Category Archives: Christian Thoughts

Thoughts and observations on daily Christian experiences.

Pentecost: God’s Act of remaking His creation!

One of the things that I find intriguing about the Christian Church is the emphasis we often place on denominational labels. Many Christians belong to different denominations. Interestingly enough, there are also those who claim to be non-denominational. I am not quite sure if this means that they don’t belong to any denomination, but it would seem a possible suggestion.

There are also some among the Christians that make disparaging remarks about those from denominations other than theirs. Sadly, also are some, who have already determined the fate of those who belong to one specific denomination. I have heard many Christians pass final judgment on Roman Catholics. These Christians insinuate that the Roman Catholics will all go to hell (whatever hell is). This ungodly pronouncement is not only playing God, but also an affront to the men and women who gave their lives to preserve the Christian faith we enjoy today.

The idea that Roman Catholics are all hell bound would infer that one of the great heroes of our faith Jerome, who translated the NT Scripture as we received it; Saint Augustine, whose theology was predominant for over 1000 years of Church history; Athanasius, the Father of the Church; Thomas Aquinas; our own Zwingli; Martin Luther- the great Reformer; Mother Teresa; and Saint Perpetua, who died in jail for failing to recant her confession in the risen Lord, who also gave birth to a child while being held in prison for her faith are all in hell right now as I write.
This post is not about denominations, or this unfortunate misconception by some among our ranks. The intent of this post is to help Christians examine what we believe and how we perceive those who might be different from us.

I have been pondering on the term Pentecostal. I am not quite sure I understand what it means. I would think that this word is employed in reference to those whose form of liturgy is boisterous, exuberant, emotionally charged, and expressive in nature. I belonged to this sect about a decade ago and performed ministry under this platform, but I am not really aware that there is such word coinage in the Scripture.
Could they be referring to the giving of the Ruach that occurred at the end of the “Passover” referred to as the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot)? The Hellenistic Jews gave it the name Pentecost because it fell on the fiftieth day after Passover (Exod 34:22; Deut 16:10). Or maybe this term is referential to the followers of a former fellow Anglican Priest, John Wesley, the brainchild of the Comeouter’s Movement, and the Holiness Movement; or maybe the more recent phenomenon in the United States that attracted many people from around the world- the famous Azusa Street Rival.

If the Pentecostal movement derives its name and form from this Jewish Feast, then I think it is a misnomer to be so named. The Torah was given to God’s people at Mount Sinai or Horeb (depending on which name you choose for the venue). God’s people was comprised of both Jews and Gentile, assuming that the multitude that followed Israel out of Egypt were made up of people from other nations. I personally hold this position.

This giving of the Torah marked the beginning of the nation of Israel. But Israel geographically does not account for all of God’s creation. As time went by, God began to speak through His messengers of a time when this Torah will not only be outwardly kept, but would also be internalized. This promise of Yahweh materialized on the Feast of Pentecost, and continues to this day.

It is the given of the Ruach (Spirit) of Yahweh, that happens when one becomes born again. It is the given of the Holy Spirit of Yahweh to empower folks like you and I that have received the good news of God’s sovereign rule into our hearts to do kingdom business. The Holy Spirit and His/Her indwelling and empowering for service activity was not a foreign concept in the Old Testament. In Gen 1:2, the Spirit is God’s presence and power within creation. The same Spirit entered the Prophets and enabled them to speak and act on God’s behalf.

We also see this at Jesus’ baptism by the Immerser, as He was equipped with the Spirit, which resulted in notable public ministry (Acts 10:38). Following Jesus’ resurrection, His helper friends were themselves filled by the same Holy Spirit (Acts 2). In the same way that the giving of the Torah at Sinai marked the beginning of the nation of Israel, the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost was also God’s fresh act of remaking the world and Jesus’ helper friends, and those of us who will later accept the good news.

This to me is what Pentecost is all about. The essence of the giving of the Spirit is to enable Jesus’ followers and Israel as a nation to live out a holiness which the Torah was incapable of producing. This same Spirit enabled them to live out a life of holiness, producing fruits in their lives, giving them gifts with which to serve God, the world, and the Church at large; and is also an earnest of future resurrection (Romans 8; Gal 4,5; 1 Corinthians 12, 13, 14). It is this indwelling Spirit of God, that works in us to produce righteousness, makes us part of God’s family comprising of both Jews and Gentiles, Roman Catholics, and non-Roman Catholics alike; making us mobile temples, and making us citizens of heaven (whatever that means).

In my next post I will discuss heaven and hell. Is heaven a place? Is Heaven God’s dimension of the created order? Does heaven reverentially stand for God? Is heaven really a place where God’s people go after they die? Fasten your seat belts as we explore these in my next post. But I need at least 10 thoughtful comments on today’s post for me to blog on heaven and hell.
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God’s Best wishes!
Jacobs+

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All Roads do not lead to God: Salvation belongs to God!

Salvation belongs to God!

One of my professional careers brings me in contact with clients of all faith traditions, and also with those who claim they have no religion or affiliation with any faith tradition. One of the things that amaze me when I am providing care to these clients is the surprised look in their faces when I mention that salvation belongs to God and not to any institutionalized religion including Christianity. I could sense the consternation in their faces because they know that I am a Christian, and also an ordained clergy. In Revelation 7:10, we learn that salvation belongs to God who sits upon the throne…. “They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

If you have been involved evangelism, you must have come across people with statements like these, “ How can Christianity be the only way to salvation, when in fact there are very devoted, and loving people in other faith traditions like, Moslems, Buddhism, New Age movements, and Catholics? (It is interesting that many people including some Catholics don’t consider Catholics as Christians).

It is not strange that there are many people who consider themselves as Christians including ordained Christian ministers that believe that all roads lead to God. In other words, that salvation could be found in religious traditions. One of the banes of my life relative to some who profess Christianity is the inconsistency in their beliefs and how they approach the Bible. These Christians will disregard what the Bible teaches about certain issues when it contradicts a position they hold but will use the same scripture is if aligns with what they teach or promote.

My first taste of this was in College. It was during the Bush and Gore Presidential election. Many of my colleagues were vehemently opposed to Bush, whom I admire strongly. These colleagues of mine went as far as saying that Bush is not a Christian. They said that he was using Christianity to his own political advantage. Now, this is a man who has publicly expressed his conversion experience and insisted that it was that encounter that changed him, otherwise he wouldn’t be alive. What was even more frustrating and confusing for me about my colleagues’ insinuation that Bush is not a Christian was that Bush’s testimony of conversion was similar to the type of experiences of some of them before they came to the Lord. I just could not reconcile how it could be true for them and not someone else.

The current President of the United States is another example of our inconsistency in our articulation of the Scriptures. This is a man who spent over a decade attending a Christian Church. As soon as he starts running for presidency, some so called Christians came up with the notion that he is a Moslem as if this nation has to be ruled by a Christian President to be effective. All these religious institutions including Christianity convince themselves that their tradition is the way to salvation/to God. How then can this the case if in Rev 7: 10 we learn that salvation belongs to God?

This is how it reads in the Greek, H swthri,a tw/| qew/| h`mw/n – the salvation the God of him, which is just a way of stating possession in Greek and some other languages as well. Salvation is God’s property, how then can it found in religious institutions? Part of our confusion is that we tend to think that salvation is a New Testament concept. The question to ask is: what are we saved from? When it comes to salvation, regardless of religious/faith tradition God is always the subject.

The book of Psalms is replete with passages describing the Psalmist’s rescue from combined physical and spiritual danger, animosity, and assault of the enemy. The same Bible also makes us to know that God’s saving act includes the whole human life, and all his creation. The Hebrews knew about the seriousness of sin and were also aware that God’s unmerited favor (hessed) could cleanse them; and tried to mitigate this through the sacrificial system. Ultimately, it was God who finally saves them from their sins.

Paul also talks about being rescued from physical and spiritual dangers during his missionary endeavors but God was always the subject. God also saves us from ill health and ordinary earthly suffering. The biblical writers as well as people in the health field are well aware that symptoms of diseases are manifestation of deeper disorder. The salvation that God gives not only diagnoses the symptom of the disease, but also seeks to find the root of the problem. Finding the root of the problem and eradicating is the good news (salvation).

God promises in Rev 21:4 (echoing Isa. 20) of how death, the shroud that covers all men will be destroyed. This is a promise of hope to come from Israel’s God not from any other god. The gospel reveals of how Israel longed for God to come and do something about the problem of evil and sin. Some of the them soon realized that the God of Israel was bringing in a new rule that will destroy the power of sin over Israel first, and over all people because the promise of salvation from sin and death has been made to all people. This era will then see the ultimate shalom which is to be ushered in through the person of Christ.

Through God’s son Jesus, God would finally atone for sin, for He himself is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. This then means, that for there to be a final salvation there must be a final solution to sin. Matthew 3:6, identifies Jesus to be the one “who takes away the sins of the world.” Since the whole world is condemned as a result of sin, we must accept God’s salvation, and this salvation is made available through Jesus.

God also declares that by the merits of the passion and death of Christ, His salvation could only be found through Jesus. God chose Jesus to be the only instrument of salvation and not any religion or faith tradition. Those who accept this offer of God’s salvation are called Christ-like- Christians? God is the one who saves, and He chose to do His saving work through His son Jesus. The question is, since salvation is God’s property, does He reserve the right to choose the instrument through which it could be made available to all His creation?

God’s Best wishes in this Advent season. Remember, you have to be a part of the first Advent to participate in the second advent!

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What we worshiped, we kill when we come to Christ!

The word sacrifice is used constantly in our efforts to show how committed we are to a cause. Some people left better paying jobs to stay in their current place of work. Others took a low paying job or moderate means of livelihood to be with someone they love. The list of what we perceive as sacrifice goes on. However, in the Bible sacrifice takes a deeper meaning. It will interest you to know that there is no just one purpose for sacrifice except for propitiation. Propitiation means to turn aside the wrath of God. Some sacrifices are meant to end the wrath of God. The Book of Leviticus is replete with types of sacrifices in the Old Testament. Here are few examples of sacrifices:

 Communion/Eucharist: Although some of us receive communion weekly, we may not know that it is a type of sacrifice: Communion depicts how we are all one because we are eating this meal together.

 Consecration: This is another type of sacrifice. In the Old Testament animals were sometimes offered for consecration. The animals do not represent what happens to the offerer when they die. Instead the animals offered on behalf of the people represent their being sold out for the things of God. In consecration, you offer yourself to God. Consecration comes with variety of forms- like expressing gratitude, thanks offering, *votive offering, or free will offerings. King David says “I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you oh Lord……” It is when God does so much good for you and you want to show gratitude to him so you offer something. People use words like tithes and offering. You offer above and beyond the tithes as expression of gratitude. A free will gift to indicate how grateful you are to God. Tribute is also example of sacrifice.

 Tributes: Tithes are example of tributes. People gave tithes to God, usually animals and sometimes plants or crops as we find in the Old Testament or in the ancient world culture. Giving 10% is usually a symbol in the ancient world for a tribute to a king. For those of you who give tithes in your churches today, when you give tithes, you are saying that God is your king. Samuel told the Israelites when they were demanding for a king that the king will take a tenth of their increase. This is because that is what kings do. So when we give tithes to God, we are saying that He is our king. The difference is that God does not force us to give tithes to Him as the kings did. In the ancient world one cannot come before a king without a tribute. The people either come with a gift or with both hands raised in total surrender or a gesture of giving themselves to the king. We give tithes because we are acknowledging what God has done for us. (this is not a teaching on tithing but if you are interested in the topic we can talk about it at another time).

Another thing we do with offering in expressing our gratitude to God is that you are not only having animal represent you, but you can also kill an animal or kill something or destroy something that you used to worship thereby deepening your commitment to God. For example, Pharaoh says to Moses and Aaron go, offer your sacrifice to your God, but Moses says the sacrifice we offer to our God will be detestable to your eyes that the people will stone us—They will offer rams, but the Egyptians worship rams.

We do this inadvertently in our marriages (for those who are married) or even with our romantic relationships. In every faithful relationship, spouses sacrifice all other past romantic relationships to devote to each other. In other words, you destroy what you once worshiped or adored to deepen your commitment to your current spouse. That is what sacrifice is like when we come to Christ. We kill other gods that we worshiped when we come to Christ to deepen our relationship with Him. One of the dilemmas we face as Christians today is that we are still cleaving to those gods we once worshiped. It is also one of the problems that we have in our marriages today. Some spouses secretly maintain past romantic relationships and try different ploys to hide it from their current spouses. They may try to hide it but not for too long. Many homes and relationships have been broken, and hearts rent asunder; all because spouses don’t understand what sacrifice means or they do understand but are so callous that they don’t care about the aftermath effect of their actions.

What will surprise you is that in all of the OT sacrifices and offerings, there was no single sacrifice for sin committed intentionally. All of the sacrifices were for sins committed inadvertently. Until the coming of Jesus, there was no one single sacrifice for willful sin. The penalty for willful sin was death. That is why the book of Leviticus could be difficult to read if you do not understand what the intent of the author is. The author of Leviticus is painting a picture (a graphic one) and preparing the audience to see God’s redemptive plan that will unfold in the coming of Christ. Not until the coming of Christ, all the sins of the people were covered and not blotted out. Jesus’ death on the cross was the only sacrifice that could take away sins once and for all- that is why the Book of Hebrews has the audacity to say that Christ is the Final sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:10-18).

As you eat your thanksgiving turkey dinner today, I encourage you to ponder on the word sacrifice. If you are still having trouble letting go of past romantic relationships when you are currently married to your spouse; or in a romantic relationship with someone else, then you don’t understand the concept of sacrifice and the worst thing is that you have started filing your divorce papers inadvertently, and pretty soon the relationship would be over. Because when you come to Christ you kill all other gods you worshiped. When you are married to your spouse, you literally kill all past romantic relationships. Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

*Votive offering: an offering in fulfillment of a religious vow, as of one’s person or property.

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FOR WHAT SINS DID JESUS DIE?

 

I remember a conversation with the Lord Bishop during my Ordination to Deaconate Orders at the Ordination Retreat a while ago. I had questioned the Lord Bishop the rationale for a Retreat before the Ordination. His response was “Retreat is a must if I am to lay my hands on you so that you don’t trivialize Holy Orders.”

The church often teaches that Jesus is the son of God who died to save us from our sins, but never really does a good job explaining what those sins are. What are those sins one may ask? Maybe the naughty things we do; or the thoughts we think. Maybe staring at  beautiful ladies or handsome men? What about having a swig of booze or two; or not paying our tithes and offering (Robbing God)? What about not going to church; telling whites lies or embellishing our stories? If these are what we make our sins to be, then like the Lord Bishop said, we are trivializing the death of Christ.

Are our sins not the rejection of God as the daily ruler of our lives? Refusal to deeply care and commit to all of God’s children irrespective of their race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or lack thereof ? Are our sins not protecting our self interests at the expense of others? How about seeking security in wealth and investments and stocks; and ignoring the poor and the needy among us? Are our sins not failing to speak out against injustice and exploitation of the poor? How about our tendency to develop hatred toward a brother or sister in the Lord because they offended you many years ago and you just cannot seem to forgive them? Are our sins not abusing illegal immigrants and paying them little or nothing to work “under the table” year in year out? What about the church building a sanctuary that can sit 50,000 parishioners, and collecting millions from tithes and offering while there are parishioners that are starving. Think about these and tell me what you think.

Your Comments would be appreciated. All comments are welcome!

Jacobs.+

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Are Christians the most confrontative persons there are?

Christians have traditionally had issues with confrontation. This I think is because we espouse a theology that fosters love toward one another, always thinking of the other person than oneself. Maybe because we view ourselves as brothers and sisters, we feel that confrontation is unchristian but unbeknownst to us that we are avoiding the latent ingredient in confrontation that is part of the constituents of a healthy family. We have to be aware of the differential between confrontation and violence. The two are not the same.

One other reason why Christians are confrontive is that Christians are people of conviction, which makes it easily for us to divide the world into “us” and “them.”
Here is my dilemma in avoiding confrontation: Confrontation when unacknowledged and embedded with our false humility or quasi religious pietism, results in suppressed emotion, which could easily trigger off one’s existing anxious emotional process. This results in confrontive people.

We have to confront when we need to but we must avoid violence at all cost if we want to be followers of Christ. We must learn how to be comfortable with confrontation as Jesus was.
Look at the Gospel of Luke and you will find that majority of the stories about Jesus were confrontational. He was in one occasion violent (I mean he got physical). Can you believe that? Remember we are talking about the meek and gentle Jesus.

This is not a call to confront a fellow Christian over sitting on your favorite pew on a Sunday morning service, or drinking the last cup coffee during church breakfast without replacing a new one. This confrontation is about speaking up against injustice, exploitation of the poor and powerless. It is about confronting our political leaders and holding them accountable for their failure to defend the cause of the weak. It’s about holding religious leaders accountable for their failure to reflect what they teach and preach; when they live ostentatious life styles while there are poor people around us. Some of these religious leaders have more than two private jets while there are single parents in their churches who cannot afford to feed their two year old children because they have tithed their last penny in faith to the church. They preach and encourage the congregation to live by faith, while they themselves live in surfeit of luxury. What would Jesus do? We are confrontive over trivial issues but refuse to engage in the real issues facing the church. What shall we do?

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HOW SHOULD WE APPROACH SCRIPTURE?

Since the Bible/Scripture is required text for Christianity, Christians have approached its study and interpretation in different ways. This varied approach to Biblical interpretation has led to divergence in opinion on how it should be applied, and has resulted in misleading doctrines across denominational labels. To add to this problem is the fact that the Scripture came to us in different languages: Hebrew and Greek, which we now read in the English language. The task remains for pastor’s, teachers and readers to figure out what method of interpretation to adopt. It could be argued that much part of twentieth century, have witnessed two predominant approaches to studying the scriptures.

The first one seeks to discern the sources of the scripture in order to produce a definite text from which we articulate the Christian faith. This method could be attributed to the Enlightenment period, which focused mostly on rational and logic. During this period the instruments that biblical scholars utilized to prove scriptures were: Form Criticism; Redaction Criticism; and Historical Criticism.

Form Criticism sought to decipher the accuracy of the specific text.
Redaction Criticism was concerned with how specific biblical passages were put together, including its editorial relationship to what it is today. Historical Criticism sought to understand the original document upon which the Scripture is based and not upon Moses. This resulted into what is known as “Documentary Hypothesis” that suggests that Pentateuch was complied from four documents: JEDP.

The second one has to do with understanding the discourse of the message contained in the scripture. This includes approaching the scripture from the perspective of listening to how it spoke to it’s earlier recipients.

One thing remains true: our view of how the Bible came into being (inspiration) influences how we interpret and apply it. Some of my colleagues wished that the Old Testament was never part of the Scripture because their God, who is an embodiment of love cannot authorize wars and slaying of nations He made. Others believe that there is no judgment of the wicked because love is all there is. To them the Book of Revelation is irrelevant.  Love your neighbor as yourself they say.

My choice of mode of interpretation and understanding of Scripture is to allow the scripture to read us. This means 1.) we must decipher to whom that particular text was written; 2.) understand the major events and movements occurring at the time of writing. For example, if the writer was writing during this recent political impasse that almost put our nation in the brink of disaster, would the message reflect this event? 3.) and to ask the question: what is the text saying to us today?

What method of interpretation do you prefer and why? Or How do you read the Bible? Please elaborate.

God’s Best Wishes!
Fr. Jacobs

 

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In God’s Economy, those who lead are called to serve

I have had checkered careers in my life. I was once into construction business. At one point I was one of the lead masons that constructed the Malabo Bridge in Guinea Equatorial, Central Africa in 1999 before I resigned as a supervisor in June of that year in preparation for my migration to the US. As a mason, one of the tools that we used frequently was the hammer. We used it to drive nails into objects. As we drove nails into woods or other targets we would inadvertently hit the hammer on our fingers. Man, did it hurt!  I also bite my tongue accidentally sometimes and I am sure that some of you do. What amazed me is that in these two scenarios, I never tried to strike my other arm that hit my fingers or strike my teeth with the hammer to get even as we would normally do when someone hits us. In  Ephesians 5:22-25, Paul portrays marriage like Christ and the Church. He talks about how the husband is the head of the wife in the same manner that Christ is the head of the Church. He gives the injunction that wives ought to be subject to their husbands. He also commands the husbands to love their wives in the same manner that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.  I have listened to many women that are angered by this passage especially the part that has to do with “submission to husbands.” All of the women that came to speak with me about this passage left very satisfied though leaving me with fear of the aftermath effect when they get home to their husbands (I say this with tongue in cheek). Going back to my construction story: The reason why I did not hit the arm that struck my fingers while I was driving the nail into a target or hit my teeth with a hammer to get even is because it would hurt even more. It would hurt because It’s my body. Marriage is one flesh bond. When couples get married, they become one flesh. They cleave together. The Hebrew word used in Genesis in description of marriage of Adam and his wife Eve is that of welding of two irons together. The man and the woman are welded together and any attempt to separate will be very painful.  They become one body.  My not striking my teeth or my arm with the hammer to get even applies to husbands and wives. When they get into fights; become abusive to each other; or even divorce; it is like striking your teeth with a hammer when you accidentally bite your tongue or striking your arm with a hammer to get even when you inadvertently hit your fingers with a hammer. Husbands, your job is to love your wives the same way that Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her. It is not conditional. If you do this you will never have to worry about your wives loving you (unless you are dealing with a wife that is allergic to being loved; we live in a fallen world). Husbands are to serve their wives, just as Jesus served his disciples. In God’s economy, those who are called to lead are called to be servants. More on this.           

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