Sunday, January 27, 2013

Outline of the Book of Genesis

The word Genesis means ‘beginning’, and the book of Genesis is the beginning of the Bible. It’s quite narrative in style for the most part, easy to read, and full of action. Genesis covers one of the longest periods of history of any book of the Bible: from the Creation up to the death of Joseph, the grandson of Abraham. It sets the scene for many key doctrines and many key people who will feature throughout the rest of the Bible.

Chapters 1-2: The Creation
Genesis 1 gives us the account of what God created on the six days of Creation: light on day one; water and sky on day two; land and vegetation on day three; the sun, moon and stars on day four; sea creatures and birds on day five; land animals and man on day six. Notice how often God declares ‘It was good’ (including twice on the third day, Tuesday – leading to this day being called ‘the day of double blessing’ and the tradition of Jewish weddings often being conducted on Tuesdays). God was pleased with His creation – not because of what it meant to Him, but because it was good for man. Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation, formed in the image of God and created to be in fellowship with Him. Genesis 2 gives us more detail about the creation of man and woman, and the instructions He gave man with respect to the trees of the Garden of Eden, which will appear again in chapter 3.

Chapter 3: The Fall
In the third chapter of the book, we come to the Fall of Man. Satan, manifested as a serpent, tempts Eve into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – something that God had forbidden them from doing. Adam knowingly joins Eve in eating the fruit, and both of them experience separation from God for the first time because of their sin. Their fellowship with God was now broken, and a curse was now upon them. In uttering the curses upon the serpent, Adam, and Eve, we also see the first prophecy of a coming Messiah: “He will crush your [the serpent’s] head, and you will strike His heel” (Gen. 3:15).

Chapter 4-5: Pre-Flood
In chapter 4 we are introduced to the first generation of Adam and Eve’s descendants, namely their first two sons, Cain and Abel. Here we see an interesting thing introduced with little elaboration: namely, sacrificial offerings. Somehow (we aren’t told), Cain’s offering of grain was rejected, while Abel’s offering of a lamb was accepted. This led to Cain killing his brother out of jealousy, for which he was cursed by God and given a special mark of protection as he went out into the world as a nomad. We are then given a brief genealogy of Cain’s lineage – bearing in mind that at this early stage of the human race, there were no genetic mutations to speak of and so Cain was able to marry a sister or niece, as were the other people mentioned.
Similarly, chapter 5 contains a brief genealogy outlining the lineage from Adam to Noah, the next key figure in the book. There was a population explosion at that time, with many people living in excess of 900 years. One interesting figure we see mentioned briefly is Enoch, who, along with Elijah, was taken up into heaven without seeing death. In the latter stages of the New Testament, Jude refers to a quotation of Enoch’s prophecy concerning the second coming of Christ to judge the world. It would seem that the people living at this time still had a close connection with God.

Chapter 6-9: The Flood
The Flood of Noah was a cataclysmic event that changed the world dramatically from how it was created, to how we see it today. Before the Flood, the ‘firmament’ (the ‘expanse’ separating the waters above the earth from the waters on the earth, Gen. 1:7) maintained a temperate climate all over the world. It is thought that this acted as a protective atmospheric layer promoting the extreme longevity. The earth’s climate was completely different at the Creation; for instance, there was no rain, but the earth was watered by mist (Gen. 2:5-6). There are many thoughts as to why God brought the Flood to destroy everything on earth except for Noah and the people and animals with him in the ark. Firstly, we know that the earth was corrupt and society had largely turned away from God (Gen. 6:11-12). But we also see reference made to the ‘sons of God’ (a term used elsewhere in the Old Testament of angelic beings) marrying the ‘daughters of men’ and having children by them, an act which led to the Nephilim coming on the scene. Later, when the nation Israel first explored the land of Canaan, another group of Nephilim are seen, and described as gargantuan people (Num. 13:32-33). Therefore, another reason for the Flood may have been a cleansing of the gene pool of mankind from the influence of these Nephilim, whatever they were.
God instructs Noah to build an ark, and then He brings two of each kind of animal (and seven of every ‘clean’ animal) to be preserved through the Flood. After the Flood the world is greatly changed, and God makes a covenant with Noah, promising to never destroy the world by a flood again, and giving the sign of the rainbow as a reminder of this promise. He also establishes capital punishment as the penalty for murder, and instructs Noah and his family to multiple and fill the earth, as He had instructed Adam in the beginning.

Chapter 10-11: Post-Flood
Genesis 10 gives us a list of names of the descendants of the three sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth). It is often called the table of nations, as the major people groups are mentioned. It is worth reading through these lists, as many of the names occur throughout the rest of the Bible.
In the first part of Genesis 11 we see the account of the Tower of Babel, which led to the development of different languages as God sought to bring confusion among the people building the tower, since it was an act of idolatry and rebellion against Him.
In the second part of Genesis 11 we have a continuation of the genealogy begun in ch. 5; this time, following the line from Shem the son of Noah down to Abram. Notice how the lifespans of each generation is dramatically shortened after the Flood compared to those before the Flood.

Chapter 12-23: Abram (Abraham)
In the latter stages of Genesis 11 we are introduced to Abram, a son of Terah, who lived in a city called Ur in the land of Chaldea. From this point on the narrative of the book becomes much more focused, particularly on four generations of men: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Abraham is called the father of faith (Rom. 4:16). God called him to relocate from Ur to a land he would be shown. Abram obeyed, and when he reached the land of Canaan God made a covenant with him to give him the land. In fact, God made two distinct covenants with him: one concerning the land, and one concerning his descendants (Gen. 13:14-17, Gen. 15:4-5). These covenants become God’s basis for dealing with the children of Israel: they are unconditional promises, which God recalls time and time again in the Scriptures.
Along the way, we see other episodes in the life of Abram: the events surrounding his nephew, Lot (Gen. 13-14, 18-19), the events surrounding his concubine Hagar, and Ishmael, the son she bore to Abram (Gen. 16), the institution of circumcision by God as a sign of His covenant to make Abram the father of many nations, which came with a name change for Abram to become Abraham (Gen. 17), Abraham’s lapse in faith in his attempt to deceive Abimelech (Gen. 20), leading up to the birth of Isaac as the son God had promised (Gen. 21) and the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah (Gen. 23).
In Genesis 22 we see the well-known account of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. This event is deeply prophetic; if we don’t understand this it can warp our view of God. God does not condone human sacrifice, but here He was calling on Abraham to act out a prophecy. It is a prophecy of how another Father would have His only Son (see Gen. 22:2, noting that Isaac was not Abraham’s ‘only’ son) die on the same mountain. Abraham seems to know this, and acts in faith (see Gen. 22:8, Gen. 22:14, Heb. 11:17-19).

Chapter 24-27: Isaac
Only a few chapters are written about Isaac. Unlike his father Abraham and his son Jacob, Isaac apparently did not leave the land of Canaan in his lifetime. In Genesis 24 we see Abraham sending his chief servant back to his own family in the town of Nahor to find a suitable wife for Isaac. This leads to Isaac marrying Rebekah. To her was born twin sons, Jacob and Esau, accompanied by a prophecy that the two would be in conflict their whole lives (Gen. 25:23). In ch. 26 we see Isaac repeating the mistake of his father by trying to deceive a foreign king about the identity of his wife. And like his father, we also see God reaffirming the covenant He made (Gen. 26:24).
Genesis 27 contains the well-known account of how Isaac called his son Esau to go and hunt game so that he might prepare a meal and Isaac would pronounce his blessing upon him. Rebekah overhears and encourages Jacob to deceive his father and receive the blessing in Esau’s place. This is the second time Jacob had taken away from Esau the privilege of the firstborn: first it was the birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), now it was the father’s blessing. Yet God’s hand was upon this, for He had prophesied to Rebekah that ‘the older will serve the younger’ (Gen. 25:23), and the author of Hebrews noted that Isaac blessed Jacob by faith (Heb. 11:20).

Chapter 27-36: Jacob
After the incident with deceiving his father for his blessing, Jacob flees to get away from his brother Esau. He travels to Paddan Aram, and spent time with his uncle Laban. Along the way God appears to him in a dream and reaffirms the covenant He made with his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham, to give him the land of Canaan and to make him into a great nation (Gen. 28:13-15).
In Paddan Aram, Jacob meets his match in the deception stakes: he agrees to work for Laban for seven years in order to marry his daughter Rachel, but on the wedding day Laban gives him his older daughter Leah instead. Jacob works another seven years for Rachel, and a further six years for flocks and herds of his own (Gen. 31:41). During this time, his two wives and their two maidservants, who became Jacob’s concubines, bore twelve sons to him, who would go on to become the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. After twenty years with Laban, God tells Jacob to return to the land of Canaan (Gen. 31:3). When he is nearly there, he receives word that his brother Esau is coming. Thinking he is coming to attack him out of revenge for stealing his blessing, Jacob panics and prays to God. He makes preparation to protect his wives and children, but during the night an ‘angel of the Lord’ (who is apparently Jesus, before His incarnation – see Gen. 32:30) wrestles with him and wrenches his hip. He also pronounces a new name upon Jacob: Israel (Gen. 32:28). Instead of the deceiver (Jacob), he is now a prince with God (Israel). Jacob returns to Bethel, where his wife Rachel dies giving birth to his youngest son Benjamin (Gen. 35). In Genesis 36 we have a genealogy of Esau’s descendants. They would go on to become the nation of Edom, who feature throughout Israel’s history – as do the Ammonites and Moabites, who descended from Lot (Gen. 19:36-38). The blood relationship between these nations features prominently when Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt back into the land (Deut. 2:2-9) and in Bible prophecy (e.g. Dan. 11:41).

Chapter 37-50: Joseph
Joseph was the eldest son of Jacob’s favourite wife Rachel, and after her death giving birth to his brother Benjamin, Jacob showed favouritism towards him thta sparked jealousy among his brothers. One day the opportunity arose and they sold him as a slave while they were out keeping their father’s sheep (Gen. 37). But God’s hand was upon Joseph’s life, and he ended up as the head servant in the house of Potiphar, an Egyptian official. While he was there, he was falsely accused of rape and thrown in prison (Gen. 39). While in prison, Joseph had opportunity to interpret the dreams of a baker and cupbearer who were servants of Pharaoh (Gen. 40). This led to Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s own dreams, which concerned a seven-year famine that was imminent. Pharaoh was impressed and made Joseph his deputy (Gen. 41). In the course of time Joseph’s family back in Canaan were also affected by the famine, and Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to buy food, since under Joseph’s guidance they had been stockpiling grain in preparation. What happens next would make a great movie. Joseph gives them the grain, but warns them that next time they must bring their younger brother. He is testing them to know whether their attitude has changed towards the son whom their father favoured more than them. In ch. 44, when Joseph threatens to take Benjamin away, Judah offers himself in Benjamin’s place, so that his father’s heart would not be broken. At this, Joseph reveals himself to them as their long-lost brother. He instructs them to bring his father back to Egypt, where they would be provided for (Gen. 46-47). Joseph has two sons, who are adopted by Jacob as his own (Gen. 48). This is why in the rest of the Bible, when the ‘twelve tribes’ of Israel are mentioned, sometimes they include Levi and Joseph, and other times Levi is omitted (being the priestly tribe and forbidden to engage in warfare) and the two sons of Joseph are substituted instead. The book finishes with Jacob blessing each of his twelve sons, prophetically; and dying in Egypt.

There are many parallels between the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus. Indeed, the whole book of Genesis has many parallels with other aspects of the Bible: what begins in Genesis is completed in Revelation; the prophetic roleplay of Abraham in Gen. 22, and the life of Joseph are worthy of study in greater detail. Notice God’s unconditional grace given to people in the book of Genesis: although they failed from time to time, God reaffirms His promises to them. And He does the same with us.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Getting to know the Bible, part 2

Why is it important?
The Bible is the Christian’s handbook for life. It shows us God’s dealing throughout history, beginning with a particular focus on the nation of Israel from the time of Abraham onwards, culminating in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. We read about Jesus’ life and sacrificial death, the moment where history changed forever, as man’s sin could finally be forgiven. We see the working of the Holy Spirit in the early church, and how the message of the Gospel went out into all the world. We have the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude giving us practical instruction on how to live the Christian life. We have the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets and John the apostle, describing the events that will yet unfold in the last days when God will bring final judgement upon the world for sin, and establish His eternal kingdom.
The Bible is the primary means by which God reveals His character to us. If we don’t know the Bible very well, it follows that we are unlikely to know God very well. The Bible gives us hope and comfort in a world of turmoil. The better we know it, the stronger our anchor will be in difficult times.

Is it still relevant?
The short answer is ‘yes’. But what about the laws about sacrifices, feasts, uncleanness, and so forth? While these are not relevant to Christians on a practical level, these passages of Scripture are worth reading because they demonstrate aspects of Christ to us. “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). And what about the genealogies? If the genealogies show us nothing else, they show us that God keeps track of who we are and where we have come from. It shows us that God is interested in each of us as individuals.

Why should we read it over and over?
Reading the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian, nor does failing to read the Bible mean that you cease being a Christian. However, reading the Bible does make you a strong Christian, and that’s why it’s important to read it over and over, as often as possible. People estimate that only 10-30% of Christians have actually read the whole Bible.
The Bible is God’s primary means of communicating with us. It isn’t just words on a page – with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it brings life to your spirit. This is why when atheists read the Bible, they can’t see past the blood and violence of the Old Testament, and come away saying it’s full of contradictions and fairy tales.
When George W. Bush mentioned that he reads the Bible every day, a comedian responded, ‘He’s 56 years old – finish the book!’ Indeed, many Christians think that once they’ve read the Bible through once, that’s enough. But reading it over and over is very, very beneficial to you. It’s as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12, even though we know these things and are firmly established in the truth, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of them again. Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit would bring His words to our remembrance (John 14:26). You can’t be reminded of something you’ve never heard or read in the first place. So if you haven’t read through the whole Bible, my challenge to you is to start doing this. There are plenty of tools out there to help you, including here. And, if you’re in the 10-30% who have already read through the Bible, I hope you are continuing to read it, over and over. This is the way it becomes embedded in your heart, so that you will be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And each time you read it, the Holy Spirit will reveal something new to you that you haven’t seen before.

What should I do if I find reading it gets boring?
Usually I find that if the Bible seems boring, it’s because I’m not reading it under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without that, it just becomes words on a page. But with the Holy Spirit guiding you, even the lists of genealogies that most people skip over, can yield treasures.
Before you start reading, pray. One of my favourite verses is Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.” Ask God to speak to you through what you are about to read. Ask Him to help you concentrate. Then read it, absorb it, let it seep into your spirit. If there are any verses that jump off the page at you, pray. Thank God for revealing Himself to you through His Word, and commit to applying it to your life, starting today. Or if there is a passage that you don’t understand, pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to explain it to you. The explanation may not come immediately, but it will come. It can be really helpful to keep a notebook or journal to demonstrate to yourself – not to anyone else (unless you choose to) – how God has been speaking to you through His Word.
Whatever you do, if reading the Bible gets boring, don’t stop. That would be like a runner giving up and sitting down instead of pushing through to the finish line. One way to keep going with your daily Bible reading is to be reading multiple books at a time. For example, daily readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament. Sure, there may be passages that you don’t get much out of, like the genealogies. But it would be a mistake to not read them at all.

How do I put it into practice?
Putting the Bible into practice is very important. Jesus told a story of two men who built houses: one on the rock (representing a person who put His words into practice) and one on the sand (representing a person who didn’t). Although both houses looked the same on the outside, when the storm came, the house on the rock survived while the house on the sand was destroyed (Matt. 7:24-27). It was the foundation the houses were built upon, that made all the difference. For the Christian, that foundation must be Jesus Christ and the Word of God (1 Cor. 3:11). God hasn’t just given us His Word for us to read, or to know, or to memorise – but to do. God’s commands are not difficult – Jesus said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29) – but it requires discipline on our part to obey Him.
We also need to be careful not to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees did, and think that the Christian life is solely a matter of keeping rules. While Jesus and Paul do give some instructions on what we should and shouldn’t be doing, the best way to put God’s Word into practice is not only doing these specific things, but examining the principles behind them. At the end of the day, Jesus said that all rules can be condensed into two: Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and loving your neighbour as yourself. ‘Love’ in this context is putting the other person and their needs and comfort ahead of your own. So, keeping God’s commands are not only a matter of what we do, but our attitude as well.
Yes, we will all fail – some of us on a very regular basis. But this is where we can turn to God for forgiveness, and ask Him to strengthen us for next time. The important thing is to keep going – keep reading God’s Word, keep pressing on in the Lord, keep allowing the Holy Spirit to mould you into the image of Christ. It’s a lifelong process; we will never be perfect on this side of eternity. But one day we will be completed; we will see the Lord face to face and be in His presence forever.

I hope these tips are helpful to you. In the coming weeks we’ll start looking at some overviews of each of the books of the Bible, with some hints on what to expect and hidden treasures to look out for as you read.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Getting to know the Bible (Part 1)

What is it?
The Bible is the Christian’s handbook for life. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The Bible is comprised of the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament consists of 39 books which span the period from the Creation up to the last prophets who ministered before the birth of Christ. These books can be broken down further into groups:
- the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). These are the first five books of the Bible, also called the five books of Moses, also called the Torah by Jews (with the rest of the Old Testament being called the Tanach). These books were written by Moses and cover the period from the Creation up to God giving the children of Israel the Law through Moses, just prior to the Israelites entering the Promised Land.
- history books (Joshua to Esther). These cover the history of Israel from the time when the Israelites entered the Promised Land under Joshua, through the period of the kings and the exile of both the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria and the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon, up to the time of Esther during the Persian Empire.
- poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs/Song of Solomon). These books are written in Hebrew poetical form – the ‘rhyming’ of ideas or thoughts.
- major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel). The ‘major’ prophets are so-called because the books are generally longer than the ‘minor’ prophets. They contain prophecies, where God foretells in advance future events. Some of these have been fulfilled, but others are yet to be fulfilled.
- minor prophets (Hosea to Malachi). These are each shorter in length than the ‘major’ prophets, but are no less important. The first nine (Hosea to Zephaniah) ministered prior to the Babylonian captivity, while the final three (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) are ‘post-exile’, ministering after the Jews returned to the land from captivity.

The New Testament consists of 27 books, usually grouped as follows:
- the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). These describe the life and ministry of Jesus Christ from different viewpoints. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because they are written in a narrative style, describing events and sermons, while John’s Gospel has a different structure as he sought to describe who Jesus was.
- the book of Acts, describing the history of the early church after Jesus ascended to heaven. This is the only ‘history’ book of the New Testament.
- the epistles (Romans to Jude). These are grouped by author: firstly, the epistles written by Paul (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, possibly Hebrews although this is controversial), James the brother of Jesus, Peter, John, and Jude the brother of Jesus. These are letters written to various churches and individuals, describing how we should live the Christian life.
- the book of Revelation, which is prophetic and concerns the last days when God’s judgement is executed upon the world and Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom.

How was it written?
The original text of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with some parts in Aramaic (Ezra 4:8-6:18, Dan. 2-7). It was assembled in the days of Ezra (550 BC); this was called the Vorlage. In 285-270 BC the Vorlage was translated by seventy scribes into Greek, the language used by the people at that time; this was called the Septuagint version. In the New Testament, quotes from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint translation. In 90 AD the Jews were upset that Christians were using ‘their’ Bible, and so the Masoretic text was produced in Hebrew. The oldest manuscript fragments of the Masoretic text date back to the tenth century. The Dead Sea scrolls, found in Qumram in 1947, date from the first century AD and agree with the Septuagint and Vorlage.

The original text of the New Testament was written in common Greek. The earliest fragments we have date to the first century; the earliest complete New Testaments are the Codex Vaticanus (325 AD) and Codex Siniaticus (350 AD). Around the time that Constantine made Christianity legal, a standardised New Testament was produced, called Textus Receptus (‘received text’).
In 400 AD Latin surpassed Greek as the common language of the world, and the Septuagint, New Testament, and available Hebrew manuscripts were translated into Latin. This is the Vulgate translation. The first English translation was produced by John Wycliffe in 1537.

Who wrote it?
The Holy Spirit inspired certain people to write the Bible. That is, He impressed upon their hearts the exact words to write – using their own personalities and writing styles as He did so. In the Old Testament these writers included Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, Ezra, and the prophets. In the New Testament these included Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James and Jude. Subsequent translations do not have the same kind of inspiration as the original manuscripts. The divine authorship of the Bible is demonstrated in that even though there are so many different authors, who wrote over a period spanning many centuries, the message of the Bible is completely consistent throughout. There are no errors in the original manuscripts and no contradictions (any apparent contradictions can be explained).

What is the canon?
The word ‘kanon’ in Greek means ‘reed’ or ‘measurement’, in other words a yardstick. The canon of Scripture is the collection of books that are inspired by God. The canon was not determined by the church, but by God, who caused people to recognise through the Holy Spirit that the books that now make up our Bible were inspired. Three criteria are generally used:
(1) Prophetic authorship: proven to be written by a prophet, apostle, or someone associated with them.
(2) Witness of the Holy Spirit
(3) Acceptance by the early church.
The canon of Scripture as we currently have it – the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 of the new – is complete. There are no other writings on par with these in terms of being inspired by God.

The Apocrypha (‘hidden’) books appear in some Bibles. They were written between 300 BC – 70 AD; some are included in the Septuagint. They are not considered to be inspired as is the rest of the canon of Scripture.

Chuck Missler, ‘How we got our Bible’
Blue Letter Bible, FAQ: The Canon

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Statement of faith

I have been meaning to do this for a while, since there’s a lot of material out in the internet supposedly about Christianity, and anybody can write anything they like online, but it may not be Scriptural. I can’t expect others to read what I’ve written, without stating the beliefs that I hold as foundations of my faith. I have divded these into two categories: the essentials, which for me are non-negotiable if you are to call yourself a Christian, and the less-essentials, which I would be willing to ‘agree to disagree’ on. (Each section will probably become a separate posting over the course of time.)

The essentials (non-negotiable)

I believe there is one God, who exists as three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Deut. 6:4, John 20:17, Rom. 9:5, Acts 5:3-4). All three are God, and all three are distinct from each other. God is eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present. He is not constrained by time or distance.

I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and God the Son (Mark 1:1, John 1:1). He has always existed (being God eternal), and became fully human, born of the virgin Mary (Isa. 7:14, Luke 1:34-35). He suffered and died on the cross for our sins, descended into hell, rose again after three days, and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (1 Cor. 15:3-4, Eph. 4:9, Mark 16:19).

I believe salvation is available to all through faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a free gift of God, obtained by grace, not works (Eph. 2:8-9). All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God – none of us are good enough to enter heaven by good works or keeping rules (Rom. 3:23). We are saved through faith in Jesus Christ: that He died on the cross in our place, taking the punishment that our sins deserve, and was resurrected from the dead, and was accepted by the Father as a substitute in our place so that our sins can now be forgiven. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved (John 14:6, Acts 4:12).

I believe the Bible is the Word of God and is without error in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). There are no other writings on par with the 66 books we have as the Old and New Testament canon.

The less-essentials

I believe God created the world in six lieteral 24-hour days, exactly as recorded in the book of Genesis. I believe in a ‘young earth’. I reject the suggestion that God used Darwinian macro-evolutionary processes to create the world, and I reject the idea that the days of creation could refer to longer time periods.

I believe in heaven as the eternal dwelling-place of God and the destiny of all believers in Christ. I believe in hell as a place of eternal torment made for the devil and his angels and the unfortunate destiny of all who reject Christ as their Saviour (Matt. 25:41).

I believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ to execute God’s final judgement on the unbelieving world and to establish His literal, physical kingdom on the earth.

I believe in the Church as the unified body of Christ, consisting of all true believers, all over the world, all through time from Pentecost to the Rapture. It is this definition of the Church which Jesus said He would build, upon the confession of faith that Peter made in Jesus as the promised Messiah (Matt. 16:18).

I believe in the rapture of the Church: that all true believers will one day be taken to heaven in an instant without dying (1 Thess. 4:17). I believe this happens prior to the seven years of Tribulation.

I believe in angels as ministering spirits helping those on earth who believe (Heb. 1:14), and serving and giving worship to God in heaven (Rev. 5:11-12). I believe in demons as evil spirits under the control of Satan. These are real beings, not concepts or euphemisms.

I believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a separate event from conversion, given so that believers may have power for ministering to others, as Jesus promised (Acts 1:8). I believe the gifts of the Spirit are still active today, not limited to: healings, miracles, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy (in a specific sense, not on par with Scripture), words of wisdom, words of knowledge, etc. (1 Cor. 12:7-11, 1 Cor. 12:28, Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Pet. 4:10-11).

I do not believe water baptism is essential for salvation. While it is a powerful statement of a person’s faith, and something that all Christians should do, our salvation does not depend on being baptised in water.

I do not believe the communion elements (bread and wine) are transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. While we are commanded by Jesus to take communion together in remembrance of His death until He comes, the elements are merely symbols and remain so as we eat them.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Time for change

This blog has been going for three years now, with the initial aim of taking one Bible verse a day and explaining it. These verses have been taken from my personal daily reading schedule. Lately, I’ve found that I’ve been drawn into a rut. My Bible reading has become less and less about God speaking to me personally through the Bible and instead it has become more about finding verses to discuss here. So after prayer, I’ve realised that it’s time for a change.

A few things have happened in the last couple of months that have bothered me. Firstly was a conversation I had with someone from church who admitted that she had never read through the Bible. I’m hoping to talk with her again to ask why, and perhaps you have some comment on this. What has prevented you from reading the whole Bible, or certain books? I’m aware that ploughing through the genealogies of Chronicles doesn’t appeal to most people (if anyone), and that people struggle to understand the symbolism and relevance of prophecy. But a lot of other books are completely readable, yet people don’t. Why not?

Secondly, I visited a church while I was in Adelaide, Australia, recently. It was the kind of church not unlike one that I belonged to about 10-15 years ago. Yet the abundance of spiritual fluff and the lack of meat in the teaching left me feeling very, very sad. The people were lapping it up like water, but there was no substance in it and I wondered how this kind of superficial faith would help them when they encountered real struggles and trials in their Christian walk. I seem to have been very blessed with the Bible teachers I have encountered, who know the meaning of proper exposition and Scriptural context.

I know that God has blessed me with an ability to teach and to write, and I want to use it for His glory. I know that I am not called as an evangelist, but I do feel a very strong call to disciple people, and particularly to see them develop a love for and an understanding of the Word of God. After all, the Bible is the primary means that God uses to teach us things about Himself today.

So instead of short, daily entries, this blog will be changing to more in-depth entries which will be posted weekly. At the moment I’m thinking of discussing key Christian doctrines that people often struggle with, and also providing overview pieces on different books and sections of the Bible to help people understand what they are about as they read them. But this is largely me guessing what people are struggling with and what keeps them from reading the Bible. So I would greatly value your input. If there’s a particular passage of Scripture, or an entire book, that you have given up reading because it doesn’t make sense to you, please let me know what it is (and the reason, if you’re able to), and I’ll make the effort to tackle it. If you’d prefer your comment was kept private, please indicate so and I won’t publish it. Thanks!