Immanuel

I’ve been doing a lot of reading of and about Exodus 3 lately, Moses at the burning bush.

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God reveals and explains his name to Moses. God says to Moses at that mountain,  in response to Moses asking what he should say when the Israelites ask “what is his name?”:

And God said to Moses “I will be who I will be.  You are to say to the sons of Israel “I will be” has sent me to you.
And God said again to Moses: “You are to say to the sons of Israel:
Yahweh, God of your fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob has sent me to you.”
This is my name for ever, and this is my remembrance from generation to generation.”

“I will be who I will be” has puzzled many commentators. Much ink has been spilled on these verses, and maybe I’ll put more up here on that at some point. But for now, one of the more refreshing quotes I came across, from an article by Alec Motyer:

“The God whose name is ‘I will be’ is One who calls His servants to a life of faith, and who vindicates Himself and declares His nature in the event itself to the mind of the authorized interpreter of that event. He is empirically revealed. In particular, this is the message of the burning bush. Like all similar manifestations, the purpose behind the ‘flame of fire out of the midst of a bush’ was to declare the nature of God.  And this is the revelation: that the God who addressed Himself to Moses is the living and indwelling God. We speak of the burning bush, but in point of fact the notable thing was that the bush did not burn. The vision is rather of the flame which needed no fuel to feed it because it contained all life within itself. So God is revealed: the One who is All-sufficiency in Himself. But such a God could be utterly remote in self-sufficient isolation; in that case He would not be the God who showed Himself ‘out of the midst of the bush’. This all-sufficient God takes up His abode in the humble, and lowly, and ordinary, and illuminates, but does not consume, them with His divine nature. Thus, He can appropriately say: ‘I will be with thee.'”

It seemed kind of appropriate as we come to Advent and remember the God who comes to be one of us. The God who comes to be our Immanuel. (God with us).

 

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Christ the King

Apparently yesterday was “Christ the King” sunday in the church year.  So I thought it was appropriate to put up this hymn – with a couple of extra bonus verses in addition to the usual.  Verse two does strike me as a little odd – especially the mystic rose reference, but I do like the “root whence mercy ever flows…”

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Crown Him the virgin’s Son, the God incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won which now His brow adorn;
Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;
The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end, and round His piercèd feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

Women as Bishops – the vote everybody lost?

I’ve just read this.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20415689

I’m honestly not certain how I would have voted on this issue.  This isn’t a blogpost where I solve this issue.  I’m simply thinking out loud.  In matters of male female roles I guess I’m on the borderline of complementarianism and egalitarianism – I tend to think that in an individual church the “senior pastor” should be male, but beyond that anyone can do anything.

I struggle to back that up fully from scripture – because many of the key texts are not straightforward – but it seems to be the best way of doing justice to the sense from several key passages that there is some sort of “headship” that is male, and yet that women are very much seen in ministry of all sorts in the NT.

I like the comments from a husband and wife at their blogs here:

http://tanyamarlow.com/on-women-bishops/

and

here:

http://marlow.me.uk/recurringthemes/?p=268

I would like to add my voice to those calling for moderation and listening on this issue.  In particular I want to urge evangelicals who differ on this issue not to make this a shibboleth issue (or even a sibboleth issue) of who is “in” and who is “out”. It is not. Bible believing Christians genuinely reach different conclusions on this issue, and denying this does not help anyone.

Conservatives are not all misogynists – I know some of those who opposed this measure and they act out of a genuine belief in the teachings of scripture and a love for women.  The women who opposed this measure are not “colluding in their own oppression” (as one clergyman once suggested to me) – they have reached this conclusion, often at personal cost, in all good conscience.

Those in favour of women clergy and bishops are not all “liberals” or failing to take scripture seriously. The list of evangelicals who support all areas of church leadership being open to women is pretty impressive.  I know people who take this position, and they do so because this is what they believe the bible teaches.

Both groups need to learn to live together and we do it best by seeking to fully understand the other side, not by flippant remarks and not by criticism of the motives of others or their sincerity.

I think evangelicals need to be a lot better at this in many areas.  I’m hugely grateful for the youth group I was discipled in, and where I discipled others, that I saw leaders disagreeing about important things, but still loving each other as brothers. One Saturday morning on a weekend away a group of older teenagers were asking questions about every kind of difficult issue, and after the leader speaking had answered some of them he turned to me and said “but you see it a bit differently, don’t you – what would you say”.

I’m massively grateful that I went to an evangelical college to study for my masters where we watched professors argue, sometimes passionately and occasionally heatedly about important things – and yet remain friends and colleagues because ultimately there was a deeper unity.

Yes Truth matters – but so does the realisation that I might be wrong – and that I’m likely to know Truth better if I understand why you see it differently.

I also think that this vote raises massive questions about evangelicals and bishops more generally – but that will need to be left for another day!

(P.S. for those of you trying to do source criticism on this blogpost – it has been written for you by Mark)

Heroic servanthood…

Tomorrow is Jonathan’s first birthday.  We’ve just had a fun weekend of birthday celebrations with family.  When we were thinking of names we were both keen on Jonathan.  It is has a good meaning (Yahweh gave) and also a good biblical association.

As a child I grew up enjoying reading the stories of David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel, and admired in particular the selflessness of Jonathan being prepared to go against his father and make way for David.  At a slightly older stage I remember hearing a talk on 1 Samuel 14. This is the chapter in which we are introduced to Jonathan.

It’s worth reading the chapter and seeing the faith of Jonathan and his armour bearer as they single handedly take on the Philistines. 14:6 is the key verse:

Jonathan said to his young armor–bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”

The most striking word in the entire sentence is “perhaps” – there is no guarantee that Yahweh will act, but Jonathan is going to be ready if he does choose to because nothing can hinder Yahweh from saving.  The results are spectacular as a massive defeat for the Philistines ensues.  It makes me wonder if the moment that cemented David and Jonathan’s friendship was this one as David approaches Goliath:

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

It does also make me wonder what Jonathan was doing when Goliath was challenging the Israelites. Perhaps he was ordered not to fight but Saul.  Perhaps he knew it was no longer his task. Either way it seems pretty likely that he recognised someone with the same heart for Yahweh.

It seems odd to us that such a man should die and not do the task to which he seemed so suited.  Dale Ralph Davis in his exposition of 1 Samuel (anyone reading or teaching the historical books of the OT should read his books to help) writes these words.  The final line is fitting prayer for our Jonathan, and for all of us in our lives:

“Any reader who really gets dirty in the ink of the text instinctively senses that Jonathan is royal material. What a splendid king he would make! But that is where the tragedy comes in: Jonathan will never get such an opportunity (1 Sam. 13:13-14)…

Jonathan is eminently suited for a kingship he can never have. Our questions fly thick and fast, all our “whys?” and “what ifs?”. Why could not Jonathan have been king instead of Saul? … Why did Jonathan have to be eliminated? Why must Jonathan’s opportunities be squelched by Saul’s choices? It is as if the text asks us: What do you suppose God is doing? Why does he work this way? Why are we meeting Yahweh’s “unsuccessful ways” again? Why this waste?

Such questions are normal. They are also revealing. They reveal us 20th-21st century citizens of the western culture we have imbibed. In our minds self fulfillment is a right. If we’ve ingenuity and discipline our efforts should be crowned with success. Should we be of a religious bent we happily acknowledge that “God and/or Jesus” assists us in our quest. One can always use such help.

But Jonathan seems to know better. The kingdom was not Saul’s or Jonathan’s; it was Yahweh’s kingdom.
For Jonathan, then, the kingdom was not his to seize, not his to rule, but his to serve. …
Maybe a tragic life isn’t tragic if it’s lived in fidelity to what Christ asks of us in the circumstances he gives us.

Hymn of the week – Perspective from Psalm 90

As alluded to last week here is Isaac Watt’s classic hymn based on Psalm 90. Psalm 90 is described as a psalm of Moses, the man of God, and it seems to be an exercise in getting life into perspective.  So read and ponder…

 

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
“Return, ye sons of men:”
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.


Hymn of the Week – Inspired by Ethan

We’ve just travelled back from a flying visit to our new nephew – welcome to the world Ethan Peter – may you indeed be a steadfast rock because you are built on the steadfast rock.  Ethan is an adjective in the OT with a range of meanings – steadfast/everlasting being the usual ones. It is also the name of several obscure biblical characters, one of whom appears in the title of Psalm 89.  This is quite a long Psalm, so I doubted I’d find a hymn based on it – but I reckoned without Isaac Watts, who wrote 8 hymns on the Psalm… I’ve picked the one I liked best, but go to http://www.ccel.org/ccel/watts/psalmshymns to see more of them.

With rev’rence let the saints appear,
And bow before the Lord;
His high commands with rev’rence hear,
And tremble at his word.

How terrible thy glories be!
How bright thine armies shine!
Where is the power that vies with thee,
Or truth compared to thine?

The northern pole and southern rest
On thy supporting hand;
Darkness and day, from east to west,
Move round at thy command.

Thy words the raging winds control,
And rule the boist’rous deep;
Thou mak’st the sleeping billows roll,
The rolling billows sleep.

Heav’n, earth, and air, and sea, are thine,
And the dark world of hell;
How did thine arm in vengeance shine
When Egypt durst rebel!

Justice and judgment are thy throne,
Yet wondrous is thy grace;
While truth and mercy, joined in one,
Invite us near thy face.

If you’re really alert you will also work out why Psalm 89 might appropriately set up the next hymn for next week (at least according to UK Anglican tradition…)

thought for the day

Matt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

These words frame the words from Eph 4 that I pray daily for the boys and for us as we teach by example; which is always easier said than lived out. Peacemakers require depth and breadth of character and is a daily on going discipline.

With all humility and gentleness,with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.