“best acceptance speech ever”

5474672064_94935cf281I love the great British bake off. Every year they pitch the tent in a picturesque garden and a handful of hopefuls do battle with bread, biscuits and brandi snaps. When Nadiya Hussain won this years competition she said something very powerful and rather moving:

“I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will.”

It was a great speech and it even made the national newspapers.

I think it was a good speech because:

1) She won

We love a winner. When we see someone win we imagine ourselves winning, which is a good feeling.

2) She was an underdog

We love an underdog. Nadiya didn’t do well in the technical at first and certainly didn’t look like the person who was going to win. When someone looked like they were going to win it was harder to support them. I guess it’s easier to root for an underdog because we may feel like one ourselves. Nadiya did not start of that confident in her abilities, and perhaps we don’t feel that confident ours. But hey, if she was wrong, then maybe we are too. “If she can win so can I!” Or so the reasoning seems to go.

3) It had rhetorical repetition

rhetorical repetition (ok, I’m not very good at it so I’ll stop). Another strength of her speech was its rhetoric (in a positive sense). It sounds good. Good speech’s often have rhythm and repletion. “we will fight them on the beaches….we will fight them on the…”, “I had a dream….I had a dream….”, “I am never…I am never…I am never….I don’t…. I can and I will”. Brilliant. Especially has is seemed so heartfelt and spontaneous.

4) It was about principles rather than particulars

Nadiya’s speech was not so much about winning the bake off, or in fact winning at all. Rather it was more abstract and therefore more widely applicable. It is to do with not putting boundaries on yourself. It implies (or we can take it to imply) that we are better than we think we are. That we can do more than we think we can. Which is encouraging, even if you are not in a bbc baking competition. The power of the speech is the way it bursts the banks of its immediate context and speaks to the whole of life. Sports competitions do this. At their best they are not about how fast someone can run or how high they can jump. Sport is about life, dedication, sacrifice, overcoming, team work and so on.

So it was a great speech, and very motivational, but without wanting to undermine that in any way, a few things occurred to me that caused me to think a bit more about it.

1) Most people lost

Hundreds, if not thousands must have applied to take part in the program. A hand full got through to the first round. Only one person won. Why isn’t the overriding message of such a completion “You can’t so don’t”? Why don’t we look at the bake off final and conclude that the chances of winning something are so small that it’s best not to even try? If we had any concerns about our ability, or even if we are super confident, why don’t we conclude that the chances of us winning are in fact much, much lower than we thought? Of all those people who thought they could, or just might possibly win, only one was right. If its just chance, the chances are vanishingly small.

Could it not be that Nadiya was actually really talented at baking, but we are not. Her win therefore says nothing about our chances of winning.

Perhaps her winning makes us think that we could potentially be underestimating out ability. If that’s the case then a more accurate speech might be:

“being a slightly pessimistic, unconfident person, I can probably do a lot more than I think I can. I will try and remember that in future and recalibrate my expectations. I could and I might!”.

That’s not very motivational and inspiring though.

As an aside, I guess it could be that the other contests testimony might be along the lines of being really pleased to have given it a go and being pleased they tried even though they did not win. It was a great experience etc. Which is also helpful to hear but a very different sort of speech.

2) What does it apply to?

There are genuine boundaries around us limiting what we “can” do. It’s true that many of them are false, self-imposed ones, but there are even more very real ones. I can’t jump off a cliff, flap my arms and fly for example. So what boundaries does this apply to? The unqualified “I can” kicks at all boundaries indiscriminately and some are going to fall over. But some won’t and that could lead to a swollen toe or much much worse. It’s helpful to be as clear as possible about exactly which boundaries I am likely to be mistaken in.

That said, if we stick to the laws of physics at least, the “I can and I will” philosophy could very well help you achieve a lot, even though it’s not exactly true. Which begs the question, is it good to believe something false if it helps you do something you want to do?

And there is also the small question about whether the things “I will” do are right to do. I remember when I was younger walking out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie theatre feeling big and strong like Rambo, ready to blast away the bad guys. I felt like I could and I would. But was the film depicting something true that it was right for me to aspire to? What desires are being empowering with this speech. What fire is this fuel being poured on?

The utility of her speech is of course in the fact that anyone can take it and apply it to whatever they happen to want to do. Perhaps the context is the cultural consensus of what is right. For example “You can do anything as long as you don’t hurt people, or at least people I care about.” Maybe that way we can all share out this motivational gem. But what if someone comes along and does not play ball? What if they take all of it for themselves? What if the majority decide that the minority doesn’t get to play? Is there any absolute standard of goodness and justice to appeal to outside of ourselves?

3) What is the basis of the statement “I can and I will”

Now, here is where things really get interesting. As I have indicated, if “I can and I will” is based on the fact that Nardiya won the bake off, then it does not transfer to anyone else, or in fact to anything else Nardiya might do. But, this speech is not about biscuits. Or Nardiya, As the incredible hulk grows green, his biceps bulge and he tears off the tattered  remains of his shirt. So it is with this speech. The fact that 100’s lost and only one won, does not seem to quench the flow of white hot motivational magma. It’s articulating something far more than merely winning a TV baking completion. There is a powerful principle being articulated here. So where is the compelling force of it coming from?

My concern is that this could be understood to be a very person centric statement. Ie Each of us has it in themselves to do anything we set out minds to. “Believe in yourself”. There is some truth in that but it’s ultimately false. 1000’s failed for a start. Hundreds could not do what they set their minds to. But like a deluded Apprentice contestant this principle cannot be put down so easily. Yes, you may fail several times on the way to success, but eventually you will get there. If your goal is to get rich, keep believing in yourself and you will. Even if you have to go through several bankruptcies you will get there. You can and you will. If you lose the bake-off/X factor/the voice/job/girl/lottery etc you’ll win it next time. Just keep believing. Or maybe you’ll win in another way you can’t see right now but you will win somehow somewhere in a way that will make sense of these temporary set backs.

Again though, its good as ask, is it true that we can do anything we set our minds to? If not do we really want to live a useful lie?

I feel like I’m waffling, and not being that clear. I’m just asking what the basis for this statement is. Ifs it’s that “belief” in itself is good then that’s nonsense. If it’s belief in me then that seems a bit flowed too. Or at least causes me to ask “Why should I think that I have unlimited ability to achieve anything I set my mind to?” I’m going to need more than Nardiya’s back off win to convince me of that.

The truth

I’ve heard the phrase “I can and I will”, or something like it, before. It reminds me of something the Apostle Paul wrote:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Phil 4:13

Interestingly the context here though is not winning but suffering. Paul has not just won something, or achieved something great, he is in prison facing possible execution. He has however, clearly overcome his circumstances and is rejoicing in the midst of them.

His statement is about coping with life’s challenges, well, not so much coping as rejoicing in them, and the means for doing that, the power, the force, is not Paul himself but Christ.

Paul does not leave the basis for his “I can” statement unsaid. He spells it out and his confidence is not in anything in himself, but in Christ. Now the exciting thing about that is that it is not based on anything he has that we do not have access to. It is the free grace of God available to all by faith. That is, through trusting that what God says is true. And God says that all the resources that we need, are available to us in Christ. The love, power, strength etc not just to keep our head above water but to overcome hardship and troubles and rejoice in his overflowing sufficiency.

“I can and I will” is sometimes true if we look to ourselves and our own strength. But it is always true when we look to Jesus and his strength. “I can and I will” is sometimes true if we look to our own desires and wishes. But it is always true when we consider what Jesus wants us to do.

“I can and I will” is attractive because it has the look of truth. But what makes all the difference is the substance.  If our own ability (all be it underestimated) is all that is behind this statement, or even the human spirit, then it ultimately has no substance for me. This self-centred twisting of the truth is at the heart of what is wrong with the world. After all, Adam and Eve said “I can and I will eat the fruit” and they lost. But if Christ is the basis of this statement, then it has real substance. As I look at myself I despair, but as I look to Jesus I can say with confidence “I can and I will” as I trust and follow him. Extending his kingdom in his strength.

In the garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus contemplated the cross, Satan must have whispered to him “you can’t do this”, but Jesus seemed to have replied “I can and I will”, and he did. He gave his life up for all our sinful “I can and I will’s”. On the cross he overcame the worst that this world had to throw at him. And there, right in the cruel jaws of defeat he won the biggest victory ever. He is the greatest champion. He was the ultimate underdog. And through faith in him, and in him, we can be winners to, and nothing will be impossible for us (Matt 17:20).

I may be reading too much into her speech if I see Nadiya as a kind of baking, athlete, philosopher, but I enjoyed thinking about what she said. Especially as it lead me to Jesus, the one in whom I can have supreme confidence in and in whom nothing will be impossible for me.

photo credit: Lemon Curd Fairy Cakes via photopin (license)





Ah! Jesus was busy!

I remember conversations with people where we decided that Jesus was not rushed off his feet and took time to relax and chill out. In those discussions Jesus’ slow reaction to the news of his friend Lazarus’s illness comes up quite a lot. He didn’t seem to feel under pressure but came in his Father’s timing to do his Father’s work, which in this case was raising his friend from the dead.

But I have just read something in my morning bible readings that I do not remember noticing before. The main reading was about Heb 4:15 where we are encouraged that Jesus was tempted in every way like us. One example was in the busyness of life.

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Mark 6:31

Reading that was an ‘Ahah’ moment for me. Jesus and his disciples were, at times, very busy. They didn’t just float around with a relaxed pace of life and not breaking in to a sweat. They experienced and responded to the pressure of people’s needs. I often feel like the day moves on at such a pace that there is not even time to eat.

After Jesus heard that his cousin, John the Baptist has died, he tries to get away to a quiet place but the crowd followed him. Even in his grief and tiredness, his compassion for them energises him to teach them.

The real issue is not busyness, but who or what we are serving in our busyness. Is it success, or self-worth, or praise, or acceptance, or the good opinions of others? Or is it the kingdom of God as a loved and accepted son of God?

Also, just read Phil Moore’s Gagging Jesus. The first chapter is about stress. He says

“’I’m feeling stressed’ is just another way of saying ‘I’m trying to do God’s job for him and it’s not working out for me’. Jesus warns that stress and worry aren’t minor vices or personality flaws. They are the symptoms of our self-worship…the fourth century writer Hilary Poitiers described stress and worry as ‘a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him’”

He finishes with these verse

29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 6:29 (ESV)


28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 (ESV)

Yes there will be times when extending the kingdom, we are rushed off our feet. We should not expect to float around effortlessly without breaking in to a sweat. However, it’s good to know that at such times, Jesus will be calling us to come away and rest with him a while.

The heart of the matter (How to read the bible part 2)

I am blogging my notes on a talk I gave at the UEA a few days ago entitled “How to read the bible”.

It’s possible to miss the point of the whole bible. When I was looking for a version for my children it took me a while to find one that communicated it clearly. Let me read you the introduction to “The Jesus Story Book”:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing….Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes.

So what is then? Listen to what Jesus says to the Pharisees:

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you posses eternal life. These and the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me and have life. John 5:39-40

The bible is not about you or me it’s about Jesus. It’s not about Abraham or Othniel , its about Jesus, the Alpha and Omega. In a great video on youtube Tim Keller hammers home this key point:

  • Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden (his garden, a much tougher garden) and whose obedience is imputed to us.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Abel, who though innocently slain, has blood that cries out not for our condemnation but for our equital
  • Jesus is the  true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar, to go into the void not knowing wither he went.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Isaac who was not just sacrificed by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all. God said to Abraham now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from me. Now, we at the foot of the cross can say to God, now I know that you love me because you did not with hold your son, your only son whom you love from me.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Joseph who is at the right hand of the king and forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them.
  • ….
  • Jesus is the  true and better Ester who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one. Who didn’t just risk his life but gave his life. Who didn’t just say “if I perish, I’ll perish” but “when I perish I’ll perish, to save my people”
  • Jesus is the  true and better Jonah who was cast out in the storm so that we could be brought in.
  • He’s the real Passover lamb, he’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light the true bread.
  • The bibles not about you!

The bible is about Jesus. What John says of his gospel is true of the whole bible. It’s written to reveal Jesus as the son of God so that we would know him and have life in him (John 20:31).

So how do you read your bible? To find out how to live? To see examples to copy? These are very, very secondary reasons and they can turn sour and make you  miserable unless they are submitted to this primary one. I read my bible to see and savour Jesus. To know him. To encounter him. To delight in him.

To the Psalmist God’s word revealed and made knowable God himself. He says:

“Blessed are they who keep all his statues and seek him with all their heart.” v2

and again in verse 10:

“I will seek you with all my heart” v10

I love the way he starts of talking about God in the third person “his laws” and by verse 4 he is talking in the second person saying “your ways“. He is not interested in impersonal facts, through God’s word he is seeking a relationship with God. To him God’s word provides landing lights and a safe touchdown into a loving relationship with his saviour.

One commentator wrote that:

The composer of Psalm 119 poured over the Torah, the law of God, and understood its various divisions as few others do. He knew that God’s law represented His Name, His character and His will; that it was a transcript of the Almighty’s own soul and an everlasting fountain of blessing.

The reason he finds God’s word as sweet as honey (verse 103) is that he loves God. I love my wife’s voice, the way she looks, the way she moves, because I love her. I am besotted with her. For the Psalmist, as for me, reading the bible is a matter of the heart. As we read it we are enjoying and deepening our relationship with our wonderful saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having looked at the Psalmists heart, in the next blog I will consider what is going on in his head.

Top of the pops (Learning a little Greek part 10)

I’ve released my first big can of worms. Pandora’s box is opened, the cat is out of the bag, and the horse has bolted, I’ve fallen into the void of Greek grammar, satisfying my curiosity and lived to tell the tale. Now I can go back to taking little baby steps again. I’m going to learn just five little nouns. They will have extra bits and get munged by the grammar monster, I know that now, but what can you do? If I am to give up on learning Greek and my body is to be discovered in years to come in the foothills of this linguistic mountain, I want them to find a few nouns on my frozen body. “Look” they will say “he wasn’t a total looser after all”.

So what nouns shall I learn? I want ones that are frequently occurring and easy to remember. This site http://www.biblicalgreek.org/grammar/vocabulary.php is a sort of “Top of the Pops” countdown for the most frequent Greek words in the NT. Here are the “pic of the pos”.

At number one its the ground of all being, the basis of everything, the one, the only θεός  “God”. It occurs some  1317 times in the Greek NT.

In second place, (only in terms of word usage of course!), it’s the undisputed king of kings,  Ιησοῦς  “Jesus” with a word count of  917.  (again there are some extra bits, but for now lets go with Ιησοῦς

In third place in our pop pickers noun parade is κύριος  meaning “Lord” and occurring some  717 times.

In 4th place is ἄνθρωπος  (“anthropos”) or Man which has some extra bits too but basically a word count of 550.

Finally in fifth place is Χριςτός  “Christ” occurring 529 times.

All but “Lord” have some extra attachments after them which I will ignore for now.

Thing is, do I learn to write them or just recognize them? I only need to recognize them really. What I need is a program that shows me a word and gets me to say what it is, plus all the other things about it. I could add words to the data base as I learn them. It would present me the words that I know least well with the greatest frequency. I could even store any phonetic clues or notes about the word. If only I knew Access or Basic. I may try to write it in C++.  I hope it’s easy to display Greek in “printf” statements! (…had a go in Access but it was taking to long to learn and I don’t have the MFC classes for C++ so that will take to long too. Oh well – pen and paper it is for now.)

I needed to know how well I am doing word wise so I looked at how many Greek words there are in the NT. http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/NT-Statistics-Greek.htm. There are, give or take a few for the textual variations, about 138,020 Greek words in the NT. If I learn these then along with my 3 verbs I will have done about 4000 of them, that’s 3%. Trouble is I expect the verb count (and noun count) includes lots of endings that I have not done yet. λυω as in “I loose”, doesn’t even occur in the NT as far as I can see. Looking at a table of verb endings at the back of one of my books I recon I have done about 1/14th of each verb so I’m probably not even over the  1% mark yet. θεός does seem to crop up over 1000 times though in that form and I forgot to factor in κια which appears over 9000 times so maybe its more like 7% which all goes to show you can say anything with statistics, especially if you get them wrong.

I need more words quickly to increase my score but they need to be easy ones. Here is the “small easy word chart”. (“He, she it” seemed complicated as is “you” so I am ignoring them and any more tricky looking ones.)

Greek English Occuring
ὁ, ἡ,τό the 19867
καί and, even, also 9161
δέ but, and 2792
ἐν in, on, by 2752
εἰς for, into 1767
οὐ not 1606
ἐκ from, out of, by 914

Wow! Stop. Enough. This list is starting to look like hard work. I don’t think I’m going to be able to learn them. Yes they are small but how on earth will I remember which is which? καί I know already but I do not know how to differentiate between the “the” words so I’ll drop them. For δέ I will think of the phrase “You might but in if de is a problem” or “de’r to but in”. ἐν sounds bit like “in”. εἰς sounds like “ace” as in an ace batsman who hits a “four” (four runs are automatically scored in cricket when the ball reaches the boundary and I think someone shouts “four!” when it happens. In this case I can imagine the ball going into the air before rolling to the boundary). οὐ for “not soup again!” and finally ἐκ, as in (please forgive me for this one) “by ‘ek, let’s get the ‘ek out of here”.

I’ll just try that….(a minutes passes)… 80% in one go. That’s not bad. I will have to come back to this again a few times but that’s so much easier than I thought. Ok, one more go: ….A perfect score! That took 2 mins altogether. Amazing. I will try to fix it in my short term memory over the next few days. Of course techniques like this are only a temporary means of smuggling words into my brain. Once I start interacting with the language a lot more and seeing them in context, there should be a whole lot of machinery that takes over and owns and digests these words/thoughts at a deeper level. If not I will be reading the NT with imagines of Cricket and soup in my head all the time. Just one more time for fun:….I forgot ἐκ but I recognised it when I saw it.

But enough fun and games trying to get my statistical word count up. I need to make some serious progress next. Perhaps another verb to add to my massive lexicon of  3 “present, active indicatives” then I will work out what some of these scary grammar words actually mean.

Physically affected (Pursuing and prizing the presence of God Part 2)

I am on verse 2 of Psalm 84 and it’s doing me so much good.

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Psalm 84:2

This man’s soul longs for the courts of the Lord. In terms of the tabernacle and temple these were the outer parts of God’s dwelling – the hallway or maybe the first reception room if you like. Even these places are amazing to be in and who the Psalmist is in his very being simply runs out of resource outside of the presence of God. Like a man in a desert who has gone without food and water for days he faints and falls to the ground outside of God’s house.

There is a great song I am enjoying at the moment by Misty Edwards called “Soul Cry”. The opening lines capture the sense of this well (although its referring to Psalm 42:1):

As the deer pants for the water, my soul longs for You
As the body dies without water, my soul dies without You

The presence of God is something so wonderful, so essential, to this man that both his heart and his flesh cry out for it. The heart is the centre of a person’s inner life, the will and the emotions, so this is indeed a deep “soul cry”. But the soul and body are intimately joined. There is an organic unity between our hearts and our flesh, a melding of one with the other. It’s hard to tease apart and separate the cells of our brain from the consciousness of our mind. We are made whole and so his physical body as well as his inner being is massively effected.

As we come into God’s presence it’s not just our minds and emotions that are effected, our bodies are too. The NIV has “my heart and flesh cry out” while the ESV says they “sing for joy”. According to my lexicon the word could be “whimper or moan” or “shout for joy”. Both are true.  When I realised I was away from God I cried out to him in longing and now I am with him I cry out to him with joy and a desire for more. Jonathan Edwards noted that in his meetings and under his preaching people fell due to the fear of hell or the foretaste of heaven.

Jonathan Edwards was happier than he looked!

Many young people appeared to be overcome with the greatness of divine things and many others at the same time were overcome with distress about their sinful state so that the whole room was full of nothing but outcries, faintings and such like and many were overpowered and continued there for some hours. Some have been so overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ as to weaken the body. It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions and such like, both with distress, and also with joy” (The Great Awakening p. 547).

John Wesley’s journal entry for January 1st 1739 records:

“About sixty of our brethren, until three in the morning, the power of God came mightily on us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.”

Martin Lloyd Jones notes that:

“Always in a revival there is what some call divine disorder. Some are groaning and agonising under conviction, others praising God for the great salvation. And all this leads to crowded and prolonged meetings. Time seems to be forgotten. A meeting may not end until daybreak the next morning with nobody aware of the passing of the hours.”

Sometimes the presence of God is so strong that the physical manifestations seem involuntary but at other times we choose to express ourselves by dropping to our knees, holding our hands up high, dancing, or jumping. Heres another great song I am enjyogin right now sung by Jules Burt on the NewDay 2010 Album:

I want to scream it out,
from every mountain top,
your godness knows no bounds,
your goodness never stops,
you mercy follows me,
your kindness fills my life,
your love amazes me,

and I sing because you are good
and I dance because you are good
and I shout because you are good

The sheer goodness of God provokes a response from our heat and soul. As we think about  God and he draws near to us our emotions spill over in tears or bubble up in laughter.  Sometimes we can hold them in but at other times they seem unstoppable. Have you ever laughed so hard you felt in danger of damaging your body, yet you could not stop? Perhaps you have at least been so happy you have had a little spontaneous hum or whistle.

In God’s presence our heart and body resonate together. We are made for God’s presence like a reed instrument is made for the breath of air. This man isn’t simply going through the motions singing hymns and songs that mean nothing to him. His joy and desire for God is as natural as a bird’s song.

Joy is a defining characteristic of the kingdom of God and of his presence. The kingdom of God is righteousness joy and peace. That means that “joy“, as I heard someone remarked recently, “is a third of the kingdom“. The presence of God brings such amazing joy. I love feeling it bubbling up from deep inside me as I become aware of the presence of God. It makes me want to smile, it makes me want to laugh, to sing, to dance. I was with a friend praying recently and we both just began to feel happy and smile and laugh. God is sooo God.

The person who penned this Psalm spoke, in terms that he could understand, of something that was yet to be revealed. He longed for the courts of the LORD because that is where God had declared and revealed his presence to be. We now live in the light of the amazing revelation that it’s in Jesus that we can know and experience the presence of God. Jesus is the temple, Jesus is the way to God. Jesus has destroyed all the barriers that stood in the way of us and God.  No longer do we need to stay back in the outer courts or on the other side of a curtain. No longer do we have to worship in a particular physical location. We have the truth and the reality of the temple in the person of Jesus and can worship and enjoy God’s presence by the Spirit at any time and in any place. In Christ we enjoy unrestricted access to the presence of God.

I am always challenged when I read the experience of people in the OT. How much better to live now after the cross and Pentecost yet even some of these OT guys enjoyed a wonderful experience and understanding of God. It’s like comparing the days of the slide rule with modern computers. You could make calculations then but I’d much rather use an electronic calculator. If they could do long multiplication then how much more should I be able to multiply now! If people in the OT longed for and enjoyed God’s presence then, how much more can we now.

Authority explored

What is authority and how does it really work? I know it is defined as “the right to rule” or “the legitimate use of power“, but what power and when? Can you exercise authority without exerting power? What is the opposite of authority? ie what are you doing when you use power illegitimately or misuse authority or pretend to have authority when you don’t actually have it? These are some of the questions I have in my head. I will launch out and see where I get to. I will start with a concrete natural example:

A policeman has authority. When he turns on his blue lights and stops your car he is using authority. He hasn’t exerted much physical power though except catching up with you and motioning for you to pull over. If authority is the right use of power then authority must involve some exertion of power. The policeman’s authority at this point relies mainly on your submission. However it is 99.9% effective in the UK. Something real is happening. The mechanism of physical presence and communication are in operation. You pull over because that’s what people do. You pull over because your moral sense of what is right motivates you. You pull over because you know he can exert more power to get you to comply. You pull over because you don’t want to get into any more trouble than you are already in. It’s as if over the years in this country a stone has been rolled up hill. Battles have been fought, laws passed, criminals chassed and imprisoned etc. Now, in many cases, simply giving it a little push will cause the stone to roll down hill releasing all that potential energy.

If the speeding person doesn’t stop then the power has to be ramped up. The policemen has to keep up with you and continue communicating with increasing emphasis. More police cars will arrive, then a helicopter. They will either run you out of petrol or puncture your tires. They will then surround you and order you out of the car. At this point you might comply or you might not, in which case they will physically pull you out of the car. You will then be handcuffed and if you won’t walk to the police car you will be physically carried. It’s all the application of enough power to get you to comply.

Now all the above would be the same (except the moral bit) even in a country  where the police were corrupt. However if someone is misusing authority God will eventually call them to account for it. A person using power illegitimately, for example wearing a police uniform and flagging you down even though they are not a policeman, or mugging you and forcing your handbag from you, does not have authority. They are a rebel. They have power but not authority. There is nothing legitimate about them or their actions.

Now what about Spiritual authority? When we say “In Jesus name be healed” what is going on? Well, in the bible demons recognize Jesus’ authority and they do what he says. They even ask him for permission to do stuff. There is something built into the culture of the unseen spiritual world that makes demons submit to Jesus’ name. Just turning up and issuing a command in Jesus name works in 99.9% of cases. However sometimes more power is needed. Jesus seems to say that comes by praying. Maybe that’s a bit like calling for backup! When Daniel prayed and fasted in the OT an angel was sent.

The issuing of a command must, in itself, involve an exertion of power. It’s not merely a voiced command awaiting further backup. I think the power of the Holy Spirit is exerted when we issue commands. We are clothed with power. Jesus walked in the power of the Spirit. It must also be connected with faith as Jesus says something like “if you say to a mountain move, and believe it will do so, it will move”.

The water flows when the source is lifted or the end of the tube is lowered.

I am thinking of it like a container of water with a tube coming out of the bottom of it. The default position has the end of the tube level with the top of the water so there is no flow. If you raise the container but keep the end of the tube in the same place water will start to flow out of it. The other way to get the water to flow is to lower the end of the tube. The rate of flow is determined by the relative height of the water level in the container above the end of the tube. Now think of faith. Faith can push up the source at the sending end or faith can pull down the tube at the receiving end. By that I mean the person praying could have faith, the sick person could have faith, or they could both have faith. You could touch Jesus with faith and power would flow out of him. Conversely Jesus could operate in faith and raise the dead where the dead person obviously could not exercise faith. The rate of flow of power is determined by the amount of faith present.

Since God’s power is unlimited the flow of power is limited only by faith. Two caveats spring to mind. The first is that God can stop the flow if he wants. The Holy Spirit is not going to empower something that God is not ok with. He can shut it off at the mains if he wants. The second is that often only a little power is needed to release a massive potential power. This potential power has been built up previously through God’s working in that situation.

Christians are like fire fighters holding a massive high pressure hose. Our job is to keep hold of the end and point it where we expect God to work. Actually, putting out a fire is a helpful picture as you can spray water onto flames and it may take a while for them to go out. As with someone running from the law God’s power can be resisted, but not for long. I was struck by a guy from the Bethel team who prayed with me for a lady to get well. We didn’t see anything but he said to her “It is impossible for us to pray and command you to be well and for nothing to happen”. I also remember the time I was getting disheartened about getting well myself. People kept praying for me and nothing seemed to be happening. Then God read my mind and someone brought a prophetic word to the effect that the prayers of the saints were being effective. I’ve held onto that. It is impossible for God’s power to be released and nothing to happen.

If there was no power released at the time of the first command then it’s hard to see what we have to do to see it exerted. If “be healed in Jesus name” doesn’t releases power for healing then why would power be released when we say it a second time? No. Power must be released on the first and subsequent times until, just like a jar lid suddenly pops of, or a fire is put out, a person is healed or delivered.

Finally, just a point on the legitimate use of power. I have heard some say (or I interpreted them as saying) that Satan gained the legitimate right to rule over us and the earth when Adam sinned. I do not think that is a good way of looking at it. The transaction that takes place on the cross is not between God and Satan but between God and God! Jesus pays our ransom to God. We are rescued from the kingdom of darkness but not by some legal transaction between two equal kingdoms. It’s not like one government negotiating with another for the rescue of hostages. It’s more akin to one government sending in a special forces team to destroy the hostage takers and rescue the hostages by force. Since the hostages were taken illegally their rescue is legal. Put it another way. You don’t buy back stolen goods, you seize them and imprison the thief. Satan is a rebel, a liar and a thief. He owns nothing legitimately. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it! The Christians role is to seize what he has stolen and free the people he has imprisoned and oppressed. One day God will bring him to justice and throw him into the lake of fire mentioned in the book of Revelation.

I wonder if the view that Satan has some legitimate right to us or this world comes from a faulty interpretation of this passage:

“And the devil took [Jesus] up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” (ESV) Luke 4:5-6

We have to remember that what the devil says is going to be a lie or a purposeful distortion of the truth intended to deceive us. Reading what he says I would say it’s a good bet that:

1) He has not been given authority to rule the kingdoms

2) He can not give it to whoever he chooses

He is either deceived or is deceiving.  He may be acting as the prince of this world, but he has no legitimate right to it. We should be very wary of getting doctrine from the devil! Adam and Eve did it in the garden of Eden and things didn’t go too well.

In the Matthew passage the devil seems to be acting out a sham of Matthew 28:18-19 where Jesus says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (ESV) Matthew 28:18-19

The devil is not in charge of doing bad tings for Jesus. Jesus only does good things. Satan has no legitimate authority at all. The only thing lurking in the back of my mind is that no one can do anything without God’s sovereign permission. God gives Satan permission to hassle Job. Does that mean he uses his power legitimately when he takes Job’s possessions? Is God giving Satan authority to make Job ill? I think it’s important to separate God’s delegated authority with his permissive will. He gives us room to rebel but that does not make our rebellion legitimate. The bent cop is not acting with the governments authority but in rebellion to the government.

Well, I didn’t have any of this worked out when I started writing so as usual it’s my raw thoughts. I will continue to process these ideas. My main hunch is that power is released through faith. It’s not simply a command that may or may not have to be backed up by power later. There is immediately a release of power as soon as a person operates in faith. It may not need much power if power has been exerted previously in that context. For example after decades of law enforcement most people will comply very quickly. Their response has been shaped by previous power. In a similar way we work after the death and resurrection of Jesus. At the cross Jesus dealt a death blow to the forces of darkness. We do not therefore face an uphill struggle to see darkness overcome in Jesus name. I am also persuaded that Satan has no legitimate authority but is a thief, a liar and a rebel. I could go on about mankind’s original remit to rule, the extent to which that is still in effect and how Jesus has now given some increased authority but this blog is way too long already!

It’s not about me – or Wally

Last week I blogged about my struggle to press through the fog of moralism that sometimes clouds the truth in God’s word to find Jesus. The story of Abraham and Lot, I felt, was not there to show me about me and about what I must do but to tell me about God and what he has done.


Then I watched this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkNa6tLWrqk&feature=player_embedded#!

When I say “I couldn’t have put it better myself” I really mean it. I didn’t!  but this short video sums up something of what I was  groping for in my blog. The bible is  basically about Jesus and if I don’t get that then everything I think the bible says about me will be rather distorted.

In the video Tim Keller asks:

“Is the bible basically about you and what you should do or about Jesus and what he has done?…Is David and Goliath basically about you and how you can be like David and Goliath, or about him, the one who really  took on the only giants that can kill us. And his victory is imputed to us.

The bibles not about you!

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden (his garden, a much tougher garden) and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the  true and better Abel who though innocently slain has blood that cries out not for our condemnation but for our equital

Jesus is the  true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go into the void not knowing wither he went.

Jesus is the  true and better Isaac who was not just sacrificed by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all. God said to Abraham now I know tyou love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from me . Now, we at the foot of the cross, can say to God, now we know that you love me because you did not with hold your son, your  only son whom you love from me.

Jesus is the  true and better Jacob, who wrestled and took the blow of Justice we deserve so we like Jacob only receive the wound  of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the  true and better Joseph who is at the right had of the king and forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them.

Jesus is the  true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and mediates a new and better covenent

Jesus is the  true and better Rock of Moses who struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the dessert

Jesus is the  true and better Job. He is the truly innocent sufferer who then intercedes for and  save his friends.

Jesus is the  true and better David whose victory becomes his peoples victory though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the  true and better Ester who didn’t just risk loosing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one. Who didn’t just risk his life but gave his life. Who didn’t just say “if I perish, I’ll perish” but “when I perish I’ll perish for them so save my people”

Jesus is the  true and better Jonah who was cast out in the storm so that we could be brought in.

He’s the real Passover lamb, he’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light the true bread.

The bibles not about you!

Great stuff (Oh I’ve just found it transcribed on the internet so I didn’t need to copy it all out! Still, really enjoyable to have listened to it several times). It was in Jared C. Wilson’s blog written last year where he points out that it has been attributed to others like Lloyd Jones as well as Keller.  http://firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2009/10/a-christian-instinct-not-typology/. Here’s a couple of quotes from it:

“I remember when it was cool to see Jesus in The Matrix. When that five minutes was over, and even your father in law was reading up in 2 Kings to figure out the significance of Neo’s spaceship, the whole thing was a joke. “

Doh! I’ve just written an article that mentions the matrix, all be it along with the more recent Inception and the timeless classic Star Wars. Anyway, the blog went on to highlight the difference between mechanical typology that looks for Jesus in the OT and Spirit awakened instinct that delights in coming across him. My experience of seeing Jesus in the OT is more and more the latter. It’s like opening the door and seeing a dearly loved friend standing there. I cry out with surprise and delight, embrace them and, as I recover, invite them in.

The blog goes on really helpfully:

“I think this is one reason why, for all my appreciation (and utilization) of good scholarship, when a blogger goes academic about the Christian life and ministry, my eyes glaze over. It is why something John Piper said at the last Gospel Coalition Conference resonated with me so strongly: “Commentaries can be sermon killers. No commentary has the word Oh! in it.”

This is why I keep telling myself that my bible blog is not a commentary. I keep having to steer it away from being that and make sure it’s a genuine account of my reaction to seeing Jesus in the bible. Eight months ago I set out on a journey to blog the whole bible in order to climb higher and get a clearer view of Jesus. I am at Melchizedek right now. I’m on very safe ground in seeing a link to Jesus there as the NT has already joined the dots for me (Heb 6:20). No one can accuse me of playing “Wares Wally” with the bible on this one. I recon though that its right and good to go beyond the specific examples of the NTs use of the old in pointing to Jesus. Jesus said it’s all about him (Luke 24:27, John 5:39, Acts 17:2, Acts 18:28, …) and spent a lot of time explaining that to his disciples. Everything should therefore point to him in some way. I remember Lex Loizides play a game at a conference where he got people to give him random bible verses (and people dually obliged with some very random ones) and he showed how each pointed to Jesus and the gospel.


The “Where’s Wally” analogy for looking for Jesus in the OT is a pretty unflattering one. I prefer to think of it as holding up a jewel to the light and turning it slowly in my hand. With each new orientation prismic sparkles dance on its surface in a unique and wonderful way pointing back to their source. The Lord Jesus. (Rev 10:1-2)

I find more and more that I don’t just see Jesus in the bible; films and even newspaper articles remind me of him. That’s not surprising as he is the truth and any spec of truth points to him . Even falsehood and injustice remind me of Jesus, both the one appointed to judge sin the one who came to be it for us.

PS also found text here on a more recent posting.


Great to find a fellow Dyslexic blogging. His blog carries a warning ” I am dyslexic. I am sure we will have that with fun.” Perhaps mine should too. There should be a universally recognised sign for it.