Tag Archives: bible_study


Let's celebrate!

I’ve always been a cheerful sort of chappy.

Genesis 21-22

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

Romans 10:8-10

Hebrews 11: 17-40 (ESVUK)

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

So God asks Abraham to sacrifice- to kill- his child as a test of obedience. God in other places commands genocide despite also commanding that we are not to kill. Without the blinkers of a blind or indifferent faith this is, in the face of it, simply, very perplexing. It is hard to reconcile.

God reveals himself to be a God whose character and nature forbid child sacrifice and the taking of life, yet we are to commend those who do, for their obedience to the God who commands it.

There is another story aside from Abraham’s that is similar – the taking of the life of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11). Read it and don’t duck the fact that at the end of the Bible his actions are commended as faith (Hebrews 11).

It’s all very perplexing when we would like it all to be made right and somehow sorted by the apostles. It is not.

Are we to gloss over these stories? Are we, in our fervor, to miss them out? The whole of the scripture does not allow us to with integrity. Some scholars try to let us off the hook; convinced that God would not command child sacrifice they propose that the sacrifice is figurative and the sacrifice was the daughter’s life as a woman, represented as death. But this Jephthah, in his fallibility, is a hero of the faith as is the lustful Samson and the power hungry, idolatrous Gideon.

If these are stories of faith- the faith we are called to, then in them there must be a disruptive purpose, calling us to a higher understanding of faith, or we might as well abandon faith as a futile fiction. Is their purpose to heighten our understanding of God or maybe to wrench us from our own understanding of God? You have to ask yourself why the Bible would in effect cause you to think the worse of God.

I can think of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. Jesus responds to her in a way that would be expected of any Jewish man of his day, calling her a dog, but then grants her desire. Jesus would not be loving if he was an unkind bigot, so to call the woman a dog could not have been unkind. But he did. It sounds unkind. Jesus, through his life, taught the good news of salvation so my faith trusts there is a higher purpose in this story not a license for bigotry and unkindness.

Where do we go from here?

The Bible is God’s word. It is the written revelation of God himself and all we need to know for salvation. The words are the words of ordinary people in their times and it is their words that carry the Word of God, the essence of their encounter with the living God. The words are prophetic, speaking the stories of God’s communing with people, in their language, in their culture and in their time. Many of the writers are unknown and even the identity of the Christian writers uncertain, but Christians hold that the Bible preserves the prophetic writings of these people and is the word of God. Tradition says they are true and all else is measured against them.

Jesu did not write anything except in the shifting sand. And we don’t know what it said only that the words challenged the scribes.

Jesus, a man in his times, spoke without sin. He is God and in Jesus we see God himself. In his life, death and resurrection we encounter God himself.

In the light and knowledge of his death, Jesus reveals to some disciples on the road to Emmaus the meaning of scripture. This, with them only having heard a rumour of his resurrection. They heard with broken hearts and their perspective was changed. But the words Jesus spoke were not recorded not even in summary. From the story we only have an inspiration to read the scriptures as being fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus being the Word of God, the scriptures speak of him and we are left to have faith in this: we will find him in them.

We accept all scripture as prophetic. Prophecy is spoken by a person. When we read God said… or God told… the word was spoken to a person, who would comprehend and relay it as a person; a person in their times, in their language – living from their past and present. We are told that all prophecy is like a misty mirror. We look in to a mirror to see ourselves; so we too are part of the prophecy. When God spoke over Jesus some heard it as thunder. God turned Abraham from the sacrifice by speaking through an angel not directly to him. Is this significant?

Whatever, our hearing now, perfects the faith of the heroes of faith.

So we can read scripture prayerfully putting our self in the picture and exploring the simple meaning; study its origins and the variety of translations and interpretations and then explore and follow the passions aroused in us. We can practice coming to the scripture in peace, reading it, meditating upon it, praying into it and finally moving to silent contemplation, embodying it.

We come to a living God, and the scripture is dead if we do not act upon it- if it isn’t part of us.

But please do not sacrifice your children, become a bigot or consider genocide an option.


English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

The challenge of the doctrine of original sin

Some are challenged by the doctrine of original sin, most live their lives in the mystery of the truth of their salvation in Christ. A doctrine is a statement of belief. It is the summing up of the evidence in Scripture based on faith- it is like a scientific theory which becomes orthodox with use and accumulated evidence gathered by deepening study of the text in the light of faith. Some will also allow the evidence of nature.

Orthodox Christian faith is that everything is created by God, One person, Lord of all, and that humanity is created in God’s image. All humanity is sinful and is subject to the futility of a creation compromised by sin. This came about because of the choice of an individual, Adam, the first human male. Adam was fully human. If he was around today he could drive a bus or, if he worked hard, gain a PhD in Astro Physics. The consequence of his sin, it is believed, is that people suffer death and live separated from God. Earth has been separated from Heaven, the dwelling place of God. The Garden of Eden was the place where God and Adam walked together, where Heaven and Earth intersected.

I believe that the Christian Bible is literal, except where it is clear from the context it is not meant to be taken as literal. Your world view will dictate the extent to which you consider parts of it not to be literal. Orthodox Christian tradition tends to the position that there was a literal Adam and that Adam was the first human. From the point of God breathing humanity into him he was made the whole of humanity.

Genesis is history, prophecy, law and parable. Its author is almost certainly mostly Moses. It tells the story in many layers of meaning of how God came to call out a people for himself through Moses. In Genesis we see from the beginning there is Law, the parable of the number and symbol for ten and a story of the history of mankind in the first ten generations.

When Jesus and the early Christians taught, the context was the culture of the religion that grew up around this story and the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Some accepted prophets, histories and wisdom literature as part of this body of scripture and the early Christians taught from a Greek version that included apocryphal stories.

I don’t believe that fact of the Adam of the story is contradicted by science. I think nature would conclude that from Adam came the first Eve. We can argue about the details of how.

In Genesis we are given a message of hope we could not know except through faith in its message – all was created good, in fact, very good. It prophecies that creation is fecund and perfectible; to be subdued and stewarded for its Creator by humanity. In the text we are acquainted with the rationality of the Creation because of the personhood of God who from the beginning broods and delights, creating through time, orders creation and fills it. God spoke and it came to be and Creator God speaks to and walks with humanity in a relationship which Adam enjoys, revealing God’s holiness and parent heart. There is so much to contemplate and draw hope from in this biblical revelation.

But, in the story, darkness is also presented; disconnection from God, inhumanity, greed and lust enter the story with death and disease. Genesis explores the origins of this state of sin. Whatever our doctrine of original sin or not, the mystery revealed in Genesis is that the gift of free will given to Adam was used to disobey God and choose death. Our first ancestor chose to rebel and chose the path of independence from God and of sin and death. Christian faith says that all choose to be in Adam and all may choose to be in Christ and be redeemed and reformed. This is because, from the beginning all are made in the image of God and his light shines in all hearts. Being bought back and even recreated is possible because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It’s all about Jesus, Son of God. In him we get and become his holiness, just as in Adam we suffered the consequences of Adam’s rebellion.

Being “in Adam” or “in Christ” now describes our nature; our source of being. The early hearers would have known what the Christian writers meant. Being in Adam signals our being in a state of rebellion and being in Christ signals our being in a state of grace, our sins forgiven.

You can argue whether we are born in Adam or not; whether by nature we are born in Adam, full stop. That will be your doctrine of original sin or not, but, the fact is that according to the Bible we are all in Adam when it comes to the choice to sin. Creation is compromised by our sin. We are all sinners and need to be saved – being in Christ is the means and guarantee of salvation. The Bible only allows for this being our condition before God. Being in Christ is the means of salvation.

Be bold and pray this through in the confidence that God will speak peace and comfort to you. I think your reassurance will come in a word you cannot speak and certainly some will reject you as you confess your salvation.

Being in Christ is pure grace, not dependent on time or geography. The early Christian writers knew that the means of salvation, the way of answering the call of the light within, was a mystery. The good news was that the way back into Eden is the man Jesus; he is the ladder to heaven. By an accident of time or Geography we can know this, but this mystery was so from the beginning; we are doubly blessed as we see the revelation and we are able to worship God as He is, Father, Son and Spirit. It’s not our knowledge of the historical Jesus that saves us but the indwelling of the transcendent Jesus that shines a light into each person’s heart. God is a just and the whole of creation is birthed around the pouring out of love in the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit.

Where love is, the pursuit of the light within and the knowledge of grace for repentance there is salvation. This knowledge is there for every person to know, however dimly it sometimes shines. Where the name of Jesus is known there is right worship and restoration of the dwelling place of God in the midst of his people.

I am reassured that nothing in science and nature contradicts what I have written and if it does, and at some stage I understand differently or have misunderstood, then God still loves me and the Bible is still true. The Bible is true whatever my faulty opinions or fragile understanding of the truth it reveals. My faith is that, communicated to ordinary humanity, the Christian Bible is the actual word of God and its progressive revelation was a sufficient and complete revelation of the message and means of salvation at the time it was spoken. There was never a time in history when God had not made plain what was necessary for salvation.

We live in times where so much damage has been done in the name of Christianity and around us we see the results of the abuses of the church, sometimes the reality of the gospel as set out in the Christian Bible is obscured, the advantage seemingly lost, but to the praise of Christ’s glorious name he is merciful and just. It’s our choices that sear our consciences, not accidents of history or experience.

I am convinced that salvation is not in the gift of men; their systems or words. Salvation is assured by the indwelling of the Spirit, bringing a knowledge of the holiness of God and our call by grace to be holy as he is holy. This call is in the hearts of all people and is not dependent on time or geography. The revelation of this mystery in Christ is the foundation of true worship. As Christians we are assured of this worship in spirit and truth as an ever flowing reality, knowing adoption into the family of God where the fullness of the flowing love between Father, Son and Spirit flows to us in Christ.

This is the gospel from the beginning, the good news: within you something humbly cries out for righteousness; hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is meek and knows poverty of spirit, mourns, is merciful, is pure and seeks peace – pursue it, trust it and you are blessed and rewarded in heaven. Here your identity in God is revealed, the mystery displayed: you are in Christ. Living in this light and becoming its bearer may bring persecution but we are to rejoice gladly and worship Jesus in spirit and truth, our only hope and the way to the Father. The man Jesus is the way, the truth and the life of this cosmic gospel not a well worded doctrine, however helpful it may be.



Having visited Lee Abbey for a holiday on a number of occasions now, I have become aware of the appeal of an intentional community. Becoming the body of Christ, each member valued, is purposeful.

How though can being a body be achieved when people are gathered to communities that are so apart? People rarely engage with one another and certainly, in the church I am part of, small communities are secondary to the vision of the whole church and a main meeting.

This suits a lot of people and they are very blessed by it. They are able to be effective in their settings and carry an energy that certainly appears to be fulfilling. Church communities are formed around ministries, such as leadership, worship, social enterprise or youth. The momentum is through the task or sometimes a particular type of meeting. But this is not what I want.

Some people are able to function by networking within their work place where Christians gather. Others find involvement in a hobby, sports club or Gym satisfies. Interests such as running, cycling or bird watching have a draw as does support for a sports team. Surprisingly, need or disaffection can be a seed for community. This again is not what I want.

Deep down I have a need to grow spiritually and to be active in society as a whole. In my heart I need a source for being that starts with God but ends up blessing my neighbour. At Takeley Chapel I have seen the beginnings of how this might be achieved. I hope and pray that one day I might see it fulfilled. Currently we meet for breakfast and prayer on a Sunday morning; I would like to see the Sunday evening cafe meeting flourish and a monthly Friday evening community supper added.

The spiritual aspect I will come to, but practically what we could have is a menu of activities based around sharing meal times. These are natural breaks; breakfast sets us up for the day, coffee for the evening and Friday supper ends a work week. All these meetings should have an all age focus where children are able to participate and there are no restrictions on who might participate; all learning styles should be encompassed. There should not be a burden of preparation only inspiration

Children can be involved with adults in craft activities without a great need to organise anything special. In fact there should be room for people to be outdoors or even break out in to other spaces. The purpose is to be friends and families together.

Time should be flexible with people being able to leave when they are ready. Of course where there are activities then people need to know when these are happening but they should not be at the start of any meeting, to allow for people to arrive when they are able and still be a part.

What I am envisioning is threefold:

  • A Sunday morning prayer group arranged around the materials provide by lyfe.org.uk; the pattern is to reflect on a spiritual discipline through a bible verse and various materials. Through prayer, reflection and as a result of the teaching, participants agree to explore spiritual challenges for the week. These challenges might result in poetry or song, art or craft which can be shared the next week so that each meeting is organic. People may then go home, go on to attend other church meetings or decide to engage in some kind of recreational activity.
  • During the week participants would also follow the New Daylight materials provided by brf.org.uk, journaling, sharing their insights when they can over refreshments on a Sunday evening. The benefits of this would be to have a sense that on each day, not only are we pursuing the weekly exercise from Sunday morning and growing in our Spiritual knowledge, but each of us is on a shared prayer journey based on scripture. The resource is convenient as each day has a printed version of the scripture, a comment and a reflection or prayer and an audio version is available.
  • Each month, on the first Friday, early in the evening, a simple supper could be shared where people bring contributions and there may be sung worship. Those who are gifted may be invited to preach; those with insight may share what they they believe God is showing them. Communion will be shared and after prayer ministry, any business could be discussed that needs to be decided ending with refreshments and recreational activities. The source of this inspiration would be intimate groups of two or three, maybe organised around the renovare resources or other ministries that participants felt met their needs, meeting weekly.

It is hoped that as  result of this intentional life together, members would be effective employees, engage in other communities and serve the society they are part of, effectively, from a heart grounded in God.

It would only take two or three people to commit to this community to make it work. From it we may renew the communities we are part of and revive the gospel witness in Takeley.

Speaking in Tongues

Reflections on 1Corinthians 12-14

Spiritual Gifts…

1 Cor 12:1-2

Paul tells us everything we did back then, before we were Christians, had its roots in idolatry and worship of things that don’t speak; we have now been changed so let’s look at the now and learn about what has happened to us.

1 Cor 12:3

Don’t worry if the person next to you in a worship service is hard to understand; look at their lives and trust in God. If you know he loves Jesus as Lord, and his life attests to this, he can’t curse Jesus. Trust he is of God and what he is saying is good even if you don’t understand it .

1 Cor 12:4-7

And that’s the whole point, there will be many manifestations of the Spirit to build the church up.

1 Cor 12:8-10

Let God work in the church and trust Him.

1 Cor 12

One Body with Many Members…

1 Cor 12:27-31

In case you haven’t quite understood; here it is again; it’s the love of God and obedience to the teachings of Christ that matter and, if that is evident, then out of this love and obedience God will bring gifts.

The Way of Love…

1 Cor 13:1-13

The gifts are important, some more than others, but we must get it in proportion, it’s the heart they come from, the character that informs them, that is key. However spectacular the gifts are, if they do not come from a humble, quiet person steeped in forgiveness they are nothing. When Jesus returns we will find ourselves in the presence of the Perfect and all the gifts will have fulfilled their purpose, to build up the church. And then there will be no need for the gifts as we will have the substance the gifts point to; what we could only know in part we will know in person. It is important that we work on our character and pursue the gifts….

Prophecy and Tongues…

1 Cor 14:1

Want a definition of tongues? It does appear that all of the above is a build up to address a concern about tongues in the church. Look back to the beginning of the chapter and it has a theme: speaking.

This is what Paul is means about when he talks about tongues and forms the basis of his teaching…

1 Cor 14: 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

And prophesy? Well Paul tells us that it contrasts with tongues; you know what is being said.

1 Cor 14:3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their up-building and encouragement and consolation.

So that is back to chapter 12 verse 7 and 11 again. Prophecy ticks all the boxes and a prophet has a gift for this, which is why it is a higher gift, a gift for others whereas the gift of tongues builds up the speaker.

1 Cor 14:4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.

Paul is a very generous man because he is speaking the words of a generous God. God wants the best so, if there are tongues in the gathering, there may be those who can interpret them as prophecy. This is a gift that some will have; I suggest it’s not an interpretation of one language to another, as by definition it is something spoken to God, not to men, which wouldn’t be true if some could understand it word for word. The interpretation will be from the heart of the interpreter, he hears and puts it into words (see v 2).

1 Cor 14:5

Again here comes a good definition of tongues in the text by contrasting it with prophecy, knowledge and revelation.

1 Cor 14: 6-7 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? [7] If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? [8] And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?

Here is another definition of tongues…

1 Cor 14:9-13 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air

It may be worth going back at this stage and underlining how many times Paul uses the idea of building up the church. He wants worship to be inclusive and to bear fruit in us and in those gathered. He so wants it to be inclusive he asks individuals to pray so that if they do pray to God in tongues that they will receive the interpretation themselves! This idea of being inclusive is the idea Paul is now going to lead off on. Paul is speaking about worship in a gathering where there will be believers and those who do not know Jesus as Lord.

Another definition of tongues coming up… Take a look back at the definitions already given first, this gift is quite strange and obviously needs some understanding in a public gathering.

1 Cor 14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.

Here comes the practical advice…

1 Cor 14:15-16

So yes, you’ve guessed it, yet another definition of tongues has been written in the text.

1 Cor 14:17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.

Paul makes it personal now, reinforcing the definition of tongues by contrast with normal speech…

1 Cor 14:18-19 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. [19] Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Paul brings some scripture into his teaching…

1 Cor 14:20-22

Signs can be negative as well as positive. If an unbeliever whose heart is driven by idolatry comes into your gathering and they only hear tongues then what they will know is they are separate from the gathering, they need a message that convicts them and brings them in.

I think it is made clear that the tongues spoken of here are different to the tongues spoken of in Acts 2 and 10 where the intention was that all who heard, heard the message. The tongues in Acts did not need an interpreter as they were a miracle for unbelievers, whereas the tongues spoken of here are for a different purpose and a gift to the believer for the believer himself.

1 Cor 14:23-25

Orderly Worship

So what would a public worship service look like in Corinth at the time of Paul?

1 Cor 14:26-33

This is pretty simple and good advice and for some of us a very different kind of meeting to the one we are used to especially in the type of gathering where only one or two people speak and the gathered flock sing set words and say amen to the prayers and readings of the leader.

Notice how interpretation of tongues isn’t haphazard, it is a gift that is exercised by an individual and can be called upon.If the leaders know that no one is able to interpret then they should ensure this is made clear to the gathering.

But then comes a seeming contradiction to 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 1 Corinthians 11:13 where it talks about women speaking in the church. Try reading it as if it were part of what has just been said and then see what you think.

1 Cor 14:33-35

Could it be that Paul is saying that there are those in authority in the meeting who can decide and question prophecy and interpretation and could it be that this gift is fluid but, because of the culture it would be wrong to allow a woman to take authority?

Whatever, it cannot be an absolute prohibition, as then there would be an internal contradiction within the letter.

To conclude, if tongues were merely the speaking of a prophecy in another foreign language this next bit doesn’t make sense…

1 Cor 14:39-40 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. [40] But all things should be done decently and in order.

(1 Corinthians 12-14 ESV)

Paul has put tongues in their place and set limits to them.

Reflecting back on this piece of scripture, and what I have written, it could be countered that the gift of tongues could be a person speaking in a known language and not knowing it or tongues is not a human language but has meaning to the extent that it can be translated or interpreted. The tongue is a coded message that those who are gifted can interpret.(DA Carson, Showing the Spirit, Baker Book House Company 1987, pp.77-88)

If so, then the tongues I personally experience would not be scriptural. But my reading of the scripture stems from the conviction from the text that tongues are an outward expression of my spirit praying to God (14:5).

Silence may be another, or falling prostrate. Tongues for me are a way of praying without the mind, which, as with silence or kneeling, build me up and, in the context of public worship, need interpreting so that the unbeliever can be included.

The message seems to be that all should be in order and every church must know what God is calling them to in their cultural context. 12:29 says that not all will speak in tongues, but we must not go beyond the scriptures and forbid speaking in tongues.