Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Kinsman/Redeemer (Ruth)

The story of Ruth is set in the time of the Judges; a time characterised by religious and moral degeneracy, and demonstrates again the remarkable nature of God’s intervention in the most unpromising of circumstances to achieve his purposes. It is a truly bitter/sweet tale of loss and redemption and begins with Naomi, whose name means ‘pleasant’ but who lost her husband and two sons who died childless. Her sense of desolation was so great that she declared “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant) call me Mara (bitter) because the Almighty has made my life bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)

The story is familiar, of how Naomi in her wretchedness returned home in Bethlehem in Judah and urged her now widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their own home in Moab where their chance of gaining another husband would be greater. Orpah finally returns to her people but Ruth demonstrates a fidelity rare for the time and follows her mother-in-law to Bethlehem.

“So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”

Landowners were instructed in the Law of Moses to leave what the harvesters had missed for the poor, the alien, the widow and the fatherless could glean grain for their needs. Ruth determined to follow the harvesters and provide for her and her mother-in-law. It was here that she was found by Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s late husband who offered his protection and fulfilled his role in the law as kinsman/redeemer. By law the kinsman/redeemer was responsible for protecting the interests of needy members of the extended family.

At a time when men did what seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25) Boaz offered his protection and married Ruth.

“And she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman/redeemer...He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’

Then Naomi took the child, laid him on her lap and carried him. The women there said, ‘Naomi has a son.’ And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”

From the calling of a pagan Abraham, whose barren wife Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac, through the deliverance of an enslaved Israel, to the devotion of a foreign daughter-in-law and the noble actions of Boaz at a time of moral degeneracy which produces a son to a woman who had given up hope of children the Lord guarded and made fruitful the line that would lead to the birth of the Saviour that we will soon celebrate.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – God’s Treasured Possession (Exodus 19:3-5)

We began last time to look at God’s providence and the unlikely calling of a man, Abraham, out of a pagan, polytheistic world who was promised great things. He was promised a great posterity and that he would be a great nation and God provided a son when Abraham and his wife Sarah were old and barren.

The promise of fruitfulness and progeny given to Adam and Abraham (Ge.1:28; 12:2) were fulfilled as Israel multiplied in Egypt. However, God’s people are not invulnerable to the challenges and injustices of this world and the physical descendants of Abraham found themselves in slavery in Egypt. From a position of great office and privilege in the land Israel, within 200 years, became slaves to a king that knew nothing about how God had blessed Egypt through Abraham’s descendents (Ex.1:6-14).

God rose up a man from Pharaoh’s own household, Moses, the Israelite who had been adopted by the king’s daughter and it was he whom God used to deliver his people from what seemed hopelessness and broken promises. By a series of miracles God demonstrated to Israel and to Pharaoh that his promises will be fulfilled and his purposes prevail. When finally Israel walked out of Egypt Moses led them to the foot of Mount Sinai and there God entered into a covenant with the ones he would call his people.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex.19:4-6)

God had all the nations of the earth from which to choose and he knew none could be good enough to be his people. He chose Israel, not on merit or because they were better or bigger than other nations (Deut.7:7) but because he loved them and swore an oath to their forefathers. The covenant made at Sinai was between a people saved from slavery and their Saviour/God. A God who declared that this now was how a saved people were to live if they would just add obedience to faith and worship the God who saved them.

We too are saved because of God’s love and not because of any merit on our part. A God who saves demands obedience but it is not the obedience, nor indeed the act of faith but God who carries us on eagle’s wings and brings us to himself.

Friday, 20 November 2009

American Creation: U.S. Presidents and the Mormons

Mormons often complain about their victim role in American history but a selection of quotes from state of the Union addresses from various presidents shows how concerned the government was and perhaps has reason to continue being. This quote is from Chester A Arthur, 21st American president. For more click through to the American Creation blog.

“The fact that adherents of the Mormon Church, which rests upon polygamy as its corner stone, have recently been peopling in large numbers Idaho, Arizona, and other of our Western Territories is well calculated to excite the liveliest interest and apprehension. It imposes upon Congress and the Executive the duty of arraying against this barbarous system all the power which under the Constitution and the law they can wield for its destruction. Reference has been already made to the obstacles which the United States officers have encountered in their efforts to punish violations of law. Prominent among these obstacles is the difficulty of procuring legal evidence sufficient to warrant a conviction even in the case of the most notorious offenders."

American Creation: U.S. Presidents and the Mormons

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Father of the Faithful (Genesis 12:1-2)

Providence is usually defined as the unceasing activity of God in blessing (Ps.145:9), upholding order (Acts 17:28), governing events (Ge.45:5-8) and directing everything to his ultimate purpose and for his glory (Eph.1:9-12). (See New Bible Dictionary, 3rd.ed. p. 979 for more helpful insights on providence) Over the next six weeks we will look at God’s unmistakable and providential hand has worked through Bible history to provide the Saviour we will soon celebrate.

We naturally think of Abraham as a nomad, a tent dweller, whose wanderings are recorded in the early chapters of the Bible. However, for the first seventy-five years of his life, Abraham was a metropolitan, a city dweller, living in the bustling, sophisticated and important trade centre of Ur on the Euphrates River and later further north in the equally important city of Haran.

Both Ur and Haran were worship centres for the sun and the moon and Abraham, was raised to be a polytheist, like his father. The building that dominated Ur, and still dominates the site today, was the temple, a ziggurat or stepped tower dedicated to these pagan gods. We get a picture of their purpose by looking at the Tower of Babel, which was such a tower.

“Then [men] said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth’” (Ge.11:4)

This was a city in which a community and nation might gather and a tower that would establish a name, identify a people of renown. This was the background from which Abraham was called, these were the gods he was called to renounce for a God who promised him a name and who would make him a great nation:

“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation

And I will bless you;

I will make your name great...” (Ge.12:1-2)

When Abraham’s wife, Sarah heard the promise of a child she laughed because she was old and passed child bearing age (Ge.18:10-15) but “Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Ge.15:6) When Sarah had a son Abraham called him Isaac, which means laughter.

“Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” (Ge.21:6-7)

Who would have said indeed? A man called by God out of the pagan world of his father, promised a son and, in his old age, borne a son by his elderly and barren wife. Is it any wonder that Sarah laughed at such incredible events? The providence of God would continue to operate and, from the most unlikely, even impossible circumstances raise up a line that would eventually bring salvation to the world for his purpose and to his glory.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Victoria Advocate | Meeting expected to pump $100M into state economy

It is well to remember that not everyone is unhappy to see the Jehovah’s Witnesses turn up. I just wonder if Jehovah’s Witnesses are altogether comfortable pumping that much money into this world’s failing system of things.

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Tourism Authority calculates delegates to the Jehovah's Witnesses convention at the Hawaii Convention Center to spend about $100 million.

HTA Vice President David Uchiyama says the projection is based, in part, on 161,000 hotel room nights. He says the spending figure includes nearly $10 million in tax revenue.

Organizers expect more than 30,000 delegates to attend the convention. That includes as many as 8,000 from Hawaii.

Spokesman David Fitzgerald says the convention's two sessions are scheduled to run Nov. 19-22 and Nov. 26-29.

Delegates are coming from around the world, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and Taiwan.

Victoria Advocate | Meeting expected to pump $100M into state economy

Friday, 6 November 2009

Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament: The New Simplified Bible.

It always interests me what influences people’s thinking. Nowhere is this more important than in how we approach the Bible and so I found this story fascinating. A new, free, version of the bible is available but this reviewer concludes that notwithstanding the translator’s claims it is “Jehovah’s Witnesses lite”.

"There is a new version of the Bible on the market (not another version!). This one is free and it is available online. James R Madsen is the translator and editor of the New Simplified Bible. This new translation of the Bible comes in three different editions:
The Jehovah Version
The Yahwist Version
The LORD Version
Although the translator makes the disclaimer that his version of the Bible is not related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New Simplified Bible could be classified as 'Jehovah’s Witnesses lite.'"
Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament: The New Simplified Bible.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Snare of Legalism (Matthew 19:1-12)

The Chambers Dictionary defines legalism as “strict adherence to law...the tendency to observe letter or form rather than spirit, or to regard things from the point of view of law.” It also helpfully illustrates the definition with a reference to the opposing doctrines of salvation by works and salvation by grace. I do like The Chambers Dictionary and commend it to you.

But what is wrong with keeping the law? Surely as Christians we believe in being law-abiding? There is certainly enough in the New Testament about obedience to authorities. We are instructed, “obey your parents in the Lord” (Eph.6:1); obey your earthly masters with respect” (Eph.6:5); obey your leaders and submit to their authority” (Heb.13:17) and we are reminded “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:3)

When we witness to those with a legalistic bent we are often challenged with these and similar texts and accused of practicing antinomianism, “being emancipated by the gospel from the obligation to keep the moral law, faith alone being necessary” (that’s Chambers again)

Of course, if we were antinomian in our teaching and practice our prisons would be full of Christians (in some parts of the world Christians do find themselves imprisoned and worse but for entirely different reasons). The folly of legalism is highlighted in this passage as Jesus answers what his interrogators think is a difficult question and it had certainly exercised the best Jewish minds for generations. Moses said:

“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes here a certificate of divorcement, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, give it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord” (Deut.24: 1-4)

In Jesus’ day there were two schools of thought. The scholar Shammai taught that “something indecent” meant marital unfaithfulness while Hillel emphasised the words “who becomes displeasing to him” and taught that if she did anything he didn’t like, such as burning the toast it justified a divorce. You see, that is the trouble with legalism, not that law is a bad thing but that we always put ourselves in the place of God and make it mean what we like, or what seems right to us. In our everyday lives we are often very sure of what are our rights and what are other people’s obligations. Jesus’ answer cut right through this tangle of opinions and interpretations by appealing to the purposes of God.

You see, someone following either the school of Shammai or Hillel might feel justified, righteous and superior for having nailed it but neither was right, although Jesus clearly took the side of Shammai over Hillel. Divorce, he said, was granted because of sin and God, whose purpose and ideal from the beginning had been that the two would be one, graciously accommodated his purposes to circumstances because of sin that caused damage to people. The Pharisees had asked the wrong question. They wanted to know what was permitted or forbidden when they should have been asking what was the purpose of God.

They asked when and under what circumstances disappointed and hurting people should separate when they should have been asking how broken relationships can be mended and people healed from their hurts and disappointments. It is a stark and frightening insight into what they cared about, and what we care about when we address these life issues from the point of view of law.

Jesus preached the standards of the kingdom which see citizens as servants who seek each other’s good and the heart of God in every matter. In this of course Christians believe in and practice obedience but from a heart changed by the miracle of the new birth and not from a list of statutes, permissions and prohibitions. Where do we find and how do we follow these standards of the kingdom that speak so eloquently of obedience yet offer citizenship not to the obedient but to the believing? As Jesus taught Nicodemus:

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again...no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” Jn.3: (3-6)

We are saved into the kingdom by the miracle of rebirth and we take hold of and begin to understand the will of God and the standards of the kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. The regenerate person has a renewed mind (Ro.12:12), has the law set in their minds (Heb.8:10;10:16) and has the mind of Christ (1 Cor.2:16)

In our witness we teach truth, correct doctrine and bring understanding but we are not, like Shammai and Hillel, simply interpreters of the Bible but offer to people nothing less than new birth, renewed minds, the mind of Christ in all matters pertaining to the kingdom,

Now we have received not 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 in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.

‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor.2:12-16)