Tag Archives: subjectivity

Sense and Subjectivity

by Marv

This is the story of two sisters–and the man who loved them.

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5)

Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus–Jesus was their particular friend. There’s not a friend like Jesus–the soul of kindness, and if anyone had a just claim on that kindness, it is a particular friend.

But one day He disappointed them. Lazarus fell ill, and though they dispatched word to Jesus, they sat at their brother’s side, day after day, and watched him–anxious, frustrated, dumbfounded–as he sickened, dwindled and died. And where was Jesus? Where was their particular friend?

Now you know these ladies, daughters of the same mother and father, but so very different in their characters.

Martha is the one who, left to roll the canapés all on her own, dropped the “Don’t you care?” bomb on Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus? Care? You mean the one who left Glory for our sqalid hovel of a planet to come to our miserable kitchen, wipe up the spilled milk we cried over, scrape our burned toast, with His own hands–and at great personal cost–whip up a feast so nourishing that it endures for eternal life? That Jesus?

He told her, basically, that with Him there, a woman’s place was not in the kitchen.

And Mary, the other sister, she was the one who, shortly afterward will engage in–let’s face it–some pretty blatant emotional excess (John 12:1-7). It’s one thing to raise your hands while worshipping, but where’s the sense of decorum?

Still, Jesus doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, He quite approves. The congregation objects, however, particularly Judas (v. 4) who seems to have been working on commission (not the “great” one). Maybe Judas is the patron saint of the anti-emotionalists… Oh, wait, he can’t be anybody’s saint. Silly me.

So here we are, dearest brother Lazarus now dead and buried–for four days no less (V. 17)–before particular friend Jesus makes it to town. He even missed the funeral.

Martha, the sensible one, did the right thing and went to talk with Jesus. Mary, who couldn’t be separated from Him before, doesn’t go. She sits at home.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she says (v. 21). Makes sense. Perfectly theological. She was right. Worse than that, He could have healed Lazarus with a word from anywhere.

She does hint. Gives another very sensible proposition: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (v. 22). A statement of indubitable truth.

In return, Jesus gives her some of the most magnificent red letters in all the Bible.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (25, 26)

Now, I love me some propositional truth–I really do. Objective statements of Scripture that we can ground our lives on, as Jesus Himself said. The gospel is about Jesus Christ, what He did, and does, outside us. Martha understood this. She knows: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (v. 24). She believes: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v. 27).

Jesus gave Martha a great gift, showed her great kindness. Oh, that His very words to me might be written down forever in Scripture. Unimaginably gracious.

Then He asked to see Mary.

How was Mary feeling? Yes, feeling. Do you suppose John tells us for nothing that she stayed sitting in the house, while Martha went to see Jesus? Grieved over Lazarus, her heart was broken regarding Jesus. Yet, when He called for her, she hurried to Him (29, 31), and fell at His feet, crying. Not just “weeping,” crying (klaiousan).

And she said the same words as her sister: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And they were the same words, exactly the same words–and yet what she said was not the same.

Now bringing up the Greek, directly, need only be an occasional thing. But here it is necessary. I would not begin to know how adequately to render the difference in the two sisters’ statements to Jesus. So I will show you. Understand, you may have heard that word order is not important in Greek. This is perfectly untrue. It functions rather differently from English, but there are regular patterns and variations, and these signal meaning. One device is known as “fronting,” moving a word or phrase toward the front of a sentence or clause from where it usually would stand. This gives it something called increased “prominence,” which does any number of things, depending on the context.

This is what happens in this passage. The ladies no doubt were speaking in Aramaic, though John represents their speech in Greek. And he is an excellent and thoughtful writer, the difference, subtle perhaps, is non-accidental. Non-incidental.

Martha:
Κύριε, εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἂν ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός μου
Kurie, ei es hode ouk an apethanen ho adelphos mou
Lord, if you-were here not – died the brother of-me.

Mary:>
Κύριε, εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἄν μου ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός.
Kurie, ei es hode ouk an mou apethanen ho aldephos
Lord, if you-were here not – of-me died the brother.

Syntactically, the genitive pronoun which belongs with the noun it modifies, belongs at the end of the clause, is moved up in Mary’s speech about as far as it can go in it’s clause. Semantically, this alters the focus of the statement.

Martha is stating the objective reality about Lazarus. Just the facts, ma’am.

Mary, however, is saying something about herself. Very much personal. Very subjective. It’s something like “if you had been here I wouldn’t have lost my brother,” though that is too forceful, I think.

So what was Jesus’ response to her? What was the gift He gave Mary? Some precious objectivity?

Jesus wept. (v. 35)

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. (v. 33)

He was moved, troubled, emotional. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). This was His answer to her prayer. That she should “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

A subjective cry received a subjective response from our Lord, who cannot be unmoved by the tears, the cries, the pain of His particular friends.

He therefore felt with her, wept with her.

And raised her brother from the dead.

Remember, He knew all along that Lazarus was sick and dying, would die, and yet would not be left dead (4, 11, 13-15). He was acting on instructions (John 5:19), though it had to pain Him. And was He not acting in answer to prayer? The prayer, however, came later in time, or prayers, two at least, Martha’s and Mary’s.

There is great mystery here. Does it matter how we pray what we pray? “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). It’s not a matter of information. Is there something about mingling the subjective with the objective–as we were created for both?

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Heaven Is For Real – Book Review

by Scott

Most people are aware of the recently published and extremely controversial book by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins. But that book has drown out much engagement with other controversial books that have recently been released, including the one I speak of in this article. This book is not so much about a theology of heaven or hell, it’s rather an account of a nearly 4-year old boy’s trip to heaven. And, thus, you have the title, Heaven Is For Real.

So what’s the story?

It all centres around an extremely painful (both physical and emotional) event occurring one day in the life of little Colton Burpo (please lay aside any chuckling at the last name, as I will use it somewhat regularly). Following the bursting of his appendix in late February 2003, with neither his parents nor doctor realising such had happened for 5 full days, Colton finds himself intensely ill and on an operating table. It is during that time that Colton made his trip to heaven, a rather quick one from a human standpoint (3 minutes), but seemingly much longer from a heavenly perspective.

Of course, as I said, this is not nearly as contentious as Bell’s Love Wins. But it has still caused concern for some (i.e. here), with much of the controversy probably revolving around 2 main areas: 1) some of it’s possible theological ideas and 2) building theology on someone’s experience, especially that of a 4-year old. So I will address these two areas as I review  the book, though they will probably bleed together.

Here we have a book written by Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, though he is assisted by best-selling author, Lynn Vincent (most known as a co-author in Same Kind of Different As Me). One thing of import to note is that Todd Burpo is actually a pastor. He leads a small Methodist congregation in the small town of Imperial, Nebraska. But what is also of interest is that Colton’s story is being told by Todd, a father recounting the unique ways of how he came to learn of his son’s own supposed visit to heaven.

What you must understand is that this was just as much a struggle and challenge for Todd, and his wife, Sonja, as it will be for some Christians to read and believe this was an authentic visit to heaven. From the first time Colton tells of his visit (about 4 months following all of the surgeries) through to the present day, both parents have to ‘work through’ some things themselves.

So, if you read the book (or my review), don’t think you are the only one struggling with some of the things Colton says about heaven. His parents are walking through it much more than you and I, especially noting Colton’s father is a solid, evangelical believer (as far as I can tell from reading the book).

Some of the theological ‘problems’ in the book are not major ones as I understand theological problems. Probably the most difficult one, at least for evangelicals to swallow, is when Colton explains that all people in heaven have wings that help them fly and lights above their heads (think more of a shining brightness and not a gold circle as portrayed in cartoons). This is one of those places where Todd, the father, shares his struggle:

I couldn’t remember angels having lights over their heads specifically – or halos, as some would call them – but I also knew that Colton’s experience of angels in storybooks and Scripture did not include lights over angels’ heads. And he didn’t even know the world halo. I don’t know that he’d ever even seen one, since our bedtime Bible stories and the Sunday school lessons at church are closely aligned with Scripture. (p72-73)

I think it is interesting to consider this statement – ‘And he [Colton] didn’t even know the world halo.’

Todd makes similar statements a few times throughout the book, which seems to point to the fact that he does not want to manipulate what his son shares about the visit to or vision of heaven. Matter of fact, early on in the book’s account, Todd shares how one of his questions almost led Colton to answer in a certain way. Mr. Burpo did not want to walk down that road, but instead try to understand his 4-year old’s explanation of heaven. This could be a strong pointer that authenticity is quite likely.

Outside of the wings and lights above the heads, I don’t believe there were any other statements that challenge evangelical Christian beliefs (as if Colton even knows what theology or evangelicalism is).

One of the more personally challenging aspects of the book is Colton’s explanations of what he saw in heaven. They seem to come straight out of more ‘literal’ reading of Revelation – i.e. as if heaven really has streets of gold, as if we really will be hanging out in the clouds, etc.

For Todd, the father, these more literal descriptions seem to be a point of confirmation that Colton’s visit to heaven was real. But, for me, the main problem is that I see the book of Revelation, and other such Hebrew apocalyptic and prophetic visions, as just that – visions.

Revelation uses a lot of imagery to describe a greater reality of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, the pictures and the images and the numbers are more ‘symbolic’ or ‘figurative’, if you will. I’m not trying to strip Revelation of it’s truth as God’s word in Scripture. It literally means what it literally means. John really meant what he meant in describing that heavenly vision. But we have to ask what the heavenly vision literally meant and pointed to as God gave the vision to John, the apostle.

But what brings me solace, at least from a more theological standpoint, is that I realise that God has always accommodated himself to those to whom he reveals himself. Some of us might know of John Calvin’s description of God’s revelation being like baby-talk. If God spoke God-talk to 4-year old’s, or 34-year old’s or 74-year old’s, we wouldn’t understand him. Therefore, God accommodates to our level, speaks our language, makes himself understandable with where we are at, all to help us get glimpses of who he is in all his glory.

And so, for Colton to describe what he saw in the way he did, as if from a more ‘literal’ or ‘traditional’ sense (better words fail me right here), I have no problem with such. Again, though his father is a pastor, remember that, at just under 4-years old, there is not too much of a chance that Colton had been indoctrinated with what I might identify as a ‘traditional’ mentality of heaven – Jesus riding on actual white horse, people wearing white robes with sashes, everyone (or just angels) with wings, lights above people’s heads, even a future cosmic war to come (as if to support premillenialism). And so I very much believe Christ came to a young boy, a pure and simple-hearted young boy, and revealed himself in a way that Colton would understand.

And, if heaven happens to literally look like what Colton explains, then I’m fine with it. But I still think this is more vision-imagery explaining a greater reality. But my theology has been known to be wrong in other places.

I think there are some other telling factors that contribute to this being an authentic visit-vision. One is that, while in heaven, Colton says he met Todd’s grandfather who was affectionately known as Pop. Now, this might not seem a biggie, but the thing is that Pop had died almost 25 years before Colton was born. Colton had never met his great-grandfather and didn’t know anything about him. So, for Colton to tell his dad about Pop, well, you can imagine the shock of such. See more details in the book, p85-91.

Another interesting factor, maybe even more mind-boggling, is when Colton came up to his parents and said, ‘Mommy, I have two sisters.’ But, at that time, all he had was one older sister, Cassie. They thought he was also talking about his female cousin. But Colton replied, ‘No. I have two sisters, You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?’

Well, lo and behold, Sonja Burpo had had a miscarriage. And they had never mentioned this to Colton (who would to a 4-year old), not to mention that a 4-year old would not even know what a miscarriage is. Needless to say, that was an extremely emotional and stirring night in the Burpo family. See see p93-97 for more.

There are a few other interesting accounts such as how Colton knew about his dad’s calling to be a pastor (p90-91).

But one of the more mind-boggling accounts is Colton’s confirmation of what Jesus physically looked like. Since the visit to heaven, when Todd and Sonja would see pictures of Jesus, they would ask Colton if that is what Jesus looked like. Every time Colton would answer in the negative. Yet, one day, Todd received an email from a pastor friend in Colorado. The email was forwarded about a young Lithuanian-American girl named Akiane Karmarik. She, too, had claimed visions of heaven, all subsequently leading to her atheist mother becoming a Christian.

But even more interesting is the fact that, following some of the visions, Akiane painted a portrait picture of Christ (now quite famous). You see, Colton had given negative responses to each picture of Christ that his parents had asked him about. But, after Todd called for Colton to come look at the picture in the email, asking if this picture was a correct representation of Christ, Colton just stood there in shock for a long moment without saying anything. Finally, after his dad nudged him in the arm, Colton responded, ‘Dad, that one’s right.’

No doubt, for some, this might seem more Twilight Zone than reality. And this leads to one of the major hang-ups with the book – building our beliefs and theology around someone’s experience, especially a 4-year old’s. Let me just go ahead and say that my desire is to not build my beliefs around Colton’s experience, just as I would not expect people to build their beliefs and theology based upon some of the personal revelations, prophecies and 2 or 3 more prophetic dreams God has given me in my life. It’s not worth doing such, though it also isn’t worth approaching every single account with cynicism.

But, with Colton’s situation, I believe Christ accommodated to a little 4-year old to reveal himself. God accommodates to me as a 31-year old pastor. God accommodated to a 100-year old man in Abraham, a life-threatening persecutor of God’s people in Paul, a strong-willed one in Peter who denied Christ at such a time as he did, and on and on. I am not trying to say Colton and Abraham or Colton and Paul are to be considered one and the same. Even Todd and Sonja, his parents, argue this. All I am saying is that understanding God has always been in the context of God making himself known to people where they are at, in their language, within their grasp, i.e., in baby-talk.

So I have no problem in believing that God brought little Colton to heaven, or gave a vision of heaven, during those pained and life-threatening days of multiple surgeries in early 2003. I am not going to stick this book somewhere between Galatians and Ephesians as what needs to be recognised as canonical revelation in the Bible. But I personally think it a beautiful account of God’s grace to not just a young little boy, but to a family. And I suppose the book can become an encouragement to others as well.

So, for me, it was great to read this account of little Colton’s visit to heaven.

I end with a saying from one wise man long ago:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Great Non-Charismatic Trump Card

by Scott

Those who know me know I am a charismatic-continuationist. For me, at least with where I am heading in this article, this boils down to mainly two things: 1) I am committed to the reality that all gifts of the Spirit are still available to the church today and 2) I also come from a church perspective and heritage that has traditionally emphasised the importance of the times when the church gathers together in its varying ways.

But, I am also a teacher-theologian at heart. Not the most esteemed by any means. But the ministry gift of teacher seems to be the greatest measure of gifting in my calling in God.

Knowing this fact, I am continually thinking through the in’s and out’s of charismatic-continuationist perspectives and experiences. Sometimes the analysation can kick into overload.

Yet, the odd thing is that I have also experienced some very ecstatic things in my life (not always personally, though sometimes, but also with regards to others in various gatherings). I’ve reached a point in my life where nothing really shocks me. I think there are definitely some general guidelines we must take to heart as we gather together, and as a shepherd within a local church context I do consider my role of protection quite important and sobering. But, at least for me, I believe 1 Cor 14:33 has turned into the great non-charismatic trump card for many – For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

Or other versions might say God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

What can possibly happen for some of us is that anything outside of the more normal, structured order of service can easily be seen as disorderly. And this disorder, and confusion, are definitely out of bounds. Structure and regulation carry great import, and we find that 1 Cor 14:33 provides both the grounds for our stance and the subsequent comfort in guarding against anything out of order (or weird).

Of course, in some extreme cases, this verse has been used as a manipulative tool of control. Yet, this is probably few and far between. But even as this verse provides the grounds for comfort to our structure, at times it can still cause a little too much limitation.

You see, I’m always amazed at the Corinthian situation. I mean this church was nuts. ABSOLUTELY NUTS!

There was incest, people suing one another, gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord’s table and, of course, extreme abuse of the gifts of the Spirit. Though I have encountered some difficult personal situations in my younger life as a church leader, I have not come close to the Corinthian mess with which Paul had to deal.

So one can expect a heavy hand into their situation. For goodness sake, Paul desired that people would no longer fall asleep (die) because of their disrespect for the unity of the body of Christ at the Lord’s table (1 Cor 11:30). So, when we come to things like the gathering of the Corinthian ekklesia, Paul laid out some really harsh guidelines, though, interestingly enough, he did not ever shut things down for good.

With gifts of the Spirit, we see some restrictive guidelines laid out:

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. (1 Cor 14:27-32)

By no means do I believe that Paul was laying out some command for all-time in that, if you have 4 prophecies come forth in your church’s gathering, then you are grieving the Spirit and disobeying God. Of course, if one doesn’t believe prophecy or tongues are still given and/or needed today, then we don’t have to worry about these instructions. But I do not believe Paul is limiting us to 2 or 3 prophecies or messages in tongues for all-time sake.

Then, following these instructive words to the Corinthians, Paul comes in with that great trump card: For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

As long as nothing comes out of order, out of place, out of the listed structure in the bulletin (we have a bulletin, but you might have it somewhere else), we can feel safe and truly comfortable. Yet, it is interesting that one of the names of the Spirit is that of Comforter (even if we want to translate parakletos differently from Comforter, the Spirit is still a Comforter). And so I suppose we should expect to be uncomfortable at times to know the comforting work of the Comforter. Possibly even feeling a little uncomfortable as we assemble together.

But we are told we serve a God who is a God of order, of peace.

Of course he is.

But sometimes I am very aware that the order and peace of God comes in different ways than what we would expect, or command. I suppose I can remind us of a few biblical examples:

  • Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years as a prophetic action pointing out what would happen to the Egyptians (Isa 20:1-4)
  • Hannah prayed so fervently for a son that Eli thought she was drunk (1 Sam 1:9-16)
  • When Nehemiah and Ezra read the Law to the Jews, they mourned and wept (Neh 8:9)
  • Jesus had a spitting ministry, or he healed people by use of saliva, sometimes mixed with mud (Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 9:6-7)
  • Following the outpouring of the Spirit, the onlookers declared that those speaking in tongues must have been drunk (Acts 2:1-13). As a side note, the behaviour identified with drunkness was probably not the activity of tongues, since the people understood what was being said in their own language, and no one speaks in another language by getting drunk. Rather, other behaviour must have exhibited other forms of strangeness.
  • Not to mention the varied reactions during exorcisms (i.e. Mark 1:23-28; Luke 4:33-35)

You see, when we examine the spectrum of the biblical text, we see tensions right across it. That’s because differing people were writing to differing groups in differing areas at differing times. And they definitely weren’t thinking about all the details of a 21st century global world.

So when it comes to our church gatherings, we cannot easily run to 1 Cor 14:33 and state it as a stamp of approval on how we are to see the order of God come into our midst. I think it would miss both the dynamic of God and the dynamic of the Scripture text.

Of course, the biblical text tells us that God is not a God of disorder, rather he is a God of peace. But the text, that same God-breathed text, also makes clear that our God is a God of ‘disorder’ at times. Shall we survey Genesis to Revelation? Or let’s just consider the bullet points above. I think Isaiah would have made a few of us blush. I suppose spitting on someone would not be considered the most well-mannered of actions.

So when the church gathers, there is no doubt in my mind there are things that the shepherds, the elders, must consider. Again, I am involved in such week in and week out. And I have had to deal with those awkward moments. Not a lot. But I have some. But I would never give up allowing people to pray spontaneously, prophesy, burst forth in a psalm, hymn or spiritual song, share a message in tongues, weep in repentance, or shout with joy exuberant all to make sure we never ever felt uncomfortable. I believe such would be a great grievance to God’s Spirit. And we would miss out on these instructions of Paul within the same Corinthian context:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor 14:26)

Did we catch that? – each of you has…..

Not just pastors and assistant pastors and worship leaders.

Of course everything must be done to build up. But we have to make space for such so that we can be built up.

In the end, there is no doubt that leaders are called to lead, protect, guard and wisely administrate (not in a secretarial way, but more in a leading way, as I believe the Greek word intends in 1 Cor 12:28). And sometimes we will need to bring an end to something that is causing disorder, we will have to correct, all with wisdom and grace.

But we will also, at times, need to allow for something a little ‘disorderly’ to happen that the Spirit might do the work that he and he alone can do. To stop that out of tune song, to stop the sobbing of repentance, to clamp down on prophecies, well, this could be just as disorderly than to allow for them.

I hope we can agree that there is no straight and hard line to this. But I also hope that, from now on, 1 Cor 14:33 is not simply seen as the fall back or trump card to protect us from what God might stir amongst his people in a somewhat spontaneous and unexpected way. Even if the spontaneity causes a little discomfort.

He is with us. He will lead us. He will give us discernment and wisdom. Let’s make some space for the body to be the body in our gatherings.

The Day I Stopped Speaking to My Wife

by Scott

I remember the early days of our relationship. In the 9 months between meeting and marrying, my wife and I were only in the same city a mere 40 days or so. We were divided most of the time by an ocean, but thankfully had great support in both the US and UK. Therefore, in those many days apart (even when we were both in the UK), we spent much time emailing and texting by phone. I’m talking about emailing and texting a whole lot! It was all-consuming as we looked to stay in touch day after day after day.

As our relationship heightened, we began calling each other, though we also maintained the little love notes via text as well. Our mobile phones were the major place of communication. I remember one month my UK mobile phone bill was around 85 GBP, which was some 50 GBP more than the normal monthly bill. I was shocked, but it was truly worth it in my eyes.

We also moved into the realm of love-letter writing. So, yes, I am a bit of a sensitive romantic. After moving back to the US, being even further apart from my beloved, this became an integral part of staying in contact, expressing our heart’s desire for one another. And, of course, both of us saved each and every one of those emotion-stirring, affectionate letters. They were not just words. They were an expression and revealing of the love we had for one another. And being so far apart, you can imagine their role in articulating our deep affections.

It was extremely difficult following our engagement in the US. After staying for a full 7 weeks, my beloved had to return to the UK to prepare for our wedding and finalising details before moving to the US. It was a painful 9 weeks apart. But, again, I am thankful for the frequent phone calls and almost weekly letters.

But, of course, once we were married, we were able to be together forever. We were no longer divided by the space of an ocean, thousands of miles apart. We were now joined together as husband and wife.

And, for all these years, even through difficulties and struggles and misunderstandings and arguments, we remained true to one another. From multiple moves across oceans, to the bearing of our children, to learning how to lead a church forward in a completely different culture than we were used to, we stayed faithful to the love we held one for the other. Through all this time, we came to know one another’s likes and dislikes, dreams and passions, and even what we shared in common (like sushi!).

In the years of our growing relationship, we would even pull out old emails and love letters, to read over them, and be inspired by the love that began years ago. Of course, this is common to many a couples. But from your own perspective you’re not thinking about all those others. Their love compares in no way to your own. This is part of your journey of the expression of the covenant love you have for one another.

And how about the conversations, the deep exchanges over cups of coffee, over romantic dinners, over date-nights out, over holiday time away. Sharing of those desires and dreams I pointed to earlier. Even learning how to work through arguments and disagreements and deep wounds. The poured-out prayers to our Father for all sorts of things also knit our hearts together.

Yet, there was the day – the day I decided it was best that I stopped speaking to my wife.

Now wait a minute, don’t get mad at me just yet. It’s actually all ok.

You see, the day I made such a decision, I sat down with my wife and presented her with a gift. A rather amazing gift, I might add. It was a collage of all the love letters, emails and texts I had sent to her over our years of love, all bound into a beautiful anthology. I was even able to remember the details of quite a few of our conversations. And so I also included those within the volume.

As I handed her this hand-crafted book, I explained that it contained all my love in word form. Therefore, because she now had this extensive record, I no longer needed to express my love through the vehicle of words. We had reached a place where such expressions were no longer needed. And if she ever found herself questioning my love, questioning what I thought about her, well, she could head to the text. There she would find the unveiling of my true love, all in the words we had shared for years past.

Ok, I’m sure you have easily caught on that I speak in parable here.

This never happened. Well, most of it did. But not the part about deciding to no longer speak to my wife. And I would never, ever desire to do such. Such would actually become counter-productive to the covenant relationship in which we have been joined together.

Now, I could actually put together such a record of the emails, love letters and conversations we have held in years past. That would be quite a gift! It could even be revisited over and over again as an inspiring reminder of our love for one another. But it would never actually replace the reality of sharing real conversation. If I ever suggested such, well, my wife might not be too pleased. And that is quite an understatement.

Yet, I believe this can and does happen with God’s people. For many, it is somehow easy to accept that God no longer speaks because we now have the bound anthology of the canon of Scripture. Or, if He does speak, it is only within the context of the words of previous centuries.

But I believe such betrays the very nature of our God, a nature that is relational at its core, with communication being the very essence of God’s relational nature.

Please don’t misread this statement here, but we are not ultimately people of the book. We are ultimately relational beings, sons and daughters of our Father. We are ultimately people of the Spirit, the Spirit who has been sent to continue to communicate and speak on behalf of the Father and Son.

Again, please don’t misunderstand anything here. I am not so much addressing the God-breathed and authoritative nature of Scripture. I am not here to say that there is no great investment within the communicative-speaking nature of our God as shown in the revelation of the Bible. Matter of fact, just as my wife actually does find an expression of the unveiling of my love in keeping emails, letters and conversations within a safe-keep box (and I’ve kept quite a few things from her), we find even more in God’s revelatory expression of Himself in Scripture.

But my wife would never bestow upon all of that written communication as the sole source of our relationship. It is para-revelatory, if you will. It goes hand in hand with the actual relationship we share on a daily basis. Actually, it might even become subsequent to the real love we share through being together and sharing deep, intimate conversation together.

So, you see the parable breaks down somewhat, as I am not relegating God’s revelation in Scripture as a side-project. But each parable has a major point, and that chief point I am looking to bring across is that our revelation and understanding of our Father must be seen in cultivating a real relationship together. And that real relationship consists of both actual speaking and listening one to the other.

It’s not even about investing our understanding His voice mainly in the biblical words given in the past. It is, but to solely invest such into the Bible is, again, to betray a God who has been speaking and revealing and unveiling Himself from the beginning (which includes well before our beginning). And I suppose He desires to continue such into the rest of future-eternity.

Imagine those who recording what is now in the Bible. They could not fathom a God who stopped revealing Himself. Imagine ourselves in the age to come. As we hear the voice of the Father, we would fill with confusion as to why we would thought the pause button had been hit at some point in our history.

Again, for something so core, so essential, to the nature of our God, one cannot fathom the ceasing of such.

I will never, ever stop speaking and unveiling my heart to my beloved, my wife. And I believe the same stands true for the One who has always spoke, is speaking, and will remain speaking for the age to come.

The Word of the Lord in Our Worship Gatherings

by Scott

Today in the gathering of Cornerstone, in continuing our major series on the topic of worship, I looked at Psalm 33. I specifically emphasised four points (or really 3 of them due to time).

  1. Our praise to the Lord (vs1-3)
  2. The word of the Lord (vs4-12)
  3. The eye of the Lord (vs13-19)
  4. Our hope in the Lord (vs20-22)

But more than anything else, burning deep within my heart was the second point – the word of the Lord in our worship gatherings.

The word of the Lord has an extremely important role in our worship gatherings. An extremely important role! If our goal is to simply gather together and sing three, four or five songs and then move on to the next ‘part’ of our gatherings, our services, well, I think we have missed the point.

Oh, I do believe that God speaks through the exposition of the Scriptures. I do believe God stirs through the conversation that takes places amongst the saints. I do believe Christ is very present at the table when we share the bread and wine. All of these things are very important. But if we move through each of these elements and are never really aware of the word of the Lord, then we have missed something.

When I use the phrase, ‘the word of the Lord’, as in Psalm 33:4 and 33:6, I am not only talking about the Scriptures. Oh yes, I believe the Scriptures are the faithful, God-breathed word. Extremely important. But I am convinced the word of the Lord is not only contained in the Scriptures. I believe they are the starting point for our faith and the practise of such. But the word of the Lord continues on, never contradicting that of the testimony of the full and final revelation in Jesus Christ, but nevertheless still coming forth in the present day.

Now, interestingly enough, many of us can identify with God speaking via the biblical text. I can recall a worship gathering where God spoke to me through Exodus 15:3 – The LORD is a man of war, the LORD is His name. I don’t remember how I ended up in Exodus 15, but there I was with it open. And it was like Niagara Falls opened up over me with regards to the revelation that came from that verse. I had an understanding that day like never before with regards to how God fights on behalf of His people.

But I can also point to times when I did not necessarily have Scripture open, but the Spirit of the Lord communicated and spoke something. Not specifically a prophecy that needed to be shared publicly with the saints or with a specific individual. Rather simply God speaking and communicating something about Himself. Oh, it fit in very well with what Scripture teaches, complementing and not contradicting. But there wasn’t a specific chapter and verse to quote.

Specifically, I remember a time in a small church in a small town of England. On one Sunday as the congregation was engaging with God through song, God helped me realise that I have never tasted of His unfaithfulness. Never! I have tasted of difficult times. But never of His unfaithfulness. And I have clung to that on a regular basis for the past 4 or 5 years since that day. I’ve clung to such a revelation very tightly.

So I must say that an insight, no, a revelation has been stirred and kindled a fresh in me this week. It is that we must remember the role of the word of the Lord in our worship, in our gatherings. To go through the service step by step, part by part, portion by portion, without realising the importance of the word of the Lord, well, as I have said, I think we will have missed something.

Please understand that I am not wrapping this all up in some kind of super-charged Pentecostal experience. That is not the point by any means. But if the word of the Lord is truly living and active, even that which He speaks that is not directly found in the Scriptures but still does not go against the teaching of Scripture, then we need the word to come and be alive in our midst. Does man not live on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 5:4)?

But do we listen? Do we turn our ears? Do we ask God to speak? I know plenty of times where the saints have gathered together and I have moved on not even engaging with God on much of any level. Again, I am not trying to tie this all into an extreme subjective experience, though these are not necessarily against the workings of God (see more here). But I suppose this God who has drawn us to Himself, this Jesus who is actively involved in our lives by His Spirit, He wants to communicate with us on a regular basis. Hence, the word of the Lord will come forth. But do we hear.

And you know what, when God speaks things happen. If we are listening and truly hear God speak, things will take place. At times, fulfilment will come instantaneously (think about the creation account or the changing of Abraham’s name). At times, there will be waiting (think the birth of Isaac or the coming of the Messiah in flesh). But, regardless of immediate fulfilment or a time of waiting, things will happen if we hear the word of the Lord. Faith will be stirred, hearts will be awakened, hope will be kindled. And we will be confident that what God has said is truly what He said.

If there is an element of fulfilment to come, we can be certain it will be fulfilled at just the right time. This is not an excuse to appease the skeptic who challenges something as truly from God because it was not fulfilled immediately. We can keep on listing that which is in the Scripture itself that was spoken from God but took years, decades or even centuries to be fulfilled. Rather, I remind us that His word is certain and will certainly be fulfilled to encourage us to cling to the word of the Lord.

Weigh it – with Scripture, with our leaders, with our brothers and sisters in the body. But that which is truly the word of the Lord will come to fruition. And our spirits will testify when the Spirit of the Lord has truly brought forth the word of the Lord. But if we are not sure, again, we have the Scripture, our faithful leaders, and the faithful body.

So, let us dearly remember the importance of the word of the Lord. It is of absolute import in our gatherings. Yes, in our personal devotion and walk with God as well. But the word of the Lord in the gathering of the saints, when it is truly His word, will come forth like a two-edged sword, and God’s people will testify to it’s changing power.

For the word of the LORD is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does. (Psalm 33:4)