Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The question that will not go away; 'Why?'

I opened my Bible at the first page today and read from Genesis 1:1-8 in the NKJV…
Minister s Bible NKJV Amazon co uk Hendrickson Publishers Books

and I thought… I wonder if this is the right paragraph heading? It reads; 'The History of Creation'.

The translators, or perhaps rather the editors of this particular version of the NKJV, have begun their translation with a presumption. They have inserted their own paragraph heading and they have presumed that Genesis 1 is answering the question 'How did it all happen?' Those who contend for a young earth would be convinced that this was the right question and that what follows is properly described as 'The History of Creation', but suppose Moses had a different question in mind.

I say Moses because traditionally we hold that Moses was the human author of Genesis-Deuteronomy. Why did he write Genesis? Well the Old Testament provides the source documents for what we might call the Old Covenant and Moses is beginning a long introduction to the inauguration of the Sinai/Mosaic Covenant. I am not disputing his historical accuracy I am asking 'why did he write this?' My NKJV editors believe he was answering the question 'How did these things happen'?

What if he was asking the question 'Why did these things happen?'

If we take a look at the few verses printed above we will notice that the noun 'God' is used in every verse. That gives us a clue as to the real thrust of Genesis 1; it is all about God. I think the question in Moses mind is not so much 'How?' as 'Why?'

Let me tell you how I got into this line of thinking. I have been dipping into various debates between atheistic scientists and Christian scientists. These are men and women of considerable reputation and mental powers and yet they come up with such different answers. If we try to be generous to all concerned and ask why they come to such different conclusions the answer is much simpler than you might have thought. It is simply that they are asking different questions. The atheistic scientists are asking the question 'How?' whereas the Christian scientists are also interested in the question 'How?' but their first question is 'Why?' Why is there anything at all? Why was there a big bang, if indeed there was? Their's is a search for meaning as well as for an explanation of the mechanics. The atheistic scientist studiously avoids the question 'Why?' He cannot provide empirical evidence. To even ask the question is 'non-sense'. But the question just will not go away and Genesis 1 is part of the answer; God planned it and created it with mankind in mind.

Some years ago Sara Groves wrote a song about a dysfunctional teenager who spends lonely hours lying on her back looking skywards; Maybe there's a loving God. There are some penetrating questions she is turning over in her mind…

I'm trying to work things out • I'm trying to comprehend • Am I the chance result • Of some great accident • I hear a rhythm call me • The echo of a grand design • I spend each night in the backyard • Staring up at the stars in the sky • •

I have another meeting today • With my new counsellor • My mom will cry and say • I don't know what to do with her • She's so unresponsive • I just cannot break through • She spends all night in the backyard • Staring up at the stars and the moon • •

They have a chart and a graph • Of my despondency • They want to chart a path • For self-recovery • And want to know what I'm thinking • What motivates my mood • To spend all night in the backyard • Staring up at the stars and the moon • •

Maybe this was made for me • For lying on my back in the middle of a field • Maybe that's a selfish thought • Or maybe there's a loving God • •

Maybe I was made this way • To think and to reason and to question and to pray • And I have never prayed a lot • But maybe there's a loving God • •

Maybe this was made for me • For lying on my back in the middle of a field • Maybe that's a selfish thought • Or maybe there's a loving God • •

Maybe I was made this way • To think and to reason and to question and to pray • And I have never prayed a lot • But maybe there's a loving God • •

And that may be a foolish thought • Or maybe there is a God • And I have never prayed a lot • But maybe there's a loving God • •

Through all her pain I think she is asking the right questions.

Maybe I was made this way • To think and to reason and to question and to pray • And I have never prayed a lot • But maybe there's a loving God.

We were made to 'think and to reason and to question and to pray'. But instead of getting bogged down in the interminable questions of 'How?' give yourself a break and start with the question 'Why?'

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Wife of Jesus?

Some folk will see the title and think 'haven't we been here before?' For some it may be new and troubling. It is really a very old story but the news-hounds who live on sensationalism have dragged it up to the top of the pile again. It has appeared in several newspapers and here on the BBC's website.

When the whole Dan Brown frenzy broke out I did an evening's teaching entitled 'from Judas to Da Vinci' which you can watch here on the Biblebase Vimeo pages.

If you want the shorter version. These documents which pop up from time to time are part of a movement known as 'Gnosticism'. (sometimes they are just modern fakes) This was a movement which tried to infiltrate and to subvert Christianity. Its first documented traces stem from the times of Irenaeus who was writing more than a hundred years after the New Testament. The Gnostics actually created their own gospels, e.g. the Gospel of Judas as a method of spreading their ideas. These ideas were never part of authentic Christianity. They do not come from the roots of the Christian message but are more like a grotesque parasitic attachment. Those who are always on the hunt for ways to discredit Christianity seize on these occasional discoveries and raise Dan Brown's cry that 'Christianity is a lie'.

Don't be disturbed. These weird lies tried to hi-jack authentic Christianity more than 1500 years ago. They failed… as will their modern imitators.

If you want more details do watch the video.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Nullius in verba (Take nobody's word for it)

The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London". (wikipedia) Its motto and modus operandi is 'take nobody's word for it'.

I have just watched a BBC programme in which Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (JS) talked to three atheistic scientists including the man he describes as 'the world's most famous atheist' Richard Dawkins (RD). In these kind of encounters Rabbi Sachs usually gives a good account of himself but I was disappointed with his latest outing. RD returned to his theme that 'one cannot disprove the existence of fairies and the existence of God is the same kind of category'. They chatted for a little while as RD insisted that belief must be based on 'evidence' and 'not tradition, religion or revelation.' He pressed JS as to whether or not he believed that God had actually had a conversation with Abraham. JS was strangely reticent to give a straightforward answer to this question but emphasised Judaism's insistence on questioning. The first duty of a Jewish father, claims JS, is to get his child to ask questions. The first duty!?! Well it depends on the question.

JS almost certainly has in mind the Passover instructions which state And it shall be, when your children say to you, “What do you mean by this service?’ Ex 12:26 NKJV. But that question is to instruct the child as to the meaning of a revelation, not a scientific experiment. We are to engage our minds in the things that God has revealed; And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. Mark 12:30 NKJV.

True science and true faith are not enemies. They have their different areas of authority. As JS puts it 'science takes things to pieces and asks "how do they work"' 'religion brings things together and asks "what does it mean"". It is in that realm of 'what does it mean?' that revelation has the last word. It is perhaps significant that the question asked on the day of Pentecost was not 'what is happening' but rather 'what does it mean?' Acts 2:12. The answer to that question demands 'revelation' which RD will not accept and which JS seems to have little to say about too.

If the Royal Institute is willing to change its motto to 'take no man's word for it' it will get my hearty 'amen' but if it says I man himself is the final arbiter of truth it usurps God's prerogatives. Faith does not come by reason but by hearing… the word of God. As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:30–32 NKJV.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Prayer... without wrath and reasoning

Paul shares his heart longings with Timothy.
I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 1 Tim 2:8 NKJV.
He prefaces this statement by showing us what he has in mind when he calls for such prayer;
for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 1 Tim 2:2–6 NKJV.
It is good to see just how comprehensive Paul's prayer-list really is. He asks for prayer for kings and all those who are in authority. When he says this he doesn't just mean the politician we voted for. In fact, his reference to 'the king' is a reference to Nero, one of the worst enemies that the Christians every had.

He says we are to pray for quiet and peaceable lives and the reasons he gives are important. God, he says, 'wants' tranquility and then he reveals what he really wants prayer for. God he says …desires 'all men' to come to the truth. And all man can be saved because the ransom that Christ paid was for 'all men';
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 1 Tim 2:5–6 NKJV.

He then instructs us how we are to pray and specifies that our prayer is to be without wrath or reasoning. We may have expected the first but what are we to make of the second. I am taking my text from the Darby Translation;
I will therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up pious hands, without wrath or reasoning. 1 Tim 2:8 DRBY.
Most versions translate it along the lines of 'without wrath or doubting/quarrelling. The Greek word is dialogue. The word means to 'talk something through'. It is not necessarily a conversation between two parties but points to the kind of thought processes so loved in modern education. We debate within ourselves, we question our positions, we keep asking the questions… although not in prayer, apparently.

Real prayer must be allowed to flow. Who knows where it will take us. I wonder sometimes whether someone prayed like this in the early days of the Acts. Perhaps in their flow of prayer they found themselves praying for their chief persecutor, that man Saul from Tarsus. It would have been easy to pray with 'wrath' after all as Ananias once complained;
Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem." Acts 9:13 NKJV.
That would have been the problem that brought in the reasoning. Surely, it doesn't make sense to pray for Saul the Persecutor. You can almost hear the stream of 'buts'. Perhaps someone just prayed and in the flow of their prayer they found themselves praying for unimaginable things.

Sometimes we can have too much information when we pray. Our experience of life has taught us that often people do not get 'saved' or 'healed' so we need to be a little cautious in how we pray, or do we? Is our prayer the deliberate reasoned argument of the barrister or is it the instinctive cry of the child to its father?

Way back in a time of much trouble Habakkuk complained to God of the behaviour of the people of God. "I have it in hand" said God "I am bringing the Assyrians to punish them". "Surely not" protested Habakkuk "that solution is worse than the problem". There was, apparently, no reply from God to this protest. Habakkuk set himself to pray;
I will stand upon my watchtower, and station myself upon the fortress, and will watch to see what He will say in me, and what I answer to my complaint. Hab 2:1 Keil & Delitsch.
That subtle correction of Habakkuk 2:1 is important; (I) will watch to see what He will say in me. The next verse continues the story; And Jehovah answered me Hab 2:2 ASV.

Somehow we need to withdraw to the Watchtower and hold our tongue until God 'answers' by saying something 'in me'. Then we can flow in our prayer. We may even discover, as did Habakkuk, that such prayer is but a short step from prophecy.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Greatest Promise: 10th August, 2012. Devon UK

I have been painting with a broad brush. I have wanted to capture the great sweep of God's purpose in his modus operandi, his way of working. We have examined why God has chosen to insist on our co-operation in his thrilling plans. We have examined a little of the character of the God who has staked his name and reputation on his power to perform what he has promised. We have seen God's goal in using everything that touches the lives of his people to further his plan of revealing the likeness of Christ in them. This can all be summed up in The Promise.

Calvary's work was done; the great triumphal shout echoes still down the centuries; it is finished. John 19:30. And now Luke sets the scene for the triumphs of the ascended Christ to begin;
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; Acts 1:4 NKJV.
This is not a promise, this is The Promise. Even as the shadow of the cross hung over the Passover meal in the upper room he had looked beyond its sufferings to the glories that would follow;
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:16–17 NKJV.
The coming of the Spirit would be the ultimate proof that the sacrifice of Calvary had been accepted and that Christ had ascended to his Father's throne. Listen to the way in which Peter explains the events of the Day of Pentecost;
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. Acts 2:33 NKJV.

It is the inauguration day, among men, of the New Covenant. The indwelling Christ would be the result of the indwelling Spirit. No longer only 'with us' but now 'in us'. Now those Old Testament promises would find all their fulfilment;
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jer 31:33–34 NKJV.

Emmanuel, 'God with us' had become 'Christ in us, the Hope of Glory'.
…His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature,having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith... 2 Pet 1:3–5 NKJV.

The solid foundation is laid, now we can begin to add...

If you would like to follow up more of the implications of this 'greatest promise' check out my book; The Better Covenant

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Potter, the wheel and the clay: 9th August 2012. Devon UK

Perhaps one of the favourite promises for believers is that found in Paul's letter to the Romans.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. Rom 8:28–30 NKJV.
This seems like a catch-all promise that guarantees the sweet smile of success on all our days, but is it? With all 'legal' documents we have to examine carefully just who the document has in mind and just what it is promising. Are these verses some kind of undertaking that the whole of life is scripted and that God's will is always done?

Let's unpack it in a way similar to the way we worked on Monday. Who is this addressed to? What is its goal? and What is the modus operandi, the way of working?

To see who Paul has in mind will narrow the field considerably. It is addressed to those who are 'God-lovers'. The tense implies someone whose characteristic mood or mind-set is that they love God. Youngs Literal Translation refers to 'to those loving God' Rom 8:28 YNG. So this is not a verse that we can quote in a random fashion. It applies to those, only, who are 'God-lovers'. And it adds a further detail. It describes these 'God-lovers' and those whom God has called with a purpose in mind; those who are the called according to His purpose. Rom 8:28 NKJV. It is plainly referring to God-lovers but what is God's purpose? It is often presumed from these verses that the purpose is 'salvation' but a more careful reading of the promise shows it has another thought in focus; the purpose God has 'in mind' is that these 'God-lovers' would be conformed to the image of his Son. It is not their eternal security that this verse has in mind but their 'likeness to Christ'.

And God's means of achieving this 'purpose'? The verse reads like this; to those loving God, he works all things together for good. This is not saying that all events will somehow turn out for the best. It is not saying that God scripts all events. It is saying that God takes events and co-works those events for the 'good' of those who are loving him. It does not say that God ordained the famine or the war or the sexual assault. It simply says that God takes those events and for those who love God he weaves them together into something 'good'. The word translated 'works-together' is the Greek word synergy; he works them together, they are all in his hands, both the spinning wheel of events and the clay for which he has a destiny. Nothing is wasted in the lives of these people; their joys, their sorrows, their triumphs, their disasters… He holds it all together and pursues his 'purpose'; he will move heaven and earth to conform us to the image of his son. That is his definition of 'good'.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The God of the Promises: 7th August, 1012. Devon UK.

So today is scheduled to be the second of our Bible Studies on the Promises of God. I wanted to give some thought to the nature of the God who has determined to work his purposes through the fulfilment of his promises. What kind of a person would take this route?

We could know nothing of God unless he had chosen to reveal himself and the record of the Bible is just that. God revealing himself in this record of history and revelation. Often God revealed himself by his name. This may be a little difficult for us to see clearly, but God's names are not arbitrary identification labels, as so often our are. Each name is a personal revelation of his character. The names of God Almighty or Jehovah are not used accidentally in the Bible but as recorded insights into the character of God. If the first question is 'is there a God', the second must be 'what is he like?'

God told the people of Israel that he was going to reveal himself to them under the name of Jehovah. It was probably pronounced Yahweh, but we won't get distracted with that. The name was so special that God said anyone who used it with disrespect would be cut off from God's people. The people were so anxious to ensure that they did not misuse it that they almost stopped using it altogether. You will not find it in most modern translations. In the old King James version you will find it used just four times; Ex 6:3; Psa 83:18; Is 12:2; 26:4. In the American Standard Version of 1902 you will find it used 6777 times! From Exodus to Malachi the story is of Jehovah and his people. The people of Israel were intended to be the authentic 'Jehovah's Witnesses';
Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. Is 43:10 ASV.
When God 'introduced himself' to the people of Israel he gave the name by which they were to know him and signed his name to an amazing plan. With the meticulous care of a legal document he signed his name at the beginning and at the end of an amazing manifesto;
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 6:6–8 ASV.
Seven times, the words ring out like the peal of a great bell; I will.., I will.., I will.., I will.., I will.., I will.., I will.., God declared his will with absolute clarity… and put his name to it.
This is the 'kind' of God who stands behind his promises. A God who cannot lie and has staked his name and reputation on his power to deliver what he has promised.

And the New Covenant is better than this! Take each one of these seven declarations and transpose them into the language of reality of the better covenant. It is little wonder that the writer to the Hebrews writes…
But now

He (Christ) has obtained a more excellent ministry,

inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant,

which was established on better promises.

Heb 8:6–7 NKJV.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Promises of God: 6th August 2012, Devon UK

This week I am part of the New Life Conference at Rora House in Devon UK. This is a multi-purpose site which includes a local church and conference facilities. It is a beautiful spot and the rolling Devon hills provide a backdrop for a week's residential, mostly camping, conference where people will gather from many nations. We have looked forwards with anticipation to the prospect of a week's worship and fellowship; and now its here!

I am leading four morning Bible studies on the theme of 'The Promises of God'. What a topic! On average I would think there are a dozen on each page of the Book! So where do we begin and what shall we leave out?

For this morning's session I intend to look at the whole nature of God and his promises. Why does God use the pattern of 'promises'? If God is almighty and there is nothing he cannot do why go through the patterns of promises, why doesn't God just do it! If he wants something he is fully able to just do it; surely that would be more efficient? Well it might be more efficient but for God the journey is as important as the arriving and God has determined that his greatest purposes will be achieved, not in spite of, but through a living partnership with his people.

There is a famous verse that may help us.
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. 2 Cor 1:20 NKJV.
It's quite a complicated verse and needs a little unpacking. It is really saying that all that God has promised to do rests in the safe hands of his Son. He is the guarantor that God's purposes will be accomplished. That's the 'all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen' part of the package.

Then there's the part which says to the glory of God' so we know where this verse is heading. All things are to be accomplished for the 'glory of God'. An old writer once wrote that 'God's glory and man's good are so inter-twined that whatever prospers the one prospers the other'. Man's joyful fulfilment depends on God being given his right place in our thinking and in our universe.

But look at the last ingredient… 'through us' . Really, are we part of this amazing story? Yes. God will not impose his salvation on human beings, that would be to distort what it means to be 'a human being'. God has settled his 'modus operandi'; his way of doing things. The channel that he has chosen to use is 'human beings'. This unique part of his creation has been described as an amazing mixture of 'dust and destiny' and so we are. God's purposes are to be achieved by grace, through faith… and so God has set himself to fulfil his purpose of grace through the believing co-operation of his people. I may be a 'nobody' but in God's plan and purpose I am to be a significant nobody!

Friday, 3 August 2012

I am Abraham's Servant

Now isn't this cheating? Surely this isn't God speaking but rather Abraham's servant? (Gen 24:34) Well, yes it is but Genesis 24 is the culmination of 3 amazing chapters in the Book of Genesis. There is a theme and pattern which surely cannot be accidental. Let's take a look and see if we can justify adding this 'self-revelation' to the list.

Genesis 22. Moriah and The 'Sacrifice' of Isaac.

This chapter tells the amazing story of the lengths that Abraham was prepared to go to in order to please God, or does it? Here is the clue to its interpretation;
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Gen 22:1–2 NKJV.
Now if we remind ourselves that the name Abraham means 'Father of a multitude' and take notice of the phrase 'your son, your only son…' we shall discover that we are reading the account of 'a father who is resolved to offer his only son… as a sacrifice.' Does that sound like a familiar story line?

How old was Isaac? Jewish tradition says that Isaac was 21 years old but the next date we are given is in Genesis 22:1 where we read that Sarah was 127 years old. If we recall that Sarah was 90 years old when Isaac was conceived we can calculate that Isaac was 36 years old when Sarah died. No one really knows how old Isaac was when 'father and son' made their journey to the place of sacrifice but I have a strong suspicion that he was 33 years old! You will guess my reasoning.

A few years ago a foolish evangelical leader dismissed the teaching of penal substitutionary atonement in which the Father poured his wrath upon his son, as cosmic child abuse. If he had read Genesis 22 more carefully he would not have made such a reckless statement. Twice the account gives us a little progress marker; Gen 22:6, 8. They went both of them together. In the scenes that open before us we see 'father and son' united in their mission. The father did not impose his will on a juvenile Isaac but father and grown son journied 'together' on their mission to the land of Moriah. Isaac means 'laughter' and he was the apple of his father's eye, his daily delight.

Now that you have the key follow the story yourself and let its truths soak into your soul.

Genesis 23. Machpelah and the Hiding Place.

Why would God give over a whole chapter to the purchase of a burial plot? Well it has significance in the first real-estate owned by the family of Abraham but I think there is another significance. Sarah had died and Abraham wanted a place where …I may bury my dead out of my sight. Gen 23:4 NKJV. The phrase is used twice; Gen 23:4, 8.

In sophisticated societies we have lost much of the horror of death. Many who read these words will have seldom seen a corpse and perhaps none will have seen the horrors of putrefaction that visit an unburied body. We need to see that 'death' and its consequences are repulsive to God. Death is not 'a friend' in Bible language, it is the 'last enemy'. (1 Cor 15:26.) Death and its accompaniments are the result of sin, and not even the memory can be allowed to remain in God's presence.

Abraham, the father, pays the price to purchase a safe repository where 'death and its consequences' can be 'hidden from my sight'. There is a parallel. The death of Christ has provided a means whereby God can 'hide dead things from his sight.'

Genesis 23. Nahor and the Bride.

Let's follow the tracks.
  1. Genesis 22. the Father's sacrifice of the Son.
  2. Genesis 23.The Purchase of a Hiding Place for Sin and Death.
  3. Genesis 24. A Bride for the Son who has passed through Death.
Can you see a pattern here?

Abraham's servant is a picture of the Spirit sent on a mission by the Father to seek out a bride for the Son who has passed through death. It is very possible that the 'servant of Abraham' is actually Eliezer from Gen 15:2 NKJV, but it should not surprise us that in Genesis 23 he acts anonimously. He is the self-effacing agent of the Father's will who has little to say of himself but whose mission is to declare the will of the Father and the attractions of the Son.

Listen to his cameo description of Isaac. He is the Father's Son to whom the Father has given all that he has. Gen 24:36 NKJV. See the commission with which the Servant is entrusted; And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.” Gen 24:8 NKJV. See how she receives this emissary and responds to his approach; Gen 24:17–19. See how gentle he is in his approach to the potential Bride and how the Servant gives her the tokens of the Father's good intentions. Gen 24:22. And see how in addition to all these sure indications of the will of God the Servant still awaits her full hearted consent; Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” Gen 24:58 NKJV.

And then see how he leads her safely to her Bridegroom and watches as she prepares to surrender herself to the Father's Son; Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself. Gen 24:64–65 NKJV.

The story is delightful but its revelations of the character of the Servant are even more so. How gentle and tender are the Spirit's ways with those he is bringing to the Son. He will tell you little of himself until you are safely in the embrace of the Son.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Ambitions?

Our fascination with the Olympics is no new thing. The Games were part of the culture of the 1st century and they serve as a rich source of metaphors for several New Testament writers, especially Paul. We sometimes need to dig a little to spot some of the references but they give us a wonderful glimpse into the mind-set of early Christians.

One word which is easily overlooked is the word sometimes translated as ‘strive’;

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 1 Cor 9:25 KJV.

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. Col 1:27–29 NKJV.

I’ve gone with the old KJV in the first of these references here to pick up the word ‘striving’. It is a vivid Olympic picture. In Paul’s day there was just a ‘first prize’ of a laurel wreath; no silver or bronze. That’s what he means when he calls the prize ‘a corruptible crown’. The laurel or bay tree victor’s crown was a very temporary award, unless you added it to the soup!

The word translated ‘strive’ is ‘ag┼Źnizomai’. It is the word from which we derive ‘agony’ but the focus of the original word is not on pain but on effort. It means to enter a context and to strive with strenuous zeal. It is the fierce concentration of the athlete who has a single goal in view. The rest of the world hardly exists for him. I recall seeing, on the TV, Linford Christie win the 100m in 1992. His focus was almost frightening. He didn’t even blink; I'm not sure he even breathed!

In this sense Paul was an Olympian. Not for him the Christian cruise. His mission statement, if he ever had one, was not ‘chill’ but ‘exert’ every scrap of ransomed energy to achieve the goal. And his goal was surprising. For him, the goal was ‘every man perfect in Christ Jesus’. Modern preachers have become very twitchy over the word ‘perfect’. They fear the unreality of ‘perfectionism’ but the opposite danger is just as real; ‘im-perfection-ism’. That’s the notion that we are nothing more than redeemed sinners and we had better get used to the idea. The belief that we are condemned to spend this life as a ‘divided man’ is growing in popularity again. Paul, however, believed that a man or woman could be 100% for God 100% of the time.

How do we stand with the gospel for today? Can God save us to the ‘uttermost’, 100% of the time or if not what percentage do we think will satisfy Him? Mind you, Paul was very clear how he expected to see this through; his trust was not in his own energy and resolution but in the ongoing miracle of the indwelling Christ. His banner was ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ and his methodology was ‘striving according to His working which works in me mightily.’

If we have the victor (Greek: nike) living on the inside why should we fail in our Olympic efforts?

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Gentle Commandment

There is an old story told about a farmer who rolled an ostrich egg into the chicken coop with the words; "that's just to encourage you!" It is the kind of encouragement we probably feel when we read of God's next self-revelation to Abraham; And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty. Walk before me, and be thou perfect. Gen 17:1 ASV. More modern versions sometimes substitute the word 'blameless' for the older 'perfect'; I am not sure it is much more of a comfort.

How can we possibly react to a word from God which says 'be perfect'? If that commandment stood alone it would be crushing, but it doesn't. It is the culmination of another of God's wonderful self-revelations. God's word to Abraham does not begin with 'be perfect' but with 'I am God Almighty'. The word deserves a little examination.

This title or self-revelation of God became the prevailing revelation of the patriarchs. God's later words to Moses make this very plain; 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. If it was in the 'role' of God Almighty that God began his work with the fathers of the nation of Israel it may repay us to look more closely into the meaning of the phrase.

The Hebrew for this self-revelation is El Shaddai and is usually translated as 'God Almighty'. It conveys the idea of a God who is omnipotent, a very muscular God. This is an honest translation but there is another possibility. The Hebrew word 'shad' is the word for a woman's breast. It is the suckling's place of all-sufficiency and safety. There is at least one verse in the Bible where both words are used together; Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee, And by the Almighty, who shall bless thee, With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that coucheth beneath, Blessings of the breasts, and of the womb. Gen 49:25 ASV. It seems that what God was revealing to Abraham was not just a masculine almightiness but a gentler all-sufficiency.

This is not to emasculate God. Paul once referred to himself as a mother feeding her own children at her breast; ...though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 1 Th 2:6–7 ESV. And the point that Paul is making is that he and his fellow labourers were 'gentle'; it is an adjective not often associated in our minds with apostolic labours. It harmonises with a unexpected testimony of David to God's dealings with him; “You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your gentleness has made me great. 2 Sam 22:36 NKJV.

If the command to 'be perfect' comes from the macho strength of a muscular God we may not find ourselves 'encouraged' but what if it comes from the God of tender all-sufficiency? Now, how shall we respond?

There is another level of this God's command that we must consider. The All-Sufficient God did not simply command Abraham to 'be perfect' but commanded him to 'walk before me and me perfect'. God's pattern for Abraham's 'perfection' or 'blamelessness' was not the idealism of some man-made standard of perfection. Rather it was the insistence that Abraham walked, step by step, as the All Sufficient God directed him. Such a man may not meet standards set for him by others or even by himself, but others are not the judges whose standards Abraham must meet. Abraham is only responsible to God. Phew, what a burden that can lift from a weary soul!

Another brought the same gentle, freeing, revelation; one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matt 11:27–29 NKJV

Monday, 23 July 2012

Esau have I hated...

I was not sure I could handle this in the brief compass of a blog but my morning readings brought me to Genesis 36 and the long list of the generations of Esau, and I felt I could not let it pass without comment. You may need to read this more than once!

Jacob and Esau were together for Isaac's funeral in the last verse of the previous chapter and then we launch into this long list which ends with the words; These were the chiefs of Edom, according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession. Esau was the father of the Edomites. Gen 36:43 NKJV. Esau and his people are the subject of some troubling verses in Paul's epistle to the Romans;
(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated. Rom 9:11–13 NKJV.
What does that mean? Does it mean that God predetermined that Esau would be damned, as some have interpreted it and set his predestining approval on Jacob? Is this 'calling' to salvation or to service?

Let's see if we can unpack it a little. First we need to observe that the quotation from Malachi is God's comment on the 'people of Esau' and not on the individual. The context makes this very plain;
The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Says the LORD. “Yet Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness.” Mal 1:1–3 NKJV.
The prophetic words of Malachi came 1000 years after Esau had been laid in his grave. They are a summary of Esau/Edom's history not a predestining of their future.

The contrast between love and hate needs a comment too. Notice how these verses use the ideas of 'love' and 'hate';
And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. Gen 29:30–31 KJV.
This is a Hebrew way of expressing strong preference and was sometimes used in the divorce formula of the day. In Malachi, in the language of the hearers, God is strongly declaring where his heart is fixed… he is not pre-dooming the descendants of Esau to damnation.

In fact neither of the verses quoted by Paul relates to 'salvation' but to life's destiny and experience. When God strengthened Pharaoh's heart to stick to Pharaoh's line, it was God empowering Pharaoh to stick to his choice. (Ex 4:21) And again, it had nothing to do with salvation but with life's experience. The Hebrew word translated 'harden' has a primary meaning of 'to strengthen'. God empowered Pharaoh to make his own choices and to stand by his own convictions.

So how are we to see the 'generations of Esau' chapter? One of Esau's wives was actually a daughter of Ishmael. (Gen 28:9) This is a dangerous mixture of 'blood-lines'. The people of Esau, the Edomites, set themselves against the people of Israel and it brought inevitable retribution upon them. The Edomites serve as a symbol or type of 'the flesh'; they behaved in the same attitude as Esau before them, putting the satisfying of their fleshly appetites before any thought of spiritual progress. (Heb 12:16)

There is one detail in their genealogies that attracted my attention particularly;
Chief Dishon, Chief Ezer, and Chief Dishan. These were the chiefs of the Horites, according to their chiefs in the land of Seir. Now these were the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the children of Israel: Gen 36:30–31 NKJV.
It is interesting that those who symbolise the flesh opted for kings long before the people of Israel. Israel had no kings until the times of the Judges and even then, at its beginnings, it was symbolic of their refusal to put their trust in the leadings of the Spirit. (1 Sam 8:6–7) Those who reject the leading of God for their own self-centred choices are sowing a dangerous seed.
For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. Gal 6:8 NKJV.

The old Victorians had a saying; "sow a thought and reap a deed, sow a deed and reap a habit, sow a habit and reap a character, sow a character and reap a destiny". Those old Victorians had many faults but sometimes they saw things very clearly.

Friday, 20 July 2012

I am the God of the past and of the future

Genesis 15 contains one of the most important verses in the Bible. God has undertaken to be both Abraham's shield and his exceedingly great reward but Abraham has a question; But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Gen 15:2 NKJV. His safety and provision have no point if he has no descendant. His chief household steward stands to inherit if Abraham has no blood line. God's answer is a breathtaking glimpse of the starry heavens and a breathtaking promise.

This is the context for one of the most important verses of the Bible; And he believed in Jehovah. And he reckoned it to him for righteousness. Gen 15:6 ASV. This event becomes the template for saving faith. He rests his cause in God alone and the record declares that as a consequence God 'reckoned it to him for righteousness'. Abraham's acceptance with God was not to be based on his own achievement but upon God's free grace. This is a thrilling moment in Bible history but I want to concentrate on the revelation that follows.

We have said that these personal introductions or self-revelations of God are vital links to the way in which God wants us to 'see' him. In the moment we call 'now' Abraham is probably elated by his victory but subdued by his childlessness. He looks into the skies and sees myriads of stars, he looks into his own moment of 'now' and sees empty hands; I am childless. This is the exact moment, the perfect context in which God will reveal more of who he is to Abraham. In such moments God chooses to reveal himself to Abraham not only as the possessor of heaven and earth but as the Lord of history. Jehovah holds all things in his hands and he holds time too.

And he said unto him, I am Jehovah that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. Gen 15:7 ASV. When we are mid-process it is all too easy to be lost in the momentary detail. God's revelation of who he is declares that both the past and the future are in God's control. In fact, there is something of a guarantee in the past that stretches into the future. God is reminding Abraham of his own past; I am Jehovah that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees. The reason you have come to this moment in time Abraham, is that I did something in your past. I brought you out. You walked on your own feet but the truth is 'I brought you out'.

And my purpose in bringing you out was to take you in, to give this land to you as your inheritance. I am Jehovah that brought thee out … to give thee this land to inherit it. Gen 15:7 ASV. God never runs out of resources. He has counted the cost, he knows he can complete what he has begun. There is a painful cry in the prophecy of Habakkuk; O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! Hab 3:2 NKJV. Sometimes we need a special revelation 'in the midst of the years'. God is the God of beginnings and completions, he is also the God of the middle years, that time of life that we call 'now'.

Monday, 16 July 2012

a rose by any other name?

Shakespeare's Juliet asks a question;
What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

…I wonder.

I have been reading the account of Isaac and his wells. It begins with God setting the scene and giving it a long-view perspective.
Then the LORD appeared to him (Isaac) and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Gen 26:2–5 NKJV.
Isaac's prospects were good because Abraham was faithful. There is an unbreakable link here. Isaac was intended to build on the foundation that Abraham had laid. He cannot choose his own ways and traditions, he is part of a continuum.

God was preparing Isaac for the tests that would surely come. They came in the form of hostility from the people of the land that he was camped on. They had blocked up all the wells that Abraham and his servants had dug. No doubt it was a way of telling Isaac to 'move on'. So Isaac 'moved on' and came to the valley of Gerar and pitched his tent there. (Gen 26:17) The place had a history; Abraham had stayed there. But the people of the land had already blocked up Abraham's old wells so Isaac had the task of unblocking them, and of doing something else. He not only unblocked Abraham's old wells but he insisted in changing their names back to the names that Abraham had given.
And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. Gen 26:18 NKJV.

This is a glimpse into the culture of the day. If you owned something you had the right to change its name. God worked on this principle when he changed Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's to Sarah. Later he would finally get Jacob in his grip and change his name to Isaac. So Abraham had dug these wells and named them but those who wanted to erase the memory and testimony of Abraham had blocked the wells and renamed them. It is the ultimate re-writing of history; change the name. The idea is scattered through the Old Testament as the names of significant places receive new names.

But Isaac didn't give the reopened wells new names; he gave them old names. He was not innovating but building on old foundations.

We live in days when innovation and enterprise seem to be the watchwords of God's people and their mission. The search is on for more relevant methods of evangelism and 'church' planting and meetings. In some circles the search is on for different words and concepts that will better build the bridge between the local church and the community. The old words and concepts have too many disappointing and dusty memories; they are a 'turn off' to the 'current generation'. Some biblical phrases are too loaded with theological baggage; Baptism in Spirit, Sanctification, New Covenant, Regeneration.. they are all yesterday's words. Time to move on?

Of course to go back to the old names when the wells are still blocked would be folly. That would be a simple but deceptive paint-job. You don't change the nature of the well by giving it back an old name, but we should be cautious about finding new names for old truths in order to make them more acceptable. And there is a another danger that faces us. To use the old word but to change the definition is a well tried and tested method of perverting truth. No, a paint job will not do, nor the the pretence that all is well just because we are using the right words. We need to reopen the old wells AND give them back their old names. After all, to return to an ancient refrain of mine; "words have histories". Ah, some will say, this is just semantics and pedantry… but I wonder…

Who was right? Juliet or Isaac?

Friday, 13 July 2012

I am your shield and your exceedingly great reward.

Let's try out the principles we identified in last week's Friday blog.

In the Bible revelation this is the first time that God introduced himself in this way. The words stand in the very first verse of Genesis 15. Almost certainly they should have been the very last verse of Genesis 14.

Let's start with the dramatis personae, the characters or a list of characters in a play or story, of this special revelation. It is a complex cast. We have 9 kings, three brothers, three alliances, Abraham and his nephew and a mysterious king-priest and all in one chapter! We also have a major set-piece battle and a night raid. We also have two 'deals' set before Abraham and a choice to be made and all this in just one chapter! It's the kind of chapter we need to read slowly and thoughtfully.

As the curtain opens Abraham's family tent is pitched on the land that belongs to one of those three brothers whose name was Mamre. They were Amorites and the three brothers were the leaders of a defensive alliance which included Abraham. We are told that they were 'the masters of a covenant' (baal-berith) with Abraham. It seems that one of the conditions of Abraham's tenancy of the land was the understanding that in the event of attack Abraham and his household warriors would stand with the Amorite brothers in defending the territory. Seen from the other perspective the Amorite brothers were Abraham's 'Desert Shield'.

There were two more alliances. Four city-state kings in the North exercised dominion over several city-state kingdoms in the South. Initially the Southern kingdoms paid tribute but then rebelled. Abraham's nephew Lot lived in one of the Southern cities. The Northern alliance marched South to punish the 5 Southern Alliance city-states and won a resounding victory. The battle was known as '4 kings against 5'. The Northern alliance plundered the cities of the South and took many hostage, including Lot.

Abraham led a night-sortie against the homeward bound Northern alliance. The end of the chapter makes it clear that the household warriors of the Amorite brothers were part of the rescue party. Abraham's attack was successful and the treasure and the hostages, including Lot, were rescued.

As he returned home Abraham has two encounters which will have great significance. The encounters are with two kings, the mysterious priest-king named Melchizedek and the king of Sodom; they each have an offer to put to Abraham. The king of Sodom offers unimaginable wealth to Abraham, the entire battle spoils on condition that Abraham restores the people of Sodom to their king. (It is interesting, in the light of later events, that Abraham was once 'the deliverer of Sodom' and its people.)

Abraham, however, had already made a choice that rendered the Sodom offer redundant. His meeting with Melchizedek had opened his eyes. The priest-king offered Abraham the symbols of fellowship in the service of God Most High, the Possessor of Heaven and Earth. In the lights of the day, this was a stirring revelation. The general belief was that 'gods' were territorial and ruled over designated areas. Melchizedek revealed to Abraham that this was not so and that God Most High was the Possessor of All. Abraham's response was dramatic. He raised his hand in a solemn oath that his only allegiance would be to Jehovah, God Most High. Abraham had built altars to Jehovah and had called upon the name of Jehovah, now he was beginning to see just who Jehovah really was. Such an allegiance ended Abraham's alliance with the Amorite brothers. He had given up his 'Desert Shield'. The oath included a refusal to join any kind of financial partnership with the his old allies. Abraham had given up his reward of battle plunder.

It was, as the record tells us, 'after these things' that God revealed himself to Abraham. Abraham's choice is the context in which God reveals himself to Abraham. "Do not be afraid. I am your shield and your exceedingly great reward". Who needs the Amorite brothers or the king of Sodom when God has promised to be all in all. As Jim Elliott was to say much later "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep and gains what he cannot lose."

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Father is seeking...

I have just restarted my Biblebase Daily Bible Readings readings based on the Earley Christian Fellowship's Church Life School which we ran some years ago. I am reading in Genesis, the book of beginnings. In many ways Genesis is like a seed plot, all kinds of wonderful truths that flower later in the Bible can be found in the seed-plot of Genesis.

For example. How often have you heard it said that the first reference to worship in the Bible is in the story of Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaac? This is the verse in mind:
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 NKJV.
It is true that this is the first use of the English word worship but it is not the first time the Hebrew word for worship is used.

The Hebrew word for worship used here in Genesis 22:5 is [Hebrew Strong’s 7812] shachah, it is a word which means to prostrate oneself (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God): and is usually translated by the old King James Version as 'worship'. This is the word used by Abraham en route to Moriah. It is used earlier in Abraham's story in the record of 3 mysterious visitors to his tent door;
So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, Gen 18:2 NKJV.
That is a vivid picture. Old Abraham runs to meet them and then throws himself on his face at their feet. Later we find Lot greets these mysterious messengers of God in a similar fashion. (Gen 19:1 NKJV)

If we were trying to find a modern equivalent what words would be use? I have a suggestion, surrender. The position adopted by Abraham and later by Lot indicated total and absolute surrender to another.

When the Hebrew scholars translated the word shachah into the Greek language for a translation known as the Septuagint they usually used the ordinary Greek word for worship, [Greek Strongs 4352] proskuneO. It is a word with an interesting history. The letters kune link it with the Greek word for a dog. It seems that originally the word indicated the kind of total surrender that a dog gave to its master when it licked his hand. We are back to that word surrender again.

Apparently the Bible's idea of worship is constantly linked with the idea of total surrender. Perhaps, mischievously, I found myself putting the Bible word into some of our more common uses of the word worship. How does a Surrender Service sound? or a Surrender Band or perhaps even a Surrender Leader?

And it was not curiosity alone which made me try using the word in its older sense. I found my thoughts centring around two profound statements of Christ...

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.
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:23–24 NKJV.
We magnify Your name, Lord,
We worship and adore You,
For who You are, for what You've done
Among Your people here.
We open up our lives to You,
Lay down our minds and wills,
We want You Lord to have Your way,
For we delight in You.

Friday, 6 July 2012

God's Self-Revelations

Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? Job 11:7–8 KJV. It is a question from one of Job's unhelpful helpers. But it is a profound question none the less. How can feeble men and women ever discover truth about God? We can't reach high enough or low enough. God is beyond us. The human mind and man's ability to reason is a powerful tool but is inadequate for this task. How can the finite fathom the infinite? How can we ever know anything about God, it is all beyond our reach.

It is true that genuine truth about God IS beyond our reach but it is also true that man is not beyond God's reach. And this is where it must all begin, not with mankind discovering God but with God revealing himself. We could know nothing of eternal truth if God had not revealed himself.

Have you ever been asked to introduce yourself at a meeting of any kind. "Just say a few words about yourself" says the host and we hardly know where to start. Just suppose we were in a smaller meeting with God, how would you introduce yourself, and how would God introduce himself? It's likely that you would be begin with the words "I am…". Where you go from there depends on what aspect of your character you want the meeting to know. These 'self-revelations' are fascinating things. We usually hide more than we reveal. The version of ourselves that we want to portray will be finely tuned to the event and to the hearers.

That is why the times that God says "I am…" are so fascinating too. The words that follow this simple formula are what God wanted men and women to know about him. 'By searching' they could never really discover God and an infinite God would overwhelm us if he revealed himself in all his unrestrained god-ness. God's self-revelations then are occasions of his condescension. That's a word that has fallen on hard times. It now means talking down to someone in a patronising manner. It wasn't always so. The word originally meant 'to come down' not in a patronising way but in mercy. One of the Hebrew words translated as 'mercy' (chanon) actually means to 'stoop down to someone'. God has condescended, stooped down, to reveal himself to mankind. Those revelations of who is he is are true but not complete; there will always be 'more' for God to reveal of himself, even eternity will be too short. So when God says "I am…" it is never the whole story but it is that part of the story that God intends to bring into focus. That's why it is valuable to take note not just of what God says about himself but why, and to whom and when.

John Wycliffe (1320 – December 31, 1384) advised his followers that in reading the scriptures to observe the context is as important as to observe the words.

It will greatly help you, for understanding scripture:

If you pay attention not only to...

WHAT is spoken or written,

But also OF WHOM it was spoken or written,



At what TIME, WHERE ,

For what PURPOSE,


Considering also WHAT IS SAID BEFORE

Those questions cannot be bettered and especially when we consider those times when God says "I am…". Revelation always has context.

Friday, 29 June 2012

a preacher's prayer

I am back in Psalm 19. This is familiar territory particularly at such a time as this. 'such a time as this.'? As July begins I am just a month away from a week long residential conference where I am scheduled to be leading the morning Bible readings. Most of the conference attendees will be camping in the fields around a large marquee. I have four one-hour morning sessions and any time now panic will begin to set in. It is not a screaming panic, just enough to make sleep a little fitful, and to present my mind with a thousand reasons as to why I should not be speaking at the sessions!

This is probably an unexpected revelation for many. We tend to see someone preaching and we think they live a charmed life with not a ripple on the waters of their experience. We 'see' the authority with which Paul declares truth in his writings and find it almost impossible to believe his testimony; I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 1 Cor 2:3 NKJV. Who? Paul? surely not. At one point in his writings Paul repeats an accusation made against him; “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 2 Cor 10:10 NKJV. His gifting had an impact on his writing but he himself was not a man of supreme presence or self-confidence.

So why Psalm 19? The Psalm seems to have as one of its themes the way that God reveals himself. It begins with the revelation of God in the creation and particularly in the creation above us. The creation constantly preaches 'without words. The old ASV has a different slant on these verses; The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language; Their voice is not heard. Psa 19:1–3 ASV. There is no speech, their voice is not heard… nevertheless the message goes out day by day and night by night.

Then the Psalmist, David, moves on to the revelation of God given in the written testimony of the scriptures and the law. These are wonderful verses to savour. The things revealed, by God, through his word, affect powerfully those who receive them into their lives. David then adds his personal testimony; More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb. Psa 19:10 ASV.

Then we come to the final 3 verses. Who understandeth [his] errors? Purify me from secret [faults]. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous [sins]; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be perfect, and I shall be innocent from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer. Psa 19:12–14 DRBY. This is from the JN Darby translation, which is a very literal rendering. The words in the square brackets are not in the original but have been added to make the meaning more clear.

Suppose this passage is not speaking about 'sins' as such but the limited understanding of the Psalmist or anyone who seeks to convey truth about God. (Notice how all the 'sin' words in brackets are not in the original version) He knows there are 'secret things'; things lodged in his understanding that he may have lost track of. Things that may continue to influence his thinking subconsciously. He suspects there may be 'presumptuous things' that are lurking there too. It is so easy to extrapolate Bible truths and to develop ideas that are no longer direct revelation but are the unwitting conclusions of presumptuous thinking. He asks that these secret presumptions will not 'have dominion' over him. He wants God to keep him from untraceable thoughts which may dilute or even pervert the truth.

He is apprehensive about the possibility of 'great transgression'. Peter said that a preacher should preach as an 'oracle of God'. No pressure there then! James said that the teachers will be judged with greater severity. No pressure there either! His only hope is not in the orthodoxy of his theology or the amount of thought he puts into his speaking. His only hope is that God will watch over his thoughts and his words, that God will be his strength and his redeemer.

I return to these words again and again in prospect of preaching. No amount of previous experience can prepare us. No amount of personal, detailed, Bible studies. We have one hope alone; we hang upon our Rock and our Redeemer.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Queen and her Diamond Jubilee

Etymology has to do with the origins of words, their historic roots and their development. All words have roots but the meaning of a word is not determined by its root but rather by its use. Language is a living thing and words change their meaning over time. It is sometimes the way of Bible students to refer to a Hebrew or Greek word and then redefine its meaning so that it reflects the original roots of the word. This is an area where a little learning can truly be a dangerous thing. Words don't just have roots, they have histories and histories change the way a word is used and consequently its meaning.

I was thinking about this over the last few days when in the UK we have been taken up with the affairs of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. That phrase shows how the history of a word can change its meaning. The word 'jubilee' has Hebrew roots. In fact, it has to do with the blowing of trumpets and was originally an event which took place every 50 years when debts were cancelled and slaves were set free. So a 60 year, diamond jubilee is an idea that cannot be re-attached to its Hebrew roots. The phrase has other problems, the Anglo-Saxon word 'cwen' which is the root of our word 'queen' actually means the 'wife of a king'. This is beginning to get complicated because the current United Kingdom 'queen' is not the 'wife of a king'. We cannot interpret the phrase 'Queen's Diamond Jubilee' just by referring to the roots of the words, we have to take into account the passing of centuries, remembering that 'words have histories'.

It works in the opposite direction too. When we read the Bible we need to guard against the danger of importing the modern usage of a word back into a Bible passage. Let me illustrate briefly. The word 'guilt' has now come to mean 'shame'. So when we read of 'guilt' in the scriptures we need to remind ourselves that it is not referring to a feeling but to the verdict of a judge. Biblically, to be guilty is to have come under the judge's condemnation, our feelings have no relevance in the matter.

So how can we guard against the twin dangers of going too far back to a word's root or going too far forward to the modern usage of a word? Simply by saturating ourselves in the context of the word as we find it in the scriptures. Remembering that the meaning of a word is determined by its usage, not its original or contemporary meaning but its historical usage. Of course all this takes time and patience, high cost values in an age of quick-fixes and sound-bites. But there is no other alternative, in studying the Bible we have to invest to profit.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Launch: The Better Covenant

Well, at last we are on the way. The Better Covenant is now available from Amazon and from the CreateSpace Story. Createspace is part of Amazon. Currently the paperback version is available HERE and the Kindle Version is available from HERE.

I feel passionately about the New Covenant. I believe its promise and fulfilment is the key to understanding the Scriptures and salvation history. Some in the past have said that there is no substantial difference between the Old Covenant and the New; I really don't understand how anyone could make this statement when the Scriptures themselves are so persistent is declaring the opposite.

Here is a simple test. If you were asked could you say what the basic elements of the Old Covenant were? When was it instituted? Who was its mediator? How was it maintained? What was its purpose? When did it end? I suspect that most of my readers would do pretty well in this test.

Here is a second test. What are the basic elements of the New Covenant? When was it instituted? Who is its mediator? What is its purpose? How are you doing so far? If you can answer the first test with more assurance than the second then The Better Covenant was written for you.

If you want a sample. Load the first 3 chapters of the Kindle version for free. You can get free Kindle software for your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android etc and you can test the water at no cost to yourself.*

If you do read it PLEASE add a review. Reviews are really helpful when folks are beginning to think about books.

Thank you too for all your prayer for this project.

This is from the Amazon Kindle entry of wikepedia.

* Kindle applications

Amazon released a "Kindle for PC" application in late 2009, available as a free download for Windows 7, Vista, and XP.[48] This application allows thousands of books to be read on a personal computer in color, with no Kindle unit required, as e-books can simply be purchased from Amazon's store.[49] Amazon later released a version for the Macintosh, in early 2010.[50] In June 2010, Amazon released a "Kindle for Android" version. With the Android application release, versions for the Apple iPhone, the iPad, Windows and Mac computers, and BlackBerry cellphones are also available.[51] In January 2011, Amazon released Kindle for Windows Phone 7.[52] In July 2011, Kindle for HP TouchPad (running under WebOS) was released in the US as beta.[53] At this writing (November 2011) Amazon has expressed no interest in releasing a similar application for Linux. In August 2011, Amazon released an HTML5 based webapp supporting Chrome and Safari Browser called Kindle Cloud Reader.[54]

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Each of the chapters of The Better Covenant ends with a brief summary. I thought it might be interesting for some to get a feel of how the book develops, so here are a few summaries of the first chapters. To begin here is the foreword by Johan Companjen.

Foreword: Johan Companjen
During more than 30-years of travel around the world, I have often noted that many Christians have little knowledge of the basic truths described in God's Word, the Bible. They know the stories from the Old and New Testaments, but fail to see the connection between them or God's overall, marvellous plan with mankind. So many Christians know so little about God's Covenant with His people.

That is why the book you hold in your hand is so important. Ron Bailey's clear description and explanation of God's age transcending covenants with his people paints the bigger picture. I have been blessed, challenged and encouraged to realize again, while reading Ron's book, that God has a wonderful 'master plan' – not only with creation but with all of mankind. I'm so blessed every time I read how the Lord 'went out of His way' to reveal His plans to mankind throughout the Bible, as Ron shares so clearly in this book.

"The Better Covenant" is solid spiritual food for all who are not satisfied with just emotions or good feelings, but have a desire to dig deeper into the truths of God's Word.

May this book be used to draw many into a covenant relationship with the Lord of the Universe, the Saviour of mankind, our wonderful God and Father who longs for us to be part of His plan.

Johan Companjen
President Emeritus Open Doors International

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Better Covenant Book Launch

Well, we finally got to the starting line. I started this a couple of years ago and completed the first draft in a very short time but then came contacts with publishers and proof readings, and a couple of years of distracting illness and the project stalled. In the last few weeks I have returned to it and it is now available as a Kindle download from the Amazon website.

Kindle is both a device and a file format but there are free Kindle-Players available for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android etc You can download the Kindle app for the PC from Kindle App for the PC If you use a Mac just linger on the same page and you will be redirected.

One of the great features of eBooks is that you can download free samples to get an idea of the book and its style. With the Better Covenant you get 3 chapters and a table of contents to give you some idea of where the book is heading. Download a sample and see if it catches your interest.

This is from the back cover of the printed version;
The final hours of Christ’s pre-Calvary life focused on the themes of a new Passover, a new Kingdom and a New Covenant. This New Covenant stands in stark distinction to the Covenant enjoyed by the saints of the Old Testament. It is said to be ‘new’ and ‘better’ and ‘more glorious’ but for many its uniqueness has become uncertain. It is often described in contrast to the older Covenant; the writer to the Hebrews does this, as does Paul, as did Christ. Perhaps its determining feature can be expressed in the contrast implied in the statement; …but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:17 NKJV

The conscious reception of the indwelling Spirit is the point of entrance into this New Covenant. This receiving of the Spirit effects the work of regeneration and fulfils the promises of the New Covenant made by Jeremiah and Ezekiel in which they see a new and different covenant in which old things would pass away and all things become new. This powerful regeneration/baptism in Spirit takes a man out of Adam and puts him into Christ thereby creating a ‘new man’ with new powers and instincts.

This book explores the salvation history of the Bible, examining the background to the promise of the New Covenant as introduced in the Old Testament and the fulfilment of that promise in the New Testament. It traces Paul’s exciting discovery that the New Covenant contained a ‘secret’ which opened God’s kingdom to all races and conditions of humankind. It examines the implications of this better covenant for a true understanding and practise of daily living in the New Covenant.

You can download the Kindle version from The Better Covenant at If it tells you that the 'pricing information is not available' it just wants you to go to Amazon in your own country for pounds or euros. If you search in Kindle books you should find it without problem.

I will try to add a few more blogs to give you an idea of what the book is about. Although you can download a free sample or go to the Amazon and read the first three and a bit chapters.

A printed version will be available in a couple of weeks but the eBook version is ready right now.

For all who have been praying for this project, my hearty thanks!