Reflections on Covid-19

It was Saturday morning. In fact it was Holy Saturday, a religious day that my particular flavour of the Christian faith doe not put much recognition into. In fact so little recognition that I struggle to dredge the depths of my memories to recall if I have ever even heard it referred to. I have concluded for brevity that I have not.

Holy Saturday is a much more recognised holy day in the established churches such as the Church of England. I am pentecostal by birth. And by that I mean “born again” birth, John 3:16 birth.

And none of that really matters about what I am wanting to mention in this post simply because on this particular Saturday, Karen and I had taken the dog for a walk and was planning on stopping at the local shop just down the road from where we live to get a few essentials in.

Now the astute amongst you who are reading this soon after I posted it will understand that this was the Saturday morning of 2020’s Easter weekend (I really do hate that term, Easter). It was the Holy Saturday that will be unlike any that most of us have experienced ever before and God willing ever will again, because it was in the throes of the Covid-19 lock down and things were not normal.

To that point I had worked form home for a total of 5 weeks. Karen had been sent home from work for the past three weeks and we had been holding church meetings via YouTube and Zoom. Social distancing was in force (even though the WHO wanted everyone to stop using the phrase social distancing), and we were not allowed to go about our daily lives in the free manner that we were all used to because Covid-19 was, and at the time of writing, still is, running rampant!

We, that is Karen and I were doing our bit for the NHS and staying at home save, for the odd essential visit to the supermarket, as allowed by Government decree, and for a bit of daily exercise, the two things in this instance that we married together.

The fort thing that hit me, bearing in mind this is only a local shop, was the 30 plus minute wait we had outside as the staff studiously only allowed two customers in at a time. We had arrived clearly at a busy point in the day!

But as we stood, and smiled at passers by some of whom joined the queue behind us, as they took the wide sweep mostly into the carriageway of the road to avoid the line of would be customers to the local shop, I got to thinking.

There are many lessons that will come out of this stint of lock down many lessons in society, for the Government, for us individually, for the church and I suspect it will be a period oft referred to in sermons from the pulpit in months and years to come.

But what may we learn from it now?

The reason we are in local down is because in order to fight the virus the Government has imposed the rules on us using legislation. An urgent Act of Parliament was passed and now those who are selfish enough to ignore the rules can be fined for doing so. There is a penalty for breaking the rules.

There is a clear Gospel message in this, but that is not where I want to go.

What I started thinking was how we are all going to feel when this is over. When we are free again to visit family, when we are free again to go to church and meet in our Life Groups, and church services.

Imagine for a moment the feeling of relief and joy and happiness and well, you think of the rest……

We will once again be able to hold our relatives in our arms, our grandchildren can give us loads of cuddles again, we will be able to hug brothers and sisters in Jesus name we will be able to simply pop down to the shop and buy none essential things when we want to rather than having to think about getting everything in one visit (per week) if you are sticking to the rules.

Pause and think forward to that time.

What a picture of Salvation this is.

The Old Testament has a lot of laws, rules and regulations in it. (Not as many as some people think, but it has a lot). These rules and regulations are there for a purpose, (for many actually), but one of the main purposes of those rules, regulations and laws is to demonstrate to us that God loves us and rather then wanting to take our freedom and joy, and happiness away, he wants us to live within certain parameters that will make us safe. Or more accurately make His chosen people safe, be those chosen ones native born Jews or people adopting the Jewish faith as their own.

You see laws and rules are essentially there to keep us safe from harm.

So life is possible under these rules, regulations and laws, as evidenced by the Jewish nation, in just the same way that life is possible under the current lockdown as a result of Covid-19, and please do not get me wrong I realise that it is easier for some and much harder for others, but the truth of the matter is that life is possible, because we are living it.

The rules and regulations bring their own sets of problems and issues, there is no doubt about it, but they place a restriction on us. Shopping, once a week for essentials only. Is one of them. Not been able to go and sunbath in the local park is another, not meeting up with friends, family and workmates except through the internet is another and there are many many more.

But life is possible.

However, what joy, what relief, what happiness there will be when Boris eventually gets on his podium and tells us the restrictions are lifted.

And so it is like this in the New Testament, in the New Covenant made possible through Jesu and the sacrifice he made on the Cross. Pertinent given it is the weekend Chrstinedom is celebrating this very event.

What joy, what happiness, what peace the new believer (and hopefully us older ones) experience when we realise that our sins are forgiven and that we are “free” in Christ. Free to worship, free to love, free to not keep the religious ceremonial laws of the OT. A freedom that is rooted in life and life eternal, free from the curse of sin, free from the consequences of sin.

So perhaps take time to think on this a little. We take our freedom for granted until such a time as it is taken away form us or restricted in some way.

The believer can take their freedom fro granted. If that is you, pause and remember what it was like before you met Jesus and what you have gained since then and thank God afresh for it.

And any unbelievers reading this, pause please and think how it might be. Compare the restrictions of the Lockdown to the freedom of movement you will have when the lockdown is finished and try to imagine this magnified 10,000 times and more if you compare your life not knowing Jesus to knowing Jesus -Probably impossible so let me encourage you, take that step, ask Jesus into your life and experience it for yourself.

Passover 2020

Have any of you considered what/if there is anything to be learned from our lockdown situation?

Tonight at sundown Passover starts for our Jewish friends and one of the criteria imposed on the Israelites that first Passover once they had daubed the door posts with the blood of the lamb was to stay indoors.

Maybe, and this is simply a thought that I have not fully worked through yet, we might take something from our lockdown and our celebration of the risen Jesus on Sunday.

Do we feel any connection?
Do we achieve a deeper understanding of that first Passover?
Can we achieve a deeper connection between Passover and the weekend that we erroneously call Easter?

I don’t know the answer to these questions and there will be others that pop into your mind but maybe go read about the exodus afresh and let Gods Spirit speak into your life.

Jesus Clears the Temple

Matthew 21:12-17
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”
And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Soon after Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey we get this story.

Again it is a popular part of the narrative in the events of Holy Week and one of the events that Messers Lloyd Webber and Rice dramatise well in their musical re-telling of the Holy Week story. Their interpretation of the theology is rubbish but for entertainment its enjoyable enough!

Anyway, what is it that stands out for you when you read this passage?

Maybe it’s the violence of the act? In one version from the pother gospels Jesus forms a whip to assist Him in his cleansing of the temple, so this is no polite and orderly request for the traders and customers to vacate.

Maybe it’s the healings. There is probably much that can be gleaned from this, much sermon material about how the traders were there to profit and possible “con” the customers, yet Jesus freely gives of His power and Love? Maybe!

Maybe it’s the reference to the OT by Jesus a little odd maybe of Matthew to have reimbursed this part of the speech when and I think it is Luke who recounts that Jesus the disciples recalled that the OT makes reference to “zeal for thy house shall consume him” (I paraphrase so please don’t criticise me too much). To my simple mind the zeal quote is much more apt to the situation, but hey, there must be a reason why Matthew here recounts these words of Jesus.

What stand out to me, presently at least, is the contrast between the words fo the author, “the many wonderful things that he did” against the attitude of the religious leaders of the time “they were indignant”.

What if anything can we learn from this?

In our men’s bible study on Saturday mornings (at 7:00 pm Saturday mornings when there is no lockdown or at 7:30 online at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic ask me for mor details if you are interested in joining in), we looked this week, in part, at spiritual pride. Or knowledge that puffs up.

The leaders here clearly were suffering from a big dose of that! Here was Jesus doing many wonderful things. Healing, blessing giving sight to the blind, helping the lame to walk and probably lots of other things as well, and all the leaders could do was look on indignantly!

HOWEVER, before we get on our own moral/spiritual high horses, I encourage you, and me (because if you didn’t realise this by now, most of what I write in these posts are actually for my own edification and if they speak to or bless you then that is a bonus), let us pause and take time to consider how many times have I looked indignantly upon a brother (or sister) and in my mind have though “pah” or worse?

To be brutally honest far too many times.

So now, I am going to take myself off to a quiet place and think on this a little I hope I come out the other end a better person.

The Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21:1-10,
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”

Mark 11:1-11
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Luke 19:29-44
When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

John 12:12-19
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Above are the 4 Gospel accounts of the events of what have ben known as Palm Sunday throughout the Christian era. I have fond memories of sitting in Sunday school classes, green wax crayon in hand vigorously colouring in a pre-printed palm leaf ready to celebrate through re-enactment of the entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. At that time it all meant very little to me and the hastily coloured in “palm” leaf was quickly relegated to the rubbish within days of returning home.

Little did I realise those days that there were 4 accounts of this event, one in each of the Gospels, and for your ease of reference I have reproduced them above. Can I ask you to take the time to prayerfully read them through each maybe even a few times and digest and see the variations on the accounts.

What is interesting about this particular event is that it is one of the few that is recorded within all four Gospels. We know that there is an over-lap between them all but there are few incidents recorded that are recorded in all 4 accounts. Oftentimes John leaves out much of what is in the other three but this event was so significant that all four Gospel writers felt compelled to include it.

Let me encourage you to prayerfully meditate on why that was so.
Clearly the principle reason is that this event marks the beginning of the end of Jesus mission for coming in the first place. Jesus could see the cross at the end of this week, He knew that this would be the last time that He would visit Jesus before the mission parameters were completed and He knew the mighty mountain that he was to climb for yours and my salvation.

Notice how the three synoptic Gospels specify that Jesus was approaching Bethany and Bethpage near Jerusalem. John on the other hand was only interested in informing us that Jesus was on the approach to Jerusalem, why do you think Johns account appears “less accurate” that the others?

When we read the differing in accounts of the Gospels we need to understand that the writers had different primary reasons for writing their “versions” of the events and the likes of Luke was using the first hand sources available to him at the time when composing his account. Interestingly it appears that Luke who wasn’t present when these events took place (unlike Matthew, Mark Peter and John who were followers of Jesus), makes a longer account from the various sources he uses.

But parking this as interesting as these things are the question I want to pose is what are these accounts about?

Yes they are about Jesus entry into Jerusalem!


Yes they are about a miracle in that Jesus foreknew that there would be a colt standing waiting for him to use and that the colts owners would be amenable to letting the colt go off with the disciples!


Yes it is about the fulfilment of prophecy – even the intentional fulfilment of ancient prophesy by Jesus – I think we need to understand that just because there are critics out there that will “argue” Jesus sought to fulfil some of the OT prophesies about Him, that argument does not invalidate the fulfilment of those prophecies in any way whatsoever. This is potentially a whole separate subject that a whole article can be devoted to, but suffice it to say here and now, this miracle is no less a miracle for the appearance that Jesus may have “self-fulfilled” it)!

What I would like to draw attention to is that whilst these passages are clearly about all the things listed above and probably more, they are principally about showing, even proving who Jesus truly is to the people of the day.

Fulfilment of the Jeremiah prophecy (9:9) is a significant event. Apart from the first century backdrop of Roman occupation and that the Jewish nation was looking for a “saviour” that would rise up as a political and/or military leader and kick the Romans out of their land, the idea that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in such a significant manner, was a key indicator to them that whoever entered the capitol city like that was making claim to be Gods chosen one.

Can I encourage you to meditate prayerfully on the significance of this. We tend to look in these verses at the story of the donkey, as if the story is about that, or we concentrate on the contrast that we see in the crowds reactions in a short space of time and how all these people worshipping Jesus soon turned on Him, or we tend to concentrate on the fulfilment of the Zechariah prophesy, all of which to various degrees are important elements of this event in Jesus life.

But let us also take time to consider the implications of this whole event. Jesus here is clearly marking himself out through the nature of his mode of transport to be The Messiah, it is one if not the only time he allows public worship/adoration of His earthly self or at least the only time it is recorded for us.

The spontaneous reaction of the crowds, was this inspired by the Holy Spirit? Was it a natural reaction to the circumstances of celebrating the Passover for which they were all in Jerusalem for, and that reports of Jesus’ miracles prior to His arrival at Jerusalem? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but what I do know is that in the clearest possible way, at least to the first century Jew, was that He was proclaiming to be The Messiah!

We know that His subsequent resurrection emphatically proved this claim but back then? Well they were reacting in faith. How much more should we, in faith, worship and glorify our King, Lord, brother, master and God.

As we move into Holy Week let em encourage you to read carefully the accounts of this week and to be fed spiritually by them and to share, especially in these times of lockdown, with those who you are in contact with and who may themselves be looking for answers.

Words again…………

The Words That We Use

Language is important. It is one of the many things that separate us from the animal kingdom. We might share something like 99% of DNA with our ape friends but that 1% or so difference is what matters. It allows us to communicate complex ideas using a complex code called language. It even allows us to create many hundreds of these codes so that as you traverse the globe we call Earth, you can pick up on a cacophony of language. Being able to utilise words means that we can paint pictures in our imaginations that, if done right, can be more vivd and spectacular than even the best paintings. We can convey the experiences that we have had in our lives to others so that they can share them with us and if stimulated enough go out and get their own version of that experience.

Politicians use words and language to convey promises to us and convince us why we should vote or follow them. (Ahem). Words are powerful things, and I suspect we should take more care than we do in how we use them.

One aspect of words and the way we use them that I find interesting is their origins. It is why I have a Strong’s Hebrew and Greek concordance installed on my Bible reader App. I can go to the original word in a particular scripture and look up its original meaning or the root word from which the word used by the writer originated. It well worth the investment if you have any inclination towards in-depth Bible study and can help open up whole new meanings of Gods word to you.

I am also intrigued by the origin of words that we use in everyday life today. one example, merely to illustrate the point you understand is something like the word “bender” or more accurately its use in sentences such as “They went on a bender”. Now for the benefit of all you good clean living Christian people out there who may not be aware, such a phrase is often used to describe the experience of going out and drinking excessive amounts of alcoholic beverage. (How do I know this? Google is such a wonderful source of information if used correctly!) Ahem.

Anyway, the use of the word in a certain context gives it a totally different meaning to what one may find in the dictionary. (Although Chambers English Dictionary does have this definition in it as it’s second definition for the word Bender and identifies it as a slang term). What this shows however is that language is an ever-changing evolving beast!

So what? Well I have referred in other posts to the power of words and Saint John’s use of the term The Word in relation to Jesus, so I will not repeat that here. But I am intrigued with how we use certain words as believers without a second thought. The two main ones that I think of that we use in daily lives without a second thought are “lucky” & “fortunate”.

No big deal I hear you say? (Well I don’t actually hear you say, but I do have this image in my mind’s eye of you shrugging your shoulders in disappointment (Possibly)). What of it? Well I was wondering, why as believers in God and Jesus specifically we constantly fall back on the usage of these words in our daily lives. After all, luck and fortune have nothing to do with our situation at all.

Turning to our trusty dictionary once again it defines these words thus:

luck /luk/ noun

• Fortune

• Good fortune

• An object with which a family’s fortune is supposed to be bound up

ORIGIN: Prob LGer or Du luk; cf Ger Glück prosperity

[Chambers Dictionary (iOS) © Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.]

And Fortune it defines Thus:

• Whatever comes by lot or chance

• Luck

• The arbitrary ordering of events

• The lot that falls to one in life

• A prediction of one’s future

• Success

• A great accumulation of wealth

• A large amount of money (informal)

• An heiress (obsolete)

• intransitive verb (obsolete)

• To befall

• transitive verb (obsolete)

• To determine the fortune of

• forˈtunate adjective

• Happening by good fortune

• Lucky

• Auspicious

• Felicitous

• forˈtunately adverb

• In a fortunate way, by good luck

• I’m glad to say or happy to report

[Chambers Dictionary (iOS) © Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.]

But what of it? You may be asking yourself once again. Well the Bible teaches us that all good things proceed from God. And what do we know about God? That He is omniscient and omnipresent. The He “foreknows” everything. So for the believer chance, luck and good fortune has nothing to do with us. God is in control, anything good that befalls us He knows about it beforehand, anything bad that befalls us He knows about it beforehand, anything of an indifferent nature that befalls us, He knows about it beforehand.

What we have are God’s promises, such as

2 Corinthians 1:20

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 9:8

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Peter 1:3

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Psalms 9:10

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Psalms 37:25

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.

Romans 5:17

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Philippians 1:19

for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.

AND of course the famous Romans verses:

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

I could go on but I think this selection of verses from The Bible shows that we are in safe hands and do not have to rely on things such as luck, we are not lucky, neither are we fortunate, but we are blessed!

Its a small thing in many respects but in my everyday life I try not to use words such as lucky or fortunate, instead I try to use blessed.

Why?

Because in today’s world it is different. People don’t expect to be blessed, they expect to be lucky. They do the lottery in the hope they are lucky enough to guess the 6 numbers necessary to win the jackpot. They go to Bingo in the hope that they are fortunate enough to get a full house. They place a bet on the Horses or the dogs, hoping that the form of the animal and it’s past performance with their own judgement will make it lucky enough for them to win. People hope that they will be lucky enough not to be victim to crime, or be fortunate enough not to fall ill or catch some incurable disease, they hope that their lot in life will be a pleasant one, that any coincidences they experience will be happy ones, that they will not befall to any accidents that might hurt or injure them.

But we, those of us who are brothers and Sisters in Christ, we have so much more. Re-read those scriptures above if you need to. We have Gods provision, we have God’s promises, We have God’s blessing, we have God’s strength and we have God’s word to guide and teach us. How BLESSED are we?

My hope, my prayer is that in just this small way, if I use a term like “I am blessed” it will raise a question in someone’s mind. It will make their ear’s prick up in interest, it will drive them to ask more about being blessed and subsequently the faith that I have in our great God that provide’s for all my needs. A bit like the mighty Oak that grows from the tiny Acorn, we should look to these small ways that can and I pray, do make a difference.

Job 1v1

Today’s post is from the notes that I used when I was asked to speak at the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary in 2018.

Our church takes the service in the chapel at the HRI twice a year and it is my privilege at the moment to speak into this place at the times we do take it.

I often will rely on something that God has spoken to me through and this time we had been studying Job in our Saturday morning mens bible studies. Job is an Old Testament book that I find fascinating.

Many scholars consider it to be one of the oldest books written, pre-dating the Books of Moses and probably known by Abraham.

If this is in fact the case, it is interesting because it testifies to a deep knowledge of God within mankind well before the Law was given to Moses and supports ails contention in Romans Chapter 1 that mankind is without excuse because God has revealed Himself to us in creation and depending upon how we respond to that, will depend on how God will respond to us. It also helps in a deeper understanding of the great hall fo faith chapter in Hebrews chapter 11.

The book of Job is an epic poem and the last few verses where God speaks into Jobs situation are epic in themselves and offer a deep spiritual insight into the nature and Character of our creator God. These chapters where God speaks are made even more dramatic when one reads them after to toning a froing between Job and his supposed friends.

Anyway the reading is short, the notes are short but I hope that they help your interest in this most amazing of books . Ancient it certainly is. Relevant it certainly is. Thought provoking defiantly, challenging yes. A blessing simply put yes. Read enjoy and be blessed.

Job 1:1-5

Job

A Man Devoted to God

Job was a man who lived in Uz. He was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion. He had seven sons and three daughters. He was also very wealthy—seven thousand head of sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a huge staff of servants—the most influential man in all the East!

His sons used to take turns hosting parties in their homes, always inviting their three sisters to join them in their merrymaking. When the parties were over, Job would get up early in the morning and sacrifice a burnt offering for each of his children, thinking, “Maybe one of them sinned by defying God inwardly.” Job made a habit of this sacrificial atonement, just in case they’d sinned.

This morning I want to concentrate on Verse 1:

The English Standard Version puts verse 1 like this:

Job 1:1

Job’s Character and Wealth

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

One of the amazing things that I have found about the Bible is that there is so much we can glean about the Character of God, Man and God’s expectations of us. And oftentimes we can learn so much from just one verse. Job Chapter 1 Vs. 1 is I believe one such verse.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

Verse 1: There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.

What does this tell us straight away?

The story took place in a geographic Location Uz, even though we may not be sure of the exact location of Uz today. God knew where Job was, God was looking out for Job.

The story is a personal one. It is not just about a man, but is about a man called Job

Thus, God’s dealings are personal – Why is this important? Because God wants to deal with each and every one of us on a personal level. You me, the person sitting next to you, the person in the next bed, everyone on this planet is important to God and He knows each of us by name.

The God of the Bible is a personal God.

Blameless, Upright, Feared God and Turned from Evil – What an amazing epitaph that would be!

What does each of these indicate about Jobs character?

BLAMELESS: Some versions use perfect, but blameless is a better translation of the word. It does not mean sinless, there has only ever been one sinless man and that Was Jesus Christ, and indeed it cannot mean that Job was sinless as he confesses himself at 13:26 the iniquities of his youth.

Fundamentally this speaks of authenticity before God. Whilst still someone who failed from time to time, he knew that his standing before a righteous God was right. He confessed his sins, his wrong doings his failures and maintained his relationship with his creator, even to the point of offering sacrifices on behalf of his children whom he feared might slight the name of God.

UPRIGHT: Speaks of his relationships with others. He is seen to be upright, straightforward, not doubleminded, honest, Genuine?

Job 31:13-23 is Job testimony to the effect of his dealing with other people go away and read it at your leisure.

DO you know anyone who is genuine? When you do come across such people you find that you can trust them, they are authentic, what you see is what you get. They are not hiding anything, they do not have an hidden agenda, they look out for others needs, oftentimes at the sacrifice of their own needs. This is what it is to be blameless before God.

The two greatest commandments are Love the Lord your God with All your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul, and Love your neighbour as yourself. A blameless person seeks to fulfil both those commandments above all others.

FEARED GOD: We don’t know how much Job knew about God, especially if we understand that these events occurred pre-Moses and the Law but there is a sense where that is un-important. What is important? If we don’t realize it yet you will if you continue to read the book of Job, that whoever Job was, whatever his ethnic origin, which is probably not Hebrew/Jewish, Job knew God! Is there a lesson here for us today that its not what we know about God that is vital but that we know Him?

As you read through Job, you will observe that Job believed God was Sovereign, Just and had the power to run the world the way God saw fit, marked by justice and fairness.

TURNED FROM EVIL: Jobs character is marked by daily repentance, habitual turning from evil in thought and deed and word. The sacrifices we read about that he made on behalf of his children all point to this. Not only did he watch out for evil in his own life and turn from it, he also petitioned God on behalf of those he loved.

Job is thus not perfect, but he is bracketed together with Noah and Daniel In Ezekiel 14:14 “Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in a land, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness”

These men all lived prior to the coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, so what was the nature of their righteousness? Good works, observance of the Law? They probably did these thing in abundance but it was their faith that made them righteous.

If you do not have faith yet in Jesus Christ, you can turn to him now where you are in whatever situation you find yourself and ask Him to make Himself known to you

Solomon’s Wisdom

The Wisdom of Solomon.

Imagine the scene, the Queen of Sheba had heard of the the wisdom of this Hebrew king. I suspect it started with the odd comment here and there in her royal courts, her officials who would trade with travelling merchants might have picked up snippets of information, stories told and re-told about how this king could give answers to any dilemma put to him. I imagine the story of the two prostitutes arguing over the baby and whose the baby was, was rampant throughout trade routes between Israel and the rest of the then known world. But the queen, she would keep her own counsel for many a long period. Listening to the stories, the tales that were been told of this Solomon, reputed to be the wises man alive!

Now bear in mind back then there was no mass media, no newspaper, no telegraph, no radio, no TV, no telephone, no internet, no e-mail, no instant messenger. It would have taken time for the reputation of Solomon to grow and become so great that the queen of another kingdom could no longer bear the mystery of it all and decided to set of on a journey to meet this man of such fame and basically test him!

Imagine it, a foreign dignitary arriving with all the pomp and circumstance that could be mustered at the time. I’m sure that as Solomon stood in the windows of his recently completed palace he would have seen the dust cloud first, the sand of the desert volatile in the air as the queen and her entourage disturbed the dusty sand drawing inexorably closer to the great city of Jerusalem. He would have stood and watched as his courtiers prepared for the visiting queen, making sure that the palace was impeccable, they after all would not have wanted to let their king down.

The Queen, I am sure would have been impressed, after all the world had not seen such a magnificent temple dedicated to any god built like this before and Solomon’s palace would have been second only to the temple in its magnificence and grandeur. I’m sure whilst on the outside she would have kept her feelings hidden she must have felt a jolt of excitement that at least on face value the stories of Solomon’s wealth were not exaggerated. But she had come, bearing gifts, to test his wisdom. And test it she would!

Following her arrival she questioned him exhaustively until as the Bible records:

1 Kings 10:1-5 (ESVST)

Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.

Then she concludes:

1 Kings 10:6-7 (ESVST)

And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.

Now those words are a study in themselves there is much to plunder them about seeing and believing and listening to the testimony of others, but that is not what I want to draw out in this post.

Rather I want to ask a question.

What was Solomon’s wisest act or decision?

Was it writing all those wonderful nuggets of wisdom in the proverbs?

Or maybe the writing of the greatest love poem ever written in Song of Songs?

Was it the recorded incident of the two prostitutes arguing over the baby? Solomon realised that there was no way of deciding which of the two was telling the truth from the way they were talking to him in seeking his counsel. So Solomon suggested something which on face value could be seen as an act of exasperation.

Picture it, you have two, presumably highly emotional women arguing over something as precious as a new born baby. Neither is seeing reason, one because she is desperate, she has lost her baby to the other woman and desperately wants her child back. The other, presumably because she was a scheming devious woman who, even in a highly charged emotional state of post child birth and being responsible for her own babies death, was going all out for making sure she came away with a child!

I can imagine Solomon, looking first to one, then the other and eventually throwing his hands up in the air and blurting out in a loud voice:

“Okay, okay, okay, just shut up the two of you, I know what I will do, fetch me my sword and I’ll cut the baby in half and you can both leave me in peace and quiet with your own half of the baby.”

If this had happened I suspect there would have been stunned silence. After all this was the king speaking. The implications of the argument would have laid heavily on the mind and heart of the true mother of the baby and unlike the woman who had stolen the baby she relented and said no, give the baby to the other woman.

But you know I don’t think this is how it played out. Why? Because if it had Solomon’s words would have been borne out of his exasperation in the situation not his faith in God. Instead what I prefer to believe is that Solomon knew he was in an impossible position and so he asked God to guide him. And God gave him the words to say. But more importantly he also gave him the wisdom to analyse the resultant reactions and to make the wise decision that the true mother of the baby would not wish any harm to come to her child, even if it meant losing that child.

But even in this, the story that is recorded in the Bible as an example of Solomon’s wisdom I do not think was Solomon’s wisest act or decision. I think we have to go back further in Solomon’s history way back to the beginning of his reign. Before he had even really started in earnest to rule the people of Israel, Solomon uttered these words to God:

1 Kings 3:9 (ESVST)

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

This pleased God because despite his position of privilege Solomon asked for wisdom above all else. He did not think to feather his own nest or seek long life, he sought the wisdom to govern Gods people properly.

I think there is a principle here that we can all learn from. I think the same principle was uttered by Jesus in his words found in Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Put God first, others second and yourself last.

You see, I believe Solomon was putting God first because he knew he was being charged with ruling over Gods people and at this time in his life he really wanted to do it properly in accordance with Gods will. By default this put him in the position of putting others second, in Solomon’s case, the whole nation of Israel. And because he had not sought to ask God for riches, wealth or long life he was not thinking of himself or his own comforts.

I pray that through His grace, God can make me more like that.

Words; a follow-up

In an earlier post it seems that I may have hinted at doing another post which would expand upon a particular theme. The post was the one regarding the power and awesomeness of words, language and our ability to communicate. One of the readers email’d me thanking me for the post and saying they looked forward to the one I had hinted at in it.

Now I love feedback of any sort and I encourage you to feedback to me good, bad (maybe not so much of that eh?) or even indifferent comments, but in this instance I was a touch confused, (doesn’t take a lot I know). There I was, I had apparently hinted at doing something else and it had prompted someone to encourage me follow it up. Anyway I scoured the blog and found what I think this kind person was referring too. Buried in the bible study notes download from that blog was a reference to James Chapter 3. A challenging chapter if ever there was one!

To recap, the blog post emphasised the power and importance of language, words and speech. Maybe it is because I have relatively recently started this blog that words, language et al, are in the forefront of my mind. After all the blog would not be possible if I didn’t know English as a language (no rude remarks about my Black Country accent please! (I jest of course)), and if likewise you didn’t know English then our attempts at communicating like this would be made much more difficult.

It’s that aspect of Language that got me thinking about its importance and its relationship to God and voila you have my blog post about the subject. If you have not read it yet, go take a look it really is much more interesting than it sounds.

Anyway I took a look at James Chapter 3, because don’t you find it interesting that God in His infinite wisdom should decide that He was going to inspire the apostle James to pen those words?

I do.

Of all the subjects, in all the world, in all of history (that we as mankind have experienced) and in our wisdom that we might have decided are important enough to have a place in God’s written revelation of Himself to us, He chose the subject matter of our tongue! (That sentence is quite a mouthful and there was no pun intended there, I wrote it and had to go back and re-read it so you don’t stand much of a chance).

However, If it is important enough to God to put it in, then it must be important enough for us to take note. Here is the passage in question for your ease of reading:

James 3:1-12 (TNIV)

Taming the Tongue

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Those who are never at fault in what they say are perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by human beings, but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

You know, when I read this again I had one of those wake-up moments. Have you ever had them? I think as Bible believing Christians (is there really any other sort?), I think we should be having those ‘wake-up’ moments on a regular basis.

What do I mean by that?

Well as alluded to in my previous post, the method of God’s chosen communication to us is through His Word! (I’m not precluding any other method of God speaking to us in this statement, it is just that God has revealed His perfect will to us in The Bible). I read parts of it quite regularly, not as regularly as I should by any means but in my Christian walk I must have read The Bible several times over. Sometimes as a deliberate effort “from start to finish”, and almost certainly through the innumerable studies I have undertaken myself and through sermons and seminar events I have attended. Yet it still thrills me when I see some new thing, or God highlights something to me. Oftentimes it is something that I have read probably hundreds of times before, then, one day Wham! ( no not the sickly pop duo from the 1980’s, I mean proper Wham!). Like a bolt out of the blue something new hits you and the only proper reaction is to thank God that He reveals these things.

Ironically I wrote that last paragraph yesterday (that would be Saturday) and in this morning’s service at Church, Pastor Michael was talking about a similar thing as the basis for his sermon. He likewise could not get past the “Luke 22:15 (TNIV)

And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Verse and delivered an excellent and challenging sermon to us.

Anyway I digress, my “wake up” moment from this passage was the opening sentence. here it is:

“James 3:1 (TNIV)

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Have you seen that? Those who presume to be teachers will be judged more strictly. Now James here is not talking about all those wonderful hard working people who teach in our schools and colleges, he is talking, obviously, about teachers of Gods word.

So why this particular warning? Well as I emphasised in my previous post words are powerful. At the risk of repeating myself, in only 11 “God said’s” our material world was created. The Heavens in all their vast array, the planets and our sun, the sky, the hills and mountains, valleys, seas, oceans, lakes, rivers. Vegetation; like trees, grass, flowers, bushes. Animals; like cats, dogs, lions, mighty whales, and of course God’s crowning glory; Mankind. All of it was made through 11 “God said’s”. That is amazing. Well I think it is, what about you?

I also have a theory regarding words combined with music. That the setting of words to music amplifies their force and power. It is why we sing praises to God, it is why the Heavens declare their praises to God in song. Music moves our emotions, that affects our souls and we can have a negative or positive reaction to music and the words that songs contain that can either help or hinder our worship of God. (I will perhaps explore that one in more detail at another time).

So how does that apply to those who presume to be teachers of God’s word? Well Jesus understood the power of speech. He understood that those who teach have a responsibility. See here;

Matthew 18:6 (ESVST)

but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

And again:

Mark 7:6-8 (ESVST)

And he said to them, “ Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘ This people honours me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. ’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And again:

Luke 12:1-3 (ESVST)

Chapter 12

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “ Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

And Paul in writing to the Romans says;

Romans 2:21-22 (ESVST)

you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

I appreciate that we can cause people to sin in many and varied ways, but chiefly we communicate intentions, desires, deceits through language. I think this is why James is so vehement about the tongue. Have you noticed, he recognises that we praise and worship God using our tongue, by speaking, by using words, and that is a good thing to do, but that still does not stop him from using phrases such as:

James 3:6 (ESVST)

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

James 3:8 (ESVST)

but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Strong words indeed. The vehemence in James’ words should give us reason to pause, think, pray.

I exhort you to meditate on his words. Challenge yourself. Pray about what you say. What you say to other people, what you say in your heart, (think of), because even there you are using words and language to formulate ideas, and we all know that God sees even our hearts.

But to those of us who purport to teach have a special warning.

Why?

I am sure there are many reasons, including the “millstone” warning given by Jesus. But why does James single out teachers of Gods word for special mention? I believe the main reason relates to hypocrites. Let me explain.

In His earthly ministry Jesus talked a lot about the hypocrites of His day. It would be an understatement to say that He was not best pleased with them. They said one thing and did another. They told, led and exhorted others ‘to do this’, ‘to do that’ and then they themselves went and did exactly what they wanted to do or the opposite of what they had told other people to do. In simple terms God hates hypocrisy in all its forms. It is not honest, it is not truth, it is not good!

I don’t know about you, but I find this challenging.

Am I a hypocrite? Of course I am, after all only human. I sit here typing ‘lessons’ that I think we should listen too and how many times do I then not do the things in them that I am saying we all should do? I honestly do not know the answer to that one but I suspect that the number would be a lot higher than I would like to think. It is a challenge for me. It is a challenge for you. It should be a challenge for all of us all of the time.

Feel encouraged? I would be surprised if you are, because as I finish writing this I am feeling challenged, which is good. But I am also feeling a little despondent and I know where I am going with this, (it a bit like the stand-up comedian who can’t get to the end of his joke because he is laughing so much, his excuse is that he already knows the punch line!) So you might possibly be feeling worse than me at the moment?

Well, can we overcome this tendency towards hypocrisy? I believe we can and James gives us the answer too, and it is already given by the time we get to chapter 3. You see, James teaches us that we should evidence our faith by doing stuff. Good stuff. Helpful stuff. He says:

James 1:22 (ESVST)

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Challenging stuff. Do the things that the Bible, Gods word, Gods message, Gods communication to us, tells us to do. Why? Because if you don’t you are only deceiving yourself. Don’t get me wrong it is good to hear Gods word, it is good to listen to Gods word, it is good to read and meditate on Gods word. God knows I need to do more of that. But unless we act upon it we are no better than the hypocrites that Jesus described as white washed tombs!

But better than this, by doing Gods word we are demonstrating Him to a fallen and lost world. A world that is otherwise hurtling towards the very jaws of hell itself, one soul at a time. Let me leave you with another scripture that I believe underpins this, that takes any despondency we might have felt and elevates us into spiritual realms that cause us to move and take action and do things, here it is:

Romans 5:6-11 (ESVST)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (My emphasis).

God bless.

Words

They are one of the things that separates us from the animal world.

There are lots of things that separate us from the animal world. One of the most common quoted things is opposable thumbs. But primates of the animal world also have opposable thumbs it just happens that Humans have more movement in theirs than the primates and so are less dexterous than us.

From a Christian point of view a simple answer is that we are made in the image of God and nothing else is. That however might be a difficult concept for us to grasp and not really a subject I want to get into in this post. However it is all encompassing and so will probably be touched upon even tangentiality as I write this.

“cogito ergo sum” or more commonly known to the English speaking world as “I Think Therefore I Am”. What does this mean? I’m no philosopher and I bow to Descartes whom is credited with this philosophical argument from the 17th Century. But is this a term better associated to God? God calls himself “I Am who I Am” I Am. The self existent one, the self sustaining one, God is “I Am”!

But as we were created in the image of God then this self realisation, (as opposed to self existence), is part of being made in His image. So yes, “I think therefore I am” is an appropriate stance for us, as humans to take. And this also separates us from the animal world. Do animals think? I don’t know the scientific answer to that question but they do act on instinct. They are capable of carrying out acts according to pre-programmed codes inbuilt into their DNA. Take our dog as an example. It looks to all intents and purposes that at times she is thinking. About getting into the kitchen to see if there is any food available for her to eat usually, but does she think?

I imagine it something like this:

“Ah the kitchen, Karen and Glen are nowhere to be seen, I’ll just saunter in there and see what they have left lying about that I might eat!”

I don’t think so! More likely is that somewhere in her synapses it is registered that on the whole, all things good and tasty come from the room next to where her bed is and so as long as the coast is clear her stomach impulses get to dominate other impulses to her brain and she is in there like a shot looking for food, be it dog food, cat food or any tastes morsels we have absentmindedly left lying about. It’s not thought as we know it, but a set of instructions that has been implanted into her brain that makes her act in this way. How do I know this? Because every time we turn our backs she is acting on this impulse to fill her belly! No exception!

It’s instinct that drives her, nothing more, nothing less.

But mankind, we can reason, we can fathom complex problems we can make decisions based on data from the environment that surrounds us. And since the dawn of time this has been the case. And how do we do this? In the main by using what I have referred to in other posts as a ‘complex and sophisticated code’ called language. When we think we use words to do that thinking. We don’t necessarily think in shapes, colours or images although these form part of our thinking process much of the time. What we do is we think using words. Even to describe his great philosophical theorem Descartes used words; “I think, therefore I am”.

Words or language are an essential part of our being, they allow us to communicate on a very sophisticated level that our animal friends can not do. Yes animals communicate they warn each other of impending danger, a rabbit will thump the ground with its hind leg to warn other rabbits of a predator. Our cats meow, loudly, when they are hungry and the dog whimpers, incessantly, when she is hungry. They are communicating to us their state of hunger. But they are not talking to us. Language, the use of words, sounds and letters that have a syntax to them and its use, is one of the fundamental things that separates us from the animals.

And why do I think this is so important?

Because it shows our connection to our creator, God! We were created by Gods word. Check out Genesis chapter 1. I’m reproducing it here in all its glory, for glorious it is, so you don’t even have to trouble yourself in digging out your own Bible, it is that important:

Genesis
The Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.

And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault ‘sky.’ And there was evening, and there was morning–the second day.

And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the third day.

And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made two great lights–the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the fourth day.

And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.’ So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ And there was evening, and there was morning–the fifth day.

And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

So God created human beings in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

Then God said, ‘I give you every seed- bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day. (NIV). (My emphasis)

Notice in the account of creation God Almighty spoke and it was so. You, me, this world, go on take a look around you reach out and touch something, all this matter was created because “GOD SAID”. Eleven times God spoke and after only eleven “God said’s” this whole vast array that we call Creation came into existence. You see words have power. Words are powerful. Words can heal, words can harm, these aspects of language are a study in themselves and the Bible has much to say about that. Maybe in another post I will take a look at this aspect of words, language and how we use them, but for now I want to concentrate to how significant words and language are to us as Humans.

God communicates to us in many ways but mostly through His Word. The Bible. Even when He communicates direct, God speaks. There are so many examples in The Bible of God speaking direct to people. Today we hear testimony of people whom God has spoken to directly. In my own experience I have heard God speak to me and I am sure those of us who believe, hear God speak to us on a regular basis. You see, we are created in Gods image for his good purpose and the rest of creation exists, inter alia, to glorify Him.

God perhaps more then anyone knows just how important words and language are. This ability that he gave to Mankind, in His image, is central to our abilities and progress as a species.

Let me explain.

At the Tower of Babel mankind in its entirety could speak to each other with one language. We don’t know what that language was, some speculate it was Hebraic in nature but the truth is we don’t know. What we do know is that it was powerful. Check it out here:

Genesis 11:1-7

The Tower of Babel

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower they were building. The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ (NIV)

See that? God said “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (NIV, My Emphasis).

Wow! Do you see now the importance of language, how anything we compare it too, like our cats and dogs attempts at communication, pales into insignificance. Why? Because we are made in Gods image! I can not emphasise this too much or too strongly. Words, language, speech, the written word, is vital to an understanding of our place in the great scheme of things.

And what of today? We live in a world that is shrinking. Communication is instantaneous. When I notified you about this blog post, I hit send on my email client and without so much as a delay a server somewhere in the world told another server that you had a new email. The only real delay in that line of communication is how often you check your emails. Social media via apps is probably even more instantaneous!

At the beginning of the information technology revolution, when I was “nowt but a wee lad” I remember watching Tomorrows World on the BBC. how many things did that programme get wrong eh? But one thing that it got right was that information and communication was the future. How has that turned out to be correct. Ask anything and if I don’t know the answer, I know a search engine that can help me find it. I don’t even have to boot up my computer anymore, I flip the cover of my iPad (other tablet systems are available) and within seconds I can ask a question and get an array of answers. It truly is amazing.

However, we still speak many many different languages today, a result of the Tower of Babel incident. But, and this is an important “but”, communication between people of different nations is easier than ever before. English, mostly in its guise as an Americanised language, is almost universal. Where it isn’t spoken translations are easy into people’s native tongues, and visa-versa. You can even log onto websites that with varying degrees of accuracy will translate documents and web pages form one language to almost any other language that you can think of.

What does this point to? Well there is an oft quoted verse in Daniel which talks about people going here and there to gain knowledge (see Daniel chapter 12 vs 4). This is in the context as a sign for the end times. So here we are, blissfully communicating, travelling, sharing knowledge and information in quantities and of a quality never before possible to the extent that it is now. I find it interesting that it is this apparent breaking down of language barriers that has enabled this. Giving words a power, giving communication a force that maybe has not existed since The Tower of Babel. In deed, re-read the passage in Daniel. Notice how it says that when this increase in knowledge occur’s there will be trouble like nothing seen since the beginning of nations. Now there has and continue to be some terrible things happening across the world and obvious example being 6 million Jews exterminated in the middle of the last century. There are many, many other atrocities that have taken place, yet the Bible talks about troubles that are so bad that have not been seen since that event that caused God to come down to Earth and confuse our languages and so beginning the formation of Nation states. Perhaps something to think about?

Finally, I want to make one last point about “Words” and their importance.

Yes, God spoke creation into existence by the power of His spoken word.

Words separate us from the rest of the animal creation and singles us out as being created in the image of God. When we work together in harmony without any language barriers we are, as a species, quite a force to be reckoned with, and in our fallen state that is not a good thing.

So what is the answer? Well, John in opening his Gospel links us right back to the dawn of time and even further back into eternity past (if that is not an oxymoron, which it probably is, but I’m sticking with it anyway). how? Read on:

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

You see Jesus is The Word. He, Jesus, was with God, was and is God and made all things. You see, Words, communication, speech, the exchange of complex ideas, all these things are embedded in Gods nature and He wants to share this with you and with me. But most of all He wants to communicate that His Word, in the person of Jesus Christ is the principle aspect of His nature that we should know about. Words, communication are so important that Jesus was and is The Word.

And the writer to the Hebrews said this:

Hebrews 1:1-3 (TNIV)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Shouldn’t you get to know Him then and if you already do, shouldn’t you get to know Him better?

Below are the words from the poem that is spoken in the middle of the “forever” song in the Kari Jobe concert Majestic. I reproduce it below as I think it has some powerful praise pointers:

“IF THERE ARE WORDS FOR HIM THEN I DON’T HAVE THEM.

SEE MY BRAIN HAS NOT YET REACHED THE POINT WHERE IT COULD FORM A THOUGHT THAT COULD ADEQUATELY DESCRIBE THE GREATNESS OF MY GOD.

AND MY LUNGS HAVE NOT YET DEVELOPED THE ABILITY TO RELEASE A BREATH WITH ENOUGH AGILITY TO BREATHE OUT THE GREATNESS OF HIS LOVE.

AND MY VOICE, SEE MY VOICE IS SO INHIBITED , RESTRAINED BY HUMAN LIMITS THAT IT’S HARD TO EVEN SING THE PRAISE UP, YOU SEE, IF THERE ARE WORDS FOR HIM, THEN I DON’T HAVE THEM.

MY GOD, HIS GRACE IS REMARKABLE, MERCIES ARE INNUMERABLE, STRENGTH IS IMPENETRABLE, HE IS HONOURABLE, ACCOUNTABLE, FAVOURABLE.

HE’S UNSEARCHABLE YET KNOWABLE, INDEFINABLE, YET APPROACHABLE, INDESCRIBABLE, YET PERSONAL

HE IS BEYOND COMPREHENSION, FURTHER THAN IMAGINATION, CONSTANT THROUGH GENERATIONS, KING OF EVERY NATION, BUT IF THERE ARE WORDS FOR HIM, THEN I DON’T HAVE THEM!

YOU SEE MY WORDS ARE FEW TO TRY AND CAPTURE THE ONE TRUE GOD, USING MY VOCABULARY WILL NEVER DO, BUT I USE WORDS AS AN EXPRESSION, AN EXPRESSION OF WORSHIP TO A SAVIOUR, A SAVIOUR WHO IS BOTH WORTHY AND DESERVING OF MY PRAISE, SO I USE WORDS.

MY HEART EXTOLS THE LORD, BLESSES HIS NAME FOREVER. HE HAS WON MY HEART, CAPTURED MY MIND, AND HAS BOUND THEM BOTH TOGETHER. HE HAS DEFEATED ME IN MY REBELLION, CONQUERED ME IN MY SIN, HE HAS WELCOMED ME INTO HIS PRESENCE, COMPLETELY INVITED ME IN. HE HAS MADE HIMSELF THE OBJECT OF MY SIGHT, FLOODING ME WITH MERCIES IN THE MORNING, DROWNING ME WITH GRACE IN THE NIGHT, BUT IF THERE ARE WORDS FOR HIM, THEN I DON’T HAVE THEM.

BUT WHAT I DO HAVE IS GOOD NEWS, FOR MY GOD KNEW THAT MANMADE WORDS WOULD NEVER DO, FOR WORDS ARE JUST TOOLS THAT WE USE TO POINT TO THE TRUTH.

SO HE SENT HIS SON JESUS CHRIST AS THE WORD, LIVING PROOF, HE IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, THE FIRST BORN OF ALL CREATION, FOR BY HIM ALL THINGS WERE CREATED, GIVING NOTHINGNESS, FORMATION.

AND BY HIS WORD HE SUSTAINS IN THE POWER OF HIS NAME. FOR HE IS BEFORE ALL THINGS AND ABOVE ALL THINGS HE REIGNS. HOLY IS HIS NAME!

SO PRAISE HIM FOR HIS LIFE! THE WAY HE PERSEVERED IN STRIFE. THE HUMBLE SON OF GOD BECOMING THE PERFECT SACRIFICE.

PRAISE HIM FOR HIS DEATH! THAT HE WILLINGLY STOOD IN OUR PLACE THAT HE LOVINGLY ENDURED THE GRAVE THAT HE BATTLED OUR ENEMY, AND ON THE THIRD DAY ROSE IN VICTORY.

HE IS EVERYTHING THAT WAS PROMISED.

PRAISE HIM AS THE RISEN KING.

LIFT YOUR VOICE AND SING, FOR ONE DAY HE WILL RETURN FOR US, AND WE WILL FINALLY BE UNITED WITH OUR SAVIOUR FOR ETERNITY! ETERNITY!

SO IT IS NOT JUST WORDS THAT I PROCLAIM, FOR MY WORDS POINT TO THE WORD, AND THE WORD HAS A NAME, HOPE HAS A NAME, JOY HAS A NAME, PEACE HAS A NAME, LOVE HAS A NAME, AND THAT NAME IS JESUS CHRIST!

PRAISE HIS NAME FOREVER!!!!!!!!”

Copyrights acknowledged.

Romans the end of Chapter 1

Romans 1:24-32 (ESV Strong’s)

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

The end of Chapter 1. What we need to remember is that the chapter divisions and verses within them are somewhat artificial as it allows us to navigate ourselves through the bible which otherwise would be nigh on impossible to find what we are looking for. So Chapter 2 continues the narrative through to the end of the book. After all Romans is an Epistle, that is just an old fashioned word for letter with an emphasis on religion instruction. So in a sense like a letter that you might write to a friend or a loved one it should be read through (everyone should read through the epistles from start to end on occasion just to get a feel for the intentions of the writer if noting else), but in this post we will be looking at the last few verses of this chapter and to say the least they are potentially the most challenging verses in the chapter.

Lets remind ourselves of some basic things here. Paul was writing to both Jewish converts and Gentile converts to The Way (The name given to Christians in the early days of the Church). Paul is developing his arguments in these opening verses. He has been making the argument that no one is without excuse for at least not recognising that there is a creative person behind why we are here at all. He is making an argument that mankind has chosen to replace the living creator with things of mankind’s own making, graven and carved images and even worshiping the creation as opposed to the creator, itself (sun and moon worship are well know forms of paganism).

Through this rejection of the creator we see Gods eventual reaction and God gives mankind exactly what he wants.

There is a phrase “be careful what you ask for” that in some sense sums up these last few verses of Romans 1 but I am getting ahead of myself.

From verse 24 Paul moves onto the unrighteousness of men. The verse discussed in the earlier post are largely about ungodliness. Immediately Paul delves into sexual sin that mankind fell into through his rejection of Creator God by the worship of the creation. And this sexual sin is referenced through the “dishonouring of their bodies”. The first thing that this teaches us is that there is an innate dignity in our bodies. This puts to bed any theology that makes the material world unimportant. If there was no innate value in our material bodies then there would be no worries about dishonouring them. But what we see here in Pauls line of reasoning is that there is a dishonouring and it was as a result of mankind turning his back on his Creator.

Idolatry, that is worshiping graven images, these kind of things, may, especially to our western minds, seem like trivial things, unimportant things, but Paul shows us that it was exactly these things that led mankind into states of depravity. What we have to remember is that idolatry in the modern world takes on many different forms, money, fame, success, sex, these can all become idols in our lives and so many other things. In simple eras anything that takes the place of God in our lives has become an idol.

But back to our text, Paul then expands on the result of this idolatry and in essence talks about lesbianism and homosexuality. Note the assumption here is that the natural relationship is a man and a woman. This assumption by Paul comes form his earlier assumption in the passage that the cosmos in its entirety was created with purpose and thus certain things go “naturally” together whilst other things do not.

Note, Pauls conclusion here is not one of explicit condemnation but one of acknowledging that God in His sovereignty “gave men up” to their passions. The image here is one of a parent repeatedly telling their child not to touch the hot fire, why? Because the parent knows better, the parent knows that if the child touches the hot fire they will get burned and hurt and it will cause injury and pain and suffering. And this is where such pictures or metaphors have their limitation. Imagine if that parent “gave up” that child to allow it to do what it wanted? The result would be pain, injury and suffering. All parents eventually have to give their children up to allow them to make their own decisions. It is maybe one of the hardest thing we have to do as parents, and whilst this is not the reason God gave up man to his own desires, (we do it as parents because our children do need move into adulthood, God did it to mankind because basically mankind kinda “nagged” him to by his constant disobedience and rejection).

The discussion that is needed however is how should we as Christians react to homosexuals especially in this modern society where the LBGTQ community is making huge headway’s into the concept of normalising same sex relationships.

I think back to Jesus reaction, and after all he is our role model, to the woman caught in adultery brought to him by the men for his judgement on her actions. I have written about his elsewhere and so won’t labour the point but even though Jesus, God incarnate was the only person present in that entire situation that could have pronounced just and righteous judgement on that woman he instead decided to exercise grace.

In the account it is recorded that Jesus was writing in the dust of the ground, and I have heard many commentators and preachers suggest that this was the practice in the times of jesus of a judge writing the judgement in the dust when cases were presented to them. I think this is a fantastic image of the Judge of mankind righteously writing the legal result of her actions in the dust, but instead of exercising that judgement Jesus rather showed grace to teach us all a powerful lesson.

In all areas of our evangelism we need to build relationships with people in order that they begin to trust what we have to say. We have to love them, and show them the Love of Jesus through our actions and attitudes towards them. I am not advocating that we endorse their lifestyle choices just as we would not endorse the lifestyle choices of a persistent thief or liar or that of a serial adulterer. But we do have to meet with people of all walks of life and, as we ‘do life’ with them, God will give the opportunity to share the gospel with them.

I am not trying to over simplify this but an attitude of condemnation, an attitude of ‘hell fire’ and damnation will, I fear, in todays society loose more souls than it will win. Let’s considered others better than ourselves, lets consider the needs of others before ours whilst at the same time not compromising on the truth of the Gospel which after all is the power of Salvation.

Paul then gives us an extensive list of sins. We had a little bit of fun with these in our study group and took time out to put them in a chart ranging from something like “not very serious” to Hell Bound”. What was interesting from this activity was that amongst the group, most of the sins found themselves at least once in one of the columns ranging from nor very serious to Hell Bound. And whilst there were no right answers or wrong answers they were in a sense all right and in a sense all wrong. To read through to the end of the chapter Paul concludes that these sins all deserved death. Further he concludes that the people who practised them knew that they deserved death, the unspoken conclusion being that even knowing this they continued in them.

So how do we reconcile this? After all being disobedient to ones parents surely is not as serious as murder?

We have to remember Paul here is giving us his reasoned arguments as to how mankind found itself in the sorry state of sinfulness. But, and this is not to say that there are not a myriad of other lessons that we can learn from this passage, Paul here is talking to us about the sate of mankind apart form the saving work of Jesus Christ. He moves onto Gods plan of salvation later, but here is a description of, if you like, the world before Jesus. And we will, in later discussions, go on to all about our reaction to these sins following our salvation, but for now we leave Paul describing the sorry state of affairs where, because of our disobedience as a species, we deserve death. We have been disobedient as a species and so God has given us up to those desires and wants and the result is basically a mess. But, and we who are believers know this, God had a plan and God always retained fro Himself a remnant of faithful people so we can pause here at the end of Chapter 1 knowing that there is yes, more to come, but also that there is hope. And who could not do with a little hope in their lives?