How do I know I’m not being brainwashed?

brainwash[This is chapter 1 of a book I’m writing which explains the case for why Christianity is true for non-Christians.]

Any book which talks about God is probably trying to brainwash you without knowing it, right? I know what it is like to be brainwashed. I grew up in a conservative Christian family who went to church multiple times each week from the day my mum got out of hospital. I learned church songs, memorized Bible verses and listened to countless sermons growing up. So if anyone has been brainwashed by religion, I’m a reasonably good candidate.

When I hit late primary school, I started noticing that my family’s church background was fairly odd, and no kid likes to stand out for being odd, so that was the start of my struggling with my faith. I have been struggling for the last 25ish odd years, and even today, I still struggle at times. Most of all I struggle with how it is that so many apparently intelligent normal people in the world can believe differently from me or maybe not even give a thought to the issue of God. How do I know I’ve not just been brainwashed into believing something, and I’m just being loyal to my family’s religious traditions? Why should what I believe be right, and what so many other people believe be wrong?

Well, the fact is, I have been brainwashed- I’m quite open about the fact. But here’s the important point. Maybe all of us are being brainwashed. Some of us more so than others, but nevertheless, all of us are being brainwashed to some degree. That is, all of us just believe stuff which we have been told over and over again, without really thinking it through for ourselves.

Think about it. Most people who live in India are fervent Hindus. Why? Most of them don’t think of questioning their faith much- they are brainwashed into believing it. Most people who live in Saudi Arabia are Muslims. Why? Most of them are just taught to believe its truth without thinking about it. Most of them are brainwashed too. Most people who grow up in America believe in the Christian God. Why? Yes, the reason is that they are brainwashed. Most don’t analyse their reasons and compare them with other religions and beliefs in any detail. They accept it mostly on the basis of what they have been taught to believe.

But what about those lucky people who have not been brainwashed by any religion, and remain uncommitted, open-minded or skeptical towards religion? Well, it’s possible that they have escaped brainwashing, but it’s also very possible that they are being brainwashed too. Why? Maybe because in our country we are being brainwashed by our very secular media that religion is a subject not to get too worked up about. Television, movies and newspapers in the west actually talk about religion surprisingly often, and the message is usually overwhelmingly negative. The implicit message given is that religion is at best quaint and old fashioned, or at worst, it is irrational and even evil. Often no rational arguments are given- instead, brainwashing techniques are applied. It is very often given an image of irrelevance by showing imagery of priests in drab robes from the middle ages accompanied by music of the same era. It is given an image of irrationality and irrelevance which many people accept without question.

So, don’t think you’re not being brainwashed. Of course you’re being brainwashed- all of us are. Most people never think about why they believe what they believe. Perhaps you’re different and you do think a lot, and you’ve come to firm conclusions about your religious beliefs. That’s great- I hope you’ll read the rest of this book and benefit from engaging critically with my conclusions. But for the great majority of the rest of you who actually haven’t thought for yourself much, I hope that reading this will stir your thoughts and help you in your journey. This book is my attempt to share with you my journey to break free, and how I’ve come to the conclusion that I think that Christianity is probably true. But that is a bit of a heretical thing to say so I had better defend myself in the next chapter.

Next chapter: Why I think Christianity is probably true.

Why I think Christianity is probably true

ID-100207210[This is chapter 2 of a book I’m writing which explains the case for why Christianity is true for non-Christians.]

OK, this is a rather heretical thing to say, so I need to actually defend it before I say why it is I that I do think that Christianity is probably true.

Atheists are going to struggle with this statement because some of them assume that you don’t have faith because you think it is true. Faith is about believing and feelings, not about evidence- at least, that’s what they’ve been told. All I’ll say to this one is that I simply disagree, and I think the Bible disagrees too. Christians should have good reasons for believing what they believe. We claim that faith can be rationally defended.

Christians though aren’t going to like this statement either. Some Christians will complain and say- do you only think Christianity is true? How can you say it is probably true? Don’t you know it is true? Let me spell out the difference between thinking, believing and knowing, as I understand it.

We’ll start with knowing. Philosophers define knowledge as justified true belief (although some argue about that, as philosophers love to do). That is, if you know something- you’ve got to believe it yourself, it must be true (otherwise your knowledge would in reality not be knowledge), and your belief must follow from the evidence (and not just be coincidentally right). That might be a little confusing, but never mind. The point I want to make is there are some things we know which are immediately justified without any evidence. I may know that I am in love, even if I can’t prove it. I may know that I am innocent of a crime, even if all the evidence is stacked up against me. I may know something from my memory which I cannot demonstrate to anybody else. In the same way, I may know that God is real, even if I can’t demonstrate his existence to anyone else. God may have become so real to me personally that doubting him is not even an option, even though this cannot be explained or be helpful for anybody else. In this way, many people say they know God is real. There are times too in my life when I know God is real in this way.

However, thinking usually is less certain, and weighs up the evidence for and against. When I look at the reasons for and against God and the truth of Christianity, there are certainly puzzles to be wrestled with. That is why I say I think Christianity is probably true. There are times when I wrestle with doubts. However, when I just look at objective reasons for and against, I think the evidence is sufficiently good on the whole to win the case for the truth of Christianity. So that is why I say when I am acting in thinking mode, I think Christianity is probably true.

And that brings us to belief. Belief implies a choice or decision to accept something. I could remain perpetually open-minded and undecided as I continue to think things through until I reach 100% certainty. But then I would never accept anything at all as true, because it is always possible to question anything, even my own sanity. But of course we don’t do that. We don’t demand 100% proof for everything. There comes a time when it is right to move out of indecision and to decide to accept something is true, on the basis of good probability. That has now become belief. When it comes to Christianity, I believe you may do that because for intellectual reasons. You may do that simply because you know it is true. I would argue there is also a moral dimension- because we become convinced it is the right thing to do as well.

But I guess the big question really is what is this knock down case I’m claiming for the truth of Christianity? I summarise it in 3 words. Experience, Creation, and Jesus. There you have it. That’s the foundation I’ve come to for my conclusions, which I’ll be sharing with you. But first- what about evolution and the big bang? Haven’t they knocked the God theory totally out of the water?
Next chapter: Why evolution and the big bang are somewhat irrelevant.

Previous chapter: How do I know I’m not being brainwashed?

Jesus’ model of mission

Jesus Model of Mission
(Part 1)

Most of us who are Christians are aware that there are all kinID-100259349ds of theories and models about the best way to reach Aussies for Christ. There is the “seeker-sensitive church” model, there is the “lifestyle evangelism” model, there is the “missional church” model, there is the “social justice and felt needs” model, there is the “get them before they reach the age of 12” model, there is the “one day you can come and join the band on stage” model, there is the “Billy Graham/Franklin Graham/Bill Newman crusade” model, there is the “Alpha course/Christianity explored/Introducing God/ Lifeworks” model, there is the “build a Christian school” model, there is the “why aren’t you getting out there on the streets and preach it on the street corner” model, and on and on it goes.

Of course there is nothing wrong with models of ministry. They are inevitable. We need to be willing to learn from methods used by others, and critically evaluate our own traditions we’ve been following. However, in this article I would like to reflect on the model which Jesus gives us. To be a Christian is ultimately to be a follower of Jesus, so I want to focus on what we can learn from Jesus ministry- this may not be an exhaustive coverage of all the important principles of mission- but I believe there are many very important principles which is easy to overlook.

1. Jesus arrives, preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Mark 1:14-15.

Jesus arrives preaching the gospel – and the key concept of Jesus’ preaching is concept of kingdom- it’s not having a personal relationship with God, it’s not asking Jesus into your heart, or going to Heaven when you die. “Kingdom” is the word which Jesus uses to summarise his teaching. What is the message of the kingdom?

Well, putting it simply, it is that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. In the first century, there already was a Roman emperor in place. People didn’t like having a Roman guy be in charge. They wanted freedom. The Jewish people were wanting a Jewish king to save them. And so, this is an attractive sounding slogan from Jesus. But the kingdom at hand which Jesus was talking about was one which was different from the one which people were expecting. Jesus was not bringing a kingdom which would bring deliverance from the Romans; Jesus is bringing deliverance from something far bigger; our sin, and the reign of Satan.

And of course, Jesus was not the king who had come on a war horse to fight the Romans. Jesus is the king who has come to lay down his life, as God’s perfect sacrifice for sin, and to rise again to open up God’s eternal kingdom. This is the kingdom of God according to Jesus.

The message of the kingdom which comes to us, is that there is a king who is able to save us from our slavery to our idols, to the sins which enslave us, to the god of this world Satan; Jesus is the Lord who can save us. And we can enter His kingdom, by following the same pathway of death and resurrection- where we take up the cross, and we say- my old life is over, its finished, its dead; and now, submitting myself to my new Lord in faith, I receive a new life to live in Him. This is the timeless message of the kingdom which we live and proclaim today. And we  of course must be so sure we are preaching the right gospel- not a self-help gospel, or a self-focussed gospel.

2. Jesus invites individuals to follow Him. Mark 1:14-20.
As Jesus goes proclaiming the kingdom to the crowds, what does Jesus do? He stops and calls out to certain ones, to leave their old ways, to start a new life to follow Him. Here in Mark 1, Jesus calls out to Simon and Andrew, James and John- and gives this invitation to follow him. In John 1, we find they had already been following Him, and had stayed a day with Jesus, observing his daily life. In Mark 2, it’s Levi, the tax collector, who is sitting at his tax booth, and Jesus issues the invitation- come and follow! In Luke 19, it’s Zacchaeus, amongst all the crowds, that Jesus stops specifically for- and invites himself home for a meal. What do we observe from this?

Well, Jesus has an interesting relationship with the crowds. He loves the people, He has compassion upon them, He cares for them, He teaches them- but on the other hand, Jesus seems to have little optimism for the crowds. Later in this chapter, the crowds are flocking to Jesus, looking for Him, adoring him, fawning over him. The disciples say- “everyone is looking for you Jesus”. Jesus says- “let’s go on to the next towns”. In Mark 4, Jesus teaches the parable of the sower, to the huge crowds – to the great majority, the truth of the parable goes straight over their heads; and they are a classic example of the first soil- the truth goes in one ear and out the other. Then, after telling the parable, what happens- 4:10- “when Jesus was alone, those around him with the twelve, asked him about the parables, and he said to them- to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.” Jesus didn’t get really all that excited about the crowds- he only invested his time with the ones who followed him home for the explanation. When Jesus gives his disciples instructions about what to do when they go out on mission- what does he tell them- “don’t go from house to house”. (Wish someone would tell the JWs that!) He says, ‘find the man of peace, stay there, and preach the gospel in that household’.

After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples of Jesus are gathered before Pentecost- how many disciples does Jesus have? 120. (Now of course there probably was a lot more, but allow me to use this figure to make my point!) That’s hardly a megachurch. But of course, we know from earlier in Luke, Jesus sent out his 12 disciples on mission, and then 72 others. So what does that give us? Jesus maybe only had a church of 120, but at least 84 of them had become itinerant missionaries. That’s not a bad success rate, is it? We’d be thrilled if 5% of our churches became full time missionaries- Jesus’ rate was 70%.

What am I saying? It’s easy for us to get obsessed with the crowds.  Of course, there is a place for ministering to the crowds. Jesus does it. But Jesus doesn’t get obsessed by the crowds, and think his job is done because he has thousands of people listening to him. Jesus invests most of his energy in a few, so that they will be enabled to reach the many.

We had at our church last summer our first outdoors Christmas carols night in the park. We were thrilled with the response. Hundreds of people came. A girl from church said to me, “now, if only we could herd them all into church there next Sunday morning.” If only. But that’s not enough. It’s the number of people that we have in discipling relationships that really counts, not the number of seats you have filled in Sunday church, not the number of teenagers filing through your youth group program, not the number of people queuing up for the church’s annual garage sale.

A second lesson we learn here is that Jesus invites people to follow Him. He invites them into his life. Don Carson tells the story of one of his mentors while he was at uni called Dave. Dave was witnessing to some bright non-Christians, and one of them said to him, “Dave, I’m a nice guy, always try to do the right thing- it’s just that I’m not religious. What difference does it really make?” And Dave said, “Watch me”. “Watch you?”. “Yeah, watch me. You can come and live in my apartment, see how I spend each day, have dinner at my table, watch my daily interactions, day in, day out, for 6 weeks, and you then you tell me if Jesus makes a difference.” As it happened, he turned down the invitation but nevertheless spent a fair bit of time becoming Dave’s friend over the next few months. He soon became a Christian and later a medical missionary. Are we able to invite people into our lives to watch us, and see Jesus in us?

Paul says numerous times: “imitate me, as I am imitating Jesus”. And so, it’s not just a quick 6 week Alpha course; it’s more than just a 1 night a week Bible study. Invite them into your life, invite them into your home, allow them to share meals with your family regularly, allow them to see how the gospel of Jesus shapes your parenting, how it shapes your marriage, how it shapes your finances. Remember 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6; “Brothers, loved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord. In spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so, you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia; your faith in God has become known everywhere…. Look at how Paul describes it in 2:8- “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become dear to us.

Thirdly, the words “follow me” were not just an invitation to make a decision, sign a card or say a prayer. They were invited to follow Jesus. Some people may be pagans who we invite to follow Jesus- like Matthew or Zacchaeus. Some will be sincere and interested, but not really willing to pay the cost- like the rich young ruler. Some will be people who are young in the faith and they will need to be brought to maturity. There’s a range of people we will be inviting to follow Jesus along with us- but for all of them, it is never just a quick decision we are aiming at- it is a change of life, which begins with saving faith, and continues until that person is a missionary calling others to follow Jesus alongside you.

We need to go to the crowds- but why do we go to the crowds- to beat out of the bushes the few who God is calling us to invest time in, to share the gospel and to share our lives with. So, who are the few in your life you are investing in, and inviting to follow Jesus along with you? Who are you asking to imitate your life, as you imitate Jesus’ life? This is Jesus’ model of mission.

See Part 2 here.

How Christian growth is not just a matter of gruelling disciplines

ID-100355387When we ask how a Christian grows in their relationship with God, the answer given often sounds like a long list of gruelling routines which are not for the faint-hearted. The basic list of duties always includes at least the following: Bible reading, prayer, church and sharing your faith. The fine print often includes more which people have to sign up for if they really want to grow in their walk with God:

a) reading the whole Bible through each year (4 chapters a day), as well as regularly reading other theological books and listening to celebrity preacher’s podcasts.
b) at least 30 minutes of prayer a day, with the use of prayer lists for friends, missionaries, family, and the persecuted church
c) Attendance at a Sunday church service, a midweek Bible study, and involvement in at least one church ministry.
d) really committed Christians will sign up for some part-time Bible College study as well.

The problem with such an answer is that this places the emphasis for my growth with God entirely in the wrong place- on the things which I do. My walk with God all depends on how hard I try, and how successful I am in my Christian duties. When the emphasis is all on the things which I do, there are 2 very real possible results. Firstly, a person may be successful in mastering these activities, but they cause the person to be filled with pride and self-righteousness, which robs of any real enjoyment of God. Alternatively, a person may try but keep on failing to keep up the list of duties, and so their life becomes filled with guilt and shame, and again, no enjoyment of God.

The error in this thinking is as old as the sin of Adam and Eve- that we can become somebody because of the things we do. Satan said to Eve that if they ate the fruit, they would become like gods. The Bible is full of warnings about people who think that God will be impressed with them simply because of the things they do, whether it be offering sacrifices, fulfilling religious routines or just by doing good works. Christians too commonly   think, if only I can do lots of Bible reading, prayer and other Christian duties, then I will earn God’s approval, I will be a really good Christian, and God will love me even more. This is not what true Christianity looks like, but this is a lie which is natural to our hearts, and which we constantly fall prey to.

What is the truth of the gospel? The truth of the gospel is that God accepts us as his beloved children not because of anything that we do or don’t do, but because of his grace and perfect love given to us in Jesus. Our actions must flow out of this identity which God has already given us- they aren’t required to give us our identity.

The Bible often talks about God’s work being like a plant or a garden growing. Plants need certain things to grow- sunlight, healthy soil, clean air, and water. If plants are not given these ingredients, there is little chance of any growth taking place. But growing plants is a bit different from baking a cake, in which, it really is all up to me to put in exactly the right ingredients and bake for the correct period of time. Plants grow not because of my skill in digging dirt, or in my watering technique. Plants ultimately grow because it is in their DNA to grow as plants, provided they are in a healthy environment and receiving access to sunlight.

It is in our DNA to grow as Christians, if we are consciously living out our identity as sons and daughters of God, received by faith through grace. It does not happen because of any duties which we do. Sometimes we might behave like the toad in the old children’s Frog and Toad stories, who planted some seeds, then yelled at his seeds, “Now seeds, START GROWING!”. Upon their failure to show themselves, he started reading them stories, singing them songs and playing the violin to coax them into appearing. Sometimes Christians behave similarly in thinking that if they just do a list of activities, then they deserve to grow, and they fail to realise that their focus has shifted from God’s grace and love given to them for free in Christ to their own works of Bible reading and praying.

However, Christians do need to cultivate a healthy lifestyle which will allow God’s grace to do its wonderful work and bring growth within us. Just as a farmer applies discipline and even hard work in creating a healthy environment to allow plants to grow, there are structures which we can place in our life to allow our love for God to really grow. Here then are some tips for the sort of lifestyle we can seek to put in place.

Cultivate gratitude. If the key to our growth with God is accepting God’s grace rather than doing Christian duties, then it makes a lot of sense to intentionally pursue the discipline of living life with an attitude of thanksgiving and joy in what God has done. This could mean:
* starting each week by thanking God for 3 things He did in your life the previous week;
* writing out a prayer to pray which thanks God for His grace and love which relates to a specific issue you struggle with. For example, if you struggle with resentment to parents, write a prayer thanking God for the way He is your perfect Father, thanking Him for the lessons he is teaching you through your (sometimes difficult) parents, and thanking him for the many good things you can see in your parents.
* Begin each day by reading out and praying thanksgiving prayers you have written.

Listen to God in the Bible. Much could be said about how to get the most out of reading your Bible than what can be mentioned here. The key however is to aim for quality rather than quantity. That is, don’t just read the Bible and then close it after reading the amount of verses or chapters you aimed for. It really doesn’t matter how much you read- the important question is whether you are listening to what God is saying to you in it. The best way to do this is to read slowly, and after you have read a certain amount, consider the passage again and ask yourself what truth or verse is the most important thing which God wants you to listen to at the moment in your life. Develop the discipline to consider that you have not spent time in the Bible if you cannot say what God has said to you from it each time.

Commune with God in Prayer. There are many aspects to speaking with God: worship, thanksgiving, confession of sin, asking for various needs. Jesus provides us with a great pattern to follow in the prayer he taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 in which these various aspects can be found. The biggest challenges to overcome for a healthy prayer life are often tiredness and distraction. So plan to vary the way you pray to keep it fresh and overcome these challenges. Prayer walking is a great way to overcome tiredness and the distractions of the internet or young children. Meeting with a friend to pray can be helpful at a time of the week when you struggle most with tiredness. Singing songs to God alongside a favourite worship album can awaken your mind when you may not be in the mood. Speaking out loud or writing prayers down can be helpful to focus your attention. Prayer should become a great joy for you in your walk with God- not just a duty to perform.

Recognise what God is doing in your Circumstances. Do you believe that God is at work in your life, every day of the week? When you take time to reflect on what is going on in your life, you will begin to see lots of moments which can be seen as the working of God to teach you more of his character, more of your sinfulness, and more of his grace and love to you. Think back over the last week- did you suffer from depression, stress or anger? These are indications that God has work to do in your soul and opportunities for spiritual breakthroughs if you let God do his work. Did you see anybody whose example inspired or challenged you? Did you see anybody in need of compassion or assistance? Intentionally reflecting on the events of your life will open up new opportunities to grow in your relationship with God as you see him at work in every circumstance of your daily life.

Take Time Out to Rest and Recharge. The idea of resting on the Sabbath day was really big in the Old Testament- and the principle is still there for us to obey in the modern world. Our culture unfortunately values busyness as a symbol of success, and unfortunately that involves living a life frantically running from one activity to the next without any space to breathe. Intentionally planning to have days where you enjoy time spent with God, various types of recreation, and your relationships with friends and family is a vital part of cultivating our relationship with God. Don’t neglect it.

Establish a Pattern of Life.
  We all use patterns of life for the things which are important. We eat three meals a day at various times. We have start and finish times for school or work. If you want to prioritize your relationship with God, you will be wise to make a plan to help you fulfil it. This will probably involve looking at your pattern of life on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and set routines in place which may help you act out the different activities we have discussed here.

There is one other vital component of growing in your relationship with God. Anyone who starts out on the journey to know God will find that the road is difficult. Most people who seek to do it on their own will find that they make little progress. That is why we need each other- knowing God is a team sport rather than an individual one.

10 Lines of Biblical Evidence that Jesus is God.

1- The Old Testament Describes Yahweh and the Messiah Doing Exactly the Same Activities.
Why I include some OT arguments is just to show that the idea of the trinity is not just something that some guy in the New Testament came up with one day on a boring afternoon. It was embedded in the OT before them. So, one example of this category is Ezekiel 34:11-15 11 “.. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. Cp Eg: Ezekiel 34:23-24 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherdHere in the same chapter you get Yahweh and the Messiah being described as the shepherd of God’s people.

Also see Isaiah 11, 42, 49, 61 cp Isaiah 25, 35, 40, 59 ; Zech 6:12-13; 9:9-10, 13:7 cp Zech 9:14-16;14:9

2- The Old Testament Describes the Messiah in Ways that Sound Divine..
Eg Micah 5:1-2, – “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Or Daniel 7:13-14-  13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Also: Psalm 45:6-7; Psalm 110:1

3- Old Testament Verses which Refer to God are Applied to Jesus in the New Testament..
Eg Hebrews 1:10- And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

Also: Matthew 1:23, 3:3, Revelation 1:7

4- Old Testament Names or Titles of God are Quoted but Applied to Jesus.
Romans 10:13- 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Cp Joel 2:32;
or, Philippians 2:10-11- so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Cp Isaiah 45:22-23- For I am God, and there is no other. 23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
Or, cp- Eg: Isaiah 44:6 “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 22:12-13 12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Also Matthew 3:3;

5- Jesus does things which only God can do.
Eg. Mark 2:5-7  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,“Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,“Why does this man speak like that?He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Also: Matthew 14:25; 24:30; 28:30; Mark 2:7.

6- Jesus is described in a horizontal relationship to His Father.
Eg. 1 Corinthians 1:3- Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Eg. 1 Cor 8:5-6- For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Also: Matthew 11:27; Mt 28:19; 1 Cor 1:3; 

7- Jesus assumes the authority of God.
 eg Matthew 12:6, 8- I tell you, something (or, someone) greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Eg. John 5:23- 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. John 8:58 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Also: Matthew 5:27-28; John 3:31; 8:58; 10:30; 14:9-10

8- Things are said of Jesus which logically make Him God.
Eg. John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Also: Matthew 22:41-45; Colossians 1:16-19; 2:9; Titus 2:13 ; 1 John 1:1-2; Rev 1:17; 19:16; 1:8 cp 22:13

9- Jesus is worshipped and prayed to.
Matthew 2:2- “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Revelation 5:11-14- 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Also: John 9:38

10- Jesus is said to be God.
John 1:1- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jn 20:28-  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Hebrews 1:8-  But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

Also: John 5:18, Rom 9:5; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20

Why is the OT sometimes so barbaric sounding?

Why does Leviticus have such “barbaric” punishments for law-breakers?

Eg why stone people who break the Sabbath? Eg why do lots of people die as a punishment for somebody’s sin (eg David’s sin in 2 Samuel 24)? Isn’t a law like “an eye for an eye” a bit harsh?

This is a question which has a number of angles to it. The following factors combine to give perspective to this question.

What is considered just or unjust in punishments vary from society to society and from age to age. Our smoking laws today would have doubtless seemed draconian a mere 20 years ago, let alone 100 years ago. There are vast differences in standards of justice in different parts of the world today- eg drug laws in Asia. Part of our trouble in understanding punishments in biblical ages comes from misunderstanding arising from different social standards in different cultures.

Harsh punishments were the order of the day in cultures of the ancient near east. One reason for this was that mere survival was a constant struggle, and so society could not afford to have rebels causing problems and distracting from the community building stability to survive together. A contemporary analogy to this is the discipline used in the army in which complete obedience is insisted upon in every detail in order to increase cohesion and success in dangerous missions.

There was little means of punishing people, other than by making them a slave, exiling them or the death penalty. People were poor, and so could not be “fined” much. Obviously, society was not advanced enough to support prisons, let alone rehabilitation centres! Slavery was used as a punishment, but may have had practical difficulties in implementation- how do you stop them running away, and escaping justice?

Death was commonplace in society- there was less value on a human life, as death simply occurred so much more often. Thus although death would have always been a tragic event, it would not have seemed so harsh as it does for us in our modern world.

The modern idea of the sanctity of human life is a religious concept- atheism has no logical foundation for any real sanctity of human life. But a biblical concept of the sanctity of human life does not necessarily mean this is an infinite value of meaning, in which life could or should never be taken under any circumstances.

Death was believed to be the pathway to the afterlife, in which God would give them perfect justice, unlike the very impartial justice received on earth. Thus death could be seen as a better punishment than the very incomplete type of justice given by human courts. Death for the righteous is not the worst possible outcome, as it is in an atheist worldview, although of course the decision to end another’s life was always one only taken with the most serious of justifications.

Thus, where punishments are used in the OT that seem harsh to us, God is communicating his displeasure concerning sin in ways that people in the culture of the ancient near east will understand. If God used a far more “humane” level of justice than what was used everywhere else in society, the message would be that sin mattered little.

Of course, the Israelites in the wilderness had personally witnessed so much of the direct action of God in their lives, that their disobedience to God was especially willful and rebellious. This may account for the immediate judgement which God sometimes gives to people in OT times.

Punishments for breaking Old Testament laws of course are not applicable to the church today as they were given for ancient Israel in its special relationship with God in the context of the ancient near east. The Christian church is no longer under the law, and is scattered to live as minorities in all the nations of the world, being submissive to their governments, rather than seeking to establish a new theocracy based on the pattern of the Old Testament.

The law regarding “an eye for an eye…” was a civic law- thus, it does not give permission for people to start taking out people’s eyes whenever they get an elbow from somebody else- it was a judgement for a judge to proscribe. Furthermore, it was not as a principle taken literally- rather monetary compensation was given to pay for an injury- as seen in Exodus 21:23-27. The point of the law was that the punishment should fit the crime, and this law served to limit the punishment given, so that excessive punishment could not be given out to vulnerable people beyond what was deserved. Laws regarding punishments in the OT are often more lenient and humane than what was common in surrounding ancient near east cultures.

Learning to Enjoy the Boring Parts of the OT

How do we go about finding nourishment from reading parts of the Old Testament, like laws, lists, and genealogies which are difficult to relate to modern day Christian living?

It is often a challenge to enjoy reading difficult parts of the Bible, especially found in the Old Testament. My experience is that it just takes extra discipline of the mind to engage with these parts of the word of God, but when you do that, there is often some nourishing lessons to be had. Here are a few ideas to help you in the journey.

– Not all of the Bible is easy to understand, and apply all at once. Realise we are on a journey in our understanding of the Bible, and be patient with the harder parts. Don’t feel you have to master all of the Bible immediately.

– Avoid the two extremes of either totally ignoring these scriptures, but also of looking for profound truths in every verse. Try to look for the big picture first, then relate the details to that big picture.

– Discipline yourself to ask the question why this passage was included for the first readers of it, and then relate their response to it in their situation to your situation today. How would the ancient Israelites have felt about the tabernacle, the magnificent tent in the middle of their campsite?

– Use imagination to connect with how this part of the scripture might have impacted on ancient Israelite life, and how we are faced with similar yet different challenges. Eg the food laws of Lev 11 might be boring for us to read, but imagine how that would have impacted on the Israelites in relation to the way they used to live and their distinctiveness from other nations.

– Discipline yourself to look at the context and the structure of the book. Note patterns in lists, and the flow of thought. Then ask yourself why it is written that way.

An example: What about those puzzling long list of names (12 chapters or so) at the beginning of 1 Chronicles. You probably won’t get much edification just by reading the lists of genealogies, and trying to pronounce all the names right. But a little bit of observation shows that most attention is given to the tribes of David and Levi, and the other tribes get minimal attention, but are evenly scattered around these two main tribes. Lesson- all the tribes of Israel were necessary and included- but special focus needed to be placed on the kingly tribe and the priestly tribe. This was important for Israel then- the 10 northern tribes had been scattered in the exile, forsaking the Davidic king and the Levitical priesthood. But now the inclusion of all the tribes is saying to the (post-exilic) southern tribes that all 12 tribes have their place in the people of God, while the emphasis on the two tribes shows that we must have God’s king, and we must have God’s priest.  Here are lessons for us today about the unity of God’s people, and our need for God’s Saviour and King, Jesus Christ.

– Discipline yourself to skim read large sections of scripture as well as small passages, particularly the more difficult passages of the OT. This assists to see sometimes why passages are included and what contribution they make to the book.

– Learn to make connections with how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament themes such as land, priest, kingdom, Sabbath, purity, etc in the gospel, and reflect on the New Testament fulfillment and the blessings we have received in Christ.

– Get hold of a good readable introductory commentary and read it alongside your Bible- eg the “Bible Speaks Today” series.