Monday, 26 April 2010

Spoilt Brat Electorate?

If the following video sums you up in what you think politicians are there to do for you, then you're in for a big disappointment after the election, even if the party you vote for comes in with a landslide majority.

Whilst I recognise they are stimulating a renewed engagement on one level, my one concern with the big televised election debates is that they will encourage passivity at a local level. People will assume that the messiahs of Westminster know the road to happiness, when in truth, daily Godly choices are the way to true joy, irrespective of who is in power.

Wisdom and happiness are not dished out from Westminster, but from walking humbly and selflessly with Jesus, because the greatest joy will always be in giving out of receiving, not receiving on its own.


In other news, CARE have put together some questions you might want to ask politicians and activists who come door-knocking.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Postscript to the Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Isaac

I've been preparing a sermon the last couple of days on Gen 17 to give next week at RUCU main meeting. One thing I never pondered the significance of when I wrote this post, was the name of Abraham's miraculously born son: Isaac.

So what?! I hear you cry.

And I understand your cry. In modern Western culture we love to choose nice names for our kids, even ones that are profound. However, we don't normally give them a name that tracks either our own life story or, even more spookily, prophetically sums up what their life would be about. But that is exactly what goes on in the strange world of the Bible, and Isaac's name falls into this prophetic second category.

Isaac means "He laughs." It's a mocking kind of laughter. But that begs the question: Who's laughing and why?

God is laughing. He is laughing at Abraham's attempt (in his puny OAP strength) to try and help God fulfil God's promises to him, (by "puny attempt" I'm refering to the birth of Ishmael)

Moreover, through the birth and life of Isaac, God would further show off the great theme of history: his laughter at human choice and human wisdom, in it's effort to try and set itself up in God's place do what God does, rather than just trusting him.

Isaac's life is a picture of Christ's. Through the eternal Son, God the Father laughs at the so called wisdom of the world in trying to set itself up in God's place.

Abraham couldn't help but laugh at the incredulity of God's promise to him, but God had the last laugh in his life and God will have the last laugh in history, as he vindicates his choice and his wisdom before the eyes of all people.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

On Escaping Pin Tails and Donkeys and Other Things

Those of you who live in Reading East like me, may have noticed that there's a new independent candidate in the running as of yesterday. If anyone knows anything about her or what she is standing for, do let me know. So far, the mighty Google has given me nothing.
If you're like me and trying desperately to move yourself from an eenie-meenie-mynee-mo approach to your ballot paper in the forthcoming General Election to one that feels somewhat more purposeful, then heres some thing that may help...

Whilst the Ends may be the same (at least in the rhetoric) the Means are very different. To that end, the BBC have a nifty little site where you can compare the major means of the major parties. I'm hoping there'll be enough detail there to help me cut through the utopian rhetoric and platitudes and get a real whiff of where the main parties really are.

There are 15 days to go (at time of writing) and I aim to look at 1-2 issues a day (starting with Key Priorities) so that my brain doesn't get too fried in any one sitting, although I'm probably hopelessly optimistic about that.
In other news, will Christians swing the UK vote? The journalists give their view here. Of course, the article makes no reference to the power of prayer. It has never been an odds and numbers game.

Whatever happens on 6th May, we will get the government we deserve, if for no other reason they are the product of our national spirit. If they are sound, it is because the nation is. If they are compromised, it is because we as a nation are. That's not a call to cynicism, but rather a call to the kind of prayer that flows from the kind of heart that's full of grace.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

All the Trinity in 1 Kings 19

Given John 1:1-18, how do I read 1 Kings 19?

Here's my starter for 10:

Holy Spirit
The Trinity

And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
He replied, "I have been very zealous for the
LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."
Then a great and powerful
wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a
voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

He replied, "I have been very zealous for the
LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."

Full text here.

Don't know about you, but I get a sense of deja-vu.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Isaac

Much of Issac's life is a beautiful picture of the Trinitarian gospel. Consider the following:

His birth is foretold a long time before it happens.

His conception is miraculous.

He is persecuted by his older brother who was not born according to the promise of God.

He is offered up by his father as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. No one but father and son are involved in this.

Isaac obediently and submissively follows his father, carrying the wood for his death.

He is received back from the dead (if only metaphorically) and reunited with his father, due to the intervention of the Angel of the LORD.

Afterwards, when Isaac is of age, his father Abraham charges his servant to go and fetch his son a bride.

The servant diligently goes far away from their place of sojourning to their own people.

He finds Rebekah and tells her all that his master has sent him to do and that if she is willing, she will become the bride of his master's son.

The servant lavishes his Master's gifts on Rebekah and her family.

She agrees to go to Isaac without delay and travel to Abraham country - the land of Isaac's inheritance, and they enjoy marital union for the rest of their days.

Whilst Abraham had other sons, Isaac was his only heir.

Consider then, Jesus...

His birth is foretold a long time before it happens.

His conception is miraculous.

He is persecuted by his own brothers, the Jews, who refuse to recognise him as the offspring of promise.

He is lifted up by his Father on the cross at Mount Moriah. Father, Son and Spirit deal with the wrath of God for sin amongst themselves. No one else is involved.

Jesus willingly and obediently submits to his father's will, carrying the wooden cross beam on his own back to the place of his execution.

He is raised from the dead and returns to his Father. No metaphor here!

The Father sends the Holy Spirit, to get for his Son a bride, a people to be his very own.

The Spirit goes from Heaven, the place of their sojourning into the world.

He finds a bride - the Church - a people gathered in from all the nations, testifying of all the father has sent him say and that if she is willing, she will become the bride of his eternal Son.

The Spirit lavishes all good gifts from the Father on the Church, betrothing her to the Son and preparing her for him.

The church responds quickly and desires eagerly to be with Christ throwing off all known worldly comforts and familiarities in order to be found united with him in the New Creation of the Father - that is the land of the Son's Inheritance - and enjoy union with them for eternity.

God the Father has no other heir in creation other than his Son. There is no other way to enter into that blessing but to be found in the Bride of Christ - the Church, and being joined to Christ.

This is the Bible plot-line in an easy to understand, story-fied nutshell.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


The Today Programme had a nice little piece on the potential benefits of tonight's TV debate between the three main party leaders.

Last night, I had my first proper foray into Election '10 when a Conservative Party rep knocked on the door and asked me who I would be voting for. No doubt the rest will be knocking soon.

When it comes to which party to vote for, I feel a little bit like this guy - confused an bewildered.

As Mary Beard said, all parties are essentially the same in their vision of prosperity, security and fairness for all (who would dare argue against those kind of catch all ideals?)

How much they differ in their means of bringing us those ideals I don't know, and if the truth be told I ain't got the appetite to go wading through all the spin only to find myself at the foot of a mountain of small print that leaves even the best-intentioned and well-educated punter bewildered. (for example see this video from 5:11 onwards). Even if I did manage to cram up on the detail, I'm not sure I'd come away much the wiser.

So what's to do?

Given that I haven't yet identified one issue from any of the parties that would either stop me from voting for them or mesmerize me so much that I couldn't help but pledge them my unswerving allegiance, I am leaning towards going on what I feel about my local candidates - irrespective of their political colour.

I would love to attend a hustings, so if you know of any going on in the Reading East area, then let me know!! I'm pretty sure if I have seen our candidates face to face, I will have a much better idea who to vote for and a much less apathetic reaction to the media election merry-go-round.

So I will endeavour to engage in this election. I chose to encourage politicians in the good, to hold them to account in the bad. I chose not to set my hope on a (selfish) vision of utopia (for me and my mates) in this life and I will fight my tendancy to have naive and infantile expectations of politicians that let me abdicate my own responsibility both for my own destiny and those around me.

Work for the peace of the community in which you live, for in its peace (lit. shalom) you find your own.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Solomon's Temple

This morning I read about Solomon's construction of the Lord's Temple. Here's a video to help you get your head round what it could have looked like.

(I have never seen the front of the temple depicted as being so high - not sure what to think on that one, but it's worth a watch, even if it sounds like you have stumbled across a clip of Superman in the opening music.)

Click on the picture and scroll down for the key to the numbers.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Jesus Was A Middle Class Architect?

The following article appeared in the Daily Mail last week. It was brought to my attention by my favourite of all Radio 4's satirical comedy offerings.

Whilst I don't like the essentially political undertones of the article, i.e. casting Jesus as a mere social maverick/reformer rather than Son of God, I think there may be something in it for the following reasons:

1. The Hebrew word used in Proverbs 8:30, speaks of Christ as a master workman/architect of everything. So it seems to me eminently appropriate in the prophetic symmetry of God that he should mirror this reality by being the son of one in his earthly life too.

2. Whilst Jesus was the Son of God and full of the Holy Spirit, he would, in his humanity, have had to study the scriptures (and his two times table) like anyone else. (For more on that, click here.) Psalms 1 and 119 are prophetic about Christ in this regard, because he loves the law of his Father more than anyone ever could or ever will and shows it in his obedience. To love it, he had to know it and that meant study - lots of study. At least 10,000 hours! ;-)

Now it needs to be stated that this is all an argument from silence and I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, but the question remains: is Bradford wrong or is he helping to cut through some of our sentimental myth making about blond haired, blue-eyed, meek and mild boy Jesus?

I personally think he is onto something, but then you may prove me otherwise.

Comments are open...!


Monday, 12 April 2010

Should A Wife Take Her Husband's Surname?

At our church evening meeting yesterday we had, amongst other things, a Q and A session on what the Bible says the roles of men and women in marriage should be, led by Sean and Liz. Do listen to that when it goes up on the website later this week. It was quality stuff.

One of the questions went something like this: Is there a verse in the Bible which specifically demands a woman to take on the family name of her husband?

Sean asked me if I knew of any verses, so I got thinking and here's my two pennies worth.

Like Sean said, as far as I am aware, there's no verse in the Bible that commands a woman take on the name of her husband, but then at over 31,000 verses I'm not such an authority on the Bible that I would want to be categorical!

However, the world of the bible was clearly patrilineal, not matrilineal and so it was assumed that the father's name would be preserved and the mother's lost.

The pattern is given that the woman takes on the identity of her husband. He doesn't go to be with her, she goes to be with him. Even in times of great upheaval that principle didn't change.

The reason is not because the woman is somehow less than the man, but because, as Sean rightly said last night, marriage is a symbol of the story of Christ and the church. Christ doesn't get taken under the Church's wing, the Church comes under Christ's. A good Old Testament picture of this is the way Boaz and Ruth get it together.

Christ does not inherit the name of the Church, rather the Church inherits the name of Christ.

I don't feel at liberty to say that a Christian woman must take on the name of her husband, but given the weight of the Biblical precedent, I think there would need to be exceptional circumstances at play, before a bucking of the trend is considered.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

What Would Be Your Definition of the Bible In One Sentence?

How would you answer the following question in one sentence?

What is the bible?

In my time I have heard things like:

It's God's Word
It's a hand book for life.
Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth

The first one is true, but it uses in house language that can lead to confusion. Moreover, Muslims use the same title for the Qur'an.

The second two, whilst not wrong in themselves, leave you with the notion that it's all about you - something the Pharisees would enjoy reading.

So what do we say? Is there a definition that is exclusively Christian that doesn't tie us up in knots of clauses and sub clauses?

Here's my starter for 10:

The Bible is God the Father's testimony about the excellence of his Son, given to us through the Holy Spirit.

From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, it's all about Jesus.

Any comments or advances?

PS Thanks Dave for putting me onto this. :-)

Saturday, 10 April 2010

April Top Reads

Whilst scooting to and from Paris this week, I read a helpful little book called God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. It's only 166 pages and not only is the print big, but lots of those pages are taken up with diagrams, and bible study question and answer spaces. So a distracted reader like me could really feel they were making good progress!

It seeks to plot the storyline of the Bible all the way through from Gen 1 - Rev 22.

Whilst the information in the book was not new to me, I did find Roberts' charts, diagrams and memory hooks most helpful and they certainly helped to clarify and solidify my own understanding of the whole! Those who have to listen to me preach or lead the Biblical thinking forums will be grateful to Roberts for this.

Also, the Pyrenees may be off and enquiries are being made instead for a possible trip to South Sudan.

To get myself in the mood, I've started reading the whopping 680-page-tiny-print-and-very-few-pictures Scramble for Africa by Thomas Pakenham.

It's like a ripping yarn adventure book for grown ups, but it really did happen. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Once Again, It's Not About You First.

Jesus told many parables.

If you're like me, you're so quick to assume that he's teaching us about what we have to do, that like me, you don't listen properly.

Let's take an example. Have a look at the first 90secs of this video:

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like one who finds buried treasure or a pearl of great price. When they find it, they are overjoyed and sell everything they have in order to get it.

If you're like me, you immediately jump to the conclusion that the parable is about you and that when we hear the Gospel, we have to do lots of good biblically moral things to prove we mean business with God. In other words, this parable is a call to ultimate discipleship.

Good. Thank you. Right next parable please...

But wait, let's ponder a little further to see what the spiritually impetuous eye misses...

The parable talks first of the Father, who seeing in eternity past a pearl of great price, a treasure, in the church, rejoiced and gave everything he had for it, even his very own son.

It talks second about Jesus, who also willingly gave everything he had, even his very own life to gain this same treasure, that the Father and Son might together enjoy this treasure in the fellowship of the Spirit.

One of the clues that it's about the Father and the Son first is the location of the treasure and the pearl. The pearl is under water and the treasure is under ground. Both of these are symbols of death - the ultimate loss. The Trinity experiences death (death meaning cut off from fellowship with the Trinity not non-existence as we mistakenly think) in order to obtain this treasure, this pearl.

Only then, does the church come into view. The Church, the physical presence of Christ on the earth, inhabited by the Holy Spirit of God and caught up into the divine community of the Trinity. Likewise, she now cannot help but joyfully give up her life for the completion of this great treasure.

It's less a moral command to the Church and more a natural overflow. Those who are in Christ (the Church) and therefore full of the Spirit of Christ, cannot help but be like Christ. The branch cannot but bear fruit.

So what's the application of this parable?

Be in awe of the self-giving Trinitarian God and in symmetry follow Jesus to death. That's all.

Every other application is not worthy of you, and more seriously, it degrades the work of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Meditation: Hope, But Not As We Know It.

It's funny how in our more optimistic moments, both as individuals and as a race, we long for love, glory and freedom, yea even, immortality, but in our heart of hearts, we don't see how it's possible to have them all together.

What's more, if we have any hope of gaining any of those things, we can only conceive of obtaining them in a win-lose context.

What I mean is this: if I win, then you have to lose, or if you win, I have to lose. In this world it is always about winners and losers, never winners and winners. The rich get rich off the mistreatment of the poor. Glory for one means anonymity for another. Love for one, means rejection for another. Freedom for one means restrictions for another. Life for one, means death for another.

And what little we win in this win-lose life,
we lose in the end if we have not Christ.

The final duel in the matrix is a classic example of the limits of our most altruistic win-lose brand of thinking:

As an aside, the Matrix trilogy has lots of religious imagery, including Christian imagery. It even has has echoes of the gospel as mentioned before, but it's essentially Taoist in philosophy and therefore satanic in origin. I do like the way Neo becomes Agent Smith and in so doing, destroys him. In the same way, Jesus became sin and in so doing destroyed its power.

Neo saves the people, but he loses his own life in the process. From life inside the cage of this world, the highest moral good we can conceive is the win-lose kind - benefitting others at cost to ourselves - allowing others to win whilst we lose. Remembrance Sunday - when we remember those who paid the ultimate price to preserve the freedoms we enjoy, is perhaps the best real world example of this.

Jesus breaks in from outside the cage of this world and announces himself as a win-win saviour. Yes, he became on the cross, for three hours, the most sinful man who ever lived, and yes, in that 3hr window he soaked up the wrath of God for human rebellion and the curse that rebellion brought on the whole creation, but when it was all over, when the divine fury was spent, he went back to being the beloved Son. He passed through death to life.

At the resurrection, the Holy Spirit declared the Father's approval of the Son by raising him from the dead. In this sense, Jesus is justified - declared righteous. None of that sin, laid on him at the cross, stuck. None of the devil's accusations and temptations stuck.

Many a soldier has died only to lose his dream of a better life to another. Jesus is not like that. He died, but because he was perfect, he has been raised, and will rightfully enjoy the thing for which he died. That dear friends, is the kind of hope the world does not know.

All those who give their lives to him, will enjoy that same win-win delight, after passing through death. Christian hope is not for a place in the sun in this win-lose life, but for a place with the Son in the win-win next.

There's a place for you if you want it. Dare you take hold of a hope like this?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Easter Meditation: Jesus Ain't No Rambo In Hell

Have you ever come across Rambo Jesus, like the one in this bit of drivel?

Of course, we can all watch that clip and laugh at how ridiculous it is, but when we aren't saturated in the words of the Bible, we can fall into the worldly kind of assumption that the real battles between good and evil go on somewhere else in an unseen spiritual realm.

You're that kind of Rambo-Jesus Christian if you think that after Jesus physically died, he then had to endure a second battle: going down into Hell for round 2, being beaten up by Satan and his cronies, before eventually getting his head together and wrestling his way out smack-down style. There are two dangerous and related assumptions in this view:
  • Salvation was not won at the cross but at the cross + huge cosmic battles in the unseen realm.
  • That the primary reason Jesus suffered was to ransom us from the power of Satan.
The first statement is untrue, because Jesus said so. His declaration from the cross: It is finished means exactly what it says... It's finished. Nothing left to do. Had it not been finished, he could not then have said Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit. The curtain of the temple was torn in two as he died, not some time after he had supposedly Rambo-ed out of Hell. The only reason Satan had power over humans was because humans rebelled against God, as soon as Jesus had dealt with the offence of that rebellion, Satan's power was gone and he was ridiculed - at the cross.

The second statement is untrue because Satan is not the human race's biggest problem, the wrath of God is. Jesus did not suffer to release us from Satan's clutches, but to release us from the awful prospect of the judgment of God falling on our heads for not obeying him. The cross is primarily a work of God for God.

The Father, Son and Spirit have all been monstrously offended by human rebellion, but rather than wiping out all of creation, they, all three, go to work to make amends. At the cross, the community of God lovingly and justly deal with human wickedness between themselves.

The outcome of this is that they can now freely declare armistice and show mercy and kindness to all who come humbly to them...

Both of those views are wrong because the primary reason Jesus suffered was to save us from the wrath of God. Satan and the occult are not mankind's biggest problem. The wrath of God is for our spurning of him.

When Jesus was in anguish in Gethsemane, it wasn't because he was about to go one on one with the Prince of Darkness, rather, he was about to experience the full fury of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the sinfulness of the human race.

The Cross is an event in the life of God where God the Son soaks up the wrath of all three of them - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that all three of them can enjoy fellowship with a redeemed humanity. The ransom is paid to God, not Satan, because was God who had been wronged not Satan.

Once he had born that wrath on the cross - a place of both physical and spiritual torment (in the bible there is no division between spiritual and physical they are one) he cried It is finished. It was done and he could sleep in peace, and wait for Sunday morning...

It was ALL finished at the cross.

And as the Jews rested on the Sabbath after Jesus died, so too Jesus the ultimate law keeper, rested from his travail.

Like a seed planted in the ground waiting to sprout and multiply, so Jesus was laid in the tomb in peace waiting for resurrection morning, the first day of the Jewish working week, when he would begin gathering to himself a people who love him and then one day to renew the whole universe.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

A Tale of Two Gardens

Consider the contrast between two different kinds of human: Adam and Christ.

Adam was placed in a perfect garden, Eden. There was no need to weed or work hard to make sure it produced an abundant harvest. Every animal submitted to his authority and he had the company of a foxy chick with whom he could enjoy it all and spread the love!

So when the Lord God said Just keep your hands off this particular tree. You'd be forgiven for thinking that was a simple thing to do. However, it proved an impossible task for Adam, who had the whole world open to him, yet driven by desire, chose to focus on the one thing he had been denied. We have lived under the fallout of that ever since.

Fast forward a few thousand years to another garden, Gethsemane. Here is another man, Jesus Christ:

(As an aside, I love the way the film writers echo the sentiments of the Psalms here for truly, the Psalms speak prophetically of Jesus, first.)

Surrounded by darkness, anxious in his flesh, misunderstood by his friends, persecuted by his enemies and tempted by the devil. In short, the whole world caving in on Jesus and yet he himself does not cave in.

Consider the contrasts between the two men:

Adam is in comfort. Jesus is in distress.
Adam has no right to disobey. Jesus has no need to suffer.
Adam is driven by selfish desire. Jesus is driven by self-giving love.

Jesus came to create a (re)new(ed) humanity, not improve a decaying and dying one. A humanity born of the Spirit of God, not the decision (or unforeseen misadventure for that matter) of any man and woman.

That's why those who love Jesus aren't looking for the restoration of the old order - Eden, or the creation of utopia (man's efforts to overcome the curse), those goals are too small. No, we look for the revelation of an altogether New Earth - the home of true perfection and peace. The home of God and their people.

Will you be there?