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

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

Storylines: Your Map to Understanding the Bible– by Andy Croft & Mike Pilavachi

Storylines Most of us have a few favourite parts of the Bible and yet almost completely ignore vast sections. In part this can be because we have never really understood how the different books of the Bible fit together.

The Bible is a collection of writings by different authors, in different styles, in different languages and written at different times. At first it can seem daunting and muddled. However in reality there are a number of storylines that run through the bible, like letters running through Brighton rock! This excellent short book unpacks these storylines in an easy to read manner and will help any reader of the bible have a better grasp of how it all fits together.

Buy Storylines: Your Map to Understanding the Bible from Amazon UK
Buy Storylines: Your Map to Understanding the Bible from Amazon US

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

I don’t believe in Stephen Fry’s god either!

Recently a video clip of Stephen Fry being interviewed by Gay Byrne on Irish National TV[i] has gone viral on the internet. Byrne asked Fry to set aside his disbelief for a moment and tell us what he would say were he to find himself face to face with God. For two and half minutes Fry berated God with a blistering attack, at one point comparing him unfavourably with the pantheon of Greek gods.

I was surprised by the emotional intensity of Fry’s antipathy towards a god that he does not believe in. Why does he get so angry about something that he believes is fantasy?

Leaving that aside, I concluded that the god he describes is not the God that I recognise and believe in. Stephen Fry’s key argument is that he cannot believe in a god who has created a world where there is suffering and pain. He cites things like bone cancer in children, and insects who burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind and then declares that it is not acceptable for god to create a world in which these things exist.

There is no denying that in the world there are innumerable things that cause pain and suffering. The question is where do these come from? The authors of the Bible, most notably in the opening chapters of Genesis, but also in other places such as the Psalms and the book of Job, declare that the world God created was good. Indeed at the end of creation God looked at all he had made as said that it was very good. If the world was so good at the dawn of time, where then did all the evil come from? Again the Bible gives us an answer to that. It is the work of a created, sentient being called Satan who drove a wedge between God and man and brought sickness, death and disease into the world.

The book of Job is particularly interesting because it deals exclusively with real suffering in one individual’s life. Satan is identified as the source of Job’s torment. God is shown as restraining Satan from unleashing the full venom of his destructive nature upon Job. Ultimately Job’s suffering drives him towards God rather than away from him; it intensifies Job’s resolute faith in God.

The god that Stephen Fry rails at is at best only a caricature of the God of the Bible; a caricature I am only too willing to reject. Perhaps like Fry you consider yourself an atheist. If so I would urge you to at least investigate what the Bible claims about God for yourself, rather than dismissing him based on what others say about him.

[i] http://youtu.be/-suvkwNYSQo

This blog post featured in the March 2015 edition of Hook Focus

Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We Made Up – by Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle

ErasingHell Another recent read is ‘Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We Made Up’ by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. This is a well written and easy to read book, though the subject is definitely not a laughing matter. The authors carefully examine what the bible actually says about hell and helpfully highlight the way that popular ideas both inside and outside the church have distorted our understanding. Chan and Sprinkle take no pleasure from the existence of Hell, but lead us to a point where the reality generates compassionate grief that spurs us into action.

Buy Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We Made Up from Amazon UK
Buy Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We Made Up from Amazon US

If God, Then What? – by Andrew Wilson

IfGodThenWhatI have just finished reading ‘If God, Then What?’ by Andrew Wilson. David Stroud sums it up well: “Intelligent, witty and disarming, Andrew has delivered a fascinating and engaging account of how we might find answers to the biggest questions of life. Who are we? Where are we going? And how can I get in on the good life? This book is easy to read and hard to put down. It is powerful, compelling stuff.” I found myself laughing out loud many times as I read the book.
Buy If God, Then What? from Amazon UK
Buy If God, Then What? from Amazon US