Friday, 14 December 2012

Glorious One

There is a better way
We have a better hope
We have a priest on high
Dressed in fine linen
And robes of righteousness
The angels praise His name

You are the risen One
You are the Son
You are the glorious One I love

You took on mortal flesh
Put on humanness
Shared our sufferings
Yet we see You now
At God's right hand on high
Robed in majesty

You are the risen One
You are the Son
You are the glorious One I love

There is a better way
We have a better hope
We have a priest on high
Dressed in fine linen
And robes of righteousness
The angels praise His name

You are the risen One
You are the Son
You are the glorious One I love

David Gray, December 2012

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

God's Heart for Mission

The church is the centre of God's activity on earth. But not the local church, it is the church worldwide. We don't have a mission, God has a mission. The church worldwide is His body. Local church is an expression of that:

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God's people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News. 

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God's wonderful grace. 

You learned about the Good News from Epaphras, our beloved co-worker. He is Christ's faithful servant, and he is helping us on your behalf. He has told us about the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.  Colossians 1:3-8, NLT

For most of us our own jobs, homes, families are at the centre. For some the local church is at the centre. What we want to see is Jesus at the centre, and to achieve that we need to take part in what he is doing. His work while on earth was to move onto the next town to see God's Kingdom grow there as well (Mrk 1:35-39).

This has to affect everything, including the way we do theological education. Instead of training ordinands in theology, church history, pastoral studies, and then at some point mission, we should train them in mission, with all other training as part of that. Often mission is seen as a plug-in, something the church might, at some point, get involved in. Instead we should see church as a part of a larger whole that is encompassed by what God is doing worldwide, albeit through Jesus' body on earth, the church. Mission is not an optional extra, it is at the heart of what God is doing, and it is on God's heart. Please let it be in our hearts too!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Lord Send Revival, Start with Me

We don't hear much about revival these days. Perhaps it's because we haven't had one in England for so long - probably since the Pentecostal awakening at the beginning of the 20th century, or the Wesleyan revival before that. Wales and Scotland have both had revivals more recently, but England has been left behind. Most of us agree that revivals can't be started by us, it is a work of the Holy Spirit. We can, however, prepare for revival. Here's how:
  1. Begin to expect revival, to look for it, wait for it. Spend time on our knees asking for revival to come.
  2. Get rid of any sin in our lives, and experience the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit. 
  3. Read about revivals in church history. Learn what the Bible teaches about revival.

Actually the scriptures mainly talk about restoration more than revival. One key phrase in the OT, 'restore the fortunes' [of God's people Isra'el] occurs again and again (Psalm 14:7; 126:4; Zeph 3:20...). The Old Testament context is one of exile - God's people were taken off to captivity in Babylon, and only slowly allowed to return to their land under the Persian king Cyrus, as a result of prophecies that God would restore His people. Ultimately Jesus the Messiah brought complete restoration to those from his people the Jews and from the nations (the gentiles) who follow him by bringing them into the kingdom. We should long for God's Kingdom to grow, and for us as God's people to be restored. God's Spirit will also create in us a desire to see His honour restored:

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts. 
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his a holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.  (Psalm 96:8)

God's glory is His and His alone, and he will not give it to another (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). Let's begin by repenting of all the ways we have taken His glory to ourselves...

David Gray

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


I just heard a sermon on beauty. The verse quote was Psalm 27:4, which goes like this:

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. ESV

The trouble is GNB has ‘goodness’, NET ‘spendour’, NLT ‘perfections’ and CEV ‘[see] how wonderful [he is]’. So the best question to ask is, ‘What is the root Hebrew word?’ It is no`am which means ‘kindness’ or ‘pleasantness’.
The only place where it might possibly mean ‘beautiful’ is in Song of Songs 7:6, where it is translated as ‘pleasant’, but is used in parallel with ‘beautiful’:

How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! ESV

This could make them close synonyms, so we should then think of the word as meaning ‘gorgeous’ or something like that, especially in the context of the passage where it can be found:

How beautiful your sandalled feet, O prince's daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman's hands.  2 Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.  3 Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.  4 Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking towards Damascus.  5 Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.  6 How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights!  7 Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.  8 I said, "I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit." May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples,  9 and your mouth like the best wine…

But in most cases the word does just mean ‘pleasant’ or ‘delightful’. We should therefore be careful about preaching long sermons on the beauty of the Lord. The word translated ‘beautiful’ in Song of Songs 7:6 is yafeh. This is found twice in the Psalms, once to describe the king (45:2), and once about mount Zion (48:2), which is the temple hill in Jerusalem. The king was originally an earthly king, but the Psalm is definitely Messianic, so we would be perfectly justified in understanding ‘Jesus Christ’ where we see ‘king’, but not God. This means that there basically isn’t a verse where the word ‘beautiful’ is used to describe God (true though it may be that God is beautiful).

So, it is probably not a good idea to read no`am as meaning ‘beautiful’ in Psalm 27:4, tempting though it may be. Sorry, preacher, it might be time to learn some Hebrew!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Is Balance Biblical?

Seems to me it's very British to be pro-balance. We like to take the middle ground, whether in politics or theology or in whatever area of life you look at. We Brits do not like extremism. We don't like to talk things up too much. Our football team usually does well but not brilliantly. Somehow we are now in the Euro finals without having played an outstanding game. How did that happen? It's all part of the British malaise.

In contrast the Bible tends to put down two extremes and let us try to work out how to live. For instance Paul tells us to work and rest in one breath:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Php 2:12-13

How can you work out your own salvation while trusting that is God who works in us? There is something of a conundrum there.

Even more striking are some of the 'hard sayings' (as FF Bruce called them) of Jesus:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. Luk 14:26

How can it be right to hate your family? It seems against all cultural good sense even now, and at that time and in that culture it must have been even more shocking. Here's another one:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Mat 5:43-45a

Now this is just hard to do. It is also against all common sense, but we know that Jesus himself practised it, and passed it onto those who came after him.

So balance may not be as biblical as we might think. A more important value is zeal:

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Rom 12:11

How can we keep our zeal in these lackadasical, apathetic, post-modern times when each of us keeps our beliefs as privately as possible for fear of offending others (the biggest crime out there)? The answer is not to be afraid to confront wrong, but do so quietly and confident of the Lord's approval of our actions. We also need to know that God is in charge, and we are, with the rest of humankind, answerable to Him. It is not our job to judge. God is just, and he will decide all things in the future. He is also patient with us, and allows us to stray from Him at times so that it will be our love for Him (and a sense of His love for us) that draws us back. That is why we see so many problems in the world. It is not that God is far off, but that He loves to woo us rather than hit us over the head with the truth. May we have the grace to mirror this in our behaviour to others!

For further reading: FF Bruce 'The Hard Sayings of Jesus' 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

All Nations

1 May God be merciful and bless us.
May his face smile with favor on us. Interlude
2 May your ways be known throughout the earth,
your saving power among people everywhere.
3 May the nations praise you, O God.
Yes, may all the nations praise you.
4 Let the whole world sing for joy,
because you govern the nations with justice
and guide the people of the whole world. Interlude
5 May the nations praise you, O God.
Yes, may all the nations praise you.
6 Then the earth will yield its harvests,
and God, our God, will richly bless us.
7 Yes, God will bless us,
and people all over the world will fear him. (Psalm 67 NLT)

The main purpose God wants to achieve in the OT is not the blessing of Israel – but the blessing of All Nations through Israel.

 ‘All Nations’ goes back to Gen 12:1-3 (v3 it is mishpahah ‘all families’ or ‘all clans’). Often the word for nations is goyyim. It can be negative (= ‘gentiles’) or positive, as in those God wants to draw to Himself, through His covenant people Israel.

There is a strong link between mission and blessing. ‘…make his face to shine’ from Numbers 6. Means to show favour. ‘Two men reported that Rabbi Abbahu had found a treasure. When they were asked how did they know, they replied: "Because his face shines".' To make one’s face shine for the towards another person means to show him favour, as in Pro 16:15.

The ultimate goal is believers v7; worshipers Jhn 4:23 (those worshiping in spirit and truth).
Mission in the OT is to do with drawing other nations towards Jerusalem to worship Yahweh, the one true God Isa 56:6-7. The foreigners actually become servants i.e. priests! The Old Testament context is important. We find ‘gods’ in Psa 95:3; 96:4-5. Each nation had their own ‘god’. Yahweh is King above all the gods, which are only idols. So the ancient Israelites had a belief based on Monolatry not Monotheism. Monolatry is 'the exclusive worship of one god without excluding the existence of others' (online dictionary). The gods of other nations were real to them even if considered merely idols by true believers in Israel.

Mission is centrifugal in the NT. Philip and Ethiopian. There are ripples outwards in Acts as first Jews, then God-fearers, then Gentiles are converted and filled with the Holy Spirit.

It’s not about us, it’s about Mission and the Kingdom of God!

Sunday, 12 February 2012


1.       God is continually reinventing. Our kids are growing up. What was good then is no longer ok with them. For example on Fridays we used to have ‘pizza and video’ nights. Now only our youngest child is interested in those, and then only sometimes. As we grow we change. Food was different before and after the flood – we went from being vegetarians to carnivores. Abraham was told to be a blessing to the nations, but the descendants of Jacob/Israel often forgot this. Eventually they asked for a king, not something that was at all part of God’s perfect plan. Having had a bad king they eventually had King David on the throne, who united the North and the South and expanded the territory of the nation. He was promised that a son of his would always be on the throne, but this went wrong and it was reinvented to being fulfilled in the ‘son of David’, Jesus the Messiah, whose kingdom is the Kingdom of God. Peter was very surprised, on meeting Cornelius, to see a dream where he was told to kill and eat all kinds of non-kosher animals (Acts 10). Once the gentiles had been baptised in the Spirit his (actually the apostles’) view of them had to be reinvented. Paul had a ministry to the gentiles, despite the fact that his real heart was for his own people to the Jews (his ministry had to be reinvented). The gospel is reinvented between the Old Testament and the New, it is a secret now revealed (1Cor 2:6, 4:1). 

2.       We continually need to adapt ourselves to new environments. We used to live in Central Asia, then we lived in St Petersburg Russian for a few years, and now we live in the UK. The customs, lifestyles, and how relationships work are different. Paul had to adapt his ministry to the audience he was communicating with. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.   To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  1 Cor 9:20-22. Notice he also had to reinvent his view of the law (the teaching found in the first five books of the Bible). It is now teaching, not about how to be Jewish, but how to be at peace with God through Jesus the Messiah, and part of God’s new covenant people, made up of both Jews and Gentiles (‘people from every tribe, nation, people and tongue’ Rev 7:9).

3.       This puts us in the firing line, but God’s grace is always there whenever we need it. ‘He gives us more grace.’ Jas 4:6. Without God’s grace we would never survive. Change can be tiring. Actually it is exhausting, particularly to those who value stability and cherish the status quo (I’m not one of these, by the way). We need God’s grace to make it through the hard times.

Monday, 9 January 2012

War in the Old Testament

What about the Canaanites?


Those of us who adhere to a classic form of belief in God — God is good, holy, loving, sovereign — have a problem: evil. Evil is a problem for any thinking Christian — a serious problem. Simply put: if God is good, we have to ask why there is evil. If God is sovereign, we have to ask why there is evil. And if God is good we have to ask if God is sovereign.

False Views

1. Setting the Two Testaments Against Each Other

This view goes back to Marcion, 2ndCentury:
‘All these nasty things happened in the OT, but now we are NT Christians we know God was never like that (though the primitive Israelites thought he was) or God has changed in the way he engages with us as seen in Jesus.’
This won’t do:
It is a caricature of the OT which has much to say about the love of God.
It is a caricature of the NT which has much to say about the judgement of God.
It caricatures Jesus and the NT writers who do not reject the OT but fulfil it.

Bono on OT vs. NT

There's nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that's why they're so relatable.
But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend.
When you're a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules.
But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.

OT vs. NT

There probably are some differences between the OT and the NT
But God is the same throughout the Bible
The New Covenant does not replace the Old Covenant, rather it fulfils it

2. The Israelites Misunderstood God

Israel did the violence and attributed their actions to God’s will. In other words, the ‘God told me to do it’ defence of the indefensible.
Alternatively God spoke the words as hyperbole but the Israelites took them literally e.g. ‘We’re going to kill the opposition’ (before a game of basketball).
This neatly gets God off the hook and the Israelites on it.
The problems are:
There is no hint anywhere that the conquest of Canaan was a ‘mistake’. In fact the opposite is true, the refusal of the Exodus generation to go ahead are acts of disobedience
All through the Bible the Promised Land is celebrated as just that – a fulfilled promise of God to his people.

3. It Should All Be Interpreted as an Allegory on Spiritual Warfare

To dilute the reality of the Canaanite conquest by spiritualising the whole event. The story becomes a reservoir of spiritual lessons:
Victory over spiritual enemies
Release from slavery to sin
Overcoming a wilderness experience
God fulfilling his promises
The arrival of Israel in Canaan is not an allegory but a historical narrative. ‘It was not allegorical Israelites who attacked or allegorical Canaanites who died.’ Chris Wright
 “There are days I wish,” he says, “this narrative were not in the Bible at all.” Wright’s approach is to examine this issue in the context of three biblical frameworks — frameworks that do not “explain away” but do “set in context.”
Framework of the OT story
‘Yahweh war’ not holy war
Unique event in history
Framework of God’s sovereign justice
Canaanites were sinful
This doesn’t mean Israel was altogether righteous
Framework of God’s plan of salvation
Blessing the Nations
The Nations will Praise God


It is hard to reach firm conclusions
Any easy answers in this area (or in the area of suffering/evil) will just sound pat
Is it possible that we aren’t able to comprehend this issue from God’s point of view? We are finite, He is infinite. We are limited, He is limitless…


C.J. Wright ‘The God I Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith’ Zondervan 2008 (and available on Kindle)