I'm using the festive lull in activity here in the blogosphere to do some housekeeping on this blog.

Fellow bloggers who use Blogger to publish their blogs will know about the recent service upgrade. This has introduced some nice new features, like categories, that you may have noticed appearing at the bottom of my posts. Clicking on one of these category links takes you to a page where you can see all the posts I have written on that subject.

I have had my own category system for a while, available from my sidebar, and I am in the process of integrating the two together.

My apologies to those who subscribe to this blog via RSS; the retrospective update of posts with category labels has meant a large volume of my back catalogue being "republished" to the feed. Stick with me, it should all settle down now.

One of the other nice new features the upgrade has given is a new layout system. Since my old-style template contains a lot of customisations, it's going to take me a while to integrate these into the new system. You can see my progress over on my "sandbox" blog [play without getting hurt]. In fact if any one reading is considering a similar transition I recommend creating a new dummy blog account like this, and experimenting there first.

Once it's ready, I'll be switching over, of course there may well be teething troubles here too. If you spot anything not working or looking odd, please let me know, via the "Off the Record" box (assuming that's not the bit that's broke!) and let me know what Browser you are using, and what bit is wrong.

Thanks for your patience.


A death like his

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet. (2 Kings 13:20-21 ESV)

This passage is not a proof text for venerating relics of the saints, or attributing posthumous miracles to them. Rather it is another demonstration of how Elisha is a type of Christ. Those who are buried with him are also raised with him. If we are united with him in his death we are also united with him in newness of life.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5)

In fact the way that both Elijah and Elisha were taken from this world speak powerfully in the way that they are types.

Elijah, the great type of the church was caught up to heaven in glory. [Not secretly, but in plain view!] Elisha, who is a type of Christ, was taken through suffering and affliction.

The good news is that we don't have to die a horrible death to be united with Christ in a death like his! Rather it is through repentance, faith and baptism in water that we are united with Christ in his death, in order that we might participate in his resurrection life while we still live! Christ came to give us eternal life before death. That is one of the many wonders of the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas... and every day in between.


Midnight Clarity

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.


Yet because you say...

I have been meditating on the obedience of Simon the fisherman in Luke 5 and Naaman the leper in 2 Kings 5. In both cases, these men obeyed the word of God, not because they liked it, understood it, or agreed that it was the right way to do things, but simply because they accepted it as the word of God.

Jesus asked Simon to let down the nets for a catch even though he was a professional fisherman who had worked the waters all night. He obviously thought it was a futile endeavour, yet he obeyed and did it simply because Jesus had asked him to.

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." (Luke 5:5)

Elisha asked Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan and be cleansed; he did not come and present himself to him, even though he was an important officer who had made a long journey to see him. Naaman was clearly offended by the prophet's actions, and dismissive of the endeavour asked of him. Yet he too obeyed, not because he understood the word, but because he submitted to it.

These men challenge me. Is my obedience limited by my understanding? Does the word of God have to be explained and dissected for me to grasp its mechanics before I will obey? Or is the fact that it is the word of God sufficient to provoke a response of submission and obedience?

We all know in part. If we only obey the commands we understand, the obvious implications are that we only obey in part to!

I'm not advocating that we fail to test prophecies, nor that we abandon our desire for understanding into the things of God. But at the end of the day, when God asks me to do something I don't fully grasp, it reveals something about me: whether I have a mind ruled by my spirit, or a spirit ruled by my mind.



Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel


Interpreting the end times

See how easily distracted from Christmas I am! However this does tie in with eschatological matters raised yesterday...

Those who interpret the Apocalyptic scriptures of Daniel and Revelation generally fall into three camps: Preterists, Historicists and Futurists.

Preterists see most, if not all, of the prophecies of these books as having been fulfilled in 70AD with the fall of Jerusalem and the run up to these events.

Historicists see a daily unfolding of these prophecies throughout history up to the present age. They are the kind who have a verse for every major war, and scan today's paper to see what prophecy has been fulfilled today.

Futurists see the prophecies relating exclusively to the end times, and at the most extreme, like the writers of Left Behind, paint a bizarre and fanciful picture of the end times based on their literal interpretations of these prophecies. The rise of the Antichrist, the destruction (after a prior rebuilding) of the temple in Jerusalem, a Secret Rapture of all believers off the earth, etc.

However to understand biblical prophecy it is important to understand its nature, and interpret the difficult in the light of the clear. For example when God said to David, that he would never fail to have a son sit on the throne, and it would be he who would build an acceptable temple, was he referring to Solomon or Christ? When Isaiah prophesied that the virgin would be with Child, was he talking about a sign for his day, or the sign of Christ who was to come?

In both these cases it is fairly clear that both interpretations are correct, and we can see there is a "layered" nature to many prophecies. There is an immediate fulfilment in the natural, that also serves as a paradigm for an ultimate more spiritually significant fulfilment.

Such is also true concerning prophecies about the end times. The immediate fulfilment in the natural was the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, but in many cases these events also communicate spiritual implications about the end times. The last days and final judgement, as it were, on the Jewish nation communicates about the last days and final judgement on the world. As does the flood. As does the fall of Babylon. Real past events with prophetic echoes.

The fact the initial fulfilment has come does not lessen its significance, but nor does it mean that the ultimate fulfilment has to occur in the same way. Jesus did not literally have to sit on David's throne nor literally build a temple. And Jerusalem did not have to be swept away by a breaking open of the waters from below and above. Just so, because the events of AD70 have already happened we do not need another temple to be destroyed, nor another Titus to desecrate it.

This layered approach, applied to the end times, is most clearly seen in the words of Christ himself who had no problem speaking of his second coming in the same breath as the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (Luke 21:20-28).

If you would like to read more about what I have written on this subject, I have a detailed exposition on the whole book of Daniel that is free to download and distribute, here.



Ever wondered why eschatology is important? Look no further!

You laughed at the books, cringed at the film... now it's a video game!

The makers of Left Behind don't have to wait for the rise of the Antichrist to turn the world against Christians... they are doing a pretty good job all on their own!

From the House of Bread to the House of Dates

Well, we are half way through December now, and there is no denying it... Christmas is coming! So to warm up into the festive season, I'll start with a traditional Christmas Bible verse:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

... and combine it with a less traditional one!

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-51)

We all know, and are reminded frequently at this time of year, that Christ was born in Bethlehem. Probably not so many know that Christ left to go back into heaven at Bethany. Even fewer, I would imagine know what these names mean. Bethlehem means "House of Bread" and Bethany means "House of Dates" or "House of Affliction".

These are not accidental details but are highly significant. Christ came to the House of Bread to meet our needs. He is the bread of life that came down from heaven. He meets our needs in a way that no-one else could or can. And unless we eat of this bread, which is his body, and drink of his bood - receiving the sacrifice he made on our behalf - then there is no life in us.

When Jesus came to the House of Bread, he did not just come to meet our needs in a frugal and economic way. His arrival was and is good news. Super-abundant good news! He did not just meet our needs up to the line and no further, but he abundantly provided for us in every way. Our cup overflows. To eat of the bread of life is to be blessed. Christ came not only to save us, but to bless us. That we might have life and have it to the full.

Of course the story does not end there. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with pain. A man who paid the price and took up the cross for us. One who said that all who follow him must also take up their own crosses daily. Not indulging the flesh, but dying to self and living for God. Jesus led his disciples to the House of Dates. We are not just saved to live a blessed life and then get into heaven, but to be fruitful for God. Embracing the self-denial and the afflictions of Christ as well as his blessings in order that we might bear fruit for him.

But it was never intended to be an either-or! Christ coming to the House of Bread does not distract in the least from the fact that he left from the House of Dates, nor vice versa. So why do some believers have problems reconciling the blessings of God with the life of laying our lives down on the altar?

It's not a message of to be blessed or to be a blessing, but both! We are blessed so we can bless others. Christ came as the bread of life in order that we might bear much fruit for God. Even as we give sacrificially, God still pours in more. Even at the House of Dates, as he left them and sent them out into the world to be fruitful... "lifting up his hands he blessed them."

To preach about the blessing of God is not to deny the cost of following Christ. Nor is to preach the endurance of trials and the necessity of bearing fruit in keeping with our faith to deny what Christ has done on our behalf. The two go hand in hand.

The Gospel is a message of blessings, prosperity and abundance, and it is a message of laying our lives down and following Jesus whatever the cost. Receiving God's abundant blessing and bearing fruit.

To remove the blessings, the joy and the abundant life from the message of Christ is as grievous as removing the cost.

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."


Holy multiplication!

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, "Give to the men, that they may eat." But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred men?" So he repeated, "Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, 'They shall eat and have some left.’" So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord. (2Kings 4:42-44)

In this passage from Kings we see a strong parallel between Elisha feeding the hundred and Jesus feeding the five-thousand. In both cases the few loaves that they had were insufficient for the number that were to be fed. In both cases an instruction comes from the man of God to set it before the people. In both cases there is incredulity that so little can feed so many. And in both cases according to the word of the Lord when the follower(s) of the man of God set the loaves before the people there is enough and to spare.

In fact Elisha is a parallel of Christ in many ways. His coming was prepared for by Elijah. He raised the dead, cleansed the leper and fed the multitudes. And even his name is highly significant as a type of Christ: "Lamb of God!"

Elisha was the head of a whole prophetic community, living according to the word of God, in, but not of, a nation that had turned its back on God. In many ways a prototype of the New Testament community fulfilled in the church.

What caught my attention in this passage that I had not seen before, was that this miracle of Elisha was performed in response to a man bringing a first-fruit offering.

If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. (Romans 11:16)

There were many excuses this man could have used, legitimate reasons, why he shouldn't have brought his first-fruits offering.

First, the first-fruits should have been collected by the Levites, and in apostate Israel this was no longer possible. But instead this man chose to bring the first of his harvest to the local ministries [Baal-Shalishah was local to Gilgal].

He could have also considered that what he had was not worth bringing. From other passages in scripture (Jn 6:9, Luke 11:5) it is likely that his entire offering was only about 7-10 meals. [These "loaves" were more like our bread-rolls than modern-day loaves of bread] Yet he brought the little he had to the man of God.

He could have also rationalised that he needed it more. This was a time of famine in the land (2Ki 4:38) No-one could, from a natural point of view, spare anything he had. Yet this man understood the spiritual principle of giving the first of what you have to the Lord, so that what is left will be blessed.

As a result of this man's obedience and faith, this offering undergoes a supernatural multiplication so that it is at least 10 times more than what it was to begin with.

It is so important that we put God first and honour him with the first part of our wealth. We may think such action is insignificant, or that we can not afford to spare it. But God always responds to such actions of obedience and faith. There comes a holy multiplication that means our testimony is that we always have enough and to spare.


(Birthday) gifts to be enjoyed

This blogger is 36 years young today! Blessed with another year's worth of maturity and experience.

I was also blessed with lots of cards and gifts this morning as my wife and eldest son brought me a lit birthday cake (and more importantly... coffee!) in bed.

There was a definite theme to my gifts this year: red wine, filter coffee, and hot chilli sauce. If my gifts are anything to go by, I'm a man of the grape, the bean, and the capsicum! I like that. Of course, excess in any of these areas is not to be recommended, but they are all things which are intended, in moderation, to enrich life.

God gives us gifts like this too. Not just things that we need, but things for us to enjoy.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1Ti 6:17)

God richly provides us with things just to enjoy! Thank you, Lord; I intend to. Here's to a year of being enriched in the blessings of God!

The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. (Pr 10:22)


Droll Definitions

A colleague just pointed me to the Chambers Gigglossary. A collections of humorous alternative definitions for English words.

Here are a few of my favourites:

accountant a person who will prove that two and two did make four, but, after deducting professional fees, now only comes to three

bargain something you can't use offered at a price you can't resist

cat a partially domesticated animal who keeps you as a pet

common sense practical wisdom and understanding, and as such, not common at all

computer an electronic time-saving device that is commonly used for time-wasting activities

confidence the feeling one experiences before one fully understands the situation

dieting wishful shrinking

experience the ability to recognize a mistake when you make it again

fashion a means of expressing one's individuality by wearing and doing exactly the same things as others

hypochondria the only condition a hypochondriac thinks he doesn't have

innumeracy the fear of all sums

global warming a meteorological phenomenon cited to explain the appearance of three consecutive days of fine weather in a British summer

morris dancer a drinker with a dance problem

pyromania a misplaced burning ambition

recursive see recursive

sport any game devised by the English and taught to foreigners, who then promptly thrash them at it

tree [Ireland] The number that comes between two and four



The names of God communicate the nature of God. Each name by which God reveals himself to us in the Scriptures tells us something about who he is. When Moses asked for God's name he got a statement: "I AM!" God's eternal nature is revealed to us not just in the past, nor just for the future, but he breaks into our present as the eternal "I AM". What he was in the pages of the Bible, he is today, and ever more shall be. Of course of all the name of God, the name of Jesus is the name above all names, because only in Jesus do we see the fullness of the nature of God revealed. Nevertheless each of the other names by which God reveals himself are still highly significant statements of who he is.

El-Bethel means "The God of the House of God". This name encapsulates the heart of what I have been sharing this week. God is the one who is made manifest in the church, which is his spiritual house.

This name was given by Jacob after two significant encounters with the Lord. The first was his vision at night where he saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon the place where he slept. In an interesting parallel with 1 Corinthians 14:25 he exclaims, "Surely the Lord is in this place!" and he names the place Bethel which means "house of God".

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

The church, as the house of God, is thus also the "gate to heaven". When we come together to worship the Lord, not only do we come to Zion, but heaven comes to earth. There is a heavenly and prophetic nature to our corporate gathering whether we perceive this or not. In bowing the knee and confessing Jesus as Lord, heaven and earth overlap and God's kingdom is manifest on earth as it is in heaven in a way that will one day fill the whole earth.

The second encounter occurred at the same place, and was when God made his covenant with Jacob and changed his name to Israel, promising that he would be multiplied to become many nations, producing kings and inheriting all the land. In response Israel renames the place "El-Bethel", "God of the House of God."

It's great to realise that we come to the house of God, but even more important to grasp that when we do we will encounter the God who dwells there. Those who encounter Bethel are impressed and impacted, but it is those who encounter El-Bethel who are truly transformed.


God is really among you!

But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!" (1Corinthians 14:24-25)

The church is designed to be the place where God makes himself manifest. The primary way he has chosen to do this is by the charismata, the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and thus by definition means by which God makes himself manifest amongst his people.

The gifts of the Spirit were never intended by God to be limited to just a "fringe" portion of his Church, nor to be restricted to a "professional" few! On the contrary it is when every member of the body moves in the gifts distributed according to the Spirit's will that God is most clearly manifest among his people. So much so that even unbelievers will be convicted by the presence of God.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1Corinthians 12:7)

God is no respecter of denominations or persons. The gifts are not distributed according to labels or theological disposition, or even spiritual maturity. They are distributed to each.

It sounds dangerous, and it is! It sounds open to abuse, and it is! But that's exactly the trouble with too many expression of God's church - they are too safe! They have traded the dangerous path of faith, for a predictable path of religion. There does have to be order in worship, but it was always intended to be God's order not ours! Ironically it is often those who believe most passionately in the sovereignty of God who are petrified of allowing God to be sovereign in worship.

But the spirit of prophets is subject to the prophets (1Co 14:32). That is, although the Spirit gives each one a gift, he never compels them to use it [though sometimes he does urge so strongly it can feel that way! (Jeremiah 20:9)] It is up to us to eagerly desire to move in the gifts and to stir ourselves up in faith, because we can only operate in the gifts in proportion to our faith (Ro 12:6).

Eagerly desiring something is not a passive activity; it does not have the attitude, "If it happens, it happens", but it does all that is within its power to make it happen. We can cry out to God to make himself manifest, and put ourselves completely at his disposal to be used in this way if he wills... but with an expectation and determination that we will indeed be used this way. Not out of arrogance, but out of an understanding from the Scriptures that this is the way God desires to make himself known.

If we think that such manifestations are just for the "charismatic" churches, we have not understood either the nature of the Church or the charismata. God only has one Church, no matter how fragmented man has made it, and the Spirit distributes his gifts to each (whether they believe in the continuation of the gifts or not!)

Equally if we think that prophecy is just for the prophets, we have not understood either the nature of prophecy or the ministry of the prophet. For the Church is by its very nature prophetic, and it is the ministry of the prophet to equip the saints to express this more fully, not to do all the prophesying themselves.

It is when we all grasp that our walk with God is designed to be lived in community amongst the continuing awesome manifest supernatural presence of God and each play our part in demonstrating this, this is when the church will truly shine out as Zion, the dwelling place of God most high!


For the Lord dwells in Zion

"For the Lord dwells in Zion." These are the closing words of the prophet Joel (after whom my second son gets his middle name). And what a profound statement it is! The writer of Hebrews says:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Zion represents the covenant community of God's people, and as such finds its ultimate fulfilment in the church. It is in the church, to the church, and through the church that God chooses to make manifest his glory.

When we come together as the people of God we are coming to Zion, and the awesome manifest presence and glory of God himself. This is what gives the church its true identity, nothing less. It is the assembled community of God's people where God himself is made manifest.

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. (Psalm 50:2)

It is a tragedy most profound when God's people trade this identify for mere meetings, activities, programmes, schedules, form-filling, number-crunching, seat-filling irrelevance. If we cease to make known the awesome wonder of a genuine encounter with the living God in our midst, we have lost what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ.

In Exodus 33 the Lord offers Moses such an exchange:

"Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."

The Lord offered them everything they wanted: their inheritance, victory over their enemies, abundant provision, even angelic visitation... but at the cost of the very thing that defined them as God's people - the presence of God himself.

When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. (Exodus 33:4)

This was one of the rare times when the people caught the heart of God straight away. It didn't matter how much "blessing" they had, if God was not present with them it was "a disaster!"

Imagine a meeting where people press into that which has eluded them for years, where the abundant provision of God is poured out in finance, heath, peace, and where there is even an angelic visitation! I wonder how many of us would describe such a meeting a "disaster" because we realise that what is most important is - "Did we encounter God himself?" If God didn't show up, would he even be missed, or have we been so caught up in the activities of church that we have forgotten what it's really all about.

I thank God that I attend a congregation where the presence of God is regularly manifest and highly valued... but loosing focus can be a real and present danger for us all, no matter what our church background.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
(Psalm 84:5-7)

It is not just on the last day that we shall stand before God in glory. For those who are joined to a genuine expression of Zion, the church of God, it should happen every time we come together!

"For the Lord dwells in Zion." Nothing less than the manifest presence of God in every meeting. Anything less is a disaster!


Good to be back

I've had a fantastic week at home with my wife and two sons. What a blessed man I am! Although I have now gone back to work for a rest! ;-)

As much as I enjoyed time out and time away, it was really good to join with the community of God's people on Sunday. Of course everyone wanted to see the new baby, but they also wanted to give us genuine love and congratulations, which were greatly appreciated.

The best part about being back with the people of God, of course, is the presence of God himself. Although God is with us everywhere at all times, there is a corporate anointing when we are joined together like living stones to form a spiritual house where God dwells by his Spirit. The church is not a physical building, but a spiritual dwelling, made out of people, and designed to be filled with the manifest presence of God. Although we are each individually designed to be filled with his Spirit, there is a dynamic that can only be experienced corporately. And even our individual filling is never designed to function in isolation. God has arranged each gift in the body just as he has seen fit.

So it was great to be back, and stepping out in the corporate dimension of the Holy Spirit again.

It's also good to be blogging again. Did you miss me? ;-)

One comment I had last week really tickled me:

Remember, while we all enjoy open, challenging, thought-provoking debate, we also like cute pictures of babies too!!!

That made me chuckle, so if baby pictures is what you want... click here.



Andrew Joel Hamer-Hodges. Born this morning at 5.06am. 7lb 4. Labour was quick and uncomplicated. Mother and baby are home and doing very well. Praise God for his goodness.

This proud dad may not be blogging much this week! Posted by Picasa


How can intellectual people believe the incredulous stories in the Bible?

This will be my last post in the series examining objections to the Gospel. I hope you have found it helpful. I have certainly appreciated all your comments.

What distinguishes Christians from other theists is that we don't just believe in a god, but we believe in the God who has revealed himself through the Scriptures - the Bible. But why do we have such a high confidence in this ancient manuscript? And why do we accept some of the accounts that some find so hard to believe? The creation of the world in six days. All the animals in Noah's Ark during a worldwide flood. Jonah in the belly of a fish for three days, and so on.

First, how do we know that these stories have not been embellished over the years? After all some of these accounts are several thousand years old. Well, this is easy to answer, because the Bible is the most accurately preserved ancient document bar none. The sheer volume of documents from all over the ancient world, means that if any one copyist introduced an error, it would be easy to spot by cross-referencing against the thousands of other manuscripts in existence. Indeed some minor inconsistencies were inevitably found this way. Any good translation of the Bible that you can buy today will not hide these but provide a footnote saying what the alternative manuscripts say. However the differences in meaning these alternative renderings give are almost always subtle, usually inconsequential, and never do they introduce a whole new concept out of thin-air!

So we know that the Bible we have today is an accurate version of the original documents as they were first recorded. We cannot therefore just dismiss what the Bible says, we must either accept it or reject it.

I want to focus on just one of these miraculous accounts. The account of the resurrection. For if the resurrection of Christ is untrue, then Christianity is false, the Bible is irrelevant, and there is no point continuing any further. But if the resurrection is fact, then it means that God can do anything - nothing is impossible for him. If Jesus was truly raised then this surely means that he was who he claimed to be - God incarnate, and everything he said, including his validation of all these Old Testament accounts is also true.

It all stands or falls on the resurrection. If Christ is raised from the dead, then no matter what other intellectual questions you still have, Christianity must be true. If he was not raised, no matter how accurately preserved the Bible is, it must be false.

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1Corinthians 15:17)

Now we have already asserted that our New Testament is an accurate version of what was originally written. But we also know that the New Testament was finished around 70AD only 40 years after the death of Christ, and some of the manuscripts date from as early as 50AD only 20 years after his death. We also know that Jesus preached to thousands. If what was written about Jesus' life was fictitious there would have still been multitudes of people who could have come forward and denounced it.

F. F. Bruce, Rylands professor of biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester, says concerning the value of the New Testament records as primary sources: "Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective."

But the same is also true for his resurrection:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1Corinthians 15:3-6)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (1John 1:1)

As well as the authors, there were over five hundred eye-witnesses at the time the manuscripts were written who could testify that Jesus was raised from the dead. Substantial evidence by any standards.

But the evidence does not end there for Jesus said that after he was raised from the dead, he would pour out the Holy Spirit upon his believers, and that they would continue to do the works that he had done. Healing the sick, delivering the oppressed, and other signs that would follow. The ongoing miraculous power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers is further proof that Jesus was indeed raised.

Athanasius writing in the fourth century after Christ said this:

In a word, then, those who disbelieve in the resurrection have no support in facts, if their gods and evil spirits do not drive away the supposedly dead Christ. Rather, it is He Who convicts them of being dead.

We are agreed that a dead person can do nothing: yet the Savior works mightily every day, drawing men to religion, persuading them to virtue, teaching them about immortality, quickening their thirst for heavenly things, revealing the knowledge of the Father, inspiring strength in face of death, manifesting Himself to each, and displacing the irreligion of idols; while the gods and evil spirits of the unbelievers can do none of these things, but rather become dead at Christ's presence, all their ostentation barren and void.

By the sign of the cross, on the contrary, all magic is stayed, all sorcery confounded, all the idols are abandoned and deserted, and all senseless pleasure ceases, as the eye of faith looks up from earth to heaven. Whom, then, are we to call dead? Shall we call Christ dead, Who effects all this? But the dead have not the faculty to effect anything. Or shall we call death dead, which effects nothing whatever, but lies as lifeless and ineffective as are the evil spirits and the idols?

The Son of God, "living and effective," is active every day and effects the salvation of all; but death is daily proved to be stripped of all its strength, and it is the idols and the evil spirits who are dead, not He. No room for doubt remains, therefore, concerning the resurrection of His body.

So the short answer to the original question is faith. Faith that Jesus was raised from the dead, without which none can claim to be a Christian. Faith that this proves who he said he was, the Son of God. Faith that is means that every word from his mouth is trustworthy and true, and so his validation of the Scriptures are all we need. Faith that the God who raised Jesus from the dead, can do anything.

I'm impressed with the scientist who can solve three-dimensional differential equations in his head, but I'm more impressed in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. I'm impressed with the astronomer whose telescope can look back to the dawn of time, but I'm more impressed with the God who was there when it happened. I'm impressed with all the clever people from whatever their field, zoology, palaeontology, geology; but I'm more impressed by the one who spoke everything that they study into existence. Why do I believe it? Because the Jesus who rose from the dead said that not the smallest letter from all the Scriptures would ever be shown false or void. That's good enough for me!



I'm not finished with this series examining objections to the Gospel, but I don't want to move on from where we are just yet.

Rather than post something new, I invite you to read (and join in) with the conversations taking place on some of the earlier posts.

I don't have all the answers, and some of my readers have got great things to say!


Who put Jesus on the cross?

This is not a question that is asked directly in objection to the Gospel, but it is a parallel question that deals with everything we have looked at thus far.

Who did put Jesus on the cross? Was it Judas who betrayed him? Was it the Jews who handed him over to be crucified? Was it the Romans who did the deed? Was it the Father who sent him to die? Or was it Jesus himself who surrendered his life in obedience to the Father's will?

Well, the answer to all these questions is: "Yes" - they are all true. And because they are all true we see something wonderful. The cross may not be the intellectually watertight answer we were looking for, but it is the answer that God gives. In the cross he demonstrates what he is like.

In the cross God demonstrates that he is sovereign over all things and is good and loving even through the suffering and evil that is in the world. He works even the worst evil towards our ultimate good.

In the cross God demonstrates that Jesus is the only way to come to God. He would not have sent his beloved Son to die if there was any other way.

In the cross God demonstrates that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

And in the cross God demonstrates both just how much he hates sin, and just how much he loves us. He sent Jesus to die and take the full punishment for sin in our place.

The cross is God's answer to all our questions. The Apostle Paul when he went to the city of Corinth said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." His answer to all their but-hows and but-whys was always the same: "Look at the cross." He resolved not to reduce the mysteries of God to the confines of his own wisdom and understanding (as considerable as those were), but rather to point people to where they could see the full demonstration of that mystery for themselves.

The only way we will ever get the answers we seek to our questions, is when we grasp the meaning of the cross of Christ.

When we do see it for what it really is, we realise there is another shocking answer to the question, "Who put Jesus on the cross?"...

I did!

Accepting Christ died for everyone is one thing, but it's not the same as realising Christ died for me! When I go to the chemist with a sickness, the medicine that the pharmacist hands me may be the same medicine he gives to everyone else, but when it comes over the counter it has got my name written on it. Just so, when I look at the cross, I don't just see Jesus taking the sins of the world. I see God's medicine for my condition with my name written all over it. Jesus hung there for my sin!

This is how Peter addressed the crowds in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, who had come from "every nation under heaven":

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:36-37)

When we realise that we put Jesus on the cross, and he hung there for us, it demands a response.


How can a God of love send people to hell?

This is another common objection to the Gospel. It goes something like this: God is good, and he only does what is good. But someone going to hell for all eternity is very bad. So how can a good God do such a thing? It's not just unbelievers who struggle with this either, as Libbie has recently observed, some believers struggle with it too.

So how do we square a God of love with a God who sends people to hell? Well consider the following scenario: Imagine you are in court at the trial of a notorious killer. Everyone is expecting he will get a hefty prison term. However when the judge comes out, he recognises that the accused is actually his estranged son. Moved with compassion he dismisses all charges and lets the killer go free. What would you think of such a judge? Is he a good man because he acted in love? Is that justice? Not at all! Such a judge would be flung out for corruption and abuse of his office.

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)

This is what we must understand about God. He is not just our loving Father, he is also the just Judge of all the world. And even though the office is self-appointed, he takes this position so seriously that he cannot abuse it. No matter how much he loves us (and he does love us more than any earthy father loves his most precious child) he cannot just "let us off". He must treat us according to what we have done.

Well, you might think, that's ok for the notorious killer, but I haven't done anything that bad. Why would God send me to hell? This is where we are guilty of making God in our own image (idolatry), we assume that just because we consider some misdemeanours as not very serious, God must feel the same way.

You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother's son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
~ Psalm 50:19-21

But God is not like us, and his view of sin is often very different from our own! He is not just a God of love, but a God of hate too. He loves all that is good, but hates all that is evil. He is a holy God. He cannot tolerate any wickedness, no matter how small. If he were to do so, he would no longer be good. The standard of what is "good enough" is not ours to set, the standard is God's. It is a standard that all alike have fallen short of.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

And what is the penalty for our sin?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

This is why Jesus had to come and die. God could not just overlook our sins and still be the just Judge. But nor would his consuming Father's heart of love allow him to just sit back and watch his children die and suffer eternal separation. So he sent his son, Jesus, to take the punishment in our place. Through him God reveals himself to be both a God of love and a God of justice.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)

We don't often talk about hell. But Jesus warns us that it is a real place of great anguish, a place we should do all we can to avoid going to!

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

There are many things that can prevent someone coming to Jesus. It may just be pride and stubbornness. It may be a relationship or a lifestyle choice that you know you would have to end if you received Jesus as Lord. It might be something that is so much a part of you that you think - "Well, that's just the way I am." It may seem as much a part of you as your right eye. But Jesus' words cause us to stop and pause for thought. Whatever it is - is it worth going to hell for?


If God is the good shepherd why do so many sheep stray?

One objection to the Gospel that unbelievers often raise - indeed it was raised at least once on this blog last week - is, "If God is the good shepherd, why do so many sheep go astray?" If God wants no-one to perish, why don't more people accept the Gospel? Do the sheep have to look for evidence of the shepherd, or should the shepherd look for the sheep?

The first point I want to make, is that the Bible doesn't teach that some sheep have strayed, but that we have all strayed:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; (Isa 53:6)

The other thing, is that once we have come to Christ, he proves that he is the good shepherd by keeping us secure from straying.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. (John 10:27-29)

So the real question is "Why don't more sheep return?"

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25)

Jesus himself expressed this problem using another analogy:

"The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest." (Luke 10:2)

God has chosen to work though men and women. This was the reason he created them: that they might bring his order to the earth as it exists in heaven. There is nothing wrong with the farmer who sowed the seed, or the harvest that came up, its just waiting for labourers to go out and bring them in. The sheep who have not yet returned to the shepherd need to be told the good news, that they can come back.

The issue is "What will we do about it?" If we are straying - will we return? And having returned, will we then go out again with the message of hope. God doesn't just save us to give us a ticket to heaven, but to make us a part of his great eternal plan for this world.


From the archives: Artificial Intelligence

Well, it's been a busy week here! I've seen my site traffic triple, and a new record set for the number of comments to one of my posts. So far the series on Objections to the Gospel has been more successful than I had imagined. Many thanks to all of you who have taken part. Thank you also to those such as Andrew B, who has spread the word on his own blog.

I'd like to give a special thanks to Steven Carr, who is a brave man to take a stand as an unbeliever on this blog. He has kept us on our toes, provoked good discussions, and has made sure we keep our thinking sharp. I like to think of all of my commenters as my "guests" and treat them accordingly. Steven is just as much my guest here as anyone else.

Rather than post anything new today, I thought I bring something up from the archives. A bit of light relief, but still thought provoking. I'll resume the series on Monday with "If God is the good shepherd, why do so many sheep go astray?" Have your thoughts ready.

Artificial Intelligence

If a Computer Program could think:
  • Would it believe that its programmer exists?

  • Would it think instead that binary data and processor logic was all that was needed to understand its universe?

  • Would it wonder "Who programmed the programmer?" or "Where is his source code?"

  • Would it hold that all different beliefs in the programmer were equally valid?

  • Would it believe in life after reboot?

Originally posted 3 December 2004


Is the UK a Christian country?

"Most people reading this (in the UK) will have a version of Christianity." That is how the quote in yesterday's post started. I want to examine this a bit more.

Statistics from various sources on the 'net suggest that 71% of the population of the UK profess to being Christians. So on the face of it the UK is a Christian country. However in a similar poll, when asked if they believed in God only 55% of the UK said yes! And the percentage for those who actually attend a church meeting is only 6%!

What kind of "version of Christianity" is that?! A Christianity where nearly 1 in 4 disbelieve in God, and less that 1 in 10 do anything about their beliefs!

Let's be straight. The UK is not a Christian country, and the "version of Christianity" that most people in the UK profess is not Christianity at all! This is the problem. There is a massive ignorance about what being a Christian actually means.

Living in a (so-called) "Christian country" does not make you a Christian.

Being brought up in a "Christian home" does not make you a Christian.

Being sprinkled with water in church when you were a baby does not make you a Christian.

Accepting the "basic values" of the Christian faith does not make you a Christian.

Attending church does not make you a Christian.

Even believing in the God of the Bible does not make you a Christian.

The only thing that makes you a Christian is when you make a personal decision to follow Jesus Christ; when you surrender your life to him, ask him to forgive you for all your sins, and tell someone that you have done it.

By all current analysis, being brought up in the UK gives you no advantage in this area. It may even serve as a disadvantage, if like me you grew up beleiving you were a Christian, when you were not, just because you believed in God and tried to be nice!

Compare this to Africa where the number of Christians has grown from 3% of the population in 1900 to a figure of 45-50% today, with an estimated 16,000 people converting to Christianity every day!

Or Korea. In 1900 Korea had no Protestant church and the country was deemed impossible to penetrate. Today Korea is 30% Christian with 7000 churches in Seoul alone and several of these churches have over 1,000,000 members.

Or China. There are currently 60-80 million Christians in China with between 10,000-25,000 converts a day.

Or South America, or India... There a places all over this world where the Gospel is exploding.

So, let's not accept the nonsense that Christianity is a "western phenomenon" or a "geographic lottery". It is the largest faith worldwide, with more converts per year than any other - undisputed.

This "version of Christianity" that the quote refers to is what Paul called "a form of godliness but denying its power." This weak and insipid variety of nominal belief only serves to inoculate people against the real deal. People think they know about Jesus when in fact they have never seriously investigated his claims.

If you're not sure if you are a Christian, or what Jesus actually claimed, don't take it for granted - read it for yourself in the Gospel of Mark.

* The statistics on this page are not exact and whilst not deliberately wrong are almost certainly inaccurate to some degree - but they are representative of the overall picture.


With so many religions, how can yours be right?

Here is an excerpt from a previous online discussion I was involved with:

Most people reading this (in the UK) will have a version of Christianity ... from Ma and Pa. Not many will be Zen Bhuddist, for example. But the Zens also get it from their parents. In the words of the old graffito "Religion, like life, is a sexually transmitted disease". Statistically, never mind any otherwise, it's pretty unlikely that we just happen to be hearing about the one true religion from our own mum and dad.

Next, as e.g. Jacob Bronowski pointed out, there is a wide range of religions on offer, each with definite claims to their being the only true one. Obviously, even on their own terms, all but one of them must wrong. Statistically (again) therefore, it's highly unlikely any one of them is right. Logically, you have to reject the lot.

So this is the question I want to examine next: Does the presence of a plethora of other religions invalidate the claims of Christ? Is Christianity just another religion? And, If there is only one path to God, how can we be so sure we have found it? Is there more to faith than just a "geographic lottery" as the above writer would suggest?

First, lets examine this from a purely logical point of view. If you are presented with a set of mutually exclusive statements (about anything) there are only two logical alternatives: either they are all wrong, or only one is correct.

[This is the fallacy in modern "political correctness" about religions. The only way they can all be of equal merit is if they are all equally wrong! This is nothing more than atheism dressed up in the guise of religious "tolerance". Being tolerant of other people irrespective of their beliefs is a good thing (just so we are clear on that!) but the pretence that everyone's opinion is equally valid is pure nonsense!]

However, the logic that the more alternatives there are the less likely that one will be correct is totally wrong. If anything it is the other way round. If a statement (about anything) is true, then it remains equally true regardless of how many false statements are made in opposition.

So if Christianity is true, if what Jesus claimed about himself and recorded in the Gospels is accurate, then it is not affected one jot by the presence of other religions. Christianity stands or falls in the claims made by the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth.

So what did Jesus claim? Well the first thing to note is that Jesus was not keen on religion and religious types. The last thing Jesus came to do was to institute "just another religion". If his mission had been as banal and inconsequential as that, they would never have crucified him! What he came to do was to restore relationship with God. (If you are confused what the difference between religion and relationship with God is, let me point you to a couple of excellent articles my friends Ricky and Mark have recently posted on the subject.)

Next, Jesus did not claim to have one of may ways to know God. He claimed the one and only way. More than that, unlike every other religious leader, he did not just claim to know that way, he claimed to be the way.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:16)

This faith in Jesus is passed on, not by family tradition, or by church attendance, but as each one individually accepts the claims of Christ and surrenders their life to him. The fact that your mum and dad believe in Jesus means nothing if you do not choose to bow the knee to him yourself.

Finally, there is no geographic boundary to the Gospel. Jesus gave clear instructions that his disciples were to take it to the people of every nation, tribe and tongue.

How do we know that we have found the truth? We know because the Gospels, other historic evidence, and millions of transformed lives all over the world proclaim: Christ is risen indeed!

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)


Faith is in the question

I listened to a bit of BBC Radio 4 on the way into work this morning, and caught the middle of a conversation between John Humphries and his guest. His guest was a Rabbi and the question he was asking him was: "If God exists, why is there so much suffering?"

The programme is part of a series called "Humphries in Search of God." Where he has asked this question to a Christian, a Muslim and a Jewish leader. I listened to the previous programme where he spoke to the Archbishop of Canterbury and was disappointed with the answers the Archbishop gave. He was there to represent Christianity, but limited himself to talking purely as a theist. He only mentioned Jesus once in passing, and focused mainly on the philosophical implications of free will.

However, I was very impressed with some of the Rabbi's answers. This one in particular caught my attention. [I'm quoting from memory, so apologies for any inaccuracies]

Faith is in the question. If God does not exist then the Universe is oblivious to our existence. It is blind to our affliction and deaf to our pain. There is no question of suffering if there is no God. To ask the question shows that you are already grappling with faith.

I like that! It had occurred to me too, that those who disbelieve in God, still have a very clear idea of the kind of God they disbelieve in!


If God exists why is there so much suffering?

I'm starting this series, examining objections that are raised to the gospel, by looking at one of the biggest. The existence of suffering, injustice, grief and misery in this world is undeniable. You only have to listen to the news for a few minutes to hear of some atrocity or tragedy that has devastated real lives.

Yet we believe in a loving compassionate God, one who is sovereign and all-powerful. There is nothing that is outside of his power to influence, and there is nothing that is less than perfect and good in his nature. How do we reconcile the two? Indeed, some would ask, can they be reconciled?

First of all, I want say that however we approach this subject it must be with sensitivity and compassion. There are no easy answers, and even if there were, a glib comment gives no relief to those whose lives have been turned upside-down by tragedy. This subject has engaged great minds for centuries, and if we think we are going to come up with something definitive in a few lines in a blog we are in for disappointment!

This doesn't mean, though, that we have nothing to say, or that we have nothing that can be of comfort. The Bible has volumes to say about suffering, and about the suffering of the Innocent; indeed one of the longest and oldest books in the Bible is devoted exclusively to this subject (a book sadly neglected by many Christians) - the book of Job.

Job was a man who faced in one day, tragedy that most will never face in a lifetime. He lost his children, this fortune, even his health. He was left with nothing. In this situation he had to face the issue we now examine, but not as an intellectual exercise, but from the inside. How could a good God cause so much suffering in his life when he had done nothing to deserve it. His own wife told him to abandon his faith in the goodness of God. His friends tried to persuade him that he must have deserved it. But Job set a remarkable example in that in all that he suffered he maintained that God was good and worthy to be praised. In the end Job's faith was rewarded and his fortunes were restored to everything they were before and more.

There is however an even greater example of one who suffered though he had done nothing wrong - the example of Christ himself. Whatever the reason for suffering, it is clear that it is indeed something that God cares about deeply! Wherever he went, Jesus did good and mended broken lives. He brought comfort, healing, forgiveness and restoration to whomever he met. More than this he took upon himself the most horrendous suffering, the like of which we will never know, all for our sakes. God is not detached and aloof from our sufferings. He does not look down and think: "Serves them right!" However much the news of the latest tragedy moves us, it moves God's heart more. Indeed it moved him so much, he sent his only son to die to put it right.

So how did it go wrong in the fist place? Well, when God created man, he was created to give God glory. He was the pinnacle of God's creation. As such, he was not a mindless automaton, or a powerless slave that had no option but to do what God asked. Where would be the glory in praise from such as these? But man was created with both choice, and freedom to exercise that choice. The love and worship he gave to God would be freely given. However in giving man the choice and freedom to choose good, he by necessity gave him the choice and freedom to choose evil.

God did not create evil, but he did allow it to take place because of his greater desire to be united with us - the objects of his affection. In this way the existence of evil no more disproves the existence of God, than the existence of shadows disproves the existence of sunshine.

If what we saw today was all there was or ever would be there would indeed be cause to question the goodness or power of God. But we know that although not all things are good, God is working all things for good. Just like the sufferings of Job, we know that God will not let the situation go on forever, and that there will come a reckoning when every deed will be accounted for, every tear will be dried, and any suffering will be more than compensated for.


Objections to the Gospel

Following my post on "Is Christianity a Crutch?", my friend Mark suggested that it would make a good series to examine other objections that are raised to the Gospel message, and to open them up to discussion. The objective being to make us better prepared and more confident to engage with those who have such objections.

I don't claim to be a gifted evangelist, nor do I pretend to have all the answers to some of these difficult questions; so, dear reader, I'll need your help if this series is to succeed. Don't be shy to offer your thoughts on how to answer these questions, or to share from your experience in engaging those who have raised them.

The emphasis should be not just how to give a good answer, but also to identify what stage on their journey to faith people who ask these questions are likely to be, and how we can help them to take the next step. As I have said before, we want to win people not arguments.

So, I'm opening the series off by taking suggestions on what questions we should tackle.

Here are my own ideas:

  • If God exists why is there so much suffering?

  • With so many contradictory religions in the word, what makes you think yours is the right one?

  • Isn't religion is the cause of all the world's problems?

  • How can intellectual people believe the incredulous stories in the Bible?

Let's hear yours...


Is Christianity a Crutch?

This is one of the age-old accusations that is thrown at Christians. "You need faith because you are weak and cannot cope with life without it: Christianity is just a crutch." I saw this raised again, and a prominent Christian sportsman's response on, the cover of Alpha News.

I'll not go into details of how this guy responded, because to be honest I haven't read it yet. But it got me thinking about this issue. So here are my own thoughts. Take them or leave them. If you find them helpful you are more than welcome to use them. Not all of it may be appropriate though, it depends at what level and in what context you have this conversation. Remember, we are into winning people not arguments!

First, the argument that Christianity is somehow invalidated because I, a weak person, need it, whether that be true or not, is invalid logic. It is an ad hominem fallacy. The relevance of Christianity stands or falls on whether it is true. Not on the weakness or strength of those who believe it to be true.

Second, if I have a need it would be folly to refuse the answer to that need, just because I'm too proud to admit I need one. Leaving aside the emotive description of "crutch", to become a Christian you do have to confess that you are weak. If I am sick, I would be a fool not to call the doctor because of some perceived stigma attached to not being well. Just so, when I become aware of my sin, it would be folly not to call upon the one who can forgive me. I am not too proud to admit that I am weak and sinful without Christ, and that in him I have found strength and forgiveness.

Finally, the analogy of "crutch" is a bad description of what receiving Christ is about. It implies that I could hobble along quite well without him, and that he comes along to strengthen and support me as I continue along in my old broken life. Nothing could be further from the truth! No-one can receive Christ just to "patch up" their old life; there must be a complete transfer new for old. Jesus did not come into my life to help me do my own thing. He came when I surrendered my whole life to him and committed myself to do his thing. My old broken life is gone, and in him I have a new life - forgiven, restored, and full of purpose and power.

I didn't receive a crutch when I came to Christ; I received a complete life-transplant!


Worth the wait

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

Picture the scene: It is late and dark, and cold. I'm out in a carpark miles away from home with my three-and-a-half year old son... He's not happy.

He pleads with me to take him home, but I refuse.

Taken in issolation, if you did not know me, you might think this made me a bad father. Why keep your young boy up so late? Why keep him out in the cold and dark? Why shut your ears to his pleadings?

... but then the fireworks start ...

All discomfort, tiredness and cold is forgotten. His face lights up with delight. Cries of "Wow!" and "I like that one!" replace the pleas to return home. He was glad we had stayed.

A vital part of staying patient through trials, testings, or tribulations is to recall that God is our Father. Human fathers may fail and let us down, but God never will. Although not all things are good, all things are worked for our good if we are called according to his purpose. If he takes us through, or allows us to go through, tough times, we can be sure he has a purpose behind it. One for our good and prosperity and not to bring us to harm. We may need to wait. It might seem like it takes forever. It might seem like God has shut his ears to our entreaty. But he knows what he is doing.

One day we will see the results of our patience... if we do not give up. And on that day we will cry: "Wow! It was worth the wait!"



And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8 ESV)

The Scriptures say that nothing without faith, or in the flesh, can in any way please God. The obvious inference is that the essentials to please God are faith and being in the Holy Spirit.

In fact the two are really one. For if I am not relying on the Holy Spirit, if I am relying on the flesh - my own natural gifts and abilities - then I have removed the need for faith. I don't need faith to do what I know I can do. It is only when I move beyond my own limits and step out in the Spirit that I need to exercise faith.
The road of faith and the road the Holy Spirit guides us down are one and the same. Nothing we do that veers off this road has any merit before God.


And Justification For All

If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Ro 5:17-18)

I was reading Romans 5 yesterday. I was reading it out loud actually. I love the reading of the Scriptures, even if I am just reading them out loud to myself. When I do it, I wonder why I don't do it more often! Something I have done before, when I really want to get into a book of Scripture is to record myself reading it out loud (a PC and a microphone is all you need) and then burn it to CD to listen to on the way into work. After all faith comes by hearing. I did this with the book of Daniel before I did my series of teachings on it, and I'm doing it now with the book of Romans (not because I'm teaching it, but because we are studying it as part of a course on Evangelism).

The first thing that struck me about chapter 5, is just how difficult it is to read in the ESV! (Try it if you want a challenge.) Part of the ESV's accuracy means all Paul's clauses and sub-clauses are preserved in all their complexity. There are some sentences that you really need to know where they are going before you start off.

Part of the difficulty is the phrase "much more". For someone like me, who has read the NIV for seventeen years, the urge to say "How much more" was overwhelming. Just "much more" didn't quite sound right. It was hard to construct the sentence around this and still make it sound right.

But it does highlight something. Paul was not asking a question; not even a rhetorical one! The work of Christ is much greater than the work of Adam. If it is true that all receive sin and death because of Adam, then it is even more true that all are offered justification and life because of Jesus. This is Paul's main argument in this chapter.

I believe absolutely in the total sovereignty of God. Even the slightest hint of dualism is an anathema to me. But this chapter is the reason I can never consider myself a Calvinist. There was nothing limited about Christ's atonement. There is no economy in his blood. It is of infinite worth, and cleanses not just all who turn to him, but the Cosmos itself!

Although all those who turn to him have their names recorded from the beginning of time, God does not predestine anyone to hell. It's not his will that anyone should perish. Christ did not just die for the elect, or for his church - his blood was more than sufficient for every need of the whole world even if they were multiplied a million times over.

God's power of salvation and justification is offered to all who would believe. I'm catching again why evangelists love this book! I love it too.


Final fishy fun for Friday

Apologies to those with no interest in mathematics. Normal service will be resumed next week, with more insights into God's word.

Just a couple more observations on 153 before I leave the subject.

153 is also rather rare in that it is divisible by the sum of its digits:

153 / (1 + 5 + 3) = 17

Now, if I receive 1 fish on day 1, and 2 fish on day 2, 3 fish on day 3, and so on. How many fish will I have after 17 days?

No need to reply. You should know the answer by now! ;-)

God is the greatest mathematician!


Fish Cubes

Here's an interesting number game for you to try when you have a few spare minutes (and a calculator!):

1) Think of a number, any number, pick one at random. Can be as big or small as you like.

2) Multiply this number by 3

3) Split the number into its digits (e.g. 27 would give you 2 and 7)

4) Calculate the cube of each of these digits (the "cube" is calculated by multiplying the number by itself three times. e.g. 2 cubed = 2x2x2 = 8. 7 cubed = 7x7x7 = 343)

5) Add the cubes together to form a new number

6) Repeat steps 3->5; splitting the number into its digits, and summing the cubes. Stop when the number doesn't change.

What do you get? Post your answer in the comments.


153 - a fishy play on numbers

So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. (Jn 21:11)

WARNING: What follows is not a rigorous exegesis of this passage. In fact it's not intended to be an exegesis at all. It's just an amusing play on numbers that will (a) serve as a mnemonic for this number (b) draw out some truth easily exegeted elsewhere.

Let's start with some maths that is indisputable:

153 = 70 + 72 + 11

Now I'm just going to use these numbers as a "hook" without inferring this significance is implied in the passage.

In Matthew 4, Jesus calls the disciples to leave their jobs as fishermen and to follow him to become "fishers of men". In Luke 9 Jesus sends out the 12 (of whom 11 were left at this post-resurrection appearing), and in Luke 10 he sends out the seventy-two, which some texts render as the seventy.

Jesus said he would make them fishers of men, and in this miraculous catch of fish there is a connection to the numbers of men who were sent by Jesus: the 70/72 and the 11. A link between the catch in and the commission.

What I would like to draw out is that Jesus did not just draw men to himself, but fishers of men. Those who would themselves be sent to draw men after him. In turn the disciples were not just fishers of men, but fishers of fishers-of-men. The disciples were not just told to go out and make converts, but more disciples. Those who are drawn are also sent. They are sent to draw men who in turn are also sent, and so on. To switch analogies, the harvest is not just bread for the eater, but seed for the sower. That is, the harvest itself is intended to produce a still greater harvest.

Here's some more maths:

153 + 40 = 193

Now this is definitely not inferred in the passage, but 193 is the number of nations currently recognised by the United Nations. Forty is significant for many things, but in the context the hook I'd like to use is that it is the number of days during which the risen Christ presenced himself among his disciples before he was taken up into heaven.

As fishers of men, the disciples were called to go into all the world; to reach every nation tribe and tongue. But despite all their natural resource they were warned that this is a job they would be unable to do without the empowering presence of God with them - the Holy Spirit poured out by the risen ascended Christ.

Since the number of nations changes year to year, I appreciate this is a hook with a limited lifespan! But for me, and those in related churches it is one that will stick in the mind, as we have recently committed to go into all 193 nations over the next two years. [See www.mission193.com]

This number study is just a bit of fun, but I hope it has blessed you. At least you'll never forget how many fish were caught now! For any School of the Word Students (any of you reading this year?) this is a question, as I recall, in your end of year Bible-knowledge exam, so here's one extra mark on me! ;-)


Happy Reformation Day!

On this day 489 years ago, a monk by the name of Martin Luther posted a theological article in a public place. A fairly insignificant action in itself, but one that would change the world! When Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, to use Arthur Wallis's analogy, the cracks spread out across the reservoir wall. The flood that was released when the walls collapsed is what we now refer to as the Reformation.

This revival, for revival it was, was not so much a revival of power, but of truth. Revealing the eternal truth in God's word is just as much the activity of the Spirit of God as the manifestations of power. It recaptured the truth at the very heart of the gospel - that man can do nothing to earn or merit salvation; grace is a free gift of God extended to all who are dead in sin, and unable to save themselves, that through faith alone they may become alive to God because of what Jesus alone has done.

As with all moves of God, and men of God that have preceded us, we are indebted to Luther and the Reformation. We would not be where we are today without them. But equally we have an obligation to take the lessons learned and move on. Luther fought his fight of faith to free the church from the bondage to unbiblical traditions, not to replace them with a new set! Being "Reformed" is not fundamental to the essence of the church, though through the Reformation essential truth about what it means to be the church was reclaimed. An important distinction. We have an obligation to remember the past - not to live in it!

The principle of Sola Scriptura - applying all doctrines and practice in the church upon the authority of the Scriptures alone, is as vital today as it was in Luther's day. When men deny the power and operation of the gifts of the Spirit based on their experience and church traditions; when homosexual men are put in positions of church leadership based on current culture and opinions; when the church can be governed by any man-made scheme as long as it is not the model of Apostolic delegation seen in the New Testament - it's time to recapture what Sola Scriptura really means. Not to look back nostalgically at the ground that was taken 500 years ago, but to take up the baton and press into all that it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ revealed in God's eternal word today!

Ever since the light was almost eclipsed in medieval times, God has been working to restore to the church the light, the purity, and the power that are her birthright and that characterized her in the first century. The affairs of God’s house must be re-established as He instituted them at the beginning. The ways of apostolic Christianity must be recovered or the church of the latter days will never ride the storms that already threaten to engulf her. God has used revivals to this end.

During such times, new light has broken from the sacred page, and out of such times new expressions of the church have evolved, recovering (in most cases) something more of the mind of God. Only when the new truth became central and the work was built around it, instead of around Christ, and only when believers became more diligent in holding fast to the new truth than in holding fast to Christ, did the movement become denominational and sectarian.

Although the revivals of the future will surely reveal that there is yet more land to be possessed in this respect, let us never forget what we owe to the spiritual momentum derived from the movements of the past. And let us be ready to walk in whatever new light may break forth when once again God is pleased to manifest His power and glory.

~ Arthur Wallis


Anthony & Lucy's Wedding Photos

I have had a number of Google hits from people looking for photos of my brother's wedding in Edinburgh. I'm happy to use my Google rating to point people in the right direction:

Arthur Wallis on Revival

There was once a reservoir in the hills that supplied a village community with water. It was fed by a mountain stream, and the overflow of the reservoir continued down the streambed to the valley below. There was nothing remarkable about this stream--it seldom overflowed its banks or gave the villagers any trouble.

One day, however, some large cracks appeared in one of the walls of the reservoir. The wall collapsed and the waters burst down the hillside, destroying all the houses and bridges that lay in its path. The streambed could no longer contain the volume of water, and the overflow inundated the countryside. What had before been ignored or taken for granted now became an object of awe, wonder, and fear.

This is a fitting picture of revival. Often in the period just preceding this kind of breakthrough, the stream of divine power and blessing has seemed unusually low. The people of God and the work of God have been in great affliction and reproach, despised or ignored by those around them. In response, however, to the prayers of a burdened remnant, God has been quietly heaping the flood. Suddenly, when the majority has no expectation of it, God opens the windows of heaven and pours out his blessing in such abundance that the channels of organized religion cannot contain it.

The flood of life and blessing then becomes an object of awe and wonder. Works of darkness and strongholds of Satan that have long resisted the normal influences of the Spirit are swept away. Stubborn wills that have long withstood the overtures of the gospel and the pleadings and prayers of loved ones now bend and break before the irresistible flow of the Spirit, to be engulfed themselves and borne along in the stream of blessing.

Thus does God see fit to use revival to create spiritual momentum, to accomplish in days what could never otherwise be achieved in years of normal Christian activity. However, in our zeal for revival, we must not disparage what is achieved in the quieter seasons for God has His purposes in these times also. The patrolling and the harassing and the limited advances are all essential to the big offensive. “The day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10) is preparatory and supplementary to “the day of [God’s] power” (Psalm 110:3), and we must not despise it.

Arthur Wallis : The Purpose of Revival (Part I)


Running with the Good News

Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, "Let me run and carry news to the king that the Lord has delivered him from the hand of his enemies." And Joab said to him, "You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king's son is dead." Then Joab said to the Cushite, "Go, tell the king what you have seen." The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran. Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, "Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite." And Joab said, "Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?" "Come what may," he said, "I will run." So he said to him, "Run." Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite. (2Sa 18:19-23)

Following on from yesterday's post of seeing the death of Absalom as a type of the death of Christ, this passage about Ahimaaz' determination to run with the good news takes on an immediate relevance and application to us today.

First, Ahimaaz understood it was good news. He didn't want to run and proclaim that the King's son was dead, but that the victory was won; the King's enemies were defeated; the price of peace had been payed, and as a result no more of the King's sons or subjects need die.

We need to understand and remind ourselves that the message we carry about the cross is good news. If we are not presenting it as good news, we are not presenting the Gospel, because that is what gospel means: "good news". We are not just telling people that Jesus died, but that because he died the victory over sin and death is won. God's enemies are defeated. And because of his sacrifice we can have peace with God and an eternal life that starts today. That's good news!

Next, Ahimaaz refused to be dissuaded form his determination to run with the good news. He was offered plenty of excuses not to run: "It won't be received as good news," "You can do it another day," "Someone else is better qualified to bring it," "You won't see any reward for your efforts." - Sound familiar? But Ahimaaz understood not only the nature of the message, but his obligation to run with it. He would not be stopped by anyone or anything.

"Come what may, I will run."

I like this guy! And I have to confess - he challenges and provokes me! I can't claim that I am there yet - but I want to be!


Death of the Prince - The Price of Peace

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great terebinth, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

Joab said, "I will not waste time like this with you." And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak.

Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them.

And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

2 Samuel 18:9,14,16,33

Discerning readers will probably know where I am going with this already, but if not let me highlight the details. The King's dearly beloved son, lifted up on a tree, his torso pierced, and the high price that was paid to bring peace to God's people. As unlikely as it may seem, in Absalom's death we see another type of Christ.

Now anyone who knows anything about the story will know that Absalom was anything but a model son! Apart from leading a rebellion against the King, he was also a murderer and a rapist. You could not think of anyone more different from the holy and humble Son who went to the cross in submission to God's will. But if seeing a symbol of sin and wickedness where we expect to see Jesus alarms us, we should remember that the precedent has already been set much earlier in Scripture.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. (Jn 3:14)

What was Moses thinking? You'd have thought if he was going to prefigure the death of Christ he could have chosen a more appropriate symbol, wouldn't you? If Moses had lifted up a pure white lamb, or a dove, we would have got it, right? But a SERPENT! The epitome of rebellion and sin. How can that represent Christ?

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Co 5:21)

You see, something very powerful is being communicated to us through these types: Just how much God hates sin, and how high the price was to free us from it. Jesus, when he went to the cross became the embodiment of sin. Though he himself was sinless he took upon himself all the sins of the world. The cross was a very ugly moment; Isaiah predicted that in his 52 and 53 chapters, and anyone who has seen the film The Passion of Christ will know there was nothing pretty there. Jesus did not just become ugly because of his beatings and lashings, but because he took upon himself all the ugliness of every evil deed.

Something else is communicated through this passage. Something very precious indeed... The heart of the Father.

We often major on (and rightly so) all that Christ went through as he went to the cross. His obedience even in the face of death is enough to keep us praising for all eternity. But the New Testament is rather quiet when it comes to what the Father himself was experiencing at this time. It is left for us to discover the Father's heart through the types and shadows left for us in the Old Testament. Types found in the accounts of men like Abraham, Jephthah and David. Men whose stories communicate the exceptionally high price the Father was prepared to pay to make provision, stay true to his word, and bring peace to his people. Anyone who thinks that God made a cold calculating assessment that Jesus had to die, and then stood back detached and emotionless is a million miles off! The Father loves the Son with an intensity of emotion that eclipses even the best of us as fathers.

In the face of such love, we gain a fresh perspective on the cost the Father paid to bring us peace. And perhaps we can read again and be moved to tears by the most powerful verse in the Bible. One that has often been robbed of its impact through over-familiarity.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)


Without Borders Google Search

Google have just released a service that allows you to create your own custom Google searches. Jumping on the waggon early, I have knocked together one for all things Ministries Without Borders related. The search is done on the Without Borders website, all related church sites, Covenant School of Ministries sites, and all related blogs (that I currently have in my Band of Bloggers list). I'm sure the list is incomplete, but it's a start. Give it a go.

Without Borders Search

If you would like to add the search to your site/blog, insert the following code:

<b>Without Borders Search</b>
<form action="http://google.com/cse" id="searchbox_013573112956649578089:bwa5ol4pljq">
<input name="cx" type="hidden" value="013573112956649578089:bwa5ol4pljq"/>
<input name="q" size="40" type="text"/>
<input name="sa" type="submit" value="Search"/>
<input name="cof" type="hidden" value="FORID:0"/>
<script src="http://google.com/coop/cse/brand?form=searchbox_013573112956649578089%3Abwa5ol4pljq" type="text/javascript"/>

If you would like to offer to help keep the service upto date, visit the new homepage for this search, where you should see a link to volunteer.


Just like us!

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. (James 5:17)

I love the Old Testament. (You may have gathered that by now!) It's God's "picture book". The eternal truths of God's plan, revealed in the New Testament, are contained in the Old Testament in picture form. What the New Testament writers called "Types" and "Shadows".

The Old Testament is full of types of Christ. That much is obvious; you can find him on every page if you know how to look. But the Old Testament also contains types of other things, like the Church - types of us!

The greatest prophet, Elijah, is one such type. The most important one in fact. As well as being a real historical figure, he also plays an important role in revealing the nature of the church.

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.

Once you realise this, there is a huge amount that can be unpacked. Enough for a whole series! The prophetic nature of the church. Its role in the restoration of all things. Preparing the way for the Lord's coming. Passing on the anointing to the next generation. Overcoming opposition. Miraculous provision. Beholding the glory of the Lord. Being caught up to be with him forever [visibly not secretly!] etc.

But among all these things that Elijah can communicate to us, James focuses on prayer. Elijah was a man whose prayers opened and closed the heavens. Likewise the Church has been given authority to bind and loose. When Elijah prayed, things happened! And that's exactly how it should be in the Church.

It's possible to pray, and then undermine the faith in your prayers by your confession or action. Like the believers in Acts who prayed that Peter would be released from prison, and then couldn't believe it was him knocking at the door!

When we pray we should believe in the power of our prayers. This is not the power of positive-thinking, but the power of biblical-confession.

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16)

As the song goes: These are the days of Elijah!