Birth and Re-birth
Cute Baby Lamb
It is said that there is one thing we cannot really influence or control and that is our birth. (Though I am sure there are some Paediatricians out there who will say that the baby does control the birth telling the mother when it is time) but generally it is thought that the baby does not have control on how it is born. The mother or other external influences do this, (drugs inducing the birth for instance or even a caesarian)
Roughly 2000 years ago one of the rulers of the Jews called Nicodemus had to ponder the question about birth. Nicodemus was talking to Jesus one evening about things, especially the miracles that Jesus had been performing, and suggested that Jesus was a great man from God. Jesus answered Nicodemus
Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.” (The Message John 3 v3)
Nicodemus's reply was to ask how can one be born again when they are fully grown, It would not be possible to re-enter your mothers womb and be born again.
Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit. (The Message John 3 v5-6)
“So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” (The Message John 3 v 7-8)
The question logically comes, "Why does a person need to be born again (born from above)?"
The simple answer is that we have all done wrong and so can't have a relationship with a perfect God. There is a gulf between us that needs to be spanned to allow the relationship to occur.
Paul in Ephesians 2 says It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah (The Message Ephesians 2 v 1-6)
Paul also goes on to say in Corinthians -
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way any more. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. (The Message 2 Corinthians 5 16-20)
Now I know Nicodemus did not have Paul’s writings to help him understand but he did have the chance to actually question Jesus in person, and we hope that he must have realised that being born again (or from above) is not a human activity but a miracle inspired by God
You can read more about this amazing chapter of John's Gospel – chapter 3 in our home group notes on the chapter here.
Just remember Pauls invitation to become a friend with God still stands today
Wedding party blues?
Everyone likes a party, especially a party at a wedding. The bride looks beautiful, the groom handsome, the music is playing, there is dancing, the refreshments are fantastic, the food and wine keeps flowing and everyone is having a good time.
So imagine the scene when suddenly the waiter comes along to top up his jug and there is no more wine. He mentions this to his companion and they look in all the wine storage jars. They are all empty. They have been too generous and the wine has now run out.
Mary happens to be near by and notices that something is wrong. She asks what it is . Calamity what can they do? She says I will ask Jesus and he will know what to do. Come follow me she tells the servants and do whatever Jesus tells you to do.
Mary, with several servants in tow, finds Jesus and tells Him, that the wine has run out. Everyone stops and looks at Jesus – what will he do? Does he have enough money on him to go and buy some more wine from the market.
No, he tells the servants to fill up some storage jars with water This is lots and lots of water somewhere between 120 to 180 gallons of water. Then he tells a curious servant to take some of the water from the jar off to the master of ceremonies to see what he thinks about it.
The servants look from one to another. He's lost his marbles, they will be laughed at by everyone. You do not serve water at a wedding banquet. But Mary has said do what he said, and they had already gone to all the effort of filling the jars with water so may as well do this.
The servant takes the water to the master of ceremonies and gives it to him to taste. He draws it to his lips smelling the lovely rich aroma of a fantastic wine, and sips it. A smile appears on his face. He calls over to the bridegroom – “Most people”, he says “serve the best wine first at a weeding and then the not so good when everyone is starting to get drunk, so they don't notice the poorer quality, but you have done it the other way round. This is the best wine I have tasted for a very long time.”
The servants looked to one another in amazement knowing full well where the wine had come from. It was all the more amazing that there was not just a little of this fine wine but well over 2500 glasses full of the stuff. This party was going to be one that they remember for a long time.
This is a paraphrase of the start of the Gospel of John chapter 2 recording Jesus's life on earth around 2000 years ago. Jesus changes the agenda around. More can be read on this chapter in our studies here
This is a book that does as the saying goes exactly “what it says on the tin”. It is a book that explains in non nonsense language the what John's Gospel is all about. For the difficult parts and it is a book of great significance Andrew offers a down to earth understandable explanation of what John is saying and also often an explanation as to why he might have chosen to say what he did say.
It is also refreshing to read a book that does not set about doubting what is written because it may be difficult but rather offers help in understanding John's eyewitness accounts. He also examines the evidence that John provides concerning Christ's power and authority, showing us that John wanted his evidence to result not merely in an intellectual assent to the truths he was recording, but rather “in Life” in Christ's name.
The book was a great inspiration and help in understanding what John had written in his Gospel. Andrew certainly knows what he is writing about and I would say all in all an excellent book.
This was book 20 week 12 fiction 19 (7 on audio) non fiction 1
Who do you believe?
Now a days it is fairly rare to make a phone call to a business without being told that the call may be recorded for all sorts of reasons. Businesses react slightly differently when you tell them that you are recording them just to make sure that there is an accurate record of what has been said.
Prior to this the main way of proving what was said (or happened) was when it was said in front of witnesses or having pictures taken on the event. An image snapped with ones phone is common place, but before cameras were readily available it was an artist who sketched or painted what they saw. An example of this is documented here
Going back in time even more somebodies ring/seal was often the sign that they had the authority of that person. They used the ring to make decisions. This then led to people having their ring fingers cut off (with the ring still on the finger) as a witness to prove that they had been usurped. In more extreme cases the head was cut off and paraded around.
Going back in time even more in Deuteronomy 17:6 Jewish law requires two or more witnesses to an event before it can result in Judgement (in this case the capital crime). So when Elijah was travelling around and had 50 prophets following him they made pretty good witnesses.
In 2 King 2 v7 it describes how they watched Elijah and Elisha (his apprentice/understudy) go up to the River Jordan and Elijah touches it with his cloak and the waters divided so he and Elisha could cross the river on dry ground.
It does not record how large the river was at that time but I think it is fair to say that it was not a stream, but a river. Elijah and Elisha go on and Elisha witnesses Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, during which he drops his cloak.
Elisha picks up Elijah's cloak and walks back to the river Jordan where the prophets are still waiting on the far side. I am sure they are wondering how is he going to get back across the river. But Elisha
picked up Elijah's cloak that had fallen from him, returned to the shore of the Jordan, and stood there. He took Elijah's cloak—all that was left of Elijah!—and hit the river with it, saying, "Now where is the God of Elijah? Where is he?"
When he struck the water, the river divided and Elisha walked through. - from verse 15 The guild of prophets from Jericho saw the whole thing from where they were standing. They said, "The spirit of Elijah lives in Elisha!" They welcomed and honored him. From the message version.
The prophets were the witness to the fact that Elisha now had been granted similar powers by God to that of Elijah.
You can read more about this period of Elijah's time on earth in our studies on him and the relevant sections of the Bible this time being main 2 King 2 here
Bolts of Fire
Have you ever wished that you could call down a bolt of fire from the sky to sort out a problem. Being able to use lightning or bolts of fire is often a popular powerful weapon in computer games. Normally one must do certain tasks or achieve/collect certain things to get this skill but once acquired it is very useful.
But having the capacity to call on thunderbolts of fire is not just for computer games, as we read about Elijah in 2 Kings 1 being able to call on lightning and in this case it hits and kills a captain of the guard and fifty of his men by incinerating them. The captain had challenged Elijah and questioned if he was a “Holy Man”.
The captain had been sent by the king at that time Ahaziah to get Elijah to come to him as Elijah had prophesied that the king would not get better having fallen through some balcony railings on the rooftop of his house in Samaria. -
The king had sent some messengers off to consult Baal-Zebub the god of Ekron, but Elijah had met them on their way and given them a true prophesy from God
Elijah said 'You're not going to get out of that bed you're in—you're as good as dead already.'" Elijah delivered the message and was gone. 2 Kings 1 verse 4 (The Message). The King did not think much of this when the messengers came back and told him what Elijah had said.
I somehow think that was probably a bit of an understatement – I can just imagine him ranting and raving calling for Elijah as he wanted to confront him and wanted Elijah. Hence the captain and fifty solders were dispatched to go and get Elijah and bring him before the king.
Once Ahaziah heard that the captain had been killed he dispatched a second captain and fifty more men to nab Elijah. Elijah is just sitting there when the guard comes along. He says "O Holy Man! King's orders: Come down. And right now!"
Elijah answered, "If it's true that I'm a 'holy man,' lightning strike you and your fifty men!" Immediately a divine lightning bolt struck and incinerated the captain and his fifty. 2 Kings 1 11-12
News gets back to the king and I can just imagine how cross he is this time, and so he sends a third captain and fifty more men. This time the captain is a bit more respectful. I would think seeing the incinerated remains of over 100 men would help focus his mind.
Elijah goes with him to the king and I can imagine King Ahaziah asking Elijah what did you say would happen to me?
Elijah told him, "God's word: Because you sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub the god of Ekron, as if there were no God in Israel to whom you could pray, you'll never get out of that bed alive—already you're as good as dead." and he died, exactly as God's word spoken by Elijah had said. 2 Kings 1 16-17 (The Message).
Most of us probably don't have anything to do with prophecy in our day to day lives other than looking at the weather and trying to guess when our British summer will start and it will start to warm up.
But the God of Elijah as recorded in the Old Testament in the Bible is the same God of the New Testament and is the same God of the 21st Century and He has given people the power of prophecy all through the ages including now.
The first two captains of the guards in our story did not recognise God working through Elijah, and sadly suffered as a result. We need to keep our eyes and ears open so we can recognise God at work in people today.
You can read more about what happened to Elijah at this time in our notes from our Bible Study on this passage here.
Elijah and the end of the drought
With all the rain that we have had recently it seems hard to imagine a drought. Easier really to imagine a flood, but back in 9th Century BC, God had told Elijah to predict that there would be a drought, and there had been for three years.
The King at the time King Ahab, was getting desperate to feed his horses, which kept his army going, as all the grass had died. He had split the cavalry into two groups so that they may have a better chance of finding some food. One group was being led by the King and the other by his assistant Obadiah, who was a secret believer.
Elijah appears to Obadiah and tells him that God is going to have a show down with the King and all his false prophets. He is to get the King to meet him at the top of Mount Carmel and they will prepare for two sacrifices. One being run by the false prophets the other by Elijah
The king gets his 450 prophets of Baal and the queens 400 prophets of Asherah up to the top of the hill. Great crowds of people come along to watch.
The false prophets go first. There is a bull placed on the altar, and they start to chant calling upon their false gods to cause fire to come down and burn up the bull. Nothing much happens. After a few hours Elijah suggests to them that Baal must be asleep and they are not making enough noise, so they chant even more and start cutting themselves. Eventually they run out of steam, nothing has happened.
Elijah then says it is my turn now. He firstly rebuilds the altar, using 12 large stones, then places the bull on it. Then just to make sure that there is no trickery gets the crowd to pour lots of water all over it, so water is in the trough around the altar.
With not a cloud in the sky, and the offering soaking wet, Elijah then calls upon the true God to cause fire to come down from heaven and burn up the sacrifice. Fire comes down from heaven and burns up the offering and destroys the altar. The people are totally amazed. The drought then ends. This is just a brief summary of our second encounter with Elijah. You can read the full version of what happens in 1 kings 18 and you can read our notes on this passage here.
Elijah - A Man of Power
Elijah is an amazing character recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. He lived during King Ahab's reign in the 9th Century. Elijah bursts onto the seen in 1 Kings 17 and confronts King Ahab telling him that there is going to be a drought until he says it will stop. King Ahab is recorded as “doing more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”in 1 Kings 16 v30 and had certainly led the country astray.
Having told King Ahab the bad news about the drought, Elijah flees for his life, as King Ahab and his wife Queen Jezebel had a tenancy to kill those they did not like especially any true prophets who were challenging their beliefs.
The drought begins to take hold. Elijah in his hiding is then miraculously fed by ravens, bringing him food, but after a time the brook that he is using for drinking water runs dry, so he needs to up sticks. God tells him to go to Zarephath which was around 100 miles away from where he was, so it was no walk in the park.
He there meets a widow, who he asks for food. She feeds him with her last meal, thinking that she will then die, but again a miracle happens and her food supply does not run out while Elijah is living with her.
Time moves on a bit and the widow's son sadly dies, but amazingly God brings him back to life, through Elijah.
This is just a brief summary of our first encounter with Elijah, more can be read in the notes from the study here
True or False
Sometimes it is often so hard to tell the difference between the genuine article and the a fake. Though hopefully it is not hard to tell that these are fake snails, metal copies.) I know when watching the Antiques road show and they have a bit of furniture, that seems to be old they often end up either turning it upside down or taking out all the draws, so the expert can see how it is put together.
The construction of the joints often seems to be a key, or even what type of screws that has been used.
The same applies to religious leaders – Sadly sometimes they can be false teachers, often being driven by greed to get hold of your money. This is not a new thing, but one that has been around for thousands of years. The Apostle Peter talks about this in his letter of 2 Peter Chapter 2 which can be found here In this passgae Peter is very clear as to what will happen to such false teachers – God will destroy them. (He even mentioning Balaam famous for his speaking donkey). Peter goes into this in some detail including giving advice as to how to recognise false teachers –As listeners we are not to take what they say for granted, we are to question it and test it to make sure that it is the genuine article.
This chapter including more information on the donkey was the recent subject of our Bible studies and the notes can be found from these studies here
Finding the way to God
It has often been said to me that one of the ways to God is by looking for the god in you and developing that relationship through self discovery.
Well sadly I believe that such thoughts are wrong. I believe that there is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus.
The idea of finding God through knowledge and self discovery is not a new one, but one that has been around for centuries. The Apostle Peter spoke about it in his second letter. Here Peter is putting the various qualities of life in sequential order >. Faith >> Goodness >> Knowledge etc.
Being a Christian is all about knowing God personally, it is not about having an academic knowledge of God. You can read more from the notes of our recent study on 2 Peter 1 here, where we found some of the key lessons from the chapter were: -
A Difficult Message
_ Well we come to 1 Peter 2 in our studies at the Kielder Bible Study Group, and this has parts in it that are very difficult passages, to get ones head round. In fact one of the commentaries I read said that this is one of the hardest passages in the Bible. Not that it is hard to understand but hard to carry out, as there is an apparent conflict between what Peter says here and what is said elsewhere in the New Testament. For example
Peter says there
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right ...and in verse
17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
I am aware that there is around 100 pages in the two concordances I am using on these few verses - one calls them the most difficult verses in the bible. There is the conflict between these verses and the apparent moral justification that we should "stand up for what is right" and obey Gods higher Authority. Especially if one then considers the next couple of verses taking the words slaves and masters to mean anyone under authority of a master be it the civil authorities or an employer..
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.
I have turned to a friend for his take on this and he says
“The question of Civil Authority in the NT is always a difficult one! The passages you quote are absolutely correct. I always turn to John Zeisler’s commentary on Romans,(SCM 1990), where he points out:-
1. Paul was opposed to anarchy, yes.
2. The Roman state at this stage was permitting Christians the freedom to preach.
3. Paul was trying to distance Christianity from the Jewish terrorists in Palestine. The Jewish Revolt was not far into the future, and seeds of unrest were sown already.
4. When the Emperor was persecuting Christians, as was the background in Revelation, the attitude of Christian writers has changed.
5. Paul expected Jesus to return any time soon, so resisting the state was not necessary; it would soon disappear anyway.
Peter Brooks points out neither Jesus, Paul or Peter advocated submissiveness. All three of them suffered (Crucifixion/imprisonment) because they would not obey the order to keep silent (Luke 19:40; Acts 4:18ff – CRUCIAL VERSES??)
Acts 4 -v18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
I think the key thing to remember is Matthew 22:35-38 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
And then everything else is in relation to this.
Dyslexic doodles on photography, food (growing, cooking & of course eating), faith and other fascinating things. This is a personal blog expressing my views.