Friday, May 30, 2008

Why trust the Bible (2)

How was the Bible put together?

The idea of a canon or collection of texts constituting one text comes very early. Even from Moses coming down the mountain with the 10 Commandments and writing the first five books of the Bible. These books were then added to, as we see in Joshua 24:26 ‘Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God’ as well as 1 Samuel 10:25, 1 Chronicles 29:29 and Jeremiah 30:2. All these verses speak of words being written in a book, as commanded by the Lord, or laid up before the Lord. This idea is even more remarkable given the command given in Deut 4:2 ‘you shall not add to the word I command you’. In order to have disobeyed such a specific command the authors must have been sure that what they were writing was indeed from God. The collecting of separate texts, often kept together in scrolls continued until about 518BC when the prophets stopped and 435BC when Esther was written.

So why the near five hundred year gap between testaments? Well, given that God’s Word always records God’s redemptive work on behalf of His people, and since the end of Malachi points towards the belief that something was ending but that something new was on the horizon, it’s not that surprising that no words were given between Malachi and Jesus.
There was of course Jewish writing in between these times, but when we look at that, we actually see more evidence against their inclusion in the Bible. The author of 1 Maccabees can speak of distress of the Jews ‘such as not been seen since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.’ The historian Josephus spoke of the ‘failure of the exact succession of the prophets’ Other religious leaders said: after the latter prophets Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah had died, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.’ So there is plenty of contemporary evidence against the inclusion of these writings, what we now call the apocrypha.

More tellingly, perhaps, there was no dispute between Jesus and the authorities of His day as to which books were in the canon and which weren’t. Jesus quotes the OT 295 times in the Gospels but not once from the apocrypha. The OT apocrypha was never really regarded in the same light as the OT itself, more a book of the church than books of the Bible. And, perhaps more tellingly for us, despite the existence of the apocrypha, the earliest post Christ list of the OT lists the books that we use today. Which is very encouraging.

So we can say no to the inclusion of the Old Testament apocrypha in the Bible for the following reasons:
1) They do not claim the same authority as the OT does.
2) Jesus does not regard them in the same light as He regards the OT
3) Neither do 1st century Jews
4) They contain teaching inconsistent with the rest of the OT, and historical and geographical errors.

What about the New Testament? Why did the Bible suddenly start again? It shouldn’t surprise us that when God sent His Son he would also send upon the Apostles the gift of scripture writing, and therefore easy to see why the NT is placed alongside the OT. God’s activity historically was always accompanied by scripture writing.

We’ve already spent time looking at whether we can call the NT scripture in the same way as the OT, and we’ve seen that the clear understanding of the authors was that we can do.
How were these books recognized as part of the canon? We must say recognized rather than decided upon.

It is the authority of the Apostles that means we recognize some books and not other. As we’re already seen, those books written by Apostles which the Apostles wanted preserved were recognized straight away as scripture as we see in 2 Peter 3: 1 Corinthians 14:37 and 2 Corinthians 13:3.

Details as to how the books not authored by Apostles came to be recognized is sketchy. They needed authorizing, and we assume that Luke and Acts were recognized early on because of Luke’s association with Paul, Mark was recognised because of his association with Peter. Jude because he was Jesus’ brother, and because of his association with James, who by that time was considered an Apostle (1 Cor 15:7 and Gal 1:19). Hebrews was recognized because of the intrinsic qualities of the book which convinced, and continue to convince believers that whoever the human author was the ultimate author must have been God.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the early church should be able to recognize what was divinely inspired and what wasn’t, if we consider that John 10:27 ‘my sheep hear my voice’ The books we now recognize as the NT were circulated by Athanasius in 367 and accepted by both east and western churches within the next thirty years. Should we expect other books to be added to the Canon at this late stage? What would we do if an Apostolic letter from Paul turned up today?
I think there are two reasons why we can reject this hypothesis. The first is Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Jesus is God’s final word of revelation.

And Revelation 22:18-19: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:(A) if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in(B) the tree of life and in(C) the holy city, which are described in this book.
Given the position of Revelation in the canon and what it concerns we can legitimately assume that ‘this book’ refers to the whole Bible.

Alongside this historic data we must consider the Fatherhood of God. Would God who loves to give us everything we need really hold back part of the Bible for two thousand years? Ultimately we must base our confidence on the completed canon on the love and faithfulness of God.
Just as with the OT, there is a an NT apocrypha that has built up. The suggestion, made by Dan Brown in the Da Vinci code that the books of the Bible were voted on by the early church fathers could not be further from the truth. There are four reasons why we can be confident about their lack of inclusion in the Canon.

1) Some of the letters do not the claim that authority for themselves like Ignatius’s letter to the Romans ‘I order you not as Peter and Paul, they were Apostles.’

2) Other parts of the Apocrypha are absurd, as we see from the end of the Gospel of Thomas: ‘Simon Peter said to them: ‘let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life’ Jesus said ‘lo, I shall lead so that I may make her male that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself a male will enter the Kingdom of heaven’

3) Like the OTA there are historical and geographical errors in the NTA that disqualify it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why trust the BIble (1)

(The first part of my script from RUCU's Rebel Apologetics Group)

How do we know what the Bible says is from God and not what a bunch of people made up?

Other Evidence.

I want to start by looking at the historical evidence from outside the Bible that the Bible is true. But before I do I want t say that when we do this, we’re on dangerous ground somewhat. As Christians we accept the Bible as our final, ultimate authority. Not history, or other writers or other data. Just the Bible. So while the evidence from outside the Bible is useful and interesting, we must be careful never to present this evidence as the final proof, as then that becomes our authority over the Bible itself. I’m increasingly convinced that the best way to argue for trusting the Bible is from the Bible itself, which we’ll be doing for most of the afternoon.

That said there is a lot of historical evidence to trust the Bible. The science of textual criticism is the science of discovering the reliability of a text. The higher the number of copies we have and the less time that passes between the original and the copies being made the more reliable the text we have in those copies is. Serious history books like Herodotus have a very large time gap, and only eight copies, whereas the Bible has, literally, thousands of copies and a time gap of, at the most, just three hundred years. The blink of an eye in terms of ancient history texts. One historian puts it like this: the text of the New Testament stands alone amongst ancient prose writing in terms of reliability.’ Other contemporary historians such as Josephus mention Jesus in their histories. One even says that ‘he was more of a God than a man.’ We’ve found ruins of places and buildings mentioned in both testaments and nothing historically or geographically in the Bible contradicts what we also believe to be true. We’ve found court records from some of the Kings mentioned in the OT and some that even mention their courtiers. The book of Daniel for example mentions King Nebuchadnezzar, and specifically that at one point late in his reign, he lost his mental faculties for a while. The madness of King Nebuchadnezzar is a recognised period of ancient history. Esther talks about King Xerxes, a well known King from the period where Esther is placed.

One further piece of evidence is how unlike other 1st century writing the Gospels are. CS Lewis puts it like this: I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. Of this (gospel) text there are only two possible views. Either it is reportage...or else, some unknown ancient writer...without known predecessors or successors suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic realistic narrative

In short, whether you think it is necessary or not, there is a huge weight of historical and circumstantial evidence that we can trust the Bible. This evidence isn’t enough on its own though, so we must look to the Bible itself for authentication. If these seems like a slightly circular argument to you we’ll deal with that in a moment.

Bible Evidence

What about evidence from the Bible itself. There is some overlap here between this section and the section on how the Bible was recognised and put together. We need to know that this authority is what the Bible claims for itself. We see this in the OT phrase ‘Thus says the Lord’ which appears hundreds of times and would have echoed the words ‘thus says the King’ read before royal edicts. The words that fall under this banner constitute a large part of the OT and show that the original authors clearly thought they were recording God’s words.

As well as this we see what the NT says about the OT and about itself. 2 Timothy 3:16 says ‘all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ The word used for scripture here is graphe, which will become important in a moment. 2 Peter 1:21 says ‘for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ Matthew 19:5 ‘and said therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ Which is of course a quotation by Jesus of Genesis 2:24.

So even from that small selection we can see that there is no reason to mistrust the OT as far as the NT is concerned. We’ll cover some more reasons later. What about the New Testament though? How do we know that it wasn’t made up by man? Well, 2 Peter 3:16 says: …there are some things in them (Paul’s letters) that are hard to understand which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.’ The word Peter uses here to describe Paul’s letters is graphe, the same word Paul used to talk about the OT. 1 Timothy 5:18 says ‘for scripture (again the word graphe) says you shall not muzzle and ox when it treads out the grain, and the labourer deserves his wages.’ What’s fascinating about that verse is it quotes Deuteronomy and Matthew and refers to them both as scripture, or, that word again, graphe. So from this we see that addition were being made that the term ‘scripture’ was applied to, so we can, feasibly apply 2 Timothy 3:16 to the NT as well as the OT.

Internal Evidence
Secondly, we are convinced of the authority of the Bible as we read it. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 says: Now(A) we have received not(B) the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this(C) in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit,(D) interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.[a]
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are(E) folly to him, and(F) he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

A conviction that the Bible is true does not come apart from reading the Bible. You can not know what the Bible says about itself unless you read it; you can not experience the inward testimony of the Bible unless you read it with faith. We are convinced of the Bible’s claims as we read the Bible. It’s words are self attesting. This is why I’m not keen to jump on the non Biblical reasons to prove the Bible, because the Bible is the final, self attesting authority.

At this point people will say that this is a hopeless circular argument. That we believe the Bible because we believe the Bible. In a way this is true. But that’s ok, it doesn’t invalidate the argument because any argument about final authority must appeal to that authority. Otherwise that authority would not be authoritative. It’s not a problem unique to Christianity. For example people might argue ‘my reason is my ultimate authority because it seems reasonable to make it so’ or ‘I know there can not be any ultimate authority because I do not know of any such ultimate authority’

The ultimate truthfulness of the Bible will commend itself as being far more persuasive than other religious books. The Bible will be, and is, fully in accord with life around us, whereas other texts, or logical constructs will not. The Bible will commend itself to us in this way if we view life, and ourselves, and God in a clear way.

And here is yet another problem that sin causes in our hearts. Sin pollutes our hearts and our minds so that we are blind to the bell toll of Biblical truth, so that we can not see that glory of God in the face of Christ shining from the pages. It’s no coincidence that the people who have the deepest love for the Lord have the clearest understanding of the Bible. So in that sense the Biblical argument for Biblical authority isn’t a circle, but more a spiral. The more we are convinced of the Lordship of Christ over every area of life, the more we will be convinced of the authority of the Bible, and vice versa. This is a wonderful path to walk, and ultimately far more satisfying that relying on historical data, however worthy that may be. Of the Bible Jean Calvin says: ‘…if we turn pure eyes and upright senses towards it, the majesty of God will immediately come to view, subdue our bold rejection, and compel us to obey’.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hebrews 12:1-3 (3)

And as we’ve already touched on, the author’s desire is that his readers do not waste their lives. So he picks up his pen writes verse three, look at that with me: ‘for consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.’ This verse is almost a summary of what we’ve already seen.

I love the word ‘consider’ at the start of it. Think often about Jesus, think about what He’s done. Draw it to mind in a quiet moment, always have Him near so that when trouble attacks or temptation comes, you know He’s there. The word used for consider here has the meaning of comparison in the original as well. Jesus suffered the pure evil of his opponents schemes, without complaint. He endured to the point of shedding blood for you and me. Nowhere does He ask us to endure the same.

The author doesn’t write these things to make us feel bad for suffering. He writes them to inspire us in our suffering. His heart for the Hebrews is that they do not become ‘wearied and faint in your minds’. He writes so that they would not give up the race, He writes to give them reason and means to persevere. The words used here, weary and faint can be used to describe an athlete who collapses to the floor exhausted having completed the race, having crossed the line, and that’s the author’s final appeal to us here. He wants us to hear the voices in the crowd going ‘keep running, don’t give up too soon, stay focussed, and don’t give up before the tape.’ No one can do this without divine help. No one can run through the pitfalls and temptations of life without great assistance. And that is the point of this book, and of the whole New Testament. That help is only available in Jesus and we must always away look to Him.

Pray for the CofE

Al Mohler records what appears, at least to my outsider eyes, to be worrying times for the Church of England.

The Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, the former Bishop of Hulme and the newly appointed Bishop of Urban Life and Faith, said: "Both the Bishop of Rochester's reported comments and the synod private members' motion show no sensitivity to the need for good inter-faith relations. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs are learning to respect one another's paths to God and to live in harmony. This demand for the evangelisation of people of other faiths contributes nothing to our communities."

HT Bish, who's second paragraph pretty much sums up my feelings about the CofE, probably because like in many other areas, he thought of them first, and i simply misappropriated them!

IN:Whitley vs Justification by faith

The countdown to IN:Whitley, the door knocking and social action programme that RFC are running over the next three days has well and truly started. Yesterday evening and early this morning people have gathered at the church office to pray, seek God's favour and worship Him in preparation for all that the next few days will bring. There is one ground for these meetings, one ground for our work, one ground for our hope. The cross. The bloody, the awesome, the ghastly, the glorious cross where Jesus died.

Why is this our hope? Because we're calling on a holy God, and we are bad. Not judt in the things we do, but in our hearts, in our very make up, we are bad. So why gather to seek the face of the Lord, why get up early to pray to a God who dwells in unapproachble light? What hope do we have when the feelings of condemnation come?

There are some great verses hidden away at the end of Micah that give us hope, that put oxygen into tired lungs, and fire into cold hearts:

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him,until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.

I love the way verse nine starts. There's no getting away from it. I am guilty, i have no appeal, no mitigating circumstances. In sin i despise the Lord, i dishonour and disobey Him. I will own the guilt, and bare the condemnation because i have sinned against Him, because i have done this thing, these things. I have no defence.

Or do i?

Look at the 9b. The Lord will plead my cause, the Lord will execute judgement for me! He shall vindicate me. Isn't that stunning. Who is on my defence team in the great court? Jesus. Who is the judge in the great court? Jesus. This is why, verse 8, the enemy is not to rejoice over us, this is why we can own the guilt, hold up our hands and admit it. Because the Lord, the Lord Himself, will bring us out into the light.

Here then is great ground for great endevour for the Gospel. Here is our confidence that the Lord, hears and answeres our prayers, that we need fear nothing and persue the Lord with our all. No matter what our sin, no matter how awful our rebellion, the Lord Himself will plead our cause, and execute judgement for us!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Look

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

Originally by John Newton and later Sovereign Grace Music

Friday, May 23, 2008

Rick Warren: yikes.

“The biggest mistake people make is that we think that sermons will produce spiritual maturity.”

This is very very sad. You can probably produce change in people apart from the preaching of the word, but it may not be the change that God wants to see...thats the only way i can read 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6

Now the Lord[a] is the Spirit, and where(A) the Spirit of the Lord is, there is(B) freedom. And we all, with unveiled face,(C) beholding(D) the glory of the Lord,[b](E) are being transformed into the same image(F) from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Therefore, having(G) this ministry(H) by the mercy of God,[c] we do not lose heart. But we have renounced(I) disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or(J) to tamper with God’s word, but(K) by the open statement of the truth(L) we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even(M) if our gospel is veiled,(N) it is veiled only to(O) those who are perishing. In their case(P) the god of this world(Q) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing(R) the light of(S) the gospel of the glory of Christ,(T) who is the image of God. For what(U) we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with(V) ourselves as your servants[d] for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said,(W) "Let light shine out of darkness,"(X) has shone in our hearts to give(Y) the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hebrews 12:1-3 (2)

I’m glad that words like patience, and endurance and longsuffering are in the Bible. I’m glad the Word of God doesn’t lie about following God. I’m nowhere promised that running the race will be easy, instead I’m told to run with patience. To keep going. To trust in what’s to come and remember who’s gone before you.

How are we to do this? How should we run the race with patience? How we know what is helping us to run and what is hindering us? Glance down at verse two with me: Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising it’s shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ So we look at the champion. We look at Jesus. The word used for looking here means a definite looking away from everything and everyone else, and a steadfast looking at Jesus. The word implies that it is impossible to look in two directions at once, and that makes sense when we think of the race analogy. Can you imagine someone running a race and looking backwards when they ran? Of course not, they run wholeheartedly towards the line.

How does looking at Jesus help us to run? Because Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. These two words span all the activity of Jesus in regards to our faith. Jesus is the leader, it’s because of what Jesus has done that we can have a faith at all. No Jesus, no Way to God, no Truth, no Life. It is Jesus, even though He was historically after the heroes of Hebrews 11, who the author regards as the champion of their faith as well.

Jesus is presented as one who blazed the trail of faith and ran the race to its completion, perfectly. The examples of Hebrews 11 are good, but Jesus is the greatest and ultimate example. No one ever will run or has run as well as Jesus has. We see this most clearly when Jesus was on the cross, which we are reminded of half way though verse 2. The author says, Jesus endured the cross, despising it’s shame. At a distance of 2000 years and several thousand miles it can be hard to know what it looks like to endure the cross.

One commentator puts it like this: ‘to die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace, it was a punishment reserved for those deemed unfit to live, a punishment for those who were subhuman. For so degrading a death the Romans were exempt by an ancient statute, the dignity of the Roman name would be besmirched by being brought into association with anything as vile as a cross. For slaves and criminals of a low degree it was regarded as a suitable form of execution, and to others a grim deterrent. But this disgrace Jesus disregarded, as something not worth taking into account when it was a question of obedience to the will of God’

There has never been such pioneering, perfection and finishing of faith as there was when Jesus hung on the cross. In Matthew 27:42-43 we see Christ’s enemies sneering at Him as he was on the cross, they say ‘He saved others, Himself He can not save’ and verse 43 ‘He trusted in God’. They were, of course, mocking Him, but have truer words ever been spoken in jest? Yes! He saved others! Himself He can not save. Yes! He trusts in God. No one has ever trusted God like Jesus trusted God in Gethsemane. It was faith in God, totally unsupported by any tangible or visible evidence that sustained Christ. Without this cross enduring faith there would be no champion for us to look at, no finisher of our faith, no blazed trail to follow. No hope for us at all.

At the end of verse 2 we see the champion with His reward. We see Jesus ‘is set down at the right hand of the throne of God’. This is the joy set before Him. This is why He endured the cross and despised its shame. The joy of being united once more with His Father in Heaven. This is the joy that He will share with us, as we see all over the end of John’s Gospel, but perhaps best in 16:22 ‘and ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you’ Christ has been exalted to the throne of God as His people’s champion, and to there we will follow Him. As the cross is the supreme example of endurance, Jesus being set down at the right hand of the Father, is the supreme example of the finished race, of the victor receiving the spoils.

This is the Jesus that we are to look at. Jesus, the champion over sin. Jesus, who overcame more than we will ever have to. Jesus our perfect intercessor. Hebrews chapter 10:11 and 12 remind us of what Christ was doing as He was dying on the cross, and why we should continue to look to Him. ‘every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices that can never take away sins, but this man after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God’. This is why we should look at Jesus, because He is sat at the right hand of God. Where else should we look when we struggle with sin? Where else should we go when we feel that life overwhelms us, to who else should we cry when we feel hard pressed on every side? Where else possibly than Jesus, who is set down at the right hand of God. Who else has that authority, that position, that influence to help. The author of this letter wants his readers to remember who Jesus is so that they would be encouraged not to forsake their faith and return to Judaism. And He does this by showing them who Jesus is, by encouraging them that He, as author and finisher, as our champion, is set at the right hand of God, and always will be. Why trust in anything else?

And isn’t this hugely encouraging for everyone who reads this letter whether now of then? The stunning truth here is, that because Jesus Christ lived and died on our behalf and rose again as the first fruits of the resurrection, God the Father is totally for us. He hears our prayers, He knows our struggles, He looks on us and sees Jesus, our author and finisher, He looks and sees Jesus, all that we will never be, and He answers our prayers, He wills and works in us, He forgives us. The athlete will waste his race if he stops looking at and running towards the finishing line and gets involved in what’s going on outside the stadium, we will waste our lives if we take our eyes of Jesus, perfect Jesus, who endured the cross, despised the shame, and is set down next to the Father.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Andrew Parsons: Romans 8

One of the (many) highlights of NWA was seeing Andrew Parsons deliver Romans 8 from memory:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

ESV Study Bible Luke

You can read the introduction to Luke's Gospel in the new ESV study Bible here.

It looks amazing!

Hebrews 12:1-3 (1)

(1st part of my script from Sunday night at Rachel's church)

Well I love the book of Hebrews. It’s probably my favourite New Testament letter and it’s been a real treat to be preparing for tonight over the past week. We obviously don’t know who the author is, but he strikes me as a jealous man. Jealous in a good way, jealous in the best way. Jealous that those he loves love Jesus, jealous that the Hebrew Christians he writes to keep pressing on into Jesus, that they keep running after him.

That they do not waste their lives.

I think that last reason is why it resonates with me so much. If there are four words that sum up the last three years of my life it would be those ones. Don’t waste your life. The wasted life, is, of course, the non Christian life, the life lived without reference to the glory of God in the face of Christ. But I think it’s just as easy to waste your life as a Christian, and that revelation, that knowledge is what scares me, what drives me forward in life. I guess the wasted life for us is the life that spends more time, energy and effort on worldly treasure, worldly pleasure and worldly leisure than on Heavenly treasure, pleasure and leisure. A life lived without a singular passion for Jesus. A life lived without Him as the fire in your heart and the obsession of your mind. That’s really hard.

These were issues in the first century AD as well. Here, the Hebrew Christians are being tempted to return to their old life of Judaism, tempted to renounce their faith in Christ, tempted to give in to the hardship and sin that harassed them on every side. For them, like us, being a Christian was difficult. And the author knew that. So what advice does he offer his readers here on how to stay faithful to Christ? Number 1: listen to the stories of old, number 2: look at the champion.

So lets look at verse one together: ‘wherefore seeing that we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.’ The first word of chapter 12 is a joining word, it brings us back to what has gone before, it links what the author is about to say to what the author has just said. What’s he about to say? ‘Seeing that we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.’ Who are these witnesses? This is what links chapter 11 to chapter 12, this is the reason chapter 12 starts with wherefore.

The cloud of witnesses are the heroes of the faith that the author has been talking about in chapter 11. The picture that of a stadium full of spectators watching a race, and the men and women mentioned in chapter 11 are the crowd. Perhaps it’s like the last lap of the marathon where the competitors come into the stadium before crossing the finish line. And what stories these men have. Look for a moment at the story of Abraham in verse 8-10: By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance obeyed, and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.’ Abraham is in the crowd. Abraham, who, by faith considered what he could see less important and less worthy that what he couldn’t see. Abraham who left all he had, all he had worked to build up, and all he knew, to follow God. That’s an incredible, faith building story, and an example of what we need to listen to.

Look at Moses in verse 26: esteeming the reproach of Christ greater than the riches of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. Moses knew what the reward of the race would be if he followed Christ. And he knew they’d be better than if he didn’t. He knew that reproach, even reproach for the name of Christ was better than the treasure, leisure and pleasure of Egypt.

These verses are a divine mandate to read Christian biography, and, much more importantly, to get to know the Old Testament. Both full of heroes from the past. Men like Abraham, Moses, Joseph and Isaac, women like Sarah and Rahab. They are all here in the stadium cheering us on, encouraging us with their wounds and their joy. Saying to us ‘come on, you can do this, yes it’s hard, yes you might get hurt, you might lose everything, you might have to give everything away…but you can do it.’ We can see this thought worked out best in Hebrews 11:4 which talks of Abel who being dead yet speaketh.

This cloud of witnesses will encourage us to run, as we see in the rest of verse 1: let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. I love how the Christian life is set before us here… we’re told to run! This would have been a timely message to the original readers. They were tempted, buffeted on every side to give up their faith, to return to Judaism, their hands were shaking and their knees were weak. They weren’t athletes in any sort of competitive shape. The easiest thing the Hebrew Christians could do would be to blend into their surroundings and just meander along in their Christian faith. That would have been the easy thing. So often that seems to be the case for us today. The easiest thing for us to do is blend into the background at school or at work. To ignore the cloud of witnesses, but that’s not what the author wants us to do here. He tells us to run.

As we listen to the stories of old and are encouraged by their faith and their support we must lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us. An athlete in training will strictly regiment his diet and activity in the days before a big race. He wants to be ready, and fit, and able to run. That’s the picture of the Christian life that’s painted for us here. We are challenged to work put what weights and sins easily beset us, and cut them out of life, work out what it is that holds us back, and lay them aside. I think the race analogy is very helpful for me in discerning what is helpful and what is not.

It makes me think that instead of thinking ‘is this sinful’ or ‘is that sinful’ but ‘is this helpful, does it help me run faster does it make me want to run faster?’ my questions about how I live my life shouldn’t be ‘whats wrong with this, what can I get away with, how far can I go’, but ‘what can I do to help myself run’ what can I do to listen to the stories of old, and fix my eyes on Jesus? Running in lead shoes may not be against the rules in a marathon, but it won’t be very helpful to the athlete. When I refuse to run, I find running harder to do. The less I exercise, the harder it becomes to exercise. It’s the same with our faith. The less I pray, the harder it becomes to pray, the less I read my Bible, the less inclined I am to pick it up and read it.

Don Carson and Adrian Warnock at NWA

Part One

Part Two

many man thanks to Adrian for doing these, although i'm sure it wasn't that much of a burden!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Make me like John

John Owen is something of an enigma to most people. Probably because of his writing, which is so hard to read (very rewarding and scary, but hard) but perhaps also because of the lack of background information we have on him. In all his work there's only one line on his father, we know he has siblings, but little about them, and we know he went to Oxford University. His diaries were all destroyed and most of the letters concerning him are to him rather than from him.

Yet this we do know. That his wife gave birth to eleven children...all of whom died. Eleven. Ten in childhood, one in early adulthood. And yet nowhere in his writing, nowhere in all that hard, great theology do we find anything about his personal life. No comment and no complaint. Despite that fact that in average during his adult life a child was born and died every other year. I long for that faith and perseverance. That courage.

John Knox is probably well known for what today would be called misogyny. He was not a fan of women rulers, to say the least. But the reason his name makes the hairs on my neck stand up is because of his prayer. 'Give me Scotland or i die'. As Reading Family Church enters the final stages on planning for IN:Whitley, at the end of this month, i long for that passion for the lost, that passion for my people, that hunger for salvation. I want to say with all my heart 'give me Whitley or i die'

Friday, May 16, 2008

United States of Seven

1) Just everything. From the eight hour bus ride just to eat lunch in Ashboro' because the zoo was closed to spending the afternoon with Rachel's Dad, to hanging out at the beach, everything.

2) It's an odd sensation feeling as much at home on one side of the Atlantic as on the other, but one i can only account for because of the Lord. It's neat.

3) Edwards at 37000 feet. The world always seems more real when i've spent some time with him.

4) Hot dogs with preacher Paramore. Any man who preaches as a church grows from the teens to nearly four figures in a decade and is still hungry for more in his eighties i will happily travel half the world to learn from.

5) Atlantic Beach and Beaufort City, North Carolina. It was great to find these seaside treasures hidden away in the midst of places like Havelock, which, with respect, is nothing more than a bunch of fast food outlets by the side of a highway, was a real treat.

6) 'so are you excited about tonight?'
'you know you should be the excited one...some have compared me to a young Martin Lloyd-Jones'
*blank look*
'....DL Moody?'
'Oh i know who he is'

7) Sun set by the water front in Washington, NC. And knowing that however painful the goodbyes are, they're not forever.

Monday, May 05, 2008


1) Seven non Christians at Alpha on tuesday. The partnership that God has given me and Chigbo in just a couple of weeks. The feeling of brotherhood we have already.

2) Spending time in Hebrews 12. It making me want to drag my heart and eyes towards Jesus more and more.

3) Freedom in Christ. A hard course, but such a worthwhile one.

4) Lunch outside with the parentels

5) Team life. Not just in the office but on Sunday as SUPA team, AV/PA team and musicians come together for one intense hour.

6) Spending time with my Grandad. Looking round his garden, talking about his walks, and then going into his house and seeing, glory of glories, an open and well thumbed Bible on the table. God answers prayers.

7) By the end of the week, i'll be going to bed in North Carolina.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

the cross

to die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace, it was a punishment reserved for those deemed unfit to live, a punishment for those who were subhuman. For so degrading a death the Romans was exempt by an ancient statute, the dignity of the Roman name would be besmirched by being brought into association with anything as vile as a cross. For slaves and criminals of a low degree it was regarded as a suitable form of execution, and to others a grim deterrent. But this disgrace Jesus disregarded, as something not worth taking into account when it was a question of obedience to the will of God
F.F Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews P338

I stand amazed in the presence Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,A sinner, condemned, unclean.

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!
For me it was in the garden He prayed:
“Not My will, but Thine.”He had no tears for His own griefs, But sweat drops of blood for mine.

In pity angels beheld Him,And came from the world of light
To comfort Him in the sorrows He bore for my soul that night.

He took my sins and my sorrows,He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,And suffered and died alone.

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.


I voted in the local elections this morning. I like to vote. I don't know whether it's the sense of empowerment that it gives me, or that feeling part of something important and much bigger than me, or just the privilege i feel from having the opportunity to do something that people all over the world are (literally) dying to do. Even though i don't feel that the major political parties reflect my views wholly, i still love voting.

But here's the thing. My love for democracy, and in particular the bi-cameral constitutional monarchy system that the UK uses must never deflect my attention from the King of kings, the Author and Perfector who lead better than anyone will, and gave Himself more than anyone can.

The bonfire of democracy must not obscure the sun of the Gospel.