Sunday, 26 December 2010

Poetic Imagination v Revelation?

I received a very special and unexpected Christmas present, a copy of "the History of the World in a 100 Objects". It is the text that has accompanied a BBC series in which 100 items from the British Museum have been selected to tell the story of human history. It is beautifully produced with great art plates of some amazing artefacts. I am one of those odd people who read the Prefaces and Introductions to books and this book has both; they explain the philosophy behind the book in some detail.

Some years ago I while working in the City of London I attended a lunch-time lecture at the British Museum on the Philosophy of History. There is an old adage that there is 'no such thing as uninterpreted history'. That means that all history is edited and interpreted, almost always by the victors who put their own spin on events. This lecture declared that we can pass no judgments of any kind on history without reinterpreting it and advocated a kind of history without conscience in which we pass no moral comment but simple 'give the facts'. It is impossible of course for any human being to be really objective in 'giving the facts'. Only the man or woman who knows they are subjective and takes that into account has any chance of 'giving the facts'. Those who have dabbled in the mystery may recognise the 'post modern' approach of my lunch time lecturer.

The preface and introduction of my Christmas present give a different slant. They declare, particularly with pre-text artefacts, that it is essential to use 'poetic imagination' in the interpreting of history. I read of a man chipping away at a flint hand axe whose mental processes of flint-knapping stimulated those parts of the brain that would create language. It created, I read, the kind of language which had the vocabulary of a seven year old child. (notice, not a 6 or 8 year old child) It then takes this 'fact' into the next chapter and uses it as the foundation for the next layer in human evolution in which carved animals and human figures show the evolution of religion. For 'poetic imagination' read 'sheer speculation'.

Are we then at the mercy of the imagination of our poets for our understanding of the world in which we live or is there an alternative? Short of the discovery of time travel the only alternatives can be imagination or revelation. There are aspects of life of which we can discover absolutely nothing by our own investigations, but we need not be ignorant of all these. God has given us, not a poetic speculation, but a unique and reliable revelation in the Scriptures. We know where 'religion' came from; it came because men had rejected 'revelation'.
although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Rom 1:21–25 NKJV
Idolatry then, whether in physical images or in contemporary philosophies, is always the consequence of turning our back on revelation.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Paul and the Nativity: Part Two

Our first look at Paul and the Nativity took us on a round trip from heaven's throne to Calvary's Hill and back again. This second glimpse into the 'why' of the incarnation comes in the midst of an appeal that Paul makes for contributions to his 'poor saints fund'. He reminds the saints in Corinth of the 'unspeakable gift' that God in Christ has already made.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Cor 8:9 NKJV
It a brief sentence that holds wonderful revelation. When Paul speaks of Christ 'becoming poor' he is not thinking of Bethlehem and the manger, although that is included. In his birth the Son of God 'became poor' but that poverty was relative. He was born into a working family where Joseph presumably had his small family business. That was comparative poverty but the Greek language would have a word for that; the man for whom it was necessary to do a day's work so that he had the resources to buy bread to give him the strength to the same thing all over the next day.

But New Testament Greek has another word which means abject poverty, the poverty of the beggar who has no resources whatever. Perhaps we could make the point like this; by his birth in Bethlehem the Son of God was impoverished but at Calvary he was 'beggared'.

"He was rich" goes farther back that we can imagine. In the eternity before time began the godhead coexisted in perfect union and delighted in each others' company. Before a single star was made the one that we now know as the Son of God was 'rich'; not 'rich' in possessions but in relationship. God is the only self-sufficient being in the universe; all else is daily dependent upon him.

If 'rich' then means fellowship and harmony within the godhead what can 'beggared' mean? Surely it can only mean the loss of his 'riches'. Was there such a time when the Son of God was bereft of such 'riches'? Yes, there was and we hear it the the testimony of his dereliction; "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" This was the culmination of a staggering journey. The Gospels tell the story of the journey's beginnings in incarnation, birth and life but it was at Calvary that the journey reached its furthest extremity. Stuart Townend captures the truth in his contemporary hymn;
How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
The cry 'forsaken' was not a misapprehension but the heart-broken testimony of one who was never deceived and only ever spoke the truth.

But if 'rich' means harmony and fellowship with God and 'made poor' means the loss of harmony and fellowship how are we to understand the rest of this brief sentence? In mathematical terms we have 'established a value for 'rich' and another for 'made poor' but Paul is not retelling the record he is answering the unasked question 'why?' What was the purpose of this event that Stuart Townend describes as a 'searing loss'? The answer could not be more plain... it was so that others might become 'rich'.

Now we have already established a value for the word 'rich' so we can declare categorically that the 'searing loss' was 'in order that through his poverty others might become 'rich'; that others might gain access into that 'harmony and fellowship' with God that the Son of God relinquished at Calvary.

I pray for all who read this at this Christmas-time, that the promise of Isaiah's prophecy may be further fulfilled in each one, that...
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. Is 53:11 NKJV

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Paul and the Nativity: Part One

There is a line in a Graham Kendrick song which says...
...if you keep him in the manger,
then there is no danger
from the Christmas child.
Herod, of course, did not fear the child in the manger but the man he would become. To yield up the throne is the most difficult thing ever asked of human beings and ultimately, at some point in life, we will be faced with the age-old challenge; do we crown him or crucify him? There are no alternatives to this stark choice.

As we move from the Gospels to the Letters we discover that the writers are not apparently interested in the kind of events that are recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As historians their task was mainly along the lines of 'what has happened'. The early Christians had many faithful witnesses to 'what has happened', questions they now faced were those answered in the Letters; 'why did these things happen? and what are the lasting implications.

Paul seems to have little to say about angel visitors, wise men and shepherds; that is not his brief. He knows those records but his task is to ask 'what does it all mean?' This is Part One of Paul's Nativity teaching.
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:4–11 NKJV
That thrilling passage of Scripture is a mixture of amazing choices and amazing consequences. Paul has gone behind and beyond the story of the Nativity; he telling us 'why is all happened'. It is thrilling to identify the choices that the Son of God made and the consequential things that 'happened to him'.

First something he refused to do; he refused to his equality in the godhead as a prize to be snatched for. Being in the form of God he refused to claim his rights then he 'emptied himself'. There are important historical theological reasons why translators don't usually translate that as 'emptied' but 'emptied himself' and 'made himself of no reputation' are both legitimate translations; with either translation the point is that he performed the actions himself, it did not 'happen' to him but was an action that he took.

The list continues; he himself took on the form of a bond-servant. This was not an inevitable consequence on incarnation, this is part of the reason for the incarnation. This was his choice to come into our world as a bond-servant. It continues, he humbled himself; he was not 'humbled by the incarnation', the incarnation was the consequence of his self-humbling.

Down, down he comes from the highest to the lowest; from godhead to bondservant. He chooses to humble himself and chooses to be obedient to the death, and not just any death but 'the death of the cross'; the kind of execution that bond-servant, non-persons were subjected to under Roman law. In a few masterful strokes Paul maps the journey from heaven's throne, through Bethlehem's stable and Calvary's hill and back to heaven's throne again. It is breathtaking.

His current reign demands a response. Like Herod we may refuse his reign or like the wise men and the shepherds we may bow at his feet. Not the feet of a child in a cattle trough but at the feet of the one whose reign will know no end. We have tracked his choices, now he is tracking yours.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Daily Bible Reading Schemes

I have been using the CWR 'cover to cover' Bible reading scheme for a little while. This as the blurb says is 'as it happened'. It is designed to read through the Bible in one year in chronological fashion. I have enjoyed it but found some things I wasn't quite so keen on.

For example, it puts the first chapters of Deuteronomy together with the Exodus account of the deliverance from Egypt. There is a logic to that but that is NOT 'as it happened'. Deuteronomy is the 'second giving of the law' and took place 40 years after the 'first giving of the law'. The whole point is that it was later, much later. I think it is better to read individual books in their entirety to get the sense of the books' themes.

So I have returned to my own Daily Bible reading scheme. I created this some years ago to help international students at the Church Life School that we ran here in Reading for some years. This has some particular advantages, I think.

The BibleBase Daily Bread App is a Bible reading schedule based on a 3 year cycle.

The OT is roughly 3 times longer than the NT, but as the Bible contains 'progressive revelation' I think it is best to spend equal amounts of time in each Testament. So in the 3 year cycle you will read the OT once, but you will read the NT 3 times.

It is 'roughly chronological' meaning that the books are in chronological order, or roughly so, but the events are not synchronised as with 'cover to cover'.

It has smaller 'bite size' pieces giving time to chew over what you are reading, and it had a few gentle questions to encourage the students to think about what they were reading and its personal relevance.

My brother and colleague Gary Sims has created two 'apps' for this reading programme, one for the iPhone, iPodTouch, iPad and one for the Android. Both apps are free. Currently we are getting about 500 downloads per week. Why not give it a try to see if it suits your needs?

The iPod, iPodTouch, iPad app is freely available at
Biblebase Daily Bread for the iPod etc

and the Android version is available at
Biblebase Daily Bread for the Android

Let us know what you think. Thank you.

God's Agenda for your Friends

Another gem from Oswald Chambers today. The phrase that caught my attention was that we are expected to “...deliberately identify ourselves with God's interests in other people. "That ye love one another; as I have loved you . . “

I recall as a very young Christian being greatly offended by the way that God had handled Gideon! After his victories it is recorded that Gideon had many wives and concubines and 70 sons. Judges 8: 30 After his victories too he created an image which became a snare to him and to others. Judges 8:27. At the heart of my sense of offence was that I was convinced that God should have sorted out these aspects of his life before his victories! It took a long time to understand that the statement “...My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” Is 55:8 NKJV could include the notion that His Agenda might not be the same as my Agenda.

God, I discovered, was not nearly so tidy as I was and certainly wasn’t nearly such a clear thinking evangelical as I was. I have a computerised ‘to do list’. As I tick off one item in a project the next item appears; it is all very tidy. God on the other hand seems to have different points of concentration in the lives of men and women and sometimes concentrates on aspects of a life that aren’t even on my ‘to do list’. It was a challenging revelation to discover that God’s creative works, and his new creation works, are not an exercise in painting by numbers.

When I am in the company of a friend is my conversation framed by my ‘to do list’ or God’s? Am I willing to go ‘off topic’ or do I insist on first, second, third...? Jesus said “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19 NKJV That surely is the question; ‘what is the Father doing in this life? ‘not ‘how to I get this soul to the next point in my agenda?’ Am I in such a fellowship with the Father that I can ‘see’ what he is doing or do I just revert to my script?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

His Temptation and Ours

This was the title of Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest’ entry for 18th Sept. It started my thoughts running in a different but not not contradictory direction. It is helpful, I think, to consider the nature of the saints’ temptations; and by ‘saint’ in this context I mean the regenerate. Hebrews declares that “he was tempted in all points as we are,” Heb 4:15. He was, we are... but who is ‘we’? Historically it is the group made up of the writer of Hebrews and his readers. If we remember how the writer described his readers, Heb 6:4–5, they are clearly ‘the regenerate’ or as I shall call them from now on ‘the saints’. So this group really includes all the saints AND Christ himself; there is a kind of temptation that is unique to the ‘sons of God’. The Hebrews passage is not telling us that Christ experienced every possible temptation that mankind has experienced but a particular kind of temptation, the temptation of the sons of God.

There was a moment in Christ’s life when God publicly confirmed him to be ‘the Son of God’. His temptations, as recorded in the gospel narratives, were the direct result of this ‘witness of God’ that he was who he was. “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,” Luke 4:1 KJV Luke makes the connection very clear. The Temptation in the Wilderness was not just the temptation of an ordinary man but of a man identified as ‘son o f God’ and who was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’; this is the temptation of a ‘saint’; a holy one.

According to Oswald Chambers, “Until we are born again, the only kind of temptation we understand is that mentioned by James - ‘Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." But by regeneration we are lifted into another realm where there are other temptations to face’. The thing to notice about the wilderness temptations of the Son of God is that his temptations were entirely external; they did not come from inside but from an alien spirit on the outside. These temptations did not come ‘from’ a heart that was ‘crooked beyond all other crookednesses and incurable’ Jer 17:9 but they came ‘to’ a heart that was in perfect alignment with God.

When we have become ‘saints’ by regeneration and God has borne witness with our spirits that we are ‘children of God’, and we are living in the 'fulness of the Spirit', it will not mean the ‘end of temptation’ but as OC expresses it ‘ regeneration we are lifted into another realm where there are other temptations to face’. Our defence against an external enemy will need to be very different to our defence against an internal enemy.

It is a vital element of spiritual warfare that we "know our enemy".

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Drawing a line under it

Did you ever have a day where you felt, “I will be glad when I can draw a line under this day and move one?” Have you ever had a ‘life’ where you felt the same.

I have been asked to give the eulogy for a friend who is desperately ill. It came as a surprise and I wondered why I had been asked. I think I know part of the reason, he feels his past will be in safe hands. Would my ‘past’ be safe in your hands? Is our ‘past’ safe in God’s hands. How can we move on when the past still haunts us? How can we move on when we can never be sure whether or not the past will catch up with us? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my past could be in safe hands? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God could just ‘draw a line under the past’? The Bible says he can.

The epistle to the Hebrews constantly contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant and reminds its readers of the original terms of that New Covenant as we first read it in Jer 31:31-34. It promises a new heart and a new spirit and God’s own Spirit coming to take up residence within and it concludes with an amazing statement... ""For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Jer 31:34 NKJV or as it comes through into Hebrews... "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." Heb 8:12 NKJV. God’s mercy will stretch to encompass the extremes of our unrighteousness and will ensure forgiveness. Our unrighteousness can never take him by surprise and as the chorus says...
His love has no limit
His grace has no measure
His power has no boundaries
Known unto man
For out of his infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.

But how can a God who has all knowledge say he will no longer remember?

We should distinguish here between forgetting and not remembering. Forgetfulness is a frailty but refusing to remember is a choice. God is determined to ‘draw a line under it’ and he will not allow the past to leak into the present.

Let me illustrate...
"A certain man had two sons...” It is one of the most famous stories ever told. Luke 15:11-32. I won’t retell it here but when the prodigal younger son comes to his senses he determines to head home and hopes for a job in the kitchens. "I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”" Luke 15:18–19 NKJV When he returns home even before he begins this confession his father wraps him in a great bear-hug. The son begins his prepared speech but before he can continue with his plans for a job in the kitchen his father has already moved on... "‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’" Luke 15:22–24 NKJV Did you notice what the father said about his son's sin? That’s right... nothing, he has chosen not to remember it!

The story has a sequel. The older son is all too aware of his younger brother’s record and he tries to get the father to pass a judgment; "these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him." Luke 15:29–30 NKJV Did you notice what the father said about the younger son’s sin this time? That’s right... nothing, he has chosen not to remember it!

Will you come home? A father’s embrace awaits you, a new start awaits you. You need not fear the past. When you share that past with God you put it into safe hands and he draws a line under it. It is not a failing, it is his choice... “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

do feel free to say 'no'

I was talking to someone today about how we ask for things. Suppose I wanted to borrow your garage to store some of my stuff. I can ask in different ways. I can say "is it all right if I put my stuff in your garage?" But I have now put you under an obligation and if you say "no'" the process risks me feeling rejected. If, on the other hand, I say "please feel free to say 'no', but is it all right if I put my stuff in your garage?" I give you the genuine opportunity to say "no" and yet for our relationship to be whole. Is this just English reserve 'gone mad'? It may be... but it may be something else.

Do I really leave people free to make their own decisions or do I manoeuvre them into a corner so that the only thing they can do is provide the response that they know will please me.

Let's try another one. "Is it all right if I keep your hammer for another week?" Is that ok or would it be better to say "I have brought your hammer back, would it be all right to borrow it for another week?" In the first I have built in the presumption that you will say "yes", with the second I have given you a genuine free choice.

But this is not a lesson in English manners, I have Paul and Philemon in mind. The runaway slave Onesimus had been of great service to Paul and Paul no doubt would have continued to benefit from this service but Paul will not presume...
12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. Philemon

It is really remarkable how Paul refuses to put Philemon, Onesimus' true owner, under any pressure. He will not presume, he will not take Philemon's answer for granted. I wonder where he got his 'manners'.

God is almighty. He is the possessor of heaven and earth. He has every right to demand that we bow the knee to him and commit to serve him forever, but he will not presume and will not take our answer for granted. He gives us genuine choices. As with the father and the prodigal son he 'empowers' us to make the 'wrong' decisions. We are genuinely 'free to say "no"'. Or like the old story of Abraham's servant who went seeking a bride for Abraham's son. He lavishes gifts on the would-be bride and tells her of the wealth of her prospective bridegroom, but in the end it comes down to a genuine free choice; will you go with this man? Gen 24:58

In creating man God has given him the most amazing power; he is free to say 'no' to God. And because this is a genuine free choice he also has the power to say 'yes'.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Persistent Patterns

AW Tozer used to bewail that fact that so much effort was spent in schooling the saints to be workers. He had a simple conviction; teach them to be worshippers and the serving will follow automatically.

Paul makes the same connection but as a warning. Romans Ch1 details the development of the nations in their deadly slide into sin and puts all the blame on their worship. It all began, he says, when the race turned its back on the revelation of the true God and exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The consequence was that they...
...exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Rom 1:25

Do you see the pattern? They rejected truth, put the lie in its place and then 'worshipped and served'. They are an inseparable pair, worship and service. Have no doubt there is a law written into the race that we will ultimately serve what we worship and our behaviour will be the direct consequence of those first choices.

In the wilderness temptation Christ was offered a short-cut. His ultimate purpose is to bring the kingdoms of the world in subjection to the Father. 1Cor 15:24 NKJV It would only take a single short-term compromise to short-cut Calvary and 'cut to the chase'.
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me."
Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve. Matt 4:8-10 NKJV.

There is it again, that persistent pattern... you shall worship... you shall serve...

Perhaps we need to challenge ourselves regularly to ask the question 'who (or what) am I worshipping?' Do we make an idol of the church or evangelism or mission? If so we will find ourselves 'serving our idol'. This is such a subtle temptation. In our culture we more easily reject the obscenity of bowing down to a stone god, but the subtle temptation to put something in God's place will continue to the end of our pilgrimage.
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. 1John 5:20,21

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

more likely than not

I was listening to a very subdued scientist on the radio today. He was declaring that scientists can never say anything is absolutely true. Science he said is constantly challenging itself and is 'self-correcting'. His topic was the hooha that has continued since the emails for the University of East Anglia were made public.

Now I am not a spokesman for either the pro-global warming or the anti-global warming camps. There is a delightful American phrase which I intend to use more and more... "I don't believe I have a dog in that fight". However this sudden rush of humility sits very strangely when we compare it to some of the assertions of Dr Richard Dawkins. He asserts that evolution is proven and that there is no doubt. We now understand the universe, he declares. Perhaps we can hope that the new mood of science spokespersons is contagious, but I won't hold my breath.

This afternoon's radio science spokesperson concluded that the most that science could really say was 'more likely than not'. How many degrees short of certainty this is were not explained. If Dr Dawkins adopts this stance we shall begin to hear that Neo Darwinian Evolution 'cannot be said to be absolutely true' but is 'more likely than not'. I won't be holding my breath to hear Dr Dawkins say that either.

Monday, 5 July 2010

human but not a person?

A recent news Times article reported that "abortion is the killing of a human being but this is less important than a woman's right to control her own life". Abortion is killing but women’s rights rule.

Over three millennia ago God enshrined universal law in a series of instructions given to the people we call Israel. The principles of the law were universal but the Exodus 20 application of it was unique to a group of people who entered into a solemn and binding covenant to keep it. We call it the Ten Commandments, although the full law contained hundreds. The Ten Commandments all deal with a very modern topic 'respect'. The first few commandments are a commentary on the fact the God has rights and that they must be respected. The remainder are based on the principle that human beings have rights and they must also be respected. (Noticeable by their omission are any commandments that deal with 'my rights to my rights'.) These simple commandments instruct me as to how I must respect God's rights and how I must respect the rights of other human beings.

There is an underlying revelation truth which is as the base of all the commandments directed at respecting the rights of others. It is staggering in its simplicity and in its implications. [color=0033FF] “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. Gen 9:6 NKJV[/color] Human rights are derived from a very simple truth; human beings are in the image of God and that sets them apart from every other life form.

There are many noble souls who have died for the rights of other people but the only sure foundation of a right attitude to others is the truth that human beings are in the image of God. That means old human beings who no longer have an economic function. It means tiny human beings whose lives hangs by a thread. It means tiny human beings whose presence is an inconvenience to other human beings. It means damaged human beings whose bodies or brains do not function 'normally'.

As mere creatures at the top of some evolutionary pyramid human beings have no more rights than a wood louse. Their only right is their might; their traditional ability to impose their will on other life forms. But if mankind, and even the tiniest scrap of it, is truly in the 'image of God' it must transform forever my attitude to their 'rights'. For those rights are not created by arbitrary judgements of other human beings but are a God given heritage and a God given trust.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

some thoughts on the UK election: part 5

We are getting quite a bit of coverage on the issue of a 'hung parliament' and the question of 'tactical voting'. So I thought I would share some thoughts along those lines.
democracy |diˈmäkrəsē|
noun ( pl. -cies)
a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives :
As believers we are to 'obey the king' that is to say we are to take our place as citizens in the society where God has placed us. The simple definition of democracy I have used here could easily be expanded into whole books on the topic but the essence is that those eligible to vote usually vote for a representative. In the UK we have a representative democracy. We elect our representative and authorise him/her to make decisions on our behalf. So how would a believer view the prospect of voting for a member of parliament he does not really want but in order to 'spoil' the chances of one party over another?

Yesterday I heard three separate politicians make their comments. One said 'vote with your head'; he meant go for the tactical vote which spoils another party's chance of government. Another said 'vote with your heart'; he meant choses your personal representative. Another said 'vote with your conscience'; which also means vote for your personal representative. This opens up a whole can of worms. Technically in the UK we don't elect a political party, we elect members of parliament. The party which ends up with most members of parliament is invited, by the Queen, to form a government. This must all seem unbelievably quaint to my republican readers!.

During the time of people like Wilberforce 'party politics' was a much more fluid thing and even into living memory a great parliamentaran like Winston Churchill changed parties twice, from Conservative to Liberal and later back from Liberal to Conservative. Things have become much more frozen now and it is interesting to note that all the major contenders for the premiership would probably regard themselves as Gladstonians.. who was a Liberal! In modern times the party machine has controlled our democracy and you will frequently hear the phrase 'voting for a party' although in its purest form our system doesn't vote for a party but for a local member of parliament.

So how should a believer vote? Surely 'with his conscience'. To do otherwise is to manipulate the political machinery and calls the essence of democracy into question. In a couple of days we in the UK will be invited to take our citizen duty in a general election. Our duty is not to enter into the power politics of 'moral majorities' and 'tactical voting' but simply to do as we are asked... who do you choose to be your personal representative in the next parliament?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

some thoughts on the UK election: part 4

This is a reposting of a blog I did about a year ago but this distinction between crime and sin is an important one as we consider the choice of a government. Governments are not required to be holy but they are required to be righteous. We shall need to see the distinction between morals and crime if we are going to make a sober choice of parliamentary candidates.

It was a song from the 1940's and included the lines...
if it's something you enjoy you can be certain that
it's illegal, it's immoral or it makes you fat.
The singer's lament is that whatever they really wanted to do always seemed to fall into one of these three categories. It was perceptive in that it recognised that 'legal' and 'moral' are distinct categories but less perceptive in that it presumed that 'fun' would inevitably be in either one of these categories or another; it reality these categories often overlap.

It is because of the overlap that there is such anger among British folks as I write. Some Members of Parliament have been 'playing the system' or maybe even 'milking' it. It seems that very few will actually have done anything illegal but there is a gathering sense that what they have done is certainly immoral. Few will have broken the law in their far reaching expenses claims but many have breached a hidden law of the conscience that we call morality. Illegal actions should be punished by the state but what about immoral actions?

Polygraph machines, or lie-detectors as they are sometimes called work on a principle that when someone tells a lie the body sets off a kind of moral smoke-alarm. Stresses are created in the inner man that are seen in changes in blood pressure or heart rates. It seems that something in our deepest psyche knows that something is wrong and "sets off the smoke-alarm". Something in the behaviour of our British MPs has set off the smoke-alarm in the public at large. There may be no 'law' that has been broken but we are a 'law unto ourselves', 'the work of law is written in our hearts'. Rom 2:14,15. It has serious implications and not just for the Members of Parliament.

In this same passage in Romans Paul says that 'whoever judges another passes sentence on himself'. Rom 2:1 Some profess to have no conscience and are free from all law but it is a self-deception. If I know that something is wrong when someone steals from me, I also know that something is wrong if I steal from someone else. I cannot assess another's behaviour without acknowledging that in my own behaviour there are things which deserve judgment and justice.

The atheist may say he doesn't believe in God but the real problem is that God doesn't believe in atheists. He knows that he has not left himself without a witness and in some secret part of the consciousness men and women know they are accountable for the way they live. They may make their bold professions of 'freedom from law' but that annoying smoke-alarm keeps going off!

Monday, 26 April 2010

some thoughts on the UK election: part 3

Let's have a look at some Biblical precedents.

There are at least three OT characters who seem to have played quite a part in the government of non-Israelite nations. I am thinking of Joseph, Daniel (and his three friends) and Mordecai. It is helpful to see the way that these men functioned; they were all men who were 'in the wrong place'. By that I simply mean they were not where they would have chosen to be or where they might have expected to be; they were all 'out of place'.

They were all senior advisors to pagan monarchs and their service of these monarchs is really instructive. None of them actually 'sought office'. None of them tried to convert their kings nor did they attempt to 'Christianize' (or Israelitize) the governments that they served. Their personal integrity and faith brought them at times into conflict with their kings and their faith had a considerable impact upon their masters, but they had no 'mission'; they simply served their masters. They lived in their worlds as witnesses not legislators.

What I am trying to say is that they did not impose their faith or its implications on the nations in which they served. They served God faithfully and they served their kings faithfully. They were exemplary examples of the phrase 'render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's'... and they never mixed these two things up. They did not hide their faith but only when their loyalty to God and their loyalty to men came into conflict do their different worlds collide.

The place of the Christian in society will always be a delicate balance. Should Christians avoid public office or responsibility? Not on the basis of these Biblical examples. Should Christians take on public office in order to shape the nation in which they serve? Not on the basis of these Biblical examples. So just what is our role in our complex modern world, are we to be the world's legislators or its conscience?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

some thoughts on the election: part 2

Let me draw some things to your attention that you may have not noticed or perhaps forgotten.

There are two contrasting covenants referred to in the Bible. The Sinai or Old Covenant is very conscious of territory and nation and state. In fact that covenant served as a kind of tenancy agreement for the ancient people of Israel. Keep the tenancy and you keep the land; break the tenancy agreement and you will be evicted. That covenant created what is known as a theocracy; the state and the religion of the people were inseparable. It was God's people and God's land. The religion of the what we call the Old Testament is, in the main, intensely territorial. Anyone who touched God's people or his land came under summary judgement. There was no distinction between crime and sin for all the laws were God's laws. The nation and the state and 'the church' were one.

And then there is another Covenant, usually called the New Covenant and its key document is the New Testament. This Covenant has, apparently, no interest at all in territory. A man or woman might be accused of being a Christian and found guilty but there was a distinction between crime and sin. It was no sin to become a Christian but for some it was a crime. In the New Testament there are no nation-states because its background is the Roman empire of which all were subjects in one way or another. There are ethnic groups but no nations in the modern sense of the word.

The way the New Testament looks at the state and our involvement in it is very different from the Old Testament perspective. In the Old Testament men and women were required, as part of their covenant to be an integral part of the whole social and political life of the nation. In the New Testament the underlying metaphor is of the stranger and the pilgrim. "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through"; no Israelite could have sung that song but it has been the marching song of the Christian for two millennia.

Where shall we get our patterns and principles?

Monday, 19 April 2010

some thoughts on the election: part 1

The Christian has dual citizenship: of heaven (Philippians 3:20); and of an earthly nation (usually that in which he was born).
This is a quotation from a document called Election Briefing 2010. For folks in the UK just now it is a 'must read' item but is the quote accurate or helpful? The statement is often used to justify a believer's commitment to politics, patriotism, war and a whole bunch of other things. What basis do we have for saying that a 'Christian has dual citizenship'? How would that work out? Dual citizenship is a 'two-edged sword', it can mean that you end up with the duties of both nations and the protection of neither.

Is there another view? There is but it is a little old fashioned now. Some of the early Christian Brethren based their non-involvement in the the political process with another phrase 'believers are not called to tame the wild beasts of Daniel 7 but to call out a people for Christ'. This one will need a bit of an explanation! Daniel 7 predicts a succession of world empires from the days of Daniel's own time to the end times. Some of those early Christian Brethren believed that as this succession of empires had already been prophesied the Christian should not waste their times trying to 'change the course of history'.

How do you react to these two views? Give them some thought and we'll try to think through the implications of living as Christians on earth.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

by grace through faith: part 10

Let’s think a little about ‘justifying faith’. This is the language often used to describe the kind of faith that results in justification. Most in Calvinism see this is a unique kind of faith being the unique consequence of regeneration. The understanding, as we have already said, is that faith is the consequence of regeneration, regeneration being the trigger to everything else. In this understanding conviction, repentance, conversion and justifying faith are all the consequence of regeneration. This doctrine usually separates ‘justifying faith’ from subsequent experiences of faith. I want to question this assumption in today's blog. Is ‘justifying faith’ different in essence from any other experience of faith? Clearly the faith that results in justification is different in its effect from the faith that receives physical healing, but is it different in essence? If it is true that men ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ cannot ‘hear’ God what are we to make of God’s commandments? What is the point of God giving any commandment to anyone who is not ‘regenerate’. Do you see my dilemma?

If ‘justifying faith’ is really a special application of faith how would we expect this to work out? Hebrews 11 has a long list of the ‘heroes of faith’ which specifically points to justification as being the result of faith. Heb 11:7 (hover your cursor over the reference) Noah believed and became an heir of the righteousness that is ‘by faith’. That declares that Noah was ‘justified by faith’. But what did Noah believe in order to be ‘justified by faith’? How many aspects of ‘the gospel’ did he have to believe before he was ‘justified by faith’. Did he believe in the work of the cross, or in the resurrection or in the coming of the Spirit? We have no reason to believe any of these things was revealed to him and yet ‘by faith’ he became an heir of the ‘righteousness’ that is the result of ‘justifying faith’. So how did his faith work? and how did Abraham’s faith work? What did Abraham know of incarnation and Christ’s atoning work and his resurrection? If we work our way through the list of Hebrews 11 we shall see a very wide variety of ‘revelation’ that the heroes responded to. Is it ever possible then to make a list of essential beliefs that are precursors to ‘justifying faith’? I hope I have said enough to show how complicated this is going to become if we pursue this particular logic.

So what did these people believe? The answer is easier that you might imagine. The answer is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’. Abraham’s faith, as recorded in Genesis 15, becomes the archetypical example of faith, and especially ‘justifying faith’.
And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Gen 15:6
or as Paul quotes it...”Abraham believed God...” Rom 4:3, Gal 3:6

Faith, at its heart is faith in a person not in an idea. The Wesley brothers were a classic example of those who believed ‘truth’ before they believed ‘God’. What is usually described as their ‘intellectual conversion’ took place some weeks before they experienced ‘justifying faith’. They were already preaching ‘evangelical truth’ although they had not personally experienced it. It is when our faith finds its resting place in the person of God himself that the miracle become clear. Here is an excerpt from John Wesley’s journal for May 24, 1738.
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
The moment of faith can be identified here ‘...I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ John Wesley’s faith came to rest, not in a Biblical truth, but in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul does not promise ‘justification by faith’ to those who believe in ‘justification by faith’ but to those who ‘...believe in Jesus... Rom 3:26.

Of course the Jesus we believe in must be the Jesus of the Bible and not some phantom of our own creation, but genuine faith is an I-thou’ encounter; we rest our faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

by grace through faith: part 9

Let’s take another look at synergy in action. 1Chron 28 & 29 tell the story of transition from the rule of David to that of Solomon. If you are unfamiliar with this story I do recommend that you read it before you read this! 1Chron 29:1-5 is David’s personal testimony to what he has done. This is followed by the response of the leaders of Israel in 1Chron 29:6-9 and then we have the record of David’s prayer in 1 Chron 29:10-17 and finally David’s exhortation to the people to “bless the LORD your God” and their response in 1Chron 29:20-25. It is an exciting passage and one easy to see in the imagination. It was the culminating act of David’s reign. Let’s work our way through these sections...

1Chron 29:1-5 is David’s personal testimony to what he has done. The focus of this passage is on David’s own effort and contribution. They had been collecting resources for the building of the temple and all is now ready. In addition to the official funds David added an enormous contribution from his own personal funds; 1Chron 29:3. That contribution alone is mind-blowing. In gold alone he contributed almost 4000 tons; 1Chron 29:4. (many years ago in the 1970s I commented on this in a meeting which included a gold bullion dealer. He whipped out his calculator and announced that David’s contribution exceeded the gold reserves of Germany; the richest european country at that time.) David is not shy to list his own decisions in this; “I have prepared with all my might”, “I have set my affection to the house of my God”, “I have given to the house of my God”. This is David’s personal contribution to the building of the Temple.

1Chron 29:6-9 is the response of the leaders of Israel. The leaders responded in the same spirit as David and gave lavishly to the work; “Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the LORD; and King David also rejoiced greatly.” 1Chron 29:9.

1Chron 29:10-17 is David’s prayer. The mood of this passage is very different. He gives all the glory to God. Both the materials and the willingness of the offerers is ascribed to God’s hand. It contains the classic sentence “But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You.” 1Chron 29:13. and furthermore...”"O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name is from Your hand, and is all Your own.” 1Chron 29:16. That all sounds like a clear conversion to monergism but we need to read on...

Right on the heels of this absolute recognition that God has made all this possible we have one of David’s profound insights; “I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You.” 1Chron 29:17. That is a priceless insight. Although he recognises that all has been made possible by God he sees that he is personally accountable for the stewardship of what God has entrusted to him. God puts the hearts of men to the test.

We shall not be judged on what we received but on what we did with what we received. It is God’s gift put into men’s hands. David is absolutely clear as to the enabling source of all he has but he is equally clear that he will be held accountable for what he has received. It will be the grace of God and the faith of David expressed in active response that see the Temple built; this is synergy.

Friday, 2 April 2010

by grace through faith: part 8

The conflict between authentic Calvinism and all other attempts to systematise revelation truth can be expressed in the simple formula... monergism vs synergism. These words deserve a brief explanation. The idea of synergy is used in science and business and theology in very different ways but theologically speaking ‘synergism is the teaching that the human will cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration’ while ‘monergism is the teaching that the Holy Spirit acts independently of the human will in the work of regeneration’. Synergy is a word with a biblical history. It is the verb translated ‘work together’ in Rom 8:28. You can see how the word is defined and used here in the BlueLetterBible. See how the Bible uses this concept. It is the word ‘syn’ meaning ‘together’ and the word ‘ergeO’ which means ‘to work’. It would not be amiss to say it speaks of partnership. Whereas ‘syn’ implies ‘togetherness’ ‘mono’ implies ‘aloneness’ and this is the thrust of these two words. Is the work of salvation the result of a partnership between God and man or is it a sovereign and independent act of God? Is God the prime and initiating agent in salvation or is he the sole agent in salvation?

Let’s take a look at a well known verse from Isaiah; "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool." Isaiah 1:18 Let’s take the first two phrases and examine them.

1. Come now. The invitation or command originates in God. We cannot come unless the Lord draws us. We cannot believe if he has not spoken and we cannot obey if he has not commanded. So there ought to be no confusion here. Salvation belongs to the Lord and is in his gift alone. The phrase implies that some kind of movement is necessary; to get from there to here you must ‘come’ and it is I who must do the coming. The promise was that if the Father lifted up the Son he would draw all men to himself. John 12:32. The cross was the first part of that process and we may be sure that God is at work ‘drawing’ men and women to himself. But ‘drawing’ and ‘coming’ implies response. God has on occasion used the method of ‘beaming’ an individual from one place to another but not in the context of salvation. The command or invitation to ‘come now’ is a clear indication that the person who hears these words must take some responsibility in moving from one place to another.

2. and let us reason together... This is one of the most profound statements in the Bible. Take note of that tiny word ‘us’ and think about the implications. To use the pronouns ‘we’ or ‘us’ implies that at least two people have something in common. When we contrast ‘us’ and ‘them’ we imply that ‘we’ have some common ground that is not shared by ‘them’.

The earlier verses of this chapter describe the human condition in a graphic way; “...The whole head is sick, And the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, There is no soundness in it, But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, Or soothed with ointment.” Isaiah 1:5-6. That’s as dramatic a description of man in his congenital sin as we will find anywhere in the Book. There is nothing to commend this creature to God. He is helpless and hopeless. Man is a bundle of corruption. I trust we have said enough to make it plain that this creature is totally corrupted... there is no soundness in him.

It is all the more remarkable then that God addresses such a creature with an invitation to come and a plea to ‘let us reason together’. Let the significance of that ‘us’ settle upon your spirit. In spite of the description we have been given it is still possible for God to use the embracing pronoun ‘us’ in this phrase. At some level, in spite of all appearances, God and this wreck of humanity have something ‘in common’; otherwise he could not use the pronoun.

And notice too, wonder of wonders, that God insists that He himself and this ruined creature must do something ‘together’. The consequence of this ‘synergy’ will be deep and radical cleansing; “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” Could God ‘impose’ cleansing upon this creature? Theoretically he could. Theoretically the father could have dragged the wayward son out of the far country and brought him home hostage, but he didn’t and he doesn’t. He will not impose saving grace but he makes it wonderfully available.

This is the mystery of synergy. God’s grace is 100% his responsibility and I cannot make 1% contribution to it, but faith, ie responding to what God has said in promise or command, is 100% man’s response. Responsibility is found to be ‘my response to his ability’ but in the ‘my’ and ‘his’ of that sentence there is a wonderful and necessary synergy; by grace we are saved, through faith.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

by grace through faith: part 7

For many years I was deeply puzzled by the Matthew interpretation of the parable of the Sower. When his disciples asked him why he was using parables Christ quoted Isaiah 6:9-10. (remember that if you hover your cursor over that reference you will get the NKJV version) It seemed as though God were blocking their understanding in response to their dullness of hearing. Matthew’s account of Christ's exposition of the parable added to my puzzlement. The response of the earth to the sown seed begins with the seed sown on the downtrodden wayside. “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.” Matt 13:19. There’s that reference to ‘understanding’ again. It is because the hearer did not ‘understand’ the word of the kingdom that the sown seed is unproductive and quickly stolen by the birds. The theme continues in the account of the good ground; “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." Matt 13:23 and we find here another reference to ‘understanding’. Does salvation depend on our ability to understand? Apparently it does but that is not the whole story and ‘understanding’ in not the same as having a certain inherent intelligence; this is not salvation by IQ.

My puzzlement lasted a long time until I came across another part of the prophecy of Isaiah. God promised spectacular signs which would capture the attention of his people and then Isaiah declares the purpose of these eye-catching signs; Isaiah 41:20. I am going to do my own translation here “so that they may see and recognize and consider and understand in a unity that the hand of the LORD has done this”. Let’s observe the order here...

1 That they may see; God would take care to ensure that men and women would be drawn to what he was doing. This is one of the purposes of miracles. They serve as burning bushes which cause us to ‘turn aside’ from our daily activities to pay attention to something out of the ordinary. God would ensure that they were alerted to the fact that something extraordinary happening in their midst.

2 ...and recognize; by some inner intuition they would discern that the phenomena which had drawn their attention was something of significance. They would recognize ‘the hand of God’ or ‘the voice of God’ in that moment. Their consciences would bear witness to the truth they were experiencing. far these are involuntary stages of a process. They ‘happen’ without any action on the part of the one who sees and recognizes, but then there is a change...
3 ...and consider; this is the process when the mind begins to engage with what has been witnessed. We are no longer a passive witness but we begin to consider the meaning of the event. This stage requires action on the part of the witness. We are to take hold of the truth which has fleetingly flashed across our consciousness and we are to think through its implications. I think it was D L Moody who used to say that he had ‘more hope of a murderer than of a lazy man’. Here is a really obscure verse for your consideration; “The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting, But diligence is man's precious possession.” Prov 12:27. What a folly, to never profit from the thing that you have held in your hand. When truth ‘comes to us’ we are required to ‘do something’ with that truth otherwise we will lose it. “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” Matt 13:12. That verse is from the same passage in Matthew.

4 ...and understand; and now see what will inevitable follow the man who has seen and recognized and considered. He will understand. This is not the understanding of a superior intellect but the blessing of God upon the man who has taken ‘revelation’ seriously. Now we see that God is right to hold a man accountable for ‘not understanding’ for that man has slighted the miracle of revelation and thereby chosen to remain in his voluntary darkness. From such will be taken even the little that he had. God will hold men accountable for what they do with revelation.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

by grace through faith: part 6

I’m going to take a couple of days to examine some key aspects of the faith which is a response to revelation. First let’s take a look at one of the basic building block verses of the New Testament. “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” Hab 2:4 The verse is quoted three times in the New Testament; Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11 and Heb 10:38. The phrase is known so well that it is at the heart of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. I want to to concentrate on the often missed contrast that we are given in Hab 2:4. Let’s put it in its full context of Hab 2:2-5. Sometimes it is helpful to define a Bible word by examining its opposite. The Hab 2:4 verse points approvingly to the ‘believer’ but in its context it contrasts the ‘believer’ with another kind of person. We might have expected it to contrast believer with unbeliever but it doesn’t; it contrasts the believer with the proud or presumptious man.

In particular it uses a fairly rare Hebrew word which is translated as ‘lifted up’ in the KJV and ‘proud’ in the NKJV. It is the Hebrew word Strong's H6075 - `aphal and is only used twice in the scripture. The first use of the word is in an account which has become a by-word for unbelief and disobedience. It a brief sequel to the account of Israel’s refusal to enter the promised land. God’s sentence on their rebellious disobedience was that they would be condemned to a 40 year exile in the wilderness. It is the reaction of some to this sentence that contains the Hebrew word ‘aphal.

We need to retell part of the story to see its significance. God’s word of sentence has been given by Moses and the reaction of some might be seen as a kind of repentance. Some having heard the 40 sentence changed their minds; ‘And they rose early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, "Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised, for we have sinned!”’ Numbers 14:40. That sounds ok doesn’t it? They are acknowledging their sin and are willing to act out their repentance. They claim their behaviour is ‘bible-based’.. ‘we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised’. That sounds as though it should work but it won’t. They are putting their trust in yesterday’s word rather than today’s word. Strange as it may seem to obey the word that God spoke yesterday may just be carnality and defiance.

Our Hebrew word appears in Num 14:44 and is translated as ‘presumed’. One of the opposites of faith is seen to be not unbelief but presumption. ‘aphal means a swelling, a hillock or even a tumour. It may have all the appearance healthy growth but it is a killer. It is the swelling of an unsurrendered heart. It is man taking it on himself to choose when he will do what God has said. As my wife used to say to our young children “slow obedience is disobedience”.

When God speaks and we ‘hear’ that revelation of truth in our hearts it creates a window of opportunity. We cannot choose when we respond to revelation, we must respond at the moment of the revelation and take the window of opportunity. This is partly the significance of the words of Christ in the wilderness temptation. ‘But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' “’ Mat 4:4. the current word. That is man’s daily sustenance is the result of daily receiving the word of grace that God is speaking at that time. This is not a reference to biblical doctrine but to God’s ability to speak into our condition. That grace is available ‘in time of need’ or as Youngs Literal Translation has it “we may come near, then, with freedom, to the throne of the grace, that we may receive kindness, and find grace -- for seasonable help.” Words from God come in their season and we cannot presume to use them ‘out of season’. We do not choose the moment of our faith because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God and a man cannot believe what he has not heard. However a man can refuse to believe what he has heard and the consequences may be fatal.

I cannot daisy pick through Bible verses but as God makes his truth alive to me I can believe and because I can I must.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

by grace through faith: part 5

I think it is time to expound what I mean by the statement that ‘faith is right response to revelation’. Just what do I mean by revelation? The NT speaks from time to time of ‘mysteries’, the Greek word really means ‘secrets’. The words and phrases ‘mime’ and ‘keeping mum’ all derive from the basic idea that a mystery was an unspoken secret. In the ‘mystery religions’ of the 1st century the word was used to mean secrets which were revealed (there’s the word revelation) to initiates to the mystery religions. As the initiates passed from one degree to another they were allowed to hear new truths; the modern day Freemasons work on the same principle. So a NT mystery is not mysterious but an unspoken secret. Such secrets can cannot be discovered by effort or piety but can only be revealed to those who commit themselves.

What I mean by revelation is the way in which a ‘truth from God’ or if you prefer ‘a word from God’ is somehow ‘heard’ in the inner man. This does not come by education or personal effort although it is frequently linked to some earlier obedience. Let me illustrate what I mean by reference to the best known parable of all; the man who had two sons. Luke 15:11-32. It is a wonderful story and will be told as long as time lasts. Jesus introduced the story with the words “a certain man had two sons”. It is important to remember that although we call this story the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus described it as a story about “a man who had two sons”. It is important to notice the context of this teaching too. Jesus told this story in answer to the murmerings of those who accused him of ‘receiving sinners and eating with them’ Luke 15:1

Each of these sons had a moment of revelation. The younger son’s moment is captured in the phrase ‘he came to himself and said...’ Luke 15:17. Truth entered his darkness. It was a moment of revelation. He was given a moment’s respite in his desperate slide and in that moment he heard truth. The truth came from his own lips but the revelation was a gift of God to him. His response to that revelation was manifold. He accepted the revelation and determined to act on it. Not only did he determine to act on it but he carried out his resolve. The result of that faith was that he was reconciled to his father who greeted him with a kiss of welcome and lavish gifts.

The elder son’s moment of revelation is captured in the behaviour and the statement of his father to him. The elder son was ‘not willing to go in’ (Luke 15:28) as a result of his anger. He judged his father’s action as being unfair and refused to be part of the homecoming. The next statement is full of pathos; "he would not go in so his father came out". This is ever the heart of God, always willing to ‘go out’ to those who will not ‘come in’. And not only did he go out but he pleaded with his elder son. The Greek word is ‘parakaleo’ and can be translated comforted, pleaded, encouraged. The tragedy of this story, and we need to remember why the story was told, Luke 15:1, is that the father’s pleading goes unanswered. The father’s behaviour is a revelation and so are his words; “"And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” Luke 15:31. We are bound to ask why the elder son had never received his father’s blessing and gift and the answer is surely that the elder son never asked for it. James 1:6.

As the parable ends its lasting images are of a reconciled sinner in the father’s embrace and reinstated in the family home, and a self-righteous law-keeper who never really knew his father outside in the cold. Revelation is a necessary prerequisite to genuine biblical faith, but ‘faith is right response to revelation’. Without right response the younger son would still be in his pig sty and without right response the elder son excludes himself from the generosity of a father’s heart.

Monday, 29 March 2010

by grace through faith: part 4

Let's quote this verse in its entirety. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, Eph 2:8 The key question now is what is 'that' referring to in this passage?

This is not a 'pay your money and take your choice' type of question. The Greek language has lots of fascinating precisions which it is not possible to reproduce in the English language. Folks who have some familiarity with another language will know that most European languages give a gender to nouns; usually masculine, feminine or neuter. Pronouns, such as 'that' then have to agree in 'case and number' with the original noun. The pronoun translated 'that' in Eph 2:8 is in the neuter form but both grace and faith are nouns which carry the feminine gender. If 'that' were referring to either or both 'faith' or 'grace' it would be in the feminine form rather than the neuter. So what is the 'that' which is of God? It is the whole work of salvation and only a thorough-going Pelagian would suggest otherwise. Certainly I know of no Arminians who would claim otherwise. Salvation belongs to our God.

Faith is unusual in that it appears as both fruit (Gal 5:22) and a charistmatic gift (1Cor 12:9) Faith is clearly a many splendoured thing! There are events of faith and also a process of faith. Christ rebuked those who had no faith and men of his day prayed for 'faith'. So who is responsible for faith? God or man?

Faith is right response to revelation. A man cannot believe simply because he decides it would be a good thing to do so. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. God must speak before men can hear and respond rightly, but not all who hear respond rightly. Those who 'rightly respond' are commended for their faith and those who do not are held accountable for their disbelief.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

by grace through faith: part 3

I’m going to ask you to do a little work today. I am thinking of James 1 and his allusions to the world of nature. This is a fascinating portion of scripture and holds some key concepts.

In James 1:14-15 he writes “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” He is tracing the personal history of a sin and he uses bold strokes to reveal the truth. To understand the richness of this language you will need to dig a little deeper. The online resource BlueLetterBible will be our tool for digging deeper. This URL will take you to the Greek text behind our familiar translations and by identifying and then clicking the Strongs numbers equivalents of the Greek words several dictionaries will open up. Do make the time to examine what James is saying here. This is spiritual biology. It shows that an individual sin is the result of a spiritual process. The key word to it all is the idea of conception. Conception, of course, is the result of seed being received. I don’t want to be indiscrete but something passes from the outside to the inside and something on the inside welcomes the intruder. A sin then is the result of a conception and the conception is the result of insemination.

In contrast James 1:21 has a similar but slightly different natural process in view. “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Now what we have in mind is the sowing of seed and germination. Again some time spent in the BlueLetterBible resource will prove really beneficial. This time the URL gives us the opportunity to dig deeper into James original words. The Old KJV ‘engrafted’ has been corrected in the NKJV to ‘implanted’ and the reader is instructed to ‘receive’ that implanted word with ‘meekness’. I don’t want to make this too demanding but there are two separate Greek words which our versions translate as ‘receive’. This is dechomai, which is slightly more passive that lambano, and we might translate dechomai as ‘accept’ or 'receive' or ‘welcome’. James instructs his readers to ‘welcome’ the ‘implanted word which has the power to save our souls.

Notice it is the ‘implanted word’ which is able or has the power to save our souls. If the word is not implanted, and it cannot be implanted unless it is ‘welcomed’ by the good earth, it cannot have the power to save the soul. The earth cannot create the life that is encapsulated in the seed but the seed cannot reproduce that life unless it is welcomed by the earth. We can only be saved ‘by grace AND through faith’.

Friday, 26 March 2010

by grace through faith: part 2

Calvinism claims that because man is dead in trespasses and sins he is unable to hear. Consequently man must be regenerated so that he can hear. The order, says Calvinism, must be first life and second hearing. The logic of that seems absolutely watertight except for the fact that we have Biblical data where that pattern is reversed.

The first that comes to mind is the statement of Christ himself; "Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live." John 5:25. This statement puts the two stages in exactly the opposite order. Apparently, life is the consequence of hearing rather than the other way around. It might be objected that this is an eschatological statement and not one that pertains to personal salvation. There is truth in that but John's writings are always multi-layered and his careful compositions have left nothing to chance. There can be little doubt here that it is because the voice of Christ has been heard that life can begin.

The second that comes to mind is the account of the raising of Lazarus. 'Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."' John 11:11:43-44. Again we discover that a dead man responds to the voice of Christ. Apparently 'the dead' can hear when Christ speaks.

And hearing, of course, is fundamental to faith. 'How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?' Rom 10:14. Believing and faith and just the verb and the noun of the same word in the original Greek. It is important to see the order here too. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Rom 10:17 and this passage makes it clear that we are speaking of the kind of hearing which produces the right response to God. We are not putting man first here but simply declaring that when God has spoken a human response is necessary. The 'hearing of faith' causes a man or woman to 'call' upon the name of the Lord and those who so call 'shall be saved'.

I have my own definition of faith; faith is right response to the Word of God. A man or woman cannot chose to 'have faith' at their own whim. They cannot believe until God has spoken, but when God has spoken they must believe in order for 'salvation' to be accomplished. When God has spoken (and in the tomb of their deadness they have heard his voice) there must be the obedience of faith and the reaching out to receive what God has promised. Salvation is by grace AND through faith.

Friday, 12 March 2010

by grace through faith: part 1

Ok, let’s talk about grace and faith.

Grace is often defined as ‘God’s unmerited favour’. That’s alright as far as it goes, the trouble is I doubt that it goes far enough. Grace is not just an attitude of God but a dynamic enabling. It is not positional but active. God’s grace is always on the move never static. When Paul wrote Ephesians he used the phrase God’s ‘great love with which he has loved us’. Eph 2:4-6. I love the phrase. This is not only a statement that God is love or has love but that he loves. Grace is love on the move towards men and women. Grace is missing from the description of love found in Gal 5:22-23 but that is because the whole list is a description of the grace that is God’s enabling power working in men and women.

We cannot state this too strongly, grace is the ‘grace of God’. It is his and his alone. We cannot deserve it no matter how ‘righteous’ our life has been. It is God’s choice not only to favour the undeserving but to show his favour to the undeserving. God’s every relationship with men and women has been and will always be on the basis of his grace. The big divide between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is the nature of that grace. Is it conditioning grace or enabling grace? The Calvinist wants to exalt God above any possibility of man’s self-boasting and declares that God’s work is monergism; that is to say ‘only one is working in salvation’. He is consistent in as much as he gives God 100% of the credit for the process of salvation. The question remains that if salvation is 100% God’s work, does that imply that the unsaved are unsaved because God has not chosen them to be saved? Most Calvinists would be prepared to sign up to this. Consequently most Calvinists see the very beginning of personal salvation as a sovereign act of regeneration that takes place unbidden and unassisted in the heart of the believer. That initial act of regeneration shows itself in awakening, repentance, faith and conversion. In this scenario faith and obedience are direct and inevitable consequences of regeneration. The believer has no more say in the matter that he did in his own physical conception and birth.

This may seem watertight but it opens up some significant questions. If faith, or for that matter any virtue, is the inevitable consequence of a sovereign act of God how can a man be held responsible for ‘not having faith’? There are far too many examples of those who lacked faith receiving rebukes to be ignored and that would seem to point to the fact that at some level they are being held accountable for their lack. If virtue or vice are the consequence of man’s behaviour it seems rational to reward or punish them in some way, but if they are the direct consequence of God’s action or inaction how will God judge those unable to behave any differently. If I tell my child not the eat the biscuits and them place them in some inaccessible place, do I commend him for his virtue in not eating the biscuits? On the other hand if my child has made some choices he must be held accountable for whatever choices he has made. Consequently his virtue or vice will receive its just reward.

We can escape from this dilemma simply be understanding that grace is not conditioning power but enabling power. We are utterly unable to do anything to please God apart from his enabling power but his power is not imposed upon us but offered to us. There can be no salvation without the full hearted consent that the Bible describes as faith. We cannot be saved ‘by faith’ alone, we must be saved ‘by grace through faith’. Only in this can God receive the glory that is his and we receive the consequence of our response to his enabling grace.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

do not be called leaders

I am still thinking about the similarities between the early churches and the early internet and my morning reading brought me to Matthew 23.

The New Testament has a whole bundle of words which indicate 'masters' of one kind or another. Vine's Expository Dictionary has a whole page for 'masters'. You can check it out here Our word here is Strong's G2519 - kathēgētēs Can we 'fine tune it'? I think we can. The Greek prefix 'kata' often has the sense of 'thoroughly' so this is a strengthened form of 'master'. Like Father or Rabbi it is the 'top of the tree'. Jesus told his apostles that they were not to allow others to refer to them as 'the teacher', 'the father' the leader'. Leadership is a biblical concept but we must be careful not to take our models from industry or the military; that is not the kind of 'leadership' that the scripture has in mind. Perhaps a better word might be a 'guide' and we must not accept the role of 'the guide'.

OK let's get back to the internet. No one person was ever in charge of the 'internet'. No one decreed its laws and protocols; they simply emerged. The process was by what are known as 'requests for comment' or RFCs. An innovator who had an idea as to how to do something would publish it as an RFC and wait for comments. If it was accepted by users then it would become an accepted protocol. They held that its 'laws' should be 'discovered not decreed'. What is this anarchy? democracy? No it was the observance of life. They watched to see what emerged and "less was required than allowed" as standards emerged. There were no arch-leaders, gurus or popes. It is all a 'bit hairy' as we say in the UK. It forever threatens to run in anarchy and chaos. The early churches were more like this than you might have guessed. Safety was not ensured by the setting up of high fences or detailed laws of behaviour or doctrine. Safety found its guarantee from another source.

Its 'safety' was ensured by each member 'holding fast the head', not by conformity to the dictates of 'leaders'. "Neither be called leaders" said Our Lord, "for one is your leader, even Christ". Matt 23:10

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

is everything we believe about the universe wrong?

I watched two BBC programmes yesterday. One, The Wonders of the Solar System, was a slick portrayal of the way 'we now understand the whole universe' with the presenter declaring that science is different to all religions because it does not require faith. It used exotic locations to describe the wonders of the big bang and how it was all provable by the mathematics.

The second was an ‘Horizon’ programme entitled “is everything we know about the universe wrong”? In the second programme a parade of university professors discussed dark matter, dark energy and dark flow with the recurring chorus ‘we don’t know’. They showed how the math does not quite work and how we have to invent ‘dark matter’ which is unobservable by anything made of ordinary matter. Apparently even ‘dark matter’ is not sufficient to explain the observations made by cosmologists so ‘dark energy’ was proposed. One professor described it as an unwanted, unexpected and unwelcome new kid on the block! But even ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ can’t make the numbers fit so we now have ‘dark flow’ as well. ‘dark matter’, ‘dark energy’ and ‘dark flow’ are, according to one cosmologist just ways of saying ‘we don’t know’. Apparently there is five times as much ‘dark matter’ as visible matter in the universe and dark matter can pass through visible matter without any impact of any kind. The cosmologists have now suggested that the ’nothing’ between all the visible bits of the universe is not ‘empty nothing’.

I was taken with the humility of these top flight academics. Further down the tree there are no doubts and everything is settled but up in the higher realms there are people who are saying ‘we don’t know’. There is an old saying from a Russian cosmologist who declared ‘cosmologists are often in error but never in doubt’. Apparently they are some who are now doubting.

I know there are dangers of making God the ‘God of the gaps’ but everytime they came to an impasse I found myself thinking ‘that sounds like God’. If you are in the UK and can access the BBC's iPlayer I strongly recommend you giving this programme an airing.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

the churches: a distributed network

I have been re-reading an old book on the origins of the internet. It is called ‘where wizards stay up late’ and is fascinating glimpse into how things happened from the beginning. When I first read it I was struck by several similarities with the efficiency of the net which paralleled the early churches. What? you say, the internet? Yes, let me explain. One of the tragedies of the church history is the way in which the simple and flexible pattern of the Acts’ years so quickly ossified into monarchical bishops and the Roman catholic church. The developed organisation of the churches was a control feature implemented by the leaders in the early years of the 2nd century. To compare the earlier networking of the churches with the structures or polity of the church in the 2nd century is deeply distressing. By the time Ignatius of Antioch is writing letters, just 30 years or so after John, he is strongly advocating a single monarchical bishop who rules over a territory and controls who is ‘in’ or ‘out’. ‘the bishop is as Christ’ says Ignatius. ‘Do nothing without the bishop’ says Ignatius. No baptisms, breaking of bread, are to take place without the bishop. Often those ‘controls’ were with the intention of keeping the flocks safe, but they created a hierarchical dependence which ruined the simple pattern of the earlier churches.

The churches became what the early internet people would have called a ‘decentralised network’ and finally became a ‘centralised network’ in the Roman Catholic structure. Let me see if I can explain. In a centralised network we would have a central hub and from that hub would spread out clusters of other points. Yet, each of those points would be organically connected to the centre hub rather than to each other. In this way the central hub would control all the satellites but a disaster at the hub would wipe out the whole thing. It is an extremely vulnerable set up although one perfectly designed to control all the satellites. So the Vatican would control all the other churches and all the other churches would be dependent upon the church at the centre of the hub. All authority is derived from the central hub which controls all the parts.

Now imagine a situation in which that central hub spawns other hubs which in turn have their own satellites. If one of these hubs goes down all its own satellites will go down but the rest of the network would survive but in pockets. They will have lost their overall communication but each little hub will still be able to control its own satellites. The result will be that we now have scattered clusters which are no longer connected to other scattered clusters. The system where the central hub spawns other central hubs is called a ‘decentralised network’ and is effectively what happens in a denomination. Each little group is self contained and like finches on a island are likely to develop their own unique features...or idiosyncrasies. Effectively each little cluster has become its own ‘centralised network’ and lost the input from all the other centres.

Now imagine something which looks like a piece of a fisherman’s net. There are no special hubs or centres but each knot, or unit, is connected to several others. No one church is ‘more important’ that another has has no hierarchical authority over another. If one of the knots is destroyed communication can flow around it and access the other knots. In other words what you have is inter-dependence with no levels of authority to dictate the patterns. No knot is absolutely dependent upon another knot.

The earliest forms of the internet were designed to produce a ‘distributed network’. There were no official ways of doing anything because there were no ‘officials’. The system provided was is known as ‘high redundancy’ meaning that if any part of the net went missing the information could still find its way home by another route. F F Bruce once wrote that ‘the early church was organised for catastrophe’. He meant that there was a high level of ‘redundancy’ built into its patterns. If catastrophe came it would have its local consequence but the networking of the churches would not be destroyed although it might be damaged. God’s design accommodated the possibility of disaster and ensured that the whole family remained in touch.

Within a couple of generations men had organised the churches into a shape which could not cope with such a catastrophe. The churches would have to depend more and more upon the central authority and the central authority would take more and more power to itself. It is a pattern that can arise in any generation and in any mission field. It is much more efficient... apparently but ultimately it can only degenerate into absolute control. There is a special wisdom in the apparent ‘disorganisation’ of the early churches. As long as God was in their midst they would flourish, without him they would quickly fade and die. The danger of the centralised network and the decentralised network is that they can work without God at their centre.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Rewriting History

It used to be said that it was the preaching of Wesley and Whitfield that saved England from the French Revolution. it was a fairly well established ‘truth’ of history. However there is no such thing as un-interpreted history. It has also often been said that one of the spoils of victory is that you get to write the history! This means that whenever we read history we need to remember that the writer has a point of view, even if he doesn’t declare it and the prevailing culture will powerfully effect the final ‘history’.

So why am I raising this? Last night I watched the latest in a very well produced series of programmes that the BBC has created called ‘the Seven Ages of Britain’. Its host is David Dimbleby who is now an avuncular figure and a national institution in the UK, as was his father before him. The latest series concentrated on the 18th century. It traced the rise of the middle classes through art and sculpture. It focussed on the famous Hogarth series known as the Rake’s Progress and spoke of the initial sympathy of the UK for the French Revolution which turned to revulsion as the revolution descended into barbaric cruelties. Conspicuous, by its absence, was any reference at all to the 18th century revival and the involvement of Wesley and Whitfield. The methodist revival which was once said to have ‘saved England’ has now been written out of history.

I am a ‘very’ amateur history buff, and I usually have some history book on the go at all times. In truth all my study of history has one theme, I am always ‘looking for the saints’! That is to say my reading of history is always with a view to seeing what God was doing as such times and how the saints responded to the changing seasons. The old historians believed that history had a direction and retold their stories in the light of that timeline. The famous history of Macaulay is really tracing the development of the British Empire and points that get most attention are points which show that ‘development’. Modern historians are adopting a more ‘post modern’ position; there is no big story just a jumble of events which impact on each other. Henry Ford’s derisory comment that ‘history is just one d***ed thing after another’ is pretty close to the current viewpoint; there is no design and no purpose. We trace how we got here but it has all been arbitrary and random. Modern TV historians of the kind of David Starkey and Simon Schama are of this school. Their knowledge of facts is immense but they have no ‘theory of history’. In their dumbing down of history for the TV audience they both constantly make assertions and cut corners for which they have no evidence; they put little Thucididean quotes into the mouths of their characters to make their point. The history is consequently wide and flowing but not deep. We are left with generalities which are the convictions of the historian and where the historian has no conviction we are faced with wide open spaces. Starkey, Schama and Dimbleby are men with great skills in communication but they have no dimension of the divine; their histories are two dimensional.

The East Germans used to joke that whereas all countries had an uncertain future they were the only country with an ‘uncertain history’. They were referring to the process whereby their history was being constantly rewritten from a Marxist-Lenonist perspective. We are now, apparently, all East Germans. There is a famous axiom of historians that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. That means that just because they haven’t found it it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. With the current batch of high profile historians pursuing their set course there are set to be great gaps in the history the public and our children are learning. But those ‘gaps’ are not ‘evidence of absence’ but only evidence of the particular historian’s perspective. Modern historians claim to be more objective than their predecessors but people who convince themselves that they are 100% objective fall into the greatest trap of all, they have no awareness of their powerful subjectivity. Contrariwise the honest man who knows he will inevitably be shaped by his subjectivity has a much better chance of guarding against his own bias and thereby of writing a more objective history.

So by all means listen and watch the new historians but dig into some of the older ones too and whenever you listen or watch say to yourself ‘there is no such thing as uninterpreted history and what I am hearing is just one man’s narrow viewpoint’. Only Bible history is 100% reliable.

Friday, 29 January 2010

7. WORSHIP, praise and service

You often hear the statement that the first use of the word 'worship' comes in the story of Abraham's intention to sacrifice Isaac. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” Gen 22:5 but this is really only true in an English version. The Hebrew word usually translated 'worship' is Strong's H7812 - shachah and means 'to prostrate oneself'. It is the physical attitude of unconditional surrender and of utter compliance with the will of another.

If we were to draw a stick-figure of a man 'worshipping' it would be of someone lying on their face before another. Not that I am advocating any 'method' of worship, I am trying to identify the essence of worship. It contains within its sense the idea of surrendering to someone much more powerful who will now be served without hesitation. It is the thought captured in Psalm 2 where we are admonished to Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. Psa 2:12 This is the kiss of willing obeisance rather than of affection.

Christ's rebuke to Satan's temptation was “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Matt 4:10 It is an entirely appropriate answer to someone who had said “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Matt 4:9. The Greek word for 'worship' used here is also highly suggestive. It is the word Strong's G4352 - proskyneō In its origins it meant 'to kiss towards'. Again it is the picture of absolute submission to another; it is a good Greek equivalent of an original Hebrew word.

Digging a little deeper unearths another vital theme. In the wilderness temptations all Christ's answers come from the book of Deuteronomy and 'you shall worship the lord your God, and Him only you shall serve' is a quotation from Deuteronomy where it says You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. Deut 6:13 It is significant that 'fear' is changed to 'worship' by the Lord in the wilderness. True worship is close to fear but has the element of a willing surrender in it too.

True worship is beyond words or forms; it is an inward disposition. An old friend of mine used to say 'the language of true worship, like the language of true love, has a very small vocabulary'. Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. Eccl 5:2

Friday, 22 January 2010

6. Godwards - thou shalt be unto me...

Its key purpose, and this may shock, was not evangelism but to be a people centred upon God and available to him. OK that's where we left off last time. Let me re-emphasise the point with a couple of prepositions and some pronouns...

The nation that became the OT covenant community were given this 'if.. then..' promise. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” Ex 19:4–6 NKJV I have my eye on that little phrase which is repeated twice in this passage.. 'unto me'. This is God staking his claim on this people. If they accepted the terms of the covenant they would become 'his' in a way unique among all other nations and if they accepted the terms of this covenant they would become a 'priestly kingdom and a holy nation to me'. The whole orientation of these opening words is 'Godwards'. There is no mention of a promised land nor of a commission; these would come in due time but are not the main focus.

In the 'Missing Jewel of Worship' A W Tozer commented "We're here to be worshippers first and workers only second. We take a convert and immediately make a worker out of him. God never meant it to be so. God meant that a convert should learn to be a worshipper, and after that he can learn to be a worker. The work done by a worshipper will have eternity in it."

Did you ever notice the order in this well known verse? Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Matt 4:10 NKJV. Worship first, workers second. What is true of the individual is true of the covenant community and is true of the local expression of that covenant community too. The 'purpose' of the universal church and the local church is to 'worship and to serve' in that order.

These are not two different 'views' of the local church, this is a single view with two aspects. The church that worships will inevitably serve, but the church that serves may never discover the wonder of worship.