Rate of Change

It's been a while since I have blogged about evolution or faith and science. But this article in New Scientist has provoked me again.

The debate between evolutionists and creationists often goes nowhere, in my opinion. The Darwinists' understanding of the science is often much better and the creationists' arguments are often embarrassingly poorly constructed and as such are easily torn to pieces. However it would be a logical fallacy to assume that the more educated opinion is always correct. History has proved this to be wrong within the scientific community countless times. Copernicus's theory of a helio-centric solar system was considered poorly constructed and logically flawed by his scientific peers, and many dismissed his ideas as a result - but he was right.

Rather than get drawn into the details, that both sides are expert at shouting down, lets take a step back, and examine the big picture in simple terms.

The world is full of a diversity of life. The question is how did this diversity arise. Let's take the analogy of a bathtub full of water representing all the biodiversity on the planet. The creationist says, "God filled the tub." The evolutionist says, "The tap is running."

There then ensues an argument about the nature of the tap (which the Darwinist understands far better) and whether any water (biodiversity) is really flowing into the tub (through the process of evolution).

But there is one other important fact, which is beyond dispute by either side. The plug is out on this tub. Extinctions are irreversibly reducing the biodiversity of the planet all the time. A recent newspaper article I read suggested that as many as 11 species disappear each year. With many thousands more on the critically endangered list. (Indeed evolutionary theory relies on extinction to provide the steering hand of evolution - Natural Selection).

So let's side-step all the arguments about whether the tap is running or not, and ask a more fundamental question. Even if the tap is running; is it running sufficiently fast to explain a full tub with the plug out?

This is just a matter of empirical data. If the initial state of the bath-tub was empty, as the Darwinists propose, then the average rate of "speciation" must exceed the average rate of extinction. Or the bath tub would stay empty. The mind-bending periods of time (8.3 billion years) don't help here either, because if the car is not going forwards it doesn't matter how long it drives for, it is never going to get anywhere!

The plain and simple fact is that even taking what scientists propose to be recent speciation events (usually at least several thousand years ago) they don't add up to anywhere near 11 a year. The tub is getting more empty, not more full. Not great news for the initially-empty-bath-tub-theory.

Perhaps the rate of extinction was not so high in the past? Well here the evidence is to the contrary too, with several well documented periods of mass-extinction or elevated extinction rates. According to Berkley's information, of all the life that has ever existed on this planet, over 99% has become extinct.

The only option left for the empty-tubbers is that the tap must have been running faster in the past than it is now. In other words it relies on conditions and processes that cannot be tested and verified in the laboratory today. Hardly the irrefutable proof, that no-one could seriously disbelieve.

People often criticise creation(ism) as being unscientific. Yes, it is. It doesn't (or shouldn't) pretend to be otherwise. But unless you are an atheist, and disbelieve that anything miraculous can happen, this doesn't automatically make it untrue.

Equally, hard evidence for mutations, genetic drift, microevolutionary changes within a species, and the process of natural selection do not mean that Darwin's theory on the origin of the species is correct.

The tub is full, yet it is draining faster than it is filling (if it is filling at all). Does this suggest that the tub was initially full or empty?


Preaching Audio: Ruth - Part 2

This is the second part of my preaching series on Ruth, which is available on the Living Rock Church podbean site. Download the audio, subscribe to the podcast or listen to it through the embedded player below.

Text: Ruth 2
Synopsis: The field of Boaz was a place of blessing for Ruth, and represents the place of Kingdom activity God desires to bring us too. Boaz's exchange of blessings with his workers is examined to illustrate how the Lord blesses us and how we bless the Lord. Boaz's instructions to Ruth are unpacked as commands from the Lord to us his people.

Download notes from the EQUIP course I have taught on this material.


The "how" and the "what" of prayer

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Ro 8:26)

I was very blessed to be in a great prayer meeting last night. It was full of life and faith and the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. We felt the presence of God, heard him speak to us through the prophetic word, and spoke out words into the heavens that will make a difference on the earth. I love meetings like that!

I hope it's not too controversial, though, to say that over the years I have been in many prayer meetings that I have not loved. Ones that have done more to stir a yawn than a prayer of faith!

I was thinking about this a couple of days ago, and it occurred to me: We need instruction to guide us how to pray; we need the Spirit to guide us what to pray. This is how is laid out in the Scriptures. When the disciples wanted to know how they should pray, they went to Jesus for instruction. When it comes to what we should pray for, Paul tells us that we need the Holy Spirit's help.

I believe the reason why many prayer meetings fall short of the mark is that they try to do things the other way round! The only instruction that comes is a list of what should be prayed for (sometimes this takes the majority of the meeting!) Very little guidance is given on how prayers will be ordered or made most effective; that is left to the Spirit.

I know that some direction on what to pray for is required. I'm not disputing that. But I don't want to go to a meeting just so I can say I've ticked all the boxes in the to-pray-for list. That has more to do with religion than faith. I'd rather leave a meeting with most of my boxes unticked, but knowing that that there had been a genuine encounter with the presence of God, and those things that did get prayed for made an impact in the heavens that will change the earth.


Preaching Audio: Ruth - Part 1

The first part of my preaching series on Ruth is now available on the Living Rock Church podbean site. Download the audio, subscribe to the podcast or listen to it through the embedded player below. I hope it's a blessing to you.

Text: Ruth 1
Synopsis: Elimelech's departure from Bethlehem to Moab is indicative of a departure from faith to compromise. God's will is to keep us in the place of his righteous order in our lives because the time of harvest is at hand.

I have also taught this material as part of a Living Rock Church "EQUIP" course:

Download the teaching notes.


Preaching Audio: Ruth - Part 5

Living Rock Church, Coventry, have just set up a podbean site to host and stream audio from the preached word. I'm very honoured that the first message to be posted up there is one of mine. It's the final part of a five-part series I did on the book of Ruth. I'll post links to the first four as they become available.

Many thanks to Dave Palmer for all his hard work in getting this all set up.

Ruth - Part 5

Text: Ruth 4
Synopsis: Ruth's redemption by Boaz is a parallel to our own redemption by Christ. The purpose of our redemption is to bring forth the king.


Star differs from star

The Pleiades

There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. (1Co 5:41)

It doesn't take a degree in astrophysics to notice that not all stars are the same. Some are bright, some a faint. Some are high in the sky some are low to the horizon. Some stay visible at northern latitudes all year round, while others rise and set with the passing of the seasons.

This very variety is part of the glory of the heavens. Can you imagine what the night sky would look like if every star was equally bright, or every star was equally high in the sky? Where would be the glory or the wonder in that? Although the bright stars draw our eyes, it is the myriad of fainter stars that gives the heavens its sense of infinite depth and incomprehensible size.

The parallel with the church is clear. God has arranged the parts just as he saw fit. The church is the display of his manifold wisdom. No two parts are the same. There is no one-size-fits-all. God loves all men and women the same, but has apportioned a different measure of grace and a different prominence to each. And it is this very variety that serves to display his glory.

Not all are prophets, not all are prophets or teachers. Not all are preachers, or leaders. Not all have the same position of prominence or measure of gifting, but each one is hand-picked by God with a unique and special place marked out by the divine hand. No-one else can fill that spot. The constellation is not complete if even the faintest member is missing. Each shines with heavenly light in the blackness of the night declaring the glories of God.

Those who are serious about giving God the glory he deserves are less concerned with their own position or prominence; comparing the light of their gift to the brightness of another. But rather rejoice in the unique position in his heavenly plan assigned to them, and shine for him with all the light he has given them.


Like stars in the universe

Starry Night Sky

so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe (Php 2:15 NIV)

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Ps 19:1)

The stars are a frequent motif in the scriptures for the people of God. The promise to Abraham was that his offspring would be like the stars in the night sky. When Joseph had his dreams, one of the representation of his brothers, the sons of Israel, was as eleven stars. In one of Daniel's visions, the trampling of the stars underfoot, was interpreted as the persecution of the saints, and in his final chapter he prophesies that the righteous in the resurrection will shine like the stars forever and ever.

It's quite an awesome thought, when you look up at the night sky, that what you are seeing is not just a demonstration of God's heavenly glory, but a representation of his earthly people. There's quite a neat symmetry too, that God places in the heavens a representation of his church on the earth, and in his church on the earth he places a demonstration of his heavenly glory. The church is both a heavenly reality of the order, rule and glory of God, and an earthly reality made up of real flesh and blood men and women. It belongs to both heaven and earth, and has a mission and a mandate to see the will of heaven come down to earth.

Once you make the connection between the stars and the people of God there is much that can be drawn out from the scriptures that is very relevant to the nature of the church and her calling. I will share some of my own musings on the subject in some following posts.


The Word is in your Mouth

I have put my words in your mouth (Isa 51:16)

Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. (Jer 1:9)

I was struck again by how God gives us his word. It is not a word that he puts in our minds. It's not a word that he puts in our notebooks. Those are not the places that the word of God is meant to abide. He puts his words... into our mouths.

God's word is meant to be spoken. It is designed to be verbalised. Faith comes not just be reading, but by hearing. There is a power in the spoken word of God. I'm sure God could have created the universe at a thought, if he had chosen to, but he did not. He spoke and it came to be. It is the spoken word of God that is our daily bread [Dt 8:3].

If a word is never spoken it remains merely a thought. It is a transient and nebulous thing that can disappear without trace when our mind wanders onto something else. But the spoken word is different: it is concrete and deliberate, it cannot be retracted. In the Old Testament, once a word was spoken that was the end of the matter, regardless of the consequences [Jos 9, Jdg 11, Ps 15:4].

If God puts his words into our mouths, and if it is designed to be spoken, then there is a pretty obvious application: we need to speak it.

Paul instructed Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of scriptures [1Ti 4:13]. Reading the scriptures aloud is one obvious way to verbalise the word of God. It blesses us twice over, in the speaking and in the hearing. It is something I'm giving myself to more, not just in public, but also the private reading of scripture. So I am speaking and hearing the word of God.

Speaking in tongues is another great example. As it is literally the Spirit putting his words directly into our mouths. It's a key gift that builds us up and unlocks so much to us. It also sets us a great example, because you can't move in this gift without speaking; for the words of God to flow, they have to be spoken. God puts his words in our mouths but nothing happens unless we speak.

But the word is not just put into our mouths so we can speak to ourselves it is given so we can speak it to others. Both those who already belong to Christ, and those who don't yet know him. God gives us his word, as he gives us his Spirit, so that we can be his witnesses. Our witness comes by what we say, not just with our words, but with our deeds too. That's why Jesus commanded that we teach people, not just so that they might understand, but so that the might obey [Mt 28:19-20]. As the saying goes: actions speak louder than words.

But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Dt 30:14)

I like this verse. The word is not just in our mouths so we can speak it, but so that we can do it. God's word always demands a response. He's put his word in our mouths... the rest is up to us.

The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak. (Nu 22:38)


If you see me, it's yours!

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” (2Ki 2:9-10)

We know that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and that he is an example for us in the area of prayer (Jas 5:17) I believe that in this passage Elisha (even though he is addressing Elijah rather than God) also sets an example in how we are to pray, and importantly, how we can pray prayers that get answered!

First, Elisha asks for a "hard thing." I like that! He doesn't make a "safe" request, but goes out on a limb to make a bold request. That's how our prayers should be: those that reach in faith beyond the boundaries of what we have currently experienced or received. If we only ask for things we already believe for, how are we exercising faith. It may seem odd to express it this way, but if we limit our prayers to our current measure of faith, we are not really operating in faith at all. Faith cannot be static; if it not expanding it is contracting. As Jesus put it: Those who have will be given more, but those who do not have, even the little they do have will be taken away. Whilst we should never pray for things that we have no faith that God will answer - those are totally pointless and hollow prayers - we should always stretch our current measure of faith to reach for more.

Next Elisha asks for the "double portion." There is plenty that could be said about this. But what strikes me in particular is that this was the portion of the first-born son. Elisha is saying, "Let me be like your first-born son." Again, I like this! This is how we should pray to our Heavenly Father, and this should be the prime motive behind our prayers: "Let me be like Jesus!" That's what we should be reaching for in faith. More of the life, character, gift and power of Jesus in our lives. That the manifestation of his wonderful nature may be displayed in us and through us.

Finally, I like the response that Elijah gives to his son in the faith: "If you see me it's yours!" I think this is the voice of God to us as a praying people too: "If you see me, it's yours." It is as we see him, and our vision of who he is and what he is like is expanded, that our faith to receive all that he is promised is increased. Abraham and Sarah believed because they considered him who had made the promises... not just the promises in isolation (Heb 11:11).

It's not just seeing what he is capable of doing either, but what he is doing. Jesus was the most anointed, most faith-filled person to ever walk the earth. Yet the secret of his success in prayer was this: He only did the things he saw his Father was doing. He saw. He prayed. He received. He saw what the Father was doing and prayed to see that same reality manifest on earth as it was in heaven. And that's how he taught his disciples to pray. Seeing the kingdom activity of the Father in heaven and praying it into reality on the earth. Praying in this way is another way we become more like him.

Let's be those who do not just pray according to what we see on the earth, but those who in faith pray into being that which we have seen in heaven.


Extraordinary Miracles

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (Ac 19:11-12)

I have been thinking about this passage of scripture. I mentioned it over on Ricky's blog the other day, and it was mentioned in the word to our church on Sunday.

What got me thinking was not whether God still does extraordinary miracles through the hands of his servants. To me that's not the question. What I have read, what I have seen, what I have heard, and what I know and understand about the nature of God leaves me in no doubt. God has not run out of "miracle-juice", nor has it become watered down over the millennia. He is the same awesome miracle working God today that he was two-thousand years' ago.

What does intrigue me though is what form these extraordinary miracles take today. You see, and you can feel free to disagree with me on this, I don't believe it's about sweaty handkerchiefs!

God is a God of infinite resourcefulness and imagination. The handkerchiefs was something extraordinary he chose to do through the hands of Paul. We don't read of it happening though the hands of anyone else, not even Peter. The fact that they were classified as "extraordinary" underlines the point further. It was something special and distinct to the man and his ministry, not a new pattern that emerged relating how we are to minister to remote sick or demonised individuals.

In Acts 5:15 we read of another type of extraordinary miracle. Peter's shadow only had to fall on the sick as he passed them in the street and they were healed. This again is not something we see attributed to anyone else. It was extraordinary, distinct, different, unique.

When Jesus healed people, on occasion he would heal them with his spit! This also is not something we see anyone else do (thankfully!) I wonder if Jesus chose this method deliberately so that it wouldn't be copied as an empty ritual! Jesus healed people in so many different ways for the same reason, I believe. He wanted to leave us principles to engage our faith, not patterns to be entrenched in formulaic religion.

So Jesus healed with his spit, Peter healed with his shadow, and Paul healed with his sweat. The pattern I'd draw from these extraordinary miracles is that they were all different!

So if we are seeking to be those who move in extraordinary miracles today, we need to be looking not to what God did through somebody else at some other time. We don't have to go out to buy a new range of ministry hankies, or go looking for a sunny spot where the sick folks hang out... we need to raise our expectation of how our awesome God can transform the ordinary things in our lives into an extraordinary means of his grace.

How about someone being healed by just receiving a text message from a servant of God? That would be extraordinary! Or someone who gets healed on their way in to a meeting just because they were handed a bulletin by a man or woman stirred in the Holy Spirit. Ordinary everyday actions transformed by an infinitely creative God into something extraordinary.

How many ways can God be extraordinary?... my guess is about six and a half billion!


The King's Priestly Prayer

For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the Lord. For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2Ch 30:17-20)

Picture the scene. A nation has forsaken God; a people have abandoned his law. But an invitation goes out... an offer from the king to come to the table of the Lord and enjoy his favour.

But there's a problem. The people are not in any state to return to God. They have not kept themselves pure or lived up to the righteous standard required to approach his table. They want to return but know that their own actions now separate them from God.

So the king himself rouses himself on their behalf and makes intercession for them. Although the people are unworthy to return, God hears the priestly prayer of his appointed king and opens up the way so that all who have a heart after God may return. They can come and sit down at the Lord's table without fear and without condemnation.

What Hezekiah did for the people of Israel is a shadow of what Jesus now does for all people.

We were separated from a holy God by our own actions with no way back. But Jesus himself makes intercession for us, and presented himself as the spotless passover lamb to be slain on our behalf. This intercession and sacrifice now holds the door to heaven open so that whoever has a heart towards God may come without guilt or condemnation.

The king's priestly prayer was heard. The way back to God is open.