God’s Word: punch in the gut

Shot_Put During my very brief inter-semester holiday break I’ve been doing some reading on the Psalms (as I’ve mentioned here before).  In Psalm 1, King David mentions how he meditates (הָגָה, hagah) on the Law (תוֹרָה, torah) both by day (יוֹם, yom) and night (לָיְלָה, layelah).  I was quite interested in some comments that Eugene Peterson made about the word Law in Hebrew.  It turns out that Torah derives from the Hebrew verb ‘throw’ (ירה, or yarah).  It is the 3rd person feminine singular Hif’il imperfect of the verb.  What on earth does that mean?  The Hif’il form of verbs is reflexive, which means that a person receives the action, kind of like (not exactly) a passive construct.  With yarah in this form (becoming torah, תוֹרה) It indicates a person receiving something thrown at them, like a blunt object.  In an ancient culture like Israel’s that would indicate someone being hit by something like a shot-put or discus.  The emphasis of a Hif’il verb is not who does the action, but who receives it.  

I find this interesting because it seems to be that the role of God’s word is that it is meant to kick a punch, like a discus or a shot put.  In the context of Psalm 1 and biblical and Jewish thought in general, all of God’s word (not just the Law, or the torah) is like this.  While there are countless words of gentle wisdom and solace in the Bible, it’s there to give you a punch in the unmentionables and wake you up.  If you read it like you might read a quotation from a fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant, you best be warned because you’ll find yourself rudely awoken, like skittles at the end of a bowling ball alley.  

Yet what Peterson also mentioned (and which I found as well in my study of Hebrew) and which I also found fascinating is the verb to ‘meditate’ (Psalms 1:2).  That, in Hebrew, is the verb √הָגָה (hagah).  It means to moan, growl, utter, rumble, meditate, and muse.  In Psalm 2:1 it is also used to describe the way the nations ‘plot’ in vain (literally growl in wain) and in Isaiah 31:4 to describe what a lion does after conquering its prey.  Interesting that when David meditates on the law, it is akin to the same thing.  Peterson notes that this implies that it is not merely knowing the law or doing it that it essential for observing God’s word.  Rather, “it involves murmuring and mumbling[the] words, taking a … physical pleasure in making the sounds of the words, getting the feel of the meaning as the syllables are shaped by the larynx and tongue and lips” (p. 26 of Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer).  This is why Jews today speak and sing in their synagogues the Law; for them it is rhythm and life.  If I’m not mistaken, they call it ‘shuckling’, see the video below.  In modern Protestant thinking (influenced by the anti-emotive thinking of Anglo-Saxon culture) this has been lost and people can reduce things too crudely down to mere Bible verse memorisation.  Or we just do it privately so that no-one else can hear it, as we’re influenced by individualism.  That has its place, but in Jewish thought it so much more than that.

What Peterson says of memorising torah by speaking it is wonderful: “This is not so much an intellectual process … as it is a physical [one], hearing and rehearsing these words as we sound them again, letting the muscles sink into our muscles and bones.  Meditation is mastication” (ibid.).  I don’t think many Christians today think like this, particularly since the Hebrew Scriptures are not exactly the coolest thing in town and idiotic publications like ‘The God Delusion’ cause even people of faith to doubt the goodness and truth of the Bible’s timeless truths. If that is you then fear not, because you can start now.  When you read the Words of God, speak them out- perhaps even put them to a tune.  Close your eyes and say them slowly and say them over and over and over until they become a part of you, a joyful delight.  They can be hard- particularly because they may come at you like a discus and hit you in the gut!  But the point is that as you muse and groan over them they will become, gradually, a part of you and to shape you.  I often do this in my private devotion time and it really has an impact.  It can feel odd at first, especially with a text that seems jarring and clashes with how we think.  But it does start to slowly get into you, bone, marrow and sinew.

Hope fully this will give you more joy and delight in reading God’s Word.  It’s not there to be read the way a news anchor blandly reads out tomorrow’s weather forecast.  It’s meant to be etched deeply into the fibre of your being because it’s so alien to how we ‘naturally’ think in this life.  Besides, if God’s Word is not a delight to His people, then how can we expect others to hear it speak and apply it to their own circumstances?  

Stay joyful and Torah-saturated :)

Celebration of life and real (traditional) marriage

Today a group of people gathered in Melbourne to celebrate the Judeo-Christian ethics of caring for the unborn and the terminally ill and traditional marriage and family, for the World Conference for Families.  Sadly a number of ‘Christian’ conservative politicians cancelled at the 11th hour, citing the need to idolise (sorry!  prioritise) the virtue of ‘tolerance’.  (Interestingly that is not even a Christian ethic, but I digress.)  The protests against it were incredible and even demonic.  If such a conference were held 10 years ago there would have been hardly a mouse fart of protest but today riot police were called in.  You can read more here by social commentator Bill Muhelenberg.  The people who organised the conference and dared to speak at it deserve full and unreserved credit.

The hardest and most grievous part of it all is how complicit Christian churches are by being silent and not confronting the very danger that exists right in front of it.  I have lost a lot of patience and amity for Australian churches in all honesty because as months and years drag on there is increasing reticence for churches and other Christian organisations to tackle these critical social and apologetic issues.  No-one has taken up on my previous offer to develop apologetic resources on homosexuality.  It has caused me to wonder increasingly about whether my future in ministry lies outside the boundary lines of Australia; yes, there are many in Australia who need the ministry strengths that I bring.  The problem is there are no pastoral colleagues who think the same.  As Jesus once said, if a town receives not the message of the gospel, shake its dust off your feet and go somewhere that will receive it.  

I see many Christian brothers and sisters are exclusively pursuing non-threatening social gospel issues while major fires are blazing on issues like family and quality of life (e.g. abortion and euthanasia, etc).  This is like trying to make sure the pretty roses in your front garden bed aren’t catching fire while the rest of the house is erupting in smoke.  And while many boast of what great ‘work’ they’re doing and how many people are coming to the gospel (though what ‘gospel’ that is is not certain if it’s empty of any demand for people to live in obedience) they’re not tackling the biggest threats challenging spiritual life!  Recently in Sydney there have been a number of Christian conferences featuring ‘well known’ speakers.   (Actually, they’re preachers from overseas who charging outrageous honorariums because they’ve sold New York best sellers, and teach things that their audiences can work out for themselves if they actually read God’s Word, pray, and obey its contents.)  Yet not one of those sold-out events touched on the apologetic issues that are being raised in wider culture about sexuality and personhood.  I speak of how God heals and I get fewer invitations to do ministry, yet a Christian denies God’s healing grace and he get recommended and makes a better name for himself among church folk.  Many churches boast of how they “love people on the margins” but it all means bunkum when they’re not regularly preaching on relationships or utilising pastoral resources to help people struggling with issues like same-sex attraction and responding to public challenges on those issues!!  It will certainly not get better when seminaries are teaching students not to discipline church members with serious consequences for committing egregious, serious sin and doping people’s souls with the amphetamine of cheap grace (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said).  Doing that is as stupid as a rich man selling all his valuable assets and throwing money away just to prove how generous he is in order to gain friends.

I wish there were better things to say about the church in Australia, but the situation is not promising.  In fact, it has become very apparent to me that the sun is setting on the West and God is abandoning it to its own choices.  That’s a very scary predicament if anyone has read the book of Judges.  “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted” (Judges 17:6) and in the end Israeli society descended into outright civil war and self-destruction.  Christians today need to decide in the West how prepared they REALLY are to lose for the sake of Christ; as the late Christian writer A. W. Tozer once said, “The true follower of Christ will not ask, ‘If I embrace this truth, what will it cost me?’ Rather he will say, ‘This is truth. God help me to walk in it, let come what may!’  Instead of playing church, Christian people need to actually BE the church.

Stand firm Christian; be not “nice”

“Christians: The “softer, kinder, gentler” approach ain’t working.  One of the perpetual myths well-intentioned Christians indulge in is that if we are just nice enough, winsome enough and persuasive enough, everybody will love us and eventually agree with us.  This is a pernicious and fatuous lie. It is a deception forged by the father of lies to induce Christians to be passive, meek and timid instead of bold clarions of truth and true justice … 

The odd thing is that Christians who have lost their spine and have become silent and soft are often harshly critical of those Christians who do stand publicly and without apology for the time-honored truths of Scripture … [but] Jesus wasn’t crucified for being nice. He was crucified for being bold and confrontational”.  Well said.



God DOES heal and deliver

Jesus heals I gave my testimony last week at a small church gathering in Seoul last week, and in the process I mentioned that many of the churches I’d attended in the past had denied God’s ability to heal the roots and outworkings of same-sex sexual confusion.  At the moment I said it the translator looked at me and checked three times that he’d heard me correctly; I confirmed what I’d said and he continued translating.  He and the congregation were simply bewildered at the lack of confidence in God’s capacity to heal.  Once upon a time I was a Christian who wanted to hedge his bets on God’s ability to deliver; I didn’t want to believe that God could heal because on so many occasions I had encountered Christian promises of healing that did not come to pass.  Many of them were well-meaning but simplistic because they assumed that healing could only occur if a person had a certain spiritual gift like tongues, or that it would happen by a once-off attendance at a healing workshop.  Up until 2011 I thought unwanted SSSA could not shift or die away. Then I saw a counsellor who showed me how to surrender my temptation and brokenness to God and experience healing.  I want to testify that yes, God has been good in delivering me: my temptations have lessened in frequency and intensity.

On other issues, people seem to believe that God’s healing and obedience are unqualified necessities.  If a man professing to be Christian takes drugs, he must stop and get all help under the sun to stop.  If a woman berates her children and physically abuses them – no matter how ‘natural’ such desires are to her – she must stop.  But why do people demur with healing regarding same-sex attraction?  To hedge their bets, just in case the people they’re ministering to don’t get healed?  If so, it looks like fear driving faithful biblical witness to God’s ability rather than realism.  Yes, healing on this side of heaven is going to be incomplete.  No, we are never going to be perfect before we get to heaven.  But does healing have to be ‘perfect’?  Yes, Lazarus was raised from the dead but he died later.  No doubt many in Israel who were healed by Jesus got sick again with other ailments and also died.  Whoever said healing must be perfect, or done in one prescribed way?  And just because healing does not fit the prescribed criteria of some imperfect, flawed human beings, does that make it impossible or a false reality?

Titus 2:11-14 (NIV) puts it so well:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled,upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Healing is impossible to worldly-minded people, but in the Bible’s own vocabulary it’s the grace of God.  He does it in varying degrees, because He is as complex as the people He’s healing and as complicated as their brokenness is!  Healing can even be dispensed through God’s elect, to bless this fallen world.  More than once in the famous Messianic passage of Isaiah 53, Jesus is unabashedly described as ‘healer’.  Healing is complicated and it does not necessarily follow prescribed courses.  It also can be extremely messy.  But it’s not something to hide from but something to advocate and celebrate.  In fact, it is a core part of the Great Commission, Mark 16:14ff (which is little wonder why Satan is so busy trying to undermine it in today’s culture, particularly with respect to attacking reparative therapy and its success in bringing healing to men and women with unwanted desires.  Satan despises God’s healing power and wants people to doubt it, especially Christians, so he can keep human souls enslaved to himself).  However, healing is much more than this: it’s a core part of the Christian’s mandate.  Paul makes healing of deep, inner desires mandatory for the Christian walk, as does Peter:

Colossians 3:5: Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed,which is idolatry. (is anyone to seriously believe that this does NOT include same-sex attraction?  Not likely, given the testimony of the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 6:9-11);

1 Peter 2:11: Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.

These are Jesus’ own words (Mark 16:14-18):

Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”.

Resource on Spiritual Discipline

The other day in downtown Seoul I met up with an American pastor, who suggested to me a resource on the need for spiritual disciplines in the Christian life.  I was recommended Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, and thought I would mention it here to encourage others.  We all need spiritual discipline in our lives, and I can do with SO much more!   This is reflected in something that the affable Don Carson recently wrote, while reflecting on Psalm 27:

“The Lord is my direction (Ps. 27:7-12). David does not envisage his relation with God as something static, but as his lifelong pursuit. Moreover, he understands that this pursuit simultaneously shapes him. If he seeks God’s face as he ought (Ps. 27:8), if he begs for mercy so that God will deal with him in compassion and not in wrath (Ps. 27:9-10), then he will also learn God’s ways and walk in a straight path (Ps. 27:11). This cannot be said too strongly or too often: to claim that one is pursuing God without concomitant reformation of life and growing conformity to the ways of God is wicked and dangerous nonsense.”

Homosexuality can be defeated

So many people, even Christians, have regurgitated the lie that same-sex sexual attractions cannot be overcome (often because they haven’t experienced it as they had assumed). But this testimony by American speaker David Kyle Foster reveals the truth that it can be overcome. In the same way that killing a plant by not watering it means that the plant dies gradually over some time, so the same is true in this situation. This is how my own sanctification is playing out with respect to this issue. The key to this journey is a close, intimate walk with God the Father, through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I feel quite sad and frustrated when people insist, even with seemingly good motives, that homosexuality cannot be overcome because it casts doubt on the power of God to work in a person.  In the end that is blasphemous because it questions God’s goodness and power to do as He pleases (not to mention fails to explain passages like 1 Peter 2:11 and Colossians 3:5, which both say that sinful desires can and must be defeated by the power of Christ!).  Well done, David.