How big is too big? On Goldilocks and the devil

1346445103-chair

Next Saturday, we’ll return to our series Christlike Disciples, Christlike World: The Transformational Mission of the People of God. For today, here’s one from the archives.

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The story of Goldilocks and the three bears is a children’s favorite. A little girl takes a walk in the forest, and comes upon a house. She knocks, but when no one answers, she opens the door and begins to explore. Besides three  bowls and three beds, she spies three chairs in the living room. Sitting in the first two, she concludes that they are too big, but the third one is different. “Ah, this chair is just right,” she exclaims.

When it comes to the devil, Christian theologians disagree on how large a “chair” he should occupy. Some argue that he should only be a bit player in salvation’s drama. After all, Satan goes unmentioned in the early affirmations of faith, including the Apostles’ Creed (2nd century CE) and the Nicene Creed (325 CE). Henry and Richard Blackaby, in their devotional guide Experiencing God Day-By-Day (Broadman, 1998), are of this persuasion. In their thoughts for October 31, they observe:

Christians can become preoccupied with battling Satan. This deceives them to invest their time and energy attempting to do something that Christ has already done for them. If Satan can divert you to wage a warfare that has already ended in surrender, he will have eliminated your effectiveness where God wants you. Fearing Satan is fearing a prisoner of war.

Dr Rob Staples, Professor Emeritus of theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary, recalled when he was a boy that his mother asked him to choose one of their farmyard chickens for dinner. When he lopped off the chicken’s head with a axe, the headless chicken danced in a frenzy for a while before dropping over dead. “That is an image of the devil,” Staples told us. “Jesus, through the Cross and Resurrection, chopped off Satan’s head, and all that we have seen since is his death dance.”

On the other hand, some reserve too large a place for the devil in their thinking. In 15 years of ministry in Africa, I have resisted calls for inserting a “demonology” course in our curriculum. While several courses with a different focus touch upon the issue, to dedicate an entire course to the topic reminds me of Goldilock’s comments about the first two chairs: “This chair is too big!” I’ve been in church services where the first ten minutes are given to the congregation raising its voice to chase the devil away. I’ve challenged pastors to consider whether they are unwittingly sowing fear in the hearts of believers. After all, if it takes 200 Christians ten minutes of concerted, high-volume prayer to chase the devil on a Sunday morning, what will the poor saint do on her sick bed when she senses spiritual attack and can only manage a whisper?

The New Testament truth appears to lie somewhere between the position of the Blackabys and Staples and the exaggerated view of some African pastors. It is a view that recognizes the eventual defeat of the devil (Rev. 20:1-3), a final defeat begun via Cross and Empty Tomb.  Satan was wounded, there can be no doubt, yet is this the mortal wound of Staples’ headless chicken? If so, then the “death dance” has lasted 2,000 years!

Peter chose another animal to which he compared Satan:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

Paul joins Peter in his assessment, lamenting that to-date he had been unable to visit the Thessalonians, since Satan had “hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18, NIV). Yet the same Paul did not hesitate to cast out of of a slave girl in Philippi a python spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-19). His spiritual preparedness to confront whatever the devil threw his way is epitomized in Ephesians 6:10-20, where we are to “put on the full armor of God” so that we may “stand against the devil’s schemes” (v. 11). Unlike the Blackabys, I do not believe that the devil has already surrendered, though one day he will.

When it comes to our understanding of the devil, there is a position – like the chair Goldilocks chose – that fits the biblical evidence “just right.” I wonder: If we insist that “Satan is a defeated foe” – rather than “Satan is wounded and will finally be defeated” – could this lead to spiritual complacency?  A wounded animal is particularly dangerous. To downplay this reality may risk being naively blind-sided while serving the Lord. We may consider something a “test from God” that is instead an attack from Satan. On the other hand, to place the devil center-stage in our thinking is to do what neither creeds nor Scripture have done. This can lead to an unhealthy fascination with darkness. It may sow fear in our hearts, a fear that is unbecoming a Christian’s confidence in the victory of Christ, now and in the future.

Meanwhile, in this great parenthesis between Jesus’ ascension and his final enthronement at the Second Coming, we ask the question contained in Francis Schaeffer’s book title:

How should we then live?

We live in neither complacency nor fear in this time of “already, but not yet.” We live a vigilant life, aware of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). With the Blackabys, we refuse to be distracted from the work to which God has called us, preaching the Gospel, binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted, and in victory over Satan awaiting the day when God shall in Christ bring all things to fulfillment. What a day that will be!

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Photo credit: Missoula News

Theology in Overalls: Why it Matters

Pelham Lessing

I was asked by Dr Crofford to consider writing a short essay on a practical theological theme or to write up a book review as a way to introduce me to the readership of his blog: Theology in Overallswhere theology meets everyday life – by being what he calls a guest voice. Instead of thinking about a practical issue to write about or to decide on which of the books I am currently reading would make for a nice book review, I became absorbed by the name and description of the blog-page. So instead of writing a book review or on a practical issue I want to write about Why Theology in Overalls Matters and apply it to one particular sphere.

This got me thinking about the current issue of overalls being discussed in South Africa’s parliament, theology and its practical implications. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is a leftist political party in South Africa. One of the aims and objectives of the party is “to create conditions for total political and economic emancipation, prosperity, and equitable distribution of wealth of the nation.” The EFF are currently embroiled in an argument with government and or parliament on wearing red boiler suits and overalls to parliamentary sessions.

According to the EFF their dress code is a symbol signifying their disassociation and dissatisfaction with the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) who the former claim are not living up to the Freedom Charter[1]. The African National Congress (ANC) has accused the EFF of not respecting the dress code of institutions and a failure to understand decorum, which according to the EFF is relying on colonial imagery. The EFF in turn says that their dress code is used as a symbol of the plight of the poor and working class. For the EFF politics must be practical and speak to life-based (rooted in life) issues. As I read articles and listened to reports on the radio regarding the overall debate, my mind started to focus once more on the practice orientated nature of the gospel.

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God and Coffee: A Story

Newlyweds Kevin and Naomi Nye
Newlyweds Kevin and Naomi Nye

For the next 2 Saturdays, I’ll be featuring guest voices here at Theology in Overalls. Today, I’m pleased  (with permission) to repost  “God and coffee: A story,” from the weblog of Southern Nazarene University alumnus, Kevin Nye.

Kevin is a writer who gently shakes up  your unexamined assumptions. Even if you’re not a coffee connoisseur, you’ll enjoy how Kevin uncovers God in everyday things.

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GOD AND COFFEE: A STORY

In this, my first “meaty” post about God and Coffee, I simply want to tell a story. It’s a story you may know if you know me personally, or might have a connection to in some other way. It’s nothing more than a personal story about how coffee, and a small little world made possible, changed my life. This felt like an especially poignant story to tell because of all the news and opinions about mental illness surrounding Robin Williams’ death.

This is only a story, and you may wonder, “What does this have to do with God and coffee?” Well, this story has coffee in it, and it has God in it, so that’s my first qualification. But mostly, I tell this story because I think this whole situation was made possible because coffee is something that most of the world shares in common. It’s something that almost all of us drink, young and old, and unites us with the rest of the world: where coffee drinking, farming, and distributing take place. It’s a shared experience, and I think God is in it.

In 2005, an espresso and smoothie catering company called Dirty Water Coffee Co. was started in Oklahoma City by an ambitious, but driven 20 year old named Taggart Dertinger, affectionately known by the name Tag. From scratch, Tag developed a fully mobile coffee and smoothie shop that could be set up in 15 minutes or less, and offer everything from espresso shots to Busted Bean Frappuccinos, or the classic Snozzberry smoothie. By the time I joined the company in 2011, Dirty Water was doing upwards of 20-25 events per week, with four full setups that could be in different places at once.

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Fear or faith? Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Ebola virus

Mrs-O-Leary-s-Cow-Realizes-How-She-Can-End-the-Carnage-in-Chicago-s-SlaughterhousesYou’ve heard of a scapegoat. How about a scapecow?

From October 8-10, 1871, the Great Chicago fire cut a huge swath through the city, resulting in $ 192 million in damage to property, killing 300 and leaving 100,000 residents homeless. Urban legend has since blamed Mrs O’Leary’s cow, though a board of inquiry never conclusively established the fire’s cause. A popular poem nonetheless assigned blame:

One dark night, when people were in bed,

Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in her shed.

The cow kicked it over, winked his eye and said,

“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.”

It has been 143 years since the Great Chicago fire, but some things don’t change. We still want to assign blame. The latest example is a group of more than 100 Liberian clergy who – in a statement reported by  the Liberia Observerblamed “homosexualism, etc.” for the “plague” of Ebola. One may wonder why homosexuals – a tiny minority of citizens – were singled out by name when others in the majority only merited an “etc.”

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The Eucharist: God’s winsome invitation to grace

eucharistPeople were asking questions. Their pastor was new and – so far – had celebrated communion every Sunday, something they’d never done before, so they decided to ask him about it. “Don’t you think it will become routine if we do this together every week?” The pastor was quiet for a minute, then posed a question of his own. “Do you think God is in heaven looking down at us and saying, ‘Stop it, people! Don’t do that so much!’ ” His listeners laughed; they took his point. The next Sunday, they gladly went forward during communion time.

Sacraments are dramatic rites/ceremonies – or to use Augustine’s term, “visible words” – modeled by Jesus and instituted by him that he intended the people of God to practice as well. In the last chapter, we spoke about one such sacrament, baptism. Baptism is the initiation that marks off individuals as belonging to the people of God, the church. Another sacrament regularly observed by the church is the Eucharist, sometimes called “Holy Communion,” “communion,” or “the Lord’s Supper.”

The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek verb, eucharisto, meaning to “give thanks.”  The night before his crucifixion, Jesus took bread and wine and gave thanks for them before giving them to his disciples (Matt. 26:27, Luke 22:19; see also 1 Cor 11:24). Luke 22:14-23 picks up the story:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!”  They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. 

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Spiritual beings in the Old Testament

Rev Chanshi Chanda
Rev Chanshi Chanda

Today’s guest is Chanshi Chanda. Reverend Chanda (M.A in Religion, Africa Nazarene University) is a long time Nazarene. Congolese by birth and formerly a pastor and Field Strategy Coordinator of the French Equatorial Field (Africa Region), he currently resides in Lusaka, Zambia. He recently launched the Institute for the Study of Human Dignity and Freedom (ISHDEF), a Think Tank and advocacy group that seeks to bring Christian theological principles to bear in the economic marketplace. He is the author of Christlike Justice and the Holiness Tradition (2010). The excerpt below is part of the Nazarene Theological Institute course, “Introduction to the Old Testament.” It is reproduced here with Rev Chanda’s permission.

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The Council of Yahweh – Daniel 7.9-14 seems to present a celestial council of spiritual beings who surround God. The best description of this council appears in the vision of the prophet Micaiah in 1 Kings 22.19-23 where God is surrounded by the “host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left” (v. 19, NIV). Yahweh created them, and he presides at their meetings, even if he doesn’t seek their advice (Isa. 40.13-14) like the gods of other religions. Yahweh is called the “LORD of hosts” (Isa. 47:4, NASB). Before this council, true prophets appear to hear the world of God (Jer. 23.18, 22). The number of angels or other members of God’s council is never mentioned in the Bible.

 God can send members of the council to carry out His will. They worship God, and they execute his wrath by acting as members of His celestial armies. The Old Testament gives to members of the council ranks according to their exact role: the adversary (Satan); the archangels, such as Gabriel and Michael (Dan. 8 & 10); and Job’s advocate (33.22-25), an angel who defends the accused against the charges of Satan. The primary function of angels is to worship God in His court and to announce God’s word, though they sometimes intervene to protect the lives of the faithful.

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Madagascar adventure

Boys from the neighborhood where we stayed
Boys from the neighborhood where we stayed. They proudly display their puppy.

This is an account of Amy’s and my first visit to Madagascar, 18-23 January, 2010. We visited again 30 May – June 3, 2011. Our Nazarenes there are a committed group of people, and the joy of the Lord radiates from their lives. Please pray for Rev Ronald and Rachelle Miller and family, current missionaries in Mada. They replaced Rev David and Lisa Johnson (who now serve on the Africa East Field).

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What do you think of when you hear the word “Madagascar”? Some of us probably think of the movie that came out a few years back, or perhaps the lemur or some other exotic animal. From now on, I’ll think of the Big Island as the place where God is up to Big Things.

My wife, Amy, and I arrived on a Saturday and were greeted at the airport by Dave Johnson and his teenage daughter, Amanda. As we wound through Antananarivo, the capital city with nearly two million residents, the bustling activity was striking. Many barefoot men muscled a “pousse-pousse” (French for “push-push”) laden with bags of rice or other staples. Women set up small tables along the road, wooden stalls filled with colorful fruits and vegetables, suspended plucked chickens or dried fish and beans. Others displayed their wares on the ground, including shoes in all shapes and sizes, brooms or soap.

We went to church on Sunday. More than two hundred gathered under a tent at the children’s center. A group of seven teenage girls made up the worship team, including a boy playing drums and one of the older men on the keyboard. The Lord’s presence was close, and though I expected the many children present to become restless during my sermon, they listened with rapt attention. At the end, two dozen or more came forward as a sign that they wanted to follow Jesus!

On Monday, I began to teach a course on Galatians, part of the pastoral training program through the Institut Théologique Nazaréen. Fifteen students came faithfully, morning and afternoon, as we studied Paul’s letter. I couldn’t have done it without Pastor Richard, who translated my French into Malagasy, the local language. Every day, we memorized another verse from Galatians. Between lectures, students broke into small groups of three or four and talked about how to apply what we were learning to pastoral ministry. In this way, older students became mentors for those who were younger, encouraging them as they took their first steps as shepherds of the flock.

Church History I class
Church History I class

A highlight for me was hearing the testimonies from the students. Many had been born into homes where going to church was only a formality. Only later had they heard the Gospel, that Jesus could change their lives and give them a purpose. Several of the female pastors tearfully recounted how their husbands had beaten them, sometimes just for daring to go to the Nazarene Bible study. Despite this, they prayed for them and some of the husbands had come to Christ. Others spoke of how they had participated in the “turning of the bones” (ancestor worship) but later abandoned this annual ceremony, putting their faith in Christ. This was a step of faith for them, since honoring the dead by digging them up is prevalent in Madagascar.

The day before we left, we visited the street center. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM International) sponsors this outreach to street children. Many live with parents in ramshackle lean-tos, in tunnels or under bridges. From Monday through Friday, they can come to the center and get a solid breakfast and lunch. There are primary school classes for those who are younger, and older girls can learn sewing or housekeeping. The building was completed with labor from five Work and Witness teams, and includes a basketball court and comfortable living quarters for Pastor Richard and his wife, Theresa, who is the center’s Director. As I toured the building, I thought of three students who had been in my Galatians class. They had come through the center, found the Lord, and felt the call to pastoral ministry. Those stories and many more were only possible because of the incredible work of the center, a work that is even more desperately needed as the economy in Madagascar has been crippled in recent days.

Before I knew it, our time was up. Amy and I said goodbye to our new friends. We left grateful for the many Nazarenes who continue to give sacrificially to the work in Madagascar. Most of all, we’re grateful for the Big Things that God is up to on the Big Island.