29 November 2012

Rivers of living water

Ezekiel and Revelation both describe a river springing from the Jerusalem Temple. The river flows out into desert country and brings life to the desert and to the salty Dead Sea. The conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well helps us understand the meaning of the river.

Trees along the riverbank
Let's see what we can learn from Ezekiel 47:1-12. Nothing you read below is based on detailed study of the Hebrew or theological analysis, it's simply what the Holy Spirit highlighted as I read the passage and meditated on it.

I sat with my friend Sean last Monday (we meet most Monday evenings) and we had fresh insights that I would, on my own, have missed. So thanks Sean!

There are great similarities between this Old Testament passage and Revelation 11:1-2 and especially Revelation 22:1-5. We were also drawn to John 4:1-42 in which Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well. In fact let's look at that first.

The woman at the well - After striking up a conversation about water, Yahshua tell the woman that if she'd known who he is she'd have asked him and he'd have given her 'living water' (John 4:10). She knows the well is the only local source of water so she's puzzled. In Jewish thinking (and probably in Samaritan thinking too) living water means flowing water.

Water in a well is not flowing so it is not living. Jesus says this living water from him is special, if you drink it you won't get thirsty again. In fact it will become a spring welling up inside and will result in eternal life (John 4:13-14). The water of life is a free gift to any who will come and take it (Revelation 22:17).

The temple and the flow of water - The temple in Ezekiel 47:1 seems to me to represent the church. In the New Testament the church is the community of people who believe in and follow Yahshua (Jesus). there are several metaphors for the church - the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), the Bride of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9), and often a temple (2 Corinthians 6:16) built of living stones (1 Peter 2:5).

If the temple represents the church (in Ezekiel and in the similar passages of Revelation), then this river of life that trickles and grows from under the threshold of the temple comes from the foundation that lies under the church, and that is Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).

So this trickle of life, this living water is in all of us who believe. If you are in Christ and he is in you, his unending supply of life will flow out through you into a thirsty world. You will never need to visit a well to pull up a heavy bucket of water. That is getting water by your own effort, it's hard work and you can never draw enough to satisfy yourself, let alone others.

But the living water from within flows without ceasing and is fresh and clean and fully satisfying.

The east - Why does the entrance of the temple face east? Is this significant? Yes, I think it is. East is the direction of rising, all the stars and planets rise in the east and set in the west, the moon and the sun also rise in the east. Jesus is described as the morning star (2 Peter 1:19), and he is the rising star (Revelation 22:16).

The ideas of east, rising and morning are closely related, so the river leaves the east gate. It first appears inside the southern part of the temple near the altar, runs through the temple court (see Revelation 22:1-2), and then flows under the southern side of the threshold of the east gate and from there heads east from the city.

More on the river - The river grows rapidly larger as it flows, and after just two kilometres (about a mile and a quarter) it's already too large to wade across. From there, the river flows to the northern part of the Dead Sea and it turns the clear but sterile, salty waters into fresh water and the Dead Sea teems with a wide variety of fish. Along the river's banks grow the trees of life that fruit every month and produce leaves for the healing of the nations.

This is truly the river of life! It brings fish to a dead sea, provides trees in the desert, and heals the world's people.

The river is also mentioned in Esther 10:4-9. And let me tell you you won't find those verses in your Bible (unless you pick your Bible very carefully), but that's another story. Esther is here identified as the river. And why not? Just think, the river flows in those who love and honour the Lord. The river is life for his people. Jesus said that streams of living water would flow out of us (John 7:38). It's not hard to see that the river flowing out of Esther brought life to the Jews in captivity.

Note: Mordecai's dream is given in Esther 11:2-12 which is in the first chapter of the Greek version of Esther. (Are you confused yet?) I should also point out that the Greek sections of Esther seem to have been added later to the original Hebrew. Most Bibles provide only the Hebrew parts.

In the next post we'll look at the river of life again and dig into what it all means for us in practice.

Questions:

  • How do you feel about your own flow of spiritual water? Have you received the living water that Jesus provides?
  • Most of us feel like barren deserts sometimes. If you have felt that way, how were you refreshed and renewed again?
  • Do you know someone in a spiritual desert right now? Who do they need to have a conversation with?
  • The Nile runs through the Sahara. Can you list some ways life is different in Egypt because of the Nile?

See also:

26 November 2012

From India with vision

Life is so amazing! It's always full of promise and new vistas unfolding. This has just happened to someone I know and it's affecting me too. Take us all deeper into you, Lord. Open new horizons, lead us where you want us to be, make us eager to follow you into the harvest.

The River Great Ouse in flood
Chris Duffet has returned from India. Here's what I wrote about the start of his trip. As you can see it was a challenging and very exciting time. I wanted to share it with you because I hoped it would encourage you and make you eager to grow and live daily for Jesus.

Returning from India - This time we'll consider the rest of Chris's trip, his return, and how he feels about it all.

On 24th November, waiting at the airport to fly back to the UK he wrote this...

Today at the airport has been the highlight for me. I know it must sound like I’m a right saddo to enjoy departure lounges and queues but let me explain: I met 3 people separately, who each told me after talking with them that ‘God has sent you to me.’

And on 25th, just back from India, he writes...

I long to bring some of that fresh faced faith that I saw in India, a burning desire for Kingdom and urgency in people meeting with God, right in the heart of what I do. I know it’s not down to me, yet I long to be willing…

So now you can sense how he has come back excited by what he saw and all that happened. He has found his India experience to have triggered a step change in his awareness of the life of Christ within him. That life is in all of us, just waiting to burst out into the world around us.

Chris has a renewed and deepened sense of mission and a fresh determination to apply it here in the UK. He's found a whole new level of life - and I want that too!

I want to walk daily deeper and wider and further with Jesus.

The River of Life - Here's what Ezekiel wrote after he'd seen the River of Life in a vision (Ezekiel 47:1-12).

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me round the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. He asked me, 'Son of man, do you see this?'

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me,

'This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds – like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.

What does this all mean? For now just read it. Ponder it. Pray about it and listen to what Papa says about it. Tomorrow I'll share what it says to me.

Questions:

  • Can you share an experience from your own life in which you received a deeper and wider revelation of what Jesus is doing in this world?
  • Once we've been touched in this way, what can we do to prevent the vision fading?
  • Chris mentions urgency and willingness. Do you share these feelings? Are they important?
  • What does Ezekiel's vision say to you?

See also:

25 November 2012

The place of women

Here are some brief comments on ten points from a magazine article. All of these points aim to keep women in a subsidiary role in church life. We look at them to see if they are justifiable and if not, why not.

Adam and Eve
Charisma Magazine has produced a list of  'ten lies the church tells women'.

This sounds very alarming and 'lie' is a strong and emotive word. Are they right, is it true? Let's take a look at the list item by item and consider it.

The ten points are certainly worth pondering. Are they deliberate lies, are they perfectly reasonable ideas, or are they just careless and unthinking remarks?

I'll comment briefly on each item as we go through the list, but I strongly recommend taking a look at the original article where further arguments are provided. Here, then, are the ten points.

God’s ultimate plan for women is that they serve their husbands - I'm not sure how widely this is taught, but it's clearly not correct as it stands. If we are to serve anyone it is first Jesus and secondly one another.

Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband - I'm inclined to say, 'Let them be the judge of that!' Paul suggests we might prefer to stay single so we can focus more fully on living for Christ (1 Corinthians 7:34), so it's preposterous to suggest that spiritual effectiveness depends on marriage.

Women shouldn’t work outside the home - So... no female nurses, or teachers? Lydia worked as a fabric trader and hosted Paul and his fellow travellers in her home (Acts 16:14-15).

Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations - All situations? Really? What if the husband requires her to renounce Christ? We are probably all familiar with Ephesians 5:21-33, but notice that Paul begins by saying we should submit to one another and ends by stressing love and respect. Does 'do what I say' really equate with love, respect and mutual submission?

A man needs to “cover” a woman in her ministry activities - The whole idea of 'ministry activities' is suspect - for both men and women. We live to serve Christ in everything we do and say and think. We dare not think in terms of ministry and non-ministry activities. Anna is a good example of a woman without a man to 'cover' her (Luke 2:36-38).

A woman should view her husband as the 'priest of the home' - Are we not all priests? Peter says that all who believe are a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9-10)

Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles - Junia was 'outstanding among the apostles' according to Paul (Romans 16:7). (Despite some attempts to argue the contrary, Junia is a female name.) Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1), Priscilla was a 'fellow worker' (Romans 16:3)

Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting - Paul writes that women are to remain silent (1 Corinthians 14:34), but he also writes that the brothers and sisters (implied, eg NIV) should each speak or sing (1 Corinthians 14:26). Whatever he means, it's much too simplistic to regard it as a blanket ban on women speaking. It's necessary to dig deeper than that.

Women are more easily deceived than men - There is no biblical basis for this idea. None. Genesis 3 is often offered as proof, where Eve says that the evil one 'deceived me, and I ate' (Genesis 3:13). But this is, frankly, a cop out. Adam also heard the temptation and ate so he was equally deceived.

Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities have a 'spirit of Jezebel' - This one is just made up. There is no suggestion of anything like this in the New Testament, no support for the idea at all. It seems to me to be both hurtful and offensive, a criticism that is sometimes wielded like a weapon.

There is, perhaps, just one more thing to say; and it's a warning. Be very careful about creating obstacles! (Romans 16:17-19) Let us be both wise and innocent.

May the Father and the Son through the power of the Spirit lead us into all truth and build us into the church, his Bride, pure and complete and perfect in every way. May we so love and encourage one another in everything we do that the world will see his nature represented in us. May the body be one just as the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one. In Jesus name, amen.

Questions:

  • What did Paul mean when he wrote 'there is neither male nor female'? (Galatians 3:26-28)
  • If you are a man, should you insist on these ten points? If you are a woman, should you listen?
  • Gentleness, love, peace, kindness and patience are part of the fruit of the Spirit. Are these evident in the ten points? If so, how? (Galatians 5:22-26)
  • Truth, authority, service and submission are not part of the fruit. Why not?

See also:

24 November 2012

The seal of authority

Donna and I looked at Haggai and considered the Lord's house and our house. When we work for ourselves like Adam we will struggle and fail. When we obediently work with and in Jesus we will see the church grow and be filled with his presence. Am I working for myself or for him?

Model of the second TempleThis evening, Donna and I read Haggai together. Earlier we had spent some time chatting, listening and praying with a friend.

Afterwards we ate a light meal of pasta with bacon and tomato sauce, olives, sweet pepper, mushroom and courgette, then we sat down with our Bibles.

Yahweh's house - The recent chat with our friend was very much in our minds and we talked about hospitality and the place this has always had in our lives. We know it's one of the functions and purposes Father has chosen for us, one of the useful things we can open our home for.

I felt Father calling us to focus on Haggai 1:2-11, but thinking about it and in prayer other aspects of the book also became clear to me.

We quickly agreed that Yahweh's house is the Temple, and like all Old Testament prophecy there is an application for his people today just as there originally was for the Israelites in Haggai's time. So what is the Temple for us today? Why, we are! We are a living temple built of living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5), he resides in us, he is present, not just among his people but in his people.

His house and our houses - Jesus clearly stated, 'I will build my church' (Matthew 16:18). It's not for us to do, but for him to do with us (as living stones). He will place us and cement us in position. But in our lives we can assist him as he works or we can impede him. If we are obedient then we will assist by doing what he commands moment by moment. If we are disobedient we are unlikely to help him at all.

But what are our own 'panelled houses'? They are whatever we are constructing for ourselves. So let's stop building for ourselves and begin building for him. 'Give careful thought to your ways' (Haggai 1:5-6). What are we doing for ourselves (singly or together as his people)?

Some other things that seem clear are that in doing our own thing we will, ultimately, fail. He has 'called a drought' on 'all the labour of your hands' (Haggai 1:11). We cannot hope to prosper in what he has condemned.

Serving Jesus - I also felt sure that our primary purpose and goal must be to serve him and obey him before anything else in our lives. I must do what he tells me even if, like Abraham, it appears to go against everything that seems logical, just, wise or loving (Genesis 22:1-3). He is love. He will hardly call me to do anything that goes against love. But the requirement is for obedience, not for understanding why or how.

We need to know what he is calling us to do, we need to know that whatever that may be it will be part of building his church, and we need to do it without hesitation or regret. We may find we no longer have time to be busy building our own thing.

What if we remain focussed on our own thing? I think, more often than not, he just leaves us to get on with it. But don't be surprised if he 'calls a drought' on the 'labour of your hands'. Striving by our own effort in thorny ground is what Yahweh promised to the first man, Adam (Genesis 3:17-19). Building his house and receiving his glory is what Father promised to the last man, Jesus (John 17:20-24). We are in Christ and he is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14) and the government is on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6). In the same way as Zerubbabel he is like the signet ring (Haggai 2:23). He stamps the mark of Yahweh's authority on everything he touches. We are part of the seal of the Father's authority. How awesome is that!

Which will you choose? The work of Adam or the work of Jesus? Choose wisely, both roads are open to you, one is broad with many fellow travellers and the other narrow and hard - but so worth it!

Questions:

  • Are you building anything that is more important to you than the church?
  • If so, do you think the Lord is blessing it?
  • There are many ways of building the church but they all involve living stones. Can you list some of these ways?
  • Are there ways you can encourage others to be available to Jesus as apprentice builders?

See also:

23 November 2012

Understanding the idea of heaven

What and where is heaven? Who is allowed in?, How do we understand the term 'Kingdom of heaven'? We look at Matthew 13 where some parables of Jesus about the 'Kingdom of Heaven' clarify the meaning. It involves secrets, it grows, and it is immensely precious.

Umbrellas in Clifford's Tower, York
In an earlier post we considered other species related to our own and asked where we draw the line between human and non-human. In particular, if heaven is a place we go when we die (as many suppose), who and what will inhabit it? Will there be Neanderthals in heaven? Chimpanzees? Cats and dogs? Ants? Earthworms? Bacteria? Where do we draw the line? Do we draw a line at all?

The fundamental problem here is that we are misunderstanding the concept of heaven. In other words the view that heaven is a place is not really supported by the Bible.

Jesus clearly stated that the kingdom of heaven is among us now. Might it be that if we live in it now we'll find later that it is an eternal state, perhaps one that we do not expect? To help us understand the principles behind the idea of heaven, Jesus told a series of parables. Let's take a look at what those show us about the nature of heaven.

Parables of the kingdom - Heaven is a kingdom with secrets that not everybody knows (Matthew 13:10-11). His followers have been given these secrets because Jesus has brought a message about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:16-18). Some people hear the message but don't understand it (Matthew 13:19). Some give up when there's trouble (Matthew 13:20-21). Some are just too busy with everyday worries and material things (Matthew 13:22). But some do understand the message and produce an increase (Matthew 13:23).

Although the original seed was good, an enemy has sown bad seeds in the same ground (Matthew 13:24-25, Matthew 13:28). The good and the bad will be separated later and heaven is like a farmer's barn where the harvest is kept safe after the bad has been removed (Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:37-43).

Heaven is also something that starts small but grows until it is enormous (Matthew 13:31-32) and just a little of it goes a long way (Matthew 13:33). It's like buried treasure or a prize pearl, well worth finding and more valuable than everything I possess (Matthew 13:44-46). It's like a net containing good and bad fish that will then be separated. Only the good will be retained (Matthew 13:47-50)

So then, what is this kingdom? - The kingdom of heaven is not a particular place, rather it is the realm in which the King's commands are obeyed. It's a matter, not of geography, but of obedience. In a sense, the Father inhabits our obedience and our praise. He is present in our obedience. He is present when we worship in spirit and in truth. We are the stones of his living temple and he wants to inhabit us.

So revisiting our original question, will there be only humans in heaven? I think the answer is necessarily mysterious. Heaven is full of the Lord's glory and filled with his praises, so much is certain. It is also filled with everything that gives him glory - the trees, the stones, and yes,  people who glorify and praise him. So the simple answer is 'no', there will not be only humans in heaven. Every obedient created thing has a part to play.

So what does it mean to be obedient? What does it mean to glorify the Creator? Are you obedient and do you glorify him? If so, you are assured a place, you are a part of the kingdom of heaven. You will live in his presence for ever.

Questions:

  • What do you think it means to 'produce an increase'?  (Matthew 13:23)
  • Do you always obey the King? Sometimes? Never? Living in the kingdom is about obedience, are you in or out?
  • How much of your life are you willing to give up to secure the buried treasure, the very valuable pearl?
  • Is the separation of good and bad something you can leave until later? Or might it need to begin in your life right away? What if you put it off?

See also:

21 November 2012

A Baptist in Kolkata

We take a look at Chris Duffet's visit to India and track the first four day's events. The visit to the area around Kolkata is proving very interesting. Chris has been communicating without language, healing without medicine, and travelling where there are no roads.

A flower market in Kolkata
Chris Duffett is the President of the Baptist Union here in the UK. He lives in a village not far from me, I've had the pleasure of meeting him several times, and I can report that he is a most extraordinary and special chap.

At the moment he is visiting India with an international group, they're in the region around Kolkata in the north-east, in the state of Bengal, not far from the border with Bangladesh.

Prophetic words - Before he left home his eleven-year-old son told him, 'Dad, you don’t have money and things to give but what you do have is Jesus.'

These words would soon be shown to be prophetic; pure truth and life coming from the mouth of a child. Jesus told his followers (and tells us), 'Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven'. (Matthew 18:3)

Day 1 - Here are a few recent quotes from his blog, 'Be the light'. The first extract is from his first day in the country.
The poverty is overwhelming and not being able to communicate using the language humbling. A woman walked with me for half a mile or so carrying her baby. She asked and asked and asked some more for money. I didn’t have anything to give. It was humbling as she stuck so close and glue-like walked with me thinking I had money to give. In the end I simply looked at her and prayed over her and her child. I had nothing else to give.

Day 2 - On the second day he was invited to speak at a meeting and afterwards he invited people to come for prayer. He was overwhelmed by the numbers.
I prayed for so many people: the ones that stand out are the lady with a painful, possibly broken wrist, but I couldn’t work out whether it was broken or not. Her wrist was completely restored and she was able to bend it- she then joined me in prayer for healing for a young girl who had painful legs. Afterwards with a big smile the girl told us that the pain had gone.

A lady also had pain in her legs and as I prayed for her she spoke of the pain lifting.

Day 3 - On the third day in a very remote village where nobody had previously shared Jesus, Chris was invited to a woman's home.
We sit outside on a straw mat amongst the chickens and ducks and I am introduced by Benjamin. I share the story of Jesus and how he never turned people away, how he welcomed all kinds of people and healed them. I spoke on the story of the 4 friends bringing their friend on a mat and because there wasn’t any room on the house, they lowered him through the roof!

They loved the story. Benjamin added some more and then I asked if I could pray for the lady who couldn’t walk. I don’t know whether she was healed or not, but my goodness she loved being prayed for. She was so thankful. Humbling. As we prayed I sensed the most beautiful peace coming to her.

Day 4 - On the fourth day, Chris visits Serampore College and writes...
Students throng everywhere on Campus and it feels mega crowded. I learnt that Theology isn’t just for ministerial training and the Vice Principle of the Theology department Rev. Dr. Pratap Gine explained that many people who wouldn’t consider themselves Christian also study alongside those who are training to become pastors. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this and kept thinking of some of our baptist colleges in the UK and how that couldn’t really happen.

I hope this has whetted your appetite! If you want more you will need to visit Chris's blog again over the next few days to see what happens next.

Questions:

  • Is there something special about meeting simply? Have we in the West lost something by making it more complex and structured?
  • What is your attitude to extreme poverty? The poor are all around us where we are, how can you reach them?
  • Are there advantages or disadvantages in allowing unbelievers to study theology?
  • Why do we need to be 'like little children'? Is faith simple or complicated?

See also:

20 November 2012

Stars, whales, and worship

Here's an amazing mashup from Louie Giglio involving stars, some whales, and Psalm 148. I found it yesterday on another blog and want as many people as possible to see it.

I was going to post again today on the topic of heaven. But two items from the web have caught my attention and I feel they should take precedence. We'll look at one today and the other tomorrow.

First is an amazing video involving some stars and whales and based on Psalm 148. This was sent to Dave deVries by his daughter and he decided to post it on his blog. I thought it was so special that I want to share it with my readers too.

It made Dave smile, it made me cry, what will it do to you?



Did you watch it? Isn't it amazing?

Louie Giglio is involved in the Passion Movement, writes books and music (some of them very widely known) and is also a manager of sixsteprecords. He is clearly an excellent and engaging public speaker as you can see from the video.

Questions:
  • Are there other people you know who should see this?
  • What other natural singing can you think of that might have been added? (Hint - if you can't think of anything go outside into a garden or park and listen.)
  • How did you feel when you watched the video?
  • Do you sing enough when you're on your own?

See also:

19 November 2012

Other species in heaven

Is heaven a place to which we go after this life is over? If so, who gets to go, just humans? We take a look at our closest relatives and ponder where to draw the line between human and not human. If drawing a line is impractical, might there be something wrong with our understanding of the nature of heaven?

Reconstructed Neanderthals
Here's an interesting idea, something I haven't seen discussed before. If it has been, I missed it.

(Note: If you are a creationist you may not like what follows. The article is not intended to be provocative but you might prefer not to read the rest.)

Many believers in Jesus would say that heaven is a specific place to which we go after this life is over (assuming we have faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour). And many of those same people would also say that only people go to heaven - in other words there will be no cats, dogs, snakes, pigeons or earwigs in heaven.

There are many reasons for thinking heaven may not be exactly what we imagine it to be. But let's leave that aside for the moment and accept that it's a place for retired saints, and animals are not allowed.

The big question is this... Where do we draw the line between humans and non humans?

I hope we can all agree that the major races of people are indeed all human. Negroid, Asiatic, Caucasian, North American Indian and all the rest. Broad divisions and minor differences, we are all one species, Homo sapiens. If we can't agree that - we are in trouble!

Various species - Modern humans are the only species remaining today, but other types of  hominin (human-like primates) existed in the past.

Modern humans - Fossil evidence suggests that modern humans (Homo sapiens) have been around now for perhaps 200 000 years, and most definitely for at least 50 000 years by which time our ancestors were showing evidence of modern human behaviour.

But other fascinating fossil and sub-fossil discoveries have been made, some of them rather recently.

Red Deer Cave People - These may or may not be a different species from us. They lived until 11 500 years ago in China. Research is continuing but attempts to recover DNA have so far failed and other evidence is not yet conclusive. They are known to have used fire and cooked deer meat.

Flores man - This species (Homo floresiensis) was very small and is only known from the Indonesian island of Flores. The most recent specimens date to only 12 000 years ago. They were also toolmakers like us, stone tools have been found with their remains.

Denisovans were recently discovered (2008). They are known from a few minor bone remains in a Siberian cave. DNA analysis shows clearly that they are related to Neanderthals and interbred to some extent with the people who populated the Pacific islands. They survived until about 41 000 years ago and had a common ancestor with both modern humans and neanderthals around a million years ago.

Neanderthals - Quite similar to us, Neanderthals have been known from skeletal remains for many years. They are sometimes regarded as a separate species from us (Homo neanderthalensis) or sometimes as a subspecies (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis). Neanderthals lived in Europe and Asia from 600 000 until 30 000 years ago or perhaps even as recently as 25 000 years ago.

Neanderthals seem to have had behaviour strikingly similar to our own. They probably had language, they made tools, wore clothes, hunted large animals (even the giant mammoths), they wore jewellery, cared for invalids, used fire, painted cave walls and observed rituals for the dead.

Genetic evidence shows that there was limited interbreeding between our ancestors and Neanderthals.

Homo erectus - This hominin may have been the ancestor of  Homo sapiens (us), Homo neanderthalensis and the other groups listed above. They lived from 1.8 million until at least 300 000 years ago and may have remained even longer, perhaps overlapping with us and certainly with Neanderthals. Homo erectus lived in Africa, Europe and Asia, made stone tools, and ate meat as part of a mixed diet.

Homo ergaster - Another possible ancestor, perhaps of Homo erectus as well as the other groups, Homo ergaster lived in Africa from 1.8 million years ago. These ancestors, too, had an advanced stone tool culture.

Overlapping species - It seems that several different hominins were living on the Earth at the same time although we are now the only remaining kind. If we assume that sapiens, floresiensis, denisovans, and neanderthalensis are different species (as many scientistists do), then we have at least four species co-existing. We might even add the Red Deer Cave people which would make five. In many cases there was overlap in geographical range as well, and there was a modest amount of interbreeding between modern humans and both Denisovans and Neanderthals.

The question then arises whether all four (or five) will be present in heaven. Of course, it's possible to argue that all these groups are subspecies of Homo sapiens. In that case we might call them all 'human' and the 'heaven problem' might seem less of an issue. But many scientists studying these groups would say that they are different species of human.

The ancestor species, Homo erectus and Homo ergaster, are also usually regarded as human and it's just possible that a population of erectus remained recently enough to have overlapped with us. Will erectus be present in heaven? How about ergaster?

The question, as I mentioned, is where to draw the line. So in case you haven't drawn that line yet, let's continue along our family tree and see what comes before Homo ergaster.

Earlier hominid ancestors - The ancestor of Homo ergaster, Homo habilis, was another tool user living from 2.33 to 1.4 million years ago. With long arms and a brain only half the size of modern humans, we can be certain habilis was a distinct species. This early hominin died out long before our own species developed.

An earlier genus of hominin, Australopithecus gave rise to the early Homo line. They are represented by several species living between 4 and 2 million years ago. They walked upright, their brains were around a third of the size of ours. They used simple tools (as do chimpanzees and gorillas).

Chimpanzee and australopithecine lines separated around 5.4 to 6.3 million years ago (possibly earlier). Sahelanthropus may perhaps represent a late common ancestor. It has a brain size about a quarter of ours, more or less the same as a modern chimp.

The sub-family Homininae includes humans, chimpanzees and gorillas.

The family Hominidae includes the Homininae as well as orangutans which split off from them some 12 million years ago.

Simians include all the Old World monkeys and apes (the Hominidae and gibbons) as well as the New World monkeys.

The order Primates includes the Simians and the Prosimians (lemurs, lorises, bushbabies, and tarsiers). The order developed about 85 million years ago from ancestors that were early tree-dwelling mammals.

The Euarchontoglires superorder includes primates as well as rodents, lagomorphs, treeshrews, and colugos. Yes, rats are our distant cousins.

The Eutheria (placental mammals) include Euarchontoglires and all other mammals apart from non-placental types such as the monotremes and the marsupials. The group has it's origins at least 160 million years ago.

Where do we draw that line? - So now that tricky question again. Where do we draw the line? Which (if any) of these creatures will we find in heaven? It's not so easy, is it? Most believers might say modern humans are in and chimpanzees are out. But what about Neanderthals, what about Australopithecus?

Creationists will see the entire argument as foolish. Their view is that all extant species were created as they now are and Homo sapiens is distinct and special. But 150 years ago some would have excluded Negroid peoples as somehow 'sub-human'. They were useful as slaves but would have no place in heaven. Mercifully such views have been swept away, but we should not forget that opinions of that kind were taken perfectly seriously not so long ago.

Non-believers will accept the biology but have no place for the idea of heaven. For them, too, there is no problem.

But setting aside non-believers and Creationists, what do those in the middle think (non-Creationist believers)?

Could it be that there is nothing wrong with the biological understanding of species and evolution, but there is instead something wrong with our idea of what heaven is? We'll take a look at that next time.

Questions:

  • People used to talk about 'missing links' in the fossil record. The record for human development is much more complete now. Do you think missing links are still an issue?
  • If humans evolved from earlier ancestors, where would you draw the line between human and pre-human?
  • If life evolved, does that render faith impossible? If so, how?
  • How do you understand the creation passages in Genesis? Is a literal view plausible? Is a literal view necessary?
  • What is heaven?

See also:

16 November 2012

Like a torch

Because we contain a source of power (Jesus living within us), we can illuminate the darkness and see clearly. The Holy Spirit gave me a picture of a torch, here is the picture along with its meaning and application in our lives.

Light from a powerful torch
While Jim and I were praying on Thursday the Spirit put a picture in my mind. I saw a torch shining a light onto the floor.

And as I watched I noticed that the light beam through the air was not visible, but the spot of light on the floor was clearly visible, in fact it drew my eye away from everything else. It was the most clearly visible thing I could see and I could also see the details of the flagstone floor - but only where the light fell.

And then He gave me a prophecy. Father said, 'You are like a torch, you produce light from the source of power that is within you, but the light you produce cannot be seen until it reaches and shines upon an object of some kind. Wherever the light shines, you can see clearly.' I felt that the word 'you' was plural, that it was spoken to both of us, that it's meant for others to hear too. That's why I'm sharing it now on the blog.

Jim incorporated these thoughts into his prayer and I just felt so grateful that I had been shown something simple and at the same time useful.

What can we draw from this simple picture of a torch?

Each of us is like a torch - We are stand alone creatures, self sufficient in so many ways. Yes, we are in an environment consisting of the physical world around us, but we are like islands in some ways, complete in ourselves and isolated. Most of us, if we so choose, can live self-contained lives in which our inner thoughts impinge little on those around us. We are like torches that are switched off.

However, we do contain a source of power just as a torch contains a battery. The Spirit of  Christ is within you if you are his apprentice. Jesus himself resides in you and provides all the power you need for whatever he wants you to do. You have the power necessary to be a light in this dark world because the One who is Light is in you.

Of course, you need to be switched on. Light only comes from you if you are prepared and willing for that to happen!

An invisible beam - The beam of Christ-light that shines from his people is completely invisible. It only becomes visible when it reaches across the void and touches a person or a situation. And even then, the light doesn't show itself as light.

Like a torchbeam, it reveals clearly whatever is already there. The effect of light is not so much in its presence but in what it reveals when it is focussed on a target. There's a very bright spot in the centre, while further away there's a more general, dimmer glow. And just as a torch can be pointed in any direction, so Jesus can direct the Light onto a particular situation or into the life of a particular person. The beam is moving all the time although we rarely give it a thought.

When you use a torch, you don't hold it still, but you sweep the beam about to illuminate the whole scene. You rarely shine a torch behind you, but direct it forward into the place you will go next.

We should be just the same spiritually.

Spiritual illumination - What we have to do is allow the light to be directed wherever Jesus chooses. Only then will it reach the places where it is especially needed. And how can we do that? There's only one way, we must aim the beam wherever he tells us to aim it. The Holy Spirit was given partly to guide us and when we trust him he is very effective in doing so.

So pray for guidance, expect guidance, and receive it when it comes. When the light is focussed on the right place you will be able to clearly see much more detail. The worst thing for any situation or condition that needs to be changed is for it to remain in the dark. In the darkness there's no way to see any detail, and it's entirely possible the problem will  not even be noticed.

The guidance may come in the form of a hunch or a nagging feeling, it may come through prophecy or an interpreted tongue. It may come because there is no peace to be found by looking elsewhere or it may come in a vision or a dream. And finally it might come as a spoken voice, though this is probably quite rare.

We can see this in action in the Bible.

  • Joseph has a dream - (Genesis 37:5-7) This dream angered Joseph's brother, but it foretold events far in the future. For the full story read Genesis 37:2-36 and Genesis 39:1-42:9.
  • Ananias visits Saul - (Acts 9:10-19) Ananias would not have gone willingly to visit a violent persecutor like Saul. But that is where the Spirit called him to go. The light of Christ had already shone on Saul with devastating effect. Now it was to shine on him again through Ananias. Read the rest in Acts 7:55-8:3 and Acts 9:1-22.
  • Peter visits Cornelius - (Acts 10:11-13) Peter falls into a trance and hears a voice. Read the entire story in Acts 9:43-11:18.
  • A change of plan for Paul - (Acts 16:6-10)  This time the Spirit hinders them from following their own plans but also provides a vision.

Notice how the Spirit focuses the brightest spot on the heart of the issue. Peripheral aspects would also have been illuminated, but not so vividly, but those broader lessons were also important. For example, the bright spot for Ananias would have been 'go and visit Saul'. The general issues would have been such things as 'if I send you you need not be afraid', 'I will often surprise you' and 'my ways are not your ways'.

These are powerful examples of guidance, but it can often be far simpler on a day by day basis. The Holy Spirit often hinders or encourages us by seeding uncertainty or peace in our hearts. Where there is peace, we are often on the right track and it may be fine to continue in the same way. But where there is uncertainty or turmoil it is best to pray and proceed with a cautious, open mind.

The light of Jesus shines into our lives and the situations around us and brings clarity, purpose and effectiveness. Praise him that this is so!

Questions:

  • How often are you guided by the Spirit, and how often by your own planning?
  • Can you think of ways to enhance spiritual guidance in your life?
  • In the four Bible examples above, how would things have worked out if the people involved had not be willing to listen to the Spirit?
  • Where did the brightest parts of the beam and the peripheral areas fall for Joseph, Peter and Paul?

See also:

14 November 2012

Blog post links and questions

There are a variety of ways to make blog articles more useful and interesting. These include the addition of a question section and a links section. Questions stimulate thought and discussion. Links make an article part of a wider network on a particular theme.

Typical 'Questions' and 'See also'
I've begun regularly adding 'Questions' and 'See also' sections at the end of blog posts. Both are intended to make the articles more useful.

An invitation to respond - I've noticed how some other bloggers include open questions at the end of their articles and it's been really helpful.

For one thing it encourages me to think for myself when I've finished reading. It's so easy to read something and then move straight on, but the questions interrupt that automatic urge to see what's next and instead provoke me to think through the implications of what has been written.

Sometimes I leave a comment purely because one of the questions has helped me to agree or disagree with something the author has written, or has taken me beyond what is mentioned in the article.

A list of links - I've also noticed 'See also' sections in some blogs, but this seems less widespread than the inclusion of questions. However, from now on my intention is to provide links in the 'See also' section for every post.

Some bloggers only post links to their own articles, but I'm going to try to link to other blogs and websites too. Expect to find links to other relevant blog articles, Wikipedia articles for topic overviews, recent articles from news organisations, and other stuff that seems relevant from time to time. For completeness the list always includes the links provided in the main body of the blog post.

It's my hope that readers will use the links to explore a trail from one blog post to another, not just within my own blog but much more widely.

I encourage other bloggers to pick up this idea and run with it. If enough of us engage in this rich linking all our blog articles will act as entry points into the wider discussion. It would be very helpful to our readers and it would also bind us into a wide and deep community of writers, commentators and commenters. Along with chain blogs and synchroblogs it would help us transcend the boundaries of individual blogging.

Organic Wine - Some time ago I set up an area on this site called 'Organic Wine'. It has its own tab below the banner. The idea was that this would list links to specific topics that are important to me, specifically around the subject of church in general and organic church in particular.

I haven't kept this up-to-date recently and I hope that the lists of links in articles will be a more flexible way of achieving the same end - linking to relevant material elsewhere in the blogosphere.

We'll see how it goes. If, over a period of time, the new linking arrangement seems successful I may freeze the 'Organic Wine' feature permanently and eventually take the dedicated tab away.

Previous, Next and Index - I have always added these links to the top and bottom of articles where they're part of a series. These links always refer to other posts on 'Journeys of heart and mind'.

When I write a series on a particular theme it's particularly useful for readers to be able to skip to the previous and next articles in the series. It's also useful to see a list of the entire series on a single page (the index). Doing it this way also means the series does not need to be continuous, I can intersperse stand-alone articles that have nothing to do with the series.

To see this in action, here's a list of the series index pages on this blog.

Questions:

  • Do you find the 'Questions' section useful? How? Why?
  • Do you find the 'See also' section useful? How? Why?
  • Do you think I should continue with 'Organic Wine' or not?
  • If you're a blogger, do you think you might begin cross-linking in a similar way?
  • Are there other ways we could make blog articles more useful to our readers?

See also:

13 November 2012

The end of the world?

How long can we go on treating the Earth as an endless provider? There are limits to our resources and we're in the middle of an explosive increase in their rate of use. Are there too many people on this planet? What will happen if we go on like this?

Too many people using too many resources?
Well, maybe not the end of the world, but perhaps the end of the world as we know it.

Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters around the globe make us ask the question, 'Why?' We want to know why things like this happen. It's a natural enough question. It's tempting to think it's not our fault, that disasters happen randomly.

Storms like Sandy do indeed happen randomly, but their frequency and severity are increasing because of human-induced global warming. But where will it all lead? That depends, and it depends on you and on me.

The size of the problem - To get to grips with this we're going to need a broader and more thorough view of the damage we are currently wreaking on poor old planet Earth. Indeed, we've already gone beyond the planet by making a good start at messing up low Earth orbit, now so littered with everything from flakes of paint to spent rocket stages that it could easily become unusable.

We need to grasp that we have not only messed up but that we are continuing to mess up faster and faster. And the almost inevitable result will be an enormous population crash from disease, lack of food, ecological collapse, war, severe climate change or some other catastrophe, or more likely a perfect storm of several major issues in synergy. And the longer we go on doing little to make things better, the more serious the disruption will be.

It's comforting to think that somehow, sooner or later Papa will reach into our world and repair it. But it's more likely that he foresaw the mess and is waiting for us to fix it; he gave us the responsibility and he's warned us repeatedly. But we weren't listening. And we're still not listening.

I'm 65 next birthday and have begun to think of my life as something that will soon be winding down and ending. This is natural, of course. But I am also starting to think of human society as we know it in much the same way. And, not unreasonably, we can even see the universe itself like that if we choose to.

The way forward - We're in a far bigger pickle than most of us realise. And our biggest problem (because to a large degree it causes all the rest) is overpopulation. That's the dark picture painted in outline.

After the crash there may be an opportunity for something new and better. But that is not something to consider right now. Instead let's begin work right away. What is needed? Why, the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

It doesn't sound much of a solution to global warming, does it? But if we truly loved one another we would not be willing to leave such a mess for the next generation. And if we had a little more self-control we might walk and cycle instead of taking the car, demand fewer gadgets, waste less food. If we were really patient, kind, faithful and gentle how might that affect the way we behave?

What we can do - We do have a choice. If we start now we can make some major changes. It's far too late to prevent global warming but it will warm faster and to an even more dangerous level if we delay still further. I would identify population growth and industrial growth as our largest enemies. They are the root cause of pollution, carbon dioxide release, loss of habitat and natural diversity, species extinction and the rest.

The alternative is to carry on as we have done before, stopping our eyes and ears to the signs of looming disaster. Let's leave it for another generation...

Let's be clear. Advances in technology can help us but we will need to be careful about our choices. Where technology can reduce wastage and support more people for less impact that is a good thing. But we need to use this good thing as an opportunity to reduce our impact, not as an excuse to increase our numbers and consumption.

In the longer term there is only one route for further expansion - outwards. There is still room for growth in space - perhaps on the asteroids, Mars, or the Moon. But Earth is more than full already.

We're demanding far too much of our planet. Stop it! Now!

Questions:

  • What do you think will happen if our population and consumption continue to grow?
  • Many small changes make a big difference. Are there ways you could save a little energy, food or other scarce resource?
  • Are there ways you can apply pressure to your local or national government to be less concerned about growth and more focussed on reducing our impact?
  • If we don't act today, how long should we wait?

See also:

12 November 2012

Am I a member of the church?

Most people understand the word 'church' to mean a building, an identifiable subset of the believers in a town or district, or an activity that happens at a particular time or place. None of these definitions matches anything we find in the Bible.

Is this church?
In conversation with a friend yesterday, I heard once again that I am not a member of 'a church'. I didn't record the exact words but the sense was that I'm unusual in not belonging to 'a church', that it's a bit quirky and perhaps not a good thing.

And the day before yesterday I was listening to another conversation about 'a church' buying a building.

Of course, it's certainly not the first time I've heard these things, and I'm sure it will not be the last! But it's worth thinking this through again. What is 'church'? What is 'a church'? And what does it mean to 'belong' to church?

Organisations - The idea goes that there may be several churches in a small town. St Neots has about 30 000 inhabitants and in the UK some 1.5 % of people are involved in church activity. That suggests about 450 church members in St Neots.

There's an assumption here, so widespread and commonly held that we barely notice it. The assumption is that church is an organisation and that the people belonging to it are going to meet in a particular place once or twice a week. Clearly there may be several such organisations in a town and each may meet in a separate place.

Only one church - But Jesus was clear that there is only one church. He said, 'I will build my church'. That is singular - one church. A common way around this is to think in terms of 'the church universal'. True - there is one worldwide church and it necessarily meets in many places. But a problem with that idea is that the New Testament authors wrote of the church in a town, Ephesus or Rome for example. Yet we do not anywhere read about a church in Ephesus or in any other place, it's always the church. It seems clear that Paul thought in terms of one church that met in various homes, towns and provinces.

He does not think in terms of two or three different organisations in Ephesus called church (though the people probably met in several homes). Nor does he anywhere distinguish different 'churches' on grounds of doctrine, teaching, founder or understanding. On the one occasion he does mention this he regards it as a very bad practice that needs to be nipped in the bud.

'I hear', he writes to the church in Corinth, 'that you are saying that you follow Apollos or Paul or Jesus'. He sees this as a terrible precedent, a horrid disfigurement of Christ's body, he insists the practice must end immediately (1 Corinthians 1:9-17).

Church in the biblical sense is clearly a community, not a building or an institution. The Greek is ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) which means, literally, the 'called-out' ones. We are called out from the world into the community of the King. As we live (and meet) together we are part of this one community.

Being a member - So, in what sense am I not in a church, not a member of a church? And in what sense does a church need a building of its own?

If we think in terms of the Baptist Church, The Methodist Church, the Anglican Church, River Church, Open Door Church and the range of other 'churches' in St Neots then I am not a member of any of those. And Paul, I suggest, would have vehemently argued that we should all come to our senses and recognise that Christ is not divided.

Instead, I am a member of the church in St Neots, a statement Paul would have understood and surely applauded. It would be a mistake to suggest that because I'm not a member of this part or that part I am therefore somehow not a part of the whole. On the contrary, by being a member of a selected part I would be separating myself from every other part.

I have good, useful contact every week with a variety of people from several of the 'churches' and from none. We talk together, pray together, read together, sometimes we sing together, and we are being built together day by day into one body here in St Neots. I need and want nothing more. Jesus calls me to nothing less. I am a member of the church here in St Neots, the town where I live.

Questions:

  • In light of 1 Corinthians 1:9-17, how do you justify denominations?
  • If you disagree with my views in this article, where do you think I have gone wrong?
  • How do you explain Ephesians 4:1-6 and Ephesians 4:11-16?
  • What did Jesus mean by 'unity'? (See John 17:20-23)

See also:


* Note: I think the conclusions are somewhat rigid but the arguments are worth considering.

09 November 2012

Child support

Our future as a nation depends on the well-being of our children. They will be the leaders, politicians and educators of the next generation. Where children are not getting the support they need it's essential that the government steps in to help.

Roman sculpture of children playingChildren are precious. They are, in a very real sense, our future. How the next generation is supported, educated and encouraged will have more effect on the future of a nation than almost anything else.

Today's children are tomorrow's policy makers, employers and employees, teachers, police etc. They will shape the societies of the next generation.

To a considerable degree, therefore, the future also depends on today's parents and educators. But underlying all of this is the means by which our children's practical needs are met. In an ideal world this would be through the love and care of two parents in a stable and safe home environment with an adequate income. But we don't live in an ideal world.

What happens when marriages break down or a child is born to a single mother? Single fathers are less common, but death of a Mum or marriage breakdown can lead to situations where single dads face the same issues as single mums. One of these issues, perhaps the simplest to fix, is adequate income. It's usually difficult for a single parent to sustain full-time work. When children are small it may be all but impossible, when they are older the situation may ease to merely very difficult.

In this post we're going to focus on the role of the Child Support Agency (CSA) in securing an income where a marriage has failed. Earlier today my wife and I were chatting with a friend who is a single Mum. It turns out that this month there is a difficulty, the father's bank account has failed to fund the monthly payment to the CSA and they, in turn, are unable to pay our friend until the problem is resolved. Meanwhile there are bills to pay, not least for food. (Of course we and/or other friends will help out, but that is not the point.)

This is a very common situation. Sometimes the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months and  the children suffer. It's not the CSA's fault as far as I can see. They are following the rules and guidelines under which they were formed by the British government in 1993.

The way it works is that the CSA acts as a clearing-house or go-between for funds. The CSA will typically rule on the level of monthly funding that is appropriate. They can either take the money direct from a salaried income and pay it to the partner caring for the child, or they can agree to take a monthly payment from a bank account and pay that to the caring partner.

So far, so good. However, when the payment to the CSA fails for any reason, no payment is made to the caring partner and the children suffer.

It seems to me that the rules of operation need to be changed. The CSA should have a legal obligation to provide the agreed level of support to the caring partner (technically, the person/parent with care) and would become responsible for collecting funding from the funding partner (technically, the non-resident parent). In this case the children would be properly supported whether or not the funding partner paid up. In cases of non-payment it would be up to the CSA to pursue recompense, if necessary through the courts.

This would improve security for caring partners and children and make it far harder for individuals to avoid their obligations.

I urge the British government to examine the issue and modify the legislation if necessary. As a nation we cannot afford for any of our children to suffer like this during their formative years. The future of the country will one day be in their hands.

Legislation is no replacement for love and provision by willing parents living in harmony. But where this fails the children deserve much better from us.

Questions:

  • Are you a single parent? If so, do you feel the CSA is doing a good job?
  • If you could change one thing about the CSA, what would it be?
  • If you're a single parent, how important is the support you get from friends and family?
  • Do you know any single parents? What informal opportunities have you found to support them?

See also:

07 November 2012

A Bible free of religion?

The Religion-Free Bible is a project by Jim Palmer to develop a new paraphrase of the Bible. The objective is to inspire people to greater love, peace, compassion and harmony. It's a collaborative venture with everyone invited to be involved.

Life and religionJim Palmer, best known for his book 'Divine Nobodies', is working on a new project (Jim and a whole series of helpers, that is). Anyone can volunteer to help with the work of The Religion-Free Bible (RFB) Project. There are several ways to get involved. But first, what is the RFB?

I suggest you go to the RFB website and take a look. On the home page Jim provides twenty-five reasons for creating a religion-free Bible. One of his reasons is that the Father 'has no religion'. Another is that 'in the hands of the people, the Bible can be an instrument of love, beauty, peace, acceptance and harmony in the world.'

Here are two extracts from the RFB 'About' page...

The Religion-Free Bible Project exists to inspire more love, peace, beauty, goodness, acceptance, compassion, justice and harmony in the world by offering humankind a paraphrase of biblical passages, which combine texts and images to creatively capture the spirit and meaning of the Bible, free from the bias and baggage of man-made religion. The goal of the RFB Project is to make the Religion-Free Bible accessible to all people worldwide, and for 51% of our world population to have a copy of the RFB in some form.
...
Jim believes that the value of the Bible lies in its capacity to transform people’s relationship with themselves, God, others, life, and world, not perpetuating theological dogma or religious rules and rituals. In frustration about the disempowering spin on the Bible he often saw online, Jim wrote out a paraphrase of one of Jesus’ sayings and posted it on Facebook. He added and image to his post and referred to it tongue-in cheek as the JPV – Jim Palmer version. A significant response to this and other JPV posts, led to the idea of the Religion-Free Bible, which combines Jim’s paraphrase and images he has selected for each entry.

What does the RFB text look like? - This Bible is a paraphrase, a rewriting of the meaning using entirely new wording. It should not be regarded as a translation, there are plenty of those in many of the world's languages.

Other paraphrases include the 'Living Bible' and 'The Message', both of which are widely known and used. Unlike these, the RFB is luxuriously reworded in order to emphasise the meaning in all its richness. Like any paraphrase there is, of course, a degree of interpretation involved. It's the Bible as understood and experienced by Jim Palmer.

Here is John 3:16-17. Compare it with some other versions.

  • NIV (UK version) - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
  • The Message - This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
  • Religion-Free Bible - Love gives. Love is what brought me into this world. I am a gift, offered in love. Love desires your freedom. Love desires your wholeness. Love wants you to know yourself as complete. Love wants you to be at peace. My life was an invitation to this freedom, wholeness, peace and love. But my invitation is a choice. You have also been fed a lie about yourself that will ultimately destroy you. The lie says you are bad and worthless, irreparably flawed, defective and unacceptable, and undeserving of love and acceptance, even from God. I’m here to say that’s not true, and I’m asking you to believe me. Even when everything in your head or everything in your life seems to be evidence of the lie, I’m asking that you believe me instead. I’m going to be gone soon, and I need you to get this because I need your life to be that invitation as mine was. You are as much a gift to the world as I am, and I want you to accept and own that for yourself. Love never stopped giving. Love keeps birthing new expressions of the truth to awaken those lost in the lie. First, you have to wake up yourself and then your life naturally becomes the smelling salts this world needs.

Is the RFB going to succeed? - You will have to be the judge of that. All of you who choose to read it for yourselves.

The language is different from anything we've seen before. Does it put the sense over well? Will ordinary people understand it? Some people will feel it is a misleading version, that religion is an essential part of the Bible. Some will be unhappy that it leaves certain things out or adds other things in.

We must remember that it is an interpretation. I'm asking Papa to use it to open hearts and minds to the fragrance of his presence in this world and to reach many who reject religion but in doing so may also reject the truth of the Father's love for his creation.

I know this project won't please everyone and will offend some. But on balance I think it's a great idea and a worthy project and I will be supporting Jim any way I can.

All I ask of you, my readers, is that you take a look at the RFB Project and make up your own minds.

Getting involved - If you want to help, the RFB website has all the information you need. They are looking for financial support for the process of publication, of course. But they are also looking for practical help with photography, the writing/editing side and in getting the word out by telling friends and contacts.

Questions:

  • What do you mean when you use the word 'religion'? What do you think Jim Palmer means by it?
  • Is it possible to tell people about Jesus without being religious?
  • Was Jesus religious in what he said or in what he did? What sort of people liked him? What sort of people despised him?

See also:

04 November 2012

Astonishing tales of reconciliation

Hear some interviews with extraordinary people. This article provides a little background to some recordings available online and then suggests ways you might engage with the situations described. Listen and consider carefully what you hear.

A slimline microphone
In the last post we heard something of the need for reconciliation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. In this post we have more on the same theme.

Julia Fisher records interviews with some extraordinarily brave people engaged in sometimes suprising ways with Father's purpose for his people.

Here in the West we have little idea of what it means to be a believer in a place where it may be hard and dangerous.

Every week she broadcasts one of these short but informative, moving, challenging and encouraging interviews. Here's what she wrote about one of them a few weeks ago.

It may surprise you to hear that in the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem and in the West Bank there are a growing number of Palestinians who were born into Muslim families coming to faith in Jesus – these people are called Muslim Background Believers or MBB’s for short.

It is very dangerous for them to openly declare they are Christians. Equally for Christian Arabs to witness to Muslim people is very dangerous. My guest today is such a person. To disguise his identity let’s call him “J”. I met J in Jerusalem recently – he lives there. He spends a great deal of his time encouraging MBBs in the West Bank. I put it to him that not many people realise these people exist.

There's a full list of these broadcasts on The Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund website. You can listen to them online or download them (click the 'Radio' link at the top of the Home page). They are all worth hearing but the interview she refers to in the quote above is week 115. Listen to week 116 as well where the story continues.

These followers of Isa (Jesus) have truly difficult and dangerous lives, probably much like those of the early church persecuted by (among others) Saul of Tarsus (Acts 7:54-8:3). They need our help and support in prayer, and perhaps in other ways too.

A suggestion - Download the recordings for weeks 115 and 116 and listen to them with your friends. You could do this with any small group of twenty or fewer. Perhaps you are part of a cell group, a Christian Union, or a prayer group. After listening you could discuss what you have heard, pray for the people you heard about, pray for Julia Fisher and her work as an interviewer and broadcaster.

Questions:

  • Do you think it would be easier or harder to grow as a believer if you had no access to the Bible? Why? Did the early church have Bibles?
  • What does it mean to you to store up the word in your heart?
  • Apart from the Bible, what other aspects of our lives do you think Western believers take most for granted?
  • How can you help these people? How should you pray? What else might you do?

See also:

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