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The Lord will provide

This week in my theology class I was teaching about the doctrine of God—His essence, names and attributes. One of the ways that God reveals himself in Scripture is through the Divine names. Today I want to focus on just one – Yahweh Jireh (or Jehovah Jireh if we’re speaking Old King James or singing the song), though its more testimony than theology this week.

Around the middle of last year my family of six was preparing to move from Wheaton, Illinois, back to Melbourne Australia. For months before we left, we had been praying that God would provide a place for us to live. These prayers became understandably more fervent as our departure became imminent. At the beginning, we had prayed quite specifically. We wanted a four bedroom place within walking distance of the kids’ school and we didn’t want to pay any more than we were currently paying rent. It was a tough ask to be honest, but we were full of faith. But as the weeks rolled by and we were no closer to finding anything that even remotely met our criteria we began to wonder.

One morning, after a fruitless search online for properties, I got onto google earth and looked at the area surround the school where we had enrolled the children for perhaps the hundredth time. I jokingly put my finger on the street closest to the school and prayed “Fleur Court Lord. Fleur Court. That would be ideal.” Frustrated and defeated I closed the application down. About a week later we were becoming desperate. We totally let go once-and-for-all of all of our precious criteria. We prayed something like this: “Lord we know that you always provide for our needs. We know that you have gone before us. We have told you what we think we want, but what we really want is what you have provided for us. We trust you Lord.” We slept that night in the peace of surrender.

The next morning when I logged on to the real estate site for my daily search a house on Fleur Court had become available. Four bedrooms, literally across the road from the school, the exact same rent as we were paying in Wheaton—indeed the very street I had named! We rejoiced and claimed it in faith. The matter was of course by no means settled at that point, but deep down we knew that God had spectacularly answered our prayer.

I only found out this week that another couple with kids enrolled in the school who were moving into the area had also been praying for a house within walking distance of the school (the wife does not drive). They too had rejoiced when the house we now live in came onto the market, but despite submitting an application, they were unsuccessful. Amazingly, God provided a house for them several weeks later three houses away, which actually suited their own needs better than the one that we now live in. We met this week at a literacy night at the school and as the other father and myself were taking the (incredibly short!) walk home, we were sharing with one another God’s wonderful provision for our families. It was fascinating to me that God had allowed the answer to our prayer to be their contradiction, but that our own answer had not come without much contradiction, and it kind of got me thinking that prayer for provision is often like this.

Indeed, when God first revealed himself as Jehovah Jireh (sorry – sticking with KJV, it just sounds more familiar) it was in a context where Abraham, the ‘father of faith’ was praying fervently for God’s intervention and provision, and choosing to believe despite contradictions—contradictions, I might add, that make the minor setbacks that I have described above seem petty and utterly insignificant. God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. On the way to the place of sacrifice, Isaac began to wonder. “Father,” he said. “We have brought fire and wood…but where is the lamb for sacrifice?” Abraham replied, in spite of his circumstances, “God himself will provide a lamb.” And at the last minute—the very last minute, when Abraham had already bound his son, laid him on the altar and was ready to kill him—God did provide a lamb. In response, Abraham called the place of sacrifice “The LORD will provide” or “Jehovah Jireh.”

God will and God does provide spectacularly for all of our needs; often despite conviction; more often than not at the very last minute; always with the motivation that we would trust him despite circumstance. But it is important to see that this temporal provision, vital at times though it may be, is secondary to and dependent upon God’s ultimate provision of his own son, Jesus—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Happy Easter!


Trash or Treasure? What you believe about the Bible matters

How do you see the Bible? A literary classic? A pious fiction? A historical artifact? Or God’s authoritative and inspired self-revelation? I firmly believe that what we believe about the Bible will determine our approach to it.

I received an incredible spiritual inheritance from my parents in learning from a young age to revere and respect the Word of God. I still have the first bible that I received as a child. In the front, my father wrote of the need to read God’s word often, finishing his exhortation with “God needs good men.” I grew up hearing, reading, and meditating on the Bible. I was convinced of its central importance and inherent authority because I had experienced its transforming power; I had encountered God there.

Much later in life, I discovered that not everybody saw the Bible the way that I did. In my first year in seminary I attended an academic conference in San Diego, the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). It was a very stretching time for me, because for the first time, I encountered people who were clearly experts in their field but who (at least apparently) had no meaningful commitment to the Bible’s authority over their lives. Don’t get me wrong. Some of them were clearly wonderful people, but it struck me as odd that somebody would give their entire professional career to studying the Bible as an historical artifact rather than as the Word of God revealed.

To put it simply, these people viewed the Bible just like any other book. There are others who say that though the Bible is a ‘special case’ (because inspired) nevertheless, if we are to interpret it correctly, we must treat it like any other book. But I (and of course, many others) would go one step further. The Bible is absolutely unique. It is like no other book. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit; breathed out by God himself. It is the revelation of One who habitually and intentionally reveals himself, who knows us and desires to be known by us.

Several years ago, while at Wheaton, I was trying to put into words what it was that caused formal biblical and theological education to be a tremendous blessing to some, while causing confusion and cynicism in others. One day I was reflecting on the parable of the treasure in the field (Matt 13:44) and it hit me. The difference is the basic and unshakable conviction that the Bible is a treasure. Inspired by the parable, I sat down to write my own about the treasure that we have in Scripture. I hope you enjoy it:

The Bible is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a young man found this treasure his heart leapt within him and for a moment he seriously contemplated selling all that he had to purchase the field. But, since he was a man of some means, he decided to consult the experts to determine if what he had found really was treasure. To his surprise, the experts were sharply divided. Some cautioned him that what he had found was really no treasure at all, but merely a rock in the ground, and that those who thought it treasure were deluded fanatics. Others contended that while what he had found was incredibly common and indeed a rock, it was a special type of rock. For this reason, it looked felt and smelt the same as any other rock, and was, for the purpose of analysis, to be treated like any other rock. But it was special nonetheless. This seemed strange. It sure did look for all the world like treasure to the man and part of him was sorry that he had not responded to his first impulse. But the experts seemed firmly agreed on one thing. What he had found was a common rock. And after all, he reasoned, they should know. They’re experts. Reluctantly persuaded, the man returned the treasure to the field and buried it again. From time to time he visited the field again, just to look at the treasure. But as he grew older he had less time for childish fantasies and visited less and less. One day as he was passing the field, he noticed some of the same experts he had consulted there. One was holding the treasure up to the light, and they were all gathered around arguing bitterly about it. With a condescending chuckle, the man wondered to himself why people would invest their entire lives examining and arguing about something which they all agreed was nothing but a common rock. Finally convinced by the behaviour of the experts that he wanted nothing more to do with their treasure, he turned on his heel and walked off. He never visited the field again. Indeed, he began to doubt that there even was such a thing as treasure. As a result of his cultivated inability to recognise value in anything, he died poor. Shortly after his final visit to the field however, another young man discovered the treasure in the field. He quickly buried it again and went away and sold everything he had so that he could buy the field. This he did, and his investment paid great dividends for the rest of his life.

I trust that you will appreciate the treasure that you have in God’s Word today. I would welcome your feedback and comments. How do you see the Bible? How has it impacted your life? How have you encountered God in it?


Jesus our Sabbath Rest

I grew up Seventh Day Adventist, and I was taught that God had ‘made the Sabbath’ on the Seventh day in much the same way as He had made the birds and fish on the fifth. We believed that the purpose of God’s rest was to establish the principle of working six days and resting the seventh.

And that may well be so. But I have discovered that there is a far more profound principle to grasp here, which the Sabbath commandment, that came later, is only a shadow of.

Hebrews 4:3 tells us that ‘His work has been finished since the creation of the world.’ God rested then, because He had finished His work, not primarily because He intended to set an example for us to follow. It is, rather, in the example of the pre-Fall Adam and Eve that we find the deeper principle: Adam and Eve did not earn their rest by their work. They merely entered into Rest on the basis of the work that God had already done.

Think about it. The first full day that Adam and Eve experienced was a day of rest. They had, as yet, done nothing. They were born into a state of Rest.

And what a rest that must have been! For this Rest is about far more than a break for tired bodies, and the rejuvenation of the spirit. Adam and Eve could not possibly have been fresher.

But this Rest is the state of perfect harmony between God and humanity and creation, the natural state that God intended, and the state to which humanity has, since that rest was broken by the Fall, yearned to return.

And therein, I suggest, lies the point. This Rest did not cease because the day changed. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, this state of Sabbath—a Hebrew word that simply means Rest—would have continued. It is sin that broke this Sabbath-Rest and produced the state of Restlessness that is felt by every human heart, regardless of whether or not they acknowledge its source. There can be no true Rest while sin reigns.

But the good news is that God is at work to restore this Rest. John 5 tells the story of Jesus healing a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda. Because the healing occurred on the Sabbath—and I can only assume this was no accident—the Jews accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by doing the work of healing.

Jesus’ response indicates that the Pharisees had missed the wood for the trees: “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” In effect, Jesus’ response to the accusation of Sabbath breaking is, “The Sabbath is already broken. I am working to fix it. And I will continue working until the work is finished.”

And this is precisely what Jesus does. Hanging on the Cross, after enduring hours of agony, Jesus, at last declares in a loud voice, “IT IS FINISHED.” Then, just as God rested the seventh day after he had finished the work of Creation, Jesus rests in the tomb on the seventh day after He had finished the work of redemption. It is finished. The work is done. Sin is atoned for. Rest is restored.

Now Jesus invites those who are striving and struggling in the painful toil of the Curse (Gen 3:16, 17) to enter His rest.

“Come to Me,” He says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28–30).

When we come to Him, we lay down the heavy burden of painful toil; the striving in our own strength to produce fruit that will not last. By the Spirit, we are united to Him and receive instead His easy yoke and the light burden of simple obedience to His Father, whom He now invites us to call Our Father.

Just as Adam and Eve rested in God’s finished work, so we, who are united to Christ, enter into God’s Rest on the basis of the finished work of the Cross.

There remains then a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore make every effort to enter that rest. . . (Heb 4:9–11).

Today is a day to cease striving. Today is a day to stop working in our own strength. Today is a day to cast off the difficult yoke and lay down the heavy burden at the foot of the Cross. And leave it there.


How Can I Understand?

How can I understand the Bible? The answer is pretty simple. Read it faithfully, and pray for God’s help.

I love the story of Acts 8:26–40, the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch. In brief, Philip was  directed by the Holy Spirit to go to a particular road. Upon arrival the Holy Spirit directed him to approach a particular chariot on the road. In this chariot was a particular man— an important official of the Queen of the Ethiopians, a eunuch. When Philip got close he heard the man in the chariot reading and recognised that he was reading from Isaiah. Intrigued Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, to which the man replied: “how can I unless someone explains it to me?” Perceiving that Philip possessed the required insight, the man invited him to sit in the chariot and asked him to explain the passage. When he learned the truth about Jesus Christ, the Eunuch confessed his belief and requested baptism from Philip. After the baptism, Philip suddenly disappears and reappears elsewhere for his next assignment while the Eunuch goes on his way rejoicing.

Some time ago, while I was enrolled in a theological degree, I read an article in which the author used this story to build a case for a special educated class of Christians who could explain the bible to those less fortunate. “How can they possibly understand” the author asked in the words of the eunuch, “unless somebody explain it to them?” The article was the subject of discussion in class one day and I remember at the time feeling uneasy about it. There was no good reason for my reaction to the article. After all, I myself, along with my colleagues, was enrolled in a course of theological education. I myself aspired to be one who could help people to understand the Bible. After all, was that not the reason for the huge investment of money and time I had made to be here? This article seemed to be an affirmation; a vindication of that sacrifice.

The problem is, I don’t see my vocation that way. I am indebted to the Holy Spirit and at his disposal. He is not indebted to me. So I was uneasy. Actually, I’m probably being a little unfair. It really was a good article. Well written, helpful, and honestly, humble. But back to my reaction. At first, I could not put it into words, but then all of a sudden, it dawned on me. What seemed (at least for me) to be missing from the argument that the article made was the agency of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who had sent Philip! It was the Holy Spirit who was helping the Eunuch to understand! Philip had no special training, though he obviously knew his bible. And the Eunuch, though pleased for the help, had not sought him out.

Indeed, when we look at this encounter from the Eunuch’s perspective we see a different picture. Here was a man who was desperately seeking God. Though he did not understand, he faithfully read the Word of God, and in all probability was crying out in his heart for understanding, when the strangest thing happened. A man who he had not noticed suddenly appeared beside his chariot and asked “do you understand what you are reading?” His faithful devotion had been rewarded. His prayer had been answered. God began to speak to his heart through the Word. And it changed his life forever.

So here’s my plea: Don’t put off reading the Bible—even the difficult bits—because you don’t understand it. Read it and ask for the Spirit’s help. This is the way that God has always used His Word to speak to His children. Does that mean that we can’t learn from those who have studied the Bible more than we have? Of course we can. What it means is that the education of others should never be used as a shortcut to our own diligent seeking of God in His Word. A helpful supplement for sure, but never a shortcut. Seek God. Read His Word diligently. Pray for understanding. God answers those kinds of prayers. But if he chooses to do so by sending someone, don’t be too proud to invite that answer (be it in the form of books, leaders, courses, preachers etc) into your chariot. It could change your life.


How to make sure you’re ‘on the money’: The other side of the Revelation coin

A shorter post this time (I promise). I want to look at the other side of the revelation ‘coin.’

In my post last week, I shared my desire to hear from God and to experience His revelation. For what its worth, I don’t think this desire is particularly unique. As a matter of fact, I believe that deep in the heart of every human soul (so far down, perhaps, that some do not realise or acknowledge it) there is a yearning to know and to experience God. I also spoke of the distinction that the discipline of theology is careful to make between the notion of once-for-all revelation (the written word of God, Jesus himself, and the Creation) and personal illumination—the experience of the lights going on, for an individual; and while I acknowledged that some distinction was necessary, I suggested that the notion of ‘illumination’ was insufficient to account for the sorts of truly revelatory encounters that Christians experience with God. These revelations are, of course, no longer universal, in the same way that the Bible is, but the bottom line is, God is still speaking and still ‘revealing’ himself. Christians experience it. You can expect it.

Nevertheless, most theologians are concerned that elevating the value of ‘personal revelation’ will undermine confidence in the Bible. And I think that this concern is one that Charismatic and Pentecostal types need to take much more seriously than we do. And let me be blunt. We will only do this by engaging with our bibles a lot more diligently than we do.

The Word of God revealed

In the account of Samuel’s call we find that the reason Samuel had trouble recognising the voice of God calling out to him was that he “did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” The ‘word of the Lord’ here of course refers to the prophetic encounters that Samuel was to have, but it was equally true that God’s written word was not fully revealed at that time. Samuel would probably have only had the Pentateuch. In short, his instinct for hearing God’s voice was not especially well trained. But the same cannot be said for us who live on the other side of the Cross. Not only do we have God’s written word revealed in its entirety, but we also have encountered the Living Word in Jesus Christ.

But this does not mean that the tide of revelation is now stemmed. Rather, the floodgates have opened. Surely we who have encountered Christ, who read the Scriptures and who are filled with the Spirit have a better chance of understanding God when he speaks?!

It is not as if God only reveals himself by means of Scripture these days, but that by immersing ourselves in the revelation of Scripture we can be more certain of discerning his voice when he speaks. And that is not only an awesome privilege—think of the many faithful Christians throughout history who would have paid any price to be able to have the access to God’s word that we have today—but a sovereign responsibility.

Understand the Priorities of the Holy Spirit

I hope that you are hungry for revelation, but here are a few ways to ensure that you are ‘on the money’:

1. A ‘revelation’ must accord with Scripture. God spoke and continues to speak through Scripture. God revealed and continues to reveal himself through Scripture. If we claim to have a ‘revelation’ from God that is inconsistent with what God has already revealed and is currently revealing through Scripture, it can’t be from God.

2. A hunger for personal revelation goes hand in hand with a hunger for God’s word. Anybody who seeks to set the Word in opposition to the Spirit has failed to understand the Spirit who inspired the Word. Want to experience Revelation? Get stuck into the Bible. Read a lot. Read it often. Read it prayerfully.

3. A deeper experience of the Spirit will be accompanied by a greater love for God’s people and his Church. If somebody is isolated from the Church and ‘getting revelations’ that justify the isolation, that’s a red flag. To state this positively, revelation flourishes among those who are deeply connected and humbly submitted to the local church. Want to experience revelation? Stay connected, get submitted, love God’s people—even the difficult ones like yourself.

I yearn for a deeper revelation of God. I pray for a greater visitation of the Spirit in the Church. I hunger for renewal and revival in this nation and around the world. I long to see and experience signs and wonders, tongues and prophecy, healing and deliverance, dreams and visions. I passionately desire for God to reveal himself in fresh ways in this generation. It is because of this that I will not settle for a sanitized ‘illumination.’ But it is also because of this that I want to bury myself in the Scriptures. Here’s a thought: If you want to go on a pilgrimage to somewhere that God is speaking, go to the Bible!

(For another great resource on this topic I recommend Helen Calder’s blog. See in particular Six Questions to Ask about Supernatural Signs