Friday, 16 December 2011

Multi-tasking: virtue or vice?

I watched an hour long documentary last night entitled 'Digital Nation'. It was originally created back in February of 2010. If you would like to watch the same you can find it here, Digital Nation It begins by observing some tests conducted at MIT and Stanford so it isn't written by Luddites! The tests showed that among those who prided themselves most on their multi-tasking internet lives were not multi-tasking nearly as well as they thought and that such multi-tasking evidenced significantly slower rates of function, memory disorganisation and were worse at analytical reasoning. This may all have deep significance socially but I am more interested in its possible effects on our devotional lives.

Perhaps it is significant that one of the Biblical opposites for 'evil' is 'single'. "The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Luke 11:34 KJV." and the Psalmist makes his own intention very plain; "Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Psa 119:34 KJV"

There are times then when our Salami-slicing abilities really work against the concentration that God is desiring. God can never be satisfied with the kind of Christianity which regards the spiritual life as an interesting add-on to all the other things we are doing. There are times when everything else has to stop and we give ourselves to God alone. "Be still, and know that I am God: Psa 46:10 KJV"

The internet and modern technology are great tools for acquiring data, even Biblical data, but there is more to relationship than data. I discovered many years ago that what I learn quickly I tend to forget quickly but the disposition which marinates in the word and presence of God will add flavours to the character that will never be available to those who are 'hooked on tronics' and its instant solutions.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Arnold and the 'Jehovah' mystery.

Back in the late 1960s a young friend and I created a Robot for the purposes of a Sunday School Anniversary. His name was Arnold. He had a speaker in his chest and heard through a microphone in his nose. His eyes flashed when he spoke and he was supposed to be helping me to tell a story but he kept on messing it up... to the children's delight! Arnold was operated by my young friend and that anniversary was his only proper performance.

However, Arnold began to make an appearance at the birthday parties of my children. He was the party manager's nightmare. He sang loud songs and constantly misinterpreted all the instructions that were given to him. It was hardly a real birthday party without 'Arnold'. 'Arnold' became part of our family legend. It was a great sadness when we moved house and Arnold was fatally damaged.

During his reign as king of the birthday parties Arnold was operated by me remotely from another room. I forget who it was who finally cracked his identity but someone suddenly said "I know who Arnold is; he's just a mixed up Ronald." The secret was out; Arnold is an anagram of Ronald. Arnold was a side of my character that most people never saw; anarchic and mischievous; the child who was always lurking in the background. Long after Arnold had gone if one of my mischievous moods came on me and I ended up fully clothed in the bath with all the children my wife's sensible rebuke was captured in a single word "ARNOLD!!"

Most of the folk reading this will never have known Arnold; the name of Arnold means nothing to them. But for those with a shared history just the mention of Arnold's name will bring a wry smile to their faces and transport the whole family back to long ago days. Remember Arnold while I recount another story...
and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty;
but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them. Ex 6:3 ASV
In fact, the name Jehovah is used in the book of Genesis alone 164 times before this event recorded in Exodus 6:3. So how can God say Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had never know him by that name? Read it carefully; it doesn't say they didn't know God and it doesn't say that they didn't know the name Jehovah, it says "I was not known to you by my name Jehovah." The name of Jehovah became a name with a history and when the name of Jehovah was used that shared history would awake in the memories of those who had shared it and knew that name. Arnold and Jehovah are names with histories; only those who have shared the history can appreciate what is meant by the word 'Arnold' or 'Jehovah'. There are aspects of God's character associated with that shared history that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had never known and never did know.

Jehovah was uniquely the name of God given to the people of the Old Covenant. whose story is told in the Old Testament; this is why the name never appears in the New Testament which is the story of the New Covenant and its people. Jehovah is the name of God as characterised by seven key elements of his relationship with the people of the Old Covenant;
I am Jehovah,
and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,

and I will rid you out of their bondage

and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments:

and I will take you to me for a people,

and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God, who bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

And I will bring you in unto the land which I sware to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob;

and I will give it you for a heritage:

I am Jehovah. (Exodus 6:6-8)

Monday, 5 September 2011

but do we believe it?

I was listening to some favourite Christian songs on my iPod. They came from some radio programmes I did a few years ago; Breakfast Meditations. On the third or fourth morning I was thinking about the Greek word poiema. If it looks like our word 'poem' that is no accident, that's where our word comes from. It means 'made' but with the sense of a design and process and completion.

It's the word used in...
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, Rom 1:20 NKJV
You can see the sense of the word here as it refers to the creation. The 'creation' is not a random accident but a carefully planned and crafted work of art. It was designed and executed with a clear purpose that Isaiah identifies...
For thus says the LORD, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: “I am the LORD, and there is no other. Is 45:18 NKJV
There we have it. It was not created 'in vain' ie without purpose, but to be inhabited. What is the purpose of the creation? We are. But what is our purpose? Ah, that's another question.

The word poiema is only used twice in the Bible. The second time is in Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10 NKJV
So each time poiema is used it is in the context of creation. The first time in the context of the natural creation but the second time in the context of another creation... the Church. By the 'Church' I don't mean a denomination or the conglomerate of Christian gatherings. I don't even mean the sum total of all evangelicals throughout the world. This is not an accumulation but a creation; a new creation. Something which did not exist and then as a result of carefully planning exists as a work of art which was executed with a master's skill.

So, is the Church a beautiful but fatally flawed human concept or is it a divine poiema? Is it the result of a Gentile section grafted onto a faithful Jewish remnant or is it a new creation?

For Paul it is a single family comprised of those in heaven and those on earth upon whom God has put his name; he has owned them as his own. Eph 3:14,15. Part of this new creation's purpose is to manifest to 'powers and principalities in the heavenly places the manifold wisdom of God'. Eph 3:10. Like the first creation is has not been formed 'in vain' but in order to be inhabited... by God himself. Eph2:19-22.

It is enough to keep us awake at night in breathless wonder at the audacity of God's great plan and work of grace... but do we believe it?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

a considered opinion?

I have been asked to preach in October on a particular controversial topic; Christian Zionism! The request came with a plea to present a 'considered opinion'. That gives me my title for the session; "Christian Zionism: a considered opinion". I am excited by this title, especially the second half of it.

More than 30 years ago I was spending 6 months in an Asian country. The country had a border with a much smaller nation which was ruled by a fierce anti-Christian government. Two young teenagers from the smaller country were pursuing their education in the larger country and had come to a clear faith in Christ; they had been baptised, at their request. Myself, 2 other English preachers, a long term missionary and the two teenagers spent the night in a small wooden house. When the 'boys' had gone to bed the missionary was very subdued. She said "when it is discovered what these boys have done, they will be poisoned by their families."

I had a very broken night. The question that kept me awake was a simple one; "is what I am preaching worth these two fine young men dying for?" I had an old friend who used to say "a man is not a man until he knows what he is ready to die for". I could have given a list of 'Bible truths' that I was willing to die for, but how many of those truth was I willing to let someone else die for?

I have a somewhat deserved reputation for being pedantic; I think truth is important and ought to be precise. I probably have a reputation for having 'opinions' too, but I endeavour to keep my opinions in two water-tight compartments. There are those which are really a 'best fit' hypothesis to some Bible theme. I am willing to share those opinions with you if you ask me, but I have another list of 'opinions' I am ready to die for. More... I have some convictions which are so strong, and in my view so crucial, that I preach them without fear or favour, even though I know the repercussions are such that anyone believing them may have to put their own life on the line too.

If any of my hearers ever have to make that choice I would want to be sure they were laying down their lives for Bible truths which were clear and fundamental and significant and not something which was my own 'best fit' theology.

Blaise Pascal is reputed to have coined the phrase;
"In essentials, unity.

In non-essentials, liberty.

And in all things, charity."

It is a good motto for a preacher. There are issues where a man or woman will have cause to quote Luther's famous words;
"My conscience is subject to the word of God.

Here I stand. I can do no other".
but there are times too when in honesty and humility a preacher will need to end his session with the words;
"...this is my considered opinion."

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Riots or Revelation: the only real options

The version best known by Christians of an older generation is...
Where there is no vision, the people perish: Prov 29:18 KJV
It has been a favourite with many a preacher. The general interpretation was that unless we have a God-given goal, usually held by the leader, the work of God will fade and vanish. The New King James Version corrects this misunderstanding...
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law. Prov 29:18 NKJV
This is referring to a quite different Biblical concept. When there is no revelation of God's will people will live lives which are without restraint.

In the UK we have been experiencing a time of civil disorder and mob activity. We have generations now who have never been taught that God has placed limits on human freedom and that he will hold us accountable when we cross those lines. We have generations who are experts on their 'rights' and who could hardly name a 'responsibility'. Sooner or later the behaviour that we have seen on our streets is inevitable to a society which has 'no revelation'; they will simply, as the wise man told us 3000 years ago, throw off restraint.

Why not? Atheistic evolution has no reason for the requirement for a man or woman to 'love their neighbour as they love themselves'. Dawkins and others struggle to create the notion that 'collectively' we have evolved into communities which realise that survival is a better prospect when we 'stick together' but it is an empty logic.

If there is no God, and the fool lives his life on that presumption, why not cast off all restraint?
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. Psa 14:1 NKJV
This famous verse is actually telling us the mind-set of certain people. God is not in their thoughts; 'in their thoughts/heart' they are working on the assumption that 'there is no God'. In the UK our TV screens have been taken up with experts from one field or another who 'explain' why thousands of youngsters have taken to the streets in looting and destruction. The real answer is much more simple than those we constantly hear. The cause of the riots? practical atheism. The 'fool' has the mind-set that there is no God; There will be no 'repercussions'. The only fault is in getting caught. The 'atheist' will produce 'abominable works' because there is no logical, ultimate, restraint upon his behaviour. His mind-set is a personal pragmatism; if it suits 'me' that's a good enough reason.

Are riots and looting wrong? Why are they wrong? If we are the simple product of an atheistic evolution how can anything be wrong? Right and wrong are redundant categories; all that really matters is 'what do I get out of it?' If there is no God and no future judgment, why is rioting 'wrong'? Unless there is a revelation of a God who requires his creatures to behave in certain ways that he has ordered, why not 'cast off restraint'.

So how should those who believe in a God who has revealed 'right and wrong' respond in the face of riots? We must be active agents of a 'revelation' of the will of God and we must point men and women to one who took on his own shoulders the 'lawless-nesses' of a whole world and made a way back to God. Ultimately relationships between one person and another can never be on a right foundation until those persons are themselves rightly related to God; the horizontal relationship can never be truly 'right' until the vertical relationship is mended.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor 5:18–21 NKJV

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Some thoughts on Bible versions. Part 5. ESV

More vanishing truths. ESV

The ESV comes highly recommended by almost everyone. It is an evangelical revision of the Revised Standard Version. (Bible-Researcher: ESV It began as a reaction to the 'inclusive NIV' and it is advocated by a galaxy of evangelical academics. Originally it claimed to be adopting a 'literal equivalence' philosophy of translation but now seems to have adopted the phrase 'essentially literal'. It has the easy reading style of its RSV and is gaining acceptance in many circles. I use it frequently in my studies; but I don't trust it.

Several times in the writing of Paul we have reference to a contrast between what he calls 'the old man' and 'the new man'. Rom 6:6; Eph 2:15; 4:22, 24; Col 3:9–10. It is a thrilling image and one that is crucial to a true understanding of Paul's teaching about the effects of regeneration. The references make it clear that there can be no peaceful co-existence between the 'old man' and the 'new man'. In a key passage in Romans Paul details the consequences of the behaviour of 'one man'; Adam, and goes on to expound the consequent effect of our union with Adam being ended and our union with the 'new man' being begun. That foundational understanding is necessary in understanding Paul's teaching about the 'old man' and the 'new man' and their mutual exclusivity. It is key to understanding the nature of the new life into which the Spirit brings us.

The 'old man' is human solidarity under the wrong head and is the direct consequence of Adam's first rebellion. That act created a different kind of 'man' and a different entity to which we are all joined by first birth. Adam is said to be a type/figure of another man; the new man, Christ Jesus. What a tragedy then than all these ideas are cut off at the root by the ESV decision to interpret 'the old man' and the 'new man' as the 'old self' and a 'new self'. In the ESV we slide from direct Biblical revelation into the mists of psycho-babble and non-biblical notions of 'the self'. It is quite impossible to get back to revealed truth from this position. The truth of the end of 'the old man' and the beginning of the 'new man' have disappeared from the ESV.

And not only from the ESV... the NIV takes this same route, as does the NASB. What we have here, in the ESV and in the NASB are versions which claim to hold to 'literal equivalence' but which have chosen to translate these key passages in the light of 'dynamic equivalence'. I know that many of my friends will disagree with me, but I hold that it is impossible to understand what Paul is teaching about the radical nature of regeneration if we confine our studies and thinking to the likes of the ESV, NIV and NASB.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Some thoughts on Bible versions. Pt 4 NIV

Disappearing truths in the NIV?

Some time ago I was asked to be the speaker at a church house party weekend. I was 'commissioned' to do 4 sessions and after having prayed felt I should do a mini-series on the Christian's walk. I had in mind the way we begin and the way we must continue and had a series of verses in mind, particularly from Paul's letters.

I was interested in the word 'peripateO' which means to walk about (or around). Paul uses this key picture of the Christian life 32 times in his letters. Rom 6:4; 8:1, 4; 13:13; 14:15; 1 Cor 3:3; 7:17; 2 Cor 4:2; 5:7; 10:2–3; 12:18; Gal 5:16; Eph 2:2, 10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15; Phil 3:17–18; Col 1:10; 2:6; 3:7; 4:5; 1 Th 2:12; 4:1, 12; 2 Th 3:6, 11. It speaks of the steady 'one step at a time' pattern of Christian living.

I had some key verses in mind:
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Rom 6:4

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 2 Cor 5:7

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Gal 5:16

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, Col 2:6

I prepared my outline thoughts using my New King James Version and then I hit a snag. I asked what version of the Bible the people at the house party would be using; answer: The New International Version. Why would that be a 'snag'? Well, the NIV has systematically eliminated the picture of the Christian life as a 'step by step obedience' by refusing to translate 'peripateO' as 'walk'. It opts instead for 'living', 'acting', 'behaving', 'use', among others. The favoured choice is 'living'. In fact, it has chosen not to translate it but rather to explain what Paul means by his use of the word.

There are times when short-cuts look very much like vandalism. If the NIV is prepared to take this kind of short-cut how do I know what other short-cuts it may take? And that is the problem; it undermines my confidence in what I am reading. I may 'understand' much more easily what I am reading but how do I know if I am now reading what Paul really meant?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Some thoughts about Bible dogs. Pt 3 worship

Now what on earth can dogs teach us about worship?

Christians have very different ideas about worship. For some it is the Sunday morning service at the local parish church, for others it is a worship band and enthusiastic communal singing. The most frequent Greek word translated 'worship' in the New Testament is proskuneO (Strongs G4352); It is a Greek word which has the Greek word for 'dog' right at the centre of it. It almost certainly derives from a word which has come to mean 'kiss', like a dog licking his master’s hand.

It is an interesting choice of word. In Hebrew the word for 'worship' means to prostrate yourself in surrender. If you combine this idea with that of a dog submissively licking its master's hand you have a fascinating insight into what the Bible means by 'worship'. It has almost nothing to do with music and very little to do with praise; it is the state of affectionate surrender to a master.

The idea of personal submission has gone AWOL (absent without leave) from much of contemporary Christianity. Perhaps the family pet has something to teach us here?

Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Matt 4:10 KJV

Apparently the only true service of God begins with the submission of a personal affection to Jesus Christ himself.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Some thoughts about Bible dogs. Pt 2 Part of the family

I made a point of explaining that 'dogs' never became part of the 'family'. There is an exception to this.

There is a Bible character who begins outside the family but becomes an integral part of the family. It seems that he was a Kennizite and that implies that he was not one of the descendants of Israel. He rose to prominence in the family of Judah and was commissioned to reconnoitre the land of Israel before the Conquest.

He seems to have been a foreigner who was integrated into the family of Judah and left a lasting legacy of courage and naked faith. Perhaps it was because his origins were remembered that he was always known by the name that showed he was not originally part of the family. They called him by the name that indicated a foreigner from outside the family; in English 'dog' or 'whelp', in Hebrew... Caleb. Joshua 14:6.

Here was a man with little spiritual legacy and, so far as we can tell, no right to be part of the Bible's story but we know him as a man of extraordinary faithfulness to the revealed will of God. It is an encouraging reminder that it is not our past which determines our destiny and usefulness in the kingdom of God, but our current obedience.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Some thoughts about Bible dogs. Pt 1. Beware of dogs!

You're joking! Not at all. There are more than forty references to 'dogs' in the Bible but no references to 'cats'! (I rest my case!) There are some interesting ideas and themes connected with dogs throughout the Bible, but you will have to adopt a non-English mind-set to really understand them.

The Hebrew peoples didn't generally like dogs. If you really disliked or despised someone you called them a 'dog'. The Hebrews used the term 'dog' to describe non-Hebrews. When Mephibosheth wanted to express his self-humbling at the feet of David he went a step further and called himself a 'dead dog'. 2 Sam 9:8. Paul calls those who wanted to bring Christians under the yoke of the law, dogs and the mutilation and says we are to 'beware' of them; Philippians 3:2. and finally the Revelation tells us that 'dogs' will be outside the heavenly city. Strong stuff.

This is the language of metaphor. The phenomena of animals as 'pets' is foreign to the Bible. This is not easy for western Christians to appreciate. At a period on my life I lived next door to a university with beautiful open parkland and ornamental lakes. I had many African visitors and we frequently strolled through the university grounds. I always knew the questions I would be asked. They would see a squirrel and ask 'can you eat them?' They would see rabbits and ask 'can you eat them?' They would see flocks of Canada geese on the lakes and they would ask 'can you eat them?' It seemed such a waste to have so much good food going to waste. My African friends also found it difficult to understand why we allowed 'dogs' into our houses. In an African house you may get chickens but no dogs! Biblically, a dog is never part of a family.

Jesus called a non-Hebrew woman and her daughter 'dogs' and he distinguished very specifically the difference between 'dogs' and 'family'.
But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. Mark 7:27–28 KJV
The word translated 'dogs' is really little dogs but you must not think of an adorable puppy when you say 'little dogs'. Tyndale translated this word as 'whelps' which was usually used in an insulting manner. Did you notice the distinction between 'family members' and the 'whelp' which ought not even to have been in the house but crept in to pick up a few crumbs under the table.

It was a measure of the woman's humility they she pressed her case in the way she did. Genuine poverty cannot afford to take offence. All that mattered to her was that she gained a few crumbs for her daughter. Jesus knew the woman's heart all the time...
Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Matt 15:28 NKJV
There is a profound truth here. We may have no claim on his care and may not deserve even to me in the same home but there is a simple prayer that will always gain access to his heart.
Lord, help me. Matt 15:25 KJV

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Some Thoughts on Bible Versions: Part 3

Teach Thyselfe Olde Englishe?

Why should anyone bother with such an archaic concept? Well, some may just be curious but there are occasions when the switch from ‘thou’ to ‘you’ is quite significant.

This is a little article I created a few years back. If you read it through you will be able to show off to your friends by explaining why the sign which declares...

Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe

is inaccurate. But if you read further you may find Olde Englishe can hold the key to some real gems of revelation.

Teach Thyselfe Olde Englishe

And, following on from the close and personal use of God's proper name, 'Thee' and 'thou' are not so grand as you might think and speak of an intimacy that we have lost in the modern usage of the word 'you'.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Some Thoughts on Bible Versions: Part 2

As part of the Sinai Covenant Jehovah gave 10 laws and an abundance of 'judgements' for his people. The 10 laws are placed in a very specific context;
And God spake all these words, saying, I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Ex 20:1–2 ASV
One of the 10 laws dealt specifically with those who did not honour the personal name of Jehovah.
Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Ex 20:7 ASV

It is using this name of 'Jehovah', the covenant-name of God with his people, fraudulently which incurs God's anger. To promise or claim something on the basis of this name when God has not endorsed that promise is fraud of the most deadly kind. It is tantamount to forging God's signature!

There are two crimes against God which constitute the greatest of sins. The first is idolatry; idolatry perpetrates a 'lie' against the character of God. There is no greater sin. The second is close; taking the name of Jehovah in vain perpetrates a 'lie' against what God has said. The preacher who declares 'God says' had better quote him accurately! James 3:1

To ensure that the great name of "Jehovah" was not used inappropriately the Jewish people determined that they would not use it at all. They believed that non-use was better than ab-use. To ensure that no one used it wrongly they decided that when they came to read the word 'Jehovah' they would say the word 'Lord' (Adonai) in its place or they would simply say the words "the name' (HaShem) without pronouncing the name "Jehovah".

Perhaps early Bible translators shared the same reluctance and thought that using the name too frequently would devalue it. Is that why our Old King James Version followed the Jewish pattern of using the word LORD instead of 'Jehovah'. Whatever the reason modern translations now seem to omit all reference to God's proper name and simply refer to him as LORD (upper case). The original Hebrew and the ASV of 1901 showed no such reluctance as this graph will show.
Detailed Study

In fact the loss of the proper name for God is tragic. 'Jehovah' is not a title it is a proper name. In our constitutional monarchy the proper way to address the monarch is 'Your Majesty'. It brings dignity and a sense of distance; I am not suggesting we should stop using the title. However, there have been a few individuals, her husband, her mother, her sister who I presume in private occasions would call her 'Elizabeth'. Can you feel the difference between 'Your Majesty' and 'Elizabeth'? If you can, you can feel the difference between 'LORD' and 'Jehovah'.

The Psalms use the personal name of Jehovah over 700 times. In times of joy and distress, faith and anxiety, victory and defeat, the psalmist draws near, not to 'Your Majesty' but to 'Jehovah'; the God who has signed my release papers and guaranteed me a place in his future plans.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Some Thoughts on Bible Versions: Part 1

Question: What word can you find 4 times in the Old King James Version, never in the NKJV, never in the ESV and 6777 times in the American Standard Version of 1901?

Answer: Jehovah

There is a long history behind these statistics.

God 'signed' the Sinai Covenant with the personal name of Jehovah. Although Abraham and others had known the name of Jehovah, God had never revealed to them the significance of that name. When he promised to deliver the descendants of Abraham from Egyptian captivity he made it clear that he was about to commit himself to an entirely different kind of relationship with those 'sons of Israel'.

And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am Jehovah: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, wherein they sojourned. And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God, who bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land which I sware to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am Jehovah. Ex 6:2–8 ASV

Bible words don't have definitions; they have histories. There have been lots of suggestions as to what the name 'Jehovah' actually means. I will ask a slightly different question. "Who is Jehovah?" He is the God who has revealed himself to the people of the Sinai covenant in seven great affirmations.
1. I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians

2. I will rid you of their bondage

3. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments

4. I will take you to me for a people

5. I will be a God to you...

6. I will bring you in unto the land which I sware to give to Abraham etc

7. I will give it you for a heritage
These affirmations are bordered with a statement which is repeated "I am Jehovah". It is as though he had 'signed' his name at the beginning and the end of this statement. No one can take away from it and no one can add to it. This promise is 'bankable'!

When we read the personal name of Jehovah in the American Standard Version of 1901 we are reading of a God who has 'put his name' to this commitment to the sons of Israel.

Monday, 25 July 2011

transformation... in a heart-beat

Here's another thought from some recent experience. Charles Wesley's hymn...
Jesus, Thine all victorious love
Shed in my heart abroad;
Then shall my feet no longer rove,
Rooted and fixed in God.

O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow;
Burn up the dross of base desire
And make the mountains flow!

O that it now from Heav’n might fall
And all my sins consume!
Come, Holy Ghost, for Thee I call,
Spirit of burning, come!

Refining fire, go through my heart,
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter Thy life through every part
And sanctify the whole.

...prays for God's life to be 'scattered through every part'. Is that an acknowledgement that regeneration is a process? Some who oppose the notion of God transforming a man or woman in a moment are keen to emphasise the idea of a slow progression. Here's my personal experience...

I have been undergoing a course of treatment for Angina which has included 'angiograms'. They involve putting a long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter into a blood vessel in your groin or wrist. The catheter is then guided to your heart and a special dye (contrast agent) is injected through the catheter so that X-ray images show your heart more clearly.

There is an interesting consequence to this procedure. When the dye is released it produces a sensation of an intense hot flush which courses through the body. I was warned with the words 'the hot flush is coming'. It is a very peculiar sensation right on the borders of pain in its intensity.

Here's my question and my answer.
Question: 'How long did it take to 'scatter' that dye through 'every part'?

Answer: a heart-beat.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Red River of Life

It was a 'Fact and Faith' film distributed by Moody Press in the 1960s and was a fascinating glimpse into the wonderful workings of the human body and the multi-tasking functions of the blood stream. I had my own version this week.

Yesterday I went into hospital for a procedure to fit a 'tricky' stent. I had been diagnosed as having angina and this was the remedy. I had also been put on a cocktail of drugs to do various things to my 'red river of life'. An earlier angiogram had shown damage and severe restrictions of blood flow in parts of the heart. Over the past few months my energy levels had been pretty much rock bottom and it was not helped by some of the medication. Yesterday I underwent the one and a half hour procedure which fitted a 'Capella' stent. I have some photos which compare the blood flow before and after the procedure; they are mildly shocking. I estimate that I am getting up to 300% better flow in some regions than prior to the procedure. All that comes from the medical data but what I wasn't expecting was the dramatic 'felt' results of the procedure.

Within an hour I was feeling more awake than I had in the previous six months. My whole disposition seemed to have awoken and I was 'raring to go'. By now you are probably thinking this is in the wrong blog... no it isn't. I have been thinking about the life of God in the soul of a man.

Sometimes for reasons, or sometimes apparently without reasons, the flowing of his life becomes impeded and then everything is 'hard work'. It becomes an effort just to stand up and walk a few steps. Samson-like we sometimes shake ourselves and think 'just get on with it, it will be fine', but it isn't 'fine', something is amiss. Our souls can become vulnerable to various ailments; check out Psalm 103:1-3 NKJV

What we need then is a master physician who can make a precise diagnosis and then administer a 'procedure' to alleviate the impediment. Suddenly, the red river of life flows again and everything is changed, every disposition and ability. What we need at such times is the master's touch.

In the realm of the physical and of the spirit; He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. Psa 103:14 NKJV

Friday, 10 June 2011

Precious Memories

This is a video of Eric Hutchings. I was almost certainly in the congregation in the Bingley Hall when this message was given. My wife, Margaret, came to Christ under this ministry and I received much from this man and his team. Take a look at evangelism in the 1960s!

For Many other free videos visit the website:


Monday, 6 June 2011


That must surely be the shortest title to any of these blogs and I can't believe that it is over 2 months since I began this series. I can't remember now what interrupted it or why I never got back to it but I can remember where I wanted to end up.

“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. Is 1:18 NKJV

The previous verses have built up a relentless accusation against God's people and the gap between man and God has seldom been expressed so completely. And yet in the face of this stark contrast God uses the personal pronoun 'us'. 'Us' implies some commonality. With some people there is a massive common ground and 'us' or 'we' comes easily. There are fewer things in common with my dog, although I occasionally use 'we' on one of our walks. What commonality would I have with a rock? Hardly any.

This little word always arrests me when I read this passage of Isaiah. God says 'us'; let 'us' reason together. What commonality is there between this description of man apart from God and God himself, and yet God says 'us', and even more amazingly 'let us'. We might have expected a lightening bolt of judgment but in its place comes this gentle invitation. No matter how marred the image has become, no matter how thoroughly the likeness has been vandalised, God draws near and says 'there is something we must do together here'. What a gospel...


and let us reason together...

Thursday, 31 March 2011

weighed down with guilt

Isaiah's description of Israel, and us, continues...
A people laden with iniquity, Is 1:4 NKJV

I wonder if they 'looked' as though they were weighed down with sin? Many don't who are! From time to time I come across folk that I describe to myself as 'happy pagans'. Their lives are devoted to the pursuit of self-gratification. They live life 'to the full' in their own estimate; there is not much sign of the heavy load, they take life pretty much as it comes.

No one really knows themselves unless God grants them revelation. We are such experts at self deception. John the gospel writer put his finger on such in his first letter;
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 NKJV

That probably means that the vast majority of mankind, at any single time, are living in self-deception. We don't feel it, so we don't worry about it.

The words 'guilt' and 'iniquity' come together frequently in the Scriptures. (Ex 34:7; Lev 5:17; Num 5:31; 14:18) Guilt is the consequence of iniquity. Biblically it has nothing to do with the way we feel; although Christians and modern society at large often refer to 'feeling guilty'. Iniquity is the sin, guilty is God's verdict upon the sinner.

People who are not conscious of the sin are seldom conscious of God's judgment upon their condition. But the fact is that...
there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Rom 3:22–23 NKJV
and because we have 'sinned' the verdict is inevitably 'guilty' or 'under God's sentence. (Rom 3:19) and yet we may be completely unaware of the way God views us.

The consciousness of sin brings 'conviction' or the sense of burden, but we carry our load whether we are conscious of it or not. It is a work of God's grace when conviction of sin begins, although the experience is anything but comfortable. Many opt for palliative care; they fill their lives with business and things which block out the pain of conviction. What a way to treat the kindness of God. There is a wise saying in the book of Proverbs;
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Prov 27:6 NKJV

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

ohhh... sinful nation

Isaiah’s description of the people of God now continues into the next verses…
Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, They have turned away backward. Is 1:4 NKJV

They certainly ‘told it like it is’, these Old Testament prophets. From the description of its spiritual promiscuity Isaiah now turns to some of the consequences of the nation’s rebellious ways. Do remember that we are not pointing the finger here but simply seeing, in the description, a portrait of all men and women from God’s perspective. The man under whom I spent the earliest years of my pilgrimage would always say “you have to tell the bad news before you can tell the good news.” He was right, of course. The good news is good news because it brings the news of the remedy to what we have become. We are sometimes so eager to get to the good news that we merely scan verses like these and want to hurry on the ‘for God so loved the world’ verses, but it is often a blessing in disguise to let some of the bad news sink in before we move on.

The contrast could hardly be greater. This nation’s beginnings began with a conditional promise in which God promised them that…
…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.’ Ex 19:5–6 NKJV
But to those destined to be a ‘holy nation’ God now brings the accusation that, in his sight, they are a ‘sinful nation’. They have gone in the opposite direction to their God declared destiny. What a tragedy. But it is not only ancient Israel that bears this tragedy. Here is God’s description and declared destiny for the whole race…
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; Gen 1:26 NKJV

Can we recognise the human race today from this ancient description? Neither does God… and yet God never gave up. Recently it was reported that Prince William had quoted his grandmother when he visited the site of the earthquake in Christchurch, NZ. “Grief is the price we pay for love”. They are profound words. When we love someone we put a terrible weapon into their hands; the more we love them, the more they have the power to hurt us, intentionally or unintentionally. At one level that is what Calvary is all about. There is a deep grief in God’s description of the nation of Israel and of us. The word translated 'alas' here is not really a word at all; it is a single letter groan. 'Alas' is the kind of word you might use if you spill your coffee down your shirt; the Hebrew is a groan from a broken-hearted God. God’s hurt at our rebellion has gone off the scale.

How greatly did he love us and grieve over our sin? Calvary is the measure of that love.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

my people do not know

A shallow stream runs through the broad unpaved street and makes it typical of many smaller Romanian villages. So ‘across the street’ is across the stream too. It is not very wide and most folks can leap it easily. Each morning a young cow-herd gathers up the cows and goats from different places in the village and takes them out to pasture. In the late afternoon they return and as the cow-herd walks the length of the unpaved street cows peel off, one by one, from the little herd and stand with their heads by the gates to the little courtyards awaiting admission to their home stalls. No one has taught them to do this. They know their home and return to it gladly.

As an inveterate ‘town-y’ I am fascinated by this sight. Cows are not famous for their intelligence or navigation skills but apparently they can all recognise home. Although the nearest tree to my old home was almost a mile away in a local park I am not unfamiliar with this phenomena either; I read of it in the opening chapter of Isaiah…

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me; [i]The ox knows its owner And the donkey its master’s crib; But Israel does not know[/i], My people do not consider.” Is 1:1–3 NKJV

You can sense that Isaiah and God himself are somewhat incredulous. Even a cow knows where it belongs… but not Israel. Slow moving and full witted people are sometimes described as ‘bovine’, but Isaiah says the cows have more sense than God’s own people. It is a scathing denunciation.It isn’t as though they are strangers to the place. They were ‘nourished and brought’ up here; they have a long history of knowing that their home stall means safety and provision.

It is describing the nation of Israel but it is not recorded here for Israel’s sake alone; we all find our portrait in Isaiah. How faithfully God has ‘nourished and brought us up’ and yet, almost unbelievably, we ‘don’t know what side our bread is buttered on’; to use an old English expression.
The Bible frequently uses the word ‘know’ to mean ‘recognise’; ‘a tree is known by its fruit’. Israel’s behaviour is not the result of ignorance; they are refusing to ‘recognise’ where they belong. Another prophet, Jeremiah, put his finger right on the spot…

Why has this people slidden back, Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return. Jer 8:5 NKJV

Ah, that’s the point, not that they are unaware but that they have consciously chosen to stay out in the cold. That’s why I say that this was not just written for the benefit of Israel;

Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Cor 10:11 NKJV

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

But was that God's last word?

I am reading in the prophecy of Jeremiah and have arrived at Chapter 18. It is famous for its metaphor of the Potter's Wheel. The imagery is beautiful but the goal of the illustration is both encouraging and daunting.

Jeremiah sees a potter working at his potter's wheel. Jer 18:3–4 Although preachers have made some interesting conjectures there is no real explanation as to why this pot 'went wrong'. If we read further on we shall see the implications. The illustration and the accompanying prophecy is aimed at Israel. Jer 18:6; Israel in this context is the northern kingdom of Israel, as distinct from Judah. Israel had been broken and dispersed over a hundred years before Jeremiah's prophecy. Its peoples had been merged into the empire of Assyria and had 'vanished off the radar'.

The was the pot which even while it had been in the potter's hands had been spoiled. For a time I worked as the labourer for a very skilled potter in the Wedgwood factory in Staffordshire. Clay is a pretty cheap commodity. If a pot was 'spoiled' it would be much more cost-effective to 'bin it' and start again. But this is not what this potter does; he simply remakes it as something different;
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Jer 18:4 NKJV
again and another... perhaps it is important to note that this spoiled pot is not 'repaired', it is remade and to another design. It is the same clay but it now has an entirely different destiny.

It was a word of hope for the scattered remnants of 'Israel', the northern kingdom. Their situation must have seemed utterly hopeless, ruined beyond repair and yet God gives this amazing picture. Even when God has pronounced judgement and that judgement is in process of being worked out, God has not given up.
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. Jer 18:7–8 NKJV
If ever a nation had been plucked up out of its land, pulled down and left as a ruin, and destroyed as far as any might judge, that nation was Israel, the northern kingdom. And yet God's last word seems to have a post script; if this plucked up, pulled down, destroyed nation will only hear God's word and turn from its headlong flight to destruction, God will step in yet again and 'make it again into another vessel'.

There is an even deeper tragedy than their exile later in this chapter. In spite of this wonderful and generous offer Israel refuse to accept it;
And they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.” Jer 18:12 NKJV
and then it really will be the last word.

For the Romans January was named after their two faced god Janus who stood on the threshold of the year and looked both backwards and forwards. It is a practice many of us repeat without a consciousness of how old the pattern is. What of 2010? Was it a year in which you were plucked up, pulled down and destroyed? That is not necessarily the last word. There is a Potter who is still willing to remake it into a new design, just as long as we return to him and reject our obstinate hopelessness.

For each one of us as we stand on the threshold of a year past and another begun God holds us still in his hand and is ready to work a miracle, are you ready to receive one?