Drawn and Separated: The Valley of Decision

I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land (Joel 3:2 ESV)

Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. (Joel 3:13-14)

Just one chapter on from that great prophetic declaration of what the Lord would do at Pentecost, we see another example of God drawing and separating the peoples of the nations. It is a passage of judgement, but also one of harvest and salvation. God draws all men to himself, but separates them in judgement based on the decision they make in relation to his Son — Jesus. So it will be in the final judgement (Mt 13:47-50)

At Pentecost too, we see a great harvest as God draws the peoples of the nations and then separates them. If the way the church was born is a pattern for how it should grow then we should expect this process of drawing and separating to continue. There is no substitute for the message of the gospel. It was Peter's declaration that cut the people to the heart and caused them to call on the Lord for their salvation. But was the baptism in the Spirit and the tongues that accompanied it just a side show, an optional extra, or an integral part of the process? And does God equip his church with gifts today as a fringe benefit or as tools to get the job done?

Theologians have debated (and still do!) as to whether the tongues that were given, and still are given, were for the edification of believers, or the evangelisation of unbelievers. I have no doubt as to the former, and if tongues truly is a sign for unbelievers, and its purpose towards them is to draw and separate, the process in which the church was born and continues to grow, then the answer might not be an either-or.

Drawn and Separated: Gideon's Men

But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them. (Judges 6:34-35 ESV)

And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” (Judges 7:4-7 ESV)

This may seem like an odd place to turn to, to discuss what happened at Pentecost and the nature of tongues, but you'll have to excuse me, I have a bit of an eye for Old Testament patterns and types. Allow me to present the connection, and then I'll leave it to the reader to decide if the typology is valid. The case for the drawing and separating nature of tongues to unbelievers does not stand or fall on this passage; it is just a fascinating little detour, which should, if nothing else, give you something else to ponder.

Gideon was clothed with power from on high when the Spirit came upon him. He sounded the trumpet, and multitudes were drawn to him from all over Israel. The Lord then separated the men at the waters and those who lapped with their tongues were chosen. With those 300 men who remained the Lord brought about a great salvation for Israel.

On the day of Pentecost the believers were clothed with power from on high and spilled out into the streets making a great noise empowered by the Spirit (prophetic noises in scripture are often compared to a trumpet blast or the sound of rushing waters). Multitudes from all over the world were gathered by this noise and came to see what was going on. They were divided with some being amazed, whilst others were scornful. Of those who remained and heard Peter's message, 3000 were added to the church as the Lord brought about a great salvation in Israel.

Is there a connection between Gideon's 300 and Peter's 3000, and the drawing and separating that took place? It's worth chewing over. Let me know what you think.


Tongues Separate

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:3-4 NIV)

Both Jews and converts to Judaism Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine." (Acts 2:12-13 NIV)

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues. (Mark 16:17 ESV)

Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? (1Co 14:22-23)

I have been pondering much lately on the power, effect, and purpose of the message in tongues in the corporate setting. This has not just been an academic exercise, but one accompanied by an eager desire to move into and discover more about this gift through moving in it personally, and provoking others in the body to step out too.

I think it is fairly clear (in our circles anyway) that the purpose of the gift of tongues on a personal level is for edification and stirring oneself up in the Spirit, and to communicate deep-to-deep with God unhindered by the mind's doubts. (1Co 14:4, 1Co 14:2, 1Co 14:14)

In the corporate setting, I think it is equally clear that the message in tongues should always be followed by an interpretation (1Co 14:27-28). And it is for the purpose of building-up (edification). However since a prophecy carries the same effect, and Paul gives much warning against the abuse of tongues to the Corinthian church, I think it has led some to believe that the message in tongues is a poor cousin to the prophetic word, and that since Paul says it is better to prophesy, we can skip this stage and move straight on to the greater gift. I disagree.

The message in tongues brings a different dynamic to the gathering. All spiritually discerning individuals are put on "red alert" and open themselves up to the Spirit for the interpretation. There is the obvious catalytic effect is has on the prophetic, and the fact the Paul still goes on to say that it is one of the manifestations of the Spirit that should be present in our gatherings for the common good. But beyond all this, tongues is singled out in a way that prophecy is not in relation to... unbelievers.

This is the aspect I have been really chewing over, since I was asked the question in a previous post on this gift. Tongues is listed as one of the signs that mark the believers in Mark's gospel. And Paul says explicitly that it is the message in tongues not the prophetic word that is for unbelievers, even though the widespread corporate expression of these gifts has the opposite effect.

It's curious isn't it, because if we were planning a guest service I doubt that "message in tongues" would be currently top of our list, or even on the list! So how is the message in tongues a sign for unbelievers? Well, this is just my own musings on the subject, but I believe that tongues operates towards the unbeliever to draw and to separate.... I shall explain what I mean in the following posts.


Hear me right

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” (Mark 8:14-19)

We are in an age of information. We are constantly bombarded with facts and statements, more than we can possibly take in. How we deal with it, whether we are aware of it or not, is to filter this information. We retain (hopefully!) the pieces of information that are relevant to us, whilst the information that has no bearing on our lives or of no interest is quickly forgotten. Men seem to be particularly adept at this kind of filtering, although the problem is that sometimes the filter switches on when it shouldn't (as my wife will testify! ;-))

As well as weeding out irrelevant facts, this inbuilt information-filter can also highlight stuff for us that is especially relevant. Our ears prick up (or burn! ;-)) when we hear our names mentioned. When we hear someone talking about something that we have been chewing over ourselves it grabs our attention. God himself sometimes interacts with us using this principle. Repetition is the prophetic equivalent of bold italics (Ge 41:32). God will often bring the same word to us through different people or in different ways in order to grab our attention. As well as establishing and confirming the word it is designed to help us receive it. Words of knowledge can also work along these lines, a seemingly meaningless piece of information to us, can have a dramatic impact on someone if we trust God enough to bring it. Why? Because to them it is not meaningless or trivial but laced with significance.

The problem is that our "information-filter" can sometimes get over-zealous and corrupt the original message! If someone mentions a subject or activity that we have recently been involved in, we can assume they are talking about us. When we are particularly insecure or passionate about a particular subject, just hearing a particular word or phrase can be enough to trigger a response, even if the original intention behind the words was nothing to do with what we heard! This is what happened to the disciples in the boat, they were feeling insecure because they had forgotten to buy some bread for the journey. Just the mention of the word yeast [leaven] from Jesus was enough to trigger this insecurity off, even though Jesus was talking about something completely different!

It shows that we have to be careful how we hear, particularly on subjects where our emotions run high. God has recently been teaching me on this subject; through this passage of scripture and through life experience. Hopefully the lesson is learned, but if not please point me back to this post!

A couple of things encourage me in this passage though. First it was all the disciples that reacted this way. It was not just Thomas or Judas who got the wrong end of the stick, and the others had a good laugh at their expense. They were all in the same boat (literally). We may have failings, in this or other areas, but it's always encouraging to know that you are not alone and others are working through the same issues. (1Co 10:13)

The other thing that blesses me greatly is that Jesus turns this misunderstanding around for good. It brings their insecurities to the surface so that Jesus can deal with them. Who knows if Jesus did not mention the "yeast" illustration deliberately for this purpose? Their initial reaction may not have been good, but God in his grace works all things for our good and greater benefit. They were much better off having unloaded their insecurities about their provision for the journey. I feel so much better off for having gone through a similar process too. God is so good!


All for his glory!

And Moses said, “This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” (Lev 9:6)

Reading through Leviticus it's easy to get bogged down in all the details and regulations. I know some who believe that the book of Leviticus is there to show us how blessed we are in the New Covenant to be free from all this stuff, and to a certain extent they are right! But you come across some real gems in Leviticus, not only precious insight into the nature of the atonement, but also our purpose as God's priestly kingdom on the earth. Leviticus and indeed all the law expresses eternal truth. This is why Moses had to be very careful how he constructed the tabernacle, because what he was building was just an earthly reflection of an eternal heavenly reality. Those realities have now been revealed fully and perfectly in Christ, but the value of the Old Testament types in representing those realities remains.

In particular a verse like the one above stops me in my tracks. The intricate detail and description of activities and objects can distract you from the true purpose they represent. God was not conceding his eternal purpose for a while to dabble in institutional and ceremonial religion. It was all done so that he, the holy almighty awesome sovereign Lord, might display his glory to (and through!) his people. This is what set them apart from every other nation on the planet.

Even in the New Covenant, there is a danger that our Christian lives can become like a trudge through the book of Leviticus, if we become caught up, like Martha, in all the activities and details of our Christian walk, without bringing to mind their ultimate purpose. It's all for his glory! By this I do not just mean that we do all things to give God glory, but we will do everything to see God's glory. It is through us, the church, that God will display his glory and through us that it will fill the earth. Now that's something to get excited about!


Malachi on tithing

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. (Mal 3:6-12)

This will be my last post in the current series on tithing. It has been a fruitful exercise, with 40 comments on the previous five posts so far. The first post Best before 30AD? currently ranks #2 for the most comments of any post on this blog, whilst curiously, my exegesis on Leviticus 27 and the link between the tithe and the devoted things didn't get a single comment :-(. So now, to fulfil a promise and exegete the Malachi passage...

I actually think this passage is exceptionally clear and unambiguous, and poses no problem to those of us who believe in the principle of tithing. It is those who would dismiss it who must jump through hoops and bend over backwards. The usual dispensational loophole of "Not applicable because its part of the law" has been shut off by the very opening words. The prophet is introducing this discourse on the basis of the eternal nature of God himself, not the temporary nature of the Levitical regulations (if indeed it is valid even to consider these as temporary rather than eternal, yet fulfilled eternally in Christ).

The next argument raised against this passage, is that a God who calls us "robbers" and who talks of us being under a "curse" does not sound like the God of the New Testament. Where are the blessings and grace that is extended to us in Christ? Yet again though, the opening verse put it in context - God does not change! This is not the voice of a separate wrathful Old Testament God who has been replaced by the nice fluffy blessing-dispencing God of the New Testament. God is unchanging, and he is always to be feared and held in awe and reverence. He is still a most holy God who is full of wrath against wickedness, it is just we stand shielded from it because of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Acts 5 shows us that God is not opposed to reminding his people that he will not be dishonoured lightly.

Some would say that because we are in Christ we don't need to worry about God's curse anymore. On the contrary, I believe that because we are in Christ, God's curse is the only one that we need worry about! No other curse can touch us! (Nu 22:12) It is also important that we understand the nature of God's curse. God never desires to put a curse on anyone. His curse is not like a voodoo hex put on someone who invokes his displeasure. God sets out two paths before us, a path of obedience and submission, and a path of doing things our own way. It was this choice that led to the original curse when Adam chose to do things his way rather than God's. It was the choice laid out for the Israelites in the Law (Dt 30:19). It was the choice set before us when we heard the gospel. Although we have been set free from the curse of relying on the Law for justification (Ga 3:13) it is still true that God sets such decisions before us, and does not force our hand, even though he always desires us to take the right path. As every parent knows, sometimes your children have to find out the hard way, even though you wish it were not so. [And of course we are aware that as Christians we are not immune from the results of the original curse, even though we continually take more land for the Kingdom and see the extension of God's will done on earth as it is in heaven.]

The prophet Malachi reveals that the issue of tithing is one such crossroads in life, and the path we decide to take will have its own divinely ordained consequences either way. If we honour God by bringing him the tithe that is his, then he will bless the remaining 90% so that it produces far more than the 100% on its own ever could have. (See my previous post Is all money equal?)

Other points of note in this passage are "full tithe" and "into the storehouse" (See "What?" and "To whom?") There is also a clear distinction made between tithes and offerings (contributions.) The tithe is not giving, it is already given (See Devoted: Exclusively God's)

It seems that God himself is aware (how could he not be!) that some will be sceptical of this principle, as he invites us to "put him to the test." It is as if God is saying, "You may not believe me, but just try it and see!" It is important that our giving tests God the right way (Malachi 3 and not Acts 5!)

There is more I could say, but that's enough to kick things off, I'm sure the rest will come out in the comments... fire away!


Remember Moses. Behold Elijah.

Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. (Mal 4:4-5)

Moses and Elijah are very significant in the scriptures, especially where they occur together. From the mouth of two or three witnesses a thing is firmly established. Moses and Elijah represent the twin Old Testament witnesses to Christ in the Law and the Prophets. They appear on the mount of transfiguration as witness of Christ's glory. And they occur again in prophetic language in Revelation 11 as the "Two witnesses" which represents the Church's own prophetic witness to Christ in the world.

Here again in Malachi chapter 4, Moses and Elijah are mentioned. Here it is interesting though, that although the prophet is looking back to Moses, the reference to Elijah is of one yet to come, one who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. This is thus not the historic Elijah that Malachi is referring too, but a coming ministry characterised by the spirit of Elijah — a prophetic ministry that prepares the way for the Lord.

When the disciples asked Jesus, "Why do they say that Elijah must come first?", it was because of this prophecy. Jesus revealed that John the baptist was the predicted messenger who would go ahead of the Lord's appearing. However when John was asked if he was the Elijah to come, he replied "No". Also Jesus said a curious thing about Elijah - "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things." As well as showing the fulfilment in John, Jesus adds yet another layer of prophetic expectation to the Elijah ministry — the restoration of all things.

The cross was surely the most significant event in history, and the Bible is God's inspired word. Yet in God's inspired word at this most significant of events we have recorded a seemingly insignificant detail, something which seems to be a mistake. When Jesus breathed his last words from the cross, those who were there thought that he was calling forth Elijah. And so the crowds became accidental prophets of God's ultimate purpose through the cross. To call forth the ultimate fulfilment of Elijah's ministry. Not a person, but a community. A prophetic people who will fulfil God's kingdom plan to restore all things under the feet of Christ and so prepare the way for his triumphal return. These are indeed the days of Elijah! Elijah's ministry is a type and a foreshadow of our own. As the scriptures say: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours!" (Jas 5:17)

Malachi, like Habakkuk, was a prophet who realised that he stood "in the midst of the years", between two ages. He looked back to the covenant with Moses and all the promised blessing that were there for those who walked in God's ways, but he saw it in the light of God's ultimate purpose that was yet to come — the coming of Jesus!

These prophets are an inspiration to us, who also, like them, stand in the "midst of the years" between Christ's first and second coming. We can look back to all that Jesus accomplished for us, and all the blessings that are ours in the New Covenant. But we should always do this in the revelation of what is yet to come - the restoration of all things and Christ's second coming. We are not just in Christ to get blessed, but to be a part of his mission for this world. Kingdom men and women will not just be content to have heard of God's fame in the past, nor just to be convinced of the glory in the future, but seek to lay hold of it for today!


Risen, Alive, Ascended, Glorified, Empowering, Returning - Jesus!

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen!

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

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. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
[Luke 24:1-6,36-53]

Easter is a time when many picture a dead Jesus hung on the cross. The cross is incredible; on the cross Jesus carried my sins and set me free. He died that I could live. When I read the account of the events leading up to the cross, and get to the account of Barabbas, the man who deserved to die but was set free because Christ went to the cross instead - I see myself. Jesus was no helpless victim; he was and is almighty God, with all the legions of angels at his command. At any time he could have come down in power and shown the world who he really was... it was not the nails that held him to the cross, but his love for you and for me!

Yet incredible as the cross was and still is in terms of its continuing effect in my life, it is not the dead Jesus hung on the cross that I see. I see the risen, ascended and glorified Christ. The son of man, ascended to the right hand of almighty God, seated on the throne, with every power, principality, and authority under his feet. Shining in the dazzling glory of the Father's own radiance with all the angelic host fallen prostrate and crying "Holy!" I see this Jesus, the first-fruit from among the dead, pouring out the same Spirit that raised him up upon those who believe in him. I see this Jesus taking up his scepter and ruling over the nations, not through political might or military conquest, but as this resurrection life that he so gloriously demonstrated when he burst forth from the tomb on that first easter morn is spread from one transformed life to another through the power of the greatest news of all:

"Christ has risen! He has defeated sin and death, and because he died and rose again, we can know the life that God intended for us, not just in heaven, but right here right now... all he asks us to do is that we give him what belongs to him anyway... everything!"


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"What?" and "To whom?"

I have a couple more postings on tithing left in me. It may seem like I am labouring the subject, but I'm just being thorough.

You see, I think sometimes, we can take things for granted, and assume others see things the way we do. We can ask questions like "Do you tithe?", and just take for granted that "What do you tithe?" and "To whom do you bring your tithe?" are obvious.

For me these questions were not obvious. Not at first anyway. I became convicted by the Spirit of my need to tithe before I had received any thorough teaching on the subject, and I was not sure what I should tithe or to whom I should bring it.

I knew that I should tithe "my income" and that I should give it "to God", but very inconveniently God does not have a bank account, and does not accept standing orders or direct debits. Also for people who are taxed at source, there is a question about net and gross; do I tithe everything that comes into my account, or a tenth of what I get on paper?

It is here that the pre-law instances on tithing are very helpful. Abraham gave Melchizadek "a tenth of everything". And Jacob swore to give God "a full tenth of all that you give me."

This takes the whole argument away from petty details like whether it is just "agricultural products" that God is interested in. It's a question of "What has God given me?" If we recognise God as our source, then we acknowledge that all our financial provision comes from him, whether it comes, in the natural, from our employer, as a gift, in return for a service rendered, or wherever else. All that we are and all that we have is a gift from him. To give him the "full tithe" is indeed to give him a tithe of "everything". Since the taxman takes his percentage out of what we have earned, it is natural and only right that we give to God from the full amount before the taxman, whether this is done at source or not.

To whom?
On one level this answer is as simple as it first appears. The tithe belongs to God, and we always bring it to God. Note that in the Old Testament, the Levites collected the tithe. It was not given to them. Not directly by the tithers anyway. The tithe was given to God, and then God gave to the Levites out of the tithe. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but it is important.

You see, in politics a phrase we hear over and over is "taxpayers money". The government of a country is responsible to the people it represents to spend the money collected wisely. There is a sense among the people of "Hey, that's our money you're spending!" But one thing we never see in the scriptures is the sense of "tithe-payers money!" The people did not give their money to the Levites, and the Levites did not get their income from the people. The people brought their tithes to God, and God gave the exclusive right to the Levites to use the money from the collected tithes. Once the people had brought their tithe, their responsibility ended, whether the money was spent by the Levites wisely or foolishly, they had faithfully brought it to God. Equally the Levites were payed from the tithe by God, and thus it was before God that they were responsible as to how they used the money. (Which is the same as everyone else once you have realised who your true source is!)

So the real question is "Who has the right to be payed by God from the tithe today?" We don't have Levites, but what were the Levites? They were people set apart by God to serve him and minister to his people, who had no other source of income. We certainly have men like this today. We should bring our tithes to God at the place where we receive ministry from those who have been set apart for this work and who have pastoral care and spiritual authority over us. It is they who have the right to take from the tithe, as a payment not from man but from God.


Rejecting Darwin without embracing nonsence

For those of you who don't check my recent comments list, I'd just like to draw your attention to an excellent comment I just received on an old post, from Lars Osland.

In the comment he recommends a website www.answersingenesis.org, and having given the site a quick peruse, I would like to second the recommendation. It has many resources, and links to other reference material to support the Genesis creation account and reject Darwinism.... without losing all scientific credibility in the process! The contributors to the site are credible scientists, and help cut through the unhelpful creationism pseudoscience to reveal the real scientific reasons why Darwinism is unsound. [Update: Having read the site in more detail now, it is not immune from dubious theories (see comments section). So for the record, I don't agree with it all!]

In particular he points out a link to: Arguments we think creationists should NOT use. Which is definitely worth a read before you enter a debate with a scientist over evolution. There are enough genuine reasons to reject Darwinism, but quite often "creation-scientists" do not help the cause by proposing theories that are equally ridiculous, or easily shot down.

I must confess to feeling quite vindicated, that one of the top arguments the site proposes against Darwinism is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. There is a whole section on it. This is an argument I have been championing on this site for some time. It is a very basic scientific law, that Physicists and Chemists learn while they are still at school (A' level) but the inevitable consequences of which seem to escape many who hold PhDs in Biology! The second law means that the increase in order in the species over time needed to support Darwin's theory of Evolution (or the "particle-to-people theory" as the AiG site puts it - I like that!) is not just highly improbable but totally impossible! it violates one of the most iron-clad physical laws in the Universe.

Darwinists often counter with the "open-system" response as to why the second law does not apply to processes on the earth, and so sweep it under the carpet. But the AiG site has an excellent response which proves this is an invalid argument... if you think about it, it has to be an invalid argument! If the Second Law of Thermodynamics did not apply on earth, scientists would never have discovered it in the first place!

For those who are not of a scientific disposition, there are also some nice illustrations like the one below:


Seeing what we have heard.

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (Ac 2:2 ESV)

As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish forever. Selah (Ps 48:8 ESV)

It was wonderful to have Roger Aubrey with us this weekend. We had an exciting and stirring time in the presence of God. We are in a time at the moment where God is speaking to us very clearly, and the words that come are building upon each other in a way that is unmistakably God.

When we met as the Coventry congregation on Saturday evening, Roger shared with us that God wants to manifest his glory through his people. God's glory is the visible display of the majesty of God. He challenged us to describe what this would mean in terms of what would happen in our midst on the Sunday morning. We mentioned message in tongues, interpretation, hearing the voice of God and healings. Roger then challenged us again, not to wait for the morning, but to see these things now. Some brought a message in tongues for the first time, and clear words came about God confirming his word over us, displaying his glory through us, and that we would see that which we have heard first.

It was so encouraging that on Sunday we did see that which we had heard. There was a message in tongues, an interpretation, prophetic words and at least two people were healed from pain and injury in the presence of God. One of whom was not a believer. I say at least, because several others were prayed for, and I have an expectancy that God will confirm his word in their lives too - we just haven't seen it yet.

Matthew then shared on being the city in the city. The people of God, in the city of Coventry. God's plan to transform a geographic city, through the glory that shines forth from his people. One of the verses he shared was Ps 48:8

"As we have heard, so have we seen"

God is so faithful. What we had this Sunday was just a demonstration, a first-fruit, of what God desires to do amongst us: confirm his word, and display his glory. What we have already seen, gives us confidence to believe for what we have not yet seen. If God has said it, then we shall certainly see it!

"I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts." (Hag 2:7)


"Don't Tithe" - A response to Christianity Magazine

Trevor mentioned in a post a few days ago how an article brandishing tithing as "unbiblical" appeared in Christianity magazine.

A member of our cellgroup asked me for my opinion of the article, and lent me a copy of the magazine. I thought I would post my response on my blog for the benefit of all my readers.

I have read the article thoroughly and examined all the scripture references used. The author basically makes 11 main points in his article outlined below.

1. I'd have to sell my son on eBay to be able to tithe
2. People in the "word of faith" movement believe in tithing
3. Tithing was only a command for agricultural workers
4. Tithing was not required every seventh year
5. Other Old Testament laws no longer apply
6. Jesus has fulfilled the law so we don't have to follow it
7. New Testament references to tithing were not addressed to Christians
8. The instances of tithing before the Law do not establish a general requirement to tithe
9. Periods of tithing in church history have been sporadic - the early church did not tithe
10. Tithing is not biblical
11. Tithing is legalistic and hence stunts maturity

I shall address each point in turn.

Point 1: I'd have to sell my son on eBay to be able to tithe

If we overlook the flippancy of this remark, and give the author the benefit of the doubt, what he is really saying is that he doesn't have enough money to balance his budget and so the tithe has to go. He actually puts the article into a personal context of where he has recently had to reduce his giving to the church that he leads.

This is an excuse rather than an argument. You always have enough for the things you value. There are people in the same situations as us, who only get paid 90% or less of the income we do, and get by fine. They make adjustments, because they have to. You can learn to live on 90% quite easily whatever financial pressures that come your way.

By saying the tithe has to go, you have revealed that the other expenditures on your budget are valued more highly.

Point 2: People in the "word of faith" movement believe in tithing

I'm not going to be drawn on this one. Despite the objections that proponents of the 'word of faith' theology generate, not even their fiercest critics can assert they have it all wrong. This is a clear example of an ad hominem argument, where the attempt is to discredit a statement based on the nature of the people who propose it. As such it is a cheap shot, and not worthy of any more time in response.

Point 3: Tithing was only a command for agricultural workers

Not in my Bible! Where does he get this from? I have examined all the passages of scripture he quotes and can find no such statement. I have also looked at all the verses in the Bible where "tithe" or "tenth" is mentioned, again nothing.

All I can think is that he is referring to the fact that the tithe is frequently mentioned in terms of crops or animals. But this is a theme that runs all through the Bible. Is it only agricultural workers who are blessed in Dt28? Is it only agricultural workers who are provided for? Is God himself only an agricultural worker because he only owns the cattle on a thousand hills?

This is reading between the lines, something that is not there. Numbers 18:26 says that the Levites were to collect the tithe from "the people of Israel," no qualification is given.

Point 4: Tithing was not required every seventh year

Strangely enough this verse is missing from my version of the Bible too!

I guess he is implying that since the tithe was described in terms of crops, and the Israelites were commanded to leave their fields fallow every seventh year they would have no crops to tithe. This is a very different argument than saying they were exempt from tithing. Their animals would still give birth during the Sabbath years, and there is nothing to say that they were exempt from the tithe in this year.

This is clutching at straws, and is a very poor and tenuous reason to imply that "Tithing was never a universal principle."

Point 5: Other Old Testament laws no longer apply

I will try to curb my vexation over this one. Anyone who knows me at all will know what a dim view I take on this argument.

Basically his argument boils down to: "Deuteronomy says we should tithe, but it also says we should stone blasphemers. We don't stone blasphemers, so why should we tithe?" In one fell swoop, his Bible has just become one book lighter!

Jesus himself quoted from Deuteronomy and gave no indication that its authority was diminished. In fact when he was tempted in the wilderness every response he gave came from the book of Deuteronomy. The Devil missed a trick if he didn't realise Jesus was quoting from an obsolete book, and the implication that Jesus himself was misapplying the scriptures is absurd!

As I have said before, we cannot just dismiss any book or command of God, just on the basis of where it comes in the redemptive history of man. Each must be taken on their own merit on the basis of how they transfer to the new covenant in the light of Christ and his work on our behalf.

Point 6: Jesus has fulfilled the law so we don't have to follow it

Yes, Jesus has fulfilled the law so we don't have to follow it. But again, to turn the argument on its head, the reason we don't have to follow the law is because Jesus has fulfilled it. It is easy to see how the sacrifices are no longer necessary, because Christ is our sacrifice, once for all. Circumcision is no longer necessary, because the cutting off of the flesh is no longer done by the hands of man, but by the Spirit, and the fulfilment is found in baptism, and thus we could go through all the laws and legal requirements and show how Christ has fulfilled them for us.

But how has he fulfilled tithing? As I have explained in a previous post in some detail, I really don't buy the dispensational notion that all the commands of God given during the Mosaic Law are a package deal that was just for a period of time. It doesn't fit with 2Ti 3:16 at all.

Point 7: New Testament references to tithing were not addressed to Christians

This is a really poor argument. Alarm bells always start ringing in my ears when someone tries to discount New Testament teaching on the basis of who the words were addressed to. If you can only accept the words of Christ that are addressed to Christians, then you would have to cut out everything before John 20!

We must remember that all the New Testament books were written by Christians for Christians, for the purpose of instructing Christians in their Christian faith.

This argument really does not hold water! If theologies that dismiss sections of the Old Testament get me wound up, those that attempt to ignore sections of the New.... (let's move on swiftly!)

Point 8: The instances of tithing before the Law do not establish a general requirement to tithe

This is the point I have the most sympathy with. I think it is true to a certain extent. The instances of tithing before the Law are in isolation insufficient to establish the principle of tithing.

However once one has accepted the principle of tithing, it is natural to follow the principle back to its source. These pre-law instances convey valuable truth on the "heart" rather than just the "requirement" of tithing. I don't think anyone could argue it was just coincidence that Abraham and Jacob gave a tenth and it was totally unrelated to the principle of tithing established in the law.

Point 9: The periods of tithing in church history have been sporadic - the early church did not tithe

The belief in justification by faith has also been sporadic. Anyone want to write an article that the Reformers got it wrong?

As for the statement "the early church did not tithe," here is a quote from the Didache, the earliest non-canonical Christian writing:

But every prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have no prophet, give it to the poor. If you make a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when you open a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.

It is clear in this document, that the early church did indeed give the first portion of their goods to support the ministries in their midst, "according to the commandments" of the Old Testament. Now because tithe is not mentioned, you could argue that this portion might not have been a tenth. But what else would it have been? Tithes and first-fruits are closely related in the word anyway, and may actually be one and the same. (Matthew, care to comment? - also, what do you think about the practice of giving the first glass of every bottle of wine to the prophets? ;-))

[Incidentally the Didache also reveals that the early church still recognised the ministries of apostle and prophet... but that's another debate!]

Point 10: Tithing is not biblical

This statement beggars belief! Something cannot be both "a clear command in the Old Testament" and "unbiblical" unless the Old Testament is no longer in your Bible!

Point 11: Tithing is legalistic and hence stunts maturity

Are all the commands of God to be viewed this way? Is it legalistic to get baptised? Is it legalistic to break bread? Is it legalistic to do what God says because he has said it?

The author of this article seems to be proposing that it is better to sacrifice freely than to obey a command of God. This is precisely the opposite to what my Bible says! (1Sa 15:21)

I will let the author himself have the last word.

Most Christians don't need freedom from tithing - or even freedom from the guilt of not tithing - they need freedom from consumerism.

Money is the clear and present danger, par excellence, for all Christians in the west. An absorbing materialism and stupefying consumerism which diverts our energies, twists our morality, distorts our understanding and renders impotent our faith. We dare not 'move on' from tithing without 'moving into' a more truly holistic and biblical approach to money. Anything less is to run headlong into a greater slavery.

It is a great shame that in tearing into tithing, he offers no indication to what this alleged "more truly holistic and biblical approach to money" might be. Tithing may seem like foolishness to some, but it is God's foolishness. Do we really think we know better?


Is all money equal?

"Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit" (Pr 10:2 ESV)

"If the first portion of the dough offered is holy, then the whole batch is holy" (Ro 11:16 NET)

Money itself is neutral. It is neither good nor evil (in the moral sense. Having money is a "good" thing in the blessing sense, obviously!) It is the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evil (1Ti 6:10).

However, does this mean that all money is equal? The obvious answer from a purely natural outlook is "Yes, of course!" The £20 note in my pocket it identical in value to the one in yours. It does not entitle me, in a fiscal way, to any more or less than it entitles you. But when we look into God's word, we see that it is God who gives wealth, and it is also he who gives or deprives the ability to enjoy or benefit from that wealth. One man may have much wealth, and yet that money brings him no happiness, in fact it may actually bring him misery, whereas another man with much less may find great contentment and blessing in the money God has given him (Ecc 5:12).

We also see in God's word the principle that a man's labours, and the fruits of his labours, can be blessed by the Lord, or they can be under God's judgement (Deuteronomy 28). So we may have much and yet because of the Lord's judgement it may yield us little in return, or we may have little, but because of the Lord's favour towards us it can yield much. The obvious principle is that it is always better to have a little money with God's blessing, than a whole heap of cash without (Pr 15:16).

It is something to bear in mind, next time you are tempted to fiddle your expenses, omit things from your tax return, install unlicensed software on your computer, or the myriad of other ways we might be swayed to "get a little back" in ways that "don't really matter." It does matter. What will bless you more, saving a few pounds, or the blessing of the Lord on what you have already? Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit!

If you thought I was going to bring this back to the issue of tithing... you were right! By now you should be able to join the dots, but just in case... If money that is robbed from man can never profit, how much less will money that has been robbed from God!? I may have an extra hundred pounds or so in the bank at the end of the month, but what good will that do me unless the Lord blesses me to enable me to prosper from it or to find enjoyment in it. But there is another promise here (I know I'm taking it out of context, but so was Paul!) If the first portion is offered as holy to the Lord, then the rest of the batch is made holy. If we tithe and acknowledge that the first part of our income is holy to the Lord, then the promise of God is that the rest will be blessed. It is a principle of God that he invites us to test him on (more on this another day.)


Devoted: Exclusively God's

“But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the Lord, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death." (Leviticus 27:28-29 ESV)

The twenty-seventh and last chapter of the book of Leviticus concerns the principle (and regulations around the principle) of devotion. Once something was devoted, it belonged exclusively to God and could not be reclaimed or swapped. In fact if someone tried to do a swap for something that was already devoted then both the original and the intended swap became devoted. You get the impression that it was not something the Israelites tried to do, or certainly not more than once!

This is the way the items in the tabernacle were most holy to the Lord. I don't know if it has ever struck you how a 'thing' can be holy? Not because of absence of sin, or any intrinsic moral virtue, but because they were devoted. They only had one exclusive use — to serve the Lord — and it was unthinkable that they would be used in any other way.

This principle clearly carries through to our own walk with the Lord. The modern usage of devotion stems from this principle. We are the Lord's exclusive possession, redeemed to belong to him alone. My life is no longer my own it belongs to Christ. One of the ways the Lord desires us to be holy, is that we should be exclusively his 24/7, not on and off as we feel like it or not.

To see how seriously the Israelites treated the principle of devotion, one only has to read the story of Jephthah (Judges 11). Like my good friend Dave, I could say a lot about Jephthah and the rich seam of typology in this story, but now is not the time.

To see how seriously the Lord himself took the principle of devotion, you only have to read Joshua 7, 1 Samuel 15, or Daniel 5. Violating the devoted things cost Achan his life, Saul his kingdom, and Belshazzar both!

Now here's the thing... when we first come across the principle (and regulations regarding the principle) of tithing in the Law, guess where it occurs? That's right... Leviticus 27!

“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord." (Leviticus 27:30)

Now when we say that the tithe, or tenth as it literally means, belongs to the Lord, we are not saying it in a way that implies that the other nine-tenths does not. All our finance belongs to the Lord. We enter this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. We are merely custodians, guardians, and stewards of the resources that God blesses us with. It is never ours in the sense that we have exclusive right to it. But the first tenth is God's in exactly that way! He is claiming exclusive rights to it. The context of the passage and the regulations that follow, reveal that God treats the tithe as if it was something that had already been devoted to him.

This is why Malachi reveals that not to tithe, is not just like being a little stingy with your giving. God treats the tithe as if it was already given. Thus not to tithe is robbing God! If a tithe of your income is £30 pounds a week, and when the offering basket comes round you put in £20, you may see yourself being generous, but what God sees is you reaching in and pulling out a tenner!

We don't often talk about "the fear of God" these days. It seems that we are sometimes guilty of taking this wonderful grace from Christ that we enjoy for granted some times. I was very pleased to see my good friend and one-time bible college room-mate, Richard, has just written on the subject. While it is true that we should never give out of compulsion, there is a very real sense in which the tithe is not giving — because the Lord considers it as if it was already given — it already belongs exclusively to him. Whilst I do believe that there is a heart attitude that we should capture when we tithe, and also real promises of blessing which we can claim (I will come onto these next), the fear of the Lord is a very valid reason to tithe.

I don't want to be found in violation of God's holy things. Even though God is rich in mercy and forbearance, I don't want to take this for granted. Or as it has been said before:

"I don't want to be caught with God's money in my pocket."


Go beyond!

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (Jn 14:12)

We often regard these verses as a statement of fact (which I believe they are!) but it has struck me over the past few days as I have been meditating on this verse, that it is also an expression of heart. That is, Jesus was not just telling his disciples what was going to happen, nor just giving them a promise to cling onto, but these are also the words of a teacher imparting to his disciples his heartfelt desire for them: Go beyond. Take everything I have taught you, and go further!

It made me think of the people that God has entrusted to my care, in whatever capacity that might be. As a cellgroup leader, as a preacher and teacher, as a discipler, and as a father. What is my heart for those in my care? What do I see when I look at them? Am I guilty of subconsciously thinking: Do what I do, catch what I have caught, and maybe one day you will get close to where I am now? Or do I rejoice, like Jesus, at the thought that those who follow will take everything entrusted to them, but use it to go further into greater things than I have ever achieved?

This is one of the ways Saul went wrong. He felt threatened by the greater anointing that was on David, rather than rejoicing at the thought of what a man like David could do for God's kingdom. David on the other hand got it right, because even though he was told that it would be his son, not him, who established the house of the Lord, he nevertheless rejoiced, and did all he could to make sure that is son was equipped to fulfill his calling.

Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of slowing down or stopping short so that others can pass, but I do want to catch more of that kingdom heart of Christ, to expect that those who follow will run faster and further.

We must never be guilty of keeping people down to preserve our own reputation or honour or ministry, but we should rejoice, like Jesus and David at the thought of releasing those who will do greater things than us for the glory of God and for his Kingdom.


"When is God going under the water?"

Yesterday, I had a long discussion about baptism, the presence of God, and the effectiveness of prayer with someone who has not yet given their life to the Lord... It was my three-year-old son.

He attended his first baptism after the meeting on Sunday, and it provoked a whole stream of questions that lasted right through to his bed-time.

As we stood by the side of the pool he asked, "When is God going under the water?" During the event, the air-con kicked in, and caused a noise to fill the room; "It's working!" he exclaimed. Afterwards he asked me "Are they in God's heart now?"

They may seem like amusing questions, and misunderstandings. But I was provoked by his faith. He had an expectation that God was going to be there, and was looking out for a real sign of his presence. He also had already grasped that this was a significant event in their relationship with God. I affirmed all his questions, without making him feel silly for asking them, and tried to communicate to him what was happening.

God is already under the water, because he is everywhere. Yes, it is working, but not because of the noise. It is because Jesus is already in their hearts, and he is the most important person to them, that they want to do what Jesus tells them, and go under the water for him.

On the way home, he asked me again and again, "Who went under the water?" It also provoked the discussion about God being everywhere. "When I play with Thomas the Tank Engine, God is there?" - "Yes." "When I play with Percy?" - "Yes." "And Henry?" - "Yes." etc. etc.

I was provoked by his faith again later in the day. He received a toy for his birthday (Saturday) that needed a battery, so I had the crazy idea that we could take the umbrella and walk through the wind and the rain to the shops to get one. The rain wasn't too bad, but the wind was bitter. Michael told me it was making him have tears, and that he wanted the wind to stop. I told him that he would have to ask Jesus, which he promptly did: "Please Jesus, make it not very windy. AMEN!" We carried on a few paces, and he asked me. "Dada, when is it going to happen?" He expected the prayer to work... and why not?! I felt very challenged, because I have to confess, even though I suggested the idea, I did not really have the faith that it would happen. We went into the shop and bought the battery, and as I was thinking how to explain to him that God does not always answer our prayers, we walked out of the shop into sunshine and calm! "Thank you Jesus, for making the wind go away!" he said.

I can see why Jesus loved child-like faith! It's a real provocation!

He may not have "come to faith" in Jesus as his Lord, but he certainly has faith in Jesus, as a loving God who answers our prayers, and is always with us.