Tuesday, 13 August 2013

No Compromise

At C3 church on Sunday, Julian preached on Daniel. He explained how Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were selected from among the Jewish exiles for a high class education, the best the Babylonians could supply. They were chosen because they were 'from the royal family and the nobility - young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace.' They were given new names, new identities*. But the story goes on to say that Daniel refused to 'defile himself' (the food and drink would not have been kosher) with the meat and wine provided by the king's servant, and he asked to be given only vegetables and water a ten day experiment. If he and his friends looked as healthy or healthier than the other men they were to be allowed their vegetarian diet. They took a stand, and resolved to continue their Jewish lives and beliefs. As I'm sure we all know, this stance eventually lead to them being thrown into the lions' den when they refused to worship the statue set up by Nebuchadnezzar.

Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg, which was turned into a museum of atheism during the Soviet regime (it is now a place of worship once again)

In the Soviet days young people from all over the world were sent to Moscow and St. Petersburg for education. They were taught Russian, and educated in the latest Soviet propaganda, which was Communist and Atheist. They were encouraged to enjoy Russian high culture, and more subtly perhaps, how to work the system. When they went back to their home countries or Soviet States they were eligible for leadership positions. Some Christians took a stand, and suffered as a result. Many were imprisoned in gulags, or simply disappeared. Some pastors and priests managed to work within the system while continuing to believe. They, like Daniel and his friends, knew when and where to take a stand.

What would we have done, if we had been in Daniel and his friends' position? Are we willing to be different, to take a stand? I see our children fitting in with the culture of their comprehensive school, and wonder how I can support them in being Christians in such an apathetic (in terms of belief) environment. In many countries Christians are actively persecuted, and we need to stand with them, and learn to weep with them, not rejoice at their sufferings. Whether here in the West or in living as a persecuted minority, Daniel is an example we can follow.


*The names they were given, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were related to the names of Babylonian gods.

(Actually the Soviets were more enlightened than the Babylonians in that they allowed mother-tongue education up to a certain level - perhaps primary school, or the early years of secondary school, depending whether you lived in a city or a village - but for higher education Russian was considered to be the only International language required.)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The LORD Reigns! (Psalm 98)


“John and Pat have a nice arbour (‘arbour).” Are there any ships in it? Sometimes a play on words confuses us. The meanings of words can confuse us.

1.     The LORD is the One who straightens things out (for us)

We have to start by reading the Psalm in its original context. This is an enthronement Psalm (v6). The Lord is going to return to the temple, and Israel would proclaim Him as king! But in the meantime that wasn’t the case. Israel was surrounded by the nations, who were polytheists, worshipping gods (each nation had a god or gods – Psalm 96) they believed brought fertility to the earth, which was deified (much as in Hinduism today – Hindus treat nature as divine). Psalm 98 is counter-cultural, in that it brings the created order under God’s control, and creations’ praise of Him is personification, not deification v7-9. God is not just God of history (removing the sacred from nature) but the God of creation. Often we meet people today who believe that creation is sacred – if you ask the question ‘Do you believe in God’ they have to qualify it: ‘What do you mean by God?’ – New Age, walking the lay lines of Britain.
God is in charge, he ‘rules’ (shephot – same root word as for Judges who lead Israel – they were the shophet – the rulers). He will visit to save/punish as appropriate (trouble is English word ‘judge’ often comes across negatively). If it is about judgement, it is about a present visit of God to save and punish. The Message:

A tribute to God when he comes,
When he comes to set the earth right.
He’ll straighten out the whole world,
He’ll put the world right, and everyone in it.
The translation of ‘Judge’ into Tengir was difficult. One word came across meaning ‘condemn’, so we had to use the other, more neutral term.

God has won the victory (v3 – Salvation, vindication and victory are very close ideas). We have experienced God’s saving work in our lives. Isa 52:10 ‘all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ It’s the same in Hebrew (prophetic perfect in Isaiah). From God’s perspective the victory is already won! Remember this is an enthronment Psalm (The Lord is going to return to the temple, and Israel would proclaim Him as king!). In the OT there was no fulfilment, after the exile, of the hope that the Lord would return to the temple in His glory (with a cloud or fire and the presence of the LORD Exo 40; Lev 9; 1Ki 8 or even Isa 6). For the fulfilment we have to look to the NT, to the coming of Jesus, who’s name means Saviour, and who Luke, John and others frequently remind us is the Saviour of the World. ‘We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.’ 1Jn 4:13-14
Application: we are living in a place of victory. Not as individuals but as a people who know they are part of God’s covenant plan (v3). How do we do this?

  • Don’t dwell on past injustices
  • Dig into God’s word together. Meditate on God’s word – let it seep into your bones
  • Be filled and refilled with the Holy Spirit
  • Share and pray for each other. Encourage one another with prophetic words, songs, and whatever ‘builds up’
  • Take part in ventures for God together (more on that later
  • Expect revival! Expect the LORD to arrive in power! If the Jews could expect the LORD to come, how much more can we!

2.     The LORD is the One who straightens things out (for all)

However it’s not just for us. The original covenant was with Israel, but ‘the redemption of Israel will provide the opportunity for the nations to turn to Yahweh’ (Anderson) v2-3. It is God’s Mission. The ‘Mission of God’. ‘If God owns the universe, there is nowhere that does not belong to him. There is nowhere we can step off his property, either into the property of some other deity or into some autonomous sphere of our own private ownership’ (Wright, 2006: 403). Ultimately, as I say, Jesus, as God’s ambassador, won the victory. What does that mean? The good news is that God saves, and this can be known by all nations.

What should our response be? Praise. A new song. ‘God’s praise is inexhaustible’ (Anderson).
Music-lead worship are so important, using whatever instruments are appropriate. Maybe a dutar (two-string) if you are in Central Asia? There is a department in our organisation called ethnic arts. Here’s a story they tell: one church had 100 hymns translated from other languages, but there was no church growth. As soon as they had some songs written in the way they like (their melodies, rhythms, etc.) the church began to grow.

ESV Psalm 98:1 A PSALM.
Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. 
2 The LORD has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. 
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 
5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody! 
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD! 
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! 
8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together 
9 before the LORD, for he comes to judge [rule] the earth.
He will judge [rule] the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The God of Angel Armies

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of Angel Armies
Is always on my side
The One who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of Angel Armies
Is always by my side
(Chris Tomlin, 'Whom Shall I Fear')

Great lyrics, and a great song. Where does 'God of Angel Armies' come from?  It's actually very common in the Old Testament, and occurs just twice in the NT. The Hebrew is Yahweh Tsabaot and this often used to be translated LORD of hosts. Tsabaot is the plural of tsaba, and means:
  1. Troops, armies (Numbers 1:3, Psalm 44:10)
  2. Hordes of people (Exodus 6:26)
  3. The heavenly entourage of Yahweh (1Kings 22:19, Psalm 80:14, 103:21) i.e. the heavenly 'armies'! Psalm 80:14 actually has 'God of heavenly armies' or 'God of angel armies'.
  4. The heavenly constellations i.e. the stars and their moons (Genesis 2:1, Psalm 33:6)
So Chris Tomlin is absolutely right to use this word - it's entirely biblical. Do any Bible Translations use this translation? Not exactly. The closest is the New Living Translation which uses LORD of Heaven's Armies (I Samuel 1:3) or God of Heaven's Armies (Psalm 80:14) as appropriate.

But what a thought - the God of Angel Armies is on our side! Take a moment this morning to worship Him. If you have time, get hold of a copy of the NLT and look at the following verses:

1 Sam. 1:3, 11; 4:4; 15:2; 17:45; 2 Sam. 5:10; 6:2, 18; 7:8, 26f; 2 Kgs 19:31; 1 Chr. 11:9; 17:7, 24; Psa. 24:10; 46:7, 11; 48:8; 59:5; 69:6; 80:4, 7, 14, 19; 84:1, 3, 8, 12; 89:8; Isa. 1:9, 24; 2:12; 3:1, 15; 5:7, 9, 16, 24; 6:3, 5; 8:13, 18; 9:7, 13, 19; 10:16, 23f, 26, 33; 13:4, 13; 14:22ff, 27; 17:3; 18:7; 19:4, 12, 16ff, 20, 25; 21:10; 22:5, 12, 14f, 25; 23:9; 24:23; 25:6; 28:5, 22, 29; 29:6; 31:4f; 37:16, 32; 39:5; 44:6; 45:13; 47:4; 48:2; 51:15; 54:5; Jer. 2:19; 5:14; 6:6, 9; 7:3, 21; 8:3; 9:7, 15, 17; 10:16; 11:17, 20, 22; 15:16; 16:9; 19:3, 11, 15; 20:12; 23:15f, 36; 25:8, 27ff, 32; 26:18; 27:4, 18f, 21; 28:2, 14; 29:4, 8, 17, 21, 25; 30:8; 31:23, 35; 32:14f, 18; 33:11f; 35:13, 17ff; 38:17; 39:16; 42:15, 18; 43:10; 44:2, 7, 11, 25; 46:10, 18, 25; 48:1, 15; 49:5, 7, 26, 35; 50:18, 25, 31, 33f; 51:5, 14, 19, 33, 57f; Hos. 12:5; Amos 3:13; 4:13; 5:14ff, 27; 6:8, 14; 9:5; Mic. 4:4; Nah. 2:13; 3:5; Hab. 2:13; Zeph. 2:9f; Hag. 1:2, 5, 7, 9, 14; 2:4, 6ff, 11, 23; Zech. 1:3f, 6, 12, 14, 16f; 2:8f, 11; 3:7, 9f; 4:6, 9; 5:4; 6:12, 15; 7:3f, 9, 12f; 8:1ff, 6f, 9, 11, 14, 18ff; 9:15; 10:3; 12:5; 13:2, 7; 14:16f, 21; Mal. 1:4, 6, 8ff, 13f; 2:2, 4, 7f, 12, 16; 3:1, 5, 7, 10ff, 14, 17; 4:1, 3; Rom. 9:29; Jam. 5:4

You won't regret it!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Breaking out

Today I want to look at what is often thought of as a difficult passage. In 2 Samuel 6 the LORD God breaks out against Uzzah and strikes him dead. Why does this happen? Poor Uzzah seems to have done nothing very wrong - why does he have to die?

To understand this we need to study the Ark of the Covenant and see its importance in the life of Israel. This is what we know about the Ark:

  • It was a chest, much like those people used to store clothes in (and still do in some parts of the world)
  • It contained the tablets of the ten commandments, mark 2. God gave Moses these tablets on Mount Sinaii. Only Moses was allowed to approach the LORD, and the mountain was surrounded by clouds. Anyone who touched the mountain would die (Exodus 19).
  • It was supposed to be carried on poles by members of the clan of Kohath (Num. 3:27), who were part of the tribe of Levi. When the Israelites moved around the ark would be carried in front:  And whenever the Ark set out, Moses would shout, “Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” And when the Ark was set down, he would say, “Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel!” (Num. 10:35).
  • It was kept in the most holy place, inside the tabernacle. Only the High Priest (Aaron originally) was allowed in the most holy place, and only once a year. He brought a sacrifice of blood, which he applied to the horns of the altar. He was warned not to go in the most holy place whenever he chose or he would die (Leviticus 16:2).
  • When the Philistines captured the Ark they tried to harness its power, as they thought of it, but the LORD God made tumours break out on them, and in the end they had to send it back to Israel (1 Sam. 5).
From this story we can learn that God is Holy, and we can only approach him through the sacrifice of the more perfect High Priest, Jesus the Messiah. He is also self-sufficient. We cannot add anything to God. He doesn't need us in any way. We need him. He is the source of all blessing. When we 'bless' God we are simply praising Him for what He has done.

We can also learn a lesson about leadership. David was wrong to let his men bring the Ark towards Jerusalem on an ox cart. He also gave way to fear after Uzzah died (2Sam 6:9-11). But he learnt from his mistakes, and in the end brought the ark (properly this time, v13) into Jerusalem with great rejoicing, and with David dancing before the Lord (v14). What a day that must have been!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

An Open Letter to Don Carson

Dr Carson,

Let me first say how glad I am that you have got involved in this topic*. On the other hand I do wish Theologians like you and John Piper would talk to Missiologists like Martin Goldsmith and David Bosch (were he still alive), and vice versa. Otherwise what tends to happen is the Theologians give a doctrinal answer, which is rather conservative, and the Missiologists give a pragmatic answer, which is based on the situation they have observed out there where the rubber hits the road, but the two don't match up at all. What we need is for some serious listening, serious debate, and even more importantly for each to be mini-experts in the other person's field. So Theologians (including church leaders) should have experience in Mission work, preferably overseas. Missiologists should have degrees in Theology, keep their Theological learning up-to-date, and spend time talking to home-based church leaders. Without this mutual understanding we will never reach agreement. I know that's an ideal, but we need to be committed to excellence in all that we do, so let's aim high.

As for your article, let me comment on your three final observations:

'First, the new approach to Bible translation is in danger of cutting off its ‘converts’ from the history of the confessionalism of the universal church. It is not a light thing to stand aloof from the authority of those early councils and creeds.' - Good point, and I agree whole-heartedly. The only thing we can do is keep trying to meet with the leaders of the new movements in Muslim countries. If they are willing to keep meeting with us, despite our differences (and the perceived threat from Western 'Big Brother' churches), some progress can be made.

'Second, a considerable literature has arisen from Muslim-convert believers who are aghast at these developments, arguing on both technical and personal grounds that these new translations are the product of Westerners who are imposing their work on local churches.' - True, but many of those who have left Islam have also left or been forced out of their communities. They have then found refuge in Western or Christian-culture communities. For example those in Turkey might start going to an Armenian or Greek church, rather than a Turkish one. This is very common, and means that they are having fellowship with those who are traditionally against the Turks. This causes them to take up views which are contrary to their upbringing, some of which are unnecessarily negative towards the culture or cultures from which they originate (I'm using the famous British understatement here, I hope you picked that up!).

'Third, the spread of the gospel in the early church saw the dissemination of Scripture along with the provision of missionaries and pastors. One wonders if at least some of the tensions over Bible translations spring from providing translations without simultaneously providing missionaries and pastors.' - Well I have never heard of such a thing happening. All the translations I know are being carried out in areas where either the church asked for it in the first place, or where the church grew very quickly, with church leaders who were using the translation. In very remote, pioneer situations there are often two couples, one of which spends time working in church-planting, and the other in translation work. The couples work closely together, so the translation team are well aware of the need for certain books of the Bible to be translated prior to others (e.g. Genesis before Esther, to pick an obvious example). If the translation is being carried out in an area where there are both Muslims and Christians, then the team try to listen to the majority Christian view-point, while producing a translation that isn't unnecessarily foreign-sounding to the Muslim reader's ears. For example, it is possible to translate Elohim/Theos (God) as Allah, or as Tanry in Turkish. The vast majority of Turks would use Allah for Elohim, so it makes sense to have Allah in a translation for Muslims. Tanry would only appeal to the minority secular audience, who don't, in any case, want to read the Qur'an or the Bible. This is an acceptable translation, just as acceptable as 'God' was when first chosen by the translators of the Bible into English (though they had the advantage of several centuries since the demise of the Norse religions that once used the term). If Tanry were chosen, those from a Muslim background simply wouldn't read it. That would be unfortunate, to say the least.

Lastly, a comment on these statistics: ' ...yet when certain tests are made, 46% of such converts avow they prefer to read the Qur’an than the Bible and 72% continue to think of Muhammad as the final prophet. How many of these conversions are spurious?' - I would like to know where these statistics come from, who made them, and at what point in the person's life? If it is within the first year or two (or five?) of their life following Jesus, then of course they are likely to think of Muhammed as the final prophet (after Jesus). It takes time to realise that Jesus is the only name given by God, the only rescuer, the only hope. For a period of one-five years after becoming a believer in 'Isa' (the Arabic version of 'Jesus'), the person struggles with thoughts of returning to Islam, of visiting shrines, of wearing amulets, or using charms. That is their old way of life and it doesn't always disappear overnight. If someone in the US or the UK takes six months to adapt and leave their old way of life, it's going to take ten times as long for someone in Saudi Arabia. Let us not be unaware, my brothers and sisters, of the seriousness of a Muslim turning to faith in Jesus the Messiah. They may lose their life. They are likely to lose the support of their family and friends. They need our prayers, not our criticism.

Here are links to my own papers on the subject:

Yours, in Christ, Dave G

*Don Carson has a new book out, 'Jesus, the Son of God'. If you haven't got it, have a read of this summary: