and music.

Further, if we are going to speak to each other in song, as Apostle Paul admonishes us, shouldn't we sing songs that speak to the needs and themes that we have to deal with today? The hymns of yesteryear cannot be sufficient. And contemporary songs must address the skepticism and the spirit of the age.

This is why I argue that the Billy Graham generation is over. "Crusade" style worship and evangelism will not win the souls of my generation. Today we need new anointed teachers and singers that do things differently. Teachers and singers that shake up our deeply held traditions and formats for Christian service or ministry. Teachers and singers that will centre our services, ministry and worship around Bible reading, teaching and questioning. To centre our worship around discussing the Bible and God's goodness in a world where many have questions and doubt.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pluro-cracy (a poem)

Poet's note
The following is a poem that came to me this morning. I leave you the reader to do the interpretation and to figure out the references. The title is wanting, but the sentiments and imagery that I want to interrogate are captured here in these words. I hope this poem helps us all to reflect on our politics and ideologies (regardless of what political orientation or ideology we hold).

The Poem

has fallen,
liberty's fallen
All over, in the streets,

Out in small numbers,
varied protesters
are encircled by
social justice police

are legislated,
love's legislated
hate's a crime,
are they robots or humans?

People being programmed,
Even the hackers are being

As liberal democracy
gives way to just liberal tyranny
and freedom retreats
to a relic of a forgotten past.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Defending the Christian observance of Jewish feast days

Our 2014 mini sukkah built with craft sticks, felt and the leaves of an evergreen tree

Interior of our mini family sukkah, awaiting the handmade furniture

October 8, 2014 marks the beginning of the current season of Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles where some Jews that observed the mitzvah and slept in a booth and might have seen the lunar eclipse. For me, while I made a mini sukkah (see above) with my girls, I spent the night looking at the lovely moon through my window. Wrapped in the comfort of my warm blanket, I did not envy anyone who had to sleep outdoors (especially in the Ontario, Canada) on that night. However, I do envy the spiritual lessons and blessings that those who did would be learning and receiving.

I recently read the preface of a paper by Tom Roberts that discusses that Christians can "glean much from every religious tradition". He further went on to state that "truth is not the property of any one organization or creed". Robert continues to suggest that:
Christianity in general owes the Jewish people a great debt for giving us the Hebrew Bible as well as the Jewish Messiah which led into the Hebrews roots of early Christianity. While much was wrong with these traditions that Our Lord encountered, they still preserved the revelation of God so the truths in scripture could be found by those who are guided by the Holy Spirit.
While I do not know if I fully agree with all of Robert's statements, they definitely resonate with me. I believe that Christianity today is a religion that is formed from an amalgamation of Jewish and pagan traditions. However, my stance as a Judeo-Christian believer is that the pagan traditions of Christianity should be given up and that we should return to our more Jewish traditions. However, this idea has been found problematic and even offensive to Jews.

I still remember when a Jewish rabbi unfriended me from Facebook because I announced my celebration of a "Christian Passover". He found it offensive and I could not understand why. Well, it was not until the 2014 Passover season when I discovered this article by Rebecca Cynamon-Murphy, a wife of a Jew, but also a Christian that made these remarks which made it more clear why a Christian Passover is offensive:

When people learn that, as a lifelong and practicing Christian, I am married to a Jewish man and that we practice both religions in our house, I often become the safe person to ask about Judaism. I like this advocate role for the opportunity it gives me to gently encourage folks to look at ways in which their privilege as a member of a majority population can sometimes cause them to cause offense.
Several times, I have encountered folks who wanted to host their own Passover seders. Their logic is that since Jesus was celebrating Pesach during the week when he was arrested, tried, executed and resurrected, in a desire to be more Christ-like, they too should celebrate the holiday. 
Christians may desire to become more Christ-like or to develop deeper understanding of Christian roots, but hosting a Jewish Passover outside of the context of Jewish relationships does more harm than good. Christians celebrating their own Passover do unwitting harm to the Jewish people because they ignore centuries of persecution of Jews—and they do harm to themselves by ignoring their real-life Jewish neighbors, treating them as relics rather than people.

That article better helped me to understand why my rabbi [former] friend found it offensive. Cynamon-Murphy (2014) raises the sensitive issue of cultural appropriation. I appreciated this point as I can understand how someone from another culture appropriating something from another person's culture can be deemed offensive.

But it brings me to the reflection that Christianity has nothing much that is original. The majority of our traditions and teachings were appropriated from either Jewish or pagan origins (Greek or Roman). In fact, Christianity tends to appropriate national cultural heritage into their traditions. We use Jewish texts and add to it. We then interpret those texts using Greek and Roman philosophies and interpretative methods. Or we appropriate pagan stories and substitute the name of the pagan characters with Christian ones.

Hence, as I reflect, I have the same Bible as the Jews, except with the New Testament additions. Am I therefore not free to adopt any traditions that help me better appreciate the Bible and its context? Christianity does not have any [non-pagan] family traditions that help children to relive the stories of scriptures. As a friend of mine once said:

Judaism puts a lot more stock in the traditions of the fathers than Christians do. They tend to follow what they have inherited. Christians form new traditions with every new group; and they aren't as ingrained, partially because they are often learnt through conversion, not through parent-child relations.

I believe that the Haggaddah and other Jewish traditions help me to fulfill the Deut. 6:6-9 verse (and even Psalm 78:3-8) that tells me to talk about God's commandments and deeds to my children. Of course I could create my own, but it is so much easier to borrow best practices and reinvent them to meet personalized needs. Isn't preferable to adopt and appropriate the traditions from the people who God gave his oracles (Romans 3:2) rather than from those who Satan deceived? 

Edited for some corrections regarding the timing of the lunar eclipse and other minor wordings.


Cynamon-Murphy, R. (2014, Apr. 11). Why Christians should not host their own Passover Seders. Religion Dispatches. Retrieved from

Roberts, T. [n.d.]. The Law, Sabbath and redemption. Retrieved from

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My 2014 Rosh Hashanah/Feast of Trumpets reflections: Part 1

This season of the feast of 2014 Rosh Hashanah or Feast of Trumpets, I sought the message from God. On this occasion, the message came from several experiences and events that helped to reveal to me the spiritual lessons. In this post, I summarise the events and experiences and the lessons I drew from them regarding God's will/purpose for me.

Event/Experience 1: An email message from Sid Roth 

So I subscribe to Sid Roth, because occasionally I might hear an interesting program now and then. But to get to the point, my wife and I watched and listened to his Rosh Hashanah message, which is also an appeal for us to donate money to his program/ministry. What was particularly interesting to me about the message was the story related by Roth (2014) about a woman being taken to heaven by large two angels. These two angels, on their way with the woman to heaven, began to experience difficulties in lifting her. They then pointed out that it was not their fault, but it was because of her sins. Roth (2014) then goes on to mention that for this new year, we need to make some changes, including dropping habits and sins that we might have been comfortable with in the previous year,

Event/Experience 2:

The next morning, my wife tells me her dream. She indicates that she felt God convicting her to stop playing a certain Facebook game.

Event/Experience 3:

In the same day, I participated in the review of some programs at Western University with external reviewers with the purpose of seeking ways for the programs to improve and confirm that the programs were indeed faultless.

The lessons revealed:

So I ask God in my mind, what is it that I am to learn from all these as well as "what is your sermon or message to me for this Rosh Hashanah season?" The message I received:

  1. God wants me to grow. Things or sins that I was comfortable with prior to Rosh Hashanah, I must now let go off. Especially if I want to live with God.
  2. Just as how universities review programs to determine how to improve them, the same principle applies with God, God desires continuous improvement in his followers or believers. We are to grow and keep on growing in the faith and producing more abundant spiritual fruit.

To grow, I must let go off sins I once cherished. I can't say "but I am a much better person today than I was 10 years ago!" That will not cut it. I cannot excuse my current sins by arguing that such sins are not as bad as how I was years ago. God doesn't want me to stop growing. He doesn't want me stuck in the past. He wants annual growth and improvement and annual shedding of sins. He wants perfection, and he wants us to annually shed sins and grow towards such perfection.


Roth, S. (2014). Rosh Hashanah 2014 — Jewish new year. Sid Roth's It's Supernatural! Retrieved from

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Jewish" prophecies and the Middle East in the Christian's Gospel?

One of the key concepts that Jesus preached about during his time was the kingdom of God. Several theologians and scholars have discussed this idea (Aslan, 2013; Chilton, 2000). Yet, this concept has been missing in today's version of most of Christianity's gospel (see previous related blog post discussing a bible study on the concept). Interestingly, I discovered this recent reading that summarizes this:
Within a very short period after the Church was founded on the day of Pentecost, A.D. 31, a violent controversy arose concerning whether the gospel to be proclaimed was the gospel of Christ—Jesus’ own gospel that he proclaimed and taught, or a gospel about Christ. Jesus had come as a messenger bearing a message from God about the kingdom of God. That message was his gospel. But soon many were ignoring Jesus’ gospel—the kingdom of God—and preaching merely that Jesus was the Christ, preaching about the messenger, ignoring his message or gospel. That is still continuing today. (Pack, 2012, p. 10)
Jesus's teachings about the kingdom of God was informed by the Jewish prophets. According to Chilton (2000), Jesus based his identity and mission on the prophets. In his biography of Jesus, where Chilton tries to reconstruct the life of the historical Jesus, Chilton (2000) suggests that Jesus applied prophetic visions from Daniel to understanding self.
In the wilderness he began to use a vision from the book of Daniel, an angel beside the Throne of God called in Aramaic "one like a person", who brought him close to his Abba in the divine court of heaven. This "one like a person" was shortly to emerge as the anchor of Jesus' visions and of the visionary discipline he taught his followers. (p.132)
As such, Chilton's words seem to be supported by Pack (2012) who states that the "New Testament Church" or the movement that Jesus founded is built directly upon the Jewish prophets and prophecies. According to Pack:
Did you realize that the New Testament Church is built directly on top of the prophets? I never heard this in Sunday school or in the church of my youth. Ephesians 2:19-20 says, “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.” There it is—the Church stands directly on a foundation that includes the prophets! What is written in the
prophets is instruction to God’s New Testament Church! (p. 23)
Considering these things, it is very essential that Bible believing Christians not just focus on New Testament scriptures. For frankly, in the time of Jesus, the New Testament wasn't even written. The foundation of the teachings of Jesus and his disciples were the Jewish prophets. But not to take my word for it, check out the following testimonies from New Testament passages:

Luke 24:27 (New International Version)And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Or 2 Peter 1: 19-21 (New Living Translation)
19Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. 20Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.
And the majority of these "Jewish" prophets made forecasts of the future of no other region than the region of the Middle East (not America or anywhere else in the West). As such, as Pack (2012) mentions, the "[e]vents in the Middle East carry far greater significance than most even begin to understand" (p. 24). Yes, the Middle East is the centre of many Jewish prophecies, including the ones about the kingdom of God that Jesus preached.

This said, Western Bible believing Christians and Jews (who believe in the same prophetic sources), should be intently watching what's happening in Egypt, Libya, Syria and all the places of the so-called Arab spring. For one thing is certain is that all these places are mentioned in the prophecies of the so-called "Old Testament". The very gospel of the kingdom that Jesus told his disciples to teach is based on Middle-East events and territories.


Aslan, R. (2013). Zealot: The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. New York: Random House.

Chilton, B. (2000). Rabbi Jesus: An intimate biography. New York: Doubleday.

Pack, D. C. (2012). Bible authority: Can it be proven. The Restored Church of God: St. Catharines, ON. Retrieved from

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Alsan, R. (2013). Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. New York: Random House.

So I recently read Reza Aslan's (2013) Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan, a one time Muslim convert to Christianity (see his "Author's Note") and now theologian, writes a book that is compelling to read about what he claims to be a historical Jesus. In this blog entry, my task is to review this work, but more importantly to give my take, perspective or interpretation of the work. So this review is not objective or anything my librarian colleagues would see as a fair assessment. It is my personal and spiritual interpretation to let you see what I saw as valuable from the work and discuss my reaction to Aslan's arguments. Now you can disagree with what I saw or how I experienced the work, but it still does change the reader's experience and reaction that the book evoked in me as I read it.

To begin, I must say that I appreciated Aslan's "Author's Note". This was where Aslan provided a personal story of how he became interested in Jesus. It is in this section that I find that I have things in common with the author. Being a born again Christian at age 15, then a returning interest in the religion in which I was raised after disillusionment. Then an interest in the scholarship and authentic research on the gospels. However, unlike Aslan, I am okay with managing doubts and working with faith until future information is revealed. For me, faith and hope narratives are the stories told about the future and the past that help to manage the uncertainty of the present and future. And this is what all religious faiths are about, in my opinion: managing the uncertainty about future and present events.

Yet, Aslan's book is not written from that perspective of faith, but uses a method that seeks to be skeptical of the gospel accounts, and attempts to use other sources and traditions apart from that of the Christian church to reconstruct and tell the story of Jesus. Aslan's book focuses on the historical or human Jesus rather than Jesus the Christ. Aslan as such attempts to reconstruct a portrait or biography of the historical character of Jesus based on sources regarding the times of Jesus, in an approach that Pope Benedict XVI (2006) dubs the "historical-critical" method.

Pope Benedict XVI (2006) sums up the limitations of this method, arguing that while one can look for the historical person of Jesus underneath the faith viewpoint of the writers fo the New Testament and beyond Christian tradition, such a method typically leads one to construct Jesus either as an "anti-Roman revolutionary working-though finally failing- to overthrow the ruling powers" or as a "meek moral teacher who approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief"(p. 13). Pope Benedict XVI (2006) adds that "far from uncovering an icon that has been obscured over time" such reconstructions reflect more the author's ideals or beliefs about Jesus (p. 13). When I read about Aslan's Jesus, I see images of what resembles an anti-Roman revolutionary that reflects extremist ideology and violent fundamentalism (I will get into details later).

Nonetheless, like Pope Benedict XVI (2006), I agree that this historical reconstruction of Jesus and his times is useful as the story of Jesus is based on real historical events and not made up stories or fables. As the second book of Peter states, real events were witnessed by the followers of Jesus, from which the faith began and developed (2 Peter 1:16-18). As such, as with folklore, it is very much possible that these real events were given meaning by the apostles and believers until they have been obscured by myth-making and theological interpretation. Aslan is of this view and as such seeks to retell the gospels highlighting what might be truth and what is "pure fiction" or myth and what rings true based on other more credible historical sources (p. 47). 

The first limitation that Aslan points out is that the gospels were written long after the events had transpired. He further argued that the gospels were also not likely to be written by the whom they were named after. He further points out that none of the original 12 apostles could have written the gospels as they were all illiterate Aramaic-speaking peasants, who had no formal training in writing Greek. These are all fair points, but I wished the author would address the issue that even though they may not have penned the works directly, it is very much possible that they could have appointed others to tell their stories on their behalf. 

First, there is Matthew Levi, who was a wealthy tax collector ("Saint Matthew", 2014). Surely he did have the resources to pay for a scribe. Then there is Luke who is said to accompany Paul (Ellis, 2014). Aslan even surmises that Luke was a student of Paul. Sure Luke was educated enough and Greek enough to write his own gospel. Then there is Mark, which could be the same John Mark related to Peter and also hanged out with Paul and Barnabas ("Saint Mark", 2014). Surely he too could have written his own gospel. Then there is John, who lived the longest among the apostles (Hauer, 2002). Even if he did write his story, it is possible that he could have had a scribe to write his biographical portrait of Jesus. As such, it does not seem unreasonable that these men would still be the authors or at least the sources for these gospels. As the second letter of Peter suggests, the apostle felt he had a duty to ensure that what he witnessed was established in the memory of the believers (2 Peter 1:12-15). As such, the motivation to write about and tell of the gospel as experienced by these believers was certainly present, despite the events being recorded decades after they transpired.

The second limitation that Aslan points out is that Mark seems to be the first gospel and source that informs the other later gospels. No issue at all. Modern folkloric studies have discovered that once a folklore or tradition is written, it influences and affects future tellings. No news there!

A third point that Aslan makes is that there seem to be historical inaccuracies in the gospels. Yet, I find that point to be true of any writing or written source that is recorded after the events have transpired when people rely on memory or oral tradition. There is bound to be omissions and additions to the material. Further, the practice of adding to Christian writings seems to be so prevalent, that the final testimony of John revealing Jesus the Christ in the book of Revelations seek to deter this practice by pronouncing a curse on those who altered the original source. But even if the gospel writers mixed up some dates or names of people and places, such mistakes are easily negligible. These things do not change the fact that they are still based on real events that transpired told by fallible human beings based on oral traditions passed down from the early church as well as reliant on the memory of those who witnessed these events. 

Yes Aslan paints the picture that Jesus was a failed Messiah, who carried out healings and miracles, with the aim of gathering a band of followers armed with swords to overthrow the priestly caste and establish God's new world order in Jerusalem. (Aslan is clear however that there is no historical contention that Jesus was a miracle worker. Some of his miracles such as healings and curing people of demons were in fact practiced by others in his time.) Aslan further suggests that it is the followers of Jesus who decided to repaint his failed campaign in order to explain his death and the new order had not yet arrived as was expected.

Yet, the problem that Aslan can not or does not go around is the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. While disciples could have use proof texting to find verses in the Scriptures to justify how Jesus fit into Messianic prophecies, it is unlikely that they could fabricate stories about Jesus rising from the dead, so much to the extent that they would risk their lives and die for such a fabrication. In addition, belief in the resurrection was so real and genuine that even James, the brother of Jesus, who saw Jesus after the resurrection, repented and believed in Jesus and later headed or led the Christian movement.

Further, Aslan, acknowledges and names the many false Messiahs in that time. Yet he acknowledges that with the exception of John the Baptist, Jesus is the only one that had followers that still saw him as the Messiah after his death and established one of the world's largest religious following.

Finally, what was most valuable for me from Aslan's book was the historical look at Jewish extremism and terrorism in the times of the Roman occupation. For me, this has many parallels to today's Muslim extremism and terrorism in the time of what many today call "Israeli occupation" of Jerusalem or "Palestine". From this reconstruction of history, I learned that terrorism for an ideological cause did not begin with 9/11, but was prevalent at the birth of Jesus, where Jewish peasants with much zeal sought to bring about an end to Roman rule or occupation and to commence God's rule through the use of violence and terror. I saw in Aslan's historical accounts or reconstruction our world today where Islamist extremist and terrorist groups like Boko Haram, the Islamic State (ISIS) and Hamas, seek to usher in Allah's prophecies through the use of violence. And as a result, I am offered a view as to why such groups operate as they do and how they use historical events in the scriptures to justify their present actions. The main idea that they take from the stories of scriptures is that God or Allah will only act when the believers act with zeal to accomplish his will. I thoroughly disagree with this "zealot" interpretation of scripture that requires being the subject of a future blog posting.


Ellis, E. (2014). Saint Luke. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from 

Chadwick, H. (2014). Saint John the Apostle. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Hauer, C. (2002). John the evangelist, Saint. (pp. 216-217) In Traver, A. G. (Ed.). From polis to empire, the ancient world, c. 800 B.C.-A.D. 500: A biographical dictionary. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Pope Benedict XVI. (2006). Jesus of Nazareth: From the baptism in the Jordan to the transfiguration. Doubleday: Toronto. [Read as an e-book)

Saint Mark. (2014). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Saint Matthew. (2014). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bible study on the kingdom of God

I recently attended a Bible study at Worldwide Church of God/Grace Communion International (WCG/GCI) in Christian Pen, Gregory Park, St. Catherine (in Jamaica), where I was privileged to be a part of a Bible study on the kingdom of God. Such a topic is of great importance to Christian believers as the message of Jesus is basically centred around this concept. In fact, in Matthew 6:33, God's kingdom is something that Jesus commands us to seek and make a priority above everything else. Further, after John's arrest, Jesus began his ministry preaching that the time has come for the fulfillment of prophecy regarding God's kingdom and that the God's kingdom would soon be present (Mark 1:14-15). Further, many of the parables of Jesus are also about this kingdom. As such, it is important for the followers of Christ Jesus to fully understand the concept of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, which is so essential to the gospel message or the good news. In this blog post, I share some of the thoughts shared as to what is the kingdom of God.

What is the kingdom of God?

When the question was raised at the Bible study, the facilitator of the Bible study, Mr. L. Joiles stated that the kingdom of God, synonymous with the kingdom of heaven, is a system of governance, where the word of God as king is law and governs all affairs on earth. Joiles took us back to Daniel 2:44, where there is a prophetic word uttered by an angel to Daniel as an interpretation to a dream. This revealed interpretation of the events in the dream established that there would be several kingdoms or global super powers to control world affairs and colonise the earth. However, in the book of Daniel, it is foretold that a global super power established by God himself would outlast all these global super powers or kingdoms. This eternal super power would be headed by God as king, but will also be governed by the consent of those God governs, as all his enemies will be put to death and all opposition to his rule silenced.

As Joiles presented this, I realised that the kingdom of God did not begin with Moses. While God established a theocracy with the Israelites with Moses by giving the law at Mount Sinai, this type of system of governance was confined to a particular group or nation of people, and not a global system. Yet, even this system was rejected  by the Israelite people, who later asked Samuel to give them a king like the other nations around them (1 Samuel 8:5).

Yet, even though God established a limited system of governance for the entire affairs of a nation, he foretold of the global king in Genesis 3:15. This king mentioned of in Genesis would be the offspring of human beings that will crush or bruise the serpent's (or the Devil's) head or authority over the earth and men. At the same time, the serpent would bruise the king's heel which could perhaps be interpreted as the messengers or followers or the carriers of the message (see Isaiah 52:7; Ephesians 6:15; Romans 10:15).

As I contemplate these things, I remember words from the founder of WCG, Herbert W. Amstrong, charging that the majority of Christianity today does not preach the gospel, because they omit the from their version of the gospel any reference to the kingdom of God. Yet to be fair, I've heard Christians discuss that the Holy Spirit living in us and empowering us to do the works and miracles of Christ is the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth. However, this raises the conundrum as to whether or not Jesus taught of a physical coming of the kingdom of God or just as spiritual manifestation of the kingdom. This to me is the next area that needs to be discussed. Unfortunately, I will be absent from the next WCG/GCI's Bible study to raise the question, but hopefully the Holy Spirit will provide further clarification for me on this matter. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The dilemma facing Protestant and Evangelical Christians in the West

The greatest dilemma today for Protestant and Evangelical Christians in the West is how to treat the Scriptures. Do we see them as the inspired words of God to live by and the standard to judge the morality of our own lives and that of society? Or do we see some of it as being inspired and other parts as not being useful or applicable today? Which portions of the Scriptures do we live by and which ones do we leave out or omit from our practice? Do we order our lives "sola scriptura", or by church traditions or by reason? Do we embrace modern scientific thinking or post-modern philosophy in helping us guide our decision-making about which Scriptures we can apply to our lives? Do we accept science to help us decide which Scriptures make sense and which ones are just parables, mythical or fables (if any?)? Or do we adopt the zeitgeist of postmodernism in determining that our faith is not the one true faith, but just one of several possible truths?

While I've been Evangelical for part of my life, I have realised from my own walk with God that I only have his Scriptures to guide me into discerning truth and error, especially in an era when Jesus himself prophesied that there will be great deceptions. And when I analyse the situation even more, I find that the disciples of Jesus and Jesus himself did not have a New Testament Bible. For them, the only Scriptures they owned were the Old Testament. With that fact in mind, Jesus and all his apostles based their doctrine and teachings around the Old Testament Scriptures (or the Torah) and through interpretations and re-interpretations of those Scriptures.

For me then, the question is not about which Scriptures are valid for instructing me and for application in today's world. All the scriptures are a standard  to show what God likes or approves of or to reveal humanity's past, present or future. As the apostle Paul declares in 2nd Timothy 3:15-17 according to the New Living Translation (NLT):

15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
However, the Bible is also complex, as it is compiled from various authors, contains diverse genres of content including laws, regulations, proverbial sayings, songs, folk wisdom, stories, genealogies, lists, histories, and reports. Yet despite its complexity, God uses it to help us identify what is good and what is wrong and to prepare us to do good.

Yet, the dilemma for Christians today is that our environment is changing. Historically, we moved from a persecuted minority religion to a popular majority in the Wes during the age of Constantine's reign in Rome. We in the West have enjoyed that status and the many privileges since then, perhaps taking our privileges and status as State sanctioned religion for granted, while Eastern Christians faced persecution for holding to their beliefs. Now as the West becomes diversified, our privileges and status are being taken away. Out of fear we attempt to preserve such through politics and legislation.

Yet, we forget our history, that when the disciples and apostles were preaching their doctrines, things that were practiced then in the 1st century are only now becoming legal and respectable int he 21st century (child sacrifice or abortion, witchcraft, paedophilia, homosexuality etc.). Somehow, when Christianity became legal, legitimate and the popular majority, such things were outlawed and driven underground.

So we must now see ourselves in the proper perspective. Do we believe the Scriptures only when the law and scholarship (or university intellectuals) are on our side? This is the test of our time. Just as how Job was tested, Satan accuses God about  our service to God. As illustrated in Job 1:8-10 in the New International Version (NIV):

8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.

This charge is now being brought against us. Do we serve Christ because our faith is privileged or protected by our state?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The case against abortion as a "right": Emerging views

I have been reluctant to give my views on this debate, fully aware of the controversies and the passion on both sides. However, I find the views that I am about to share are missing from what I have heard or read. Had someone spoken or written these views, then I could keep silent. But the fact that they are absent means that perhaps I am the person that needs to provide this perspective.

In summary, the flow of my argument is this:

  • rights are things that we are born with, and not give due to our privileged access to technology and applied science
  • If a man or a woman wants to prevent conception, there are alternatives outside of abortion, including sterilization or making oneself an eunuch for career or other purposes
  • If a man or woman wants to delay conception, then there are also alternatives made possible by technology and applied science.
One of the things that bothers me the most is that organizations and individuals are calling for women to have a "right" to "safe" abortions. To me personally, while I fully agree with the argument that women should have a right to control their own bodies, to insist on abortion being a right is a stretch. For me, rights are things that we are born with and do not exist just because we have access to certain technology or applied scientific procedures. Rights are independent of our manipulation of natural laws and processes.

Secondly, to speak of abortion as a "right" is to imply that abortion is the only option or means for women to control their bodies and health. This to me is misleading, as there are other options made possible by technology and applied science that are open and available to women. If a man or woman is serious about preventing conception, there is the option of sterilization or according to the Biblical tradition "making oneself an eunuch". This procedure is totally endorsed by Biblical tradition and is respected by at least one Old Testament and one New Testament writer. Consider Jesus in Matthew 19:12:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others--and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
Then consider Isaiah (Isaiah 56:4-5):
For thus says the LORD, "To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, 5To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
And finally, consider Paul (1 Corinthians 7:1):

Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
As such, being a eunuch is the Biblically endorsed option to those who want to prevent conception. In fact, it is totally and morally okay to make yourself a eunuch for your career or some other purpose. 

Finally, if a man or woman wants to delay conception rather than make themselves a eunuch permanently, there is another option that makes possible delayed reproduction. This option involves freezing eggs or sperms until the desired time, and then having a surrogate mother or invitro fertilization. This process seems both expensive and unnatural to me as well. But it is definitely an option that should be made available for those who want the freedom of delayed pregnancies.

However, some might argue that not everyone can afford this option and that the poor will use traditional medicines and procedures that put women's lives at risk to circumvent these expenses. This is perhaps the biggest case for providing medical procedures. To prevent women from making bad choices in delaying conception that put their life at risk. However, even in this case, it seems to me that such women are making a choice. So even if we make available medically approved abortion, it does not change the fact that a choice is being made among various alternatives. The alternatives include: 
  • sterilization, 
  • saving eggs for later, 
  • having nature/God decide or 
  • just having the child. 
Considering this, it is clear to me that abortion is not a right, but a choice pursued among varied alternatives. [Unless abortion was the only alternative, then I would give it status as a "right"]. Even "safe" abortion procedures are selected among the varied options hat I have mentioned here (above). And until I get new information on the matter that changes my mind, I shall be critical of the discourse that promotes abortion procedures as a woman's "right".

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

We have no choice but to live together

I write this blog post out of concern for the dangerous trends that I see in my world. Despite all our advances in pluralism and multiculturalism, I see the world moving backwards. And I take to this blog to passionately rant about it.

Let me begin by saying that people, we must live together! There is no choice! Just like how you are born in a family and you have no choice about whom you are related to, it is the same with living in the world or a specific nation. People of different faiths, beliefs and creeds need to live together! We co-exist and inhabit the same world or planet. Whether you believe that God has put us together or not, the reality is that you cannot just wish to live among people of your own kind or your own belief! That is not your reality!

We are all neighbours. The Christian, the Jew, the Buddist, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Atheist, and the Agnostic and whatever faith or label that you identify yourself with! Yet, we all have to live together, despite our differences in opinion. And despite us having differences in opinion and belief, we must not only live together, but let other human beings also live and participate in society, politics  and economic activities.  No one should be prevented from participating in society, political or economic activity because off their creed, religious beliefs or any other criteria including sexuality, sexual orientation, gender etc.

Yet the great evils that I have seen all across the world including the West, is that there is great intolerance. In some nations, the intolerance is violent. Where mere mortals decide that only those of their same persuasion or belief must live and exist in their local space. Mere mortals, take the position or role of God to exterminate or eradicate other human beings who are not like them in belief , using force and coercion to establish their "like-minded" community or locality.

IT IS EVIL to force any person, against their consent to do what goes against their conscience! It is like slavery. It is just evil to force people to do what YOU want them to do. It is evil to force people to live as how YOU want them to live. As long as a person's beliefs is not to injure another person, then we have no right to use force or any persuasion of any form, including the law to compel others to do anything against their will.

I don't want to get into specifics, but the daily news is unbearable:

  • Boko Haram in Nigeria
  • Sri Lanka ultranationalist Buddhists violently attacking Muslims
  • Communist governments destroying places of worship 
  • Secularists telling people of faith that they must keep their religion at home and leave religion out of their decisions at work or in the public sphere or that people who don't believe in abortion must fund those who do
  • ISIS in Syria and Iraq and their attacks on Christians

We all have differences in opinion. But one thing that we all have in common: No one wishes to be coerced to do that which they disagree with! That is why slavery was and still is evil. It is inhumane to force another human being to conform to YOUR ideas about how they should live, work, be or exist. No human has the right to elevate themselves and their consciousness over another human being! As we are all human beings who are going to die, we must not seek to elevate ourselves and beliefs over others, because we will all meet the same fate. We are all going to be dust or dirt one day! It does not matter if we are rich, poor, religious, non-religious, straight, gay, vegetarian or omnivore, etc, we will die. We will all die like the animals that we eat or don't eat.

Let everyman come to his own conviction, not through force and coercion, but through experience, dialogue and through the process of questioning his own beliefs and testing the validity of those beliefs. I personally want my freedom to do this and would also want other who do not arrive at the same beliefs or conclusions to also go through this process.

After all, who wants to be locked into a world where he or she has to live as someone else dictates, who is mere mortal but yet claims to have more wisdom about what is right and whose authority cannot  be questioned or challenged. Yet, even in so-called democratic societies, I see this depressing situation.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A testimony that safety comes from the Lord

Prior to leaving for Vancouver on June 8, 2014,  a friend of the family insisted that I call her before the cab to the airport so that she could pray with me. Knowing that I had to wake up before 5 to make it in time for my 6:20 departure time, I literally shook my head at the thought that she wanted me to call her so early in the morning so that we could pray. I thought "why couldn't she just pray for me (without me calling her prior to my departure)?"

Well, the wisdom of her initiative was proven by the end of my trip. On my way to Vancouver, I lost my phone (either between connecting planes or the airport). Further, the hotel that I stayed at was situated in a location where I had to walk pass a lot of afflicted persons (homeless, seemingly drug addicts or users, possibly mentally ill and possibly prostitutes). Even though I thought to myself, that "this is Canada and it is much safer than downtown Kingston, Jamaica" I would later be surprised. On my departure from Vancouver airport, I learned of a gun battle in downtown Vancouver. To think that I might have walked in that very location as that incident and ended up nursing gun shot wounds humbled me. Further, my departure day also coincided with the funeral of the Moncton RCMP officers who were gunnned down by a lone heavily armed gunman.

Just the day before, I had told a friend that even though I walked past apparent drug users and afflicted people, I felt safer than Kingston, Jamaica, where I knew there were illegal guns. However, for the first time I realised that Canada was not as safe as I had thought.  This reminded me that safety and security does not come from migrating to a country with better policing, but from God who decides whether or not to preserve one's life from the evil intentions and inclinations of men (and Satanic forces).

So my prayer for you and me today is from Psalm 22:19-21, 29 (KJV):

But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.21 Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. 
May you be blessed and may the Lord indeed preserve your soul and life.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The case for child-centred church services

Being a father of young children causes me to look at "church" differently. Before my marriage, as a single man I was able to serve in offices and participate in pretty much any of the church's ministries. This changed even more so when I became a father. Just imagine getting ready for church and having to be late because you have to wait on the baby to awake on time. Then having to get up during the "service" to take your child outside, because the child cannot sit still and keep quiet during the sermon. Not to mention the mommies who have to breast feed or even bottle feed the child (which is informally and unofficially forbidden in the "sanctuary"). As such, being a parent, for the first time forces you to contend with how unfriendly "church" is to young parents and their children. [ Disclaimer: this does not apply to the home church where I raised in with my mother and father. Home churches always treat their grandchildren who they've not seen for a while with a grand homecoming welcome and spoil them of course.]

But that's not all. Your eyes begin to open up to the fact that the church in the 21st century is quintessentially structured for adult believers as the major constituency. [Maybe it is because this group is the major contributors of voluntary services (free labour) and tithes and offerings]. However, even with a church offering children services and programmes, you realise that these are the non-essential or fringe services of the church. Children services and programmes are merely outreach, and not the core of what the church is about. [Perhaps a way of reaching out to parents more than the children].

But when I look at the scriptures, I get a different image. Several verses and memory texts tell me of the importance of raising children in the faith from the womb or birth, teaching them while in their youth or infancy. Psalm 22:9-10 for example says:
Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. (NKJV)
From the child is sucking teats, the child is to be learning about God.

Another verse, 2 Timothy 3:15 says [breaking into the thought]:

from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Hence, children should be learning God's ways from infancy, not as teens or young adults.

A final example of scripture that tells me that the emphasis of teaching children about God is Psalm 71:17, which says:

Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
This is in addition to that proverb that says "train up a child in the way that they should go and when they are old, they will not depart from it".

But my point is that churches cannot be teaching children doctrines when they are teens or young adults. Doctrines must be taught when they are children. Further, church services cannot afford to cater to adult members and be centred around adult member programming. On the contrary, church has got to be vested in teaching, equipping and educating children for the work of Christian ministry. By this, I don't mean just investing in church schools, Sunday/Sabbath schools and one-off children programmes like Vacation Bible Schools. These are important, but even "traditional" worship services should be ceremonies for initiating children into the faith.

I personally find that church traditions like "communion service" in Protestant, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches fail to incorporate children unless they are baptized. Further, these churches generally baptize a child only when they are confident that the child has reached the age of "understanding" or consent. While church "worship services' are supposedly design to get me focused on God, there is no way that I can focus on God if my children are not engaged in what's going on. The structure of "church" has to be such that children can either participate or observe what is going on so that they can grow in either their understanding of the faith. This means providing opportunities for answer their questions about what is taking place as opposed to shushing them.

For me, an advanced believer with over 20 years of indoctrination (from both school and church), I don't really need the "worship services" as much. My spiritual needs lie in the discussion fora and the Bible studies. Those spaces and opportunities where I get to ask questions and share information. No need to be preached at (though I appreciate the storytelling, interpretations and retelling of familiar Bible stories). However, my concerns are now how to live out my faith in contemporary times. How to answer the questions of contemporary skeptics? Have we misunderstood anything that we now believe? Is there any more truth out of the scriptures that I need to comprehend? Did church founders miss knowledge that we now have access to?

Mark you, I am not saying that we need to do away with regular church worship service structure. Far from it, as this regular structure is still good for the newbies to the faith. It is new believers and children who need to hear sermons and instructions on morality and the purpose or meaning of life. The same group needs to be familiar with Bible stories and the themes of the Christian faith. The regular worship services should tell the grand narratives of Christianity's theme of salvation and redemption. However, we must ensure that children can meaningfully participate in such collective storytelling. (Didn't apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 admonish that we must make our services such that unbelievers can understand it and provide interpreters for those who have difficulties?) Hence regular church services should facilitate children participate in the telling and in meeting the introductory/orientation needs of newbies, while Bible classes/studies serve as the "extra-lessons" for the advanced believers.

After all, there is nowhere in Matthew's commission (Matthew 28:19) where I see a prescription for our current order of services. There is no prescription that we must collect offerings and listen to a sermon from one speaker. Jesus did not command those things and even in his sermons, there was space for interaction and the asking of questions. Rather, Matthew's great commission is for us to baptize, teach and make disciples. Hence, believers should be in the business of converting others to their viewpoint and worldview, instructing these new converts and mentoring them to take over the conversion business. And what better way to convert people to a particular worldview than when they are children with minds open for teaching and learning.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reasons why God permits the existence of trouble and calamity

In a previous blog post (Does God really help those who help themselves?), I discussed some of the sources of trouble and calamity. I want to follow-up on this subject by discussing in this post some of the main reasons why I perceive God permits and allows human beings to have troubles and sorrows.

First of all, it must be acknowledged that God permits suffering and troubles to affect both believers and unbelievers. Neither of the two groups may be exempt from suffering. However, both find themselves in difficult situations for distinct purposes.

For unbelievers, God permits them to have trouble in order to give them an occasion to encounter him. This comes out in Psalm 107's story of the rich merchants at sea. While the merchants set off on the sea to do business, God sends a storm to turn their trip into one where they lose themselves with fear (Psalm 107: 23-30). While it might seem in this case, that God gave them a wild amusement ride on the sea for the LULZ or to get a good laugh, in truth, the apparent motive in this story for God taking the merchants on a wild roller-coaster sea ride is for the purpose of introducing these rich and powerful merchants to their human limitations and inability to help themselves. This indeed allows one to recognise the need to believe and trust in God when one has no other source of help. Hence, unbelievers have trouble and sorrows as a megaphone to announce their need for a Saviour or Messiah.

But trouble does not stop there. Even when unbelievers become believers, they still face trouble. It is not sufficient to believe in God for all your troubles and woes to cease. Even those who believe in God still need and are faced with troubles.

For believers, the main reasons why we have trouble and sorrow are:

  1. So that we won't forget God. We can forget God if our lives are too comfortable. (Deut. 8:11-14; Proverbs 30:9). When we have all that we want to eat and have nice homes to live in and much stuff and possessions, it is easy to think we have it all. Hence, from time to time, God has to send trouble to remind us that we must not take all that we have for granted.
  2. So that he can prove if we truly believe in him. God gets glory out of us passing various tests of our faith. Our faith tried and tested prove that we are genuine (1 Peter 1:7). According to Apostle Paul, we are on display to the universe/multiverse (1 Corinthians 4:9). Earth is a laboratory that is being used to not only test us, but to reveal to other inhabitants of the universe/multiverse God's character and laws. We are being watched by other beings [angels and the different classes of angels] for our faith and how we respond to God as agents created with free will to settle a controversial matter about God (1 Peter 1:12). The story of Job also proves this (Job 1). In that story, God boasts to Satan about his servant Job. Satan therefore challenges God to a bet that Job is only serving God because God has been good to him. Hence, God takes the bet and let Satan bring trouble and calamities on Job so that he can prove to Satan that Job is a genuine believer and righteous man.
Hence, we are to count it joy when we have temptations, for as Jesus says, temptations must come (Matthew 18:7). As they say, 'you can't have a testimony without a test'. Just make sure that you trust in God so that you can past the test.