Angels and the Rock

An Old Testament theme I have noticed recently is how often angels of God turn up at a rock.

In Genesis 28, Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending, and in response sets up the rock (stone) which he had used as a pillow and anoints it with oil.

In Judges 6, the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, and in response he prepares an offering on a rock, which the angel touches with his staff and fire comes from the rock and consumes it, and the angel disappears.

In Judges 13, the angel appears to Manoah's wife, and in response Manoah prepares a burned offering on the rock, and the angel ascends in the flames.

I guess it should be no surprise because the typology of "the rock" is clearly explained in the New Testament.

For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1Co 10:4)

In the New Testament, it is not "the rock" that the angels of God ascend and descend upon, but on Christ himself, of whom the rock was just a type and shadow.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (Jn 1:51)

It is also interesting in this last Scripture, that these words to Nathanael occur just after Jesus changes one of his other disciple's names... from Simon to Peter, and Peter, of course, means... "rock".

Now, I know there is more obvious significance to Peter's name change, but it is interesting, not only in the context, but in light of the fact that now Jesus is ascended to heaven, the ones the angels are dispatched to are his disciples:

And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?" Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Heb 1:13-14)

Just like Jacob, the ministering angelic multitude are ascending and descending all around us whether we perceive them or not.


Between Zorah and Eshtaol

And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:24-25)

The book of judges is a tragic tale of a repetitive cycle of judgement and deliverance for the people of God. The people would neglect God, fall under judgement and become subject to the cruelty of the neighbouring peoples. In their despair they would cry out to God, and he, in his mercy, would hear their entreaty and send them a deliverer who would drive out the nations because God was with him and went like a hornet before them [Ex 23:28, Jos 24:12]. Yet after the death of the judge, the people would return to their own ways, and the sorry cycle would begin again.

The details in the call of Sampson are interesting [to me!] He, as an individual, seems to embody the state of the nation. He too oscillates in his ministry between compromising with the enemy, and driving them out in the power of the Spirit. So it grabbed my attention when I discovered that the places he was between when the Spirit stirred him - Zorah and Eshtaol - mean "Hornet" and "Entreaty". God meets the man where he is, and meets the nation as it is; in the state where they are the Spirit begins to stir.

Although the tale of Sampson is an account of victory, and contains great typology of Christ, the end of the account I find sobering:

Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. (Jdg 16:31)

Sampson dies, the cycle begins again, and not only have the people not moved on, but the deliverer himself is back where he started.

It's sobering, because today's move of the Spirit does not guarantee tomorrow's victory. We can be stirred by the Spirit - blessed, touched, refreshed, delivered, healed, equipped, envisioned, empowered - and yet afterwards still be in exactly the same place that we were before.

God meets us where we are at, but to break the cycle we have to move on.

It's not enough to be stirred by the Spirit's movings, we must be moved by the Spirit's stirrings.


Now available in Java

For anyone who is interested in reading through the book of Ephesians Every Month. If you were put off using my EEMReader because you were unable / unwilling to install the .NET framework V2, it may interest you to know that this handy little application of mine to assist you read this great book is now available written in Java. This means it should work on all versions of Windows, Linux, Solaris and MacOS.



Abba! Father!

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" (Ro 8:15)

Some verses in the Bible are just so amazing that we rarely take them in with the full impact that they carry. Familiarity causes us to gloss over them, or we think we know what we mean.

Occasionally the Spirit will not allow us to progress in our reading, causing a verse to arrest our attention. Demanding we give it our full attention until the magnitude of the truth it expresses sinks in.

I had such an experience this morning with this verse. The Aramaic word for Father is "Ab", and yet that is not the word used here. It seems the translators are reluctant to translate it at all, possibly because of fear of the potential irreverence of the implications. "Abba" was the word that young children would use towards their dads. For my money, Eugene Peterson comes closest, despite the nature of his paraphrase, when he translates it as "Papa". It means "Daddy" or as it would be used in our household - "Dada!"

Because of the Spirit we have received, poured out on us through the complete work of Christ, God has become not just our "Father" - a relational and legal concept for us to understand - but he is our "Daddy", full of real emotion, warmth and love for us not just to know about, but to experience in intimacy.

As I thought about my relationship with my own son, and the joy I get when we embrace and he calls out "Dada!", I got a precious insight into the heart of the one from whom all fatherhood on earth derives. He not only permits us to call him "Daddy," he loves it!

Some of us may feel we are too mature, too respectful, too enlightened to use such a word for God. Is it that? Or are we just too religious? The sad thing is that, another reason this word is not translated, is because over the years the word "Abba" just became a formal religious word to use when addressing your prayers to God.

But how precious, if we are not too proud to approach our heavenly Father the way the Scriptures exhort us to come - as little children (Mk 10:15) And enjoy the embrace of our loving daddy.

As Christians we often make a lot (and rightly so!) of the relationship we have with Christ. We also revel in the real, tangible and powerful presence of the Spirit. But let's not forget that we were saved into a relationship - an intimate relationship - with all three persons of the Godhead. We have not been adopted into a cold foster home, but a warm and loving family - and a father who watches eagerly at the window for the first glimpse of his approaching sons, that he might rush to embrace them. [Lk 15:20]

If we quieten our hearts to listen to the voice of the Spirit, we will hear that he is crying out: "ABBA! Father!" [Gal 4:6]


The Son and his Bride

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Ge 1:26-27)

On the sixth day God created the beasts of the land, however this act of creation was totally eclipsed by what would follow: the highlight, the climax, the ultimate work of his creation - the man in his own image, who would rule on his behalf.

God did his best work on that first Friday afternoon. (There's a challenge for us as we seek to reflect the creative nature of God!) It was another Friday afternoon many centuries later where the whole history of creation would find its focus once again on a hill called Golgotha.

These two events are not unrelated for the ultimate act in God's creation, reveals the ultimate purpose of creation itself. To reveal the Son of God, and celebrate his union to his bride.

Right in the beginning of the Bible we have seen many themes established that run all the way through the Scriptures, but none are as important as the one revealed on this day: It's all about Jesus. The revelation of Christ is not just the ultimate purpose of the Scriptures, but of the whole of creation itself.

But here's the marvelous and wondrous and mind-blowing thing: it's also about us. For God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, and from his pierced side brought forth his bride. Creation finds its consummation not just in the son, but in the bride too. Not just in the revelation of Christ, but in his union with the church. How awesome that we are involved with the very reason the creation exists. Creation is not just longing to see the son, but it's on tiptoes to see the bride too - those sons of God of whom we are a part who are being transformed into the image of Christ.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (Ro 8:19)

And so what we see established in Genesis we see consummated in Revelation:

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; (Rev 19:7)

Just as anyone who thinks the 6th day is all about the beasts would be missing the point, so too, anyone who thinks Revelation is about 666 and the Beast has also totally missed the plot. From Genesis to Revelation it's all about one thing: the Son and his Bride. It is what all of creation exists for.


...to exercise authority.

So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Ge 1:21)

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Ge 1:26)

Man was created not just to be under authority, but to exercise authority. On the fifth day, just after he created the sign of his authority in the heavens, God created the fish and birds. These are listed first among the things that man was to have dominion over.

In fact those who understand the nature of the kingdom of God know that being under authority and exercising authority are not disconnected, but are one and the same. Since all authority derives from God, there is no authority that exists separate from his line of delegated authority. To exercise authority we must be under authority.

A soldier in uniform displays that he is under the authority of his superior officers, and ultimately to the monarch of his land. But it also gives him the right to discharge his orders with the full authority of those superiors and his monarch behind him. In the same way, as we submit to our elders and to God we are empowered with God's authority to bring in his kingdom rule. A Christian who is not submitted to the eldership of a local church, is like a soldier out of uniform. Those who are not under authority have no authority.

This was the great insight that the centurion had into the nature of Christ's own authority. Because he was a man under God's authority he could speak with the authority of God behind him, just as the centurion, a man under Caesar's authority could speak and act in the name of Caesar.

But the centurion replied, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (Mtt 8:8-9)

In giving man authority over fish and birds first we have an interesting theme that is developed in the rest of Scripture. For the creatures of the deep, are often linked to the powers of the abyss, and the roaring sea to the nations in rebellion to God. Likewise the birds of the air are linked to the powers of the air that keep men blinded to the truth and snatch away the word of truth before it can take root.

Not only does God reveal that he has sovereign authority over all powers, even the powers of the enemy. But he has given this authority to man. It is as we submit ourselves to God, that we are given his authority over all the powers of the enemy!

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (Lk 10:9)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (Jas 4:7)


Under Authority...

And God made the two great lights - the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night - and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Ge 1:16-18)

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Mtt 6:10)

On the fourth day God set the pattern for his kingdom authority on the earth in the heavens for all to see. The sun and the moon were not just there to give light and to mark the days and nights, but they were put in position to rule and to govern. And so everything in creation on the earth was done under the display of God's kingdom authority.

This shows another reoccuring theme of scripture, that the kingdom of God is all about God's delegated authority, and that nothing is established in the kingdom except if it is under the authority which God has put in place.

In each sphere and area of life God has established a line of authority which traces back to himself. To reflect the creative nature of God and establish something lasting in his kingdom, what we build must be done under the authority which God has put in place. In the nations God has raised up governments and rulers. In the family he has given the position of rule to fathers and mothers. In the church to apostles and elders. There is no authority on the earth which God himself has not put in place, for all true authority derives from him.

To bring God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, we first bring ourselves under the authority which God has put in place.


Fruit and Seed

And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so. (Ge 1:11)

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Ge 1:28)

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." (Ge 9:1)

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. (Ge 17:5-6)

He [the righteous man] is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Ps 1:3)

And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Eze 47:12)

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. (Mtt 13:23)

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (Jn 15:8)

Here is another very clear way that we are to reflect the creative nature of God - in producing fruit. God's work of recreation in us, is not just a plan for the next life - to get us into heaven. But a plan for this life, a plan for today, that we might produce fruit - much fruit - an abundance of fruit.

There are many ways that God wants us to be fruitful. In our character - we cooperate with the Spirit to produce his fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. In our finance, as we sow generously we will receive generously from the Lord who is always generous. In our ministry for him, it is his will that we are fruitful as we not only grow and develop in our gift, but lead others through in the same gifting.

However the clearest way God wants us to be fruitful is in making disciples. Just as God caused the fruitful land to come out from the sea, so he desires that we bear fruit from among the nations - a harvest of souls.

Another interesting theme that reoccurs in scripture is that God does not just speak about fruit, but of "seed-bearing fruit" or "fruit in which is their seed". Why is this important? Because God is not just interested in a one-off harvest, but a continual cycle of sowing and reaping, reaping and sowing. The harvest itself provides us with the means to sow for the next (bigger) harvest. In every area that God wants us to be fruitful, it is seed-bearing fruit that he gives us.

And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food." (Ge 1:29)

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. (Ge 8:22)

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. (2Co 9:10)


Separating the Waters

And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. (Genesis 1:17)

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. (Exodus 14:21)

And as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. (Joshua 3:15-16)

Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. (2Kings 2:8)

Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. (2Kings 2:14)

Should it be any surprise to us that God's pattern in creation is an example for us for how he creates in our lives? After the separation of light and darkness, comes another kind of separation - the separation of the waters.

This again is repeated in the Exodus, which is a pattern for our salvation. God follows the same pattern when he does his new creation in us as he did when he created the heavens and the earth. After he has taken us out of darkness into light, he requires that we undergo another separation in the waters. The people of Israel passing through the Read Sea, is of course a type and foreshadow of baptism. This is not an optional extra for the new Christian, but a command of God, and part of his process of making us a new creation. Just as the original division of the waters would be used to create a new heavens and a new earth for Noah and his family. It is a symbol of death and resurrection, a participation and public identification with Christ's own death and resurrection, and a powerful means of grace which cuts off the influence of the old life.

Once again I would suggest that ther is more here than just the one off action of baptism. There is also a way that, in coming to maturity, we learn to reflect the nature of God by making such separations for ourselves. It is significant that some of the most prominent men of God in the scriptures - Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha all parted the waters and passed through.

The separation of water from water is different from the separation of light from darkness. It is not a separation of property but of purpose. One part of the waters were no different for any other, there was no mixture that needed to be removed, nevertheless there was a separation that needed to come in order for the purpose of God to advance.

This speaks to me of laying down our lives (another element that is strong in baptism). All that God gives us is good, and he wants us to enjoy life, but if we allow ourselves to be caught up with just the enjoyment of life then the good can rob us of the best, which is to know God and advance in his calling for our lives. Sometimes this will require us to make a division in what is good so that we may pass through into what is best. We lay down certain things or activities, not because they are wrong by nature, but because they are not in-line with the purpose. We rejoice in what God gives us, but we never cling on to it so tightly that we are not prepared to lay it down in order to move forward in our walk with him.

Is it sacrifice? Not really when we focus on what God will bring us into rather than on what we have left behind.

"Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18:29-30)


Light and Darkness

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Ge 1:3-4)

So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. (Ex 10:22-23)

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. (Ex 14:19-20)

Right from the beginning God has been separating light from darkness. God himself is described in terms of light - all that is good and upright and noble and true without deceit or any fear or shame of being on display. This is in contrast to the darkness, those deeds which are shameful to be exposed, that are corrupt and deceitful.

When God comes into a situation, as with creation, the first thing he does is to bring a separation between light and darkness. The story of the Exodus is a parallel with our own salvation, and here again the separation takes place. Those who belong to God have light, while those who are opposed to God have darkness. It is interesting that the very same presence of God in the cloud, brought light to some, yet darkness to others. (This is taken up in the minor prophets like Joel and Amos who warn a rebellious people that they should not expect the day of the Lord's coming to be one of light but of darkness.)

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know over what they stumble. (Pr 4:18-19)

The same division took place when we turned to the Lord. For no one can accept Jesus as Lord without repentance and faith. Repentance which turns away from all that is darkness, and faith that embraces all that is light.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1Pe 2:9)

This is not just a one off separation, but an on going process of sanctification as we learn to bring this separation to our own lives, and embrace all that is light and reject all that is darkness. A good way to live a life pleasing to God is to "turn the light on" - live as if you were on display to the world... Because you know what?... You are!

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible (Eph 5:8-13)


The Mystery of Marriage

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

It was my pleasure to attend a great wedding service over the weekend. It was not great because of its size or expense, but because the two people getting married had an obvious, radiant love both for each other and for the Lord. The sense of God's presence during the service was evident, and there was a great assembly of men and women of God as witnesses giving their support to the couple, their worship to the Lord, and their "Amen" to the covenant sealed.

As I looked on at the bride and groom, I was reminded of Paul's words in Ephesians, of how everything about marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church. I saw the love in the groom's eye towards his bride, the presentation of the pure bride, beautiful in white spotless garments, and had a renewed surge of praise towards God for his eternal purpose in Christ for the world through the church.

All the months of preparation culminated in this one day, where all the labours were rewarded, where all the servants who attend the groom and the bride, share in the joy. Just so all who minister in the church, do so not for any glory for themselves, but looking forward to that great day when the bride will be presented to the bridegroom.

A timely reminder of the mystery of marriage in my own life too. Today is our seventh wedding anniversary.


Thank you, Huddersfield

In the context of my review of Without Borders '06, I would like to give out a special public thank you to the team from Huddersfield Community Church who did such a good job of looking after Michael in Globetrotters 3. This freed Jacqueline to sing in the choir and me to sit under the ministry of the word.

This is the first year that Michael has been happy during the children's ministry. And the first year we have been able to leave him without one of us being in the group as a parent-helper. So this was a big blessing to us.

I'd also like to thank them for being so gracious to me when I turned up 20 minutes late to pick up Michael after the first evening meeting! [Partly due to a misprint on the literature, and partly due to a giant prayer-ring stopping me getting out of the main hall!]

Your hard work and service was greatly appreciated!


The Wild Ox and the Horn Anointing

God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like the horns of the wild ox. (Numbers 23:22)

[Of Joseph] A firstborn bull he has majesty
and his horns are the horns of a wild ox;
with them he shall gore the peoples,
all of them, to the ends of the earth;
they are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
and they are the thousands of Manasseh.
(Dt 33:17)

But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
you have poured over me fresh oil. (Ps 92:10)

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. (1Sa 16:13)

Another theme that stood out for me from the Bible Week was that of the "Wild Ox" and the "Horn Anointing".

We all have an anointing in the Holy Spirit, but it is possible for us to put restrictions and man made limitations on it -- to "flask" it. King Saul was anointed with a flask of oil, whereas King David was anointed with a horn. We can play it safe, or try to conform to someone else's anointing. But God wants us to move without restriction like wild oxes under the unique "horn" anointing he has for our lives.

One example in particular that stood out for me is the difference in how we respond to what we hear. If we have heard the word of God, is that enough for us to step out in faith, or do we require some other confirmation? To move under the anointing requires a response of faith to the word of God. We have to have confidence not only in God, but in the anointing that he has given us.

God has said it; I believe it; I am able to do it; I am going to do it.


Nothing Less...

Here's another simple phrase from the Without Borders '06 Bible Week that has stuck with me.

"Never settle for anything less than the manifest presence of God in every meeting."

Keri said this on the opening night, when he shared that he had considered what the point was of another conference, another week away, another set of meetings. Like Moses, he came to the point where he said "If your presence is not going to be there, I don't want to go." Then as a declaration of purpose and faith he stated, "I am here!" He then shared on how God was not at the beginning, but in the beginning. God is never a spectator, he always desires to the main participator, the centre and source of all activity.

This is something that is resonating strongly with my spirit at the moment, and has been since the elders and leaders' conference last year when Keri again shared his vision for the Church, where God's manifest presence is always evident.

Since then I have felt an anointing accompanied by a sense of an imperative from the Lord concerning the spiritual gifts. They are not optional extras. They are not fringe benefits. They are the manifestations of the Spirit of God. The mark of God's presence amongst his people.

I was privileged to speak to Keri one-to-one after that first meeting, and he again looked me in the eye and said, "Never settle for anything less!" I am increasingly finding that I'm not just unwilling but unable to do so! (I'm finding myself at the front quite a lot these days) I can do without many things, but I cannot do without God's manifest presence. It is this, and only this, that makes us different from anyone else on the planet.