No one but Jesus

...And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matthew 17:8)

The end of the account of the transfiguration contains another small detail, but one that is the most significant.

The end result of this encounter, the final state after all that took place, when everything else was said and done, the one focus, the one object of attention the only one left to occupy centre stage was Jesus.

Of course on a superficial level, you could say that this verse is just there to indicate that the glory cloud, and Moses and Elijah were no longer there, and that is true. But the wording is not accidental. Everything that took place was to give glory and honour to Jesus alone. It is fitting that at the end, the disciples gaze was on nothing and no-one else.

This, again, has application to the Church. At the end of the day, everything that we do, all the we build, everything that we are a part of must be judged by this, and this alone: how does it serve to give glory to Jesus?

To put it another way, does it end with Jesus alone central in the spotlight? Have we assisted in lifting him up, bringing him honour, or as the Manchester boys would say... "Making him famous."

Everything else must be subordinate to this ultimate goal. All our worship, all our witness, all prophecy, all service, all ministry, all leadership, all meetings, all activity. Everything.

Once we take our eyes off Jesus, we allow all kinds of other things to come in. The Church is not here to give us a ministry, to satisfy our spiritual hunger, or to pander to our preferences of style. It's not here to be relevant to society or to meet a niche need in the community. It's not here for us, period. The Church exists for one purpose, or rather one person: Jesus Christ alone.

The ultimate purpose of all activity in the Church is that Christ alone should be seen, not only in its focus, but also in its destination. For the Church itself, when it reaches maturity, is to represent the fullness of Christ.

It is for this reason that God has given the church the gift of ministries:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

That is our ultimate goal. That is how it will be when the Church reaches maturity. That when the world looks at the church, they will not see our anointed leaders, great teaching, efficient programmes, or anything else that we might like to pat ourselves on the back about...

...they will see no one but Jesus only.


The New Creation

"In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed." (Ex 31:17)

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them (Mark 9:1)

This is a small, but highly significant detail. Why do both Matthew and Mark record that the transfiguration happened after six days?

It is a deliberate statement. It declares the work of a new creation!

When Daniel disclosed the vision of the king, he revealed great truths about a Kingdom that would come. A Kingdom that would not co-exist with any worldly authority, that would not come as an appendage to an old way of life. But a radical Kingdom that comes from heaven like a rock, that smashes and obliterates all that was before and starts a completely new creation that is a work of God from first to last.

The Church, as God's kingdom people, is a manifestation of God's new creation within the old. It is the new leaven that is working its way through the dough.

The Church is first a new creation, because before anyone can become a part of it, they must become new creations themselves:

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

But the new creation is not limited to those in the Church. We are not an enclave of this new reality taking cover and under siege, waiting for the day of judgement when the new heavens and earth are formed. God's plan is to export this new creation to the world through us!

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Ro 8:19-21)

It is important for us to understand that seeing the new creation is not just our hope for tomorrow, but our mandate for today! We are already a part of the new creation, because we are in Christ, and as we go out in his authority to extend his kingdom and see his will done on earth as it is in heaven, to make disciples and teaching them to obey everything - the new creation is already breaking through into the old.

Just as creation shared in the consequences of Adam's fall, now too the creation is destined to share in Christ's work of redemption. God has made a covenant with the earth, and he has a destiny for it: not to destroy it, but to transform it.

The mission of the Church is not to disengage from the world and wait for its destruction, but to engage with the world and to be God's agent of transformation.


Google Personal Homepage Problems!

If you are currently having problems with your Google personalized homepage, you are not alone! Many bloggers are reporting lost settings. Mine have reverted to how they were about a year ago!

It's frustrating, but hopefully with so many people affected they will find a way to bring it all back.

The Glory of Christ Unveiled

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. (Matthew 17:1-2)

Here is another way that the mount of transfiguration is a parallel with the Church, for the Church is a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand, a people elevated that the glory of Christ might shine forth.

Of course Jesus has always had glory. He did not receive it at his transfiguration; he was always that majestic and awesome and glorious. It's just that his glory was not immediately visible. What happened on the mountain was an unveiling, a revelation, of the glory of the eternal Son; the glory he has had since before the creation of the world. [Jn 17:5]

Nor is it just to those first fortunate three that Christ's glory was revealed, for Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2Co 3:18)

Not only is Christ's glory unveiled to us, but through us (the Church), Christ's glory is unveiled to the world. Despite our imperfections, his perfect glory is reflected in us, and as we co-operate with the Spirit, that same glory is reproduced in us as we are transformed to be ever more like our Lord.

The Church is not just the place where God reveals his glory, but the people through whom he displays that glory to the world.

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

Jesus is already Lord of all, and the glory of God already fills the earth, but what us needed is a revelation of that glory, so the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

The Church is God's prophetic demonstration to the world. In the church there is a revelation of the glory of God. In the church all bow the knee and confess Jesus as Lord. And so is declared the ultimate intention and destiny for all of God's earth.


The voice from heaven

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:2-5)

The account of the transfiguration is one of my favourites. There is so much in there that is relevant for us, for when we come together into God's presence.

We come at an invitation. We come to fall down and worship the glorified Jesus. We come to hear the testimony of all the Scripture, the law and the prophets that testify about him. We come to have our gaze fixed once again away from all the other distractions, and upon Christ himself. But most of all, we come to hear the voice from heaven!

The Church (the assembly of the called-out people of God) is the place where God still speaks.

Peter, when he makes reference to this awesome event says this:

For when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2Pe 1:17-18)

But he doesn't stop there. He goes onto say something quite remarkable!

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2Pe 1:19)

Something more sure than the audible voice of God from the mountain top in front of the manifest glory of Christ!?

Yes, for Peter, and for us, the voice from heaven was not just a past event he looked back to, but a confident expectation he had whenever the church assembled. The prophetic word - the voice from heaven through mouths on earth. The ongoing voice of God speaking in the midst of his people is the assurance of his presence with us. Our God is a God who speaks. It is inconceivable that he could turn up and remain silent.

Peter gives no indication that this was something confined to his mountain top experience, nor even something confined to the Scriptures (the prophetic writings which he goes on to discuss in verses 20 and 21) but an ongoing experience that is needed and should be present in the church until "the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." That is, until Christ's return.

I have great admiration for Peter. Many seek to put him down. They speak of his lack of faith when the started to sink - but this was a man who walked upon the waves of the sea with God! They speak of how he blurted out when he should have remained silent - but this is a man who heard the audible voice of God from the cloud of glory!

Jesus liked Peter too. Sure he often got things wrong, but he was always willing to step up and step out, and I think at the end of the day, that was the quality that Jesus was looking for the most.

It's easy to remain silent in the gathering of the Church. It's easy to think of all the many, sometimes valid, reasons why you shouldn't step up and speak out. But the voice from heaven comes now, as it did then, in response to those who speak up on earth.


Great quotes from fellow bloggers today

"His command is the highest possible evidence that we can do it."
~ Richard

It's not about the number of bums on seats on a Sunday, but the number of bums that are out of their seats the rest of the week!
~ Mark




Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore[?], the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 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 14:22-25)

This is a confusing passage of scripture. Paul seems to contradict himself, and leaves many people wondering which sign is for who. In fact because of the confusion, many would rather just ignore this passage and not draw any conclusion from it at all.

But Scripture is not meant to confuse us, but instruct us. And there is no passage that is unimportant or without value.

Although I, like most, am wary of any exegesis that hangs on hidden meanings pulled out from the Greek, I think this is a case where an insight into the Greek can help.

In English the word "therefore" is a 'particle' that carries as strong sense of positive conclusion. In the Greek particles are used primarily to indicate a join and can be much more fluid in whether the clause joined is to be understood as supplemental or subtracting from what came before.

The only equivalent we have in English is the use of the particle 'or'. Consider my earlier sentence: "There is no passage that is unimportant or without value." All English readers will have implicitly understood that here 'or' was actually being used where strictly a 'nor' is needed. I was not saying "There is no passage that is unimportant, or there is no passage that is without value, (but it may be one or the other.)" Instead what is meant is, "There is no passage that is unimportant, nor is any without value." The negative particle exists and makes the meaning explicit, but in common use the positive particle can frequently be used in place of the negative. The context is important to determine which is intended.

This is even more prevalent in the Greek, where 'and' and 'therefore' can also be used in this way, where in English they cannot.

So, this passage could also be translated with "If, however" instead of "If, therefore" without any injustice to the fluidity of meaning that exists in the Greek. The problem being, of course, that as soon as you chose one or the other you make the connection concrete and remove the fluidity.

The Greek word used here is the positive particle "oun" (therefore, [however]). Paul could have use the negative particle "alla" (but, nevertheless) which would have made the meaning explicit, but the use of negative particles tends to be used for emphasis in Greek, and perhaps Paul did not want such emphasis (perhaps wanting to emphasise "all" instead?). So perhaps "however" is too strong the other way.

The best I could come up with, that preserves the meaning of what I believe Paul was trying to say, without adding any emphasis that is not there is to use the English phrase "All the same."

Using this, and separating the discourse on the two gifts, we get:

"Tongues is a sign for unbelievers, all the same, if an unbeliever comes into a context where all are speaking in tongues he will think you are crazy."

"Prophecy is for believers not unbelievers, all the same, if an unbeliever comes into a context where all are prophesying he will be convicted by the presence of God among you."

Does that make more sense? Does it fit the context of a discourse to those who were abusing the gift of tongues and neglecting prophecy? Does it fit with what we know about these gifts from elsewhere in the Word?... I think so.

If you accept this rendering of the passage there is more that can be said on the operation of these gifts. But I'll leave that for another day....

Update 8:45pm
Just thought of a phrase I like better than "all the same": even so.
This has the advantage that it could be written [even] so and thus show clearly what is explicit and what is inferred.


Tragedy or Statistic?

The recent heart-wrenching tragedy in Virginia this week has made most people stop and think. Think about life and our own mortality, how one day you can wake up and have no idea it is your last. Think about the families who have been so cruelly robbed of loved ones. Think about what could drive a human to take such evil action. Think about guns and their control.

One thing it has made me stop and think about is the scale of human tragedy in the world today, and how we respond to it.

Joseph Stalin said, "One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic!" Whilst I totally disagree with his cold-hearted disregard for the sacred and precious nature of every human life. He did have a point in terms of our perception of tragedy. It seems we have an inbuilt limit to how much sorrow or tragedy we can empathise with, beyond that we shut off and cant or wont take it in.

Consider these three "statistics" and how you, or the media responded to them:
  • 32 - The number of deaths at Virginia Tech in the shooting this week.
  • 140 - The number of deaths in the Baghdad bombing yesterday.
  • 270 - Conservative estimate for the average number of deaths every day for the last four years from violence, starvation and disease directly resulting from the conflict in Darfur.

Why is it that some tragedy moves us, yet others don't penetrate the indifference that shrouds our hearts? Is it that some are simply too big for us to comprehend and take in? Is it they are too far removed from our own situation? Or is it more convenient for us to live in a little bubble and block them out?

This week I heard an account on the radio about Darfur that moved me in a way that I had not felt before about this tragedy. I felt compelled to do something. I logged on to the Oxfam appeal website and made a donation. Not much I know, but it was something. It's always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

400,000 deaths is not a statistic. It is the tragedy of the loss of a single life multiplied 400,000 times.


How old is the Earth?

This is not a new posting, nor a question that I ever set out to try and answer. Nevertheless an interesting discussion on this topic has developed on my previous posting "Darwinism on CBeebies".

If you have an opinion, or any insight, please join in the discussion there.


Darwinism on CBeebies

I was watching CBeebies (a children's digital TV channel from the BBC) with my four-year-old son yesterday. The program was "Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies", which is a great show that mixes cartoon characters with real life footage from the animal kingdom in a fun and educational way.

In this particular episode the characters find a fossilised dinosaur footprint. This was great for my son, who like most boys his age, loves dinosaurs. The show was excellent, right up to the last minute, where the wise "Mama" elephant explains how dinosaurs evolved into birds and so "the descendants of dinosaurs are still around today".

It seems that the BBC considers Darwinism a suitable topic to slip into children's programs!

I don't see any great conspiracy here, most people just assume evolution to be true without giving it much thought. But it is a shame, that evolution is presented so often as an unquestionable fact, when its foundation in proven science is so flimsy. This only serves to perpetuate the myth. If "the descendants of dinosaurs are still around today", then they didn't become extinct! Extinction kinda excludes living descendants does it not!?

Anyway, at this point I looked at my wife and we both rolled our eyes. But before we thought of what to say to Michael, he chirps up with, "That's not right!"

That's ma boy!


It is finished! Paid in full!

Easter is a time when we traditionally reflect upon the death, resurrection, ascension into glory (and as Matthew rightly points out, the return!) of Christ.

Here is a meditation on Jesus' last word from the cross.

Most of what Jesus said from the cross, is recorded in Aramaic, the language of the Jews, and were quotes from the Old Testament. However when he cried his last utterance, the New Testament writers switch to the Greek.

The word he uttered was the single Greek word, "Tetelestai." This does indeed mean, as all our Bibles translate it: "It is finished". But there is another significance that is lost on modern readers.

Greek was the common language of the Roman empire, thanks to the rapid conquest and Hellenisation of the world under Alexander the Great. In particular Greek was used for legal transactions. The word "Tetelestai" had such a legal meaning that all the Jews would have been familiar with. Whenever they received a tax demand, they would have to take the money to the authorities, and upon completion of the transaction the word "TETELESTAI" would be written across the tax demand, nullifying the power of the document - it was finished, done, complete. A modern equivalent would be "PAID IN FULL".

When Jesus cried, "It is finished" he was not indicating that he had done all he was ever going to do, and was going into retirement, but that the debt of sin over sinful man had been paid once and for all. The price has been paid. The law of sin and death annulled. God has declared "TETELESTAI" over it - PAID IN FULL - It is finished, annulled, done away with - it has no power anymore!


Cheaper than Skype!

Voip (Voice over internet protocol) has been around for a while now, and Skype has some stiff competition.

There is much I could say on this subject, since I have recently converted our home phones to call out over the Internet using a service provided by Voiptalk and in the last 27 days have saved £24.73 against the same calls made on the landline (and £4.19 against Skype). But I fear if I went into the fascinating (for me! ;-)) details, I would loose all but my most loyal readers (those who have still stuck around despite my recent lapse in regular blogging!)

However, I would like to draw your attention, if you use SkypeOut, to one possible alternative, that requires no technical setup, no specialist harware, and runs out-of-the-box with its own software application (just like Skype).

VoipBuster, hails itself as Skype's biggest rival and has its sights set on stealing its customers. And offering international rates as low as 1 euro-cent (~0.7p) a minute; 5 hours of free calls a week to the USA (including mobiles), Portugal, Germany, Spain, Luxemburg, Norway, Austrailia, New Zealand, etc, and unlimited free SMS messages to mobiles in your country... I'm surprised they haven't stolen more!

I have been using this service for the last week and can confirm it works: free means free (though you do have to register and buy some credit with them first, and you stop getting free calls after 4 months if you do not buy any additional credit)