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Reflection on Blasphemy

I think blasphemy is often misunderstood.

Most people understand blasphemy in terms of:
Not taking the Lord's name in vain.

In English - Blasphemy: the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.

The English definition speaks more about how people are offended than about how God might be offended.  The great concern is about how people use the name of God and thus Jews will write G-d instead of God or speak of HaShem - the name; without daring to pronounce the name denoted by YHWH.

In the Old Testament there are a few occasions where people insult God and the community stones them; in the case of Jezebel and Naboth; Jezebel employs scoundrels to accuse Naboth of cursing God's name and he is killed as a result.  In this case we see an abuse and misunderstanding of the law - Jezebel blasphemes the Lord all the time but gets away with it most of the time because she is royalty.

In the New Testament Blasphemy is more close to the idea of slander.

In Acts 6-7 Stephen is stoned after being accused of blasphemy:

Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 

Stephen stood falsely accused because what he had to say to the religious leaders was true.  It challenged their assumption about what God was like.

Further along in Acts 13:45 when Paul preaches in Pisidian Antioch people contradict what Paul said:

Acts 13:45 - 
45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.

In Romans 2:17-24 Paul writes to the Jews / Jewish Christians in Rome:

 You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” 

In these cases God's nature or message is misrepresented by those purported to be his messengers.  Paul who misrepresented the message of God by misunderstanding Jesus makes this beautiful statement in 1 Timothy 1:13-15 -

13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 

James 2:6-7 also speaks of blasphemy as our mistreating fellow Christians:

Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 

The dictionary definition does not do justice to the Biblical example of the concept of blasphemy, so the question - are those pictures blasphemous?

I agree that those pictures are offensive. 
But I wouldn't say that they are blasphemous.

I'd say they're not blasphemous because:
The artist is not saying something about Jesus; he is saying something about himself, and his faith - expressing his beliefs.  He is not saying: "This is the truth about Jesus..."  He is saying "This is what I think..."

I think a key part of the offensiveness of these pictures is in the way that they seem to mock / make light of the crucifixion.  This is deeply offensive.  But as I thought about it I realised that for Christians there is nothing more offensive or beautiful than the crucifixion.  As Paul said:

1 Corinthians 1:18 - 
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

There is no way to make the idea of God in all of God's love crucified on the cross more offensive than what it is.  As the song says: "It was my sin that held him there..."  And as it goes on to say: "His death has paid my ransom."

Some people ask the question:
What if the prophet of Islam was depicted in this way?

And I think this opens up a very important point of difference between Islam and Christianity, and it points again to the "foolishness" of the message of the cross.

The cross is a stumbling block to faith for many - again and further on in 1 Corinthians:

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 

The notion that God could be incarnated in the fragility of a baby born to a woman.  The scandal of a God who would love sinners like me.  A God who would receive the insults of the cross without calling down thunder and lightning...  Is too much for other faiths to bear.  And that is something we celebrate as Christians.  The cross is where we see all the glory of God especially in that God would stoop so low to reach us.

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.

Table View Methodist 2019-10-27

The internet and Whatsapp got very excited this week when a pastor posted his feelings about a Matric art exhibition in Richard’s Bay.  It prompted a lot of discussion with people taking sides about how Christ should be depicted and asking the question:  What if another religion’s gods were depicted in this way?
Christians are not offended by any depiction of God because we believe in Christ who was crucified:
In response to the concern expressed I wrote the following:
The devil would love you to think that skulls and torn up Bibles are evil. The worst thing that could ever happen. They're not.
Evil looks like a world in which the rich can get / buy a decent education and the poor are stuffed 50 in a class with pit toilets and no water. Evil looks like the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.
Spooky creepy people with kudu horns on their heads aren't evil. They're just creepy. Skulls aren't evil. They remind us of mortality.
If Jesus were to walk in on the controversial exhibition I think he'd be amused. Because I think we sometimes treat God like a MacDonalds clown as we pray for a happy meal to momentarily quench our hunger for something more real.
I think he wouldn't recognise Swedish Jesus as depicted in the pictures as himself. And I guess that's the artist's intention.
Evil isn't kids dressed up as Zombies. Evil is kids dying of hunger while we throw away good food. Evil is boring. That's how it goes on unnoticed.
I believe that as Christians we should be very careful about how we depict Christ; but we should never be offended by somebody else’s ideas.

Read Think Pray

Monday Read Psalm 65

In Matthew 6:25-26 Jesus uses the abundance of beauty and life in nature to remind people not to worry.  God is in control.  Psalm 65:7 reminds us that it is God and God alone who brings peace and justice.

Pray

"You calm the roar of the seas and the noise of the waves; you calm the uproar of the peoples." - Psalm 65:7
Lift up your distress and the distress of the world in which we live to God.  Think how God can calm the sea - invite God to bring peace.

Tuesday Read Joel 2:23-32

The prophets expose corruption and injustice.  They invite Israel to repent.  When Israel repents - they promise God's blessing.  Fertility, abundance, security and peace.
Verses 28 and 29 are quoted by Peter when he preaches in Acts 2:17-21.  The outpouring of the Spirit brings a change of character and new life.

Pray

Pour out your spirit on me.  Teach me to dream dreams and see visions.

Wednesday Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and 16-18

Paul anticipates the end of his life - effectively he is passing on the baton of ministry to young Timothy.  Reflecting on his life he is able to say: "I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith." - 2 Timothy 4:7

Pray

Lord sometimes I walk, sometimes I leave the track entirely... sometimes I fall asleep in the starting blocks.  Wake me up and set me straight for the journey ahead.

Thursday Read Luke 18:9-14

Its easy to think to ourselves:  Lord I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee!!!  But we're all a bit like that.

Pray

God, have pity on me, a sinner.
- Luke 18:13

Friday Read Luke 19:1-10

Jesus sees Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus.  Jesus reaches out to Zacchaeus; Zacchaeus sets his life straight.

Pray



Lord help me to straighten out my life today.

Pastoral Note 2019-10-20

Minister’s Blog

Hi Table View Methodist Family,
As we reflect on the Apostle’s Creed we’ve spoken about how believe changes the way we see things.  CS Lewis writes:
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
To believe changes the way we see everything.  The way we prioritize our lives; the way we understand our own existence.  Because we believe that God created the world we believe it has a purpose that turns toward the good.  Despite the difficulty of the times we experience we put our trust in God for a hopeful future.
Believing in Jesus means we trust in the nature of who God is - Jesus who heals.  The leper who returned to Jesus to give thanks recognized that Jesus was the true mediator of life and healing; and when he gave thanks he was made ‘well’; more than just cleansed.
This Sunday as we continue to explore the creed we reach some difficult points; things that we often gloss over but are nevertheless important:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
There is an interesting history as to why these particular lines were important to the Christian faith.
God bless,
Gus
PS - as I write we keep Stuart Cummings and his family in our prayers as he undergoes a quadruple bypass.  We give thanks that Carol will be going home today after her eye was removed due to a cancerous growth.  And we give thanks for 6 month old Amelia who will be baptised this Sunday (she was in hospital with the flu for the last two days).  

Monday - Read Psalm 121

I imagine a pilgrim on a journey toward the temple; looking at the mountains before him or her - mountains that represent struggle and danger.  Looking at the mountains the pilgrim is able to remember where his or her help will come from.  Always awake.  By your side.  Protecting.  God doesn’t take the mountains away; but he does promise to accompany us on the journey.

Pray

Pray Psalm 121.

Tuesday - Read Genesis 32:22-31

28 The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have struggled with God and with men, and you have won; so your name will be Israel.”  Jacob wrestles with the angel; and he gets renamed - “Israel” - which means ‘struggle with God’ or ‘wrestle with God’.  Our relationship with God will always be complicated; a place of struggle.

Pray

Lord help me to have some of Jacob’s tenacity and cheek:  “I won’t let go until you bless me.”  

Wednesday - Read 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Chapter 4:3-5 “The time will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and will collect for themselves more and more teachers who will tell them what they are itching to hear. 4 They will turn away from listening to the truth and give their attention to legends. 5 But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances; endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the Good News, and perform your whole duty as a servant of God.”
Us Christians often insist only on hearing what we want to hear - and not on what is true.  Timothy is encouraged to preach the difficult message even though people will ‘turn away from the truth’ and listen to ‘legends’.

Pray

Lord help me to hear and to speak the truth; not to be misled by legends and deceit.

Thursday - Luke 18:1-8

It’s easy to see this passage as encouragement to ‘keep praying and never give up’ but if you read verse 6-8 its a reminder to live a just and righteous life; to work for justice in the world because it is inevitable that God who is a just judge will put the world right eventually.

Pray

Lord search me and know my ways so I may learn to do what is right in your eyes.

Friday - Read Luke 18:9-14

Think

This is a hard passage because if we are sure of our own goodness and despise everyone else we probably won’t know it.  The tax collector teaches the Pharisee how to pray:  “God, have pity on me, a sinner.”

Pray

Loving God - only you are just and right.  Help me to see my sin and receive your correction.

Pastoral Note 2019-10-20


Minister’s Blog


Hi Table View Methodist Family,

This is the Apostle’s Creed as used by the Methodist Church:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand
of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge
the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Over the next few weeks as I preach and teach I will be reflecting on what it means to declare this faith.  Of interest is the fact that the Apostle’s Creed was not meant to be a ‘summary of the faith’ it was really a response to some false teachings that were being proclaimed in the third and fourth centuries. Most importantly the Apostle’s creed stressed Christian belief in God as a Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Pastoral Letter - 2019-10-6



Minister’s Blog


Hi Table View Methodist Family,

I’m looking forward to sharing communion with you this Sunday at 845 and 11am.  I missed you last week as I travelled to the Vredenberg part of our circuit to baptise Rev Masoabi’s daughter Babalwa at the Witteklip Society just outside Vredenberg.  I also conducted the Sunday Service at the Velddrif Society.  As a family we took advantage of the trip to stay in Paternoster for the weekend so I had a lovely working holiday :)


Thank you.

From Tuesday through to Thursday the ministers of the Cape of Good Hope Synod met at the Manyano Center in Paarl where we had excellent input from the South African Faith and Family Institute about Gender Based Violence.  And a presentation about Gang Violence on the Cape Flats and what the church can do.  The problems we face in our communities are sometimes so big that they seem impossible to confront.  But as we sing: “God is big!” we remember that with God’s help nothing is impossible.

God bless,
Gus




Monday - Read Psalm 137

As much Boney-M might play in your head for verse 1; this Psalm is a very sad Psalm.  The Psalmist expresses violent hatred for the Babylonians who took the Israelites as slaves and captives into Israel.  Verse 9 expresses the Psalmist's desire to see the children of the Babylonians killed.

Pray

There are many angry people in the world; many live with resentment and a longing to see revenge.  Give thanks to Jesus for offering us another way.  Pray for God's help to turn our anger into joy, our mourning to dancing.

Tuesday - Read Lamentations 1:1-6

After centuries of unfaithfulness God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed.  "Her leaders are like deer that are weak from hunger, Whose strength is almost gone as they flee from hunters." - Verse 6

Pray

Pray for bold leadership in our land, our churches, our communities - leadership that follows Jesus' guidance and ushers in the coming of God's Kingdom.

Wednesday - Read 2 Timothy 1:1-14

"For this reason I remind you to keep alive the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control." - Verse 6

Pray

Lord help me to keep the gift of your Holy Spirit alive in my heart.  Teach me to pay attention.  Teach me to be guided.  Teach me to open my heart and my mind more and more to your transforming presence.

Thursday - Read Luke 17:5-10

"Make our faith greater." Jesus tells the disciples that even the tiniest bit of faith is a enough to move mountains.  I've never met anyone with that much faith.  The little faith that we have - in Jesus - is all that we need.

Pray

Lord, make our faith greater.

Friday - Read Luke 17:11-19

Jesus heals 10 lepers.  One comes back to give thanks.  A foreigner.  Only after he has come to give thanks Jesus says: "Your faith has made you well."  Wellness means knowing where your healing comes from.

Pray

Lord keep me mindful of where all my gifts come from.