He has his Father's eyes

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2Ch 16:9a)

In the middle of a prophetic word of rebuke to king Asa, Hanani the prophet gives us a great insight into the heart of the Father.

Some think of the all-seeing eyes of the Lord in a negative way. They picture a God who is on the lookout for stuff to get cross about. This scripture reveals that exactly the opposite is the case! Although God is perfect in his righteousness and is never unjust to let guilty go free; he takes no delight in the punishment of the wicked. [Eze 33:11]

Remember it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. The Father saw us in all our sinfulness, and his reaction was not to get out a big stick, but to send his one and only son to die in our place. That's the heart of the Father towards those who are still in their sins, just as it was towards us.

You see you don't have to look hard at this world to find the stuff that is wrong. But the Father searches this world diligently, seeking out any glimmer of goodness and godliness, and when he finds it he is swift to respond with his "strong support." And this is no ordinary strong support, this is the strong support of the Lord Almighty himself!

This got me thinking... when we look at the world how much do we reflect the Father's heart? Are we quick to see all that is wrong? Are we quick to point the finger and condemn? Are we those Christians who are only known for what they are against? Or are we like our Father, looking past the superficial and diligently searching out any trace of good, and when we find it giving it our full support?

I want it said of me... "He has his Father's eyes."


The Suffering Servant

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

In my last post I stated that there didn't have to be an outbreak of God's wrath against a servant of God before there could be a breakout of God's purpose.

I'd now like to qualify that statement: The reason that there doesn't have to be another breakout against a servant of God, is because there has already been a full breakout of God's wrath on the servant of God. And this outbreak was necessary before any of the purpose of God could breakthrough into our lives or this world.

You see, Nadab and Abihu were struck down at the beginning of the priesthood, and this brought a breakthrough in the presence of God amongst his people.

Uzzah was struck down at the beginning of David's kingdom and this brought a breakthrough in the purpose of God - his rule established on earth.

Ananias and Sapphira were struck down at the beginning of the church, and this brought a breakthrough in the people of God - a holy people set apart for the glory of God alone.

But Jesus is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world! It is because he was stricken for our sakes that we can be joined to his people, called to his purpose and filled with his presence! The full outbreak of God's wrath upon his servant Jesus now releases a full breakthrough of the power of heaven to earth.

It is Jesus who is the Lord of the breakthrough.

If wisdom and the fear of the Lord are foundational to every established work of God, then we must also acknowledge that these cannot come through any other means than through our union with Christ himself. The foundation of the church is not a practice or a doctrine or an attitude but a person, and that person is none other than Christ.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1Co 3:11)


The Breakout and the Breakthrough

And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzza [the breaking out against Uzzah] to this day. And David was afraid of God that day, and he said, “How can I bring the ark of God home to me?” (1Ch 13:9-12)

And David inquired of God, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up, and I will give them into your hand.” And he went up to Baal-perazim, and David struck them down there. And David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like a bursting flood.” Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim [the Lord of breakthrough]. And they left their gods there, and David gave command, and they were burned... And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations. (1Ch 14:10-12,17)

I spotted a connection last night that I had not seen before; a link between 1Chronicles 13 and 14. A progression and a contrast between the breakout at Perez-uzza and the breakthrough at Baal-perazim. In the first the Lord breaks out against Uzzah because of his presumptuous outstretched hand and brings the fear of God to the house of God. In the latter the Lord brings a breakthrough by David's (obedient) hand that brings the fear of God to the nations.

Now I don't believe that there has to be a breakout against a servant of God before there can be a breakthrough in God's purpose in the nations. I thank God that in his mercy and grace that doesn't have to be the way! But there is a progression. Before the fear of God can extend out to the nations it first has to be re-established amongst the people of God. Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah, Saul, Ananias and Sapphira - these warnings are recorded in the scriptures so we can learn from their mistakes and learn to fear God right and remember that to obey is better than sacrifice. God does not need our sacrifices, but he does expect our obedience.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Pr 9:10)

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; (Pr 24:3)

Wisdom, and thus the fear of the Lord, are foundational for every established work of God.


Caption Fun

As the credit crunch hits household spending, some pets take matters into their own hands


Angels and Demons

Here are some word usage statistics from the book of Acts (ESV):

Angel(s) 22:0 Demon(s)
(Holy) Spirit 56:7 (evil/unclean/divination) spirit

One of the things that always gets my alarm bells ringing theologically is an over-emphasis on demons and the demonic. It is so out of step with the emphasis in the New Testament. And yet it is not uncommon to hear Christians talk about being "under spiritual attack", or to hear of spiritual warfare in terms of "discerning the demonic forces over an area." When you listen to some people talking you would think there were demons round every corner, and demons responsible for every little niggle of life!

Now I don't deny that demons are real, or that our battle is against spiritual forces in the heavenly realms; it's just that I don't see a lot of emphasis or talk about demons in the New Testament. When they are mentioned it is usually in the context of Jesus driving them out with a word or having authority over them. When Paul drove out evil spirits in the book of Acts, he didn't even bother to turn up in person, but just sent along a handkerchief. On another occasion (with the spirit of divination) it seemed he would much rather ignore the spirit than even condescend to give it his attention (until his patience was finally exhausted). And when the apostles returned to Jesus full of excitement that the demons submitted to them in his name, he was quick to refocus them upon the good news of the Gospel - that their names were written in heaven.

It is important, therefore, to keep a sense of perspective when talking about demons. Here are some facts to bear in mind.

Demons are a distraction
Satan's rebellion arose when he tried to divert the worship and focus that belonged to God towards himself. Nothing has changed. The main purpose of demonic activity is still to divert people away from giving their worship and attention to God. When we give them too much attention we play right into their hand.

It does not require much discernment to recognise demonic possession
You never read in the gospel accounts of people puzzling over what was the matter with a person who was possessed by demons. Everyone recognised; everyone knew. It didn't require a specialist or someone with a gift of discernment to come in and tell them that was the problem. When Jesus drove out demons, although many questioned how he did it, no one questioned what he had done. Demonic doctrine (distortion of true Christian teaching) is another matter, but direct demonic activity is not subtle or hidden - it's obvious.

There are more angels than demons
By my reconning there are at least two angels for every demon (if we take some prophetic imagery as literal) If we take the emphasis in the book of acts as representative then it is more like 3:1. So if we take the Bible as our guide for what should be normative in our Christian life we should expect at least three angelic visitations for every demonic manifestation! One question I always want to ask those who see demons everywhere is, "How many angels have you seen!?" If like Elisha's servant we have our eyes opened to the heavenly realities around us, we will see it is not the demons that surround us, but the host of heaven! [2Ki 6:17]

Demons fear Christians
Did you ever hear it said of some creepy-crawly or slippery reptile: "It's more afraid of you than you are of it"? Well, the same is certainly true of the demons. You don't need to have some special ministry of exorcism to drive them out - Christ himself is in you - and he is more than enough every time. Acts 19 shows that even the mention of his name is often enough (it took a brave demon to finally call the sons of Sceva's bluff). If Christ is within you you have nothing to fear from any power of evil. He who is within you is greater. [1Jn 4:4]

Don't give your attention to the darkness, look to the light. Live in the light, walk in the light, let the light of God shine on you and in you and through you. You'll find that the darkness beats a retreat by itself! Focus on the realities of heaven and laying a hold of them; focus on the good news of the gospel of the kingdom and you will find that as heaven invades earth it drives out the shadows as a direct consequence.

Don't go looking for demons, there are much better manifestations to pursue!


God speaks; God heals - part 3

About three or four weeks ago, I had my last [to date - I trust there will be more!] experience in moving in a word of knowledge.

It was in one of our Sunday-morning meetings again. I got a similar stirring as the previous two times - and this time I recognised it for what it was! So I was pretty confident that I had heard from God. What I sensed was that someone had a pain in their throat and down the sides of their neck. I could almost feel the pain, and it felt like when you have a sore throat and swollen glands.

While I was waiting for an opportune moment to share the word, I looked around the room. I couldn't help but wonder who it was. I saw some of the ladies with scarves round their necks, and someone else blowing into a hanky. Maybe it was one of these that the Lord wanted to heal. I also wondered why God would chose to heal a virus that is usually short-lived anyway - but I figured that it was to show us that he wanted us to live in perfect health and that nothing is too big or small for him.

The opportunity came, as it did the previous times, when the preacher had finished his message and there was a time of ministry. I went forward and shared that there was someone with a pain in their throat and sides of their neck, and even though it was caused by a virus that would go away in due course, God wanted to heal them now to demonstrate his abundant goodness and grace.

I waited at the front, during the whole ministry time. [Prayed for someone else then went back to waiting for the person to come forward.] The ministry time ended; the meeting concluded, but still no one came. Now I wasn't phased by this - I was still confident I had heard God, and I knew that people can be reluctant to come forward, especially if they are visitors, when everyone is watching. So I stayed my ground, and hung around at the front.

Sure enough, as soon as people started getting out of their chairs and milling around, a young girl, one of the visiting students that morning, made a path straight towards me. She explained that it wasn't caused by a virus, but she had the same pain in her throat and sides of her neck that I had described, but caused by strain. I prayed for her, and asked if the pain had gone. She said, "Yes, it's better."

Now this may not seem like a dramatic healing. And I don't have any follow up information like with the other two cases to confirm that a lasting healing took place, but I'm confident that God did a work. And again, what really struck me, is that he did it. I messed up! I confused and muddled up what God had told me with what I deduced must be the case as a result. I got the bit about the virus completely wrong... yet God still moved. Despite my failings and my mistakes, he still spoke and he still healed. Thank you, Jesus. He is so full of grace.

Some people are of the opinion that to move in the Holy Spirit you have to be 100% right 100% of the time. Some may be of the opinion that this makes me a false prophet who should have been dragged out of the room and stoned for daring to speak presumptuous words on behalf of the Lord. Some may see this as further evidence that modern day manifestations are not up to the apostolic standard in the New Testament.

But do you know what? When I read the New Testament, I've noticed something: the apostles got it wrong all the time! In fact the apostle who seemed to make the most mistakes (Peter) also seemed to be the one who was most used by God in the supernatural. What it shows to me is this: God is bigger than our mistakes! If you want to step out in the Holy Spirit you have to be prepared to make mistakes and to look foolish. God is not concerned with our reputation but with his. The gifts of the Spirit are there to make him look good not us. They are there to prove what a gracious heavenly father we have, not to demonstrate how accurately we can hear God.

I made a decision some time ago, that I would rather get it wrong and look foolish than to miss an opportunity to see God move in power. What this event showed me is that, in the abundant grace of God, getting it wrong an seeing God move are not incompatible!


God speaks; God heals - part 2

A few months after the events of my previous post, and a few months ago, I took another baby-step in the gift of the word of knowledge.

It was in another Sunday-morning meeting. During the time of worship I got an impression that someone had a pain in their back. You would have thought after the previous incident I would have had more faith to move in this gift and more confidence in recognising it - but I have to confess, I struggled again. I thought back pain has got to be one of the most common complaints. It's likely someone in the room has some kind of back pain just by statistics! People will think I'm just making it up... maybe I am making it up.

Then I felt a pain in my back, right at the base of the spine. Not general back pain, but a very specific and localised pain. I still struggled: on the one hand maybe this was God telling me the specifics of the person's pain, but on the other hand maybe I just thought someone else had back-pain when really it was just my own pain. I wasn't sure enough to step out during the time of worship, so again I did nothing.

Then the preacher began his message. He spoke about how you have to take risks if you want to step out in the supernatural, and he finished with the story of Peter and John and the beggar who was healed. The exact same scriptures that had convinced me to step out in the word of knowledge the fist time! [God is so gracious!] I must be better at hearing God though the preached word, because I finally got the message!

So after the preacher finished, I stood up and shared that there was someone in the room with a back pain at the base of their spine, and that I believed God wanted to heal them. I waited around at the front of the meeting, but no one came forward. But afterwards, as I made my way to the back of the hall to get a much-needed coffee I saw one of the visitors trying to catch my eye. I walked over to him and discovered that he was the father of one of the students attending our congregation. He told me that he thought he might be the one I was talking about as he had a back pain in exactly the place I had described.

I prayed for him. I can't remember what I prayed, but I remember I wasn't too impressed with myself. I thought, come on Chris, you can pray better than that! I was just about to offer to pray for him again, when he arched his back, rotated his arms and said, "I think... yes... the pain is gone!" I was taken aback! [Keri recently shared on the importance of having faith during a miracle, not just before - that men can give away thier lack of faith by how they respond when God actually does what they asked of him! I think this was one of those moments!]

This happened just before the students left for their summer holiday. This student and his father were from the Netherlands. He returned about three months later, and told me that his father had been trying to get hold of my email address. Apparently he used to suffer a lot with that back pain, but for the past three months he had been completely free of pain!

Thank you, Jesus! God is so good.

Again, I could have so easily missed this opportunity. Again, it showed me that it had nothing to do with me. It wasn't my faith that healed him - the way I reacted showed I had very little! Jesus healed this man out of the abundance of his grace and by his mighty power. The gifts of the Spirit are just that - gifts - we don't earn them, we don't deserve them, they don't communicate how spiritual the one who uses them is - they are unmerited expressions of the grace of God poured out on his church. We just need to learn to use them!


God speaks; God heals

I want to write this post to give Jesus thanks and honour for his faithfulness and goodness. He still speaks and he still heals. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The things we read about him doing in the gospels are the same things he longs to do today through his people if they will obey the promptings of his Spirit.

Recently I have taken my first few baby-steps in the word of knowledge. This is a gift of the Spirit where God reveals a piece of information (knowledge) about a person or situation. Good examples of this gift would be where Jesus says to Nathaniel that he saw him under the tree, or when he tells the Samarian woman about her marital history. In both cases a little piece of knowledge has a dramatic impact.

Now, I had tried to move in this gift before. I remember a prayer meeting where I got a strong impression that the name "Tom" was significant. I shared it, but as far as I'm aware, to this day, there was no significance. No one had a friend or colleague called Tom; no one met a Tom; no Tom turned up to our meetings; nothing. I guess I got it wrong!

So you can imagine my reluctance when during a Sunday-morning meeting I got the same kind of impression about someone who had pain in their joints. I thought, I've had this kind of impression before and it was wrong, so it's likely to be wrong again. So I did nothing. However as the meeting went on, the preacher was talking about how God wanted to heal. He spoke about Peter and John who had no money to offer, but had something better to give, and Jesus brought a complete healing to the beggar through their obedience. At this point I felt a nudge in my spirit; I had forgotten my cheque book that morning, so had not been able to give my normal offering - so silver or gold I did not have, but I did have something, and as unsure about it as I was, I knew I needed to share it.

So sure enough, the preacher gave a call forward for those who were sick to be prayed for, and I knew that was the moment. As soon as I stepped forward to bring the word I felt a confidence that I had not felt before. [Isn't that often the way? I believe the hardest part of moving in a gift of the Spirit is the decision to get out of your chair!] What's more, I got more information. It was a pain the the elbows and wrists and the person who had it had had it for a long time and just got used to it. I believed that God wanted to confirm the word of the preacher by bringing a complete healing.

So I shared this word and joined the preacher and some others in praying for those who came forward. As I came to one man, a visitor that Sunday, I asked him what I could pray for. He said that since I had shared his joints felt like they were on fire, and that he had had a long standing condition in his elbows and wrists that gave him a low level of pain that he had just got used to. I was astonished and thrilled! I prayed for him, and straight away he said that the symptoms had cleared. This man has a manual job, so he said the real test would be when he went back to work. He came back again the next Sunday, and his first words to me were: "I'm healed!"

Thank you, Jesus! It was all of him and nothing of me. He used me despite my doubts and reluctance and brought relief from suffering to one of his precious children.

I have two other examples that I want to give thanks for, but I'll share them in separate posts.


The Truth about the Codex Sinaiticus

The BBC have published today an article about an ancient manuscript of the Bible that is shortly to be digitised and put online. Rather than focusing on the importance of a complete New Testament (all twenty-seven books plus two early Christain writings) or the significance of the Septuagint portion (the translation of the Old Testament Hebrew into Greek) the BBC decided to lead with this headline....

The rival to the Bible

The author of this article has obviously read too much Dan Brown, as he takes innocent details and misrepresents them, weaving them together into a conspiracy theory against the accuracy of the Bible and thus the validity of Christianity. The difference is Dan Brown was an author of fiction, and this is a news article on the BBC website! The ignorance of church history and doctrine in the article is shocking.

Here are some of the errors:

1)It shows there have been thousands of alterations to today's bible.
This not true. There are thousands of variations to the Codex Vaticanus, but this is not the same thing! Check the Wikipedia article. Although there are around three thousand alterations compared to the Codex Vaticanus, most of these are due to transliterations of Hebrew names into Greek. The others are variations that are common to other Alexandrian manuscripts. The Bible translators do not rely on just one manuscript but compare all these variations, and where they cannot be reconciled there is a footnote to explain the differences.

The only two unique variations not found in other manuscripts are:

Mt 13:54 and coming to his hometown [patrida]... -> and coming to Antipatris [antipatrida]

Act 8:5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria -> Philip went down to the city of Caesarea

These are obviously scribal errors, and even if they were not they hardly represent a shocking alternative to Christian doctrine!

[Update 13/10/08 - For more accurate details of the differences between the manuscripts, please refer to james snapp, jr.'s comments in the comments section]

This manuscript has been available to biblical translators and scholars for over a century, so the idea that it suddenly reveals a rival text is ridiculous! On the contrary, the significance of this codex is the the fact that there is such an early and complete version of the Bible text with relatively little variation to our modern Bibles in terms of its content.

2) This version has no references to the resurrection
Not true! No idea what gave him this idea. The last section of Mark is missing (as it is in some other early manuscripts), but the resurrection is mentioned in all the Gospels, the book of Acts and the epistles. Plus the extra Christian writing that are included along with the new testament books... also mention the resurrection! This is just blatant poor factual research, and / or jumping to conclusions.

[Update 13/10/08 - For more accurate details of the missing sections, please refer to james snapp, jr.'s comments in the comments section]

3) This version of the Bible contains anti-Semitic writings
The text he is referring to is the Epistle of Barnabas, and along with the Shepherd of Hermas were two early Christian writings that frequently accompanied the scriptures in the early centuries. There is nothing new or shocking here - they were considered useful for teaching by the early fathers but there was never really much controversy over the decision that they did not carry the inspiration of the canonical books.

As for it being anti-Semitic, this is really clutching at straws/(headlines?). But why don't you read it online and decide for yourself.

Epistle of Barnabas

4) The evidence of scribal errors undermines the Christian belief in the infallibility of scripture
This is just an ignorance of Christian theology. Differences between ancient manuscripts are nothing new, and hardly represent a shock revelation. Indeed, ironically, they are needed to establish the accuracy of an ancient text. By comparing texts it is possible to see where these errors came in. The more copies, and the closer the oldest copy is to the original the more confidence can be placed on the contents of the original text.

For example for the account of Julius Caesar (the Gallic wars) there are 10 ancient manuscripts in existence the oldest of which was written 1,000 years after the original. From these historians can make correlations and have sufficient confidence in the manuscripts of Julius Caesar's life.

Compare this to the New Testament: there are 24,000 ancient manuscripts available the oldest dating from 130AD, only 30 years after the original document was written. This makes copping errors extremely easy to spot making the Bible the most accurate ancient document bar none.

The infallibility of scripture refers to the original manuscripts not some magical ability of anyone who picks up a pen to make a copy. I could make a mistake copying out a formula from a physics text book, but this would in no way invalidate the theories of Newton or Einstein!

In fact, the only thing this article has cast any doubt on is the credibility of BBC journalism!


Persecution in Orissa

The most sobering moment of the recent World Watch conference was the account of the persecution that is going on in the Indian state of Orissa at this moment. Although it has barely been reported in the western media, Christians are having their houses burned and are being attacked by unrestrained mobs. Thousands have been forced to flee and are living in the forests.

We heard harrowing accounts from the ground of pastors being pulled from their houses, and then being beaten to death, sometimes while their helpless wives and children looked on. There were twenty-five such accounts of pastors and church leaders who had been killed in this way.

India is a country where the gospel is spreading and accelerating at an unprecedented rate, accompanied by signs and wonders and miracles that could come straight from the book of Acts. This backlash of evil against our brothers in Orissa is something that we must stand against. They need our prayers.

Reuters UK: India authorities impose curfew, Christians attacked


The Lord of Glory

You cannot separate the glory of the Lord from the Lord of Glory. When God comes to make his manifest presence known amongst his people he does not come as an entertainer or a warm-up act, he comes as the king; he comes to rule. When the presence of God comes into a meeting, there is no item two on the agenda; there is no more important thing we need to do, nor any more important place we need to be. He comes to fit us into his plan, not to be slotted neatly into ours! If we are really hungry for the presence of the Lord, we will not be hasty to move on when the Lord grants us what we have been calling out for.

And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1Ki 8:10-11)

Often the tragedy is not that the presence of God prevents us from ministering the way we had planned... but that it does not... and so we do... and the glory moves on by.


World Watch

I had the great privilege of attending the recent World Watch Conference. Speakers from the UK, Cuba, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines spoke about how the kingdom of God is advancing in this world. Despite the crises; despite persecutions; despite natural disasters - God's church is growing and his people are a voice to their nations.

There is so much that inspired and stirred; it would be impossible to summarise it all. I hope at some point the video from the DRC will be made available online, as that was one of the highlights - as soon as it is, I'll post a link to it. It was a great example of the church not just growing but transforming the nation. Not only have 200 new churches been planted, but thousands of children who would otherwise have had no education are being schooled by the church. People from the church have also gone on to obtain high positions in local and national government. It truly is a church that is bringing the kingdom to that nation. What makes it all the more remarkable is that all of this work has been led by a man who started his walk with God as a boy in an English class taught by a man from our churches in the UK. Dave Emmett sowed his time into this boy - teaching him English, then leading him to the Lord, and discipling him in his ways - and as a result a whole nation is being reached.

It was also a conference of great teaching. Here are a few sound-bites [these are taken from my notes so word-for-word accuracy is not guaranteed!]:

Keri Jones
* One thing that will damage the people of God is smallness of vision.
* You need to go to the watchtower, not to see the world, but to see what the God of this world will say.
* Men of God are not echoes of the past, but voices for the present.
* All idols have clay feet; make God not preachers central.
* We live in covenant. When someone falls we are not to be like sharks circling to take a bite, but brothers there to pick them up.
* Our prayers must be based on what we know the will of God is.
* The cry from the cross, "Why have you forsaken me," was so that no child of God would ever have to say that again!
* You don't have to understand a miracle!
* Nations are shaking because a kingdom is emerging.
* Don't get ready - be ready. It's not coming - I'm living in it.

Tony Ling
* Most of a nations problems come down to a wrong relationship with God.
* Be very careful upon whom you lean.
* There is a rise of militant atheism.
* There is hope, because there is a prophet in the city!
* What good is a prophet in a cave?
* Hold the door against everything that does not bear the truth of Jesus.
* What we need are words, not just about the future, but about tomorrow. Now words.

Dr. Lemon
* If there is revelation there will be things said that you have not heard before.
* We need anointed brothers not just good brothers
* We have kept God locked up in the church!
* The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of excellence.
* Never rob anyone of their ministry [re. tendency of leaders to do too much]
* When the Spirit moves - participate don't spectate.

Miguel [from Cuba]
* If you think you are defeated - you are!
* Key to destruction: try to be fine with everyone.
* "Here comes the dreamer" - what God has put inside you comes out.
* You do not have to run after the blessings of God - they will follow you.
* In the darkest moment, is when the light shines the brightest [re. the church in Cuba distributing food and clothing immediately the hurricane ceased]

[Bullet points don't do the passion and vision of the speakers any justice, but may jog a few memories for those of us who were there.]

A true champion

I watched the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, and like many Brits, I'm very pleased at how well Lewis Hamilton is doing in the championship. However, it wasn't Lewis who impressed me the most...

Many will have seen the images of Felipe Massa driving away from the pit lane trailing his fuel line, which was not detached before he was given the green light to drive off. It was a mistake by one man that dropped him from pole position in the race and an almost certain victory to last place and going home empty handed. Not only this but from being only one point shy of championship rival Hamilton, he is now 7 points behind; with only three races left, this mistake has probably cost him not just the race, but the championship.

What not so many may be aware of is how Massa reacted to this man after the race. Read this article, and especially Massa's quote and the last paragraph. He went to comfort this man, then public spoke of how every member of the team, this individual included, was valued and needed.

Some measure greatness purely by what someone is seen to have achieved. And so to them, no doubt, Massa's greatness will have slumped along with his standing in the championship. But true greatness is not just defined by what you achieve, but who you are: your integrity and character as an individual.

No-one who has watched this season of Formula 1 can doubt that Massa is a great driver. But by offering comfort and forgiveness in the face of such disappointment, this incident has revealed is that he also has true greatness.

Photograph by Mark McArdle licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0


The truth about the LHC

The LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is a giant particle accelerator, the largest in the world; a 17 mile long circular tube buried about 100m underneath the French/Swiss border designed to fire subatomic particles at each other very fast and detect what comes out of the wreckage.

Bottom line is that it is a big physics experiment, pure and simple. A very important one, for sure, but that is all it is. However there has been much misinformation and nonsense circulating the internet about the LHC and some unhelpful misrepresentation in the media which as probably fuelled it. Here are a list of some of the claims circulating about the LHC and why they are not true.

1 - The LHC is the "Big Bang Experiment"
This is a misrepresentation in the media, particularly it has to be said, the BBC! The implications, whether intended or otherwise, are that the LHC proves or will prove the Big Bang Theory - this is not true. What they actually mean is that the conditions generated in the LHC collisions may be a close approximation to the theoretical conditions very soon after the Big Bang as predicted by that theory.

However even this is a misrepresentation, because the LHC is all about experimental particle physics, whereas the Big Bang theory is a speculative theory of cosmology. The link is very tenuous, and is about the amount of energy created. The logic is as follows - In the Big Bang (if it happened!) all the energy in the universe was in a very small place at one time - the LHC will create a very large amount of enery in a very small space at one time - therefore the LHC is like the Big Bang! It is silly and unhelpful journalism. It would be like me running a bath and hailing it as the "Atlantis Experiment" because it will recreate the conditions immediately below the surface of the waters above the lost city of Atlantis!

2 - The LHC is looking for God
This is not true. The LHC is not trying to prove or disprove God. It's a science experiment. It's main purpose is to try and establish one of the predictions of the Standard Model of particle physics. This model predicts a hitherto undiscovered particle that is needed to give other elementary particles mass: the Higgs Boson.

Although this particle is sometimes referred to as the "God particle" proof of its existence or non existence says nothing about the existence of God himself. In fact the name has nothing to do with theology or divinity, but is a contraction and a euphemism of the "Godd*mn particle" - because it has proven so hard to track down.

3 - The LHC is wasting money to find something that can be discovered by reading Genesis 1
I do wish Christians wouldn't say things like this. Science is science - faith is faith. They tell us different things about different subjects in different ways. I believe Genesis chapter one, but I don't read anything in there about the Higgs Boson. The LHC is an important and valuable science experiment, and since points 1 and 2 above are not true there is absolutely no reason for Christians to give this kind of knee-jerk reaction to it.

4 - The LHC could create a black hole that will destroy the world
This is scaremongering at its worst. Scientists know that collisions of similar energy to the LHC happen all the time in the Earth's upper atmosphere as cosmic rays collide with the particles there. (Incidentally this also rubbishes the BBC's claim that the LHC will recreate conditions not in existence since the Big Bang)

Even if a black hole did form, it would not be the all consuming monster we know from astronomy. These would be subatomic in size, and so governed primarily by quantum theory. This predicts (in a theory put forward by Steven Hawkins) that the particle-antiparticle fluctuations around the event horizon of the black hole would lead to a net flow of anti-matter into the black hole and a net flow of matter away from it. The result being it would "evaporate" - very fast. If you don't understand any of that, don't worry, just rest assured that the LHC is not going to cause the world to end!


The "Conan Doyle" Principle

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
~ The Sign of Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The creator of the greatest fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, came up with this great observation on deductive reasoning: examine all the explanations, then eliminate those which could not have happened until only one remains.

There is nothing wrong with the logic in this statement. Detectives still talk about eliminating people from their enquiries, and my son even has a game "Guess Who?" which works on the same principle.

However there is more to this statement, and it is very telling. It shows people will be prepared to believe something that is totally improbable and full of inconsistencies if they consider it to be the only option on the table. It also shows that what people end up believing goes hand in hand with what they are not prepared to believe. Although some explanations will be eliminated through observation and reasoning - some are never even considered because they are deemed impossible from the outset.

Your assumptions on what is possible determines your worldview, and your worldview determines your belief. It doesn't matter how much evidence to the contrary you are presented with, if you filter that evidence though you presuppositions you will never be presented with anything that challenges your belief.

Take the darwinian theory of evolution. It doesn't matter how improbable it is, or how many unexplained stages it involves, to those who have written of anything supernatural as impossible, the fact that we are here is the only proof they need to claim that it must be true.

It is said "seeing is believing" but the "Conan Doyle" principle shows that this is often not the case. You might think that all that is required to convince someone who disbelieves in the miraculous is for them to witness a miracle, but in practice it doesn't work like that. If someone holds firm to their belief that the supernatural is impossible they will reinterpret the evidence to an alternative explanation no matter how improbable that might be. In the Gospel accounts, when Jesus presented a man born blind who could now see, there were many who preferred to believe that Jesus had found another healthy man who looked identical to the blind man, than accept that a miracle had occurred.

You see in cases like these seeing is not believing. Compelling evidence alone is not enough to persuade. What is required is a change of worldview that allows people to reach a correct conclusion from the evidence. Without this they will go away just as sceptical as when they arrived.

The ancient Greeks had a word for this change of worldview: metaknoia. It means literally to change your mind. Not to change you mind about something, but as if you had exchanged your mind - radically changing the way you think about something.

Interestingly, this is the word that gets translated as "repent" in the Bible, and was the first word used by both Jesus and John the Baptist in their message about the coming kingdom of God. "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." Change your assumptions about what is possible, because if you don't you will not be able to receive anything that follows.


Science and the supernatural

Let's examine the claim: Any valid explanation of the universe must be scientific.

This is an increasingly common argument, and is at the root of the evolution vs. creation debate. The proponents of darwinian evolution seem to think that all they need to do is point out that any account of creation is not scientific and thus can be dismissed out of hand. (There are those who try to dress up the creation account with science - but that's another matter). The root of the issue is, is it valid to say that there are not, nor have their ever been any miracluous/supernatural events and so everything in the universe can be explained by science alone?

It could obviously be pointed out that such a statement is intrinsicly atheistic, and so is at odds with the beliefs of many of the greatest scientists of all time: Newton, Maxwell, Einstein... but let's examine this statement with logic alone...

Let's assume for the moment that they are right. And that there is nothing supernatural - not now - not ever. This means that, as they claim, everything that happens must happen for a well defined scientific reason. It may be a reason that scientists do not yet understand, it may be for reasons that are so complicated that they cannot in practice be unravelled, but they are all natural, and within the remit of scientific investigation. Every physical effect has a physical cause and nothing outside of the universe itself is needed by way of an explanation. It sounds like athiestm... because it is - and it has become a very prevalent world view in modern science. But is it consistent?

If every physical effect has a physical cause, then those causes themselves must be effects of prior physical causes - as we are not permitted to entertain any other source of influence. We can think of all the events in the universe like chains of dominoes streching back in time. Each domino falls over because another domino topples into it - cause, effect, cause, effect. Although in practice dominoes may fall over without another domino, this would be caused by gravity and possibly floor vibrations and thus in our analogy would represent another well defined domino/cause. What we are not allowed now, nor at any point in the past, is a domino that falls over without a prior domino - as this would represent an effect without a cause - an event that is not explainable by science - a supernatural event.

Such a world view makes sense, if like Einstein, you believe that the Universe is eternally pre-existent. But no-one believes that any more - even Einstein was convinced by the evidence that the Universe had a beginning.

If the Universe had a beginning, then we run into problems with our domino chains - we can extrapolate them back further and further into the past and so defer the problem, but sooner or later we have to face the inevitable. There must have been a first domino! This is exactly what we have said cannot happen: a cause that does not depend on anything prior for its existence. Something that is outwith the remit of science!

So if believing that "everything can be explained by science" leads you inescapably to acknowledge that there is at least one event that cannot be explained by science then it proves that the original assumption is untenable. There are some things about the universe that cannot be explained by science. The Universe itself is proof of the supernatural.

Those who try to dismiss men of faith as irrational are themselves holding to an irrational worldview!


On monkeys, typewriters and the second law of thermodynamics

The darwinian theory of evolution suggests that if you give enough monkeys enough typewriters for enough time they will eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. In other words: order can come from disorder given a large enough random data sample and a sufficient passage of time.

However this breaks one of the golden rules of physics: The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Given the same set of initial conditions the second law predicts that all you will get is a whole load of broken typewriters, ripped paper and monkey poo... and the longer you wait the worse it will get.


A new kind of intolerant fundamentalism

These are strange days we live in! It seems it is OK for scientists such as Professor Hawkings to doubt the existence of the Higgs Boson - and so call into question one of the predictions of the standard model of Quantum Field Theory - one of the best proven scientific theories of all time. And yet when another scientist even suggests that alternatives to the Darwinist theory of evolution, a theory with many holes and unresolved problems, is something which could, when appropriate, be discussed in the classroom - he is forced to resign!



It shows that there is a rise of a new form of intolerant fundamentalism in this country. One that rejects and seeks to oppress all alternative views, refuses to debate, and puts forward it's belief as unquestionable dogma. I'm not talking about the creationists - it's fundamentalist atheism.

If Darwin's theory on the origin of the species cannot be questioned in the same way as every other scientific theory then it no longer has the right to call itself science. It has become the very thing it despises and seeks to destroy: fundamentalist dogma.


The Prophetic Cup

The Lord's cup Then he commanded the steward of his house, "Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain." And he did as Joseph told him.

As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, "Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, 'Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.'" (Ge 44:1-5)

I don't know if you have ever wondered about this passage. Did Joseph really use a cup for divination? Had he been led astray by the practices of the Egyptians to the extend that he forgot the one who had revealed to him the future on many occasion through dream and interpretation? Had he sunk to pagan rituals and practices to try to gain knowledge that can only be found in God?

Or was it a ruse? Was he still playing the part of the stern foreign ruler, who had set himself against the brothers from a foreign land? A deliberate deception to play his brothers into his hands?

I don't believe the former, and while the later is certainly true to an extent, I don't think it captures the full significance of this passage. To divine, was to predict the future, by the means of interpreting signs. Now, if Joseph had used the cup to peer into and make predictions based on the shape of the residue left in the bottom, he would clearly have strayed into pagan ritual. But what if the cup itself was the sign, the means by which he prophesied what God would do in the future.

The problem is there is no record of how Joseph used the cup to communicate what would happen in the future... or is there?...

You see, there is something powerful here. A first mention of a "prophetic cup." One that was hidden to be revealed at the right time. One that was found with the grain to make the bread they needed to live. One that spoke of a sentence of death, that was lifted because Judah offered himself willingly as a substitute for the punishment that should have come.

Joseph's cup is indeed a prophetic cup for it speaks of Christ's cup. One from the line of Judah who would offer himself willingly for those of whom he is the first of many brothers. One who took fully the punishment that was rightfully ours, because of the sin found in our own sack. One who took a cup that spoke of the Lord's wrath and drained it to the bottom, so that what comes to us is instead a cup of blessing, of reconciliation, of joy and of peace.

Jesus himself used a cup to prophesy what was to come. For although we now drink this cup to remember his death, his resurrection, the sealing of the New Covenant in his blood, and the unity of his body, the church, brought forth from his sacrifice; Jesus when he took the cup was prophesying and declaring the things that were yet to come.

And the cup of Christ is still a prophetic cup. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the blood of Christ still speaks; it speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. It declares the "Yes, and Amen" of God to all the promises of God in Jesus. It prophesies the blessing of God to those still living in the residue of the curse. It prophesies health to those who are sick. It prophesies the abundance of God's rich provision to those who are in need. It prophesies fruitfulness to those who are barren. It prophesies that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. It prophesies of a bride who has made herself ready to drink the cup with joy in the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

Down through history, men have been in search of the true cup of Christ. The vessel imbued with the virtue of Christ himself, a means of blessing to all who find it, and a source of eternal life to all who drink of it. But it was never to be found in the Grail, it has been hidden all along within the Church and the gospel message she carries, waiting to be revealed! We are now the Lord's prophetic cup. A sign to the world though which he chooses to speak of what is to come.

One day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. One day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God. One day God's kingdom will be established and his will done on earth as it is in heaven. But in the church these future hopes are a present reality. The church is the community of those who bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord. The church is the place where the knowledge of God's glory is revealed. The church are those who have submitted themselves to his rule and bring the will of heaven down to the earth.

The church is God's precious chosen vessel through which he continues to speak to this world of what is to come.

What is true on a corporate level is also true on an individual level. The Lord's house contains a treasure of precious cups, just as it did under the Old Covenant. We are all vessels in the master's hands, chosen for his service and pleasure. The only question is what sort of vessel do we desire to be? Are we content to sit on the shelf until he comes, or do we want to be those precious cups, kept clean and ready for his use? Not those who are looking inward at the dregs of the flesh and trying to bring forth something to fill the air, but those full of the new wine of the Spirit, overflowing with the joy of the Lord - willing to be used to speak on his behalf: the Lord's precious prophetic cups.

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honourable use, some for dishonourable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. (2Ti 2:20-21)


Calling Down Fire from Heaven

Fire And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1Ki 18:36-39)

But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. (2Ki 1:10)

Calling down fire from heaven was one of the hallmarks of the prophet Elijah. He did it on three occasions. Once, famously, on mount Carmel when he defeated the prophets of Baal, and twice more when two presumptuous military captains thought that fifty men were a more than a match for one man of God.

Elijah is also a powerful type of the church in the Old Testament. Those who in the Spirit and power of Elijah will prepare the way for the Lord by turning the disobedient back to the way of God, and preparing his people for his coming. Just as Elijah made way for Elisha (lit. Lamb of God) and John the Baptist prepared the way for the first coming of Jesus; the church are those with the ministry of getting the world ready for his second coming. Elijah must come first and restore all things.

Does this mean that the church should also be hallmarked by those who call fire down from heaven?

It's an interesting question. I wonder if James and John were thinking along these lines in Luke 9:54? Although though they clearly got the wrong end of the stick, they obviously had an expectation that they should be following the pattern of Elijah.

And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9:54-55)

Jesus' rebuke makes it clear that if we are to call fire down from heaven it is not for the purpose of consuming our enemies. In fact, the disciples would have to wait for Pentecost to see the kind of fire he had in mind.

John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:16)

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. (Ac 2:3-4)

It's a fire that does not consume, but rests and abides. A fire that does not destroy the enemies of God, but causes them to turn aside to see. A fire that does not fall upon a sacrifice of dead flesh, but a fire that falls upon living spiritual sacrifices that have laid their lives on the altar and soaked themselves repeatedly in the river of living water that flows out from within. It's a fire that falls upon a restored altar where the living stones are together in unity. It's a fire that falls in response to the prayer, "That they may know that you are God, and we are your people." It's a fire that causes the prophetic spirit to burn so bright within all that men fall down and exclaim, "The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!"

These are the days of Elijah. Now is the time to call down this fire from heaven.


The Festal Shout!

A shout of joy Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face. (Ps 89:15)

I'm back from a great week away at the Without Borders Bible Week. Although this verse wasn't mentioned, it highlights for me one of the main themes of the week.

One of the first prophetic words that came was that we are a people who enjoy the privilege of the light of the Lord's face upon us. Even Moses when he beheld the Lord's glory was not permitted to see his face.

Several times in the evening meetings there was a great shout of praise that went up to the Lord. Not forced, not manufactured, though on occasion encouraged, they were an entirely fitting and appropriate response to the presence of God in the midst of his people. A festal shout from a people celebrating the light of the Lord's face upon them.

The word translated here as "festal shout" is the Hebrew word "teruwah" - it represents a powerful tumultuous noise. It was used for a loud shout or cheer of joy, the blast of the trumpets, a war cry, and the sound of a tempest.

It was in response to the people of God's mighty shout [teruwah] that God brought down the walls of Jericho. It was with a joyful shout [teruwah] that the people of God responded when the ark of the Lord was brought into their midst (1Sa 4:5) and when the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid (Ezr 3:12).

I like the way the ESV translates this word as "festal shout" in Ps 89. The NASB uses "joyful sound" and the NIV just uses "acclaim" which doesn't really capture the means (or volume) of this acclimation of joy! You can't really imagine the walls of Jericho falling to a polite hand-clap and a muttering of "well done" or "good show!"

Perhaps this highlights a problem that exists in many of the expressions of the church today, where to shout in a church meeting seems strange, foreign, out of place, inappropriate or maybe even sacrilegious. Many believers today have lost the blessing of the festal shout.

Is it because we (in this country) are too British? I don't think so. Up and down the length of this nation you will hear roars of festal shouts rising from stadia every time a leather ball hits the back of a net. I've never yet had to hear a commentator address a home crowd and say. "Now we are going to watch the replay, and this time, when the ball goes in I want you to stand up and make some noise." It's a natural expression. It's almost unnatural not to raise a festal shout in such situations. Yet in the church, it seems so often such instruction is required. Those who have so much more to celebrate. Do we not realise the significance of what God has done, or do we not know how to respond?

I believe the problem is not too much Britishness (or insert other nationality here) but too much religion! Shouting is an affront to the high-minded religious prude that can lurk beneath the surface of our spirituality. While our inner child wants to shout with joy to the king, our inner Pharisee will try its best to reign it in.

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 (Mt 21:15)

Perhaps this is part of the blessing of the festal shout. It binds the spirit of religion and releases the true spirit of worship. It is an appropriate response from earth to heaven that provokes a response of blessing from heaven to earth.

He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
and the shout[teruwah] of a king is among them. (Nu 23:21)


Michael's Baptism

Today was a great day. I baptised Michael my five-year-old son. It was his second attempt. The first time he didn't go through with it because the water was too cold. This time, despite his enthusiasm, nerves nearly got the better of him - but I'm delighted to say that he overcame his apprehension and was one of about ten children baptised at the Without Borders Bible Week today. Praise God!


First mobile post

This is my first blog post from my mobile

Sent using a Sony Ericsson mobile phone


Prevention is better than cure

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. (1Pe 2:1)

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1Pe 2:11)

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution. (1Pe 2:13a)

Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor. (1Pe 2:17b)

I want to conclude my study on the warnings of Cain, Balaam and Korah by looking at this one chapter in 1st Peter.

I mentioned right at the start how my own preference is for example rather than warning (though we ignore the warnings at our peril). And I believe that the Scriptures have the same bias. I love the fact that before we ever get exposed to the danger of the poison of these three men, we have already been given the antidote!

Warnings are good for us, because they alert us quickly when the road we are going down is not good. They help us to turn around quick and get back on the right path. But there is a better way... and that is to never stray from the path in the first place.

That is why examples are better than warnings. They teach us to stay on the path, and not stray. If we learn what keeps us on the path that is pleasing to God we will not need to bring the correction that the warnings give us.

As dangerous as the errors of Cain, Balaam and Korah are, and though they have claimed many a man of God over the Centuries (the strategies of the enemy seldom change!) this one chapter in Peter, and verse 17 in particular gives us all we need to steer clear.

Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour authority.

If we cultivate a love for our brothers we block off the entrance to the way of Cain.

If we cultivate a fear of God, we see through the deception of Balaam's error.

And if we cultivate an attitude that honours all authority, both within the church and without, we separate ourselves from Korah's rebellion.


The Rebellion of Korah

Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. (Jude 11)

Korah is the last of the three men Jude mentions who serve as eternal warnings. He is last, but by no means least!

Every time the people of God came to the temple of God to worship, they would see a sign that was to remind them of Korah's rebellion and warn them to steer clear from his folly. The bronze plating around the altar, where the people came to offer their sacrifices, was made from the hammered out censers from Korah and his followers. [Nu 16:39-40]

Nor is he just a warning under the old covenant. Jude makes that clear. His warning is just as relevant to us who are under the grace of the New Covenant.

What was Korah's rebellion? Let's have a look at what he said:

They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Nu 16:3)

Korah basically makes two statements and then a conclusion:
Statement 1: All of God's people are holy.
Statement 2: God dwells in the midst of his people, whoever they are.
Conclusion: I've got just as much right to minister as you - so move over!

What is interesting is that although Korah's conclusion was wrong, his statements were spot on! In fact it shows that he had understanding, insight and revelation that went beyond many of his peers, for these are truths that do not fully come out until the New Testament.

Korah did not perish because of theological error - he perished because of his rebellion!

This is a sober lesson. It shows you can be right, and still be wrong! That is, your understanding and revelation is correct, but the way you go about communicating it or acting upon it is all wrong!

One of the most fundamental aspects of God's Kingdom is that it operates under authority. Not a democracy, certainly not a free-for-all, and not even a meritocracy. All authority belongs to God. Those who exercise authority in God's kingdom only have it because it has been delegated to them by God's choice and not because they necessarily deserved it more than others, and never because they decided to take it!

Consider the example of Christ:

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (Ph 2:6)

If anyone was worthy to take authority for himself it was Jesus. Yet he did not grasp at authority, but rather submitted to it. He only did what he saw his father doing, even though he was the very equal to God the Father himself.

Jesus showed us the way of the Kingdom. You do not grasp at what you think you deserve, but humble yourself and allow God to raise you up:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (Ph 2:9)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you (1Pe 5:6)

You see Korah, although he had the correct understanding, had the wrong attitude. He thought he could short-circuit the need for authority amongst God's people and elevate himself in the process. As such, he bears the pattern not of Christ, but of Satan!

You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north. (Isa 14:13)

Jude describes such men as "wandering stars". This is a useful illustration. God arranged the stars in he heavens as he saw fit. Assigning a glory (brightness) and position to each. The brightest are not always at the top, nor are the ones at the bottom the most dim. The stars often represent the people of God in the scriptures.

The attitude of Satan was that he would exalt himself above the stars of God. He wanted a glory and a position that had not been given to him. He did have glory and position, but he was not content with that, he wanted more.

Likewise the "wandering stars" are not those who are devoid of influence, revelation or gifting in the Church. Korah shows this is not the case. It is those who "wander" outside of the measure and sphere of authority they have been given and seek to take a position which does not belong to them.

The priesthood of all believers does not equate to the eldership of all believers! There is still a godly order in God's house that must be submitted to. Those who think they can be their own source of authority, or who want to set themselves against those whom God has appointed for that role, had better take another look at Korah... and learn fast!

You may think you know better; you may even be right! But the path of blessing is never found outside of the way of submission to Godly authority.


The Error of Balaam

Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. (Jude 1:11)

They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness. (2Pe 2:14-16)

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. (Rev 2:14)

Balaam is another old testament character who is mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament as a warning for the people of God. In fact he serves as a double warning, for Balaam's error can refer both to the error the prophet himself made and the error he led others into. It is thus a warning to avoid becoming like him, and also to avoid those who would lead us down his path.

Balaam is a curious character. He was a pagan soothsayer who heard from God. He is described both as prophet and false prophet. A man of contradictions. He came to curse the people yet restrained himself to only speak the words of blessing that the Lord gave him. Yet it was his lack of restraint that was his undoing. For he thought that he could be obedient to the Lord and persist in the rebellion of his own heart. The Lord resisted his path in many ways, even causing a donkey to speak - yet he persisted to the end. Even after he had seen the blessing that was on the people of God he sought to destroy them by leading them into immorality and unfaithfulness to God.

The error of Balaam thus represents the folly of those who know the Lord and know that the course that they are on is unrighteous in his eyes, yet for the love and lure of sinful pleasure they persist in it anyway!

It also represents the cunning scheme of our enemy. For he knows that he cannot defeat us by direct attack. Even his worst curse (if he has any power to curse at all, rather than manipulating the righteous curse of God for his own twisted means) cannot touch those whom the Lord has blessed. Failing to destroy us himself, he will seek to get us to destroy ourselves instead with the subtle lure of temptation into compromise. He is not called the tempter for nothing!

Just as with Cain, the stark contrast to the clear way of God may cause us to dismiss Balaam as irrelevant to our walk. But before we do, perhaps we should ask ourselves a few questions:

Are we more devoted than David?

Are we wiser than Solomon?

Are we stronger than Sampson?

All these three, despite the call of God on their lives, despite their clear gifting, fell into temptation and succumbed to Balaam's error. The only enemy that could defeat them was their own unfaithfulness in pursuing a path of sinful indulgence.

Let us heed the warning and avoid that path. A remarkable calling or gift is no guarantee of automatic continuance in the will of God. Balaam's error was that his life was in stark contrast to his prophetic gift, and he failed to bring any adjustment.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. (Eph 5:3 NIV)


The way Cain went wrong

In my last post, the Way of Cain, I wrote about how Cain is presented in the Scriptures as a warning to us. We may be tempted to ignore that warning, because he was "Of the Evil One" and a murderer and thus seemingly far removed from us. But although the way of Cain ended with murder it did not begin there.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Mt5:21-22)

Jesus, in the sermon on the mount traces back the way of Cain, from murder to anger, from anger to insults, and from insults to an offhand remark that reveals what is in the heart. Whilst we may never have followed the way of Cain to the bitter end, we all may stray on to the start of that path at some time or other. The warnings of scripture are written for a reason: they are all applicable to us! [1Co 10:11]

The way of Cain, for Cain himself, began with the resentment he felt over the grace that was shown to his brother. Why did he feel resentment? This, to me, reveals where the way of Cain really begins. It begins when we see our brothers as competing ministries rather than complementary servants outworking God's varied grace. [1Pe 4:10]

Joseph's brothers clearly went down the way of Cain. They became jealous of the grace bestowed on Joseph by their father. They saw him as competition for their father's affections and their own standing in the family. This resentment blinded them to the blessing that Joseph was to the family and themselves.

Saul went down the way of Cain. He became jealous of the grace that was upon David's life and saw it as a direct competition to his authority as King. He could not see the blessing David was to the kingdom, only the perceived threat he was to himself.

The way of Cain begins for us when the blessing and grace poured out on a brother and fellow servant of Jesus does not cause us to rejoice, but to feel threatened. If we find ourselves responding in that way, it's time to recognise that the way we have strayed onto is not good and turn around quickly.

We are not in competition with each other. We have been given varied grace in order to work together as Christ's body for his glory and honour - not our own.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. (1Co 12:24b-26)


The Way of Cain

Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain (Jude 11a)

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. (1Jn 3:11-12)

In Luke 15, Jesus tells what is probably his most famous parable: The prodigal son. However when you read the context of the parable carefully, you realise that the parable is not primarily directed at the prodigals. It's a story about two brothers. One who receives abundant grace from the father, and the other who becomes bitter and angry as a result. It was told to the Pharisees who resented the grace he was showing to the tax collectors and sinners. Jesus in correcting their attitude tells this tale of two brothers which contains a sharp reminder of the very first two brothers: Abel and Cain. Jesus was sending a strong message - there is a grave danger in becoming resentful over the grace shown to another - for it is the way of Cain!

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; (Heb 12:15)

Cain we are told in 1 John, "Was of the evil one." We might be tempted therefore to disregard his life and his errors as being irrelevant to those of us who belong to God. Yet in the same breath John warns us that we must not become like him! Since there is no need for a warning for something that can never occur, the implicit suggestion is that we are not immune from straying down the way of Cain, and we must be on guard to make sure we turn around quickly if we find we are on that path, for we know where it leads!

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1Jn 3:15)

You see, Cain did not start out badly...

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground. (Ge 4:5)

Cain brought an offering to God. It was his own initiative, and expression of his own heart and desire to minister to God. There was nothing wrong with this at all. It shows that there were good and noble desires and ambitions within Cain's heart... It was what happened next that revealed that there were other things lurking in Cain's heart that were not so pleasant!

...and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. (Ge 4:4)

His younger brother got in on the act! Although Cain's attitude towards God seemed right, it was his attitude towards his brother that was his undoing. As John reminds us over and over in his epistles. Our love for God cannot exist in isolation from an expression of love towards our brothers. If the latter is wrong, then so is the former. God will sometimes arrange situations to bring issues in our heart that need dealing with up to the surface. The Father sought to do this for Cain...

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Ge 4:6-7)

Even Cain had a choice. God did not set him up to fail! He stood at a crossroads. He could repent of his bad attitude towards his brother and master his sinful resentment, or he could continue to indulge it and see where it led him...

The choice he made now stands as an eternal warning for us not to do likewise!

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Mt 5:21-24)

[More to follow...]


For the one in fifty-five

I am the one in ten a number on a list,
I am the one in ten even though I don't exist
Nobody knows me but I'm always there
Statistical reminder of a world that doesn't care.
~ UB40 - One in Ten

40,000 - Reported death-toll for the Chinese earthquake (source BBC News)
78,000 - Official death-toll for the Burma Cyclone (source Boston Globe)
193,700 - Number of abortions in the UK in 2006 - 1 in every 55 pregnancies. (Source Department of Health)

Here in the UK, the emotive subject of abortion has been back in the news as MPs voted not to lower the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 22 weeks.

Now, I don't claim to be an expert on the subject of abortion. I do believe in the sanctity and intrinsic value of every human life that is beyond price. I do believe and understand that in some exceptional and tragic circumstances a termination of pregnancy can be necessary. Most of all, I would say, I understand statistics... and as I have looked at the figures, I have to say, I think the battle that was lost in the Commons was the wrong battle in the first place...

The number of abortions in the UK that occur at over 20 weeks is around 1.5% and it is likely that most of these late abortions will be for medical reasons that are not bound by the time limit anyway. So even if the time limit had been dropped from 24 to 22 weeks it would have barely made a dent in the UK's shamefully high abortion rates. Now, I'm not saying these lives are not worth fighting for, every life is worth fighting for, it's just I think the most obvious problem lies elsewhere.

Of the seven legal grounds for an abortion in the UK, the one that covers serious illness or handicap in the unborn child only accounts for 1%. This means 99% of all abortions in the UK are of healthy children! The ground that is the most common is ground C - "The continuance of the pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman". When you unpack what this means in practice, it is considered that the mental stress caused by carrying an unwanted child falls into this category! So these are basically (with doubtless a few exceptions) the numbers of pregnancies aborted simply because the child is unwanted - these account for 97%! Of these the highest section, by far, is among teenage girls, with the peak at age 19.

I would seem to me, that if we want to make a real difference for the voiceless one in fifty-five, the real issues are a tightening up of the wording of ground C to bring it back in line with its original intention and prevent it being used merely for unwanted pregnancies, and a tackling of the thorny issue of teenage pregnancy.


A word of warning

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1Co 10:11 NIV)

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

The Bible is full of instruction for us. It is all relevant for us today as the New Covenant people of God. Even the Old Testament (especially the Old Testament!), if understood correctly, is full of accounts that are not just there for the sake of our historical curiosity; they are recorded as examples and warnings... for us!

Of course, given a choice, we will always prefer an example to a warning! I know personally, I always prefer to preach from passages that are examples of victory, deliverance, and overcoming faith. But the warnings are there for a reason too, both example and warning are recorded for us. We ignore the warnings at our peril!

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Pr 27:12)

I was thinking about this as I was reading the book of Jude. Here was a man who, as one of the Lord's brothers, had grown up with Jesus. Just think of the insight and the revelation he could have brought and shared about the great salvation we have in Christ - something he was eager to do... Yet when he gets his chance to write to the churches, a letter that would (eventually!) become part of the canon of Scripture and be recognised as part of God's eternal, infallible, sufficient word to this world... he felt constrained by the Holy Spirit to go down another route.

We all love to hear the examples, but sometimes we need to heed the warnings. The Spirit constrained Jude to leave warnings, not just for the New Testament churches of his time, but for us. They are not written down to scare us, or bring us condemnation, but for our benefit. Warnings do us good because they help us to avoid the things that would harm us. They help us to recognise the fist signs that we are on the wrong path, and to turn around quickly!

Jude must have had particular insight into figures who by their mistakes are forever associated with warnings - he had to change his name because of one of them! (Mt 13:55) He mentions three in particular that are powerful warnings we do well to take note off....

The Way of Cain,
The Error of Balaam,
The Rebellion of Korah

I will look at each in detail in further posts.


Displaying the invisible

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Col 1:15)

You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord's food offerings, a perpetual due.” (Lev 24:5-9)

I have been thinking some more on how God is made manifest - the invisible made visible, and how like Christ, the church bears the image of the invisible.

I have found a powerful example in the Old Testament with the showbread. Under the Old Covenant God's presence was hidden behind the veil, yet in front of the veil were golden objects that represented the hidden glory of God. The altar of incense, the lampstand, and the table where the showbread was placed. Each of these is worthy of a study in its own right. The prayers of the people, the prophetic witness of the people and the presence among God's people, but it is this last one I want to examine today. For the showbread was also called the "bread of the Presence." It was there to show - make visible - the invisible presence of God.

Since we know that it is in Christ that we find the perfect image of the invisible, it should not surprise us to find elements of him and his covenant meal - the bread of life - the table of the Lord.

But here's where the symbolism gets interesting... there's not one loaf on the table but twelve. Twelve tribes, twelve apostles - twelve is the number of God's chosen people. So are we looking at a representation of Christ or the Church? The language in Leviticus mixes it around a bit too, for we are told of the bread that is is both from the people (v8) and from the Lord (v9).

We see that the showbread, the bread of the Presence, is the people representing Christ, making the invisible presence visible.

Some other details of the showbread then take on a relevance for how we as the people of God make his presence known.

The bread was covered in frankincense - it was a fragrant offering from the people to the Lord. It represents the people offering themselves to God, laying their lives on the altar - engaging in true spiritual worship.

The bread was arranged in two piles of six. The significance of this symbolism would not have escaped the notice of the people in their journey through the wilderness - for it was their marching order! When the people camped they were arranged in four groups of three, one to each point of the compass, with the presence of God in the middle. But when they were on the move the formation changed; two groups of six with the presence of God in between - six tribes in front and six tribes behind.

So the showbread doesn't represent a holy huddle of the people of God, camped round the presence keeping it to themselves. But the church on the move, going out, following the mandate to go, taking the visible display of the presence with them.

As we go we go with a message, so the two piles of bread that can be seen represent the two angelic cherubs behind the veil that cannot be seen, and in between... is the Presence!


The Visible Love of God - part 2

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1Jn 3:1a)

In my last post I wrote about how Christ is the visible manifestation of God's love (agape). But it is not just in Jesus that the visible love of God is displayed...

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God...

The primary way that God's agape love is made visible to the world today is not through Christ, whom they cannot see, but through us! The church, the community of the children of God, is designed to be a display of what the Father's love looks like to the world.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1Jn 4:12)

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35)

John's message, time and time again in his first epistle is that our love - the love between brothers and sisters in the faith - is a visible expression of the Father's own love. If we love each other we display the love of the Father. If we do not love each other then it is a telling evidence of an absence of the Father's love - not toward us, for that remains steadfast even while we were still in sin - an absence of that love reflected in our own hearts.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1Jn 4:20)

Our display of agape love to each other, I believe, is the primary way we make God manifest to the world. Even the gifts of the Spirit, which are described as manifestations of the Spirit - and thus by design function to make God known, are meaningless if they do not operate in the context of love. You cannot have chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians without chapter 13!

We are happy to boast in the Father's unconditional love towards us, but how is that reflected in our attitude towards a brother or sister who does not measure up to our own "conditions"? We thank God for the journey he has taken us on out of error and into truth; yet how do we react to those who speak what we consider to be in error? Do we instruct them gently or rebuke them harshly and publicly? It's all too easy, like Peter, to be confessing Christ one minute, and be a mouthpiece for the Accuser the next. As James says - my brothers, this should not be!

If the light does not shine on its own stand how can it illuminate the world?

How are we to love each other? In the same way the God loves us. Not just conceptually or emotionally, but tangibly and visibly, with a love that does something that can be seen.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1Jn 3:18)


The visible love of God

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1John 3:1)

During my recent holiday I was meditating on 1John and Jude. Sometimes when you read the Word a verse will jump up and grab you; sometimes it can be single word. As I read the verse above it was the first word that arrested my attention.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us...

What kind of love has the Father given to us? The visible kind! The kind that can be displayed and seen!

John doesn't say we should know the love of God theoretically, or read about it, or just feel it touching our emotions... he tells us to see it! The love of God is not an abstract concept, but something that has a visible expression. That is one of the main themes of this letter of John. He is telling the brothers what the love of God should look like.

I love the way the letter starts...

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us (1Jn 1:1-2)

Right from the beginning John frames his discourse, not on nebulous concepts, but on the tangible, visible realities of God's nature that had been made manifest to him.

God's love is visible, his life made manifest, primarily through the means that John is referring to here - through Jesus.

If we want to know what the Father is like, we have a perfect representation in the Son.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn 14:18-19)

So if we want to see the love of God, the first place we need to look is at Jesus himself. For God so loved the world... and that love resulted in a visible expression - Jesus, who embodied and demonstrated the love of the Father.

It's interesting... Jesus has many names and titles in the Scriptures. The one most frequently used in connection with him is Christ - the anointed one. But there are two times when God the Father speaks directly, and audibly, from heaven concerning the Son; what title does he use?

And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17)

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:5)

The word used in the Scriptures for "the Beloved" is "o agapetos" - the Agape-One. Jesus was and is, the Agape-One, the perfect expression of God's covenant love. Not just because he was beloved, but because he made visible that same expression of love that is the very nature of God himself.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love [agape]. (1Jn 4:8)

Love is at the core of who God is. It is the expression of his nature. It is the motivating force behind all he does. Whenever God is made manifest it is always in the context of love. So when the Father describes the son, it seems even his status as the Anointed-One is subordinate to his ultimate expression as the Agape-One. His anointing is also on the basis of his love.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions. (Heb 1:9)

If the visible love of God is so crucial, so central, how does this effect how we seek to represent God to the world?

[More to follow...]