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.