The Last and the First

As this is the last day of the year, it is a fitting time to post on some thoughts on one of the "firsts" in the Bible.

I have recently finished another two year journey through the Scriptures (a few days ahead of schedule :-)), and have promptly embarked upon another such journey of instruction and revelation. No matter how many times you read the word, there is always more to learn. So with the year, and with my reading plan, the end becomes a new beginning.

So it is too in the purpose of God. He is the eternal Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end. There are no dispensations in the one eternal plan of God, but there are times and seasons and years. When God brings something to an end, he is really bringing something else to a new beginning. We see this clearly in the days of creation...

And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

The end of one day leads straight into the beginning of the next. These were not disconnected isolated periods in creation, but stages in an overall plan. Thus ends and beginnings are interwoven and integrally connected in the single unfolding kingdom purpose of God.

As I have been reading and mediating again on the first few chapters of Genesis I have spotted another such "end-beginning" which (for me) was quite fresh! It centres on what I believe is the first prophecy in the Bible...

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. (Ge 3:20)

It occurred to me that Eve was not called "Eve" before the fall! (You can verify this for yourself if you like.) Before this she was called "Ishshah" - "Woman", corresponding to "Adam" - "Man". So it is only after the fall that "Man" and "Woman" become Adam and Eve.

However, although the fall was a catastrophic "end" in the innocent untarnished relationship between man and God, it was not the end to God's plan for man. It did not even cause him to dig out a plan 'B'! It was just a dark "evening" after which a new morning was coming.

God immediately lays out his redemption plan for mankind. Even in the darkness of the curse we see the good news of the Gospel shine forth...

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Ge 3:15)

God promises an offspring of the woman who will crush the serpent's head, and reverse the curse that has only just been invoked. A promise of a new beginning of life even amidst the self-inflicted consequences of death.

And this is where this first preaching of the gospel is followed by the first response to the gospel. For Adam, who had only just failed so badly in his relationship to both his wife and God, now grasps hold of the hope in God's plan for his kind. He prophetically changes his wife's name from Ishshah - "Woman" to Eve - "Life", on the basis that she "was the mother of all living," before she had ever given birth.

And so the evening of death is followed swiftly by a new dawn of life. And prophetically foreshadowing the resurrection dawn of Christ himself, God responds to Adam's faith in the midst of his sin, by a substitutionary sacrifice that makes a covering for both him and his wife.

So Adam ensured that his wife went forwards from that day, not under a cloud of condemnation of her role in the past, but with a new name and a new hope of her part in God's plan for the future.

Ephesians tells us that the relationship between a man and his wife, (thus in inception between Adam and Eve) is symbolic of a deeper mystery - that of Christ and the Church. As we go from the end of this year into the beginning of the next, let us do so with a prophetic sense of purpose of our part, as Christ's bride, in the eternal plan of God to bring his life to this world.

Happy New Year!


All together or all in turn?

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? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1Co 14:23-25)

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged (1Co 14:29-31)

The directions that Paul gives in this chapter regarding all speaking in tongues and prophecy is a source of confusion to many. It is clear that Paul is saying that it is better for "all to prophesy" than for "all to speak in tongues," but what exactly does that mean?

It is interesting how many people automatically assume that Paul is talking about everyone speaking in tongues or prophesying at the same time... but can that really be the case? Let's examine the consequences...

If Paul is taking about the weight of the presence of God that falls in a meeting when everyone prophesies simultaneously, that the unbeliever is convicted there and then, you would think, quite naturally, that this would be a good thing. How then do we understand Paul's instructions just a few verses later which prohibits simultaneous prophecy? If another begins to prophesy, the first must stop. It hardly seems consistent with a desire for "all to prophesy" if this is to be understood as all-at-once.

Also, if Paul is prohibiting the simultaneous speaking of tongues of all in the gathering of believers, how do we explain the day of Pentecost? Did the Holy Spirit break the commandments of Scripture right from the outset? He would not be much of a counsellor and instructor if that was the case!

No, clearly this does not add up. Fortunately, Paul spells out exactly what it means for all to prophesy in verse 30. "For you can prophesy one by one!" And if this is what Paul means when he talks about all prophesying, the obvious symmetry in the passage means we are hard pushed not to apply the same meaning for when all speak in tongues.

Once we realise this the whole passage makes a lot more sense. Paul is not giving a prohibition for all speaking in tongues at the same time, but all speaking in tongues one after another in the same way that all would prophesy one after another - publicly addressing the whole congregation. Imagine a meeting where this was the case: Someone stands up to welcome you to the meeting... and speaks in tongues. Then the worship leader begins to exhort the congregation... and speaks in tongues. The the notices are given... in tongues. Then the preacher... you get the picture! It's no wonder Paul says that unbelievers would think you were out of your mind, I think a good few believers would too! (Even so, an individual message in tongues with an interpretation is a powerful sign to unbelievers.)

But imagine the case where the Spirit of prophecy is moving on all. Where the welcome, the worship, the message... and even the notices are done in a way that communicates the prophetic voice of the one and same Spirit who is speaking to all. Who could fail to be moved in such an environment?

...no one, not even an unbeliever!


Build yourself up

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 21-23)

I'm chewing over this passage in Jude at the moment. There's plenty of meat here, and I'm sure there is more to get out of it, but here's what I've got so far...

The first point of note is that this is one of the trinitarian passages in Scripture. [My friend Matthew has been pondering some more of these] All three persons of the Godhead are mentioned in the process of how we build ourselves up in the faith. And of course since we are to build ourselves up - we are too! The outworking of our faith is a cooperation between the human and the whole of the Divine.

The threefold God gives us a threefold pattern of how to build ourselves up in the faith: pray in the Spirit, remain in the love of God, wait for the mercy of Christ. There is a common theme of abiding here - all of our activity is to come from a place of peace and intimacy in the presence of God. It is the one thing that is necessary; the one thing that we must find and hold; the one thing that we must never allow to be taken from us.

But abiding in God is never a passive activity. These three things are dynamic and powerful.

Praying in the Spirit touches the heavens and changes the earth.

The love of God cannot be in us without causing us to express that love towards others.

Waiting on Christ is not passive either; indeed Peter says we wait for and hasten the day of his coming. Waiting on the mercy of Christ causes us to outwork that mercy towards others.

Mercy on those who doubt. If we are strong in the faith, because we have built ourselves up, it is so we can build others up too, not so we can tear them down.

Mercy on those who are lost. Extending the mercy of Jesus that leads to eternal life to others - snatching them out of the fire that God wants none to perish in.

Mercy on those who sin - but a mercy mixed with fear and loathing - not towards the sinner but towards the sin. Mercy towards the sinner should never involve condoning or compromise with the sin.

If we rest in the place of intimacy with God we will be a joyously busy built-up people indeed!


These qualities

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2Pe 1:5-7)

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Pe 1:8)

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2Pe 1:9)

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. (2Pe 1:12)

I have been chewing over this passage, and the eight qualities which the apostle Peter places such a high value on.

Faith (pistis): Our confident trust in the nature of God and his revealed word. This is the foundation for our relationship with God. Without faith it is impossible to please God.

Virtue (arete): Moral excellence in action. Our faith is to have an effect on the way we live. We outwork our faith by reflecting the virtuous nature of our heavenly father and dealing with anything that tarnishes that reflection.

Knowledge (gnosis): Our intellectual grasp of the things of God. God does not want our brains to be disengaged. The outworking of our faith is to produce knowledge. The order is significant though, this is not some abstract ivory tower knowledge, nor even is it knowledge that prompts us to outwork our faith. It is knowledge that we only get once we are already doing what God has asked. We don't understand in order to obey - we obey in order to understand!

Self-control (egkrateia): Mastery over our physical appetites and desires. The flesh is not intrinsically evil (this was a heresy based on a false form of gnosis!) However the flesh is not to rule us, we are to rule over it - to master and subdue its appetites. Lack of self-control has been the ruin of many a man. So those who have knowledge and understanding will make every effort to add to their knowledge self-control. Fasting is one way (both a discipline and a devotion) we have to master the appetites of the flesh.

Steadfastness (hypomone): Resolute determined pursuit of an end, unswayed by trials, sufferings or setbacks. This is a quality of the mature Christian, who sets his course by what he has seen in God by faith, and not by what he sees in his circumstances. It comes from self-control because that is how we train ourselves to value the spiritual above the carnal.

Godliness (eusebia): Reverence and devotion towards God. It may seem strange that this quality is not earlier on, but it is our perseverance that proves our faith genuine. It is through persevering that we show in action and not just words that we have laid our lives on the altar as an acceptable act of worship.

Brotherly affection (philadelphia): The love that exists within a family. God's community is to be marked by this expression of family, and not by religious observances or doctrinal statements. But this is a love that is born from godliness - it is God who draws us together. Any other source that is attempted to try and recreate this atmosphere and environment will surely fail.

Love (agape): The ultimate expression of proactive selfless love that characterises God himself. Agape is the ultimate quality, the one which all the other qualities lead us towards. And as Paul says so clearly in his letter to the Corinthians, if we fail to lay hold of agape, all of our other activities are in vain.

May we grasp these qualities in increasing measure that we may be effective and fruitful in our knowledge of Jesus Christ.


Without deviation or delay!

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’” (Mk 1:1-3)

And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mk 1:10)

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Mk 1:12)

Where the Gospel of Matthew has a characteristic use of the word behold (idou) for emphasis and to stress importance, it seems that Mark has a word of his own which he uses in an equally characteristic way. It is the word immediately. This is the Greek adjective euthus. It is used twelve times in the first chapter alone.

What is not apparent in our English translations, however, is that this self same word is used in the opening Scripture that Mark uses to introduce and set the context for his Gospel. You see the word euthus does not just have a temporal application - meaning immediately, without delay, it also has a spacial application meaning straight, without deviation.

So when Mark quotes Isaiah, saying that all the paths of the Lord are to be made straight, it is the same word that he then goes on to use time and time again to describe the ministry of Jesus.

Some say that this was just a linguistic quirk of the Gospel writer. But to me it seems laden with significance. Mark is highlighting that Jesus is the Lord prophesied by Isaiah, and that all his ways are straight. They are without deviation or delay.

It also I think adds an extra dimension to the ministry of Elijah, John the Baptist, the Church - the way we are to prepare the way of the Lord is not just by making his paths straight... it is by making his paths straight away!


Out of the mouth of infants

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?” (Mt 21:15)

Reading through the gospel of Matthew, I have been struck again by the emphasis Jesus put on children.

At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;" (Mt 11:25)

As adults we can often major on our responsibility to teach the children, to impart to them our wisdom, our experience, our knowledge. This is right and proper, we should train them in the way that they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it. But are we as open when it comes to receiving from our children? Jesus said there would be things revealed to the children that would not be revealed to the wise and learned. The implication is that if we only instruct our children, but do not listen to them we are missing part of the picture. Sometimes, like old Eli, it takes a while for this penny to drop... they just may have caught something from God that we have not!

We had a recent example in our congregation of a family who went to Estonia on a mission trip. Before their journey their young son had a dream from God with specific details about a man they would meet and how they would meet him. They did indeed have their most significant encounter with a man who matched all the details from that dream. God didn't give the dream to the dad, or to the mum, but to one of their children.

Jesus said something else quite remarkable, and quite puzzling about children:

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Mt 18:10)

Now I don't pretend to understand the full significance of this, but I do have a few ideas. Angels are heaven's messengers, dispatched from God to minister and bring messages to those on earth. When Jacob had his dream he saw them both descending and ascending. Perhaps the messages, like the messengers go both ways. Since the word angel and messenger are one and the same, this is certainly the implication in this verse: their messengers always see the face of the Father. And if their messengers always get through then so must their messages - their prayers.

I was talking to a friend last night. He shared with me that he had be totally healed of a cold for the first time. Until then his experience had always been, go to the ministry line with a streaming nose, get touched powerfully by God, but still go back with a streaming nose. This time was different, and do you know who prayed? His daughter - "Please Jesus make daddy's cold all better. Amen." That was it! But that was all that was needed, because the message got through!

In our own household we have spotted a pattern. The nights when Andrew sleeps the best, are the nights when we asked Michael to pray for him! God delights to answer the prayers of children! I tell you, I'm not wasting my son's prayers on just "Help me sleep nicely" any more. I'm getting him to pray for all kinds of things now!

Jesus himself said we had a lot to lean from our children:

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:2-4)

We should never exclude them from what Jesus is doing in his church, for they are just as significant, if not more so, than the adults:

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:14)

Is it time we raised our expectation of what God is doing in our children? I think so. Is it time to include them in our prayers and our ministry? I think so. After all what do the scriptures say: that your sons and your daughters will prophesy, or that they will play with colouring books?


Open to reason

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Some believe that if they have heard from God then they can bypass checking their views against the Scriptures or the accountability of spiritual authority in the church. Others believe that fresh revelation from heaven no longer occurs for the self-same reasons. They are both wrong.

God still sends wisdom down from above, but this wisdom has certain hallmarks on it, characteristics by which we can recognise it as genuine. One of these hallmarks is that genuine revelation is always open to reason.

"Hold on", you may say, "surely if God has spoken that is the end of the matter. There is no room for discussion, and no need for reasoning. To think otherwise is to rob God of his authority."

Well, that's true. If God has spoken then that is the end of the matter. God cannot lie, and his word never returns to him void, so if he said something we can have absolute confidence that he will do it, no matter what anyone else thinks. Let God be true and every man a liar.

"But haven't you just contradicted yourself?"

It may seem that way. But this is precisely where so many go so badly wrong. Although God's revelation has absolute authority, our perception of that revelation does not. No-one has perfect 20-20 spiritual vision; we all see as in a mirror darkly; we only get a part of the puzzle. God has given us an inbuilt dependence on each other, and a need for accountability, because no one man sees it all! The Holy Spirit recognises this, because it is he who distributed the gifts amongst the body according to his will. So he will never bring his revelation to a man in a way that shrinks from the advice or authority of others in the body.

Genuine revelation has nothing to hide from Scriptural investigation, for God will never contradict his written word. Nor does it fear the advice of others, for God never speaks to a man in isolation, he speaks to his church. Out of the mouth of two or three witnesses is every matter to be established. The Spirit will never violate the kingdom principles of the body that he himself puts in place.

When a man sets his doctrine or decisions upon revelation that is not willing to be tested in this way, he leaves himself wide open for deception and error.


Thank you, whoever you are!

I received an anonymous gift today. It was totally unexpected, but much appreciated. I have no idea who it was, what prompted them to send me a gift, or even if they read this blog. But whoever you are I just want to say, "Thank you!"

[It's someone who knows my address, and my taste in movies, but who calls me Christopher... hmmm...]


Called to be sent

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction... These twelve Jesus sent out... (Mt 10:1,5a)

In Matthew 10 it is very clear that Jesus calls his disciples in order to send them out. Jesus did not do all the preaching and demonstrating of the kingdom himself - he equipped others to do the same. He still does. Our calling includes both an equipping and a commission, just as it did for that first twelve.

We are not called to form a nice cosy Christian huddle, away from the big bad world, waiting for heaven. We are called by Jesus to be sent back with his authority to bring the kingdom to where we are.

One interesting detail I noted, is that in Matthew even the list of the disciples names indicates this purpose. They are paired up two by two, just as Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. Jesus strategy is to call us in, join us together, then send us out.


According to your faith

“According to your faith be it done to you.” (Mt 9:29b)

All through the gospels we see that Jesus responds to faith. Jesus is moved to action when he sees the faith of those who come to him. He rewards those who demonstrate their faith by pressing in or crying out to him, and he rebuked those who demonstrated a lack of faith by the doubts they confessed.

Faith is crucial, of that there is no doubt! The writer to the Hebrews tells us that "Without faith it is impossible to please God." He also goes on to tell us why:

For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb 11:6)

This gives us a correct understanding of how we interact with God by faith. Our faith does not constrain God - he is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. He managed to create a whole Universe just fine before we came along. Our faith does not manipulate God - it is he that is sovereign, not us. We cannot twist his arm by pumping up how much we "believe" something is going to happen. In fact faith does not draw God to us at all (he is within us already!) it is the means by which we draw near to God.

We see that in Matthew 9, in several examples: The men who brought Jesus the paralytic on the mat - Jesus saw their faith. The woman who touched the hem of his garment - Jesus said her faith had made her well. And the two blind men who cried out to Jesus to be healed - Jesus said it would be unto them according to their faith.

What was their faith? In each case it was the fact they pressed into Jesus for what they needed. It was exactly the kind of faith described in Hebrews 11:6. They believed who he was, and they earnestly sought him as the one who was able to meet their needs. Faith is not static. It is not self-sufficiency. It is best displayed in the lives of those who are drawing ever closer to Jesus. Those who recognise that he is who he claims to be and who make demands on him for what is needed.

Jesus is not bothered by such demands made in faith. He delights to respond to them. Indeed he seems to be much more bothered when they are absent!


Sleeping through the storm

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. (Mt 8:24)

Jesus always had peace, no matter what the situation he was in. Nothing caught him unaware, nothing caused him to panic or worry. If we want to see a perfect example of the peace of God, the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that characterises the Kingdom, we only need to look at Jesus.

In a mid-week meeting last week, a lady in our church fellowship, Sarah, had a great insight into the nature of God's peace:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33)

Her insight was this: In the world we have trouble, but in Jesus we have peace.

The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed as we see from the account of the strom - the two can happen at the same time. If we are in Jesus, then we are in his peace. We can know that peace, even in the midst of the worst storm that life can throw at us.

It is a peace of knowing who is in control. It is a peace from knowing that the one who only needs to give the word in in same boat with you. No matter how grim it may look in the middle, if Jesus is with you, you can be confident of reaching the other side. He wants us to know his peace.

I like this account of Jesus asleep in the storm for another reason. Some years ago, about 1998, I think, I was in a town just outside Atlanta, Georgia, USA on a business trip. I went to bed in my hotel room, and woke up the next day and went down for breakfast. Later than usual my colleague appeared looking red-eyed and weary. "You sleep well?" he said with a strange look. "Yes thanks" I replied. He stared at me incredulously for a moment, then said - "You are joking aren't you!?" When I asked what this was all about, he pointed me to the TV and the news it was playing. A tornado had passed within a mile of our hotel that night, ripping off roofs and leaving a trail of devastation. Most of the other guests had been huddled in the hotel lobby under blankets all night. I was asleep on the top floor, totally oblivious.

I think I knew something of Jesus anointing of peace that night!

Though, almost a decade later I think I must have lost some of it! Last night a tornado hit Nuneaton. It was five miles away, and a much weaker storm, but I did wake up... breifly!


Beatitude problem?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5:3)

I've been musing on the Beatitudes, and this first one in particular for a few days now. The Beatitudes is a passage of scripture that, I believe, has accumulated much religious baggage over the millennia. Many fight with the impulse to say "blesséd" rather than "blessed." Over familiarity also has robbed much of the impact. But when Jesus ascended the mount and first opened his mouth to teach the people the words were fresh, relevant, and filled with authority and impact.

First these were not religious words or devices of speech, but a poetic device lifted from the popular culture of his time. Jesus was not speaking from a dusty pulpit, but a sunlit mountaintop with the wind in his hair. He was not engaging with the religious teachers, Pharisees or scribes, but with the ordinary everyday people.

He was however making a powerful theological statement. Moses ascended the mountain and gave the people ten commandments, the Law that they must obey. Jesus when he ascends the mount instead speaks nine blessings. He replaces Law with grace, and curse with blessing.

The words "Blessed are..." were not intended as nice uplifting sentimental thoughts to ponder. They were creative words of life. Jesus was not just speaking as a passive observer about the blessings he perceived to be already present on various groups of people - he was actively speaking and commanding those blessings into being. It was an impartation: "Blessed are you!"

So what of this first beatitude? Why has it caught my attention? Well primarily because it is the first, and nothing Jesus did lacked significance. A blessing on the poor was part of his mission statement lifted from the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound
(Isaiah 61:1)

But this is where I think I may have a "beatitude problem" because I disagree with the common rendering of this first blessing. Jesus' self-professed mandate was to bring a blessing to the poor. Not just the spiritually poor - the poor. And the way he was to do that was under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. With the use of a comma and the insertion of the definite article (that is present in the Greek) this beatitude becomes a powerful declaration of the good news Jesus was anointed to deliver.

"Blessed are the poor, in the Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The Spirit is the agent, not the adjective! Jesus is speaking into being the very blessing he was prophesied to bring.

The poor are blessed. How? In the Holy Spirit. What is their blessing? Nothing less than the Kingdom of God!

If I am right, (and that is not a given, I'm no expert in Greek... but all my research this far backs up my hunch) then this becomes a powerful opening statement that sets the scene, not just for the rest of the sermon on the mount, but for the whole New Testament. It is the walk of faith in a nutshell!

It's not about how much material resource we have. The way of faith, does not depend on our natural abilities or resources. We should never place our confidence in such things as these. It is not the path of the flesh that is blessed by God, but the path in step with his Spirit. It is about absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zec 4:6)

The path of blessing for the poor is the same for every one of us. It is the path that the Spirit leads us in. It is the path that pursues the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom that the Father has been pleased to give us; that Jesus announced is ours; that the Spirit now leads us to possess - his glory is our blessing.


Prophetic Preaching

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 3:1-2)

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 4:17)

What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet... Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. (Mt 11:9,11)

Jesus describes John as the greatest among the prophets that came before him, (all those who came after him are of a different order.) Yet we don't have a record of anything John prophesied... or do we?

Now, I know that John was special among the prophets because all the others saw Jesus from far off, but to John it fell to say, "Behold! The Lamb!" But I don't believe that was the only way he was prophetic. We don't have any record of him saying "Thus says the Lord..." or any other conventional form of prophetic utterance, but we do have a record of his preaching.

We know that Jesus only did what he saw his Father doing. He came to instigate a new Kingdom order of God's will on the earth not to follow existing trends, so it is inconceivable that Jesus was copying or plagiarising John's message. So we see that John's message was highly prophetic for this reason: He was preaching Jesus' message before Jesus!

This, I believe, lifts the lid on the true nature of preaching. It can be, indeed it should be a prophetic activity. It is not just regurgitating the scriptures into a little homily or thought for the day. It is not following a teaching programme and ticking off doctrinal foundations. There is nothing wrong with these things, but if that is all preaching is, it falls short of the mark. Preaching is prophetic, for it is capturing and communicating what Christ himself would say to the church.

There is thus an overlap and symmetry between the ministry of the prophet and the ministry of the preacher: The prophet brings a prophetic message to communicate the word of God; the preacher brings the word of God to communicate the prophetic message. The most important requirement for both is to stand in the presence of God and hear what he has to say.

For Mark read Matthew!

My post entitled "Behold!" originally contained a typo [now corrected]. The passage I was referring to was from Matthew not Mark.

This post has recently been featured over on the ESV blog. (I'm honoured!).


But unfortunately my typo is now being propagated over the 'net too! That'll teach me to proof my posts before I hit publish! You never know who's reading!



And when Jesus was baptised, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16-17)

When the New Testament writers use the word "behold!" they do so to get our attention. They do so because what follows is of special significance and importance. The word "behold" itself in the English is not ideal, because it is not widely used today and so can make a passage seem dated or religious, and that certainly is not the intention. But it is hard to think of a better alternative, especially considering the literal translation is the imperative for look.

Here's what the translators of the ESV had to say about it:

The word “behold,” usually has been retained as the most common translation for the Hebrew word hinneh and the Greek word idou. Both of these words mean something like “Pay careful attention to what follows! This is important!” Other than the word “behold,” there is no single word in English that fits well in most contexts. Although “Look!” and “See!” and “Listen!” would be workable in some contexts, in many others these words lack sufficient weight and dignity. ~ Preface to the English Standard Version

There is no single English word that fits. One phrase I thought of was, "Mark my words!" In a language that originally lacked punctuation, it could also bee seen as a literary device similar to the exclamation mark or bold italics.

At the end of Matthew chapter 3, the account of Jesus baptism, we get two such "behold!" moments in rapid succession. The first when the heavens are opened to Jesus, and Holy Spirit descends upon him in manifest form like a dove, and the second when following close behind the Spirit comes the voice from heaven declaring, "This is my Son, the beloved, upon whom is my favour."

Father, son and Spirit are involved significantly from the very outset of Jesus ministry. Behold: Heaven is opened. The Spirit is manifested. There is a sound from heaven.

In the book of Acts we see that Jesus continues to work the way he began...

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2)


Angelic Dreams

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream... (Mt 1:20a)

Reading through the first two chapters of Matthew, I have been struck by the way God spoke to Joseph. To Mary and to Zechariah the angel turns up when they are awake. But to Joseph he turns up in his dreams while he was sleeping.

It made me stop and ponder the faith of Joseph in this situation with a new admiration. How did he know that God had really spoken to him, and he had not just... um... dreamt it!

This was a huge decision for Joseph, and what he had heard was something totally unprecedented in the whole of redemptive history... and God was asking him to believe and obey on the basis not of a waking vision or visitation, but a dream!

I wonder how that would go down today, in this cerebral, empirical-data driven society which can pervade even God's people. How many today would be confident to base a life-changing decision on the basis of an unprovable, totally subjective dream.

Today there is much caution and scepticism of making decisions based on emotions or imaginations. We should not be led by such things they say - and they are right.... but neither should we be led purely by what we can grasp cerebrally from the empirical data. It may be very scientific, very intellectual, very respectable - but where is the faith needed for that? If Peter had waited for the water to become solid, he would have never stepped out of the boat.

What we need to be led by is the Spirit of God. And he will communicate with us, the way he chooses - not necessarily the way we would find the easiest. There is always a requirement of faith whenever God speaks. Those who are waiting for the iron-clad indisputable, totally verifiable word will be waiting a long time!! If God chooses to stir our emotions, we need to be those who have the faith to respond to those emotions. If God stirs our imaginations whether awake or asleep, then likewise we must respond. What matters is not how the message comes, but who sent it. If the source is God then we can be confident no matter how foolish we may seem to the cerebral mind.

God still has miriads and miriads of angels at his disposal. There is no indication that these heavenly messengers all hit the dole queue the moment the Scriptures were completed. That tells me something - God still has a lot to say!

I admire Joseph. Like his namesake in the Old Testament, he learned the power and significance of responding in faith to dreams from God. It was a lesson that was to save his life...

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt (Mt 2:13-14)


A chapter a day...

Here at Living Rock Church we are just starting a new Bible reading programme together as a whole church. Over the next 89 days we will be reading a chapter of the Gospels every day. Starting today in Matthew 1 and finishing on 14 December in John 21.

What excites me, is not so much the reading programme, but its purpose: to meet with Jesus. To encounter the Jesus of the gospels and allow him to transform our lives again, as he always does whenever we truly meet with him.

To help members of the church, and anyone else who would like to join us on this "short but significant journey." I have adapted my old "Ephesians Every Month Reader" into a shiny new "GospelReader."

I have written it to work on a rolling 89 day cycle. So if you get blessed by reading through a chapter of the gospels every day, you can carry on doing so indefinitely, and incorporate it into your existing reading disciplines and devotions.

GospelReader 1.02 requires Java Runtime Environment(JRE)


Jeremiah 33:6-9

Behold, I will bring to it [this city] health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.

I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.

And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.


Kindness and Repentance

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Ro 2:4)

I heard a news article on the radio yesterday about the split caused in the Anglican church in the USA over the issue of homosexuality.

I don't want to comment on this directly, or about any of the people or the organisations involved. But I do want to give some general comments on the debate as a whole.

The Scriptures tell us it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. Both the kindness of God that reaches out to all men while they are still in their sin, and the repentance that this must lead us to if we are to come into the new kingdom order of God are essential if we are to present the good news of the Gospel without distortion. The polarization that can occur in any debate must not drive us to an extreme where we let go of one or the other.

Jesus was the "friend of tax collectors and prostitutes." These were the outcasts of society, the ones that the religious people did not want to associate with. We must guard against a new wave of pharisaic self-righteousness that deems that certain men are beyond the love of our saviour. I'm sure if Jesus walked the earth today he would upset just as many religious people by being the friend of homosexuals. The Gospel is good news to all men. We must be careful that we do not portray it otherwise.

However, although Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and prostitutes, he never condoned the common practice of extortion among the tax collectors, nor the prostitution of the prostitutes. His message and his ministry were clear from the very first day: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" The kindness of God reaches out to all men in their sinful state, but it does not do so to endorse any form of sinful lifestyle, nor to come just to meet our spiritual needs as we carry on the way we have always gone, doing our own thing. It calls us to repent. To radically change the way we think and act. It is not just the homosexual who has to repent and change his lifestyle when he comes to Jesus - we all do!

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Ro 3:22b-24)

I thought about the word "repent" today. It is still a good word, but sadly because it is not common in everyday speech it has lost some of its true impact and accumulated some unwelcome religious baggage. I had a think about an alternative, and came up with this: "Defect!" It carries the same sense of radial switching of thought and allegiances, and the same result of transfer from under one kingdom to another.

"Defect, for God's kingdom is coming. Change sides, so you are on the winning team!"

Both kindness and repentance are vital to the gospel message. We must reach out to all men, regardless of what label society or even they themselves have applied. Note well, the Bible does not talk about homosexual men, but men who practice homosexuality. Society may define people by their sexuality but the Bible never does. There are not gay men and straight men, there are just men. In fact...

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)

The only real division that is left is between those who have defected, and have brought their lives out from "doing their own thing" to being under the rule and reign of God, and those who have not.

Without repentance there is no entry to the kingdom, let alone leadership within it!!


The Message and the Meaning

He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mk 4:34)

I was recently asked an intriguing question:

What would be the sense in interpreting your own tongue? Why not just 'cut to the chase', and interpret it right-off?

The question goes deeper than just the issue of someone interpreting their own message in tongues. Since it is the same Spirit that inspires both the tongue and the interpretation, the same question holds whenever tongues and interpretations comes. Nor can you dodge the question if you are one of those who holds that tongues have ceased - because they had to be in operation first in order for them to cease. So why did and does the Spirit of God choose to use tongues and interpretations to communicate with his people? Why doesn't he 'cut to the chase' and just give a prophetic message in the first instance. Since Paul makes it clear that prophesy is to be desired above all the other spiritual gifts, why bother with tongues at all?

Here I take a detour into the gospels. Because it is interesting that the disciples asked Jesus a very similar question:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Mt 13:10)

Jesus never spoke in tongues, but it is clear that he had a similarly curious method of communication: he would speak in parables that would be incomprehensible to most, and then later he would give the interpretation. [It is also interesting in the Greek that speaking in tongues (glossais lalo) and speaking in parables (parabolais lalo) are similar constructs.]

Why, as the disciples themselves wondered, did Jesus not just cut to the chase and give the plain meaning in the first instance.

In fact, if we look back through the scriptures we see that this was often God's chosen means of communication:

God did not tell Pharaoh that there would be a famine, but gave him two dreams that Joseph had to interpret.

Even after Gideon had heard the voice of God, and had various miraculous confirmations to the tests he put out, he was finally convinced that God would give him victory through a dream and its interpretation:

As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, "Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand." (Jdg 7:15)

The prophet Daniel was renowned for one who was able to give interpretations from God. Twice he had to give both the message and the interpretation. The first when God spoke through Nebuchadnezzar's impenetrable dream; the second when God chose to communicate through indecipherable writing on the wall.

I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. (Da 5:17)

So we see, it's not a new question at all. Indeed looking at the big picture of God's eternal plan of redemption we might ask the question, "Why didn't God cut straight to the chase and send Christ, the lamb slain from before the creation of the world, when Adam fell? Why the millennia of type and shadow before the reality was revealed?"

Whatever the reasons may be, you cannot escape the fact that God chooses to communicate in this way! One reason may be that it is because he knows that we have to appreciate the problem before we will appreciate the solution; we have to appreciate the difficulty before we will appreciate the deliverance. It could also be that, like with the parables, God chooses not to reveal his most intimate thoughts and feelings to the casual observer, but only to those who make a diligent inquiry into them; those who hunger and thirst for his righteousness; those who seek him.

As Keri Jones says: God does not hide things from his children; he hides them for his children.

One thing is clear. There is something compelling about a mystery revealed. For whatever the reason, it speaks to us far more than if we just had the end message itself. It carries with it the M.O. of God himself!

Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation. (Da 2:9)

"Do not interpretations belong to God?" (Ge 40:8)


The Same Spirit

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1Co 12:11)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Ro 8:11)

Paul makes it clear in his discourse on the gifts of the Spirit that they are all the activity of one and the same Spirit. At first it seems like an obvious and redundant comment, after all, how many Holy Spirits are there? Of course it must be one and the same Spirit because there is only one.

However, when you start to unpack the idea - it is the same Spirit - you can see why Paul wanted to emphasise it so strongly.

The Spirit who in victorious power raised Christ from the dead. If you have received Jesus as Lord, then it's the same Spirit who dwells in you!

The Spirit who hovered over the unformed earth on the first day of creation. It's the same Spirit who is in you!

The Spirit who stirred the hearts of the prophets: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Elijah; the Spirit who gave Samson his strength; the Spirit who gave Gideon victory when vastly outnumbered. It's the same Spirit who is active in you!

The Spirit who descended on Christ in bodily form as a dove and empowered his ministry. It's the same Spirit who empowers you!

The Spirit who with a mighty rushing wind filled the house and with tongues of fire touched the disciples at Pentecost, filling them with power to be witnesses to the risen Christ. It's the same Spirit that fills you today!

The Spirit who was at work in the book of Acts and the book of Corinthians - guess what? - Yes, it's the same Spirit!

We don't have a different, or inferior Spirit; we are not filled with Spirit-Lite! We have the Spirit of Christ. The third person of the eternal, unchanging, almighty God-head lives within us! We are participants of the divine nature! He who is in us is greater - oh, how much greater! - than anything in this world.

Who can be against us, when God himself is not just with us, but in us! How can we fear the activities of Satan, when God himself empowers us? It is Satan and all his demons who tremble before the believer who truly understands what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

How can we be content with anything less than what we read in the pages of the New Testament, and believe that this can be a true manifestation of the same Spirit that turned the world upside down?

Let God be God. And let God be God in you! He is the same yesterday, today and forever.


Teacher Training

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2Ti 2:2)

Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, instructs him not only to teach in line with the revelation he has received, but to commission men as teachers to do the same. He was not just to pass on the revelation, but also the responsibility to present the revelation.

He was not instructed to identify and recognise those who were gifts of the ascended Christ - the Ephesians 4 ministries of Teacher (or Pastor-Teacher). Nor even to find those who already had an emerging teaching gift or ministry amongst the body. There is also no implication that Paul was referring to the Elders that Timothy had already been instructed to appoint - men who as part of their qualification had to be able to teach. He was just told to find faithful men.

You see just as there are men who are Evangelists but we are all to do the work of an evangelist, and there are men who are Prophets but all can prophesy, so too the ministry of teaching (imparting the revelation of Christ) is not limited to those with a recognised ministry or office of teaching.

The writer to the Hebrews says that we should all be teachers (in this sense), not merely those who continually need to be taught.

Jesus himself, expected that anyone who received instruction in the Kingdom would be able to impart it to others:

Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. (Mt 13:52)

In fact the main responsibility of the recognised teaching ministries, as with all the other Ephesian 4 ministries, is to equip the body of Christ to do the work - not to do it all themselves!

The temptation for some teachers is to try to keep control of "their" revelation, to preserve their ministry. But Paul is very strong against this:

What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1Co 3:7)

We can't really claim that any of "our" revelation is actually ours. For how did we receive it? Was it not from the revelation of others, or the free gift of the Spirit of God? If we received the revelation we teach freely from others how can we try to restrict those who teach what they have received from us? Paul was very clear in his own teaching ministry that his preaching, teaching and revelation, was not something he was the possessor of, but something entrusted to him from God to pass on:

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1Co 4:1)

...and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; (Tit 1:3)

What if some of the men who run with "our" revelation overtake us in ministry or recognition? Praise God! If a man sows with my seed, am I not entitled to a portion of the return? I pray he sows far and wide and reaps a hundred-fold! After all who does all the seed ultimately belong to if not the Lord of the harvest. He did not give us good seed to stow away in barns, but to sow and sow and sow. Sow it as far as you can, and give it to others that they might sow with it too. Give others your seed and bless them that they might sow it further, in greater measure and with a better return than you ever did.

We are not involved with the activity of raising towers to make a name for ourselves, but in raising up teachers who may be fruitful and multiply and take the instruction of Christ and his Kingdom to the ends of the earth.


Would you recognise him?

They did not recognise him nor understand the utterances of the prophets. (Ac 13:27)

It is striking to note how many times Jesus was not recognised. First John tells us that though he made the world, the world did not know him; he came to his own people but they did not receive him.

Even during his earthly ministry when he performed outstanding miracles, there were those who dismissed him as a fraud or as demon-possessed. It's incredible to think that God-in-the-flesh walked amongst them and they didn't realise it!

But here's what makes it even more astonishing, this lack of recognition wasn't limited just to the Pharisees, Scribes and other cynics - it extended to his own believers as well. His own disciples who had shared their lives with him for three years also failed to recognise him on occasion: The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not realise that they walked with the risen Lord. Mary at the tomb, when all she wanted to do was to see Jesus, still thought he was the gardener. And even Peter himself when he was fishing with the other disciples did not recognise the Lord when he called out to him from the shore.

It's astonishing and sobering to realise that God himself can speak and act among even his own people, and they do not recognise him. As Jacob declared:

"Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!" (Ge 28:16)

One of the accusations that is levelled by some against prophecy today is that it does not come with the same level of authority or recognition as that in Biblical times. Anyone who thinks this should take a closer look at the texts. All through the history of God's people there has been the same problem - an elevation of all God has said in the past, yet an inability to recognise and accept what God was saying now. Even prophets like Samuel had to learn to recognise the voice of the Lord.

Modern church history also contains sobering accounts of those who devoted their lives to praying for revival, yet failed to recognise it when it came.

When God comes it is rarely in the way we expected. When he speaks it is often through a means we might despise. When he walks amongst us there is no guarantee, no matter how long we have been walking with him, that we will be looking in the right direction.

The real question for God's people in this day is not "Do you believe God still speaks?" but "When he speaks, will you recognise him?"


Lost emails

It has come to my attention that any emails sent to my lineone.net address have not been getting through. They are not coming through late, or labelled as spam, they are just not getting through at all - lost into the ether somewhere. This has been the situation for at least a week maybe more.

Apologies to anyone who has tried to contact me on this address. Please use my gmail address (see blog footer) from now on.


Living in the Green Light

"Live as people of the green light. Don't wait for God to tell you to go. Keep on going until he tells you to stop." ~ Keri Jones


The cross marks the spot!

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Mt 13:44)

In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col2:3)

[Reflections from Life to the Nations '07]

One of the themes I noted from our Life to the Nations bible week, could come under the title: What to dig up, and what not to dig up!

Richard Anniss shared a powerful and stirring word on the Kingdom of God being like treasure. He challenged us if we had truly grasped how much it is worth; if we were truly living as if it was the most important thing to us. He shared how, even though it is a free gift of God's grace, it is still costly - very costly - it costs us our time, our energies, our very everything; but it is precisely this cost that speaks of its great worth. He shared how the great men of faith who have preceded us have left us revelation on the Kingdom of God that is like a map to the treasure. But what are we going to do with this map? Frame it, admire it, and proclaim what a great map it is? Or give our all to following the map and laying hold of the treasure.

Keri Jones shared on what not to dig up:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Co 5:17)

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. (Ro 6:4)

Too many Christians, he said, are emphasising their old life, which is dead, buried, gone and forgotten, rather than their new life which they now walk in. They speak of being "sinners saved by grace" and emphasise the "sinner" - but when the Holy Spirit comes into our life he emphasises the "grace!" We were sinners, but we are not that any more, we are a completely new creation in Christ. We are sons, we are heirs, we are royalty. It is time to stop thinking about how we were, and start living as how we are!

Both Keri Jones and Tony Ling shared from Genesis 26, where Isaac redug the wells of his father Abraham, and also dug new wells.

There were a number of points they drew from this: Any one who tries to unearth biblical doctrine and practice that has been neglected for years will face opposition. What belonged to my father belongs to me. There is very little future for the man who neglects or abandons his inheritance. The truths we hold never need to be abandoned or replaced, they just need to be filled out.

"Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." (Mt 13:52)

Finally, (in terms of this summary), Keri also shared on this verse:

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. (Pr 25:2)

God conceals things for his royal people, who will diligently seek him, to find them out. When something that was lost is found again, there is much rejoicing.


Leaders Hang Back

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged (1Co 14:29-31)

Hear me carefully on this one... Hanging back may not be something that immediately seems to fit with an eager desire to move in the spiritual gifts. And indeed there is to be nothing passive or fatalistic about our response to the Holy Spirit's stirrings in our lives or in our meetings. However sometimes we need to step back and see the bigger picture. Our gifts do not operate in isolation, but as part of the whole body. In 1Corinthians 12, in the context of Spiritual gifts, Paul expounds the concept of the body. Just as it is not good if one part of the body ceases to function, it is equally not good if the body becomes "a single member" - one gift, or more often one small portion of the total gifting, trying to do it all. It is in this context that our zeal to move in the gifts may need to be tempered with restraint. Not a restraint caused by a lack of passion to see the manifest presence of God in our midst, quite the opposite, a restraint born out of a desire to see them even more - as an expression of the whole body!

When I was a wee lad, I used to attend Scripture Union summer camps, in Scotland. It was at my first such camp that I gave my life to the Lord. Later on, I came back as a leader, and helped with the fun activities, sports, and spiritual input. As leaders, particularly during team games, we used to have a saying: "Leaders hang back!" or "LHB!" Whenever a leader got carried away with himself during a game of Frisbee-football or Ragger, and started to dominate the game, a cry of "LHB!" would go up from a fellow leader reminding him that the game was about the whole team getting involved, not a showcase for one talented individuals sporting prowess.

It is often the same in the church. Too often a majority of the work is done by a minority of the people. Too often, instead of being freed to move in their own spiritual gift, people look to the talented individual, the leaders, to perform that function. Too often the leaders are happy to maintain this status-quo, sometimes even accentuating it, seeking more of the spotlight rather than less.

It is into such situations that the cry of "LHB!" needs to be heeded.

Paul, when he addresses the issue of prophesy in the church, says that we call all prophesy, and in order for this to happen there needs to be an order and an awareness of one another. [This was the Corinthians main problem in many areas: they were zealous, but their zeal did not include consideration for each other.] Paul says "If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent." This is the restraint I am talking about, the restraint that makes way for another man's gifting, even though he is quite capable himself to carry on.

The words "let the first be silent" are in the Greek "o protos sigato." o protos, can mean the first, but it can also mean "the leader [the prominent one]." sigato also carries not the sense of a external prohibition, but an internal self-restraint. So without too much of a stretch this could be translated: let the leader hang back in what he had to say. LHB.

At our Life to the Nations Bible week, our Apostle, Keri Jones, shared on the fist night (and on other nights) a powerful vision and direction for the churches. He shared his desire for congregations of God's people where there is a "quantum shift" forwards in the Holy Spirit. Not just the same people moving in gift week after week, but whole congregations moving in Spiritual gift.

This is where the bar is set in the Scriptures themselves. For it is not where one man shines in his ministry that God is most glorified, but where the whole body reflects the head - each part moving as he directs.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1Co 14:24-25)


Bless me!

[Reflections from Life to the Nations '07]

Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!" And God granted what he asked. (1Ch 4:10)

But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."... And there he blessed him. (Ge 32:26,29)

You do not have, because you do not ask. (Jas 4:2)

Why is it that we often have a problem asking God to bless us? Is it because it seems selfish and self-centred (...and of course we are much to spiritual to pray in a self-centred way!)

Yet, Jesus instructed us to ask God for what we need. He told us that those who ask will receive. The problem is that often we think of our needs in a self-centred way, and so limit what we ask to just our own meagre requirements.

Yes, ironically it can that very self-centred attitude that keeps us from asking for the abundance of God's blessing on our lives. For if we only ask God for just what we need to get by, in what way does that benefit anyone else? God wants us blessed so that we can be a blessing; he wants us to have an abundance so that as well as our own requirements we have enough to bless others.

And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Ge 26:4)

God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him. (Ps 67:7 NASB)

It is only a blessed people that can be a blessing. Once we have understood that, we too will cry out to God that he would bless us abundantly...

...and God will grant us our request.


Life to the Nations '07

Well, it's been a week with no posts (sorry) and there'll be another silent week here next week too. I'm off to sunny Staffordshire for our annual Bible Week. This year it is entitled "Life to the Nations". There will be over 1500 people gathering from the churches that relate to Keri Jones' apostolic ministry, from around the UK and other nations.

It's going to be a great week of fellowship, instruction from the word, prophetic insight, the presence of God, and continual sunshine.... well, I'm in faith for at least four out of those five!

I'll tell you all about it when I get back... that is if I don't see you there!


The Obedience of Faith

Through whom [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations (Ro 1:5)

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen (Ro 16:25-27)

These verses come from the beginning and end of the book of Romans. Paul's great exposition of the gospel. At the start and at the end, like bookends, he lays out the purpose of his Apostolic ministry and of the gospel he preached: to bring about the obedience of faith.

I love that phrase. It encapsulates the inseparable nature of faith and obedience. One never leaves home without the other.

What is obedience without faith? Nothing, certainly not true obedience of the kind that pleases God. For without faith it is impossible to please him. It is just dry religious observance. A form of godliness but lacking its power.

And what is faith without obedience? Nothing, certainly not the faith of the kind that God responds to. It is just mental assent. A conviction of truth that does nothing to change our behaviour. James says even the demons have this kind of "faith" in God.

But faith married with obedience, what a team! The faith that does not just grip your thoughts, but moves your feet. A mustard seed's worth of this kind of faith can see the power of God released.

The faith that enabled Peter to walk on the water, was not a conviction that he would float (it is debatable how much of this kind of faith he had) but the determination that he would take that first step out of the boat. That step of obedience was the true manifestation of his faith, and the means of the miracle.


Head, Heart, Feet?

When I was new in the faith I was taught this concerning receiving the truth of God's word: When you hear it, it first affects your head, as you listen to it and understand it. Then, as you meditate on it, it works its way down to your heart and gets a grip on you. Finally it reaches your feet as you put it into practice and outwork it.

I don't know if this head->heart->feet teaching is still doing the rounds out there anywhere, but the more I have studied the scriptures and the more I have learned from them, the more I have become convinced that this description of teaching is totally at odds to the New Testament pattern.

In fact I would say that, at least in the west, we have distorted the concept of Biblical teaching to fit with our own post-enlightenment world view. We have reduced it to a cerebral activity, a mere exchange of thoughts and ideas from the mind of the teacher to the minds of those receiving instruction. I have even read a description of the ascension ministry of teacher as "a lover of books." Some it would seem have this idea of the teacher as a wise bookish person who gets wheeled out to teach doctrine now and again.

Where do we get this idea? Surely this is a concept of teaching that comes from our experience in the modern world, rather than from the pages of Scripture. What was Christ's own teaching ministry like? What was the teaching ministry of the Apostles like? Were they bookish academics?

Ephesians 4 says we have all been given grace "according to the measure of Christ's gift." So surely it is Christ's own teaching gift that we should use as an example in these matters:

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mk 1:22)

If we read the gospel accounts we discover that the crowds were as astonished with Jesus' teaching as they were with this miracles. This was because he did not merely "teach" to convey information, but his words carried authority. Authority comes to bring obedience.

Obviously Jesus had not heard about the head->heart->feet process, as his words cut straight to the end result. He did not give people nice ideas to go away and think about; he brought the plumb-line of the word with authority that men had to line themselves up with. In fact we find that the reason Jesus often taught in parables, was not to make himself easier to understand, quite the opposite, it was so that his teaching could not just be received as nice intellectual ideas:

He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ (Lk 8:10)

In fact when Jesus was taken into heaven, when he revealed his ultimate authority over all things and gave the great commission, he spelt out what teaching should do:

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Mt 28:18-20)

The Jesus-kind-of-teaching is not teaching aimed at the head, but directly for the feet. We can receive it and obey it, put it into practice and see it produce fruit, even before we fully understand it.

What about the head->heart stage? Well, consider Paul's words to the Ephesians:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18)

Again the process is reversed! They received it in their hearts in order that they might know with their heads. Spiritual truth is received first by the spirit, not by the mind. We need to be those who have a mind controlled by the Spirit (Ro 8:6) not a spirit controlled by the mind.

Head, heart, feet? I'm sorry, I don't buy it any more! In my Bible the process is feet, heart, head!


Watch what you watch!

I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
(Ps 101:2b-3a)

I have been mulling over several topics lately: fasting, guarding my eyes, and finding more time for prayer. Though they may seem to be unrelated the quote from Piper yesterday seemed to pull them together nicely:

It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.

Piper isn't saying that it is fine to indulge in wickedness or watch explicit videos, but that this is not the only issue. There is behaviour that is sinful and behaviour that is unhelpful. It's not just an issue of what we watch, but how much we watch. We must certainly deal with the former, but if we only deal with the former we will still be lacking. To truly progress in the journey of faith we must not just be prepared to set aside what is evil, we must also be prepared to set aside what is good in order to pursue the best. This is at the very heart of what it is to fast.

I have touched on this before when I wrote on the significance of the first and second days of creation. First there came a separation of light from darkness - God indeed wants us to be holy and separate from all that is impure and immoral. But then there came a separation of water from water. This was not a separation based on merit (one bit of water was as good as any other) but a separation of purpose - a discerning and separating what is "of above" and what is "of below." If we are to be heavenly-focussed and heavenly-minded we must sometimes separate ourselves from earthly things - not because they are not good, but because we discern a higher purpose.

We often think of fasting solely as a period of time spend without food. This is indeed the usual reference to fasting in the word. It is a great spiritual discipline that does much to help us lay aside distractions of the flesh to engage with the higher purpose of heaven. I'll maybe write more on this another time. But this is not the only way to fast. At its root fasting is not a religious and ritualistic denial of food - almost every religion has practices like this. It is a concious decision of the will to lay aside the good (whatever that may be) for the sake of the best - God himself.

Piper's words and a conversation I had with a friend last night has convinced me of another very effective fast for the Christian in today's world: a fast from television!

If you are pondering how you can spend more time in prayer, or more time in the word, or any other activity of the Spirit, the answer may be right in front of your remote!


A fast post

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie.
It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for
heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not
the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we
drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God
describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is
a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The
greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts.
And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but
for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an
appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable,
and almost incurable.

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the
glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are
satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of
the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is
no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There
is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to
turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry,
and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I
want you.”

~ John Piper, A Hunger for God


Honey along the Path

And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright.

Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” (1Sa 14:24-27,43-45)

This will be my last post in this series looking at the symbolism of honey. I have deliberately left this one until last, and given it a great deal of thought. Whilst what follows is certainly not the only, or even the most obvious exegesis of this passage regarding Jonathan's tasting of the honey (and I have drawn other lessons from it myself) I believe there is an important lesson concerning the word of God and how we receive it.

The word of God is living and active. It is not static; it is not a text book. This means that it always has more to teach us. Whilst the cannon of scripture is closed - we do not expect any new scriptures, or any new truths - this does not mean there will not be new revelation. New revelation is different from new truth. All truth about God is eternal, it cannot by definition be new. However, no-one has a complete revelation or understanding of God. When our eyes are unveiled (or brightened) to see something new (for us) from God's word, we have received fresh revelation by the Spirit into eternal truth.

The problem is that man always has a tendency to try and institutionalise the truth of God. To make formulas and constructs of human wisdom that act as a wineskin for the revelation of God. This in itself is not a bad thing, until those who grow up in these "institutions" become more attached to the wineskin than they are to the reason it was constructed, or the wine it contains. Thus when a "new vintage" comes along, one that will not fit with their beloved constructs, traditions, practices - they would rather reject the new revelation of God, and run-out the men who bring it, than to have to adapt and change to accommodate it.

Such has always been the way, even before the Scriptures were complete. Each generation of God's people rejoiced in the legacy of the prophets of past generations, whilst rejecting, despising and persecuting the prophets who spoke to them in their own time. Even Jesus himself was rejected in this way:

We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from. (Jn 9:29)

Church history is full of the same warnings. Those who begin in the power of the Spirit and/or a new conviction of truth from the Holy Scriptures, become in the passage of time just another institution with its own traditions and values which they hold to more dearly than the principle of pursuing the revealed truth of God's word no matter what the cost which drove their original founders.

"There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted." ~ Thomas Cranmer [Founding figure of the Church of England]

Even in the early church this tendency had begun. Thus Paul's uncompromising words to the Galatians:

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:3)

Saul was such a man. He began well, in a powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit, leading God's people to victory over that which held them captive. But then he tried to establish and consolidate his victory in the flesh. He became jealous and hostile towards those who carried the anointing of God, and made his own rules that God had no part in that prevented the people receiving the food they needed.

Yet even in such a situation, God causes fresh honey to spring up along the path for those who are bold enough to taste it.

It was the people of God who were the final judge this day, because the old rules and ways of the flesh did nothing for them. But the man whose eyes had been brightened with the fresh revelation of God, was the one who led them into victory, the way the old man once had.

The lessons are clear. Because the "institution" we are a part of was in the cutting edge of God's plan in the past, is no guarantee it is today. Or indeed, because we are part of a fresh revelation of God's purpose today, is no guarantee that the "institutions" we are a part of today will still be manifesting the life of God in the years to come. God cares nothing for the institutions of man or the monuments they leave behind. He only has one church, one people, however they are distributed or fragmented. What he cares about is those who will live according to all that continues to be revealed from his wonderful word of truth.

He doesn't need another denomination - what he wants is a people who all have the sparkle of fresh honey in their eyes.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Pr 4:8)

"God has yet more light and truth to break forth out of his holy Word." ~ John Robinson 1620


Honey from the Rock

He [the Lord] made him [Jacob] ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock. (Dt 32:13)

But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. (Ps 81:16)

There is a very short answer to the imagery of the honey from the rock: honey is the word of God, and the rock is Christ. Christ came as the ultimate word from the father. He is the ultimate revelation of God. All of God's word finds its focus in him.

But there is a longer answer. For the imagery of the rock is another of those frequently occurring motifs in Scripture that is highly significant. God is frequently referred to as the Rock in the Old Testament, so Christ as the Rock (1Co 10:4) is an obvious reference to his deity. But interestingly, Abraham is also referred to as a rock:

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. (Isa 51:1-2)

Abraham became Israel. He was one man when he was called, and he responded to a personal call, but he was driven by his corporate vision of the city of God, and he became a people belonging to God.

The rock in this context represents the eternal kingdom purpose of God: to take hold of a man, and through him to fill the earth with his people.

It is not just Abraham, but all those to whom God made a covenant express this unchanging purpose. Adam was one man whom God commissioned to fill the earth. As was Noah; as was Abraham. In Moses and David too we see a covenant to a man which is to have an outworking to all God's people.

This is the same imagery and the same great kingdom purpose we see in the wonderful second chapter of the prophet Daniel. A rock cut from the heavenly mountain, that impacts the earth and grows until that same mountain is reproduced in all the earth.

For all the covenants, and the kingdom purpose of God find their fulfilment in Christ. He is the true fulfilment of the rock. One man through whom God will produce a people who will fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory.

Honey from the rock is thus the message of Christ and his kingdom. The message of the Kingdom; the good news of the kingdom; the gospel of the kingdom; the gospel.

(It is important that we remember that the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom. It is not the gospel of the individual. Christ's message was not "Repent, and come into all the blessings of God." - though that is indeed the case - but, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." It is not a call to self-improvement, but a call for self-denial for a cause that is bigger than any individual.)

Honey from the rock is not just meant to nourish us, but to be exported by us to the ends of the earth. As the rock that is the kingdom grows to fill the earth, so too the honey from the rock must flow from this mountain to touch all mankind.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mtt 24:14)


Honey from the Lion

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. (Jdg 14:5-6)

After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion. (Jdg 14:8-9)

One thing that causes Christians much confusion and difficulty is the issue of trials and suffering. Anyone who has walked the journey of faith for more than a moment will know, even if they don't admit it, that we as Christians are not immune from the effects of Adam's sin on this fallen world. Jesus himself promised us tribulation. Paul said we must pass through many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God.

Yet many have bought into a false teaching that assumes that once we come to Christ, everything will be a breeze. We will be shielded from all trials and sorrows by the grace and favour of God. As a result when the inevitable trials and difficulties do occur they are off guard and totally unprepared. Their faith is not ready, and they falter, thinking God is no longer for them or that he is no longer in control.

Peter warns us to watch out for our enemy who prowls like a lion. Why would this be necessary if God will never let him come near us? Those who teach in God's house have a responsibility to prepare God's people for when the lion attacks.

Samson, for all his faults, was a man chosen and anointed by God. Yet God did not spare him from the attack of the lion. It came at him with everything it had got. Its full onslaught of might and intimidation. A young lion, in full vigour, roaring with all its might - its sole aim to bring the man of God to a premature end.

But even though Samson has nothing in his hand, nothing in his own ability or resource to defend himself, he stands firm and in the power of God he overcomes.

This is what we must understand: Bad things will come against us, God never promised they wouldn't, but no matter what comes, we can always overcome! The promise of the Scriptures is not that no weapon forged against us will ever come against us, nor even that no weapon will draw blood, or cause us genuine hurt. The promise is that no matter what comes, it shall not prosper. Nothing can overcome those who stand firm in their faith in God. The lion can rush, the lion can roar, but the lion can never overcome. We can always overcome him if we stand our ground.

When the lion comes, he comes roaring. He roars, "Where is your God?", "How could he let this happen?", "Where is his protection when you need it?", "Why you?" But the hallmark of men of faith is this: they shut the mouths of lions! They are not intimidated by his roars, and they do not entertain his doubts. They stand firm and overcome.

Honey from the Lion is thus a delicious irony. That which came against the man of God to consume him is itself consumed, and becomes a source of strength. That which came roaring doubts, became a source of God's word.

We may not understand at the time why we go through times of trial and difficulty. We don't have to. We just have to stand firm in faith and overcome. But when we revisit them later, those past victories can speak to us and be a source of God's word to us.

They proclaim, "The God who was with you in all you overcame in the past, is the same God who is with you today to cause you to overcome anything you may face. He did not let you fall then; he will not let you fall now."

Honey from the lion is the food of warriors. It is the sustenance of those who are ready to overcome today, because they have already been tested and stood firm.

Alone on a hillside, tending his fathers sheep, a young boy with a deep love and devotion for God was attacked by a savage lion. Who knows whether at the time he understood why his loving heavenly father allowed such attack. What we know is this, later in life that boy saw a giant defying the God in whom he had stood firm, and as one who had tasted the "honey from the lion" he was able to declare with complete conviction:

"The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (1Sa 17:37)


Caution: Do Not Boil!

"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." (Ex 23:19b)
"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." (Ex 34:26b)
"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." (Dt 14:21b)

Repetition is significant in the Scriptures. It is the prophetic equivalent of using bold typeface, or a highlighter pen.

So I have known that these verses were significant, even though I have been puzzled for a long time as to why!

However, as I have been meditating on the imagery we have been examining in the last few posts, a possible answer has emerged.

Like Paul, when he explains the significance of the ox treading out the grain, I am struck by the question: Is it for young goats that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake?

If we see the young goat as an immature member of the flock, and its mother's milk as that which should have brought it through to maturity, then these verses strike me as an expression of what I have always considered to be the golden rule of preaching:

Never use the platform to have a go at a brother.

There is a time for rebuking, but even this should be done in love with a view to seeing our brother restored.

That brother may be immature. He may have made a massive doctrinal error. He may have totally wound us up the wrong way. But God never gives us his word to use as a weapon - not against flesh and blood anyway! Whatever measure of platform God gives us for our words, we must make sure that they always build our brother up and never boil him alive!