Tuesday, 23 September 2014

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Friday, 11 July 2014

Bring Here Thy Wounded Heart

Relics of the Salvation Army
Back in October 2006 I was at a wedding in Exeter UK. The venue was the old Salvation Army 'Temple' in Exeter which is a fascinating building. I was almost distracted from the wedding by the furniture. Stretching the whole width of the hall, approx 40 feet, was a beautifully polished 'Penitent Form'. This was the 'altar' of the Salvation Army where souls were encouraged to 'get right with God'. The 'form' is really not intended for 'sitting' but to put your elbows on as you kneel.

In 2 foot high letters of gold it carried the words..


...split into the two halves of the Penitent Form and consequently spread right across the width of the hall.

A little lower, and in the centre of the text, in slightly smaller letters were two more golden words


The Salvation Army Sunday meetings used to be a 'Holiness Meeting' in the morning and a 'Salvation Meeting' in the evening. This beautiful old piece of furniture is a 'relic' from the days when we believed people needed to 'repent' to come to Christ and presumed that if God was not already at work in their 'wounded hearts' they would not wish to come.

The Salvation Army officers did not 'counsel' the enquirers but knelt with them to 'pray through' until they came to personal conviction that God had heard their cries for mercy; hence it was often called the 'Mercy Seat'. Whether they came for 'Salvation' or for 'Holiness' they came to the same place; to Christ alone, with their wounded hearts.

It sat there through the whole (wonderful) wedding almost transfixed by the silent testimony of the days when God was expected to move in people's lives and bring them 'broken hearted' to the cross.

Have we lost something...?

Friday, 27 June 2014

“It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

In George Orwell's devastating critique of totalitarianism, 1984, one of the party workers has been given the job of culling the dictionary. The strategy is to make 'thoughtcrime' impossible by the removal of words that describe things forbidden by the party. Words like 'freedom' and 'rebellion'. If there are no words then there will be no thoughts, or so the theory goes. As he removes the words the party worker says the words at the head of this blog.

There is another famous quotation from the same book which declares "but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.". Together the two quotations describe a brilliant propaganda strategy. Either remove the words altogether or, as an alternative, continue to use the word but redefine them. What does this have to do with us? Much, in every way.

Let's remove some words, shall we?. Sin? an old fashioned concept surely. Judgment? Not a word we hear much in the normal course of our lives is it? Adultery? Covetousness? Holiness? "it's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words". Remarkably 'freeing'. Of course we shall need to redefine the word 'free'. But that's not difficult and when we have corrupted the word we have corrupted thoughts and made communication all but impossible. What a strategy. Corrupt the language, corrupt the thinking processes. Break up the whole communication process. What a strategy.

It's not only in evangelism that we are struggling. Word's are dropping out of our Bibles; concepts are vanishing. "the old man" has disappeared from almost all modern versions. New words are being introduced instead with entirely different meanings. "the self"; a Freudian psychology concept. When is a Bible no longer a Bible?

There is a battle on, brothers and sisters. Time to wake up and enlist.

In desperation the psalmist asked a question;
If the foundations are destroyed,

What can the righteous do? Psa 11:3 NKJV.

A word of assurance came to his heart...
The LORD is in His holy temple,

The LORD’S throne is in heaven; Psa 11:4 NKJV.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Digging Deeper into Disciples Pt 2

The word disciple is not only a noun as in disciple it is also a verb meaning 'to become a disciple' or 'to cause someone to become a disciple'. It is used in this way in...
Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. Matt 27:57 NKJV.
Young's Literal Translation has...
And evening having come, there came a rich man, from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was discipled to Jesus, Matt 27:57 YNG.
Did you notice the emphasis? He was not a 'disciple of Jesus' in a general sort of a way. He was personally 'discipled to Jesus'. Joseph of Arimathea was not ' a distant camp-follower' of Jesus Christ he had become 'yoked' to him and was 'learning' from him. No doubt there were many who had had this kind of encounter with Christ and had come 'under his yoke' and whose lives were now 'at his disposal'.

The verb, rather than the noun, is used again in the next chapter of Matthew.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matt 28:19 NKJV.
That is a commission to bring men and women of all nations to the event in which they bow their neck to the yoke of Jesus Christ. There is no hint here that this was expected to be a long process of catechising resulting in this surrender. The form of the verb here indicates that this has a 'point' in view rather than a process. Youngs Literal Translation has an interesting use of parentheses here...
having gone, then, disciple all the nations, (baptizing them — to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all, whatever I did command you,) and lo, I am with you all the days — till the full end of the age.’ Matt 28:19–20 YNG.
The significance of that is the implication that the way in which men and women were to be brought into discipleship to Jesus Christ was water baptism and teaching them to obey Christ's commands. This is personal surrender and personal tutelage at the hands of Jesus Christ.

This is not the last use of the verb in the Acts.
And when they (Paul and Barnabas) had preached the gospel to that city (Derbe) and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, Acts 14:21 NKJV.
It is a challenging account. They 'evangelised the city' and 'discipled many'. We are not to think of modern discipling patterns when we read that account. They evangelised the city and brought many to the event of surrendering their lives and rights to Jesus Christ. Little wonder that such a truth and such a church planting practice turned the world upside down.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Digging Deeper into Disciples Pt 1

This is a kind of Post Script to the last blog and may be a little technical for some but if you read past the bits that are over your head you should still see why I am blogging this topic.

In modern church life we hear quite a bit about 'discipling young converts'. It has become the adopted pattern of many churches. I want to examine that concept. Not to criticise any attempt to encourage younger believers but because I think it can obscure an important Biblical truth.

The word 'disciple' is used over 250 times in the New Testament. It is scattered throughout the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles but vanishes without trace after a passing reference to an early believer whose name was Mnason.
Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge. Acts 21:16 NKJV.
So why does this word never make it into the epistles? I think the answer to that is really quite simple. The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles recount the story of the beginnings of many a pilgrimage. To become a disciple of Jesus Christ stands right at the beginning of that pilgrimage. By the time we reach the epistles we are addressing men and women who have already made their beginnings, they have already 'become disciples of Jesus Christ'. Consequently the writers all assume, safely, that the foundations are laid and the event of 'becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ' lies in the past.

There is a key pointer to becoming a disciple that is easily missed. It is the famous passage in which Christ declares that men and women can only know the Father through the Son and then encourages his hearers, whom he has just 'rebuked' for their lack of repentance, to come to him. If they come they will know the Father through the Son. We have an old hymn which captures the truth..
"Come to the Father
Through Jesus the Son
And give him the glory

Great things He has done'
They knew a thing or two those old hymn writers!

The Bible passage is well known to us.
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matt 11:27–30 NKJV.
That picture is of an event which leads immediately into a process. The word come is not in the imperative mood, as a command, but is a gentle encouragement. But the imperatives follow quickly.
  • Take my yoke upon you
  • and learn from me...
The word 'learn' is mathete. It is from the same root as mathētēs, disciple. Suddenly we discover that this well known passage is not just a word of gentle comfort but a call to arms! He encourages them to come to him and then spells out the implications. The only way we will ever know the Father is by being yoked to the Son and abiding under his rule. We discover that these precious verses have a bit more bite than we had expected. They are a call to radical life change as disciples to a single master.

..to be continued tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Enough evidence to prove you guilty?

I love the word 'disciple'. I know what it means. Christ constantly defined the way in which his disciples were to live their lives. We can build a definition for the word 'disciple'. But what about "Christian"? It's a word with a long history and one that is increasingly difficult to define. Some years ago I read an advert in a 'Christian' magazine that was requesting "Christian software for a Christian hairdresser'. The advert bemused me. What is a 'Christian' hairdresser? How would we recognise a 'Christian' haircut?

As a teenager I had a Saturday job delivering groceries to customers of a small greengrocers. At one house I would be met by a small terrier that would throw itself at the gate and bark aggressively. A lady's head appeared over the gate who informed me "You're all right. He won't bite, he's a real Christian". A "Christian" Jack Russell Terrier! Some hope! The word has become so overused as to be virtually useless.

Some say "the Bible says a real "Christian" is ..." But the Bible hardly every uses the word Christian and never defines the word. We meet the same struggle when we ask someone "are you a Christian?" Almost invariably we mean 'was there a day when you made some choices?' The problem is that this creates a sort of working definition of Christian that implies it is something 'I did' usually some years ago. "Christian" is part of my history.

The first time the Bible does use the word is helpful and it does give us a kind of working definition of the word.
And when he (Barnabas) had found him (Paul), he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. Acts 11:26 NKJV.
So we do have a definition after all. A Christian is a disciple. It brings to mind the old question when being 'called a Christian' was becoming a criminal offence; "if you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to prove you guilty?"

The words "Christian" and "disciple" provoke different questions. The first provokes the question; "what has happened to you in the past"". The second provokes the question; "to whom do you belong today?"

The religious leaders of the day had a penetrating conversation with a newly healed man;
He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. John 9:25–28 NKJV.
They saw, with devastating clarity, that the two states were mutually exclusive. They still are.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to have chosen an extreme pattern of life. It is the choice that another will be my Teacher and that my life will be answerable to that Teacher alone.
Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? Acts 15:10 NKJV.

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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matt 11:29–30 NKJV.

The word 'learn' here has the same root as the word 'disciple'. I cannot be a disciple of Moses AND a disciple of Jesus Christ. I cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ AND be ruled by any other life mentor/coach. I cannot 'add' my relationship to him to any previous pattern of life.

And the challenge to us all is that we were not commissioned to 'go into all the world to make converts' but to bring men and women to the point of personal submission to Jesus Christ. If our converts were charged with the criminal offence of being a 'Christian' aka a 'disciple' would there be sufficient evidence to prove them guilty?

to be continued tomorrow...

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Forgive us our denominations!

This was the title of a little booklet published in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s. Where did all those denominations come from? We may find some clues in the Bible.

Genesis 11 tells the story of the building of Babel. We interpret it as an illustration of humanity's attempt to reach heaven under his own efforts, but there is another theme here also. They were afraid of being scattered and decided to give themselves a central rallying point and to give themselves a name.
And they said, go to, let us build us a city and the tower, whose top may reach to heaven: and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
There are some interesting motivations that come to the surface here.

In the earliest chapters of the Bible cities are sometimes symbols of fear and defiant independence. The first city was built by Cain in direct disobedience to God's command that he must forever wander. He built a safe place for himself, afraid that he might be hunted down and killed.

Later the inhabitants of Shinar determined to build a city and to put their name on it. They were afraid that they might be scattered. There is a verb for "putting a name on something"; it is the word "denominate" . They built a defensive wall around themselves and put a name on it. That might serve as a good definition for "denomination"; a defensive wall with a brand label on it.

Of course, for many the brand label has no sinister undertones. It is just one of history's accidents. But if we organise ourselves together for security and use our brand names and creeds to exclude others we are following a dangerous precedent.

Let him who has an ear to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

From Passover to Pentecost: when the hours met

During his lifetime there were several attempts to arrest or kill Jesus of Nazareth. They all failed and the Bible's verdict is a very simple one 'his hour had not yet come'. He had an appointment with a cross and nothing could frustrate that plan. As the day of his appointment came closer he was sought out by 'some Greeks'. It was at this moment that Christ heard the whirring of the gears; the hour was about to strike.
But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. John 12:23 NKJV.
He knew what that hour would involve.
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. John 12:24 NKJV.
His appointment was with death and he was under no illusion as to how deep that valley would be.
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. John 12:27 NKJV.
He is committed to keeping his appointment with the hour and heaven breathes its 'amen'.
Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” John 12:28 NKJV.

We move to Gethsemene where he will face this choice again and again and again and each time he will make the same choice, saying,
“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Luke 22:42 NKJV.
When the cohort came to arrest him Christ made an illuminating comment.
When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Luke 22:53 NKJV.
Whose hour is this? Is it Christ's hour or is it the final hour of human rebellion against the will of God? It is both. The hours will synchronise on a hill outside a city wall. Eternal love's "Yes" will meet mankind's resolute 'No' and the victory shout will echo into eternity;
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. John 19:30 NKJV.
It's done yes it's done.

It's done, yes it's done.

Through the precious blood of Jesus

the battle is won...
Sunday morning will prove it!

Friday, 18 April 2014

From Passover to Pentecost: tasting death

The Biblical concept of 'tasting' implies much more than a mere sampling. When the writer to the Hebrews refers to Christ's Calvary passion he shows the real significance of the picture.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. Heb 2:9 NKJV.
Christ did not merely sample death but experienced it in its deepest depths. This is un-limited atonement, for everyone. He experienced death for the whole race. The idea of experiencing something very thoroughly is repeated twice more in Hebrews;
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, Heb 6:4–5 NKJV.
These are sobering words but they apply to people who have truly experienced God.

When Moses 'kept the Passover' (Heb 11:28) the families of Israel were not spectators but participents. Just as Christ did not merely observe the sin of the world but participated in it. He identified himself with what the race had become, being made sin, while knowing no sin. (2 Cor 5:21) We do well to remember that the Passover blood on the lintels and doorposts was symbolic of something that was taking place inside the house;
Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’S Passover. Ex 12:6–11 NKJV.
The emphasis in this passage is not on the blood but upon the flesh. The blood, as signifying the death of the Passover Lamb, is essential but it is God who must 'see it';
And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; Ex 12:13 NKJV.
The flesh, the consequence of the death, is for the people; they must participate, they must eat it.

When John recorded the events of Calvary he made the telling observation that, contrary to Roman custom, the legs of Jesus were not broken.
And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken. John 19:35–36 NKJV.
What 'scripture' does John have in mind?
In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones. Ex 12:46 NKJV.
John is identifying the crucified Jesus as the Passover Lamb. And Passover Lambs did not die to provide a spectacle for the watchers but to provide the necessary food for the journey into a new destiny. So he tasted my death so that I might taste his.

Luke records that there were spectators present at the cross.
And the people stood looking on. Luke 23:35 NKJV.
Am I a spectator or a diner?

From Passover to Pentecost: Do you believe in coincidences?

The early Christians made an important connection for us. They remembered some words of Moses and were sure they understood their implication. Moses had spoken a word of prophecy.
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, Deut 18:15 NKJV.
There was more but that will suffice for our purpose. Twice in the early days of the Acts of the Apostles the early Christians quoted these words and gave their definitive interpretation of them.
For Moses truly said to the fathers, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. Acts 3:22 NKJV.
“This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ Acts 7:37 NKJV.
Each time they identified Moses' future leader as Christ himself. If we consider the accounts of Moses and Christ at their birth we begin to trace the fascinating pattern of their lives. Each was targeted, and missed, by a murderous ruler... but in a sense these are superficial 'likenesses' to Moses. It is in Moses' role as the deliverer of a people and the mediator of a covenant that Moses serves as a template for the "Prophet like me from your midst" that God would raise up.

We mentioned in an earlier blog the conversation between Christ and Moses and Elijah and noted the topic of conversation as being Christ's 'exodus that he would accomplish/finish in Jerusalem'. The mediator of the Sinai/Old covenant and the mediator of the New Covenant had common ground here in the language of 'exodus'. We saw too how Christ celebrated the Last Jewish Passover and initiated the New Covenant 'Passover' tradition in the upper room.

There can be little doubt that Christ chose his words carefully as he instituted the New Covenant tradition of the Breaking of Bread and the Taking of the Cup. In the commencement of the Old Covenant the celebration looked forwards to their deliverance. The pattern is repeated in the upper room. And look at the words Christ used...
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. Luke 22:20 NKJV.
There are no coincidences in the pattern of this phrase. Moses had inaugurated the Sinai/Old Covenant with the words...
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.” Ex 24:7–8 NKJV.
Now Christ takes up the same pattern of words, adding a vital word.
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. Luke 22:20 NKJV.
He is acting as Moses' promised replacement, using the same words, but to make sure there can be no possible confusion he makes it clear that he is not talking about Moses' covenant but another covenant promised by Jeremiah... a new covenant...
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. Jer 31:31–32 NKJV.
The trials that must follow, the shedding of his blood, are all part of a new beginning. He must take away the first in order to establish the second. Heb 10:9.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

From Passover to Pentecost: The Last Passover

This was G Campbell Morgan's way of describing the event which we often call the Last Supper. The events of the trials and crucifixion took place during the Jewish celebration of the Passover. By the time they gathered together in the upper room the covenant nation of Israel had celebrated Passover, somewhat sporadically, for some 13-1400 years. The First Passover took place in Egypt and looked forward to God's deliverance and Exodus. Jesus and the Twelve gathered in the upper room to share their meal.

There are some remarkable parallels that connect the mediator of the Sinai Covenant with the mediator of the New Covenant. Peter, James and John witnessed Christ's transfiguration and Luke records the topic of the conversation between Christ, Moses and Elijah.
And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Luke 9:30–31 NKJV.
There are words here which might have been translated very differently. The topic of conversation, literally, was 'his exodus which he would finish at Jerusalem'. Moses and Elijah engaged Christ in a conversation concerning 'his exodus' which must be 'finished' in Jerusalem. The scene is being set for a replay of the First Passover. Christ's death was not a tragedy or accident but an Exodus to be accomplished.

In part this explains the strange comment made by Christ in that upper room at the Last Passover.
When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; Luke 22:14–15 NKJV.
The expression is very intense 'with desire I have desired' and the word for 'desire' is the one usually translated as 'lust' in the New Testament. This is a a testimony to a craving desire, an all consuming longing to celebrate 'this Passover with you before I suffer'. Why? and what is the unique significance of 'this Passover'? The next verse is our clue;
for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Luke 22:16 NKJV.
The annual celebration of the Passover had always looked backwards to an event in the history of the covenant people but now Christ declares that every previous celebration had been not only a commemoration but a prophecy looking forwards to a future Passover. The annual Passovers had been a promise that one day must be fulfilled in a a New Passover and a new Exodus.

The shadows and types had served their purpose. Now the reality at which they had pointed has arrived. This would be the Last Jewish Passover. A new tradition is being born. No longer the Seder once a year but now...
...as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 1 Cor 11:26 NKJV.
Events will move quickly now and Christ will be seen not only as the New Covenant's mediator but as its Passover Lamb.
Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 1 Cor 5:7 NKJV.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

From Passover to Pentecost: the First Passover

The people of the Sinai Covenant celebrated and often still celebrate the events that marked the beginning of a unique nation with a unique destiny.

The celebration began somewhere around three and a half millennia ago. It began in Egypt among a people who served as the slave nation to the great world power of the Pharaohs. It began with a groan and a cry. God heard the cry. He always hears our cry.
Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. Ex 2:23 NKJV.
430 years earlier the patriarch Abraham had been plunged into a deep sleep and while he slept he witnessed the making of a covenant and heard a prophecy that predicted his descendants would become a slave nation. Gen 15:13. Fast forward 400 years and we find a huge people group living in Egypt as the worker-slaves of the Egyptian state. Their social development was still based on family units but elders had emerged who coordinated the family units and served as the official link between the state and the workers. The group comprised not only blood descendants of Abraham but included the 'family households' of the descendants of Abraham's bloodline. Gen 45:18.

God raised up Moses and moved in sovereign power to bring deliverance for the slaves. The promises made personally to Abraham and to each successive generation were to be incorporated into a national destiny for a new nation. But first they must be set free. No man can serve two masters and if the nation was to be God's nation and obedient to God's will its people must be freed from the hostile will of their current master.

Their deliverance would commence with a forward looking celebration. God's judgment would fall upon the host nation. The eldest sons in the homes of the Hebrews would only be spared as they submitted to the rule of God under his spokesman, Moses. Lambs were to be slaughtered and the flesh and blood used in a ritual meal. The roast flesh was to be eaten and the shed blood applied to the doorposts and lintels of their homes.

The first celebration of the "Passover" would be looking forward to their deliverance and their journey to a new future. The first Passover took place in a foreign land and was a sober act of faith. They ate it prepared for the journey; their sandals on their feet, their staff in their hand, their few belongings on their back and the whole group ready to move at a moment's notice.

The letter to the Hebrews makes an interesting distinction between the covenant's mediator and the covenant's recipients. The writer records it so...
By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. Heb 11:28–29 NKJV.
"He (Moses) kept the Passover... they passed through the Red Sea". Without Moses' initiation and faith there would have been no Exodus.

Fast forward again now, some 1300 years or so. Jesus and his apostles are gathered in an upper room to celebrate the Last Passover. The disciples are perplexed and are hesitant in their faith. The Mediator of the Covenant moves with calm faith. His hour has come. He will initiate this New Covenant. His faith will win the victory and gain their deliverance. Their faith will be needed later. When their deliverance is achieved they will need to move forwards. on their own feet; their own journey into a new future.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The LORD thy God

The phrase is found in 264 verses and, according to my Bible Software, 196 of those verses are in the book of Deuteronomy. The exodus people had become God's people and the whole of Deuteronomy is based on the fact that this miracle has already taken place. Let me give you some more statistics...

Whenever we find the word LORD or GOD in upper case in our Bibles it is an indication that the original Hebrew word is a proper name. It is the name enshrined in many of our hymns and often in our personal testimony as Jehovah. (It was almost certainly pronounced more like Yahweh but the name Yahweh has very little personal history for most Christians, so I'll stick to Jehovah.) In the old KJV you will find the name Jehovah, and its cognates, used in just five verses. In more modern versions it has vanished altogether; e.g. the ESV. the NJKV, the NASB, the NIV, the NLT. God's proper name has vanished from our modern versions. The old ASV on the other hand uses it constantly, 6777 times! (For study I heartily recommend the ASV for the Old Testament!)

The Sinai Covenant people grew nervous of the name Jehovah. They were aware of the warning for anyone using the name wrongly; 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. To avoid the danger they refused to use it altogether and a tradition grew of saying 'Lord' whenever the proper name Jehovah appeared in the scripture reading. Alternatively they would use the word 'Shem' which means 'name'. Perhaps our translators share their nervousness? The downside is that the proper name of God is seldom used and we are much the poorer for that.

Have you ever had someone introduce themselves to you and say "my friends call me Ron" or something similar. It is an endearing thing to do. I have travelled in many countries where Christians are much more formal and would far prefer to call me Pastor or Brother. I always encourage them to call me Ron. I want them to get to know me as a person not as a role. Let me illustrate. I have a dear friend who was my pastor for many years. I always referred to him as Rector. That designation developed its own unique atmosphere and became more like a proper name. I can never say the word 'Rector' without a rich flow of memories. Some time ago, he is now in his 90s, he suggested I might call him 'Philip'. I can't do it. My emotions don't respond to 'Philip'. My emotional memory doesn't know who Philip is!

God introduced himself to the exodus people as 'Jehovah'. The name was designed to acquire its own rich emotional memories. 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. Ex 6:2–3 ASV.

Think about it for a while. We'll pause and next time we will look at some of the emotional memories that the name Jehovah was intended to carry.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Hear, O Israel

It was at the end of his life, possibly his last days, that Moses declared what is often referred to as the Shema Israel, Hear, Israel. Tbe book of Deuteronomy is often sadly neglected being regarded as little more that a regurgitation of the Sinai events and laws. This misses its point entirely. This is Sinai + 40 years of thoughtful meditation and it contains some thrilling truths. It was this portion of Scripture that was uppermost in the mind of the Lord during his wilderness temptations. It is the context for our last blog; 'and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'.

That injection follows hard on the heels of the first and great commandment; Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matt 22:37–38 KJV). Again, I have reverted to the Old English to stress the personal nature of this commandment. But the original setting of these personal commandments is of great importance. John Wycliffe encouraged all Bible students to consider not just the context but to to make a particular note of the intended audience of Biblical passages. "to whom" said Wycliffe "was this said?"

That's why I have entitled this blog 'Hear, O Israel'. This commandment was not delivered into what we might call the 'public domain' but was given expressly to the covenant people of Israel. It was enjoined upon men and women who had entered into conscious covenant with Jehovah (Yahweh) himself. Covenants have beginnings, conscious beginnings. They do not slowly cross-fade from 'not my people' into 'my people', they mark an event when men and women 'pass from darkness into light' and are translated from the power of darkness into another kingdom. (Col 1:13)

Many practical issues of life stem from the fact that Christians often mistake crises and processes; both are essential but they are not to be confused. I once heard George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation, say "any crisis which is not followed by a process will become an abscess." It is a stark way of saying that if we do not progress as a result of the the crisis, the blessing of the crisis itself will be eaten away. This is good counsel, but we need to be sure that we do not miss the corollary which is that every process must have a beginning, There must be conscious events in our lives where we pass from one state to another. "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him," (Col 2:6 NKJV). That is crisis followed by process, or if you prefer, it is process preceded by crisis.

As Hudson Taylor remarked in his little book 'Union and Communion' communion presupposes union. You cannot have communion without union. We must come into 'union' with Christ before we can have 'communion' with him. We must enter into conscious covenant with God before we can obey the injunction 'Love Jehovah THY Jehovah.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

I have reverted to the Old English for the purpose of focus. This is not a command to a church community or to a nation but to an individual. "Thou, (you personally) shalt love thy neighbour." And my, not our, neighbour is the man who lives next door, the man within reach. This is beginning to get a little close and personal!

It has been calculated that there are 643 separate laws that were given to the people of Israel. Jesus condensed the list into 2 principles which, if carried through, fulfil the whole law. This is the second of the two; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. At first glance it seems as if the bar has been lowered and the whole obligation made much more general; until you think it through. There is an obscure verse in the Proverbs which declares that "the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth." (Prov 17:24) It's much easier to maintain benevolent thoughts of our neighbours in the 'global village', in the ends of the earth, but how am I getting on with the man next door?

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might." (Eccles 9:10) That's another verse that brings things that are within reach into our focus. Oh, if I had the opportunity I would preach fearlessly to thousands. Really, what about the one within reach, the one that your hand can reach out and find, the man within reach, the neighbour, the man next door?

And what about that last part? I am to love my neighbour, as myself? As myself? Really? When he plays his music too loud? When parks his car in my space? When his dog... Some hope!

Yes, it is...
Rom. 5:5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Have a blessed New Year.