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:

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