Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Paradigm for Understanding the Relationship Between Grace and Works

James Jordan comments on the relationship between God's grace and our labour as illustrated in the life of Jacob.
Just as he was about to cross over into the Promised Land, a "man" met Jacob and wrestled with him all night (Gen. 32:22-30). It was the Angel of the LORD, God Himself, Who wrestled with Jacob. Amazingly, Jacob "won" the fight, although we realize that it was a victory in grace, not in works. This passage is explained by Jesus Christ when He tells us that the Kingdom of God is open, and all men strive violently to enter it (Matt. 11:12, Luke 16:16). All his life, Jacob had desired to inherit the Covenant, and had wrestled to obtain this blessing. God approved of his actions. It had been God Who had set up the roadblocks in Jacob's way, to test and improve his character, but it had also been God who gave Jacob the grace and the will to persevere.

Then God crippled Jacob as a reminder that when we wrestle with God for His blessing, it is not our might that prevails, but His grace. Then we read, “Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel." Just as Jacob crossed the boundary into the land of promise, the sun rose. We can see him limping across the boundary, and the sun bursting up in its might behind him, a sign of the strength of God's people... who wrestle with God and prevail by His strength, scattering His enemies.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

New Year's Eve Watchnight Meeting

As per Sean's post, we plan to host a New Year's Eve watchnight meeting at the church offices from 11pm on 31st December 2013 to 12:30am on 1 January 2014.

It will be a mix of Bible meditation, prayer and sung worship, loosly based around the following themes:
  • Why God gave us the gift of days, seasons and years: Why we are gathering this night.
  • "The Lord Gives and Takes Away - Blessed be the name of the Lord:" Committing to God all that has been has been
  • "On Earth as it is in Heaven:" Committing to God for all that is ahead.
A great way to welcome in the new year.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Keller on Bonhoeffer

Timothy Keller, writing in the forward to Eric Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer "Pastor Martyr, Prophet, Spy" says:
It is impossible to understand Bonhoeffer's Nachfolge [imitation (of Christ)] without becoming acquainted with the shocking capitulation of the German church to Hitler in the 1930s. How could the "church of Luther," that great teacher of the gospel, have ever come to such a place? The answer is that the true gospel, summed up by costly grace had been lost. On the one hand the church had become marked by formalism. That meant going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone so it doesn't matter much how you live. Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works....

Both of these impulses made it possible for Hitler to come to power. The formalists may have seen things that bothered them, but saw no need to sacrifice their safety in order to stand up to them. Legalists responded by having pharisaical attitudes toward other nations and races that approved of Hitler's policies. But as one, Germany lost hold of the brilliant balance of the gospel that Luther so persistently expounded - "We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith which is alone." That is we are saved, not by anything that we do, but by grace. Yet if we have truly understood and believed the gospel - it will change what we do and how we live.

By the time of Hitler's ascension, much of the church understood grace only as abstract acceptance - "God forgives; that's his job." But we know that true grace comes to us by costly sacrifice. And if God was willing to go to the cross and endure such pain and absorb such a cost in order to save us then we must live sacrificially as we serve others. Anyone who truly understands how God's grace comes to us, will have a changed life. That's the gospel, not salvation by law or by cheap grace, but by costly grace. Costly grace changes you from the inside out. Neither law nor cheap grace can do that.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

RFC Bible School 2014

2014 will see us running our first ever formal Bible School. It's open to anyone at RFC who wants to know the WHOLE BIBLE better, but could never quite mobilise themselves to do it alone.

The nine session course will take place at the RFC Offices on the third Monday of the month (apart from April). We'll start each evening with a pizza buffet at 7pm followed by a lecture and seminar delivered by one of the Bible School teaching team and finish around 9:30pm.

Whilst we use words like "lecture" and we plan to cover a lot of material, we aim to pitch that material academically at GCSE / O-level standard.

There are no formal written assignments in this course, but anyone who wishes to write an essay or the like in order to consolidate / build on what they have learned is welcome to do so and will get feedback on it. Also, it goes without saying that the more personal time you can put in, the more you will get out.

The cost of the course is £70, the vast majority of which is to cover the cost of our food, drink and course handouts over the nine sessions. However, we don't want cost to stop anyone from attending, so if you would like to participate, but finances are tight, bursaries are available - more information on request from the church office.

Ideally we would like at least 20 people to sign up (it feels like a "proper" class size then), but will happily run it for whoever we get. Due to space issues, the maximum number we can take is 35.

Here is the course in outline...

20 January
Approaching the Bible
What do we mean when we say that the Bible is the inspired "Word of God"?

17 February
Coming to the Light
What is the central theme of the Bible?

17 March
Gospel Rhythm: From Darkness and Chaos to Light and Order
How does Genesis 1 set the scene for the rest of the Bible?

28 April (Fourth Monday)
Leviticus: The Gospel for "Little Children"
How do we make sense of the laws and rituals of Leviticus?

19 May
The Psalms: Gospel Songs for our Journey Through This Life
How should we read the Psalms?

16 June
The Prophets: God's Gracious Gospel Enforcers
Who were the prophets and how were they used by God?

15 September
The Gospels: Behold the God-Man
How do the Gospels shed new light for us about Jesus?

20 October
Acts: The Gospel goes Viral
How is the Gospel Planted into and lived out in Alien Cultures?

17 November
The Revelation: Not as Strange as You Think
How should we try to understand one of the most controversial letters ever written?

For more info, email me here.

To sign up or find out more about bursaries, email the church office here.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Bonhoeffer on Confession

In our day we are constantly trying to rid ourselves of sin and guilt, either by restitution to make it better, medication to take away the guilty feelings or redefinition so that we have no shame in the first place. However, in Life Together, Deitrich Boenhoeffer defines sin, or rather the knowledge of sin as a surprisingly liberating thing assuming it leads to confession before God. He says [note that when he wrote - 1930s, gender neutral language was not in vogue]:
Anybody who loves beneath the Cross and who has in the Cross of Jesus discerned the wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find that there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anyone who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he also knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only a brother under the Cross can hear a confession.

It is not experience of life, but experience of the Cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of the psychiatrist I can only be a sick man: in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him, here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who yearns for God's forgiveness and wants to confess. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient at brotherly confession.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Garden of the Heart

Found at:
Popular Western Culture has made the heart the fountain of all truth. There is evidence all around if you want to look for it.

The heart is a pump in both the emotional and biological senses. Biologically it pumps blood around the body - keeping us alive, and emotionally (sometimes seemingly from nowhere) it pumps out all kinds of desires and dreams that make up our emotional life and of which we have to try and make some kind of sense.

To put it another way, the heart is like a garden:
  • Every garden's situation is unique - shape, size, soil make up, climate etc.
  • Every heart is unique - DNA, environment, experiences etc
  • Every garden, left to its own devices, will have elements of beauty e.g. wild flowers, but the overall picture is one of disorder.
  • Every heart, left to its own desires will have elements of beauty - kindness etc, but the overall picture is one of disorder.
  • Every garden, left to its own devices, will ultimately become chaotic and ugly.
  • Every heart, left to its own desires will ultimately become chaotic and ugly - a black hole - sucking the life out of its surroundings.
  • If you let your garden do its own thing, no one will congratulate you for what it brings forth.
  • Yet somehow, in our culture, we expect to be congratulated for allowing our hearts to pump forth whatever it likes.
  • Even well kept gardens need constant attention to ensure they remain so. Weeds appear of nowhere soon enough and choke the work already done.
  • Well trained hearts need constant attention in the same way.
  • To bring order to your unique garden, you need a gardener to show you step by step what to do so as to bring order out of chaos.
  • To bring order to your unique heart, you need to the Holy Spirit of God to show you step by step how to bring forth a beautiful life of holiness (meaning a life that is looking to and looking more like Jesus Christ's).
Only in union with Christ does the diversity of the human heart finally find its highest purpose and expression.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Twilight Plea...

Billy Graham is the most famous and influential modern evangelist America has produced. Here, his twilight plea to the nation is joined with music and testimony:

Friday, 8 November 2013

Human History: Surviving Super Ape or Fallen Son?

When you think of human history, do you think we exemplify the story of the surviving super ape?

Or the fallen son?

In the following fascinating talk, Nate Wilson recounts how C. S. Lewis fought against the spirit of the age in a kind of Myth Wars.  Worth listening to whilst you are doing something not too taxing.

What are the stories that our lives tell?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Better Mediator - Sermon Notes on Esther 4:1-5:3

Audio here.

Last week's story left us on a cliffhanger. Mordecai, due to disobedience of the king's command, has incited the vindictive and nasty Prime Minister Haman not only to seek his death, but the death of all the Jews with him. When Haman asks for the annihilation of a rebel group, the king assumes that he is referring to some small insurgent threat, unaware that the edict he has just sanctioned will mean the slaughter of his queen and a trusted advisor who saved his life.

And so we read on - Esther 4:1-5:3.

Mordecai wails bitterly and wanders through the city to the palace gate, but doesn't go in. The description of his mourning is all around symbols of death:
  • Torn clothes = under judgement
  • Sackcloth = no glory
  • Ashes = returning to the ground from whence he came (ashes to ashes, dust to dust),
  • Fasting = cut off from source of life.
Mordecai and the Jews with him are now on "Death Row" and in their state of mourning they are unfit and unworthy to enter the presence of the king.

At this point, Esther has not revealed her ethnic identity and is unaware of the pronouncement made over her and her people. She is distressed at Mordecai's grief, but assumes it must be a personal tragedy. When she learns of the predicament she is fearful. Yet Mordecai impresses upon her that she is their only hope.

Esther then proclaims a three day food and liquid fast amongst the Jews. A fast that will bring them close to death after which she will approach the king in hope of averting disaster, even if it costs her her life.

On the third day Esther robes up and goes to the king. As she stands at the entrance to the king's court, the king is pleased with her and he beckons her in. As she walks across what must have felt like an infinite distance between the door and the throne, she carries her people in her heart. The king holds out his sceptre and she lays hold of it. He will give her all her desire, and her desire is not self-centred like Haman's, it is other-centred, like God's. And there we leave it on another cliffhanger until next week!

This story is, the gospel in a nutshell. Consider the following:
  • God tests the heart of Mordecai.
  • God tested the heart of Adam, the first human with the tree of knowledge.
  • Mordecai’s disobedience brings sentence of death on all Jews.
  • Adam’s disobedience brought a sentence of death on all humans.
  • The Jews are all cut off from access to King Xerxes – the law cannot be revoked.
  • The human race are all cut off from God for their rebellion – the law cannot be revoked.
  • They have no hope of escaping the coming judgment.
  • We have no hope of escaping the coming judgment.
  • Esther is appointed queen long before this tragedy happens.
  • Jesus is appointed saviour by God the Father before the world was even created.
  • Esther is both Persian royalty AND an ethnic Jew.
  • Jesus is both fully God AND fully human – the perfect mediator.
  • Esther, through fasting, enters the suffering of her people.
  • Jesus, through crucifixion, enters and takes on himself, the suffering of the human race.
  • After her death-like fast, Esther gets up and robes herself in splendour to appear before the king.
  • After his crucifixon, Jesus is resurrected up to Heaven and robed the glory of his own righteousness appears before his Father.
  • King Xerxes loves her, joyfully receives her and will give her anything she asks for.
  • God the Father joyfully receives Christ and will give him anything he asks for.
  • At that moment Esther's heart is that her people come into the favour of the king like she is.
  • At that moment Christ's heart is to share the love he has from his Father with his people.
Our only hope of escaping the judgment of God and coming into his favour again is in receiving and being united to the God man Jesus - his one appointed mediator.

Now that Christ has won the favour of God for you. Will you come in and lay hold of that favour by uniting yourself with his son Jesus - the God-man?

If you are a Christian will you carry your people, (your family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, town, nation) in your heart in prayer to the throne of the king that, one day, they too might lay hold of Christ? If you don't, who will?

Saturday, 2 November 2013

On Money and A Sense of Entitlement

Whilst the two are not inextricably linked, too often in our culture, money and a sense of entitlement go together, at least according to this study they do.

Problem is of course, most of us think this stuff only applies to the people who are richer than we are, forgetting that the most of us are rich by many, if not most world standards. We never search our own hearts to see if that ugly sense of entitlement dwells within.

No wonder Jesus said some pretty blunt things about money.

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God." 
Proverbs 30:7-9

Saturday, 19 October 2013

If "Cessationism" and "Charismata" Mean Nothing to You, Don't Read This

The Charismatic Movement within Evangelicalism is now a largely uncontested reality.  Turn the clock back twenty years and (in the UK at least) that would not have been the case.  Yet, as with every good thing we Christians are very capable of stuffing it all up from any and every angle.  Here are two articles I read recently.

The first a very gracious, but firm article from Andrew Wilson on why cessationism is not the best way to sum up the operation of the gifts of the Spirit for today.

The second, (pointed out by the same Andrew Wilson) I'll let you judge for yourself whether you think it's positive or negative.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Rebel Without a Cause

Anyone can break stuff. It takes brilliance/guts to make stuff and stick with it. Whether you're talking about gadgets, societies or philosopies, the principle basically is the same.  On philosophy, G. K. Chesterton observes:
“But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Monday, 7 October 2013

Saturday, 5 October 2013

A Modern Creed?

Many thoughts brewing in my head, without time to write them out...

In the meantime, here is a video with a hero of mine from my student days, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, quoting Steve Turner's observational poem "Creed."

Someone has taken the audio and coupled it to a montage of images then tagged a couple of Gospel verses on the end.  You may find some of the images disturbing:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Dispelling the Darkness

The supermarkets are stocking up for Christmas and we haven't even had Halloween yet!!

Regarding Halloween, perhaps the problem is not that we don't believe in evil, rather that we have allowed ourselves to be deceived by the notion that in the face of true goodness it has more power than really does:

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Cheap Grace Vs Costly Grace

Dietrich Bonoeffer was a German pastor and theologian in the early 20th century. When the Nazis tried to get the national church "on message" Bonhoeffer stood against them. He would later be sent to a concentration camp and hanged by piano wire not long before the end of WW2 for being part of a plot to assasinate Hitler.

In his book "The Cost of Discipleship" he makes a distinction between cheap grace and costly grace. Something to chew on:

Cheap grace...
"...means grace sold on the market like a cheapjack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut-rate prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! And the essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be, if it were not cheap?
. . . In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. . .
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.
. . .
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." 
(True) Costly Grace...
" the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake of one will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. . .
. . . Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "my yoke is easy and my burden light." { p. 45}

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Humble Servant Who Inherits the World

King David wasn't just a king, he was a prophet (Acts 2:30) and in Psalms 1 and 2 prophesied about Messiah as the humble servant who would appear in weakness (Psalm 1) yet who would be raised up to glory (Psalm 2) The two psalms should be taken as a whole (apparently).

Much of the Bible is arranged in chiasms. A chiasm is a literary form (like a limerick or a stanza is). It works like this:

Statement A
  Statement B
    Statement C
      Statement D (The crux of the story - or the tip of the arrow if you like the imagery)
    Statement C developed
  Statement B developed
Statement A developed

I'm not entirely sure if Psalm 1 and 2 are chiastic, they feel like they are, so have had some fun trying to rearrange them to see if they connect together, following this pattern:

Statement D
Statement A
Statement A developed
Statement B
Statement B developed
Statement C
Statement C developed.

Psalm 1 is in blue, psalm 2 in red, apart from statement D in purple:

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed (Christ), saying,
“Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles."

Blessed is the man (Christ) who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditate on his law day and night.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. 

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Am I trying too hard? Tell me what you think.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Little Note of a Nation

Came across this note in a my wife's study bible - a commentary on 2 Kings 14:23...
"Secular historians report that Omri and Jeroboam were the strongest kings of Israel. Under them, the nations gained new heights of power and prestige. But consistently, the book of Kings gives little notice to political strength. It judges kings on the basis of spirituality, and thus Omri and Jeroboam are dismissed in a few paragraphs.
The wealthy but corrupt state of the nation during this time can be seen in the books by Amos and Hosea, both of whom prophesied in the beautiful city of Samaria. Israel scoffed at these prophets' words of doom, but within 20 years, their dire predictions had come true."

Saturday, 7 September 2013

"Boring Holes in the Bottom of the Church" or Why Liberals might be more Evangelical than Evangelicals... [I hear you choking on your beverages already.]

Having thought a fair bit in recent weeks about how, in our culture, we assume spontaneity = authenticity, two interesting articles appeared on the Think Theology blog yesterday.

Whilst many Evangelicals flaunt their "Biblical fidelity," tacitly mocking the rest, people might actually be exposed to more of the Bible in a liberal anglican worship service than they are in most evangelical ones.


However trendy / relevant you are, you still have a liturgy (that is a form of worship service / meeting or whatever).  The question is, is it any good? Kevin De Young has been thinking aloud.

Finally, my wife stumbled across this article on the Guardian website.  I knew that the bible is a book of symphonic symmetry. Stuff the Da Vinci code, now the data proves it with these lovely infographs.

Source: The Guardian

Source: The Guardian

Monday, 2 September 2013

"Pentecost - A Paradigm Shift" Talk Notes

Audio on the church sermon archive.

Our minds are powerful things, constantly filling in the gaps in our knowledge so that our experience of life feels complete and we understand the big picture as best we can. Sometimes they do it well, but sometimes they get it wrong.

Reading the Bible often falls subject to that mental filling in. Pentecost and the events of Acts 2 are familiar to many of us. But in the absence of information, our imaginations - for better or worse - have done a lot of filling in the gaps. So to help us get a truer, fuller picture of what went on that day, we need the prophetic eyes of the Old Testament and more specifically the Book of Leviticus.

Leviticus is a book many Christians fear and so skim through or skip it altogether. Its rules, routines, rituals and bloody sacrifices all seem too alien to us. There are certain cultural myths we hold which make the reading of Leviticus unattractive:
  1. We assume without thinking that because we have made technological progress, we are superior to our forebears and don’t need to learn from the past.
  2. We assume without thinking that spontaneity makes us authentic and that ritual, routine and religion just turn us into robots.
  3. The place of worship in the Old Testament was a glorified abattoir. Most of us feel more revulsion at the thought of animal slaughter than the crucifixion of Jesus.
But if we could overcome our natural and cultural biases, we would find, for example, that the feasts that God set up in Leviticus 23 join all of history together and prophetically map out in symbols the whole of God’s salvation through Christ all the way from Jesus entering our world as one of us to God’s people enjoying eternal life with the Father, Son and the Spirit in a renewed creation. (See presentation slides for more info.)

So, in Leviticus 23, God command all his people to appear before him with two loaves of bread. What on earth is that about?

The Feast of Pentecost commemorated the first Pentecost, which took place at Mt. Sinai, 50 days after the Israelites came out of Egypt. Moses went up the mountain to meet with an incognito Trinity and he received the Law from them on two tablets, which from a distance at least, look like loaves of bread. Just as we eat bread to sustain our physical bodies, so the law of God was to be spiritual food for the Israelite souls and the imagery of this is all through the bible - e.g. Matt 4:4, John 4:34.

But instead of receiving this law gladly God’s people rebelled. (See Exodus 32) and a day that should have been full of joy and thanksgiving was filled with judgment and bloodshed as 3000 people were executed. For, whilst the law could cage the heart, it could not transform it (we know this from our own, often painful, experience). And whilst through the Law one could draw near to God, only in Christ - the promised one, could one be united to God.

These loaves also point forward to Jesus who obeys and fulfills the whole law in our place and is the true bread from heaven who sustains and restores us. Just as Moses went up the mountain to receive the law to pass on to the people, Jesus ascended into Heaven and received the Spirit whom he poured out freely on all who would come to him and on that day 3000 people were born again.

Pentecost is less a power encounter and more a personal encounter. At Pentecost, God gives us himself so that we would know him, love him and be transformed to be like him.

When Acts 2 opens saying they were all together in one place, that place was the temple along with millions of other Jews and God fearing people all come to celebrate the feast. The house they were in was God's house. And just as the Spirit of God came hundreds of years before to ignite the animal sacrifices and inaugurate his temple (2 Chron.7:1). Now, on the altars of human hearts God comes again to kindle a new fire as he sets up a new home.

But there's more, Leviticus 23 has what looks on the face of it an oddly placed command about sharing your harvest with the poor and the foreigner. What's that doing there?!

In many cultures and in the Bible, land is symbolic of inheritance. When parents die they will usually leave land or property to the children. The Israelites were told by God that they would inherit the land of Canaan after coming out of Egypt. Only ethnic Israelites had any right to the land (Lev 25). So any non-Israelite who wanted to join themselves to Israel like the Egyptians who left Egypt in the Exodus (See Ex.12:38) to worship Israel’s God would have no right to the land and this law was put in place so that Israelites and non Israelites could live and worship God together and Gentiles could share in the inheritance and blessing of Israel.

Fast forward to the end of Acts 2 and what do we see? God's people giving up their earthy inheritance to provide for those in need and testifying that their hope is no longer for an inheritance in this world, but for eternal life in the next. Cheesy as it sounds, love is our greatest witness to the world. Not miracles, not clever books and programmes, but love.

You may not feel like you need the love of God right now. You may not feel like you are sinning badly in life. But if you are not filled with the love of God you will at best do the spiritual equivalent of treading water and have no vision, no appetite and no energy to obey God, be transformed and transform the world.

Pray the words of Ephesians 3:14-21 over yourself, your church family and anyone else you want to see know the love of God.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Two Short Films by Adam Curtis

Two 6min films by my favourite documentary maker, Adam Curtis.

Whilst I don't agree with all of it, (and they are a bit tongue in cheek for Brooker's sake) I love the way he forces you to think with a heady mixture of archive footage, fictional films and emotive music.

That said, if I didn't have Christ, his films would utterly depress me.

NB some strong language used.

Ethiopia Expedition "Report"

This picture would have been even more breath-taking
if we had done an about turn with the camera!
So, it's a fortnight since we got back from our month in Ethiopia. This time I only appear to have brought back some flea bites! (That's not a metaphorical reference to my students.)

We spent most of the month under canvas with a few nights in lodges / hotels whilst on the road between destinations. Elli managed to do much more reading than me, getting through about three books. I managed about 150 pages of one slow going 600 pager. She reads much faster than me and it's annoying - in a lovely way.
Our "Beverly Hills" pitch
The locations of those pitches varied from inside an empty classroom in Gondar where we did our project to forest clearings in the Bale Foothills on the acclimatisation trek, to exposed alpine moorland atop the Bale Mountains. Our highest point was about 4200m during one afternoon when, after erecting tents, we climbed up a pyramid shape peak that towered over our campsite.

One of only 500 Ethiopian wolves left in the world.
I felt a little disappointed by the wildlife side of things. There was plenty of it (esp. fleas!!). That said, we couldn't expect it to be another Kenya, nor could we expect lots of animals to be out an about as the weather was pretty cold and cloudy a lot of the time. (We were there during the wet season.) Moreover, we went on foot with our guide looking for crocodiles! I'm relieved to say, we didn't find any. I would have screamed like Ned! Nevertheless, we did see Ethiopian wolves, oryx, monkeys, baboons, a tortoise, and hyenas.

Enforcing a bit of expedition hygiene.
For some in our troop, the concept of washing whilst away was a novel one. At various points we deftly constructed washing lines so that all the smells, if not all the stains, of expedition life could be excoriated from our clothes.

Most boys go on expedition thinking the hardest challenge will be the hike up the mountain, and then realise that the daily grind of doing simple routines well and getting on when you live in each others' pockets is actually the greatest challenge.  

Local guide waits for us lazy foreigners ("ferenge") to catch up. (Not really, he's a shepherd boy)
In total we did about ten days trekking. Our guides were doing Ramadan for a lot of it, never mumbling and even carrying our heavy bags for us! That'll teach me to moan when fasting!

I can only describe the scenery on our trek as stunning. God has blessed every corner of this good earth of his with all different kinds of beauty. Ethiopia was no exception.  That said, I can't be bothered to upload any more photos so google Bale mountains if you want a fix. :-)

For the project phase, we painted 2 murals.  Fortunately, we had some arty boys amongst us and Elli helped to design it. I only allowed myself to paint very simple big bits. I would have wrecked it otherwise.

We also concreted a classroom floor, mixing all the concrete by hand which was hard work for Westerners like us who aren't used to manual labour, but very satisfying. The project was set up by Link Ethiopia Some of their volunteers and staff you can see with us in the photo. They were lovely warm people. It was a great privilege to get to know them.

As it was never colonised by any European power (the Italians came the closest), Ethiopia, (not that I'm an expert) has a unique feel to it. The people we met were at one and the same time warm and engaging, and also industrious and and all in a refreshingly self-effacing way.

It was, as always, a privilege to go on expedition.

Map and itinerary below.

View Larger Map

Our itinerary flew us straight out of the capital (Addis Ababa) to Gondar, (A) where we did our project.
Bahir Dar (B) was a stop over on route to the Bale Mountains where we visited the source of the Blue Nile. 
Dodola (C) was where we began and completed our trek in the Bale foothills. 
Dinsho (D) was where we began and completed our main Bale mountain trek. 
Awash (E) was a national park in which we attempted to spot some wildlife. We had limited success.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Shaming as punishment, may not be as damaging as we first thought...

We, in the strange world of "Western Culture," may hate shame as an arcane, retrogressive means of discipline, but maybe, just maybe, there is more to it than that...

Life as one long set of tiring negotiations with no fixed "rules" and sense of place is possibly a more foreboding prospect than a rigid kind of conformism.

Anecdotally, I find it can be the most literate people who, whilst at the same time as claiming to be "enlightened" and "free," are insufferably neurotic and ironically bound.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

No "Shoot," Sherlock

The following video testifies to the fact that when Christians try to rid themselves of all that weird old jargon, (glorification, post-millennial tribulation, rapture etc.) all they do is end up creating new jargon (and a new sub-culture), except that the new stuff is worse.

At least we knew we didn't understand the old jargon and could ask for someone to explain it to us.

The problem with the new jargon is that all the individual words are ones we know, therefore we assume that we all get what we mean, yet when we string those words together in phrases and sentences, somehow the meaning becomes weird, but who wants to look stupid or treacherous by asking what they really mean?

When was the last time (apart from the expletives) you ever heard an average person talk like this...?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Ethiopia Expedition

Today, Elli and I, along with a team of boys from my school, are off to Ethiopia.

We'll be visiting the source of the Blue Nile, trekking in the Bale Mountains (see photo), doing a community project (painting / building) in a local school and wildlife spotting in the Awash National Park.

Growing up, I always assumed that Ethiopia was no more than a glorified dust bowl. The media focus back in the 1980s on famine and disease in one part of the country robbed me (until now) of any other opinion about (the rest of) it. I am ashamed to say that as I have researched around I'm stunned to learn that it is mostly lush and fertile, and has more history than you can shake a stick at. Not least the widely held cultural belief about the Ark of the Covenant.

Will be a fascinating month.

See you back here at the end of August.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Shaming the Tiger - Tony Anthony Exposed

After an investigation into his life story, evangelist Tony Anthony has this weekend been exposed as a fraud. Official statement from EA here. More detail here.

Tony came to Reading a number of years ago and many, including me, enjoyed hearing his (now largely fictitious) story.

Why did he do it? Was he an attention seeker? Did he want money? Was he addicted to the adrenaline rush of seeing many fall for his fairy story telling?

I don't know, it's probably not worth speculating either.

So what about all those who were converted at his meetings?

Whilst the life of the evangelist may have been a lie, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not. Whilst the jar of clay may have been faulty, the treasure inside it was not.

People who were dazzled by the wow factor of Tony's story and "gave their life to Christ" on the strength of that story, if they haven't fallen away already, will be rocked to the core. But those whom the Spirit of God touched, who were awakened to true faith in the gospel presentation he gave at the end, whilst being saddened by this development, will not be finally rocked.

As for the rest of us, it is business as usual. The early church preacher, Paul said in his letter to the Philippians that this kind of stuff was a fact of life (Phil. 1:15-18). He doesn't try to stop it or control it for in the whirlwind created by all this, some good will come. Not that he condones malpractice, (2 Cor. 4:1-2) but that he commits all these things that he can't control into the hands of God and runs hard in the task he has been called to, not deterred or distracted (1 Cor. 9:25-27). For whilst this turn of events will create a lot of noise and soul searching in the household of faith, the silent darkness and death, which holds many outside that household captive, is greater still.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

I don't have the stomach to baptize people naked...

...but it's apparently what the early church did.

Before you go and write them off as a bunch of whackos, listen to this food for thought:

Playlist here.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Another Theological Blooper! (Doh!)

In a prayer meeting last week, I was talking about how Elijah was fed by ravens in 1 Kings 19. That was false. He was fed by ravens in chapter 17. Sorry.

Christ himself fed Elijah in 1 Kings 19.

A beautiful foretaste of John 13:3-5 and Luke 12:37.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Undignified David

This morning, Elli and I read 2 Sam. 6. Here's what struck me as we read it.

David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. As the Ark is carried by the priests (the Levites) into the city, David follows behind it, dancing with all his might, wearing only a simple outer garment called a linen ephod.

When he gets home, his wife Michal, daughter of the now deceased King Saul, tells him that he, the king, has disgraced himself as a commoner. David's response comes as a surprise, I would guess, for even though on paper he is the King of Israel, he refers to himself as "but a prince."

Our strange 21st Century Western take on life means we automatically side with David as the guy who was bold enough to be an individual and express himself and his devotion to what he loved (in this case to God), the British Prime Minister might have jumped on the bandwagon and called for him to be knighted (topical joke at time of writing that probably only Brits will get) but the vast majority of history and geography would be on Michal's side. Here is a man doing something not just unfitting, but outrageous for those who have had high office conferred upon them.

Except that it is not unfitting in this case.  The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God and more specifically, the pre-incarnate Christ, with his people. It was the pre-incarnate Christ who told Samuel to anoint David king. As he dances and worships, David recognises that he is in the presence of the one who has given him everything he has.

Moreover, he refers to himself as a prince because ultimately, he is not the true king of Israel, he is a mere throne warmer for the greater king who was to come.  Christ, the true king, the true bridegroom represented by the ark would finally come to his people. In the face of this reality, David strips off all his garments of his kingly office, for he is not in competition with this king, he is merely looking after this greater king's kingdom in trust until he (Christ) comes to take it for himself.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Lycra Clad Men Chasing Each Other Around the Countryside...

So "The Tour" begins!

My wife kindly wasted four minutes of her life the other day patiently listening whilst I commentated on this video:

Not that I'm an expert, but when you enjoy something, you can't help but speak profusely about it and make it sound (at least to the ignorant) like you are.

I would love to do some of those mountain stages one day.

It's events like this along with so many other human activities which remind me that our common belief, that the story of our existence is survival, is a vain myth.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

In Christ, the Marriage of the Infinite to the Finite.

Ever found your head exploding with the idea of the infinitude of God? And if there was anything left of your head after that, did you ever ponder the mystery of how that infinite God could be united to temporary finite creatures like us?  How the impossible chasm would be crossed?

A. W. Tozer helps bring the beginnings of clarity to that subject in refreshingly (and ironically) few words. He writes in his book "The Knowledge of the Holy:"
...Of all that can be thought or said about God, His Infinitude is the most difficult to grasp. Even to try to conceive of it would appear to be self-contradictory, for such conceptualization requires us to undertake something which we know at the outset we can never accomplish. Yet we must try, for the Holy Scriptures teach that God is infinite and, if we accept His other attributes, we must of necessity accept this one too.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Video Round Up

From the darkly humorous:

To the simple and illuminating:

See more here

To the strongly encouraging...
Sean and Josh have also posted an excellent video on prayer here.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Out of the Storehouse...

Listening again to a message given by Terry Virgo at our church back in 2007 about how God is with us every day.  Explaining John 14:1-20.

Like water to a dry and thirsty soul. Listen here.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Driving a Stake into Political Correctness...

One way to control society and help people to accept what they have - is by recasting history.

For example, we could tell people that before the rise of enlightenment rationalism, everyone who ever lived was stupid, gullible, superstitious and illiterate... What...? We have already...? No...  Really...?  How clever!!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

"I really can't consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn't trying to convert me."

Quote taken from a fascinating article about why many young people (in the USA, at least) are embracing atheism.
"I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.... How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?"
Before going into self-flagellation mode, remember those who walk away have to be able to justify that to their own hearts, they wouldn't be able to live with themselves otherwise. No one in all of history has ever lived out their beliefs perfectly, apart from Jesus.  That's what makes the good news so scandalously good. Nevertheless, there is truth to be heard here, some of it is uncomfortable.

Maybe this is one reason why universalism is so appealing to many who remain in the church - one can absolve one's conscience and remove the fear of all potentially awkward social situations with a single knockout punch.

Full article here.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Something Divine in Them

Emperor Hadrian (the one who built the wall to keep the Scots out) persecuted Christians. One Christian - Aristides of Athens - wrote to the emperor in defense of his brothers and sisters.

It's interesting to see what he picks out as their distinctives. In his words, the divine life in them, leads them mainly to incredible self-sacrifice.
“The Christians know and trust the True God. They placate those who oppress them and make them their friends and they do good to their enemies. Their wives are pure, and their daughters modest. Their men abstain from unlawful marriage and from all impurity. If any of them have slaves they persuade them to become Christians because of the love that these masters have toward them and when they become believers their masters immediately call them brothers without distinction. They love one another. They do not refuse to help widows. If someone is doing violence to an orphan they rescue the child. He who has gives ungrudgingly to him who has not. If they see a stranger they take him to their dwellings and rejoice over him as over a real brother, for they do not call themselves brothers after the flesh but after the Spirit and in God. If anyone among them is poor and needy, and they do not have food to spare they fast for two or three days that they might supply him with the necessary food. They scrupulously obey the commands of their Messiah. Every morning and every hour they thank and praise God for His loving kindness toward them. Because of them there flows forth all the beauty that there is in the world. But the good deeds they do they do not proclaim in the ears of the multitude, but they take care that no one shall perceive them. Thus they labor to become righteous. Truly this is a new people and there is something divine in them.
I fall far short of this, but as Western democracies run out of steam in general, and money in particular, it may well be this kind of service that becomes a more familiar part of a Christian's daily discipleship.

For more, click here.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A Call To Anguish

David Wilkerson - famously preached the gospel in the ganglands of New York in the 1960s.

Here he is in his latter years on the difference between concern and anguish. A stirring clip from a full sermon found here.

I fear I have more concern than anguish - more of a furrowed brow than a broken heart.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Modern Art

Love this video found on Glen's blog, esp the clouds over the lake at 1:20...

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Domestic Bliss...?

Today has been the first Saturday I've felt like a proper husband as finally, after eight and a half years of living in this house, I mowed the lawn. (For the record, I'm not proud of that sentence.)

Not that lawn mowing is the epitome of husband-dom (not to be confused with husbandry) or masculinity more generally, but just that it's evidence of a certain settled state at which one has finally arrived and that there is someone living here now who cares if she can't see out of the kitchen window due to overgrowth. Whilst I did care before, I didn't care enough to get off my backside...

It has also been the first day of the year we've been confident enough of the weather to use the washing line:

Other feminizing touches to this former bachelor pad have included - cleaner bathrooms, flowers on the dining room table and more regular laundry cycles.

I have to admit it, my game is being raised...


Last night, Elli and I watched some world cinema: a French film (with subtitles) called Untouchable (Orig: Les Intouchables).

If you want a film that lives in some kind of reality and don't mind reading a bit as you go. This is one for you. The 15 certificate is more due to the real life adult themes portrayed as the story develops and not any gratuitous sex or violence.

It is an incredibly heart warming film, one to make you laugh and cry at the same time. And it's based on a true story.

Here's the trailer:

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Wedding Day

So at the "young" age of 35, having waited nearly six years, I finally married the love of my life, my dearly beloved Eleanor Joan a.k.a. Elli!

My best man, kindly treated me to a night in a hotel before the big day. A precious moment to reminisce over our friendship, hear his advice (he has been married 18 months or so) and thank God for all his goodness!

I slept surprisingly well, probably due to the stiff whiskey at the bar just before bed time, but still woke up ridiculously early - 4:30am.

The morning was very relaxed and so was I! Only when I spotted that the bridal carriage had arrived did I have a BIG sudden attack of nerves, but then I saw her face walking towards me, and all those nerves flew away! Her hands were in mine and mine in hers. Indescribable!

My father led proceedings and married us which was a great privilege as well as an echo of eternity. Even if he did get some banter in at his son's expense, he is allowed. I owe him so much and hope I can replicate his legacy as a husband and father.

We sang our songs of praise to God, supported by wonderful musical friends. Our great friend and inspiration, Sean Green preached magnificently and we declared our vows before God and in front of dear family and friends.

Up at the reception venue, my groomsmen - Richard, Scott, Craig, Sitho and Michael were amazing. Everything went like clockwork. They made me look really good! Personally, I am NEVER that organized!

The wedding breakfast consisted of spit roasted lamb with various accompaniments followed by delicious wedding cake made by our lovely friend DD.

My new father-in-law led out the speeches followed by me, my wife and the best man. Credit to the best man, after nearly 17yrs of friendship, there was no shortage of material available with which to send me up, and send me up he did!! That said, the foot in mouth moments from my own speech meant he didn't have to work very hard!

We then danced the night away with a celidah, well, til 10:30pm at any rate when the Astra, suitably transfigured into a love machine with all the usual kinds of matrimonial ribbons and decorations took us away to an undisclosed (up to that point) location!

Due to large to do lists that needed completing before the start of term as well as the process of interlocking our lives (especially our possessions) together in one house, we only had two nights away (a mini-moon) at a hotel spa resort in West Berkshire.  We were upgraded to the honeymoon suite free of charge. (Get in!!) Elli thought that only happened in the movies and I don't really watch movies!

As an aside, we wholeheartedly recommend all three of our venues, (the church, the reception at 3sixty, and the hotel) as well as our celidah band and caterers which we found through Google. We were so blessed!

Words are in no way sufficient to express how grateful my wife and I are for all the help we have received from so many in preparation for our wedding day. Not just because they saved us hundreds, even thousands, of pounds, but because of all the love of which this help was a demonstration. We are very blessed to have such wonderful families, a wonderful church family and wonderful friends. And we vow as a couple to show the same kind of love to those who come after us, not just those getting married, but for all those God puts in our path, whatever season they find themselves in. We are overwhelmed. God is good.

It has now been a week since that wonderful day and to my surprise, evidence of the occasion has hitherto proven sparse on the social media networks.  Not that I'm complaining, so here is my favourite photo to date, kindly forwarded by my brother. It's the moment after we were declared husband and wife during the celebration of the witnesses! I think it captures the beauty of my bride exquisitely:

Whilst I never cried on the day, I have been privately welling up since.
All the money in the world, could not have bought that smile on her face.
I am so blessed. The wait was worth it!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Atheistic Materialism (As Commonly Understood) Reflects a World the Rest of Us Don't Live In

Andrew Ferguson in the Weekly Standard comments how a famous philosopher Thomas Nagel has broken rank with the atheist herd in academia in his latest book. Nagel's central tenet is that trying to understand all of life in the context of atoms, molecules and higgs bosons etc leads to some very misleading conclusions about life that run directly against common sense. Ferguson in his observations about the book says...
The incredulity [that many have with materialism] is not simply a matter of scientific ignorance, as the materialists would have it. It arises from something more fundamental and intimate. The neo-Darwinian materialist account offers a picture of the world that is unrecognizable to us—a world without color or sound, and also a world without free will or consciousness or good and evil or selves or, when it comes to that, selflessness. “It flies in the face of common sense,” he says. Materialism is an explanation for a world we don’t live in.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

When Dave Bish links to you on Twitter....

...traffic to your blog increases exponentially!

I'll leave you in suspense as to what the scale on the graph is! ;-)

The God of the Old Testament is a Butcher, because the Christ of the New is a Chef

I'm inherently suspicious of anything that claims to be a panacea, nevertheless, Mike Bull sums up our queezy feelings of confusion towards the Old Testament well and offers the beginnings of a solution. He has written a book called "God's Kitchen" to help us 21st Century people overcome our dreadful modern blindness...

In his introduction he says...
The Best Cuts
The Bible is a violent, bloody book, and modern Christians have a problem with that. Atheists are right to accuse us of being embarrassed by our own scriptures. 
Not only is the Bible a bloody book, it is "unscientific" and therefore an irrational vestige of an intolerant and inequitable religion as far as modern society is concerned. 
Without the Old Testament, however, it is impossible to interpret the world rightly. Science cuts things up and tells us what they are made of, but its scope is limited when it comes to telling us what they are actually for.

Modern theologians are not much better when it comes to the "world" of the Bible. The constraint of their scientistic mindset leaves them struggling, clueless, with what the Apostle Paul means by the term "flesh," and yet also struggling with the significance of the careful instructions for the head, skin, flesh, offal, fat and legs of the sacrificial animals in Leviticus. The relevance of the fact that these fleshly animals were blameless substitutes for sinful, fleshly men entirely escapes them. Darwinism didn't only rewrite history; it usurped the intended, holy purpose of homology
The emaciated theology that remains to us is divorced from the real world. Peter Leithart writes: 
"Theology is a 'Victorian' enterprise, neoclassically bright and neat and clean, nothing out of place. Whereas the Bible talks about hair, blood, sweat, entrails, menstruation and genital emissions... Ponder these questions: Do theologians talk about the world the same way the Bible does? Do theologians talk about the same world the Bible does?"

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Rehash and Repost: Building up the Father's House

The book of Ruth feels like a wonderful little oasis of personal life that we can relate more easily to than all the killing and political machinations going on in the surrounding books. But let's be careful, lest we are too readily satisfied, interpreting this book in our own sentimental, romantic image and not looking for anything of greater depth.

Whilst the book is called Ruth, this is in a sense misleading, for it is about how God uses Ruth and Boaz to restore Naomi (Ru.4:14)

Monday, 1 April 2013

Taste, Smell and Sacrifice

Senses are important in the Bible.

For example we use our mouths and noses to take the world into ourselves. The life of the world (food and air) becomes our life as we eat and breathe it into our bodies.  Sexual union is also a kind of ritual eating as two become one.

Taste and smell are inextricably linked as you will know from the last time you had a cold. You can't taste anything and it is infuriating.

So when the Bible says that the prescribed sacrifices offered to God were a pleasing aroma to him, it isn't saying that the LORD caught a whiff of juicy steak being cooked down there on earth at the temple and so in a fit of mild envy and desire ordered his heavenly chefs to whip him up a bit of the same...

To smell something is to receive it and to take it into yourself.  The Angel of the LORD, the pre-incarnate Christ, the one who represented the Father to Israel, who dwelt enthroned above the ark of the covenant in the glory cloud over the tabernacle (and later the temple) would literally smell the aroma of the tens if not hundred of meat, grain and drink sacrifices being offered on any given day, a few metres away from him.

The aromas of sacrifice rise up to the LORD enthroned in the cloud above the Ark of the Covenant.
In receiving the aroma into himself he, the LORD, would remember his covenant, his anger at human rebellion would subside and he would again fellowship with his people.

Not that these animal and grain sacrifices did away with sin, but in smelling them, the LORD would be reminded of the day when he himself would come down from his throne, take the place of both priest and sacrifice and give himself as a pleasing offering to the Father, uniting Heaven and earth for ever.

To compliment all this, the BBC has done a documentary (available until 18 March) about our sense of taste. Science is catching up with the Bible. ;-)

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Eve, Mary and their Men - an Easter Meditation.

Back in Genesis 3, The first man, Adam a man made from the dirt of the ground, rebelled against God.

The man didn't physically die, but he spiritually did. For that rebellion he was judged dead even as he lived.

Spiritually speaking, the woman, Eve  - the mother of the living, was now a widow with nothing to look forward to but pain, bereft of her former husband, standing alone in the garden.

Fast forward to resurrection morning, and we pick up the scene almost as if we had never left the garden of Eden. The woman comes to the garden to mourn the man who has gone the way of all flesh - to judgement and death, yet when she gets there, she doesn't find him where she expects him. She finds him alive.

This is a wholly different kind of man - the true man - Jesus Christ. He steps in where Adam left off. He is alive, not dead. He is potent, not impotent.

The Old Testament church, symbolically a 4000 year old widow, is to marry again - not to the man of dust, but to the man from Heaven.

The book of Ruth symbolically tells this story too...

Saturday, 30 March 2013


Three great videos, one great truth:

ht: Glen

The third one won't embed, but it's here, and it's awesome!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Chris Tomlin's Latest Album

After a recent recommendation, I purchased the new Chris Tomlin album. Good stuff! Am singing it to myself as I go about my business.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Stagtion (Short for Stag Action)

Evidence of the relatively gentle treatment I received on my stag do here.

Am grateful to God for friends like these. :-)

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Song for a Wedding

One of the songs we will all sing on 6th April, but that some may not know. So hum along for a little bit of hymn practice ahead of time:

It's a cracker!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Attack in the Garden

In Genesis 3, the Serpent attacks the bride (a big theme in the Bible). Here, that bride is Eve. And what does Adam do?  Nothing, absolutely nothing.

The chapter division between Gen 2 and 3 is unhelpful because we then go and assume a time gap that isn't there in the original text. It should flow together as one...
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’...?”
The serpent enters the garden, tempts Eve, and rather than grabbing that serpent by the tail and whirlling it around his head in order to launch it out of the garden,  Adam as head of the marriage, quietly nods his head to Eve as she contemplates eating, then joins her in the rebellion. (Note here, Eve is deceived, Adam is deliberately disobedient - you can tell this because there is no judgement pronounced on the woman - she will have pain, but Adam - as a head, is judged a dead man.)

Contrast this with the "Last Adam" - Jesus Christ. When the serpent comes to the Garden of Gethsemene - Jesus bolts out to the front of his men to protect them (John 18):
Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. Jesus answered,
“I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
Adam's curiosity was such that he was happy to risk watching his wife "kick the bucket," knowing that God could take another rib and make another wife. When she didn't immediately writhe, scream, choke, keel over and die, He figured he would have a go too.  Eve trusted her husband and her husband betrayed that trust.

Jesus does everything to protect his people - his bride, giving himself up so that she might live. Here is a bridegroom who can be trusted to death - and through death - to new life (John 10:11,17-18).

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Visit a Gold Mine and Get Some Free Gold!!!

Four talks on how to read the Bible. (Don't switch off, keep reading, I am willing to bet money, you haven't heard this stuff before.)

Whether you're a pastor of a church or a new Christian there is a load of gold here for you.

The talks are not so much about giving you information, as about giving you new eyes to see what you couldn't see before.  Following Jesus in Matt.13:22, Jordan helps us to see that the Bible is less a manual and more a seed, that transition has MASSIVE implications for the way you think.

Even at 63, he has the joyful, inquisitive mind of a child, (Matt.18:3) something we so easily and tragically lose as we get older and try to act all cool and sophisticated...

We are, after all, eternal children.

Assumption is the Mother of Disastrous Bible Reading

If you're like me, then up to today, you will have assumed that David and Jonathan were about the same age - brothers in arms etc etc. Had they grown up in the same town, they would have been the two lovable, mischievous friends - the adorable rascals who did exploits together.

But when you put the numbers together, Jonathan was at least 10 years older than David, and probably more - possibly up to 20 years older.

This piecing together of the story, puts a very different spin on the friendship of the two men.  It was more one of mentor-mentee or master-apprentice or (if you like Kung-Fu films) Sensei and Uchei-Deshi.

Jonathan not only gave up the kingship to David, he clearly prepared this young pup for that succession.  That makes Jonathan an even more godly man than I first thought.

Some would say that is not a disastrous assumption to dispel.  True, but that's the problem with assumptions, you don't realise they're there or how damaging they are until you come out from under them.

Wonder what else I am falsely assuming... and therefore labouring under...?

Friday, 1 March 2013

Virtual Reality

I knew CG was big in action films, but this little film shows just how ubiquitous it has become, from blockbuster beat-em-ups to split-second everyday touch-ups. Like so much else, it's all about covering and illusion.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Peering into the Invisible

If you wanted proof that when we threw off "religion" - we replaced one load of weird unintelligible language with another, here it is. (Available until Thursday 28 Feb)

Friday, 22 February 2013

Rational Madness

Will Storr in his book: The Heretics thinks out loud about his beliefs. I think he speaks eloquently for most if not all of us.
I consider - as everyone surely does - that my opinions are the correct ones. And yet, I have never met anyone whose every single thought I agreed with. When you take these two positions together, they become a way of saying 'Nobody is as right in as many things as me.' And that cannot be true. Because to accept that would be to confer upon myself a Godlike status. It would mean that I possess a superpower: a clarity of thought that is unique among humans. Okay, fine. So I accept that I am wrong about things - I must be wrong about them. A lot of them. But when I look back over my shoulder and I double check what I think about religion and politics and science and all the rest of it,... well I know I'm right about that... and that... and that and that and - it is usually at this point I start to feel strange. I know that I am not right about everything, and yet I am simultaneously convinced that I am. I believe these two things completely, and yet they are in catastrophic logical opposition to each other.

It is as if I have caught a glimpse of some grotesque delusion I am stuck inside. It is disorientating. It is frightening. And I think it is true to say it it not just me - that is - we all believe that we are right about everything and by extension we are all wrong.