Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A picture of the incarnation

In a passage from 'Unfinished Tales' by Tolkien the origin of the wizards is described. They were sent to middle-earth by the Valar (angelic servants of Eru the creator):

"For with the consent of Eru they sent members of their own high order, but clad in bodies as of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains and weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain; though because of their noble spirits they did not die, and aged only by the cares and labours of many long years." Unfinished Tales, p. 503

In other words, Gandalf is the incarnation of an (almost) divine being.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

When watching Christmas films!

Here's a very helpful blog post from Grace community church, Bedford about watching films and TV programmes with the brain switched on.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Defend the Virgin Birth?

The virgin birth is obviously important. Without it Jesus wouldn't be God's son. That's why the historical authenticity of Luke 1:26-38 is challenged by doubters. The argument is that Mary knew she had got herself into trouble and the angel's message was her way to explain the pregnancy without scandal. The problem for Christians is that there's no evidence one way or the other beyond Mary's word.

But then, maybe we shouldn't worry. The New Testament doesn't spend time defending the virgin birth. Where the New Testament focuses its defence of historical accuracy is on the resurrection, most noticeably in 1 Corinthians 15.

It is in the resurrection that we have evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. The story of the virgin birth is simply the explanation, not the proof. We have to start with the risen Lord Jesus who convinces us of his authority, then work backwards to find an account of how he came into the world. The conclusion we come to is "Of course its true, how else could the Son of God be born?"

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Who arranged the meeting?

When Boaz went to gates of Bethlehem (Ruth 4:1), did he expected to meet the kinsman-redeemer, or was the meeting fortuitous?

According to Robert Hubbard in his NICOT commentary on Ruth it was to be expected:

Everyone had to pass through the gate en route to the fields, the threshing floor, or other cities. To meet him there would facilitate the speedy settlement of this matter; Boaz would waste no time searching for him. (p. 232)
However, Daniel Block takes a different view in his NAC commentary on Judges and Ruth:

With a superficial reading of the book the timing of the kinsman-redeemer's arrival may seem coincidental, but a deeper reading will recognize again the hidden hand of God. (p. 705)
Was the meeting arranged by Boaz or God? Maybe there is something of both. Boaz could expect the kinsman-redeemer to use the gate at that time in morning, but could he be certain? Perhaps he was trusting God to bring about the necessary meeting.

All through Ruth the main characters seem to take matters into their own hands, yet be very reliant on the God who is very obviously in control of these events.

I wonder if the people of Ruth's time had debates about freewill and the sovereignty of God?

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Naomi's answered prayer

In Ruth 1:8-9 Naomi prays that her daughters-in-law will find husbands. She knows that they are both in difficult positions and she entrusts their situations to God. Of course, as the story continues we know Ruth doesn't abandon Naomi. Then, in Ruth 3:1 Naomi sets about securing a husband for Ruth. Not only is she looking for a husband for her daughter in law, she initiates a detailed plan in order to get one. She is answering her own prayer, yet nowhere in the book does this come across as a lack of faith, rather a response of faith. Naomi has seen a God given opportunity, and she is taking it. God has answered her prayer, but she needs to grasp it using all her wisdom.

Its an example of God's sovereignty and Naomi's cunning working together.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Things I find helpful: Bible software

Most of the software I use is free. Libre Office, Dropbox and Evernote do the things I need while costing nothing. But the one thing that I find is worth paying for is Bible software.

I use Logos 5 Bible software to help me study and prepare to preach. I love it because it keeps so many things in one place: Different Bible versions, commentaries, Bible dictionaries, maps, illustrations and my notes. The great thing about it is that its a gradually expanding library that you can add to by buying new books or sets of books.

Pastors traditionally have lots of shelves groaning under the weight of their vast library. I've heard stories of Pastors who have needed two lorries when moving house, one for all their furniture and stuff and the other for their library. My problem is that I don't have a lot of space for bookshelves in my study, so I get ebooks wherever I can.

The biggest advantage of ebooks, after the fact that they don't take up space, is that they are searchable.  This makes it easy to find exactly what you're looking for, and logos maximises this potential by indexing all the ebooks they sell. When I add a new commentary, dictionary, or any logos ebook to my software, the program indexes the book so that it becomes part of the search process. That means whenever I type in a passage from the Bible, a load of books and resources open up that connect to that passage. The same is true of a thematic or topical search.
Also, I can access all my Logos books on my phone or tablet. This is the sort of thing that is essential for me as a pastor, but is helpful for anyone wanting to dig deep into the word of God.

But it does cost money!

Friday, 21 November 2014

How do we glean?

In Leviticus 19:9-10 Israelites were commanded to leave their gleanings. That meant when they harvested their crops, any part of the crops that fell were to be left on the ground so that the poor had something to pick up. The same principle was to be applied in vineyards. How would we apply the principle of 'leave the gleanings' today?

The idea behind the principle is that the landowner doesn't try to grab everything that is rightfully his. He could make sure there are no stalks of wheat lost, and who would blame him? They are his crops on his land. But Leviticus told him leave some. It wasn't sacrificial giving, but it stopped landowners from being needlessly greedy as well. The gleanings of individuals might not have been much, but with every landowner in Israel keeping Leviticus 19:9 the poor could be significantly helped.

It doesn't take much to give some spare change to charity. It doesn't have to be sacrificial to be meaningful (though we must still be willing to be sacrificial). Its easier today than ever before to not only leave our 'gleanings', but see the impact. 99p spent on buying the band aid song adds up to less than a cup of Starbucks coffee, but the song has raised a significant sum already.

Looking at the wider picture, there has never been a conflict between gospel work and care for the poor. True gospel passion has always gone hand in hand with help for those in need (Gal 2:10). In the book of Ruth, where we see the gleanings command applied, the book is a picture of redemption which begins with a connection between the redeemer and the redeemed, in which the redeemer has compassion and helps with the material needs of the redeemed.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Hope for more

In Ruth 2:2 we see hope beginning to blossom in a situation that looks pretty hopeless.

Ruth is planning to go gleaning - picking up the leftover bits in the field after the harvest workers have taken most of the crop. She's looking for scraps of food so that Naomi and her can eat, but she's hoping for more. Ruth says "Let me go into the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour."

In other words, she isn't just hoping that luck will give her some grain that had been dropped by accident, she hopes for someone to show favour to her. She is hoping for more than just what anyone would expect, which shows that she is growing in faith.

What she actually gets is more than even Ruth could hope for (verses 10 and 13 show this). Ruth 2 is a good reminder that faith should raise our expectations, but God's generosity is greater than even our wildest hopes.