Friday, 16 December 2011

Human Rights or Justice?

In our modern or post-modern Western cultures we tend to view human rights as the highest value, which means we like to fight for our rights, even though we mostly live in countries that are very free, and where there is little real poverty. This is not the case elsewhere in the world, and it is worth taking a moment to ask how the Bible addresses issues like the woman who was imprisoned as a result of having been raped:

Rather than talking about human rights, the Bible discusses such issues in terms of justice. God is righteous (has right actions) and just (fair) and expects us to behave in the same way. "Always judge your neighbors fairly, neither favoring the poor nor showing deference to the rich' (Lev 19:15). In the Psalms it is common for the oppressed to cry out to God for vindication:

They gape at me and say, "Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it."  O LORD, you have seen this; be not silent. Do not be far from me, O Lord.  Awake, and rise to my defence! Contend for me, my God and Lord.  Vindicate me in your righteousness, O LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me.
Psalm 35:21-24  

In Isaiah justice is emphasised in a new way:

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;  wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong,  learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
Isaiah 1:15-17  

What we need today is not human rights, but a fear of God who is just, and who carries out his just judgments against oppressors of the poor and weak and needy.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Is the God of the Old Testament a God of Wrath (Part 3)

3. The God of the Old Testament
 There aren’t that many statements about God’s nature in the Bible, actually. We usually find out about what God is like by what he does. He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – our God is a rescuer. But there are some statements in the Old Testament about what God is like. One can be found in the Psalms:

‘Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.’ Psalm 89:14, NIV.

The word used for ‘love’ is, of course hesed.

Even this verse, once unpacked, comes out to explain God’s activity. Righteousness is right living, right behaviour. Justice is right judgment, good decisions. Love and faithfulness describe God’s constant, faithful love, the love that will not let us go. Take a minute to read Psalm 89. Is it describing what God is like, His nature, or is it describing God’s actions? Surely it is the latter. And it is a well-known song about God’s covenant-agreement with David, that God would always allow a descendant (‘son’ or ‘seed’ in Hebrew) of David to sit on the throne. When David wanted to build a temple, a house of God, he was told that it wasn’t his job. In a brilliant piece of irony, God replied by saying ‘you will not build my house, I will build your house’ in other words God was promising David a dynasty, a line of kings that would always sit on the throne of Israel (2Sa 7). Or a king, the son of David, that would sit on the throne of the kingdom for ever.

Now you’re going to say to me, ‘It’s all very well talking about God’s faithfulness to David and to his people Israel, but what about his commands to kill all the foreign tribes living in the promised land at the time of Joshua?’ Of course we find such things difficult. Not that life has changed that much – we only need look at Ruanda, Iraq, or even Easter Europe to see that. But for God to actually command the genocide of the peoples living in Canaan seems much more extreme. Why would God do that? Well, I think we need to understand that God, in the Old Testament, is seen as the God of all the nations, not just the God of Israel. He has the right to sit in judgment on any nation. So if a nation were to disobey him, and oppose the Israelites, or begin to carry our terrible practices like human (or even child) sacrifice, then God’s wrath is bound to fall on that nation. Just look at the Amorites. Way back at the time of Abraham the Amorites were beginning to turn against God:

‘Then the LORD told Abram, "You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, and they will be oppressed as slaves for four hundred years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (But you will die in peace, at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, when the sin of the Amorites has run its course." As the sun went down and it became dark, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, "I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River-- the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites."’ Genesis 15:13-21 NLT

The conclusion of this story is found in Numbers 21. The Israelites ask to pass peacably through Amorite territory. The Amorite leader refuses, and the Amorites march out in battle against the Israelites, who defeat them and occupy their land. That’s not to say that we expect to occupy land in the same way today. How terrible would that be? No, we know that the kingdom of God is not that kind of kingdom. It is a kingdom advanced by prayer, and built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. But those who read parts of the Old Testament and judge them according to Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom or on loving our enemies are being anachronistic (out of time sequence). We don’t expect to find motorbikes in the Bible, or digital watches on the arms of Roman centurions. Neither should we expect to find Old Testament leaders following Jesus’ teaching. There was one Central Asian Bible published that only had the New Testament, Psalms, and Genesis – in that order. One old man was reading it through, got to Genesis, and said ‘Abraham was a bad prophet. He didn’t follow Jesus’ teaching!’

The other thing about the Bible is that it contains a whole range of genres, as I explained in part 1. When we read expressions of hate against the Babylonians (in the Psalms), these do not necessarily represent God’s view of those peoples. On the other hand anyone who unjustly oppresses another people, wipes out part of them, and marches the rest into captivity in their own country is bound, sooner or later, to find that they have been opposing God not man. They may find that God raises up another leader, or another people, to replace them. I’m talking about the Persians, who took over the Babylonian empire, and allowed God’s people back into Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple.

Well, what can we learn from all of this? It can be hard to understand all of God’s actions, but we have to trust that He knows what is right, and will always be true to those who follow Him. Those who turn against Him and start to carry out wrong or even evil behaviour will, sooner or later, find that they come up against the Judge of all the earth, who will do right (Gen 18:25).

More to follow…

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Is The God of the Old Testament a God of Wrath? (Part 2)

2. Faithful Love in the Old Testament

There’s a very important Hebrew word in the Old Testament.


It occurs 251 times. It’s primary meaning is love. A love that is faithful. A love that endures. The first time it’s used is in the story of Lot escaping the destruction of Sodom:

‘You have already been very good to your servant and shown me even greater love by saving my life, but I cannot flee to the hills, or disaster will overtake me and I shall die.’

Then Abraham uses it as he talks to his wife and half-sister, Sarah:

'So when God made me wander far from my father's home I said to her, "There is an act of love you can do me: everywhere we go, say of me that I am your brother." '

After that is used four times in the story of Abraham’s servant looking for a wife for his son Isaac. The servant travels to the old ancestral homeland of Abraham’s family, and prays hard before trying to find the wife intended by God for Isaac:

‘And he said, 'Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, give me success today and show faithful love to my master Abraham.’ (Gen 24)

Once Rebekah has been found he prays again:

‘Blessed be Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, for not withholding his faithful love from my master. Yahweh has led me straight to the house of my master's brother.’

Rebekah is willing, but her father Bethuel and brother Laban still need convincing. So Abraham’s servant says this:

‘Now tell me whether you are prepared to show constant and faithful love to my master; if not, say so, and I shall know what to do.’ [here a synonym is used: emet, meaning constancy or faithfulness]

They give their permission and the story ends happily ever after – Abraham’s servant takes Rebekah back to Isaac to be married.

Yahweh has close relationships with some of his people. Joseph is one of these. We read that, ‘Yahweh was with Joseph. He showed him faithful love and made him popular with the chief gaoler.’ (Gen 40)

Another was Moses. When Moses asked to experience being in Yahweh’s presence, this is what we read:

Then Yahweh passed before him and called out, 'Yahweh, Yahweh, God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy, maintaining his faithful love to thousands, forgiving fault, crime and sin, yet letting nothing go unchecked, and punishing the parent's fault in the children and in the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation!' (Exo 34)

Yahweh is the God who revealed himself to Moses as the God who makes a covenant of love with His chosen people:

7 ‘Yahweh set his heart on you and chose you not because you were the most numerous of all peoples -- for indeed you were the smallest of all- 8 but because he loved you and meant to keep the oath which he swore to your ancestors: that was why Yahweh brought you out with his mighty hand and redeemed you from the place of slave-labour, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 From this you can see that Yahweh your God is the true God, the faithful God who, though he is true to his covenant and his faithful love for a thousand generations as regards those who love him and keep his commandments, 10 punishes in their own persons those that hate him. He destroys anyone who hates him, without delay; and it is in their own persons that he punishes them.’ (Deu 7)

But the crowning glory of this word is its use in the songs of David and of the people of Israel, the book of Psalms. Here is a brief selection of the 128 occurrences in their songbook:

Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life. I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come. (Psa 23)

Each morning fill us with your faithful love, we shall sing and be happy all our days…
(Psa 90)

As the height of heaven above earth, so strong is his faithful love for those who fear him.
(Psa 103)

And in one Psalm the word is used as part of a refrain in each verse:

Alleluia! [Praise Yahweh] Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Give thanks to the God of gods, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his faithful love endures for ever.
He alone works wonders, for his faithful love endures for ever… (Psa 136)

My favourite is probably this one:

Blessed be Yahweh, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle,
my faithful love, my bastion, my citadel, my Saviour; I shelter behind him, my shield, he makes the peoples submit to me. (Psa 144)

It seems that Yahweh, the God who delights to have close relationships with His people, both Jew and non-Jew, enjoys it when we delight in Him and his faithful love for us. A God of wrath? Not by intention, only by exception.

(Quotes are from the New Jerusalem Bible).

Is The God of the Old Testament a God of Wrath?

1. The Nature of the Bible

The Bible was not written by God.

Not quite.

It was written by many many human authors, who were inspired by God.

There is a subtle difference. It means that the message is incarnate in the culture of whatever time the message was revealed in. In the case of Moses we’re talking about a long, long time ago. About 2,500 years. This is easily forgotten.

And Moses had an axe to grind, a people to lead, a fledgling nation to unite. So when we criticise his successor, Joshua, for genocide, we need to remember that if hadn’t been for that genocide there would have been no nation, no history of Israel, and no Messiah. How would that feel? What would that be like? It’s hard for us to imagine.

The Bible is written in all kinds of different genres. We have teaching (‘law’), prophecy, songs (‘psalms’), proverbs (‘wisdom’), parables (stories with a point), and letters, amongst others. None of these were written in a vacuum. Paul may have been aware that letter he wrote to, for example, the church in Corinth, was about to become scripture, but he still intended his message for that particular audience. Songs are not meant to be read but sung, or chanted. Parables are pithy sayings designed to make us think. They were designed to help us live. Practical stuff for us to mull over. Teaching is supposed to be followed – but like any good sermon, the teaching always gives us reasons for obeying. It is a mixture of divine wisdom from above, and grounded common sense.

Coming back to Moses, it is quite likely that his teaching was born from a life spent solving problems, as well as spending time in Yahweh’s presence in the Tent of Meeting. Eventually he appointed seventy elders to help him in his task. We can imagine him getting these elders together:

‘Hey, anything interesting happen today?’

And he would listen to them as they passed on the more interesting cases. From this wealth of experience Moses wrote some of the laws. Others were simply borrowed from the surrounding cultures, though adapted to fit Yahweh’s high standards of righteousness, justice, love and faithfulness (Psa 89:14).

So, when we sit down to read the Bible, we first need to take time to think ourselves into their time and their culture. Otherwise we may be guilty of jumping to conclusions.

The big issue, it seems to me, is this – do we take the authors’ views as God’s verbatim word to us now, as culturally conditioned, or something in-between?

By the way, this is how the Jews categorise their Bible, what we call the Old Testament:

• Genesis – Deuteronomy Teaching
• Joshua – 2 Kings Former Prophets
• Isaiah – Malachi Latter Prophets
• Psalms, Proverbs etc. Writings

The main difference is that what we blandly call ‘history’ is thought of as ‘prophecy’ by the Jews. This makes much more sense. Prophets spoke God’s word into the political situation they had to live in. If a leader (king) failed to follow God’s standards of righteousness, justice, love and faithfulness, they were eventually removed or replaced by someone who would. Or, rather, might.

More tomorrow...

Monday, 1 August 2011

Moses – Freedom to Serve (Part 2)

Freedom means a different kind of life v5
We once had a landlord who told us, “I don’t think God would ever do no one no ‘arm”. There are different views of God. That's a view of a passive God who wishes all well. It's not quite accurate. In the Narnia book 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe', one of the children asks:

“Is Aslan quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Before God could use Moses, Moses had to realise something about God – God is Holy. He is other, separate. There is no one like him. As we come to worship the LORD we stand on holy ground. Worship isn’t just going through the motions, a bit of singing, some prayers we all say ‘Amen’ to. It is coming into the presence of the LORD. And as we do that we may sense fear, a holy fear:

It’s good to be afraid. 1:17, 21 midwives feared God more than Pharoah. God rewarded them with families of their own.

Words spoken to the Israelites as thick darkness covered Mnt Sinai (cf v12): Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Exo 20:20 NIV (!). Something of a paradox. We need not be afraid, because our fear of the LORD will keep us from sinning. Then we will have no fear of punishment. Jim Graham: ‘Where there are good morals, there we find good morale.’

The freedom the world offers is in fact slavery and results in an ever-decreasing sphere of spiritual involvement and influence. The freedom Christ offers us is true freedom. We find freedom in listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and living in obedience to that voice, if it is confirmed by the teaching we find in the Bible.

Many religious groups are based on fear. We have a relationship based on love, and freedom to serve. This means a change in our attitudes and lifestyle.

And there have to be rules. Society needs rules. Exodus had rules about, for instance, whether you can kill a burglar who breaks into your house (not if it’s daylight!) or what to do if someone is in debt to you (let him work for you until the debt is paid off then give him his freedom). Without rules we end up with chaos – as we found out in Pizza Hut last week!

Are you living a life of freedom? v8-10
Having said that, the Christian life is not a life of drudgery, of keeping to rules, of ‘being good’. Story: when I became a Christian (doing more washing-up). Who is the author of salvation? (God). Not us. God is the agent, the author, the initiator, the beginning and the end of our salvation. Where can we find out about that salvation? (In the Bible). God is the one who saves and redeems. He brought his people out of slavery to freedom. Moses tried on his own, and failed. With the help of the Great I AM, he succeeded. Are you doing this faith thing on your own? Or have you plugged into the endless reservoirs supplied by Yahweh, I AM? I mentioned Stalin earlier. His predecessor, Lenin, once said, ‘It is true that liberty is precious – so precious that it must be rationed.’ Freedom in Christ is not rationed! ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free... ’ Gal 5:1. See Col 2:9-17.

This leads to freedom from sin, and freedom to serve. Freedom to be holy. To be part of God’s chosen people. Do you know yourself to be part of God’s people? Do you know you are set free? Are you able to serve?

Jesus has a manifesto. It’s written in the Bible. It’s not like polititians’ manifestos (promise now, don’t pay later). Jesus’ keeps to his words, always. Do you know where his manifesto is? It’s in Luke chapter 4.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.” [quote of Isa 61:1]

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus also proclaims freedom for the oppressed, today. We may not be under some kind of economic yoke of oppression, but many in the world are. What are we doing to help release them from their slavery? Let’s begin to have a world-perspective today!
What about the spirtually-oppressed? Those enslaved to fears to do with folk practices – charms, amulets, the evil-eye? When will they hear the Good News about Jesus Christ, who can free them from all of that?

Ultimately we find freedom in being part of God’s people, with our eyes fixed on heaven. He brings us into a land (Kingdom of God) of liberty:

My country, ‘tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountain-side
Let freedom ring. (America, 1831)

Do you feel:
• at peace?
• free?
• are you resting in Christ?
• able to serve?
• If you’re already serving have you run out of steam, because you’re doing it in your own strength?

Moses – Freedom to Serve (Part 1)

What comes into your head when I say the word ‘Moses’? Leader? Law-giver? Redeemer? Burning-bush? Bricks without straw? ‘Pharoah’? ‘Miracles’? ‘Passover lamb’? For me it’s this: ‘Go down, Moses, way down Egypt land, tell old, Pharoes, let my people go!’ A ‘spiritual’ - song sung by African-American slaves.

God wants people to be free 2:24
We have seen and heard the appalling news from horn of Africa. And of course from Norway. Poverty and oppression.
Poverty and oppression -- the two are often linked. But God sees, and God cares 2:24-25, 3:7 . He was in special relationship with the Israelites through their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs. (Though God is a God who delights to bring liberty to all peoples: ‘"Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?’ Amos 9:7). But here we see God about to make another covenant with His people: `You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites." In Exodus 19:4-6 we see that freedom and obedience are linked.

God Calls us to a place where we are free to serve v4
Once before Moses tried to lead the Israelites. It all went badly wrong. He wasn’t at all in a place where he could serve God by leading the Israelite people.
The dark side of leadership: most leaders have a dark (driven) side to them. One thinks of Stalin – ‘Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union’(!), or Hitler – ‘One realm, one people, one leader’ . Moses was no exception. He liked to take charge, to take matters into his own hands. When things didn’t work out he ran. It took him 40 years of life spent in the Midian desert before he was ready to hear God’s call to be a servant-leader of the Israelite people. Have you got anything you need to be released from before you can serve?

And he felt very unworthy of this call:
‘Who am I?’ v11 It’s not a bad sign to feel insecure. It keeps us from pride (though a very low self-esteem can also be a sign of pride, or lack of faith).
‘I am with you’ v12 Reassurance from the LORD. The I AM (Yahweh – used to be Jehovah.) of the Bible – personal God. God who relates. God who remains the same – a loving, faithful God. Have you met him? Do you know him? Are you resting in God who you know loves you?

‘I am with you’. The I AM of the Bible is with us. It is our enemy who needs to fear. His fear should be of biblical proportions!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Children of Abraham

NT Wright says:

'What then is this vindication, this dikaiosis? It is God’s declaration that a person is in the right; that is, (a) that their sins have been forgiven, and (b) that they are part of the single covenant family promised to Abraham.'

Many Muslims get hung up over the Jewish terminology in the Bible. Phrases like 'salvation is from the Jews' (John 4:22) are particularly difficult. Why 'from the Jews'? Why not 'from the Arabs'? Any Muslim would be far happier with the latter statement.

But if NT Wright is correct, then justification, or vindication as Wright calls it, is not only to do with our individual relationship with God, but also to do with our membership of the community of believers that goes right back to Abraham. And we need to remember that Abraham was the father, in physical terms, of not only Isaac but of Ishmael too (the ancestor of the Arabs). In spiritual terms he is the father of us all. Either way the Arabs are included in the grace of the gospel, and need not fear exclusion on the basis of race. The only condition of becoming a believer is being able to state, with Paul, that 'Jesus is Lord'. Since Muslims acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, it is only a small step to also believe in him as king.

The more extreme followers of a militaristic form of Islaam need to be careful, however.

'The united multi-ethnic church is a sign of God’s healing and remaking of the cosmos and also thereby a sign to Caesar and his followers that his attempted unification of the world is a blasphemous parody.' (ibid.)

The attempted unification of all earthly powers into an Islaamic Ummah ('community') with Sharia being enforced on all citizens is a modern-day parody of the multi-ethnic people of God. This, we must resist, by boldly stating 'Jesus is Lord'. No earthly leader, king, or system is above Jesus.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Articles on MIT

I've just uploaded a couple of articles on M Idiom Translation to google docs. You will need to have permission to view them - write to me at and I'll set it up for you. Here are the links:

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Those Pesky Foreigners! (Exodus 12)

When the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt, it turns out that there were non-Israelites among them! This is a wonderful preview of how it would be in the New Age (of the NT) when God would create one man/race out of the two (Jew and Gentile):

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2 NIV

And when the Israelites celebrated the passover feast, in haste, to remember how they had been brought out of Egypt in a big hurry (hence naan bread being the only bread available! The first curry houses in the world?!), there would have been some foreigners eating it with them. But those who took part in the feast had to be circumcised to show that they were counted as being among God's people. This means that today, despite our eagerness to include one and all, we do need to remember that as we gather for communion, it is believers that are welcome. Those with circumcised hearts, as Paul puts it in Romans 2.

Take a moment to read Exodus 12, especially verses 43-51:

43 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the festival of Passover. No foreigners are allowed to eat the Passover lamb. 44 But any slave who has been purchased may eat it if he has been circumcised. 45 Hired servants and visiting foreigners may not eat it. 46 All who eat the lamb must eat it together in one house. You must not carry any of its meat outside, and you may not break any of its bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate this festival at the same time. 48 "If there are foreigners living among you who want to celebrate the LORD's Passover, let all the males be circumcised. Then they may come and celebrate the Passover with you. They will be treated just as if they had been born among you. But an uncircumcised male may never eat of the Passover lamb. 49 This law applies to everyone, whether a native-born Israelite or a foreigner who has settled among you." 50 So the people of Israel followed all the LORD's instructions to Moses and Aaron. 51 And that very day the LORD began to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, division by division. Exo 12 NLT

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

True Worship

John 4:19-26 19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." 21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." 25 The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." 26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

Lots of discussions about the building. Development cttee. PCC. But is the building really that important? (The Grk word for ‘church’ means ‘gathering’). Illustration – royal wedding (Westminster Abbey wasn't really in focus, was it?).
Samaritans (N kingdom of Israel, deported to Assyria, those left behind intermarried with foreigners who had been encouraged to move there, who only had the Pentateuch, and who’s worship was focussed on Mount Gerizim – 400BC rival temple, now destroyed) were looking for ‘one like Moses’. Their word for a Messiah figure. That comes out in the woman’s dialogue. She says, ‘I can see that you are a/the prophet?’

Not a place. 'Neither... nor...' v21.
Yet salvation does come through Christ, the Messiah, who was a Jew. ‘…we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews’.
He came full of grace and truth (1:14, 17). He is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (14:6).
After the resurrection and ascension, Jesus sent his Spirit, the Holy Spirit (Spirit of truth 14:17, 15:26; 16:23). The Spirit leads us into truth.

The Father seeks worshippers. Normally we seek God (e.g. in Psa ‘I seek your face’). Here, and in parable of lost sheep (Mat 18:12) and in the parable of the lost coin (Luk 15:8), both showing us that ‘the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost’ (Luk 19:10) we have God seeking us.
Sacred Romance – Brent Curtis and John Eldredge is a great book to read on this subject.
Romances are pretty up and down. Fairly unpredictable. Relationships with people in general can be unpredictable. The word for ‘Spirit’ in the NT is the same as the word for ‘wind’. When explaining how to be born again to Nicodemus, Jesus says: ‘The wind [=Spirit] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound [=voice], but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."’. 3:8 Let’s be ready for the unpredictable!
Are places important?
That isn’t to say that places are unimportant. The place where you met your wife, or had your honeymoon. But they are places connected with a person, not a religion.
So we need to think more about our relationship with Jesus Christ. We can do that as individuals, but also as a community focussed on Him. He is our life. He, by His Holy Spirit, leads us into all truth. He shows us the way to the Father.

1. How are we doing in our relationship with Jesus Christ:
a. What gets in the way?
b. What could be improved?
2. How are we doing in our relationship with each other – are we encouraging each other to follow the Lord more closely?
3. Are we ready for the unpredictable? (On Sunday, Malc was talking about our lives being more out of control, as God begins to work).

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Spirit

In the Old Testament there are at least sixteen ways of talking about the Spirit coming on people:

  1. (the Spirit) rested on

  2. (the Spirit) was put on

  3. in whom is the Spirit

  4. (the Spirit) came on

  5. (the Spirit) stirred up

  6. (the Spirit) clothed

  7. (the Spirit) rushed upon

  8. (the Spirit) carried

  9. (the Spirit) caught (him) up

  10. (the Spirit) lifted (me) up

  11. (the Spirit) was poured on

  12. full of (power and) the Spirit of the LORD

  13. I have put my Spirit on

  14. (the Spirit) entered into

  15. (the Spirit) fell upon

  16. in the Spirit

Many of these are in little-read books like Numbers, Judges, and Ezekiel! What a lot we're missing out on by neglecting these wonderful books...

Today I've been checking these in the Old Testament - if you want a list of references I can send them to you, and you can study them for yourself :)

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

As we translate

As we translate the Old Testament, we are not bringing a message from God for the ‘xyz’ people (contemporary people group). We are, instead, translating a message from God for the Israelite people, and allowing the ‘xyz’ people to listen into that message.

What difference does that make? A fundamental one. It means that we do not have the liberty to change that message. The message remains the same (to rephrase an old song title); it is the hearers who have changed. This can be represented diagrammatically. God (agent) inspires author (instrument) like so:

Author writes [Message A] to Israelite people:

Author =[A]=> Israelites

Translator translates [Message A] so that people group ‘xyz’ can understand it:

Translator =[A’]=> People ‘xyz’

In doing so the [Message A] becomes [Message A’] i.e. it resembles Message A but may have some subtle differences due to the fact that people ‘xyz’ live at a different time and have a varying culture (with its associated language). But, and do notice this, Message A is still fundamentally the same message. We cannot and should not change this message to make it communicate more easily. If there are things that people ‘xyz’ do not understand, because of the time and culture differences I mentioned earlier, we should explain those, but not in the text. To do so would change the message – it would no longer be message A but would be transformed into message B.

Therefore it is important that translators understand that they are not in the business of bringing a message of God for their people, as if they were some kind of prophet. The prophet lived centuries ago in Israel or Judah. The translator is a faithful witness to the oracle that the prophet delivered, they do not themselves receive a message for the people, however inspired they feel in their work and by the words they are translating. That’s why Bible translators need to know the history and culture of the books they are translating. They should be encouraged to dig deep into God’s word and books that explain it, in an effort to be able to read the Old Testament book as if they were one of the original recipients of it in Ancient Israel. Only then can they begin to think how they can express that message in their own language, and to people of their own culture. To give a concrete example, when someone in Ancient Israel received some bad news, they would take off their clothes, put on sackcloth, and sit in dust and ashes to show the fact they were mourning. The translator will realise that people of their culture do not do this, but will still want to talk about sackcloth and ashes in the translation. If necessary they will put in a footnote or write some other kind of explanatory text, saying that Israelites used to practice this when mourning. What the translator cannot do is change the expression of mourning to something from their own culture. This is because to do that would be to change history.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Broken Cisterns

(Jeremiah 2:1-13)

Have you ever tried to make a pool at the seaside? No matter how often the children bring buckets of water from the sea, the water seeps away into the sand.
Broken cisterns. They are no good. Their purpose is to hold water, yet they don’t.

The people of Israel have committed two evils (v13, cf 5, 11):

1. They have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters. It is the Lord who satisfies. We can drink our fill at the fountain He provides. In fact there is no other fountain. Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in you. He is the centre, the sun in our planetary motion. So Q1 is ‘are you close to the LORD? Do you hear from Him, walk closely with Him?’

2. They hewed out (dug) broken cisterns for themselves. v20-25 paints a pretty vivid picture of what this means. We can’t blame anyone else. When we go away from the Lord we sin. (It’s amazing how children try and blame parents for their bad behaviour. The parents do everything they can for the children. The discipline them for their own good, but when the children are given just a little leeway they go off and do something stupid. They then come home and say, ‘You brought me up to behave like this. It’s your fault.’) No, we alone are responsible for the turning away. These cisterns cannot hold water – the very job they are designed to do, they cannot do. BTW when it rains, who provides the water? Is rain something we can control? Even if you hew out a cistern, you are relying on the Lord’s provision. Though it would be better to go to the fountain. But it’s no good building a cistern if it’s cracked, and the water seeps away.

Yet that is what we do all the time We replace the genuine (presence of the Lord) with the artificial (methods, music and other kinds of madness). No sane person would do this. If you found a source of something good you’d hang onto it. If you found a seam of gold you’d go and buy the land. You’d sell the shirt off your back to buy it, then you’d mine that seam for as long as you could. But we run away, and make something up ourselves. Like a down-and-out who, having found a soup kitchen that opens every day of the week, goes back to foraging in bins because he’s too proud, he doesn’t want to be provided for.

Q2 – is our ministry bringing others closer to Christ? If not, it’s worthless.

Q3 – is our use of time/gifts/money Christ-centred? Even business in the Lord’s work can be me-centred – I need it to feel good about myself. What about time with the Lord?

Let’s all think about our focus – is it on the Lord, or on our own needs and ministries?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Development - Cultural Sensitivity Needed!

When we were in Central Asia an advisor from the EU was posted there to advise on how to run a butcher's shop. Pretty soon a small shop appeared in the corner of the market, next to all the women's clothes shops and so on, and diagonally opposite the main butcher's area in the market where you could buy huge hunks of meat for a few thousand Manat (a few dollars). The new butcher's shop had little cuts of meat, chops and son on, with plastic signs stuck into them, just like you'd see in Dewhurst's here at home. Within six months of the EU advisor leaving, there were about half as many cuts of meat on display. Within twelve months the shop had shut down.

What lesson can we learn from this? That we need to observe the local culture, and listen carefully to folk as to what they want, before we try to 'improve' things. What we see as an improvement (no messy hacking up of carcasses in front of the customer) may seem like a retrograde step to the local people (small bits of meat they don't have a name for, costing more). This is true of any change we try to introduce. If it is top-down, initiated by Westerners, it is almost bound to fail. If it is bottom-up, initiated by the indegenious people, and owned by them, it will almost certainly succeed. This means we have to let go a bit when we sponsor projects overseas. All too often we have our own agendas, and tie funding to those agendas. Instead we should be finding out what they want, and helping them achieve it. I remember one story from Africa, where the village elders were asked what they most needed to improve their village. A well for clean water? A better road to the market? No, they wanted a football pitch. The next-door village had one, and they were feeling left out. The next-door village could host football games, they couldn't. This meant their prestige was lowered. The football pitch was constructed, the village self-esteem improved, and pretty soon they were working on a well (with outside help) and whatever else was needed to improve their lives at a practical level. Let's talk, let's listen, let's learn!