Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm Moving...

Hey everyone,

Just a quick note to let you know that starting Sunday, March 1st, 2009 I am moving 'Myriad Shades of Gray' to Wordpress.  The same title but with a different look and a little more content. I'm afraid those of you who are subscribers will have to re-subscribe, but it is just as simple as before so I hope you will stay with me.

The reason for the move is simple enough; Wordpress offers a few more options and I am looking to do a little more with the blog.  Java and Jesus will stay here at Blogger for the time being but will likely move sometime later this spring or summer.

After today all new posts will be at the new 'Myriad Shades of Gray' the address for which is..

So please drop by soon and comment on the new look and additional pages.

Thanks for your support everyone.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Last Minute Invite...

So, what are you doing on Sunday morning?

If you're going to be in the Guelph area then I'd like to invite you to drop around toWestminister-St. Paul's Presbyterian Church. The regular Sunday service starts at 10:30am.

If you do you'll get a chance to hear yours truly give a little presentation called "At the Marriage Feast with Mordecai ."  What is it? I'll let the church bulletin explain...

"The presentation Dennis will do, offers a midrash (a Jewish story amplifying a biblical text) on the text of John 2: 1-11 (the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus performs his first miracle – turning water into wine).  The story is told from the perspective of a participant at the marriage feast, specifically one, Mordecai, uncle of the groom.  This original presentation, researched, written and recounted by Dennis Gray, fills in much of the cultural detail around Jewish marriage that John’s first readers would, of course, have known, but which most readers of John’s gospel today do not."

I'm not a big fan of blowing my own horn, but hey, one needs to get the word out somehow. Besides, I'd like to get the chance to meet some of you and that's only going to happen if you know where I'll be. So please, drop on by and introduce yourself.
Here's a map showing where to find WSP.

Until next time...  see you in church.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crossing the Line

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:22-32 ESV)

A number of years ago I was privileged to be the regular teacher at a midweek service in my home church. It was our custom to offer prayer and counseling after the service, and one night a woman came forward who wanted very much to believe but felt she wasn’t able to because she had “committed the unforgivable sin.” As we talked over the next half-hour or so it became clear that somewhere along the line a preacher had told her that anyone involved in witchcraft was beyond the redemption offered by God. That was his interpretation of this portion of Matthew’s gospel. She had once been involved in a Lucifer worship cult and was, as a result, firmly convinced that she was beyond even God’s help. No amount of counsel to the contrary would allay her fears. She left in the same hopeless frame of mind as when she arrived.

It was this event that began my personal examination of the passage above. It is a hard thing to reconcile a gospel of God’s limitless love with the notion that there is a line that one must not cross, that it is possible to step outside of His seemingly boundless willingness to forgive.

It is for this reason that a great many preachers today will tell you that what Jesus is talking about here is dying as a non-believer. We are told that the only way to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to reject God’s offer of salvation, because while the offer is made by God the Father, and the price for it was paid by the Son, it is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the offer is fulfilled. And so the only unforgivable sin is to die without having accepted the offer of salvation and arriving in the next world without the righteousness of the Lamb to speak for you.

It is a reasonable and comfortable interpretation. But at the risk of being branded a heretic, I think it is an interpretation that may also be in error. This is an important issue so I ask your indulgence as I explain. I think this interpretation may be in error because of the last statement made by Christ in this passage: “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

There are two things to notice here: 1) “whoever speaks” is not about failing to make a decision, it is about making a statement, a proclamation, 2) “in this age” clearly indicates that the offense can be committed this side of the next world, while we are still of “this age.” These then are the characteristics of the “blasphemy” that has been committed against the Holy Spirit. The key to understanding this passage must reside in the meaning of this word.

It should be noted that blasphemy is not a translation of the Greek, it is a transliteration. The word was adopted from the Greek with only a change in pronunciation. According to Strong’s the word is “blasphemeo blas-fay-meh'-o ; to vilify; specially, to speak impiously:--(speak) blaspheme(-er, -mously, -my), defame, rail on, revile, speak evil.” So then, even the definition of the word used by Christ would indicate that he is referring to the things being said by the Pharisees. This calls to mind his words in Mark 7:15-16, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

But there seems to be more to it than simply speaking ill of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ discourse to the Pharisees points out the flaws in the logic of their argument. He makes it clear that the notion that Beelzebul (Satan) would seek to deceive the people by casting out his own demons is ridiculous. Think about it a moment. What profit would there be for Satan in this? If he were to cast out demons, would people praise him and abandon God? Of course they wouldn’t; rather they would give God the glory for the event and Satan’s kingdom would fall even further.

It would also appear that Jesus knows the Pharisees know this (“Knowing their thoughts, he said to them”), which is what adds the incredible weight to their sin. If they know in their hearts that such healing could only come from God, by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that moved upon the face of the waters at the moment of creation, then why would they suggest that Satan is the one who is at work? The answer is two fold: pride and envy.

At this point the Pharisees are beginning to show their desperation. Jesus has beaten their arguments at every turn. Even those totally unversed in the scriptures can see that there is something remarkable going on, that God is doing a new thing. Indignant at the popularity of this Galilean upstart, fearing that their position of power among the people is threatened, and even facing the possibility that everything they thought they knew about the messiah is about to be proven wrong, they make a desperate ploy to preserve the status quo – they attack the very God they claim to serve.

This is the depth of the sin involved here. They know that such healing can only come from God. They know that Jesus’ interpretation of scripture is entirely valid. They know that God is at work in His ministry and something new and remarkable is about to happen. But they no longer care about what it is God wants to do! Such is their desperation, they attempt to derail God’s plan; they are willing to condemn the acts of God Almighty as works of evil rather than risk losing their position of authority or alter their own world view!

How much envy has to live in one’s heart to come to such a place? How much pride does it take to believe that your world view is more important than God’s plan for Israel? In speaking this way the Pharisees engage in the sin of Lucifer. They set themselves above God and His will, and seek to impose their own will on the universe.

But I think the true weight of their error lies in it's consequence for the innocents. Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 18: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:5-6 ESV The Pharisees denial of God's Messiah held the potential to put the salvation of others at risk. By deliberately declaring that the work being done by the Holy Spirit was being done by Beelzubul, they were running the risk of leading others astray, and Jesus' words concerning their fate are quite sobering.

So this then, I believe, is the sin that God will tolerate only so long. To simply reject His plan of salvation is one thing; to openly revile it and seek to impose your own world view when you know the truth is quite another. To continue down this path will put the salvation of others at risk and will eventually take one to a place where your heart is hardened beyond repentance. And if you have crossed the line to a place where you are no longer capable of repentance, then how can God forgive?

Understand that I am not talking about simply bad mouthing someone’s ministry here, or even being simply mistaken about what is God's plan. I’m talking about something far more sinister; something akin to setting yourself up as the arbitrator of salvation. This is about someone who knows the truth, acknowledges the reality of God’s plan, but seeks to discredit it in the eyes of others to forward their own agenda. As I said, this is a sin that rivals the sin of Lucifer. For this reason, I am convinced very few people will ever be this far away from God’s saving grace!

In fact, I doubt more than a handful of people down through the centuries could possibly be guilty of such a sin. Not that I am qualified to judge. But that said, I do not think even this group of Pharisees had crossed that line. Jesus’ words hold the flavour of a dire warning rather than a final judgment. He is letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that He knows exactly what is going on in their hearts. He is letting them know that they will not succeed, and that if they press the issue too far, the ramifications will be far greater than they might have imagined.

I think also this is why we are commanded not to judge others but only the condition of our own hearts. Because it is the passing of judgment on the works of others, especially when our opinions are more our own than founded in God's word, that will start us on such a path.

Until next time... Shalom

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Palace of Time - a Place of Healing

I know - it's been almost a year. I said there would be a next time, it just took a lot longer than I thought. I'm not going to explain my absence other than to say I needed the rest. But now I'm back. Matthew's story still calls to me and I can no longer ignore it. So let's just pick up where we left off, shall we?

In our last episode, I talked about the Sabbath being a Palace of Time, a place where we could escape the hustle of the daily agenda and find time to spend with God exploring who He is and who we are in Him. But the Sabbath is not just about getting some rest. There's more to it than that.

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Now, the Pharisees actually have a point to make here. You see the prevailing wisdom of the day was that while it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, it was only in the case of life-threatening situations. They acknowledged that allowing a living thing to die by inaction was no way to honour God on His Sabbath; but the man with the withered hand was in no danger. His healing could wait a day and the sanctity of the Sabbath would be maintained. In some respects it was a reasonable argument.

But Jesus doesn't see the argument as reasonable at all, because to Jesus suffering is suffering and needs to be relieved. He points out the flaw in the Pharisees reasoning, because even they themselves would rescue an animal on the Sabbath, "of how much more value is a man than a sheep?"

Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, makes it clear that to end suffering, to help the helpless, to do good, is lawful at anytime, even on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not just a Palace of Time, it is also a Time of Healing. An opportunity to relieve the stress that withers our spirits during the week and allow ourselves to reach out to God and be restored. It also calls us to reach out and be a source of healing as we gather with those we care for and let them find restoration in a time of fellowship.

It is, as Jesus made clear, a time to do good. The most acceptable form of work on the sabbath was the ministrations of the priests in the temple as they offered the showbread in recognition of God's provision. (Jesus makes reference to this in the previous section.) In like manner I believe the sabbath is a time for us, and as citizens of a priestly kingdom, to offer ourselves to the benefit of others; to use the time to participate in the healing of the community provided by the fellowship we experience in the Palace of Time.

But the episode doesn't end there.

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Jesus withdraws to another place. Some would look upon this as a retreat, but rather I think He is looking to avoid letting the confrontation escalate until the time is right. He withdraws because the Gospel of the kingdom is not about confrontation, it is not about winning a theological Battle Royale. Rather it is about hope.

And who is the hope for? Oddly enough it is for us, the Gentiles. Those who until this point in history have been excluded from the Gospel Kingdom. I mentioned at the beginning of the process that I felt Matthew was writing not to a Jewish audience exclusively as others have suggested, but rather to a mixed audience. A church of Jewish believers and Gentile converts likely struggling to get along. It is passages such as this one that re-enforce my feelings on this.

The Jewish believers needed to understand why they were worshiping God in fellowship with Gentiles. They needed to understand, and still do, that it was God's plan from the beginning to heal the rift that started in the days of Abraham.

And the Gentile converts among them, these new Christians, they needed hope. They needed to know that God had never abandoned them. They needed to know, as do we, that the gift of salvation, that citizenry in the Gospel kingdom is not about race, or nationality, or how well you can slice and dice the scriptures until they resemble the Word no more than french fries resemble a potato. No... it is about faith, and faith alone.

Faith in the one who gave the Sabbath to mankind that in it we might find refreshment and renewal. A moment in which we might find a fresh start, an opportunity to put the past behind us and begin a new week, revived by fellowship with God and with each other.

Until next time... Shalom.