Prayer for the Week

Almighty and merciful God, by whose grace your faithful people are able to bring you true and praiseworthy service: Grant, we ask, that we may so faithfully serve you in this life that we do not fail to attain your heavenly promises through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[adapted from ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ 1662]

Do we really believe in the sovereignty of God?

This morning I read this tweet:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 9.03.29 AM

…and I started to wonder (again) why some reformed churches tend to have a low growth rate, little emphasis on evangelism and a poor outward focus. It just doesn’t make any sense.

As IJM‘s Gary Haugen reminds us, the sovereignty and faithfulness of God – themes which resonate deeply in reformed thought and reformed preaching – are the bedrock of mission, every work of justice and compassion, every act of witness.

God is sovereign – so he knows my needs and the needs of my city. He is all powerful, he will give me what I need to do what he calls me to do (see Matthew 7:7-12)

When Jesus returned to the Father, he reminded his disciples – as he gave them his great commission to disciples the nations – that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. His presence and his resurrection power would embolden witness and empower everything we do to share the good news.

These wonderful realities must be at the forefront of all mission and ministry.

And I wonder, if mission, outreach, sharing the good news, and living the ‘new goods’ are not at the forefront of all we’re doing as churches and individuals, whether we actually believe in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness at all.

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,
radically
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.