What price a Bible?

I wonder how much your Bible cost you?

You can purchase a good quality English translation for less than £10.00 and if you use a smartphone you can download dozens of English translations for free (visit www.youversion.com ). In fact, there are so many English translations that people are often confused which is best to read. I recommend the most recent anglicised NIV which was published in 2011.

Given the freedom and ease with which we have access to the Bible, it is salutary to recall that this was not always the case. During the middle ages, it was illegal to translate the Bible into the language of the common people. The only copies available were written in Latin (a version known as the Vulgate) which few people could read and only the Pope was authorised to interpret and apply.

In the second half of the 14th Century, John Wycliffe, a brave Oxford professor, along with associates, translated the Vulgate Bible into Middle English. This work was completed in 1384 shortly before his death from a stroke. In 1415, the Council of Constance declared him a heretic and banned his writings. His body was exhumed and burnt to punish him for his heresy. His followers, known as Lollards, were viciously persecuted. Possession of a copy of Wycliffe’s Bible was punishable by death.

In the first half of the 16th Century, William Tyndale, another brave scholar who studied at both Oxford and Cambridge undertook the first English translation from Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. When a learned clergyman lambasted him for his efforts Tyndale responded: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”

The work became too dangerous in England and so Tyndale fled to Europe. The printing press had been developed in the time between Wycliffe and Tyndale which enabled his Bible to be mass produced and smuggled into England.

In 1535, Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Philips and the following year he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. He was strangled while tied at the stake upon which his body was burned. His final words were “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes”.

Four years later, at the instigation of Archbishop Cranmer, King Henry VIII sanctioned the publication of his Great Bible. Politically this was presented as an original translation, but in truth, it was based heavily on Tyndale’s work. Even the King James Version which was authorised in 1611 is estimated to be 80% the work of Tyndale.

During the 200 years between Wycliffe’s Bible and the KJV thousands of men, women and children were tortured and killed, many being burnt alive because they possessed and read the bible in their own language. Today Tyndale’s vision has become a reality. It is possible for ordinary people, like ‘the boy that driveth the plow’, to read and understand the scriptures for themselves. Next time you pick up your bible remember that what has cost you just a few pounds cost heroes like Tyndale their lives.

 

This blog post featured in the February 2016 edition of Lifelines

Advertisements

Fasting Prayer

Like many churches across the nation we will be marking the beginning of 2016 by holding a week of prayer. Talking and listening to God in prayer helps prepare the way for him to use us. I know of 15 people who prayed the ‘sinners’ prayer during 2015, most of these during the autumn term. This is the great mission that we are on – to see more and more people coming to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Our desire is that in 2016 we will see even more people taking that life changing step.

We each have a part to play in talking about Jesus, however the bottom line is that it is the Holy Spirit who waters the seed and brings people to faith in Christ. The work begins with prayer. Jesus commanded us to pray for workers to go out into the harvest field.

How did Jesus prepare himself for his ministry? The answer, as many of you will know, is that he went out into the wilderness for 40 days and nights to fast[1]. It is clear from the New Testament that fasting was a part of the spiritual life of the church, especially around times of decision making and strategising[2]. Jesus himself seemed to assume that it was something that his followers would do after he ascended to heaven[3].

What then is the benefit of fasting? Many people seem to have the idea that fasting is a way to make prayer more powerful, if you like to twist God’s arm. I am not sure where this idea comes from. However it seems to me that fasting is more about us drawing closer to God in intimacy. By resisting a natural appetite for food we are declaring that we have a greater hunger, a hunger for God. The discomfort of an empty belly reminds us to choose to push deeper into Christ. It also frees up time in a busy schedule that we can use to spend in prayer.

I would encourage you to fast during our week of prayer and use this opportunity to press into God. There are many different levels of fasting, from missing one or two meals during the week through to fasting for the whole week. You could choose to miss the same meal each day for the week, you could miss all meals on one or more days.

Whatever you choose to do I pray that God will richly bless you as you join in our prayer times together during the week.

[1] Matthew 4:2

[2] Acts 13:2-3; 14:23

[3] Luke 5:33-35

 

This blog post featured in the January 2016 edition of Lifelines

Christmas Presence

For weeks now we have been bombarded with adverts on the TV and radio, in newspapers and on the internet, all seeking to persuade us of the must have Christmas present for our loved ones. Perhaps you have seen the one for the Mulberry handbags? A young couple are gathered round the fireside enjoying Christmas festivities. The young man hands his partner a box saying ‘I know we weren’t going to give presents’. She opens the present to find that he has bought her a beautiful red handbag. As she is cooing her thanks for such an amazing surprise there is a knock at the door. In troop shepherds and wise men. Each in turn declare their amazement at the beauty and splendor of the bag as a cameo nativity scene develops on the screen. In the final punchline the poor confused young man says “it’s only a bag!” at which point the background music stops and everyone else looks at him like he is out of his mind.

I don’t know the thought process that went into the advert, and whether it was meant to mock those of us who celebrate the birth of Christ at this season. Whatever the purpose the message is profoundly powerful because it clearly depicts how easily Christ is squeezed out of Christmas. A festival which was originally conceived to celebrate the Presence of Christ has been hijacked by Christmas presents. According to The Times in 2013 Britons received more than £2bn worth of unwanted Christmas presents!

As we sing carols, listen to readings and share Christmas Greetings let us not forget that the only Christmas Presence worth having is Christ himself. Yes he was born just over 2,000 years ago and laid in a manger, heralded by choirs of angels, and worshipped by shepherds and magi. But the true wonder of Christmas is that the baby whose birth we celebrate became a man whose death we revere. A Saviour who broke the chains of sin and death. A King who reigns in heaven and has sent us his Holy Spirit to bring His presence to us.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus have the privilege of his presence with us moment by moment of every day. My prayer is that His Christmas Presence will be with throughout the whole of the season, and unlike the unwanted Christmas presents, will remain with you forever.

This blog post featured in the December 2015 edition of Lifelines

Money Talks

I once heard about a very ordinary family who had a friend called Ralph who was a self-made millionaire. For many years he would generously take them away on his boat for holidays as they both had daughters the same age. At the end of each day they would stop at the best moorings belonging to riverside hotels for their evening meal. When the waiter came to their table Ralph would give them a tip before placing the order with the promise of more if the meal was good. He reasoned that it was better to guarantee good service by paying for it in advance than hoping it would be worth rewarding after the event when it was too late. Money talked for Ralph.

You may not have the kind of wealth that opens doors for you in the way that Ralph had, but like it or not, wealthy or poor, the way you handle money speaks volumes about you. Even people who claim that money is not important to them would be surprised how much time and energy they spent earning it, spending it, talking about it, paying bills, and planning for the future. Money does indeed talk!

Therefore it should not be a great surprise to find that the Bible actually has quite a lot to say about money. Jesus said that how you deal with money is an indication of what is in your heart. Agur, who wrote part of the book of Proverbs, penned this prayer:

Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9

Agur realised that too much wealth could lead him to rely on his own means and deny God. Equally, poverty could lead him to pursue dishonesty to provide for his family. Paul too learned through personal experience that contentment in life does not depend upon material wealth but upon our security in Christ:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

Over the next few weeks we shall be looking at what the Bible has to say about money in a series called ‘Money Talks’. As we study this subject from a biblical perspective, invite the Holy Spirit to help you handle money in a God glorifying way.

This blog post featured in the November 2015 edition of Lifelines

 

Why go to Westpoint?

Every year thousands from churches like ours head to Exeter for a long weekend in August. For 5 days we enjoy a packed programme, with activities for all ages. Why go to Westpoint? My top 10 reasons:

  • People who attend Westpoint join with thousands of others to worship God in joyful and exuberant praise – a foretaste of heaven!
  • Children and young people attend groups tailored to their ages, experience lively worship and great bible teaching. Each year dozens of them become followers of Christ and experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
  • It is an opportunity to hear great teaching from excellent bible teachers who bring expertise not available in the local church. As well as the main meetings and daily bible readings, there is also a seminar programme that addresses relevant issues that impact daily living as a believer.
  • It is the best opportunity for us as a church family to connect with other churches in our movement and get caught up in the bigger, worldwide vision of Commission.
  • It provides time for us to spend a few days away together building friendship and deepening relationships.
  • The festival zone includes a bookshop, craft stalls and exhibitors from various Christian organisations.
  • Want to learn a new skill or chill out? There are workshops, cinema showings, live music, quiz and comedy nights; whichever takes your fancy.
  • The weather is always fantastic! Well that may not be strictly true, but over the years it has mostly stayed dry and gathering together in our marquee during the showers helps us bond.
  • You can choose accommodation to suit your budget and style. Camping is cheapest, which most people opt for; caravanning is another way to stay on site, whether you bring your own or hire one. There are also plenty of guest houses and B&Bs nearby.
  • As a Commission church, going to Westpoint is what we do.

I am looking forward to our largest group yet attending in 2016. Please plan your year around Westpoint 2106 and put the dates in your diary now (25th – 29th August). Book now to get the early bird prices and spread your payments out over the year if you wish.

This blog post featured in the October 2015 edition of Lifelines

How Great is Our God?

There are many worship songs that contain the line ‘How Great is Our God?’ or something similar. Even by itself the line communicates something of God’s majesty and wonder because it is in the form of a rhetorical question. That is, it is a figure of speech in the form of a question asked in order to make a point rather than to elicit an answer. Yet it is a very poignant question that we would do well to answer.

How great is your God?

How you answer that question will dramatically affect your life. It will affect the way you think, the way you speak and the way you act. It will also affect the way that you pray! The greater your view of God, the greater your expectations in prayer. The bigger your God, the bigger your prayers can become.

This was brought home to me again recently when I picked up a book called ‘Praying for Your Elephant’ by Adam Stadtmiller. The book is subtitled ‘Boldly Approaching Jesus with Radical and Audacious Prayer.’ Running through the book is a thread about a time when, as a young youth pastor, Adam and a colleague prayed for God to send their youth group a real, live, full grown elephant. (You will have to read the book to understand why he prayed such a prayer, and how the prayer was wonderfully answered!)

From then on ‘praying for an elephant’ becomes a metaphor for praying for something large and specific. He writes: ‘The boundaries of our personal prayer lives often have less to do with biblical restrictions and more to do with the limitations we place on them.’ In other words – our view of God is too small. The book is an invitation to expand our view of God and our expectations of prayer.

Jesus himself taught us an antidote for a too small God in the prayer he taught us. It begins ‘Our Father in Heaven, Holy is Your name’. Take a few minutes to mediate on each of those 8 words and allow the Holy Spirit to expand your view of God as you fill out the answer to the question, How great is your God?, in your heart.

This blog post featured in the September 2015 edition of Lifelines

Buy Praying for your elephant from Amazon UK
Buy Praying for your elephant from Amazon US

Just Passing Through

It can be great fun to travel for a holiday, especially when that travel takes us to new places. Sometimes even the journey can be part of the adventure rather than just a means of getting there. If you have been fortunate to travel abroad you may have enjoyed tasting new cuisine, experiencing different cultures and exploring new scenery. Holidays usually seem too short and we may fantasize about them lasting longer. However in reality we are just passing through and it is always good to get back home, sleep in our own bed and enjoy being back among people we know and love.

Some years ago there was a popular gospel song that had the line: ‘This world is not my home I’m just a-passin’ through’. The song writer was expressing the hope that after this life is over, we have an eternity with Christ to look forward to. Whether we live to 80, 90 or 100, compared to eternity this present lifetime, like a holiday, it is all too brief.

In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul compares our present life as being like living in a tent. It is a temporary structure; one which he says causes us to groan and be burdened because it is inadequate and unsatisfactory. Referring to our death he tells us that when this earthly tent is destroyed we can look forward to a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Paul expresses an intense desire to leave behind this earthly tent. He writes: meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, and we are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. Paul picks up a similar theme in Philippians 1. You are probably familiar with the verse that says: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But have you ever spotted that two verses later he writes: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far ?

Like the song writer, Paul held loosely to this present life, regarding the future eternal hope as something to be eagerly desired. I wonder how many of us are genuinely more excited by our eternal heavenly inheritance than we are by this present life. I wonder too what a transformation it would make to live this life more like being on holiday, enjoying the scenery but not putting down any roots because we’re just passing through.

This blog post featured in the July/August 2015 edition of Lifelines

Do you use Soap?

This is not a question about personal hygiene, rather it is about how you read the Bible. You may be wondering what soap could possibly have to do with bible reading and I will come to that in a minute.

I know very few Christians who don’t believe that reading the bible is a good thing and wish they read it more often. Many however, struggle to read their bible with any regularity and those who do often feel that doing so can be a matter of duty rather than delight. Living as we do in the 21st century there are more resources to help us read our bibles than any other period in history. There are many reasons for this but I believe that one factor may be passivity. We live in a world of information overload, and most of the information is broadcast at us and requires little engagement. As a result we are used to passively hearing and reading information, then moving on to the next thing and quickly forgetting what we have heard. If we always read the bible like this then it is no wonder it seems uninspiring. However if we can find ways to really engage with it, to wrestle with its meaning and understand how it applies to us we can discover a fresh vitality in our reading.

Recently I was reminded of a simple little acronym (SOAP) that can be applied alongside any bible reading method and help us read more proactively.

  • Scripture – Write down a verse from your reading that stood out for you. Copy it word for word, including the reference.
  • Observation – Answer this question, ‘What do I observe about this verse?’ Things like: who is speaking, to whom, where, why, when. Engage as much as you are able with the original meaning.
  • Application – Now work out how you can apply what you have read to your life or how it impacts your current circumstances. Is there a command to obey? An example to follow (or avoid!)? An encouragement to lay hold of? An attitude to be realigned?
  • Prayer – Finish your reading with prayer. What can you praise God for? What requests can you make? Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to live differently in the light of what you have learned.

Using these 4 simple steps requires effort but it will be worth it. As the saying goes: the more you put in the more you get out.

This blog post featured in the May 2015 edition of Lifelines

Alleluia! Christ is risen

Do you ever find yourself questioning whether your faith is true? And if so where do you turn to strengthen your faith?

I am most prone to doubt when I am tired or feeling under the weather. At times like that the number one thing that renews my faith is Christ’s resurrection. Taking that away is like removing a key block from a Tower of Jenga, everything else collapses around it. Paul writes: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NIV 2011) As if that wasn’t strong enough Paul continues in the same chapter to say that if Christ has not been raised: 1) our message is a lie, 2) there is no resurrection for anyone else, 3) our faith is futile, 4) we are still in our sins, and 5) we of all people are the most to be pitied! Of course Paul is being rhetorical here, inviting us to have confidence in Christ’s resurrection, because he then goes in to state: ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ 1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV 2011)

Why was Paul so certain that Christ had been raised? Because he had evidence; evidence that we too can rely on to confirm that our faith is based upon facts. Just a few verses earlier Paul cites the eyewitness testimonies of Peter and the 12 apostles, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote and could have been questioned. He also cites a resurrection appearance to 500 others at the same time, again most of whom were still alive and could have been questioned.

Of course we could also look at the evidence of the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes; the response of the authorities who had every incentive to prove that Jesus had not risen; the eyewitness testimony of the women who arrived first at the tomb; the scepticism of Thomas; the willingness of the disciples to die for the truth of Christ’s resurrection.

A careful investigation of such details leads to the conclusion that the best explanation for that first Easter morning is that Christ is indeed risen! And if Christ is risen then we know that the message of the scriptures is true, that we too will be resurrected, that our faith is not futile, that we have been set free from our sins, and that we are the envy of the world.

This Easter, allow yourself to be captivated by the facts. Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again! Alleluia, Amen!

This blog post featured in the April 2015 edition of Lifelines

40 Days with Jesus

The run up to Easter is one of my favourite times of the year. Each new day, as we see the weather improving, draws us closer to the time when we celebrate Christ’s death and Resurrection. Normally in the run up to Easter I would encourage you to focus on Christ’s death as it is through His death that we are able to receive mercy and forgiveness for our sin. But what would the Easter story have been like had Jesus not risen? After all the animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant stayed dead! The resurrection though gives us confidence that the power of death is beaten, and that we like Christ will be raised to life on the last day.

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like for the disciples to encounter the risen Lord Jesus after the tomb was found empty? During a period of 40 days Jesus appeared to over 500 followers on at least 11 occasions as recorded in the gospels and Acts. What would it have been like to be part of that? How would your faith have been strengthened to see Christ standing in front of you with nail scarred hands and a pierced side?

Starting on Easter Sunday will be a 6 week series called ’40 Days with Jesus’. Each week a different preacher will help us join the disciples and retrace their steps in an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. The series is supported by a devotional book by Dave Smith called (you’ve guessed it!) ’40 days with Jesus’. There are also small group questions and video clips that some Connect groups may choose to use during these 40 days in order to help us draw closer to our Risen Saviour.

Dave Smith is the leader of Kingsgate Church which was planted as a small group meeting in a home in 1988 and now consists of a congregation of around 1,500 people in a massive warehouse conversion in Peterborough. Dave Smith is joining us at Westpoint in August so this will also be an opportunity to get to know him before the summer.

If you would like to join us on the 40 day adventure you can purchase a copy from Amazon

Paperback edition 40 Days with Jesus from Amazon UK
Kindle edition 40 Days with Jesus from Amazon UK

This blog post featured in the March 2015 edition of Lifelines