Bow your heavens… Psalm 144:5 (ESV) #1mwESV

So this is my first day into “One Month with the ESV” (#1mwESV). This morning’s reading was from Psalm 144, where David praises the Lord for his protection and provision, and calls out to this glorious Lord for continued intervention, for enemies still remain.

I was struck by the wording in Psalm 144:5

Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down! Touch the mountains so that they smoke!

I stopped at the word ‘bow‘ … I wondered what it might mean for God to ‘bow’ the heavens? In English, we have ‘bow’ as in ribbon, ‘bow’ as in showing deference, ‘bow’ as in bow and arrow, ‘bow’ as used with a violin, ‘bow’ as in bend under pressure, and ‘bow’ as in the piece of timber is bowed, or legs might be bowed if you’re talking about a classic moseying cowdude. Maybe it’s me, but I had to really process this, as none of the meanings really made sense in the Psalm’s context.

I turned to the Hebrew, and found that the root verb meant ‘to stretch, spread, lengthen, bend down, turn, turn aside, enlarge’ – with many of those contexts relevant to the image of a nomadic tent. I get that the ancients saw the heavens as a tent, a blue canopy stretched above the earth (see Isaiah 40:22, 54:2), but it still did not make a lot of sense as to why ‘bow’ would be such a good translation in Ps 144:5.

The NIV2011 has ‘part your heavens, Lord, and come down…’ which made a little more sense on first reading. It carries the idea that, with the heavens being seen as a tent, if someone (like the Lord) was going to leave the tent and intervene for King David, the natural thing to do would be to part the tent flaps. You would not expect someone to talk about ‘bowing the flaps’, or ‘bending the flaps’. You would more naturally talk about ‘parting the tent flaps’.

It looks like the ESV has carried a more traditional translation here. ‘Bow’ is found in the NASB, the RSV, and the KJV.

I also noticed Psalm 106:7

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.” (Psalm 106:7, ESV)

“Steadfast love” is an excellent translation of the Hebrew HSD (Hesed) alerting the reader to the ‘covenant faithfulness of the Lord. The Hebrew word is a linguistic signpost, often missed in English translations. Take the NIV for example, where this rich word is rendered ‘kindness’. It’s not a bad translation, but when Hesed refers to the Lord’s love and faithfulness to his covenant obligations, as Richard Laird Harris maintains (TWOT), it’s very helpful to have a consistent translation.

The ESV’s ‘steadfast love’ is really helpful here, and the NIV’s varied translations of the word tend to obscure the rich meaning of our Lord’s covenant love for his people.

One month with the ESV…

In May the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia decided to adopt the English Standard Version (ESV) as a preferred translation of the Scriptures.

At the time I did not think it was such a great decision. I am no New Testament scholar, so I find it hard to engage with the discussion at that level. I am a preacher, however, and I have the weighty responsibility of opening the Scriptures weekly and exposing its message to God’s people. I have an interest in making that process as clean, efficient and as accessible as I can. My prior use of the ESV had indicated that it was slightly more difficult to use in a public setting than my preferred translation (the 2011 version of the NIV). So I was inclined to stick with the NIV2011.

Even so, I respect the solid work of the CRCA’s Bible Translation Committee, and I recognise the ESV as having an edge in the accuracy department. This is because it is a more ‘word for word’ translation, while the NIV is more ‘thought for thought’. This may in part explain why in my view the NIV works better in a public setting. If it’s easier to follow, people will engage with it more readily. On the other hand, with the ESV being a more ‘word for word’ translation it may carry a closer understanding of the original languages.

The other impression I have of the ESV is that, for reasons unknown to me, the translators have sometimes opted for what appear to be somewhat archaic English. For something that purports to be contemporary English, I don’t get this. I don’t want to go into examples of this now, but may draw attention to some of these cases as time goes on.

It has occurred to me that my dislike for the ESV is more subjective than anything, arising out of the fact that I have been reading the NIV for the last 40 years. Maybe I like it more because I am so used to its form and cadence.

So I decided to use the ESV in my private reading and study for a whole month – starting tomorrow. I typically read from the Revised Common Lectionary – Daily Readings (RCL), which give plenty of variety as to genre and and style. I use the RCL with Logos Bible Software.  From time to time I will write a short blog about my experiences. If you are reading the RCL, you might like to read and well and contribute to the discussion. It can be helpful to share our thoughts.

Thanks for journeying with me.

How Fragile We Are…

Journalist Alison Parker and Cameraman Adam Ward were shot dead yesterday as they went about their work reporting for a local television station in Virginia.

I have so many questions about US gun laws, and what I perceive to be a totally irrational desire not to place some restrictions on the availability of firearms in US jurisdictions.

My most persistent thoughts, however, surround the brokenness of our world, the brokenness of people, and how much we need to be put back together by the work of God in Jesus his son.

I do not know the faith context of Stevie Wonder and Sting, but this clip seems so relevant to the heaviness we must all feel after yesterday’s events.

How to respond to the “Marriage Equality” issue

I just  read an excellent article from Ryan Anderson about how the church can respond to the issue of marriage equality. Anderson frames his response by speaking about the role of ‘the church’. I get this, although I see the response in terms of the task of all Christians as the church, not some church hierarchy. Even so, Anderson makes a couple of great points:

  • we need to present a case for Christian sexuality which is attractive, appealing and engaging. We need to capture the moral imagination of this and the next generation
  • we need to develop sensitive ministries for same sex attracted people and those with questions around gender identity
  • we must learn ways to defend religious liberty in an age when one social agenda becomes non negotiable public policy
  • we must live out the truth of marriage and human sexuality

You can read the article at ABC Religion

Coping with Change?

St Georges Terrace

St Georges Terrace

[Jesus’] message, and the message about him that the early Christians
called good news, was not about how to escape that world.
It was about how the one true God
was changing it,
and for ever.

Tom Wright, Simply Good News

It got me thinking about all those discussions around ‘change’ about 20 years ago. How it was something to be resisted. Seen as negative.

I think we got the whole change thing the wrong way around. People were worried about changing the church, how we did things, and traditions long held and valued. Sure, some things about church need to change. Semper reformanda and all that.

What we missed is that Jesus is all about change. Changing people. Changing his world. Doing this through the power of his death, rising and rule. Living in people. As he changes people, they bring his change into his world.

…just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too me live a new life (Romans 6:4)

I am too slow to bring this change in my life. No wonder my impact is minimal. And as a pastor, I don’t see to much change in others. They struggle to see their faith bite into life reality, except for a few hours on Sunday and some quiet time every other day.

You’re a follower of Jesus? Then he’s living in you through his spirit. He intends to empower you and enable you to live the values of his Kingdom today, in whatever you’re doing. How you drive. How to treat people. How you love your kids. How you treat your body. How you stand up for the friendless and the forsaken.

What change are you living today? How will people get an idea about Jesus and heaven by how you behave, and speak, live and love?

The cliche is ‘be the change you want to see.’ That’s a bit self centred and short sighted.

I would rather say ‘be the change God wants people around you to see.’

If God would change your context, where you are right now, how would he do that? What would need to happen?

Go. Do.

U.S. Supreme Court, ‘Marriage Equality’ and the Christian Voice


Many Christians have already weighed in on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which has allowed gay marriage in all 50 states of the USA. The Christian voice on this subject is wide and varied: opinions run the whole spectrum. Those who listen to this amalgam of comment may be wondering just what to think and what to say about the matter. This post, rather than comment on the issue per se, calls Christians to think carefully about how to respond, before we even get to what we should say.

So as we think about how we should speak, remember the following:

Be humble. We are all sinners. We are failed, fallen and failing people. None of us deserves God’s grace. The Supreme Court ruling evidences our broken and fallen world and the sin of the human heart.  God is grieved by any human action, thought or disposition which does not honour him. This decision, as with myriad other human decisions done in defiance, ignorance or indifference to God, is a powerful reminder of how our world needs God and his grace

Be gracious: Christians everywhere must respond in love and grace, even while disagreeing. This is not the time for hot headed statements, cynicism, or fear. The world watches how we react to this development. Words of ignorance, anger or spite will not advance the cause of Jesus Christ. Make a commitment not to demonise or marginalise those who express their sexuality in a way that you would not. Do not mock the judges who handed down this ruling. Reacting with hatred or judgmental attitudes only deepens people’s prejudice against the Gospel. Nick Wolterstorff reminds us: “a community that shuns the broken can never be whole, or holy”

Submit to Scripture. People will quote lists of Bible texts. Here are some to keep on the top of your stack. Let these verses govern everything you say and do:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)


Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, 

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.  They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:8-17)

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6)


Keep your perspective: Remember: no Supreme Court decision changes what the Supreme Being reveals in his word. No need to be dismissive, pompous or arrogant, but the word of God stands forever. Never forget this. While the Supreme Court interprets law, it cannot change the human heart. Only the Supreme Power of God can bring the restoration, healing and transformation we need. Only the Supreme Grace of Jesus can cleanse from the deepest sin and restore the most abject brokenness.

Keep the right end in mind. The Supreme Court’s decision will disappoint and disturb many who love Jesus, but it is not the end of the world. Christ is still on the throne. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Remember his words

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4)

Be an example: There is no better time to uphold the beauty of marriage as God created it. So, husbands and wives, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, love each other as Christ loved the church: selflessly, sacrificially, beautifully. Do this to Christ’s glory.

As I said, there is need to process this, but I cannot think of a more important time to live the winsomeness of the Kingdom of God and the grace of Jesus than a time when things are running against us. History shows when Christians do this, the tide of opposition will slowly change.

Trust God, friends, to do his work in you and through you.

Grace and peace,


True Christianity Seen in Charleston’s Forgiveness


Last week WAToday journalist Neil McMahon described Fred Nile’s views on marriage as ‘jurassic’. Apparently, anyone who upholds a traditional, let alone a view of marriage grounded in Scripture, is a bit of a dinosaur.  McMahon’s words are another indication of the growing distance between traditional Christianity and current views in society. The challenges are huge, and sometimes confrontational.

Much could be said about the often ad hominem nature of such attacks on Christian leaders and the church, although most can see these ungracious and unthinking words for what they are. Even so, I welcome the challenge being placed before the church today. Every new question, even words of attack, give Christians an opportunity to give account for the hope they have.

If you were ever wondering what Christianity is about, and why it has survived for 2000 years, and then, through trials and in circumstances considerably more foreboding than our current social climate, you need go no further than what we see unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina.

Last week the world looked on in horror as reports unfolded of how Dylann Roof entered the American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the oldest African American congregation in the country, and murdered nine innocent people. Those murdered had warmly welcomed him into their Bible discussion groups just one hour earlier. At Roof’s first court appearance last Friday, family members were permitted to make statements to the Court where Roof made his first appearance after the shooting.

What did those people say? What characterised their words? Bitterness? White knuckled rage? Seething desire for revenge?

No. What we saw was Christianity in action. We saw the power of there Risen Jesus at work in his people. We were confronted with words of grace and forgiveness. These words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ.

See for yourself:

“I just want everyone to know, I forgive you. You took something really precious from me [her mother]. I will never be able to talk to [my mother] again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. May God have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

…words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ…

“I forgive you. My family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. So that he can change it. Change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you’ll be ok. Do that. And you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”

“We welcomed you Wednesday night to our Bible Study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. And, and, I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But, as we said in our Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on your soul.”

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof, that they lived in love and their legacies live in love. So hate won’t win.”

“Depayne Doctor was my sister. And I too thank you, on behalf of my family, for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge I am very, angry. But one thing that Depayne taught me, is that we are, the family that Love built. We have no room for hating! So we have to forgive. And I pray God [have mercy] on your soul.”

Christians everywhere are deeply moved by their example. We thank God for their grace and courage. May their words be echoed, repeated, whispered – through our tears – for years to come.

What is Christianity? It is how God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, breaks the power of evil in human lives, and through his Spirit begins transforming them, and their world, so Jesus’ new life comes to glorious expression .

This is the Christianity, the Jesus, the Gospel our world needs to see and believe.

And yes, Neil McMahon, such words are old, but they carry more power and grace than you can imagine. They change lives. They heal hurts. And they breathe life into our world’s most broken and tragic places.