As society continues to change there is real pressure on the church to adapt in order to stay relevant. Engagement will continue to drive growth and authenticity will be key to connecting with people. In observing both society and the place of the church within it and having served my own church at Hope for over two decades here are 12 observations I see as we move forward in a post Christian context.
These observations formed part of a wider talk on the church which I gave at Hope. You can listen to the talk in full here - www.hopechurchnottingham.org/2019care5/
• Expect the church to discover ways to integrate itself back into communities. Congregations will grow as communities are served and relevance is established. There is no short cut to this. The fact is a certain amount of transfer growth and immigration has propped up church statistics across the UK and particularly in our larger cities. The truth is seeing unchurched people come to faith is hard work which is why every church should have a strategy to reach the young - we must win the hearts and minds of the young or the church has no future. Period. NB the recent decision of the General Synod to reestablish the church in significant housing estates across the UK. is a great step forward in this regard.
• Expect the church to both shrink and grow at the same time. Nominal Christianity will see decline whilst at the same time a relevant form of faith will emerge. There will be fewer churches - but the churches that are left will exist because they are engaging.
• Expect to see an increase in the idea of people belonging before they believe. There will be the merging of boundaries and as churches form community hubs people will be attracted to join thus blurring the traditional areas of ‘in’ and ‘out’.
• The longings of the human heart are not going anywhere soon. If the church continues to address the big life issues: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? She will maintain her voice in the market place - but will have to compete with a growing plethora of other voices in a newly emerging interest in spirituality.
• Expect the church to move towards narrative based theology. Stories are the future - you can see this in the revival of cinema and the rise of mediums such as Netflix and You Tube. People are looking for experiences - stories are what best convey these experiences. Notice how Christian organisations are positioning themselves for this. NB the introduction of NT Wright as an article contributor for Premier Magazine is a case in point.
• Expect to see more churches put their services online as they seek to engage with people via the internet - the church is migrating towards the mobile phone for both millennial's and the young. NB the introduction of Churchome Global – A New Way to Church is a clear example of this emerging trend.
• Expect modern scholarship, archaeology, big data, and collaboration to change the way we both view, read and interpret scripture and move contemporary theology to a more Christocentric hermaneutic where the teachings and life of Christ trump other biblical texts and provide the platform for re- engagement and evangelism. Fundamentalism will continue to lose ground, especially in the West to a more progressive theology. NB - Andy Stanley’s latest book Irresistible is an example of this growing shift.
• Expect the church to start to take a greater check on its excesses as people grow increasingly suspicious of such fringe teachings like the prosperity gospel. NB Joyce Meyer's recent statement where she addressed some of her own excess highlights this shift.
• The church has dealt poorly with the issues of sexuality often acting as judge and jury over sexual ethics. Recent exposure of the churches hypocrisy in this area has caused deep and lasting damage and the scandal has embraced many of the mainstream denominations, with the Southern Baptist Convention in the US becoming the latest with 400 members facing sexual misconduct allegations resulting so far in 220 convictions. How can we expect to be heard if we are not able to keep our own house in order? A new humility will need to emerge from this brokenness if we are to rebuild trust. Such scandals arise at a time when the church does not have the same voice in mainstream culture - the outcome from this will be interesting to observe.
• Expect a softening in tone within the church towards sexuality as we go through a generational leadership shift and she tries to work through the biblical and pastoral responses to those who live with same sex attraction and those within the LGBTQ community generally. NB the latest report from the Ozanne Foundation shows that of 4600 people interviewed, 458 people had undertaken conversion therapy to try and ‘become straight’ and 91 people had attempted suicide. The issue of human sexuality in a broken world is deeply complex and challenging. If we don't want to be side lined as bigots or cast off as irrelevant then we will need to think deeply about our language and the way we speak and act otherwise we will lose our place at the table and the dialogue will continue without us.
• Expect a rise in the importance of connecting with the historical roots of the faith as people look for greater tangible realities in an ever secularised and shallow world. Orthodoxy will play a growing role in anchoring the tenants of faith around the historical Jesus whilst at the same time the 'fundamental' doctrines of denominations will become less important as people place experience over doctrine.
• Expect the church to engage in experiential Christianity - tying real lie issues to faith borne out of real experiences with God and his Spirit. Apologetics is not the answer to an experience hungry culture - encounters are. The church will continue to create atmospheres that allow for encounters with God.
So there we go - my 12 observations of the challenges and changes for the church as we move forward.
Like most things in life, to grasp a sense of the whole is to understand the big picture from which everything else make sense. The Bible is no exception to this. That’s why appreciating the Garden of Eden, the first story in Genesis as a metaphor for a temple is important. It’s the place where heaven touches earth – where divinity walks with humanity.
So it should come as no surprise to see many such images through the scriptures. The story of Jacob is such an example. In Genesis 28 we read…
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it…. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
Broken down, the word Bethel means, Beth – House; El – God. Put together Bethel is the house of God – the place where humanity and divinity meet. It’s a picture of the temple.
As is the Tabernacle
Of which the writer of Hebrews speaks in this way…
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’
And the first Temple
Which was built by King Solomon after his father, David had been disqualified on the grounds of spilling too much blood in battle.
And the second Temple
Otherwise known as Herod’s Temple.
It was built in the years after the Exile from Babylon, starting around 538 BC and Herod began an extensive rebuilding project around 20 BC that lasted about 40 years. It was this temple that existed during the time of Jesus.
As you can see its all about temples because it’s all about heaven coming to earth. And we need temples to act as the conduit of the divine presence.
Creation itself (heaven and earth) is the ultimate temple – and this is what Jesus comes to save, as we are reminded by the words of Christ himself, ‘For God so loved the world (Cosmos) that he gave….’
The Temple – Garden, Tabernacle, Solomon’s, Herod’s are small working models of God’s ultimate intention. It is a microcosmos – a picture of something much, much bigger.
And so, as NT Wright notes, ‘The Israelites become the pilot project - as a sign to show what he will do for the rest of the world.
And then Jesus is born
Jesus is the new temple in person. He doesn’t offer the sacrifice – he is the sacrifice.
Where before heaven and earth is held together by the Torah and the Temple – it is now held together by Jesus and Spirt.
Again, Wright notes, ‘The ascension of Christ and the descending of the Spirit is temple imagery – when he ascends this is heaven and earth uniting – it is the joining of heaven and earth in his body. When the Holy Spirit descends - this is heaven coming down to earth.’
Which is referenced in places like here…
This is what the Lord says:
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting-place be?
And then Stephen picks up on this in the book of Acts ….
‘Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favour and asked that he might provide a dwelling-place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
‘However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
‘“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things?”
Indeed – what kind of house? What sort of temple is God looking for? So enter the church.
The church is the place where heaven and earth are meant to come together as microcosms of God’s divine intention and from there to colonize the earth.
And from where the reality of Christ’s mission unfolds – like here in Ephesians 1
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
And again here….
1 Corinthians 6
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.
And finally, the pinnacle of the divine intention unfolds with these words.
And then back to Ephesians.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2
Until ultimately the story arrives at its final destination.
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
So, there we have it – the trustworthy and true climax of the divine story where heaven and earth become one – just like it was always intended to be.
And that’s what the Bible testifies to.
God is at work in the world reconciling all things to himself – this is the message of the Bible. The fact it can get lost in a smaller story of personal redemption and a heaven vs hell narrative is proof in point that we are overlooking the beauty and wonder of the good news.
As a pastor, I’d wrestled for many years over the divine intention and how that’s best understood and expressed. The traditional ‘gospel message’ of getting ‘saved’ in order to go to heaven when we die felt less compelling than in the days of my youthful passion as a hell fire preacher! God’s call to greatness; the concept of original glory coming before original sin, started to fire my own imagination as to the purpose of God in the world – something which has only grown stronger with time but still lacked a meta narrative to capture it. In more recent times I’ve been helped greatly by the work of N.T Wright in this regard opening my eyes to the purpose of God in creation and reconciliation more completely.
This, along with a deeper appreciation of Jewish history, customs and teaching and insights into Eastern thought and symbolism served to warm my own heart over this great and glorious story. Most striking of all this is the concept of Temple theology and the idea of the whole of creation being a temple inhabited by God. And we – you and I being the image bearers of God as we live deeply out of our identity of a new creation in Christ.
This temple theology is at the heart of the teaching of Wright and this article is indebted to his insight and thinking which embraces the whole of Scripture in the most wonderful way as he describes, what he calls the Divine Drama.
He sets the scene beautifully.
The emphasis I want to insist on is that we discover what the shape and the inner life of the church ought to be only when we look first at the church’s mission, and that we discover what the church’s mission is only when we look first at God’s purpose for the entire world, as indicated in, for instance, Genesis 1—2, Genesis 12, Isaiah 40—55, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 1 and Revelation 21—22.
This is where my proposal about a ‘five-act’ hermeneutic comes in. … The Bible itself offers a model for its own reading, which involves knowing where we are within the overall drama and what is appropriate within each act. The acts are: creation, ‘the fall’, Israel, Jesus, and the church; they constitute the differentiated stages in the divine drama which scripture itself offers.
He goes onto frame the drama of the scriptures within a Temple Metaphor which runs deeply and centrally to the whole story.
In our previous blog in the series we finished by introducing the image of a temple as found in Genesis 1-2. It’s a garden temple, where the beauty and intimacy of God interacts with the creation itself. It’s the place where heaven comes down to earth. The place where divinity touches humanity.
And then we have the fall.
The fall breaks and pollutes the human heart and results in Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden – they now live east of Eden, but still carry the identity and heart of Eden people.
The image bearing has been broken – the angled mirror, reflecting God’s image into the world through those made in that image, and then in return back to God through worship, is marred.
The heaven and earth project falls apart and God’s intention is to bring them back together – something of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 1, starts to unfold as the story continues.
The book of Genesis is spilt in two main sections. Genesis 1-11 – is pre Abraham; it is the OT of the OT if you like. Genesis 12 and through to the end of Malachi – is the start of the rescue plan. One section is a reflection of the other showing how God works to put things back together. As we will see the Babel of Genesis 11 reappears as the Babylon of the exiled people.
One is put together as being a picture of the other. We are place in a wonderful garden – a temple where heaven and earth meet but then things get messed up. Of course, this is not only the story of then – but of now. Of how life has been fractured and heaven and earth divided.
When these stories were written we may not be sure, but they were pulled together and edited during the time of the exile to Babylon. Their compilation brings cohesion to a people struggling to keep hold of their identity. Their story as an exiled people speaks of this original story – it’s the story of Israel in the promised land - and where do they end up – in Babel which is Babylon. Which means confused!
We all end up at Babel – confused. We all find ourselves in Babylon – exiled. We’ve lost our way from the Promised Land. We’re all living East of Eden.
Like Adam and Eve, we’re all part of the fall.
The garden temple is broken because the very thing needed to keep it working is obedience – and disobedience won. The temple image is broken – but not lost. God is still in the business of bringing heaven to earth.
So, God announces his rescue plan in Abraham – he calls childless nomads. He calls a couple who have nothing to become the conduit of blessing to the whole story of creation. It’s out of this – and those promises that everything else flows.
Next time we will build on this temple metaphor and see how it flows through the scriptures to present the ultimate intention of God which is not so much getting us to heaven as it is in getting heaven to earth – and getting it into us.
If you ever wondered about the importance of working with young people, the latest report from the Prince's Trust will leave you with little doubt. The 2019 Youth Index report serves to underline what we know to be true - our young people, or at least many of them, are struggling with issues like self-doubt, value and worth at unprecedentedly low levels and social media - although not entirely to be blame, is a large part of the problem. We are breeding a generation of anxious young adults.
The report makes for sober reading. Suicide is on the increase as young people struggle to find meaning; up from 3 young people in 100,000 in 2010 to 5 young people in 100,000 today. Furthermore, young people and issues relating to mental wellbeing at unprecedented levels as is shown in the report www.princes-trust.org.uk/ .
Now let’s be honest, life is complex for young people - much more so than the era I grew up in. Societal fragmentation has in many respects, eroded the foundations of security required for maturing into adulthood. Boundaries that are easily broken or non-existent hinder development by eliminating the security they bring in the framework of emotional, spiritual and physical development. This combined with the comparison culture of Instagram, Facebook and the like serve further to compound emotional wellbeing at a time when young people are struggling with their own identity.
Any level of engagement with young people reveals one thing - our investment in them needs to increase in this new world not decrease. The complexity of identity in an emotionally fragile society calls for us all to step up and not step back in our commitment to the young. This makes sense at every level, not least of which is the stability we can bring to the young person themselves.
As Nick Stace, UK chief executive of The Prince's Trust said, 'Young people are critical to the future success of this country, but they'll only realise their full potential if they believe in themselves and define success in their own terms. It is therefore a moral and economic imperative that employers, government, charities and wider communities put the needs of young people centre stage.'
A young person entering adulthood with a more rounded view of love, acceptance, value, resilience, and an appreciation of what creates personal confidence can only serve to create communities in which they will flourish. With community centres in decline, uniformed organisations losing kudos and youth groups underfunded we might well stop and ask some brave questions, like, What type of future do we want to create? Our young people need and deserve our support and how they will receive this needs to be one of our top priorities. We need a nation of adults who will take action and support that delivers a message that we love you and believe in you and are prepared to put our time, money and energy where it’s really needed. This is not a responsibility we can easily abdicate - we must all be engaged in seeking solutions to an epidemic of anxiety amongst the young - and Faith communities such as my own need to pick up the challenge and seek resolve in being part of the answer.
What is the Bible? Part Three. Jo’s Encounter; Why Love Matters And How The Bible is The Greatest Story Ever Told
It’s said ‘he who tells the best story wins,’ that the most compelling views of the world are the ones to capture our hearts. Personally, this is why I find the story of Jesus so captivating and the means through which it is told and foretold through the scriptures so fascinating.
Yet ask someone about the church and the story it speaks, and they can more easily tell you what it’s against, rather than what we are for? But this is the question we must answer. If we want to capture hearts – and especially those of a new generation, we will have to learn to tell a better story.
As I see it, one problem is we’ve allowed our faith to be built on proof texts or sound bites. The challenge with this – it doesn’t provide any context and context is everything.
And this is where narrative theology helps.
This is where story comes to our rescue.
We all love stories – stories capture and compel. Who can resist a love story – a tragedy, or a hero movie? Stories draw us in – they educate, inspire, and dig deep into the heart. People will sit and watch box sets back to back – why? Because of the compelling story.
Stories humanise, they give life meaning and purpose – we can champion the hero, boo down the villain – even put ourselves in the key role: ‘The names Bond, James Bond!’
Of the biblical story….
Sadly, we’ve reduced the biblical story so often to an eternity question. Where do you go when you die? Yet Jesus doesn’t ask the disciples if they want to go to heaven but rather, do they want to follow him – in the here and now: to join the revolution.
Do you want to go to heaven and escape hell when you die? Do people really care? The very question lacks existential urgency. Why have we reduced faith to this? I believe it’s because we’ve lost the heart of the story in all its beauty and brilliance. There is no sense of greatness in the message – nothing to draw us out, to pull us along. To remind us we are worth more. We are worth more than the drink we can’t escape; the debt we can’t flee; the job that gets us down – the partner that beats us up. That’s hell. If we want to talk about hell – let’s talk about the hell in Somalia; the hell in the Yemen; the hell in the tiny boats bobbing up and down in the Mediterranean full of immigrants; the hell on the streets of our own city where people have no roof over their heads.
We need to find a better story – and to find a better story we need to live a different life.
Recently my wife Jo was walking past TK Max when a young woman approached her.
‘I’ve been asking all day for help, and no one has stopped.’ She was crying.
‘Please can you help me, I don’t know what I am going to do.’ Jo asks her name and she tells her. ‘And my name is Jo.’
‘I need £18 to get to a hostel,’ the lady says, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do.’
Jo reaches for her purse and gives her ten pounds and then finds another three pounds, and she hugs her.
‘Oh, thank you; thank you – thank you so much.’ The lady replies.
‘I am sure you would do the same if you could.’ says Jo.
‘I would, yes, I would.’
‘Have you been to church? Jo says.
‘I was once desperate, and I cried out to God and I am going to think about it again.’
‘God loves you, and cares for you.’ says Jo.
The lady comes and hugs her, again.
‘Thank you; thank you.’ She says, and with that exchange Jo steps away.
The story is moving and powerful and we all want to be the person that stopped – we all want to be the one who gave the £10. Why? Because the story humanises us. It restores – it speaks of who we really are.
Which is why stories are amazing. They teach us so much.
Some enrich the heart – others, like this next one, expose it.
The Story of David and Bathsheba
David is the king of Israel. He is the top person in the land and has eyes for Bathsheba. He’s spotted her bathing naked on the roof of her home and plans to get her to the palace where they have sex together. When Bathsheba discovers she’s pregnant, David hatches a plan to save his own exposure which involved bringing her husband back from the frontline and allowing him to spend the evening with his wife.
Kind David assumes the two will have sex and the pregnancy will be assumed to be their own. What David doesn’t account for is the integrity of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah who because his fellow soldiers are at war refuses to sleep with her and stays at the entrance to the palace rather than going home. The following day, David invites Uriah to eat with him and gets him drunk – again trying to get him to sleep with his wife and again he refuses.
Finally, David sends Uriah back to fight and instructs the commander to place him in the frontline and then issues an order to retreat leaving Uriah exposed and as a result he is killed.
And then Nathan the prophet turns up and says…
‘There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
‘Now a traveller came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveller who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.’
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’
Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!
Picking up the Bible can be a daunting prospect. Where do you start? What does it mean? How do I understand its language and content? It’s not easy. I’ve been a reader of the Scriptures over many decades and even now I can feel daunted by some of the books, chapters and verses. But one way in to appreciating this ancient book is the use of metaphor and pictures to help us. I want to mention three I have found particularly helpful based on gems, lamps and honey pots. They are metaphors which help me grasp the purpose of the Scriptures in my journey of faith.
The Gem – A Journey of Revelation
A Jewish way of reading the Scriptures is the idea of turning the gem. By viewing the Bible like a big, shiny, gem we see that each turn offers a different refraction. We see the gem in a different way because of what it offers through the turn. By turning the gem, we have a fuller sense than we do when we just take one perspective.
Scripture is very much like this – with each turn we are offered a fresh perspective, a new way of seeing. In this way the Bible is viewed as a book of revelation – more than simply a book of history, poetry and prose it offers light on how we both view and live in the world. The writer to Hebrews wrote about it in this way, ‘For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).’
So, the Bible by nature is a book of revelation – a revelation of the mystery of God which has been kept hidden for ages and generations that culminates in Christ – who is God’s word in the truest sense of what this means. The writer, C.S. Lewis said, ‘It is Christ himself and not the Bible who is the true word of God. The Bible read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to him. We mustn't use the Bible as a type of encyclopaedia from which texts can be taken to use as a weapon.'
Or, as another long time, well-practiced Bible Teacher recently wrote…
Now, I see the Bible as ‘God’s Word’ in only a secondary sense. The ultimate ‘Word of God’ is Jesus Christ. The Bible is the story—a God-breathed one, I believe—of a people struggling, through their changing times and cultures, to understand God better, and often getting it only half-right, or sometimes even wrong. But the whole story was leading to its brilliant climax: Emmanuel, God with us in the person of the God-man, Jesus the Messiah. He alone is the end to which the Bible is merely the means.
Jesus, and Jesus only, is ‘the exact representation of God’s being’, the full and final revelation of what God is truly like. Everything else is shadowy, vague, temporary, unclear. But in him the shadows have cleared and the sun has come out. The Bible gave enough light to guide the previous generations along, but it will always be secondary to him. I’m now trying to take my views and convictions, my lifestyle-model, my attitudes, my standards, my everything from him, and from nowhere else.
We read the Bible from a Christocentric (Christ Centred) position. Christ is the ultimate expression of the Creator God – the fullest revelation of Deity, each turn of the gem is leading to him. As pastor and theologian Brian Zahnd says, ‘The ancient orthodox alternative to modern heterodox Biblicism is to say what the church has always said: Jesus Christ is the true Word of God. The Bible is the word of God, only in a penultimate sense. The Bible is the inspired, canonized witness to the Word of God who is Jesus Christ — the Word made flesh. Only Jesus Christ is the inerrant and infallible, perfect and divine Word of God.’
Read as a book of progressive revelation – we see the unfolding of this revelation as we travel through the scriptures and then captured and expressed in Christ.
The Lamp – A Journey of faith
A further way to let the Scriptures come to us is by seeing them as a lamp. The Psalmist wrote, ‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105).’ It’s in the understanding of the type of lamp the writer is referring to that we have a clear picture of God’s word at work in our lives. The oil lamp was a common form of lighting in the ancient Jewish world and was held on a small chain just below the waste as a person walked at night. The light was poor but sufficient to illuminate the next step – and then the next step after that and so on. In this way one was able to move forward using the lamp to guide one step at a time – and this is how the journey of faith works for us.
In life we often want the road ahead well lit, we are used to halogen bulbs powerfully illuminating the pathway, but God calls us to the walk of faith when it is the immediate step that we can see and not all that way down the road!
The Honey Pot – A Journey of Joy and Sweetness
The third picture is taken from the classroom when the Jewish Rabbi was about to teach his students the Torah. He would take honey and place it on the student’s fingers and then have them taste it. He would ask them to describe the taste – what it was like and how good it was. Then using the words of Psalm 119:105, ‘How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ He would remind them that God’s words taste like honey on the tongue. He wanted the students to associate the words of God with the most delicious, exquisite thing they could imagine. Creating a love for the Scriptures was his first task – he knew that if he could create hunger then his students would be keen to purse learning.
As we continue through this blog series: What is the Bible? Let me encourage you to keep these images in mind and allow them to help shape the way the Scriptures come to us and next time we will ask the question – in what way do we come to the Scriptures?
What is the Bible? An Exhilarating Journey into the Wonder, Mystery and Redemption of the Sacred Book. The New Blog Series...
I was first introduced to the Bible as a child when my Nana gave me a copy of the King James Version as a present when I was about eight years old. My lasting impression is of a book that had lots of very thin pages interspersed with the occasional picture of a biblical character like Moses, Daniel and of course, Jesus. It had gold gilt edges and was leather bound with a navy ribbon as a bookmark. I remember taking it to church and flicking though the pages to kill time whilst the Pastor was preaching – outside of this I had little interaction with the Sacred book.
Recently, I was walking through the foyer of the Hope Centre I could hear someone reading from a passage of the Bible. We had left several copies close to the door to be available to the congregation and this person had picked one up, opened it and started to read it randomly to a friend. This is the passage she read from in Jeremiah chapter 48.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:
‘Woe to Nebo, for it will be ruined.
Kiriathaim will be disgraced and captured;
the stronghold[a] will be disgraced and shattered.
2 Moab will be praised no more;
in Heshbon[b] people will plot her downfall:
“Come, let us put an end to that nation.”
You, the people of Madmen,[c] will also be silenced;
the sword will pursue you.
3 Cries of anguish arise from Horonaim,
cries of great havoc and destruction.
4 Moab will be broken;
her little ones will cry out.[d]
5 They go up the hill to Luhith,
weeping bitterly as they go;
on the road down to Horonaim
anguished cries over the destruction are heard.
6 Flee! Run for your lives;
become like a bush[e] in the desert.
7 Since you trust in your deeds and riches,
you too will be taken captive,
and Chemosh will go into exile,
together with his priests and officials.
8 The destroyer will come against every town,
and not a town will escape.
The valley will be ruined
and the plateau destroyed,
because the Lord has spoken.
9 Put salt on Moab,
for she will be laid waste;[f]
her towns will become desolate,
with no one to live in them.
10 ‘A curse on anyone who is lax in doing the Lord’s work!
A curse on anyone who keeps their sword from bloodshed!
If you are going to start reading the Bible – there are probably easier places!!
How would she ever know that the Moabites were descendants of Lot and inherited land to the north of Judah which became something of a trade route. Or, that the command to “put salt on Moab” refers to a practice of scattering salt on the ruins of a defeated city as a curse that nothing would ever live or grow in that place again (cf. Judges 9:45).
Verse 10 is considered by many to be an editorial insertion pronouncing a curse on anyone who would be lax in doing the Lord’s work, specifically those who would hesitate to shed enemy blood. The object of the curse is not indicated, but it may have been directed to Babylon as a warning not to draw back from destroying Moab. That’s right an insertion added later to make a point that was specific in the mind of the editor at the time. As we said, its not the easiest of passages.
But then as someone said; ‘It’s not the passages of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me – it’s the passages I do understand!’ Perhaps like this one called the Beatitudes from Matthew chapter 5.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Bible is an amazing book – but it’s not without its challenges. And because of this it’s important we approach the Bible in the right way – appreciating it for what it is – and recognising what it isn’t. Pastor and Author, Brian Zahnd speaks of this importance in his poem called, Reading the Bible Right.
It’s a STORY
We’re telling news here
Keeping alive an ancient epic
The grand narrative of paradise lost and paradise regained
The greatest “Once upon a time” tale ever told
The beautiful story which moves relentlessly toward--
“They lived happily ever after”
Never, never, NEVER forget that before its anything else it’s a story
So let the Story live and breathe, enthral and enchant
Don’t rip out its guts and leave it lifeless on the dissecting table
Don’t make it something it’s really not--
A catalogue of wished-for promises
An encyclopaedia of God-facts
A law journal of divine edicts
A how-to manual for do-it-yourselfers
Find the promises, learn the facts, heed the laws, live the lessons
But don’t forget the Story
Learn to read the Book for what it is--
God’s great big wild and wonderful surprise ending love story
Let there be wonder
Let there be mystery
Let there be tragedy
Let there be heartbreak
Let there be suspense
Let there be surprise
Let it be earthy and human
Let it be celestial and divine
Let it be what it is and don’t try to make it perfect where it’s not
This fantastic story of--
With its cast of thousands, more Tolstoy novel than thousand page sermon
It’s a Story because we are not saved by ideas but by events!
Here’s a plotline for you: Death, Burial, and Resurrection
Yes, it’s a story — not a plan, not ology or ism, but a story
And it’s an amalgamated patchwork story told in mixed medium
Narration, history, genealogy
Prophecy, poetry, parable
Psalm, song, sermon
Dream and vision
Memoir and letter
So understand the medium and don’t try so hard to miss the point
Try to learn what matters and what doesn’t
It’s not where and when Job lived
But what Job learned
In his painful odyssey and poetic theodicy
It’s not how many cubits of water you need to put Everest under a flood
But why the world was so dirty that it needed such a big bath
Trying to find Noah’s ark
Instead of trying to rid the world of violence
Really is an exercise in missing the point
Speaking of missing the point--
It’s not did a snake talk?
But what the damn thing said!
Because even though I’ve never met a talking snake
I’ve sure had serpentine thoughts crawl through my head
Literalism is a kind of escapism
By which you move out of the crosshairs of the probing question
But parable and metaphor have a way of knocking us to the floor
Prose flattened literalism makes the story small, time confined and irrelevant
But poetry and allegory travel through time and space to get in our face
Inert facts are easy enough to set on the shelf
But the Story well told will haunt you
Ah, the Story well told
That’s what is needed
It’s time for the Story to bust out of the cage and take the stage
And demand a hearing once again
It’s a STORY, I tell you!
And If you allow the Story to seep into your life
So that THE STORY begins to weave into your story
That’s when, at last, my friend, you’re reading the Bible right.
What is the Bible – An Exhilarating Journey into the Wonder, Mystery and Redemption of the Sacred Book first started as a series I taught at Hope which I’m now turning into a blog series adding to the content previously given. This is a place to read, think, comment and share. The Bible is an amazing book which has shaped the lives and actions of millions of people over the centuries and now, with the advent of improved techniques and translation; the discovery of fascinating insights through archaeology; and the interaction of this ancient text in a modern world comes to breath new life to age old questions of meaning, purpose and destiny. Its unique voice speaks of a world forged by love and justice, it carries a message of forgiveness, hope and grace. Should we read all the Bible in the same way? No. Does it all apply to today, No. Are some passages more important than others – absolutely. One of the greatest and most fascinating challenges we have with the Bible is interpretation – you can’t just read the scriptures, you have to interpret them, which is where the joy, mystery and challenge really lies.
So welcome to – What is the Bible? I hope you enjoy the series and enter into the heart of what the question really means. Please feel free to comment as the series develops as we look at this most important of questions.
Next time What is the Bible: Gems, Lamps and the Honey Pots.
I’ve been trying to understand the word 'Populism' recently. It's a term that has entered my consciousness of late and I'd struggled to grasp its meaning. Apparently, so have others because it can have a broad frame of reference. However, in its simplest form it refers to 'a range of approaches which emphasise the role of "the people" and often juxtapose this group against "the elite". [However] There is no single definition of the term, which developed in the 19th century and has been used to mean various things since that time.' Thank you, Wikipedia. Why’s this important, you ask? Because populism has woven itself as a word into politics to such a degree that it can’t be ignored and therefore must be understood.
Understanding is the key to learning - which is very different to simply reading. Like me you've probably sat down to read a chapter from a book, or an online article only to get part way through to realise you have no idea what you've just read. Either your mind wandered - or you simply didn't understand it. That's why introductions matter. Introductions set the context for all that follows. If you're about to learn a new subject - read the introductions first. An introduction is an overview of the topic. An introduction to Genesis is a first step and much better than trying to jump in at a passage and make sense of it. Reading the introduction to: psychology, sociology, physics, the history of the Great War - or indeed whatever it might be is of great importance because it positions you grasp the subject as a whole. Think of it as a foundation - get that right and everything else in your learning will take shape. Overlook it - and you will struggle. Most of us can learn new things if we approach it in the right way - and that means not trying to run before you can walk. You can grow in confidence if you take the right steps - you can blow your confidence if you don't.
It's important to start well with any new learning experience. Don't assume you know more than you do - and if you do then reading the introduction will simply confirm this and further cement your knowledge. Taking shortcuts is not the answer to accumulating good knowledge - and good knowledge is the real key to personal growth, career development and flourishing in your chosen field. It will also stop you being arrogant and save you from coming across as naive and immature. If someone has consistently delivered in their chosen field - there is a reason for this, Otherwise (in the majority of cases) they will have fallen through the cracks - because sooner or later the cracks will appear. And you want to avoid this.
So, avoid jumping straight in. There is more to learn than your initial enthusiastic drive is showing you - harness that enthusiasm to enable you to make a proper start, it’s going to reward you tenfold five years from now. Be patient - it’s a virtue you need to succeed, and your success will be truly rewarding when you know you've paid the price for it. Forget celebrity - it over promises and under delivers. Work hard, rest well - and start at the beginning if you want to go the distance and have a great ending.
The latest version of Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds is being filmed close to home, based at the Larkhills Retirement Village in Clifton and has hit our screens to great reviews. We watched Monday's episode under a warm glow as it portrayed all that is best when the young and old come together; humour, joy, memories and connection. Love just oozes out of the screen.
The programme is a social experiment on what effect children have on the elderly - can it delay age related diseases and add to a sense of purpose and flourishing in old age? We will have to wait for the results - but the signs look promising. The programme is a further step in what we all know needs to happen in our nation - people need to come together and find hope and happiness in each other - yes, we all have something to bring to the party of life.
As the programme aired this week Twitter was going mad at hashtag #oldpeopleshome4yo. @claireWhite55 tweeted 'A Dunkirk veteran who dances alone, little Scarlett who’s mummy died, badlass Lavina and Phoenix who ‘literally used all the stickers’ This programme is GOLD and I’m a mess!'
@HonorCollins said '#OldPeoplesHome4YO has me crying some serious tears seeing the elderly people so happy with the 4 yr olds is so heartwarming.'
There's something quite beautiful in a series that is pulling at the heart strings of the nation - it gives us a glimpse of what's possible which breeds a sense of hope. For many however the reality is different. Loneliness is at epidemic levels and not just among the old, a recent survey suggests that many of our young people are crippled by it too. Somewhere along the line our sense of community has been eroded and we're all poorer for it.
iNews reported that 'About 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month, and three-quarters of GPs said they see up to five people every day suffering from loneliness.' Such is the depth of the problem that the government is about to introduce Social Prescriptions through our GPs.
'GPs will be able to refer people to social activities under new plans to tackle loneliness,' wrote iNews, 'Theresa May has announced. Instead of prescribing pills, doctors will be encouraged to use “social prescribing” to refer lonely people for activities including dancing, cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups.
The article continued. 'Mrs May praised the late Labour MP Jo Cox, who had campaigned to end loneliness before her death. The Prime Minister said: “Jo Cox was absolutely right to highlight the critical importance of this growing social injustice which sits alongside childhood obesity and mental well-being as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. “I was pleased to be able to support the Loneliness Commission set up in Jo’s name and I am determined to do everything possible to take forward its recommendations.”' (Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/news/health/gps-england-loneliness-theresa-may-nhs/)
Of course the answer doesn't just lie at the Doctor's Surgery - it rests with each one of us. We all have the capacity to reach out, to offer some time - to give a listening ear. Each home, every church, club, activity group has something vital to offer - a sense of togetherness - the answer to our loneliness lies in the grasp of each of us. Let's not abdiacte what Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds appears to advicate that togetherness is the very essence of what it means to be human.
The risk of trying something new is that you might fail and for some of us the fear of failure can stop us trying in the first place. I thought about this when I first started running; and again, when I picked up a canvas and applied oil paint to it; and again when I led our church to the purchase of a derelict building that needed more money to restore it than we could have ever dreamed of owning.
The thoughts of failure around such things are palpable and they can paralyse us. The fear of failure can breed procrastination quicker than rabbits breed bunnies. The result of this is we settle. We settle for what we know and what makes us feel comfortable and safe. Which is fine as far as safe goes - but the problem with safe is it shuts us down to risk and risk is what we need if we ever want to live past being safe.
Safe is good as far as it goes. There's great comfort to know you are in 'safe hands' if you have to go to theatre for an operation. Safe is less attractive if it prevents progress. That’s when safe has passed its' limits and instead of being about protection it becomes about fear and all of a sudden, we are shackled. The problem with living shackled is fear sets the boundaries of life and from there we start to adopt limits that are neither aspirational or joyful - we give in and eventually give up and that’s no way to live.
So instead of fearing failure we should adopt it. We should see that failure is part of succeeding, evolving and attaining our potential. Failure instead of being seen as an enemy to be avoided should be seen as a tutor in the journey of living well. When failure becomes an educator rather than eradicator you enter one of the deepest learning circles available to you.
If you can embrace self-criticism you open up the door of learning from every area of life including your failures. In this place of inner analysis, you ask yourself questions - lots of questions and when this is applied to an area of failure you open yourself up to exponential growth. Apply this to your life and things will start to change immediately. You will read situations, opportunities and people better. You will learn from your experiences - and this matters a lot especially in the areas of relationships and self-leadership.
When learning from failure is part of the decision-making process, you are making a potential step into greatness - or at least progress. If what you step into fails - it doesn’t make you a failure, it simply proves that you are not prepared to settle for what you already possess. Learn from it - analyse it; apply self-critique; pray; talk to friends - but don’t stop. Brush yourself down, take some time out and then start again. Your failures are not the end of you – understood correctly, they are in fact the making of you.