Category Archives: Writing

What is the Bible?

The Bible is the most read book in human history by far.

It (at least parts of it) is considered  “sacred” by Christianity, Islam and Judaism – the 3 religions that trace their human origins back to Abraham, and are humanity’s most popular religions – to which nearly 50% of people today ascribe, even if only nominally.

  • The Bible has two parts – the Old Testament and the New Testament.
  • The Old Testament was written before Jesus; the New Testament after.
  • The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew (the language of the ancient Jewish people); the New Testament was written primarily in Greek (the language of the Roman Empire – the “world” into which Jesus was born).
  • The Old Testament comprises 39 books (there are 3 letters in Old and 9 letters in Testament); the New Testament comprises 27 books (there are 3 letters in New and 9 letters in Testament, and 3×9 = 27)
  • The books of the Old Testament were written over a period of perhaps 1000 years (c.1400-400BC?); the books of the New Testament were written over a period of perhaps 50 years (AD 50-100).

The books were (obviously?!) written by a number of different people and in a number of different styles (genres – like history, legend, poetry, letter etc.).

The one thing they all have in common is that they are part of a “Testament” – that is they are all collectively “witnessing” to something. So the key question is what are they witnessing to?

The New Testament is self-evidently witnessing to Jesus. But the extraordinary claim of Jesus is that [the Old Testament] too “are the very Scriptures that testify about me …” (John 5:39)

The Bible is not God; the Bible’s purpose is to point us to Jesus.

John the Baptist was the last and greatest of the spokesmen for God (ie. prophets) before Jesus. It was said that [someone just like] Elijah, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, must come before the Messiah would come. Jesus, referring to John the Baptist, said “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28) and “Elijah has already come” (Matt 17:11)

The role of the Bible as a whole is like that of the greatest prophet in it before Jesus. Perhaps the point is most clearly made if we read John 1:6-10, putting “the Bible” in the place of “John”:

“There was a [book] sent from God whose name was [the Bible]. [It] came as a witness to testify concerning that light [which is Jesus], so that through [it] all might believe. [It itself] was not the light; [it] came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”

In a similar way, people continue to read the Bible without recognising the one it is trying to point us to. We call the Bible the “Word of God” but that is not what the Bible calls itself. John 1 identifies Jesus as “the Word” – in other words, Jesus (not the Bible) is what God has to say to us.

Jesus and the Racing Rat

This is my outline and summary of Geoff Shattock’s book from WorkTalk (see www.racingrat.gs)

Convinced that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was the culmination of his life’s work, Geoff Shattock explores what we might learn about our frenetic world of work from the seven recorded sayings from the cross of the one man who has changed the world more than any other.

“The advantage of having a human mind is that you can take your thoughts to any place and any time you want and race with your ancestors to learn their secrets.”

1. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

  • From holding on to letting go
  • Stress Reduction – The Forgiving Soul
  • Lily Tomlin: “Forgiveness is finally giving up hope for a better past.”
  • Forgiveness requires: acceptance, commitment, thinking, perseverance

2. “I tell you the truth: today you will be with me in paradise.”

  • From keeping back to giving away
  • The Power of Hope – Whispers of Paradise
  • Being good news in a pressurised environment
  • Focussing on the needs of others

3. “Dear woman, here is your son.  Son, here is your mother.”

  • From confusion to presence
  • A Balanced Life – The Meaning of Moments
  • Being fully present in the moment

4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

  • From giving up to holding on
  • Struggle and Integrity – The God-Forsaken Path
  • Integrity in times of darkness and loneliness

5. “I am thirsty.”

  • ​From conflict to congruence
  • Being Yourself – The Obvious Heart
  • Being authentic
  • Appropriate self-expression

6. “It is finished.”

  • From task to goal
  • Getting Things Done – The Real Deal
  • Know what you’re ultimately doing it all for
  • Take time to stop and celebrate the milestones along the way
  • It is how we finish that matters; all else is preparation

7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

  • From longing to finding
  • Spiritual Nourishment – The Grass by the Water
  • Add “Father” to all you do to ‘practice the presence of God’
  • Let words and symbols remind you of the broader spiritual context your work sits in.
  • King David was a shepherd and a soldier: rewrite Psalm 23 with your profession(s)

Lent Reflections on Bible Prayers 6 – Jesus

Luke 23:32-34

Forgiveness is hard.  It is a little easier when the other person is ‘caught;’ or sorry; or we feel strong; or have been vindicated; are confident they will get their comeuppance.

Jesus is being executed as one of the basest criminals by the legal authorities; He is physically exhausted and in excruciating pain; there is no sorrow; and Jesus is being mocked for who he actually is: Saviour, Christ and King (vv.35-38).

And yet even then Jesus prays that God will forgive those who are committing these gross acts of violence and injustice.

Jesus knew from centuries before that He would have to go through this, because God had prophesied through Isaiah: “they made his grave with the wicked … although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. He willingly gave his life and was treated like a criminal … and asked forgiveness for those who sinned.” (Isaiah 53:9&12) and foresaw through the Psalmist “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)

How was Jesus able to ask for forgiveness?  We can only wonder. Perhaps it helped to know that by going through this “he carried away the sins of many people” (Isaiah 53:12) – that there was a greater purpose to his suffering; perhaps it helped to believe that “they do not know what they are doing” (v.34); perhaps it helped to recognise that the whole system in the world needs turning on its head, and that the hope of things being done God’s way is worth standing for even in the face of opposition, mockery and pain.

But however Jesus found the love and the courage, and whatever he felt at the time, he made a choice to forgive which he brought to God in prayer.

Suggestions for prayer and praise

Choose to ask God to forgive someone who has hurt you.

Lent Reflections on Bible Prayers 5 – Two People

Luke 18:9-14

There is a theme in this chapter.  It begins with a story about a widow who obtained justice from a hard-hearted judge not because she had power and influence but just because she was persistent. 

After today’s story of two men going to pray with very different attitudes, Jesus blesses children who were being shooed away and says that His followers need to receive the Kingdom of God like them.

A rich religious leader comes to Jesus for eternal life with a clean record and good standing, but goes away sad because when it becomes clear he values his wealth more than God.

The God of the universe then says that He Himself is going to be mocked and killed by the powers of the world.

The chapter closes with Jesus opening the eyes of a blind beggar who simply asks Jesus to be able to see.

Do you see?  God hears us because he loves us and we ask him – for justice, mercy, blessing for life.  God can’t help us when we come thinking we have saved up enough “angel miles” and He owes us.

Jesus tells the Pharisees they are “so careful to clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are filthy.” (Luke 11:39)  God is concerned for what is really going on in our hearts.  What is going on on the outside may be a natural out-flowing of the heart. But if we’re proud of it, it may well be something to celebrate, but it is likely to be a smoke-screen.

Suggestions for prayer and praise

  • Thank God that He loves you and accepts you as you are.
  • Thank Him for the good things in your life.
  • Ask Him to show you what you are hiding behind those things – and ask that He will have mercy.

Lent Reflections on Bible Prayers 4 – Joshua

Joshua 7:6-9

After 40 years of wandering in the desert, the people of God stood on the hills on the east of the Jordan River looking at the land God had promised to them.   Joshua led the people across the river and God miraculously brought down the walls of the city of Jericho.

The people scouted out the next city, called Ai, and expected that the obstacles would be similarly removed.  In fact, the Israelites were chased away and 36 of them were killed.

So Joshua mourns (tears his clothes, sprinkles dust on his head) before God – for a whole day.  He is honest about how he is feeling (“Why …?” and “If only …”).  Even though he knows he “shouldn’t” be saying things like that and needs to apologise, God knows what is in his heart better than he does anyway.

To grieve and to deal with the ugly thoughts within him, Joshua comes to the “ark of the Lord.” The ark was a special box that contained the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff, and a jar of manna – the food that God had provided in the desert (Hebrews 9:3-4).  These were all symbols of God’s covenant – His promises and commitment to the people.  So this was a safe place to grieve and be honest.

In the end, Joshua is finally able to realign himself to concern for God’s name and His kingdom.  It is only when things are properly aligned – when God’s name is hallowed, His kingdom comes and His will is done on earth – that every tear will be ultimately be wiped from our eyes.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:4,6)

Suggestions for prayer and praise

Is there something that you have not been honest with God about?  Take time and courage to lay it out before God.

Do we need creeds?

88% of human beings believe in ‘god.’ Jews believe that “the LORD is one.” Muslims believe that “there is no God but Allah.” The Bible says “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19)

So what do Christians believe? Do all Christians believe the same thing? Does it really matter or are there more important things to worry about?

A statement of the shared beliefs of a religious community is called a ‘Creed,’ from the Latin word ‘credo’ which means ‘I believe.’ These words are connected with ideas of trust (credit), love, value and where we put our heart.

The most widely used creeds in Christianity, the Apostles’ and the Nicene, were not formalised until the 4th century AD. The split in the Church between Catholic (meaning ‘universal’) and Orthodox (meaning ‘correct’) in 11th century was – at least officially – over a single word in the creed.

So how important are creeds? Are they unifying or divisive? Are they the same as dogma, doctrine or opinion?

This is the subject and these are some of the questions that Tim Nash will be encouraging us to explore at this week’s CHOW, 1-2pm tomorrow in Church House. Do come and join us!

Teaser before leading CHOW session tomorrow for Business Connect.

Lent Reflections on Bible Prayers 3 – Praise

Psalm 134:1-3

The songs of ascents (Psalms 120-134) were sung during the Feast of Tabernacles, when Jewish people would come to Jerusalem from all over and ‘ascend’ Mount Zion to the Temple, remembering the 40 years their ancestors spent in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land.

The Feast is a reminder that this world is temporary and not our home – like a tent (Tabernacle).  Our lives are a journey.  For long periods we may not be sure what is coming next or even where we are going.

At the same time, we know that as God’s people we are also safe within His sanctuary and have a clear role to play in His house.

Whether we currently feel like we are in the dark (ministering by night) or on top of the world this Psalm urges us to praise God.  LORD is the usual English translation for YHWH, which is the covenantal name by which God’s people address him.  So when we praise the LORD, we acknowledge both that we are His and that He is committed to us.

YHWH means something like ‘I am who I am’ – no description, no explanation. Sometimes we feel like we know God quite well; at other times, we just don’t get Him at all.  But He is.  Around the clock.

When we lift up our hands, we communicate physically that we are dependent on Him (like a young child) and that we are offering whatever we have and whatever we are to Him.

When we pray for the LORD to bless others “from Zion,” we are marvelling that the Creator of the universe is amongst us and are implicitly asking to be bearers of the blessings when we descend the hill.

Suggestions for prayer and praise

  • Praise God for being God; for being committed to you; for making you His; that you are safe with Him; that you have a role to play in His Kingdom; that He is with you 24×7.
  • Acknowledge your dependence on Him.
  • Offer all that you are and all that you have to Him.
  • Pray for God to bless others – and to enable you to be a blessing.

Lent Reflections on Bible Prayers 2 – Samson

Judges 16:28

In Romans 12:19 we are told as Christians “never avenge yourselves” because the Lord has told his people “vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Deut 32:35).  Yet here is Samson praying that God will enable him to get revenge on those who gouged his eyes out – and God appears to give him what he asks for!

Throughout the time of the Judges, the people that God had chosen to bless the world through (Genesis 12:3) continually “forsook the Lord and did not serve him” (eg Judges 10:6) – which meant not just that they missed out on God’s blessings but so did the rest of the world.

Each time, God left them to their own devices, they were overrun by stronger nations who “crushed and oppressed” them” (eg 10:8) until they came to their senses and pleaded with God to set them free (eg 10:15).  God then anointed someone to liberate them.  Samson was such a person: dedicated to God and given super-human strength to “begin to save Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (13:5)

Through these bloody cycles of history, the constant question was where should human beings go to find liberation, justice and fruitfulness.  Samson’s failure to live as the person he was made to be resulted in him losing his strength, his freedom and his eyesight.  As a consequence, the rulers of the Philistines (v.27) were celebrating getting an answer to that fundamental question: their god Dagon (v.23).

God allowed Samson’s super-human strength to return so he could push out two pillars and bring down an entire building, taking 3000 Philistines with it.  By giving up his life, Samson finally brought liberation for Israel and a corrected answer for all to that age-old human question.

Suggestions for prayer and praise

  • Praise God as the source of liberation, justice and fruitfulness.
  • Thank God that he has a special role for you that no-one else can fulfil.
  • Ask God for faith, courage and strength to be the person he has made you to be – not just for your sake, but for the sake of the rest of his world around you.

Personal Reflections on Psalm 119

145 I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord,
and I will obey your decrees.
146 I call out to you; save me
and I will keep your statutes.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I have put my hope in your word.
148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promises.
149 Hear my voice in accordance with your love;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws.
150 Those who devise wicked schemes are near,
but they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, Lord,
and all your commands are true.
152 Long ago I learned from your statutes
that you established them to last forever.

We are supposed to identify with the writer, who:

  • is in the midst of real and tangible peril
  • has confidence in the word(s) of God
  • actively engages with God through His word(s)
  • perseveres – because the ‘answers’ are not plain, instant or easy

Lent Reflections on Bible Prayers 1 – Solomon

1 Kings 3:5-9

Here is Solomon, son of the great king David now himself king of God’s chosen people.  Under him the Temple was built in Jerusalem and nation of Israel reached the height of its power.  “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon.” (10:23)  Jesus used Solomon as an example of the best dressed man in history, and God said there never was nor will there ever be anyone like him. (3:12)  So not just a good king but a great king – right?

Here is Solomon – born out of an adulterous and murderous – at Gibeon (3:5) “for that was the most important high place” (v.4), making sacrifices to other gods.  Solomon had just married the Pharaoh’s daughter (v.1) in direct contravention of God’s command not to intermarry with other nations “because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods” (11:2).  He went on to take a total of 700 wives and 300 concubines, as a result of which the Kingdom of Israel was divided and would never again fully recover.  So not just a bad king but a disastrous king – right? 

Solomon recognises both that all he has is an undeserved gift from God, and that he is inadequate in the face of the responsibilities he has.  And that is the same for all of us, whether we have a lot or a little, whether our responsibilities seem great or small.  Solomon sees that his life – like ours – will be a myriad of day to day choices, few of them black and white.  In his prayer, Solomon shows us the desperate need to continually ask God for wisdom – and by his life he warns us of the dangers of failing to exercise the discernment God gives.

Suggestions for prayer and praise

  • Thank God for the role He has given you and all the resources He has provided you with.
  • Acknowledge your frailty and dependence on Him.
  • Pray that He will enable you to make good choices day by day, in the small things as well as the big.