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Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pentecost 3: Abraham tries to kill Isaac

First Families: Week 2

"The Non-Sacrifice of Isaac"

 Read my earlier post on how we kill our children in the 21st Century


This is a very difficult reading, troublesome even, especially if read on its own in isolation, which of course, is how we read it as we gather in worship today.  If we place it in context, then we need to read the +/- 600 verses of Scripture that have preceded it and then read the 1000's of verses that follow, because these few verses are part of a much bigger story (narrative is a better word) which is the story of God and the people He made in His image, you and me.

To read these few verses on their own, which is how so many of us have been taught to read the Bible, is like reading page 23 of “Gone With the Wind” or “War and Peace” or of the first Harry Potter book, but not reading what comes before or what follows, perhaps thinking that we actually know the whole story, even though we’ve never read it.

As I have shared many times before and will share many times more before I leave here, when we read the Bible as a story, what emerges dazzles us: a beautiful, powerful, gritty story that resonates with, gives meaning to, and continues to unfold in the life of Jesus and His teaching.  And this story invites our participation as well, not as pawns on a cosmic chess board, but as creative characters and junior partners with God in the story of Creation and new Creation.  As we looked at a few weeks ago, the Resurrection of Christ marks the beginning of the new Creation and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit into each one of us marks our rebirth into that new Creation and into God’s Story.

So, if we read it on its own it sounds like the story of a God who requires/asks a faithful servant to kill his son and burn him up as an offering to that God.  Would you serve such a God? 

Now……some historical context is required.  The call of Abraham and later the birth of Isaac takes place roughly 800 years before Moses, 800 years before there was any commandment about killing given by God to people – Abraham isn’t breaking any commandment when he tries to kill Isaac.  This story takes place roughly 2000 years before Jesus, so it took place 4000 years ago.  The world was a very different place then.  Here in South Africa thousands and thousands of hunter-gatherers which we now call Khoisan were going about there business of……well……hunting and gathering.

In the Middle East, people had already moved from hunter-gatherers to farmers

 and with farming had come the development of cities – so when Abraham arrives in the land of the Canaanites, there are settled down people living there who have developed cities..  A common part of religion in those days was the sacrifice of children……the gods who gave you fertility, children, rain, crops sometimes withheld fertility in the form of rain and crops and the people came to believe that if you offered your fertility, ie one of your offspring, back to the gods, they in turn would pour down their fertility on you.  Now……that’s barbaric but we MUST remember, this is 4000 years ago, long, long, long before God will say, “You must not kill.”

Abraham was prepared to do what everyone else did, sacrifice a child if necessary, and he was serving a God who, he thought, was just like all the other gods. Why would he believe differently? He believed with all his heart, mind, soul and strength that he served a god who was like all the other gods, a god who sometimes required child sacrifice.  So, when he sensed his God saying to him, sacrifice your child, it was not surprising or extraordinary.  Remember, if you read the Bible as a story, not reading it knowing the end even before you start, then, 4000 years ago, that is where people were at, it was the norm to sacrifice a child now and again, to the gods.

And so, in the above context, verse one is incredibly important: “Sometime later, God tested Abraham.”

And if we read the Bible backwards, not as a story from beginning to end, but backwards from now to Jesus and then now and again reading a bit of this and a bit of that from the Old Testament……if we read the story backwards, we find ourselves asking: “I wonder if Abraham will have so much faith in God that he will kill his son to prove his love and obedience to God” in other words: "will he do what everyone else does at that time when their gods ask for a child……because Baal, Molech, Asherah, all asked for their worshippers to do this on occasion.....or perhaps we'll ask, I wonder if he'll be different?"  When Abraham arrived in Canaan I doubt whether he would have met a family that hadn’t sacrificed one of their children to their god, so we can wonder if he'll be different.

So, verse 1 is very important: “Sometime later, God tested Abraham.”  It’s time for Me (Us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to test Abraham, and the test is to see if he believes with all his heart, mind, soul and strength that I am just the same as all the other gods around him, or to see whether he believes with all his heart, mind, soul and strength that I am……different……from all the other gods he sees worshipped around him.  I have proved to him through his wife Sarah that I am a God who gives fertility.  I wonder if he thinks I’m the same as all the other fertility gods, I wonder if he thinks I require, desire or need, child sacrifice. 

 Let’s test him.  A little while back he pleaded and argued with me when I told him I was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah – wicked people.  And he said: If there are 50 righteous people, will You save the city, and I said Yes, I would……then he said, if there are 45……and I said Yes, I’ll spare it……then he said……40……30……20……10.  This man pleaded and pleaded with Me, his God and discovered that I will spare the righteous from death.  I wonder how much he will plead for his little boy, who hasn’t even had a chance to become unrighteous.  I wonder if, after everything he’s learnt about me, he still thinks I’m a god who needs, who desires a parent to sacrifice his child to me.  I wonder if he realises I’m different to Baal, Molech and Ashteroth……and satan.  I wonder if he thinks I’m the same……I wonder if he’ll plead for his son as he did for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He passed that test by showing that he will question me and my authority when he thinks I’m being unreasonable.  I wonder if he’ll pass this test……and Heaven holds its breath.

If we read the first 600 verses before these, we know that God has created humans in His image……we know that humans, with all creation, are very good.  We know what God thought of the first murder, Cain killing Abel.  We know what God thinks of a brother killing a brother.  We’ve discovered in the story of Cain how God blesses and protects Cain the murderer, not because Cain is a sinner, but because God just longs to forgive and show mercy……we learn all this in the first few pages of Scripture.  We know by page 27 (in my Bible of 1400 pages) ……we know by this stage whether this God of life would want any of us to sacrifice any of our children by tying them to a braai and putting a knife through their chest. 

Abraham should have known better by now……I think. He should have, with his very questioning mind, with his previous bargaining with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah of all places, places to which he had never even been, he should have known better.....especially as he has discovered that he can actually bargain with God, he's discovered that God longs to save life, not destroy it.

Yes, Abraham showed obedience……an obedience which says: I was just following commands.  Yes, Abraham showed faith, but I’m not sure it was a faith very different from that of the people around him who worshipped their fertility gods – a faith which perhaps said, “He gave me this child in my old age……no doubt He’ll give me another one.”

And yes, God does stop him and then say to him "Now I know that you fear God." But I think the all knowing God knew that already, just as He knows already whether you, I, AMC, fear Him....which remember is the beginning of all wisdom. He knows already without asking us to sacrifice our children. So as I said at the start, this is a troublesome story, and I fear God enough to know that He doesn't mind my saying that.

Here’s my problem: By the time I read the Bible, as a story, from beginning to end, which I encourage you to do, I discover the following absolute and unchangeable truths about our God:

The first unchangeable and absolute truth about God is that He does not change. God has not changed, God cannot change – He is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. This is why we can put our faith in Him




 The next unchangeable and absolute truth about God is that God deserves our obedience. I don’t want to say demands because that word brings a different dynamic into any relationship – so I say deserves... God deserves, is worthy of, our obedience……He deserves and is worthy of your obedience – does He get your obedience?

The next unchangeable and absolute truth about God is that God deserves and is worthy of sacrifice and offering ……He deserves our offerings, deserves our tithes, deserves our lives – does He get them...or do we withhold?

The next unchangeable and absolute truth about God is that God never demands or desires that we sacrifice another human life to Him in order to show our love, our obedience, our faith in Him..... Never .....Self-sacrifice.....Yes.  That after all is what we see on the Cross……not God saying you can kill My Son, but God saying you can kill me, because I am in My Son and My Son is in me.  (This is why it's so important that today’s teaching follows my last on the Trinity.)  We didn't kill God’s Son, we killed God the Son....we killed God (who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit) on the cross.

God deserves and models self-sacrifice, never other-sacrifice.....Do we offer ourselves as living sacrifices?


I conclude with these thoughts for reflection:  God will not change and has never changed.  The unchanging God deserves our obedience, our sacrifice, ourselves.  Is He getting these from you, from me, from His church?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A First Family Behaving Badly


I will be following the Old Testament readings for the next few weeks in a series which looks at
  First Families (as proposed by the GBOD)

This week: A First Family Behaving Badly






Monday, June 16, 2014

June 16: How Does Your Nation Kill Its Children

Today marks the 38 anniversary of the Soweto Uprising in South Africa and my devotional reading had me coincidentally reading this poem by Eva Pickova, a 12-year-old inhabitant of the Terezin ghetto. Eva was deported to Auschwitz in 1943 and killed there. This got me thinking about the different ways that modern nations find to kill their own children. It's a depressing and disturbing thought, but one of the ways we can honour the dead children of June '76 is by reminding ourselves that the killing of children continues, often sanctioned by the very authorities that are meant to protect our children. If you read Eva's poem (she was eventually gassed to death by her government) and substitute typhus with bullets 
or no antiretrovirals
you will get a sense of some of the unique ways we in South Africa have found to kill our children in recent years. Other nations kill their young by sending them to fight wars [on behalf of the (older) people who get them into them in the first place], where the killing of other peoples' children is described as collateral damage, other some nations kill their children by not protecting them from kidnappers or bothering to go to too much effort to find them when they are kidnapped, etc, etc, etc. Lord, have mercy.
This is not what Jesus meant when He said: Suffer little children,....
                              


How does your nation kill its children?

Here is Eva's Poem


Today the ghetto knows a different fear,
Close in its grip, Death wields an icy scythe.
An evil sickness spreads a terror in its wake,
The victims of its shadows weep and writhe.
Today a father’s heartbeat tells his fright,
And mothers bend their heads into their hands
Now children choke and die with typhus here,
A bitter tax is taken from their bands.


My heart still beats inside my breast
While friends depart for other worlds.
Perhaps it’s better - who can say?
Than watching this, to die today?
No, no my God, we want to live!
Not to watch our numbers melt away.
We want to have a better world.
We want to work - we must not die!







Saturday, June 14, 2014

Prayer for Trinity Sunday and Fathers' Day


Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


PASTORAL PRAYER FOR FATHER'S DAY

    Loving and Merciful God, whose power is beyond our scope and whose wisdom is beyond our understanding, we turn to you in faith assured that you know our every emotion and are aware of our every need. Our thoughts and prayers today are turned towards our fathers.

    For those whose fathers have increased the joy in their lives, we give you thanks.

    For those whose father's presence is greatly missed may we take time to gratefully recall all they have given to us, providing for us in our growing.

    For those who have recently lost or who are facing the imminent loss of their own fathers, may they find comfort in their grief, hope in their despair, courage in the love that their fathers have given them.

    We give thanks, God, for those good men who sustain and support us in our living, who love us no matter what! What a blessing they are to all who know them!

    We give thanks to you, O God, for all those whose gift for fatherhood is so strong that they have allowed their caring to spill over into the lives of others providing the guidance and stability, the nurture and the love needed.

    How distressing it is for us to consider that not all fathers have been good fathers. We pray, compassionate God, for those whose father has been a source of hurt and pain, for all those for whom one or more members of their family has caused them to suffer. May their wounds be healed. May they find in you, in us, in others, the nurturing, sustaining love that is needed for their growth and well-being.

    We recall with sadness fathers who are separated from their children through life choices made by them or others. Give them the insight and wisdom, the courage and perseverance to parent in whatever creative and life-giving ways are open to them. Give them the courage to make the decisions which allow their children to prevail.

    We remember before you single fathers and mothers who struggle to be both parents to their children --to provide all the emotional, physical and spiritual needs without the constant support of a spouse. May they find the strength, the courage and wisdom for their task.

    We pray for those fathers whose relationships with their children have been difficult or disappointing. We pray, too, for those who have been denied a chance to be fathers, and for those whose years of parenting have been cut short by the loss of a child. We turn to You, most holy God, knowing, trusting that you can console where consolation seems impossible. May they receive comfort for their soul and peace and hope for living, that their gifts may not be denied to others.

    Finally, O God, we rejoice with you, at the many fine men, who have taken their place as fathers with open hearts, with willingness and joy.

    And we join all fathers everywhere in praying that their children may be well and happy, a source of joy for years to come.

    Hear our prayers this day, O God, and give to us such assurance of your love that your love may spill from us into the lives of others.

    Amen.

A colleague of mine (Rev Jenny Sprong) in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa has shared this beautiful prayer. I'm not sure if any further acknowledgements are due regarding its authorship. If any readers are aware of its origin, please contact me cedric@johnwesleyproject.com and I will publish that information.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Trinity Sunday: Believe in God... or....Believe God

(Read John Wesley's Sermon on the Trinity here)
(Read the Prayer for Trinity Sunday here)
(Read a Fathers'Day prayer here)

One of the biggest controversies that the early Church faced was over coming to terms with who God is, the God who had revealed Himself in the Scriptures we call the Old Testament.  They had to reconcile the Biblical truth that, “The Lord your God, the Lord is One” (Deut 6:4) with the truth they had come to experience in the presence of Christ who had seemed to them to be God in their midst, especially after His resurrection.  And then, after Pentecost, they had to try and explain the Holy Spirit, who was poured out on them and now seemed to be the amazing and quite unbelievable, presence of God within them!
                                                
“Behold, Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One”......but He seems to be in Heaven, and Jesus has said we can call Him Father,...... and He seems also to have been on earth in Jesus who called Him Father,..... and He seems to be in us when we are born again and baptised in the Spirit, as Jesus said we must be if we want to see and be a part of the Kingdom which is in our midst (John 3.)

It really was (and is) a mystery, but by 55 AD when Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians, one can see they are coming to terms with what would only later be called the Triune God, the God who is Trinity, the God who is One, but Three......Three, but One......mystery.  

Paul ends his letter with what has become the best known benediction among Christians, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Much later the Church would put into words this belief in the form of a credo, a creed, which means: “I believe.” The Nicene was written in 325 AD and puts into words the mysterious description of God as Trinity, as God who is Father, God who is Son and God who is Holy Spirit.

Our God is a “plural”, a “we”, an “us”......mystery.  Our God has said that He is not like us, that His ways are not our ways but even so He has chosen to reveal as much of Himself (themselves) to us as we can bear to see and take in ...... and this is enough for us to be able to decide whether we want to have anything to do with Him/Them. 

That our God is a we/us should come as no surprise to us because right back in the very first verses of our Scriptures (Genesis 1:26)

            “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.

Do you see that: God said......Let us.

So here’s the question we must ask......what does it mean to be created in the image of, in the likeness of God who is Trinity?

This is key to our understanding of everything we’ve been looking at since Easter.  Good Friday marked the drawing into one place, the focusing, of all evil into one place and onto one person, God the Son, Jesus the Christ.  That one “person” then conquered all evil and with His resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the week, inaugurated a new world, a new creation, a new kingdom, a new order, which has many manifestations, just one of them being that evil has never again had the last word, evil is a conquered enemy (which of course is a very dangerous enemy to have).  And then with the giving of His Holy Spirit, God has created a new people, the Church, whose primary calling is to accept God’s invitation to be a part of inaugurating this new world (while we live in the old), this new creation, while we live in the old creation, inaugurating this new kingdom where we have one King and His Name is Jesus, even as we live under other kings/rulers/presidents with other names, inaugurating this new order, which is now God’s order, God’s pattern, God’s way even as we live under the order, pattern, ways of the old world.

For all this we need to be born again, and part of that process is ......  becoming ...... like ...... them, getting new ears, new eyes.....a new heart...all of these like...God's.

“Let us make humans in our likeness” ...... let us recreate humans, who have had our image/likeness shattered in them because of sin, let us recreate them in our image, let us restore in them, our image.  We have dealt with sin, once and for all on the cross, so now we can restore in them, our image ...... if they let us ...... if they want to be like us in the world where they live, and Jesus showed them what that means, ...... if they want that, we will do it in them.  And we can do that because we have sent and will continue sending our Holy Spirit, who is the holy making Spirit in them, if they ask for our Spirit.

I’m going to lift from our reading from Genesis a few things regarding what it means to be created, re-created in God’s image......what it means to be like them, like God......here in Alberton in 2014.

There is much, much more to this subject (books are written on this subject) but I am going to look at the Old Testament reading on the 7 days of Creation, which is where God first reveals Himself to us, and lift 7 things it might mean for us to be “like them" as we go about our business in each of the 7 day cycles that we might have left.

  1. The first chapter of Genesis reveals to us that God is creative – He seeks to build, He seeks to make new, and He always seeks to make better.  We, if we are to be like God, should be creative.....always looking to make new, to make better.  Sometimes, making new means breaking down (the rest of Scripture will show us that our God sometimes breaks down, His people, His Temple...... but always because He has something better in mind.)  In these last few weeks, we have seen bulldozers breaking down people’s homes in our country, but with nothing better in the offing.  That is not creative.  God sometimes brought a bulldozer to His people, their Temple and sometimes to His Church – but always because something better was in the offing.  We are called to be, and re-created to be, creative.
  2. God is especially creative through His words – His words left Creation in place.  Our words, our tongues, ought to be creative and to leave behind creation or the possibility of creation, through the wisdom, knowledge and love imparted by our words.
  3. God creates from nothing and the nothingness from which He creates is in some translations called “the chaos” in verse 2 of Genesis 1.  This is very encouraging in a broken, chaotic world, in a world where many often feel they have “nothing” left.  The person re-created in God’s image, the person who desperately longs to become more like God, especially as revealed in Jesus, realises that chaos and nothingness are the very means, the building blocks,      of the possibility of something good and something new.  God’s Spirit hovers over these things in people’s lives, often waiting for God’s people to proclaim a creative word, like God would, over the mess and chaos of people's situations.
  4. Our God has a rhythm that is good......and I’d love to spend a whole sermon on this but can’t.  God’s heart seems to beat in a certain way, and when ours beats to the same rhythm, I give personal testimony to the fact that our lives change for the better.  After each day of creation, we hear these words: “And there was evening, and there was morning, and that was the first (second, third......) day.”  In God’s rhythm, a new day starts......in the evening, at sunset.  In other words, the day starts with......rest.  Now you may say that this is just playing with words......but they are God’s words, and therefore I think we ought to listen to them and let our minds be conformed to them... Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Paul in Romans12)  The Romans said the new day began at midnight and the Greeks said the new day began at sunrise.  God’s people have always said: The new day begins at sunset.  I’d love to go into this more but will leave it here: to be made in the likeness of God means to also think as God does and move to the same rhythm as God does.
  5. We see in the Creation story, that God trusts those who are made in His image.  He makes all of creation and says: Will you take care of it for me?  Trust is His default.  We live in a world where distrust is the default – people have to prove themselves trustworthy in order to earn our trust – can you see how that is the exact opposite of the God in whose image we are created, and hopefully are busy being re-created.  And the Bible shows in the next chapter that God’s trust was totally misplaced......but here’s the mystery and the grace and the love......He refuses to not trust those who have proven themselves untrustworthy.  That takes tremendous faith on our part but it is often the only way we can speak a creative word into the life of someone the world has discarded.
  6. He blesses......and we should too.  Last week, we looked at, “We are blessed in order to be a blessing” ...... so no more on that this morning.
  7. He rests, and people becoming like Him, should rest as well.  As I read the Creation story, it seems to me that the first thing that humans created in God’s image do......is rest.  Sunset comes on Day 6, just after God created humans in our image.... and it is bedtime.  Then they wake up the next day, the 7th day, and probably say, all excitedly, “Wow......what now......what are we to do on this first morning......” and God says: ...... “it’s a day for you to rest!”

So......our God is an us/we who created humans in His/Their likeness.  We’ve looked at 7 things that might mean for us today. Let's be like Him, as He has revealed Himself to us in Christ and empowered by His Spirit.


I close with this thought: In our creeds, we say that we believe in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.  That is good and well, but only a beginning.  From believing in God, we must move to believing God because it is believing God, Jesus, Holy Spirit that has a transforming affect on us, because then we let Him change us because we believe His way is best for us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

John Wesley On the Trinity

Note from DentalMethodist JohnWesleyProject.com  This sermon was published first in Ireland, bearing the following advertisement dated Cork, May 8, 1775:

Some days since I was desired to preach on this text. I did so yesterday morning. In the afternoon I was pressed to write down and print my sermon, if possible, before I left Cork. I have wrote it this morning; but I must beg the reader to make allowance for the disadvantages I am under; as I have not here any books to consult, nor indeed any time to consult them. 

This information sourced from Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, Vol 22 , Abingdon Press


On The Trinity
"There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one." 1 John 5:7.

1. Whatsoever the generality of people may think, it is certain that opinion is not religion: No, not right opinion; assent to one, or to ten thousand truths. There is a wide difference between them: Even right opinion is as distant from religion as the east is from the west. Persons may be quite right in their opinions, and yet have no religion at all; and, on the other hand, persons may be truly religious, who hold many wrong opinions. Can any one possibly doubt of this, while there are Romanists in the world For who can deny, not only that many of them formerly have been truly religious, as Thomas a Kempis, Gregory Lopez, and the Marquis de Renty; but that many of them, even at this day, are real inward Christians And yet what a heap of erroneous opinions do they hold, delivered by tradition from their fathers! Nay, who can doubt of it while there are Calvinists in the world, -- assertors of absolute predestination For who will dare to affirm that none of these are truly religious men Not only many of them in the last century were burning and shining lights, but many of them are now real Christians, loving God and all mankind. And yet what are all the absurd opinions of all the Romanists in the world, compared to that one, that the God of love, the wise, just, merciful Father of the spirits of all flesh, has, from all eternity, fixed an absolute, unchangeable, irresistible, decree, that part of all mankind shall be saved, do what they will; and the rest damned, do what they can!

2. Hence, we cannot but infer, that there are ten thousand mistakes which may consist with real religion; with regard to which every candid, considerate man will think and let think. But there are some truths more important than others. It seems there are some which are of deep importance. I do not term them fundamental truths; because that is an ambiguous word: And hence there have been so many warm disputes about the number of fundamentals. But surely there are some which it nearly concerns us to know, as having a close connexion with vital religion. And doubtless we may rank among these that contained in the words above cited: There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one.

3. I do not mean that it is of importance to believe this or that explication of these words. I know not that any well judging man would attempt to explain them at all. One of the best tracts which that great man, Dean Swift, ever wrote, was his Sermon upon the Trinity. Herein he shows, that all who endeavored to explain it at all, have utterly lost their way; have, above all other persons hurt the cause which they intended to promote; having only, as Job speaks, "darkened counsel by words without knowledge." It was in an evil hour that these explainers began their fruitless work I insist upon no explication at all; no, not even on the best I ever saw; I mean, that which is given us in the creed commonly ascribed to Athanasius. I am far from saying, he who does not assent to this shall without doubt perish everlastingly." For the sake of that and another clause, I, for some time, scrupled subscribing to that creed; till I considered (1.) That these sentences only relate to wilful, not involuntary, unbelievers; to those who, having all the means of knowing the truth, nevertheless obstinately reject it: (2.) that they relate only to the substance of the doctrine there delivered; not the philosophical illustrations of it.

4. I dare not insist upon any one's using the word Trinity, or Person. I use them myself without any scruple, because I know of none better: But if any man has any scruple concerning them, who shall constrain him to use them I cannot: Much less would I burn a man alive, and that with moist, green wood, for saying, Though I believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; yet I scruple using the words Trinity and Persons, because I do not find those terms in the Bible." These are the words which merciful John Calvin cites as wrote by Servitus in a letter to himself. I would insist only on the direct words, unexplained, just as they lie in the text: "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one."

5. "As they lie in the text :" -- but here arises a question: Is that text genuine Was it originally written by the Apostle, or inserted in later ages Many have doubted of this; and, in particular, the great light of the Christian church, lately removed to the Church above, Bengelius, -- the most pious, the most judicious, and the most laborious, of all the modern Commentators on the New Testament. For some time he stood in doubt of its authenticity, because it is wanting in many of the ancient copies. But his doubts were removed by three considerations: (1.) That though it is wanting in many copies, yet it is found in more; and those copies of the greatest authority: -- ( 2.) That it is cited by a whole gain of ancient writers, from the time of St. John to that of Constantine. This argument is conclusive: For they could not have cited it, had it not been in the sacred canon: -- (3.) That we can easily account for its being, after that time, wanting in many copies, when we remember that Constantine's successor was a zealous Arian, who used every means to promote his bad cause, to spread Arianism throughout the empire; in particular the erasing this text out of as many copies as fell into his hands. And he so far prevailed, that the age in which he lived is commonly styled, Seculum Aranium, -- "the Arian age;" there being then only one eminent man who opposed him at the peril of his life. So that it was a proverb, Athanasius contra mundum: "Athanasius against the world."

6. But it is objected: "Whatever becomes of the text, we cannot believe what we cannot comprehend. When, therefore, you require us to believe mysteries, we pray you to have us excused."
Here is a two-fold mistake: (1.) We do not require you to believe any mystery in this; whereas; you suppose the contrary. But, (2.) You do already believe many things which you cannot comprehend.

7. To begin with the latter: You do already believe many things which you cannot comprehend. For you believe there is a sun over your head. But whether he stands still in the midst of his system, or not only revolves on his own axis, but rejoiceth as a giant to run his course; you cannot comprehend either one or the other: How he moves, or how he rests. By what power, what natural, mechanical power, is he upheld in the fluid either You cannot deny the fact: Yet you cannot account for it, so as you satisfy any rational inquirer. You may indeed give us the hypothesis of Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, and twenty more. I have read them over and over: I am sick of them; I care not three straws for them all.
Each new solution but once more affords New change of terms, and scaffolding of words: In other garb my question I receive, And take my doubt the very same I gave.
Still I insist, the fact you believe, you cannot deny; but the manner you cannot comprehend.

8. You believe there is such a thing as light, whether flowing from the sun, or any other luminous body; but you cannot comprehend either its nature. or the manner wherein it flows. How does it move from Jupiter to the earth in eight minutes; two hundred thousand miles in a moment How do the rays of the candle, brought into the room, instantly disperse into every corner Again: Here are three candles, yet there is but one light. I explain this, and I will explain the Three-One God.

9. You believe there is such a thing as air. It both covers you as a garment, and, Wide interfused, Embraces round this florid earth.
But can you comprehend how Can you give me a satisfactory account of its nature, or the cause of its properties Think only of one, its elasticity: Can you account for this It may be owing to electric fire attached to each particle of it; it may not; and neither you nor I can tell. But if we will not breathe it till we can comprehend it, our life is very near its period.

10. You believe there is such a thing as earth. Here you fix your foot upon it: You are supported by it. But do you comprehend what it is that supports the earth "O, an elephant, says a Malabarian philosopher "and a bull supports him." But what supports the bull The Indian and the Briton are equally at a loss for an answer. We know it is God that "spreadeth the north over the empty space, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. This is the fact. But how Who can account for this Perhaps angelic but not human creatures.
I know what is plausibly said concerning the powers of projection and attraction. But spin as fine as we can, matter of fact sweeps away our cobweb hypothesis. Connect the force of projection and attraction how you can, they will never produce a circular motion. The moment the projected steel comes within the attraction of the magnet, it does not form a curve, but drops down.

11. You believe you have a soul. "Hold there," says the Doctor; [Dr. Bl__r, in his late tract.] I believe no such thing. "If you have an immaterial soul so have the brutes too." I will not quarrel with any that think they have; nay, I wish he could prove it: And surely I would rather allow them souls, than I would give up my own. In this I cordially concur in the sentiment of the honest Heathen. Si erro, libenter erro; et me redargui valde recusem. "If I err, I err willingly; and I vehemently refuse to be convinced of it." And I trust most of those who do not belie a Trinity are of the same mind. Permit me then to go on. You believe you have a soul connected with this house of clay. But can you comprehend how What are the ties that unite the heavenly flame with the earthly clod You understand just nothing of the matter. So it is; but how none can tell.

12. You surely believe you have a body, together with your soul, and that each is dependent on the other. 
Run only a thorn into your hand; immediately pain is felt in your soul. On the other side is shame felt in your soul Instantly a blush overspreads your cheek. Does the soul feel fear or violent anger Presently the body trembles. These also are facts which you cannot deny; nor can you account for them.

13. I bring but one instance more: At the command of your soul, your hand is lifted up. But who is able to account for this For the connexion between the act of the mind, and the outward actions Nay, who can account for muscular motion at all; in any instance of it whatever When one of the most ingenious Physicians in England had finished his lecture upon that head, he added, Now, gentlemen, I have told you all the discoveries of our enlightened age; and now, if you understand one jot of the matter, you understand more than I do." The short of the matter is this: Those who will not believe anything but what they can comprehend, must not believe that there is a sun in the firmament; that there is light shining around them; that there is air, though it encompasses them on every side; that there is any earth, though they stand upon it. They must not believe they have a soul; no, nor that they have a body.

14. But, secondly, as strange as it may seem. in requiring you to believe, "there arc three that bear record in heaven the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one;" you are not required to believe any mystery. Nay, that, great and good man, Dr. Peter Browne, sometime Bishop of Cork, has proved at large that the Bible does not require you to believe any mystery at all. Thee Bible barely requires you to believe such facts; not the manner of them. Now the mystery does not lie in the fact, but altogether in the manner.
For instance: God said, let there be light: And there was light." I believe it: I believe the plain fact: There is no mystery at all in this. The mystery lies in the manner of it. But of this I believe nothing at all; nor does God require it of me.
Again: "The Word was made flesh." I Believe this fact also. There is no mystery in it; but as to the manner how he was made flesh, wherein the mystery lies, I know nothing about it; I believe nothing about it: It is no more the object of my faith, than it is of my understanding.

15. To apply this to the case before us: There are three that bear record in heaven: And these three are One. I believe this fact also, (if I may use the expression,) that God is Three and One. But the manner how I do not comprehend and I do not believe it. Now in this, in the manner, lies the mystery; and so it may; I have no concern with it: It is no object of my faith: I believe just so much as God has revealed, and no more. But this, the manner, he has not revealed; therefore, I believe nothing about it. But would it not be absurd in me to deny the fact, because I do not understand the manner That is, to reject what God has revealed, because I do not comprehend what he has not revealed.

16. This is a point much to be observed. There are many things "which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. Part of these God Hath "revealed to us by his Spirit:" -- "Revealed;" that is, unveiled, uncovered: That part he requires us to believe. Part of them he has not revealed: That we need not, and indeed cannot, believe: It is far above, out of our sight.
Now, where is the wisdom of rejecting what is revealed, because we do not understand what is not revealed of denying the fact which God has unveiled, because we cannot see the manner, which is veiled still

17. Especially when we consider that what God has been pleased to reveal upon his head, is far from being a point of indifference, is a truth of the last importance. It enters into the very heart of Christianity: It lies at the heart of all vital religion.
Unless these Three are One, how can "all men honour the Son, even as they honour the Father" "I know not what to do," says Socinus in a letter to his friend, with my untoward followers: They will not worship Jesus Christ. I tell them it is written, `Let all the angels of God worship him.' They answer, However that be, if he is not God, we dare not worship him. For `it is written, Thou shalt worship the lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.'"
But the thing, which I here particularly mean is this: The knowledge of the Three-One God is interwoven with all true Christian faith; with all vital religion.
I do not say that every real Christian can say with the Marquis de Renty, "I bear about with me continually an experimental verity, and a plenitude of the presence of the ever-blessed Trinity."I apprehend this is not the experience of babes," but, rather, "fathers in Christ."
But I know not how any one can be a Christian believer till he "hath," as St. John speaks, "the witness in himself;" till "the Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit, that he is a child of God;" that is, in effect, till God the Holy Ghost witnesses that God the Father has accepted him through the merits of God the Son: And, having this witness, he honours the Son, and the blessed Spirit, "even as he honours the Father."

18. Not that every Christian believer adverts to this; perhaps, at first, not one in twenty: But if you ask any of them a few questions, you will easily find it is implied in what he believes.
Therefore, I do not see how it is possible for any to have vital religion who denies that these Three are one. And all my hope for them is, not that they will he saved during their unbelief, (unless on the footing of honest Heathens, upon the plea of invincible ignorance,) but that God, before they go hence, "will bring them to the knowledge of the truth."


Edited by David R. Leonard with corrections by Ryan Danker and George Lyons of Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, Idaho) for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.   Copyright 1999 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Text may be freely used for personal or scholarly purposes or mirrored on other web sites, provided this notice is left intact. Any use of this material for commercial purposes of any kind is strictly forbidden without the express permission of the Wesley Center at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, ID 83686. Contact the webmaster for permission. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Prayer for Day of Pentecost

This day, often called the Birthday of the Church, marks the descent of the Holy Spirit ten days after Christ’s Ascension. This is the 50th and last day of the Easter Season, and falls on the Jewish Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot. To Christians, the significance of Pentecost cannot be overstated; it ranks right up with Christmas and Easter. The Holy Spirit is the Person of God who lives with us today, guiding and comforting us, the Spirit of true love.

Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ Our Passover: A prayer for each day of the Easter Season
based on 1 Cor. 5:7-8; Rom. 6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:20-22

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; *
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, *
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; *
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead, *
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death, *
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Sourced from Daily Office

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pentecost: Blessed in Order to Bless

        John 7:37–39
Text

To place this verse in context it is necessary to read some of Deuteronomy and a few more verses of John 7:
"All the men of your nation are to come to worship the LORD three times a year at the 
one place of worship: at Passover, Festival of Weeks(Pentecost in the Greek of the New Testament), and the Festival of Tabernacles." Deuteronomy 16:16

"After this, Jesus travelled in Galilee; he did not want to travel in Judea, because the Jewish authorities there were wanting to kill him.  The time for the Festival of Tabernacles was near,.... 
 After his brothers had gone to the festival, Jesus also went......................   On the last and most important day of the festival Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, "Whoever is thirsty should come to me, and whoever believes in me should drink. As the scripture says, 'Streams of life-giving water will pour out from his side.' "   Jesus said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were going to receive."   

They received that Spirit at Pentecost, one of the three festivals that all Jews had to pilgrimage to Jerusalem for......that’s why there were so many people from so many different nations in Jerusalem on that day.

Pentecost marks a turning point, a pivotal point in God’s great plan of salvation which the Trinity planned before the creation of the world.  They knew what might happen if they made humans in their own image and so put the plan of salvation in place before creation.  1 Peter 1:20 and Revelation 13:8 speak of the Lamb who was slain before the creation of the world.

They knew that when they gave us free will, there was a strong possibility that we would use that free will to sin......and of course we did and we do – even after we discover for ourselves how destructive sin is in our lives.

God’s answer to sin was......the call of Abraham......leading to a small family......leading to a clan......leading to a tribe...... leading to a nation......leading to Jesus who became the representative of the nation and the world on the cross......leading to a concentration of all the powers of evil onto that one man, He focussed all evil onto and into Himself, confronted it, conquered it......leading to a Kingdom of people (the Church) upon whom the Spirit has been lavished, poured out, in order to bring the Kingdom to people.

It looks like this:

SIN leads to  CALL OF ABRAHAM leads to  FAMILY  leads to    CLAN  leads to    TRIBE
leads to    NATION leads to JESUS leads to KINGDOM leads to  KINGDOM BRINGERS (THE CHURCH, YOU AND ME)   leads to      THE KINGDOM COMES AND GOD’S WILL IS DONE

That is God’s answer to sin and that is the reason for Pentecost......to be a people of power, we need His power.

“His incomparably great power for us who believe; that power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the Heavenly realms.”  Ephesians 1:19-20

Resurrection power......in you and me!
Power......to become like Jesus......which is what it means to be a disciple.  In other words, power to love and to show love and to give love.

It all began with the call of Abraham:

 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)

God only ever blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others.Words like “bless” and “blessing” occur over 400 times in the Bible. On top of that there are many places where God’s blessings are being described where these words are not actually used. It is true to say that blessing is one of the great themes of scripture. God’s purpose is that his people should be the means of bringing blessing to the world; that, as we receive his blessings into our lives, those blessings should touch others. And in the history of the family, tribe and nation of Israel, when they’ve got this right, they’ve been blessed......when they’ve got this wrong, God has withheld His blessing (which is like living under a curse) – when He has withheld His blessing they have found themselves in slavery, divided, in exile, oppressed and surrounded by enemies who take away their shalom, their peace. So too the Church......does God curse His Church, punish His Church, withhold blessing from His Church – of course.  Read about the 7 churches in Revelation: eg the Church of Ephesus – “I will take my lamp stand from you.
Thyatira: I will punish you and “then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
In this age of the Spirit, as in every age, don’t mess with God.
Laodicea: “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”
In this age of the Spirit, as in every age, don’t mess with God.

Why does God bless His people and His Church?  Is it so that we can say, “Oh, I am so blessed......praise the Lord” or is it so that we can say: “I am so blessed......I wonder how I can bless others?”

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. 

This is the picture that comes to mind:


God’s love, His Spirit, His power to change situations, poured into us......God’s love, His Spirit, His power to change situations flowing from us – so that thirsty people get some water, hungry people some food, cold people a blanket, lonely people a visit......and in all this, God’s Kingdom comes to them, His Kingdom where there is no hunger or thirst, or loneliness, or cold.
His Kingdom comes and His Will is done......when Spirit-filled people......flow.

Percy (from Amcare) told me this week of one of the Church properties that they have an office on......10/15kms away from here......that locks their toilets and water supply, so the Amcare staff who work there, on a Church property, have no water or toilet facilities – that means the people (poor) who Amcare services there, have no toilet or water either.

Imagine a Church that locks up its water:
This, by the way, is what our taps looked like until Friday of this week.
A few months ago I decided it was time to unlock the Church Bible from its cupboard in the foyer and bring it back into the church sanctuary....this week I decided it is time to unlock the taps on our quite secure property.

The prophet Joel, hundreds of years before the fulfilment of Pentecost promised the people that God will pour out His Spirit upon all people.

Jesus, about 8 months before the fulfilment of Pentecost, promised that we can drink the Spirit from Him and then the Spirit will flow like a river......from us.

Peter, on the day of  Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, says, “It’s happened. This is the moment......The Spirit of God in us......and us in the world.  The Kingdom can now come, in us and through us.”

50 years after Pentecost, John tells us that Jesus is spitting out and judging and leaving......the churches who refuse to be a blessing.

2000 years later, you and I in Alberton, what will it be for you and me?


What will flow from you and me as a result of this Pentecost? I close with three possibilities:

 More love and more power flowing from us......out onto the streets of Alberton, just as the apostles and disciples flowed out onto the streets of Jerusalem with more love and more power.

Or, will we remain unchanged this Pentecost?

Or, perhaps Jesus has come today to set the captives among us free? Our taps are no longer imprisoned....the prophecy of Isaiah (55:1) is fulfilled:
Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink--even if you have no money! Come,--it's all free!


I don’t know what this picture means for you today, but hear this truth: There is power in the blood of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world, there is power in Him and His Spirit to break the chains that imprison you, so that you can know the blessing of God and go out and be more and more of a blessing on the streets of Alberton.

Which of those three will it be for you this Pentecost?
More love, more power please Lord....He's waiting to answer that call from you;
or, No thanks, I'll stay as I am;
or, It's time, today is the day to break free in the power of the Spirit.

I close with these words from a great Wesleyan Hymn:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, 
fast bound in sin and nature's night; 
thine eye diffused a quickening ray; 
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; 
my chains fell off, my heart was free, 
I rose, went forth, and followed thee. 
My chains fell off, my heart was free, 
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.


Let’s rise, free people, and go forth, following Him and being a blessing to the people of Alberton as He has been a blessing to us.