Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The God of the Exodus

>From Vaughan Roberts' "God's Big Picture", I got this beautiful three-part division of the book of Exodus:
  1. The Exodus itself (approximately the first 18 chapters): The God who delivers
  2. The law given at Mount Sinai (chapters 19-24): The God who demands
  3. The Tabernacle described for building (25-31): The God who draws near
Combining this with a similar broad-level overview from Arthur Pink that incorporate Genesis, and adding in the covenant as a separate point in its own right which I think should be done, we get this clear five-part overview of salvation:
  1. The call of Abraham: God chooses his people
  2. The Exodus: God redeems his people
  3. Mount Sinai: God covenants with his people
  4. The law: God demands from his people
  5. The tabernacle: God dwells with his people
And then we can see the centrality of Christ in each of those acts:
  1. God choose his people in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)
  2. God redeemed his people through the precious blood of Christ, the gospel Passover (John 1:29, 1 Corinthians 5:7, etc.)
  3. God brings his people into the New Covenant of which Christ is mediator, high priest, and whose blood ratifies the covenant, etc. (1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 8-10, etc.)
  4. Christ is the New Covenant law-giver (Matthew 5-7), and the Spirit of Christ is the one who teaches his people the love which is the heart of the law (Romans 8:1-4, 13:8-10, etc.)
  5. Christ himself is the gospel tabernacle, the dwelling of God amongst us (John 1:14, 2:19-22, etc.)
This could surely be taken further, if we bring in the pillar of fire, the manna in the wilderness ("I am the bread who came down from heaven..."), the conquest and reception of the inheritance under Joshua etc...

Studying Exodus is thrilling!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Staggered up the hill...

Here's the elevation profile of today's marathon:

I did it, but there was quite a bit of walking from 20 miles onwards! I'm not sure if it was "hitting the wall"; my legs felt reasonable but I felt quite faint. It was fairly hot and I had some cold, so I think that weakened me a bit.

First half was about 1:47, second half about 2:28, for a total of 4:15. A run of two halves!

Things we'd like to be true...

The football world cup gives a good illustration of the human capacity to believe things to be true on rather flimsy ground.

About 4-6 years ago, I realised that the 2-yearly hype in the news media about how England could this time "go all the way", could well get to the final if they played well, etc., was not based upon reality.

Look at the facts. England reaching the semi-final of a major tournament is an event likely to happen, ooh, every 20 years or so. And if we're talking about what England can do without home advantage, then the facts are rather stark and simple. England have only ever reached one major semi-final. One semi-final.... let that sink in and remember it the next time a tournament comes round and you read the hype in the newspapers.....

The obvious natural limit for England based on their ability is about the quarter final. To go beyond that will need a lot to go well, including factors beyond our control (good draws, other big teams having howlers on the day, etc.). There are clearly around 10 teams in the world who are at least as good or significantly better than England. We'd like to think we're similar in standard to (for example!) Germany, but the facts of many years (i.e. not just based on a fluke here or there) say that they are a footballing powerhouse on the world scene, and we are a football powerhouse within the British isles.

Sorry if that sounds unpatriotic. My real point was to point out the difference between what English football supporters can persuade themselves to believe, and what the reality is, as an example of what human beings do all the time.

Aiming for the top is one thing, and is not to be discouraged.

But thinking that you are near the top when plainly you're not, is self-delusion. Telling yourself that you're far better than you are, year after year, is silly and pointless: and yet a fact of human existence as moral beings. Isn't it?

So let me ask the question, if we turn from football performance to moral performance - because I think I see a parallel. Is man actually what he thinks he is? Are we as "good" as we like to persuade ourselves we are? Or in God's eyes, is it rather the case that we actually fall far short of his right standards, and fully deserve his anger and judgment as the Bible says? And all this, notwithstanding our ability to tell ourselves that "we're pretty good - no-one can blame us for not being perfect", etc.? Our ability to consistently delude ourselves about ourselves is surely one of the many good proofs that man is a fallen creature, who needs redeeming.

Well, perhaps you'll think the parallel is a bit flimsy. I might agree - this is a blog after all, not a university thesis. But even so, does not the human capacity for consistent, long-term self-deception need some explanation?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A run up a hill...

The picture above is, all being well, miles 6-26 of my next marathon, on Monday.

We start at an altitude that fit people feel out of breath at if they have not acclimatised (7000 feet above sea level is about 2100 metres) - and then go up! And up, and up.... Net altitude gain somewhere around 900 feet. It's that final steep ascent beginning in mile 20 (i.e. mile 15 on the above graph) that looks like the make-or-break time. I've never run that bit before, but you can see it's as steep as the bit at the beginning of the graph which I have run, and that bit is very steep.

Other than finishing, my first target is to beat my Dublin marathon finishing time - 3:40 on a flat course at sea level. My training times have not been quite as good as before that marathon, but pretty close. If it's a really hot day it won't be possible, but we'll see!


From various news sources:
"Women should be able to continue to abort their unborn babies up to 24 weeks because the baby can't feel pain, according to a controversial review of the scientific evidence."
"Interesting" logic. So, presumably it's OK to kill people who are under general anaesthetic, because they can't feel pain. "Yes, your honour, I'm not guilty of any crime here. I sedated my victim first, so when I hacked his head off / destroyed his limbs with a suction device / etc., he did not feel it!"

It's amazing how confused fallen humans can get about the simplest things, once we've decided we want something that God has forbidden, and what twisted and perverse reasonings we can come up with.

It ought to be clear... but the reason why it's wrong to kill babies is not because of how much pain they do or do not feel at the time.

It's because they are human beings.

Friday, 25 June 2010

He said what?

"Mitigating, Michael Hodson said Charlton was not motivated by self-interest but had been trying to create a fantasy world to feel better about herself."


I'm guessing this lawyer was from the "fantasy world" of self-esteem gobble-de-gook?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

How wonderful!

According to the atheist, life as we know it is simply the product of
the struggle for survival. It's the result of competition for limited
resources, as we've thought tooth and nail with our evolutionary

Quiet wonderful and amazing, then, that it's turned out so well, don't
you think?

For example, the incredible range of tastes and complexions in all the
foods that humans can eat. It seems to have turned out precisely as if
we were meant to enjoy food, and find pleasure in the many different

Or consider the beauties of the natural world - waters, green dales,
sunsets, shimmering oceans, etcetera. It all looks as if it was made to
be enjoyed. What a wonderful coincdence that no purpose or plan brought
about that beauty for us to enjoy, without it ever being intended!

Consider the variety of life as a whole and all its incredible breadth
of experiences. Given that we are allegedly just Darwinian
eating-and-mating machines, it's pretty amazing that we should have such
varied and interesting existences, isn't it?

Or look at the realities of morality, as all humanity understands itself
to be under laws of right and wrong - and that right is to be chosen
whilst wrong is to be rejected. It is a great blessing that people came
to believe that (even if they live it out very inconsistently),
notwithstanding the supposed fact that life is an undirected cosmic
accident, n'est ce pas?

How about music, and all of its beauty and variety - all the different
sounds and harmonies, together with our capacity to enjoy it. Perhaps we
might not have expected that, given that we are told that the only real
uses of noise are to warn off enemies and to attract a mate. But all the
same, it's a marvellous set of coincedences that have led it to turn out
exactly as if it was designed for our pleasure again, don't you think?

The world of the atheist thinker must be a painful one. His creed tells
him to expect nothing accept accidental by-products of the fight to
reproduce. But the world he actually lives in throws up infinitely more,
as a matter of daily routine in every area of existence. One further
great mystery is how little today's campaigning atheists seem to notice
these facts.

Or putting it another way: as an explanation for reality as it really
is, atheism simply does not work, and atheists are people who are living
in denial.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Do Christians "keep the Sabbath"?

I just penned this short (750 words) article for use in the magazine I help edit. There is, of course, much more that could be said (especially if you wanted to go into the eschatological dimensions of the theme in Scripture, and its relationship to Christ's work at Calvary), but there was a word limit!

Do Christians “Keep the Sabbath”?

Many Christians discuss this question. Is there a special day of rest for Christians? If so, which day is it? Is it the seventh day of the week, or the first day? Or are all special days Jewish, and now abolished?

A weekly day of rest

We believe that God does command that one day every week belongs to him, and on that day we must rest from our ordinary work. Instead, we should give the day to worshipping him, seeking him and any other “good works” that God gives to us.

We believe this because a weekly day of rest is part of creation. It is not simply Jewish. It is part of the order that God made at the very beginning, as a pattern for all time. We read in Genesis 2:1-3 that after God had made the world in six days, he rested on the seventh day. He then blessed the seventh day, and “sanctified” it. This word means that he made it holy – separate, set apart for himself. God himself does not follow times and seasons. Therefore, this holiness is something for mankind to observe. We are to follow his pattern which he gave us. In the garden of Eden, God gave man work to do, a wife to love, and a Sabbath to keep. We still live in the same creation (even though it is fallen), and we also are commanded to work, honour marriage, and keep God's day.

This is confirmed by the ten commandments. The ten commandments are laws for all people, for all time. They are about basic, moral matters – like worshipping the true God, stealing and telling the truth. They are not Jewish either. Included in those commandments is the fourth (Exodus 20:8-11), which tells us directly that what God did in the creation week was a pattern for all of our weeks: we work six days on our own labours (for God's glory, of course), and then rest one day (also for God's glory).

The Lord's Day

It is true that the New Testament tells us that there are no “Sabbaths” and tells Christians not to observe “days, months, seasons and years” (Colossians 2:16, Galatians 4:10, Romans 14:5-6). However, we must be careful when we read these words. The Bible does not contradict itself. Paul cannot be telling us that the ten commandments were abolished, or that we no longer need to honour the patterns given to us at creation. In the context of those verses, Paul is speaking about the Jewish, Saturday (seventh day) Sabbath, and the way it was observed since the time of Moses. The Sabbath was kept in a special way in Israel. As well as remembering creation, it also became one of the Jewish festivals. It is Jewish festivals that are no longer observed by Christians.

The New Testament instead shows us that it is the first day of the week that is God's special day under the New Covenant. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day (Matthew 28:1). Our Saviour appeared to his disciples on that day, and then again one week later on the same day (John 20:19-26). He gave the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which being the 50th day after firstfruits (Leviticus 23:15) was again the first day of the week. We are told that Christians met together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), and Paul told them to put aside their offering for God on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). No honour is given in the New Testament to the seventh day, or any other day. The Bible makes it clear that it is the first day – resurrection day – that Christians are now to keep. Because of his resurrection (and to avoid confusion with the Jewish “Sabbath”), we call this day “the Lord's Day” (Revelation 1:10). We do not live under the Old Covenant, and we are not commanded to keep the day with all the outward rigour of the law of Moses. Nobody today is to be stoned for collecting sticks (Numbers 15:32-36); we are given freedom in Christ. But we each must use that liberty for Christ, not to cover up our sin (Galatians 5:13). We must each give an answer to the Lord for how we used the day he has given to us, and whether we used it for ourselves or for his kingdom and glory.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

What is love?

The second half of term at Bible college has started, which for me means continuing in Exodus and 1 John.

Here's a challenge from 1 John 3:16:
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers."
What is love? According to the Bible, we must measure it by the standard of Christ giving himself on the cross.

So... have I loved my wife enough yet? My children? My fellow-believers? Have I kept the law of God by loving them as myself? Can I sit back and say, "that's enough now - now it's their turn"?

The answer is "yes", if and only if I have done as much as Jesus did on the cross for me.

If (!) I have not done that much, then I still owe them a debt of love. Then it is still my duty to do more in serving them.

And then I must realise that in as far as I fall short of that standard, that's the sin that needs to be forgiven and which Jesus died for. What amazing grace that he can forgive so much!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Shock news: Caesar trains ... Romans!

A quote worth chewing on from a product description that came in an e-mail the other day...
"If you send your children to Caesar, don't be surprised if they come back as Romans."

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Over 30 children's games

I have put together a small booklet (A5) of over 30 games that we have used at our weekly children's clubs in Eldoret.

My co-leaders now have a copy, and that was the necessary step before next week, when they will be the leaders and I will just do what I am requested by them. We'll see how that goes - if well enough, that will become the permanent situation and I will rejoice: a ministry started, brethren trained to carry it on, handed over! We'll see!

Here's the download
. Feel free to use it in any way that is useful to you. You can edit it and change it - I've included the original source document.

In Kenya there's absolutely no culture of suing the club leaders if something goes wrong... of course what you do with any of these games is your responsibility, not mine...


My church is doing some studies in Acts in our adult Sunday School. Tomorrow we are asking the question, "What are elders, and what do they do?". Here are the notes for the handout. These notes of course always reflect something of my own burden as a missionary - to eventually see and leave behind a "three-selves" church (self-governing, self-sustaining, self-propagating) that will carry on the work, understanding that it needs nothing more than full obedience to God's truth enabled by God's Spirit:

We have been studying Acts. We have chosen it because it is the record of the first churches – the original. It tells us what churches really should be. Last week we asked the questions, “What is baptism, who is it for, what does it do?” This week we have a new question – what are elders, and what do they do?

The word “elders” is first used in Acts in 4:5-8. There we see that the Jewish nation was led by elders (as well as others). This is how God prepared his church to be led by elders – it was not a new idea for them. (Remember that at the beginning, all the believers were Jews). In the church, the first time we read the word “elders” is in 11:27-30. But this passage does not tell us much.

In 14:21-23 we see the first missionaries (Paul and Barnabas) travelling through some towns – Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Antioch. These were places they had preached, and where churches had begun. Now they returned to strengthen and encourage the churches again – and to appoint elders. Here we can see that: 1) Each church had its own elders to lead the work. Paul and Barnabas were not staying, and so could not be leaders, nor could anyone else who was not staying there. 2) There was more than one elder in each church – God's way is not to have people on their own in difficult work (e.g. Luke 10:1) because the temptations are too great. 3) The elders were chosen from each church – from among the people. They were not brought in from outside. This also is the wisest way – a local church needs to belong to the local people.

Acts 20:17-38 is the longest and most important passage of teaching on elders. Here, Paul called the elders from Ephesus to come and see him before he travelled. It was the last time he expected to see them, so he spoke to them directly about their work as elders. Firstly, Paul showed them his own example. Elders are to lead, first of all, by example – an example of continued, godly, self-sacrificing service. Elders are not trained firstly by sending them away to a school, but by seeing and learning from real men of God doing real work.

Paul told them that elders are shepherds, looking after God's flock. They must feed them all of God's truth. They must watch – always – against spiritual dangers. They are not kings, to reign – but servants, to give themselves. They must always be looking at the flock, and trying to build them up in God's truth. Paul then spoke again about his own example, in particular in the areas of hard work and money. He had always worked hard, did not lead for his own profit, but showed the people how to be generous, helping the weak. He showed them in practice that giving is better than getting, which is what Jesus taught. These are the kinds of men that God wants to lead churches: not the mighty and powerful, but humble, self-sacrificing servants of Christ.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Like a child

We had a delightful scene from our car this afternoon, after children's club.

It had started to rain - really heavily. We (mum and dad) were sitting in the car, trying to count up if everybody had piled in and we had the equipment (there's not only our family, but others too). And then we saw one of the kiddies, walking along in the pouring rain, chattering and singing away to oneself as if nothing was happening, walking past the car without noticing, then stopping and turning back. So carefree - delightful!

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be as care-free as a child? Why can children be care-free? Because they are sure that mum and dad have got it all under control.

But actually, a Christian should know that heavenly Father has it far more under control than mum or dad does - infinitely so, in fact.

So we should be as care-free as the child is - and more.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

More theonomy

The wheels grind slowly here. Mostly they grind fairly small.... my record for a delayed response to an e-mail was 2 1/2 years, but I got there.

But I do owe David M who posted a comment on an earlier post an apology, because it's sat in my inbox far too long. Here we go:
The question that I'm left with is: what's the Biblical basis for your view of the role of government? (By which I'm not trying to imply that I don't think there is one!)
Romans 13 has to be a key passage. One key principle is surely this one: "For there is no authority but from God" (v1). That means that government is a "positive" institution: the authority is a positive grant from God.

It follows from that that the question then becomes, "what authority has God granted to governments?" Because any other "authority" then seek to wield cannot be legitimate. When Peter said, "We must obey God rather than men", he showed that this authority grant was not unlimited.

Then the question has to become "what authority has God said in the Bible as being granted to governments?" Because it is inconceivable that God has given such important authority without telling us what it is, and the Bible is where God reveals his mind. How can he be a "servant of God" (v4) unless God gives him some instructions for his service?

Verses 3 and 4 also make clear the positive and negative side of the government's work. Positively, to reward what is good; negatively, to punish wrongdoing (and thereby cause fear in others to prevent them from doing it).

Of course, "good" and "evil" must also be defined by Scripture. The government should not arbitrarily decide, for example, that earning an un-approved of amount of money is an evil to be punitively taxed, or that sexual perversions are a good that needs lots of funding to promote and protect.

Also, it does not mean that all good and all evil are within the realm of government. Nobody should be imprisoned for original sin or unbelief, and the government should not break down your front door to make sure it rewards all the acts of kindness between brothers and sisters in the home or reduces taxes for believers. I believe in the idea of "sphere sovereignty" - God has instituted different authorities, family, church and state, and these are not a neat hierarchy with state at the top, but overlapping spheres.

The Old Covenant law can guide us, if we make due allowance for its unique nature as the Covenant between God and his theocratic nation. This is what the Reformers meant by the "general equity" of the law - it has useful and abiding principles. It is wrong to retain the theocratic clothing, but the principles remain.

One important thing is that there is no hint that the government's authority depends on the mode by which it gained power. If someone seizes the role in a sinful way, yet they still in fact hold the role (and will be accountable for what they do in it) - and holding the role is the bit that makes them have the authority, not the manner of gaining it. This is implicit in Romans 13:1, given the Roman government of the time - which gave Paul privileges we can see in Acts (e.g. Acts 25:11).

There's so much more to say. I think I should leave it to any commenters to decide where we want to go next. But essentially we are saying that the government's mandate is moral. Their laws are to be related meaningfully to the summary of the Mosaic Law, "love your neighbour as yourself" - though in our present context (evaluated Biblically), not that of Moses. They are not to be arbitrary impositions for other ends. This is the Biblical grant to governments.
In practice this looks/sounds something like: adultery is a terrible/wicked/immoral thing, but it isn't the job of the government to issue laws against it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is roughly where you land too.
In the past I would have agreed on this particular example, but now I don't. I do not think that the present UK government should have such a law, because ultimately (the big picture of Scripture shows us), law can only really be fulfilled on the foundation of free grace - the grace of the gospel. Without the gospel foundation, we cannot workably have proper law. (That sounds like pragmatism, but I think it is Biblical pragmatism based on the big picture of Scripture). But, in a society where the gospel had worked its leaven-like ways, I do think that adultery should be a crime, as indeed it was in the UK. Why? Because marriage is a public covenant, not a private one. Married households are intended to be the units of a godly society - they are not secret, hidden entities. Acts that directly attack that basis should be crimes.

But if we chose a different example, I could well agree. Being deliberately nasty to people is wrong, but should not be a crime if it falls short of violence, harassment or an incitement to violence. Not keeping your promises is wrong, but should not be a crime if it falls short of a contract or if no significant loss is sustained. Of course, there is work to do in deciding where the boundary lies, but you get the point.
The basic idea of theonomy, as I understand it, is that the civil/judicial parts of the Mosaic Law (according to the tripartite division a la Aquinas and Calvin) teach us what God expects from a government - which would extend its role beyond your view. (This is probably a naive/simplistic explanation, but hopefully not inaccurate.)
I suppose this depends on in what manner they "teach us" - what filters and lenses there are to be applied between the Mosaic context and ours. I think what I wrote above would be accepted under the label "theonomy", given that I said that all law should be justified meaningfully from Scripture. But the label seems to be used quite widely, and I am not very competent to answer a lot of questions because I need to do more of my own study...

In Kenya, football on TV is surprisingly expensive...

"Interesting" day today! One of the kids yesterday was diagnosed with an infection, after being ill on and off for a fortnight. I have had some fever for a couple of days, and felt quite weak and odd this morning, so decided to visit the doctor rather than wait that long.

After giving a blood test, I sat down. Then noticed some football highlights on the television. We have no television, so this is rather rare (first time for 5 months?) - I thought I'd take a peak. Quite an expensive and time-consuming mistake.

Problem was, I couldn't really see from my seat, so I stood up. And fainted. Upon this, the doctor insisted on admitting me and running a number of tests that kept me in all day to rule out any serious cause for my fainting. (The non-serious cause being that it was a reaction to having a needle stuck in me - I've fainted twice (three times?) before after needles, though not for about a decade). One moment I was admiring an exquisite chip over the keeper before I staggered to a chair and told the nurse who enquired if I was well "perhaps I should lie down"; the next, four men were carrying me down the corridor. That was quite confusing.

The real moment of horror was when the nurse entered my room, with... an anti-malaria injection, and a saline drip. Oh no. (In the UK if someone brought out the saline drip you'd think you must be at death's door. In Kenya they are a lot more likely to just give you something because, well, why not?).

I now had visions of being kept in the hospital for a month. Two more needles at once - only a couple of hours after fainting! Woe is me, I am doomed!

Happily, I remembered I wasn't (this bit is sometimes hard to recall) in the asylum just yet, and probably I would not be strait-jacketed if I refused to take them. Which I did.

Mercifully when the doctor returned from lunch (3.30?) he did not insist on the drip, and allowed me to have pills for malaria instead.

By the way, the blood test for malaria was negative - but it's not infallible.

In Kenya they're not as worried about being sued as they are in the UK. Hence you don't need to raise more than one eyebrow when you hear the people operating the ECG machine asking where the manual is, and how to fix it. After the scan, as well as before.

Before the blood test I sat next to a man whose sweat-shirt said "East Anglia", so I told him I grew up there. Once I came round, I found he had decided to take care of me until my wife arrived. It turned out he was a Christian, and he prayed very sweetly. It was touching to be the helpless white man receiving blessing from the African - probably an experience I need more. He was being tested for cholesterol, because he suspected it was high. He told me his result, 201, saying that a normal range was 200-240, and therefore he needed to make sure he exercised. I was confused by that too.

After 2 1/2 years, I still have not adapted psychologically to the fact that Kenyans are not, like Westerners, generally reluctant to talk about spiritual issues. Seeing my Bible (which I was reading whilst waiting), someone in accounts said I should come one day to preach the gospel to them. This is not unremarkable, but still takes me by surprise. (And - which is also a contrast with the UK - it doesn't mean they meant it).

My blood pressure was 110/70, and I'll have to Google to find out what that means (apparently, I am normal). But again, given that the operator say "this equipment does not work", it may not need taking too seriously... perhaps he meant something else?

"Please stand on these scales". 49 kilogrammes! Zikes - I must be dying! "It's 50kg - and we add 6kg to the figure, so 56kg". After getting off the scales, I saw that at rest the reading is 3kg. In other words, I moved it by 46kg. Go figure. My wife says they did not add anything yesterday when weighing our child. Next time I am in town, I'll have to pay 5 shillings to get a reading from the street hawkers with their scales, to find out what the reality is. Having said that, though, I'm now acclimatised to how well people know their dodgy machines.... very likely it really is 56kg (8 stone 11).

The doctor had been threatening to keep me in until past 7pm, but thankfully had mercy about 5 and let me go!