Thursday, August 18, 2016

Immersion Bible Reading

For over a decade, Isabel and I lived in Cairns, in beautiful Far North Queensland.
Although the beaches near the CBD were not particularly attractive, its northern beaches were, and still are.
Even if you were too busy to visit during daylight hours, to grab a serve of fish and chips and head north after dark, watch the moon rise over the Coral Sea and make its wavy reflection travel from the horizon to the exact spot where you were seated at the water's edge, was a pure delight.

As appealing as this was, it still didn't touch the wonder hidden within.
Visiting a beach on the Great Barrier Reef, removing your shoes and poking your big toe into the water, even stripping off and going for a swim, are poor substitutes for donning scuba diving gear and immersing yourself deep into the ocean, where a whole new world of vibrant life and colours exploded in front of you.

I have discovered that reading the Bible is quite similar.
Visiting this library of sacred books occasionally, dipping your big toe into a couple of randomly chosen verses, even going for a swim across the surface of a whole chapter or short book, are poor substitutes for immersing yourself deeply into God's message for us and to us.
Reading a particular passage slowly, thinking deeply about what it is really talking about, is the way to discover a whole new world of vibrant reality in which God is involved in everything that happens.

And we discover not only what God is doing, but how he wants us to be involved in that with him as the Holy Spirit enlightens and challenges us.
Immersing yourself in the Bible is the most exciting adventure I have experienced - even more exciting than conducting weddings under water on the Great Barrier Reef.

I am currently reading Ephesians in this way, using various English translations to make sure I am exposed to as many different nuances from the underlying original languages as possible.
If you don't have a current project on the go at the moment, how about joining me in the Ephesians immersion read and sharing your discoveries with me. 

Blessings, Barry

Reef image courtesy of

Monday, June 27, 2016

Which Comes First - Salvation or Faith?

"When were you saved?" is a question Christians are frequently asked, especially in evangelical circles. In response, many give a date when they "raised their hand" or "walked to the front" in response to an invitation to be saved in a Christian meeting, or had a life-changing experience in some other setting.
For me, that happened when I was a 12 year old.
But was I saved then?
This raises the question, "What comes first - salvation or faith?"

I think Paul answers that clearly when he tells us that Christ died for sinners, not believers.

But God has shown us how much he loves us---it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! [Romans 5 : 8 GNB]
Jesus paid the price for our sin and therefore we have been declared righteous (in right standing) before God. We have been declared not guilty since the death of Christ.
Paul states this also in 2 Corinthians 5 : 19 ...

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. [NIV]
So our salvation came long before many of us were even born into this world, and well before we believed or had faith.

Many times I have heard an illustration that is meant to show that we are not saved until we have faith, until we believe and confess Jesus as Lord.
I use the same illustration, but in a different way.
Here is the illustration.

Suppose someone puts $1 million into my bank account without my knowledge. I have the potential or opportunity to be rich, but since I don't know the money is there and don't access it, I am still poor. Even if I am told the money is there for me, if I don't believe this news I remain poor. However, when I do believe the news and withdraw the money I become rich, then and only then. 

Most users of the illustration conclude that I need to believe that the money is in my account, and there for me to use, and I need to withdraw it, before I can become rich. I need to do something (or some things) in order to be rich.

However, my interpretation is different.
I am rich the moment the money hits my account. The depositor, the bank manager and any court in the land would confirm that. And when I discover it, and withdraw and use it, I begin to experience the benefits of my newly acquired wealth.

Salvation is just like this.
I was saved when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead 2000 years ago. I wasn't even born then so had no chance of knowing that fact. But when I became aware of it, and was given the faith to believe it, I began to experience the benefits of my salvation.

Salvation is a fact established by Jesus many years ago. It was deposited into my account long before I was born.  My experience of it, its benefits and responsibilities, has been growing from the time I was given the faith to believe it and walk in it.

God gives me the faith to believe the fact of salvation, what Jesus did for me years ago. He would not give me the faith to believe something that did not yet exist. So salvation must come before faith.

This fact helps me see how God will fulfil his plan to save all, as all have already been saved even though only relatively few have been given the faith to believe it and walk in it at this stage.

Blessings, Barry

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Koorong has "The Good News" for Sale

Koorong has begun selling "The Really Good News About God" (in Paperback and eBook versions) from its website and a few of their shop-fronts have at least one paperback copy on their shelves.

The Really Good News About God uses everyday language to address some of the deep questions most of us wrestle with at some point in our lives.
Who am I?
Why am I?
What is life?
What is death?
Is there a God?  If so, what is God like?
Does life on this planet have any purpose?

The Really Good News About God is an easy, refreshing read, written in an informal, conversational style, not weighed down by theological or religious language.
It's a good place to start exploring these important questions, as the author offers positive, uplifting answers from the Bible that challenge the good news/bad news dualism often promoted by mainstream Christianity.

I am currently talking to Dymocks about selling the book, and a theological training college in the US about including it in their student reading list.
So God's wonderful plan of eventual salvation for all mankind is starting to get around.

Thank you for your support and encouragement.

Blessings, Barry

Sunday, March 27, 2016

God's Unconditional Love

One of my dear Christian friends does not agree with my hypothesis (as he calls it) of universal reconciliation.  His main reason?  He disagrees with my basic concept of God's unconditional love for his creation. Nowhere, he says, does the Bible say that God's love is unconditional.
He feels that God's love has conditions attached to it - conditions like our attitude to God, our willingness to repent of our sins, etc.

I guess he is correct in the sense that the Bible does not have the phrase 'unconditional love' in its text. But neither does it have the word 'sovereignty' or 'universal' or 'evangelical' or several other English words that we use to express a Biblical concept or theological idea. It is the concept or idea that is important and that needs to be based on Scripture, not whether an English word that English-speaking people use to describe that concept is in the Bible.

My evidence for God's 'unconditional' love?  Just a few brief references.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Rom 5 : 8]
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, ... [2 Cor 5 : 14]
When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. [Rom 5 : 6]
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." [Luke 23 : 34]
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification for all people. [Rom 5 : 18]
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
[Matt 5 : 44, 45]

I use the term 'unconditional' to mean constant, dependable, (which are probably unbiblical words also) just like the sun is constant and doesn't depend on conditions outside of itself to determine whether it radiates heat and light or not. Sometimes we see or feel the sun differently because of overcast conditions or we are indoors, but the sun is still the same, doing the same thing all the time. Its performance (character) remains constant - it is in this sense that I would say it is unconditional, even though how we experience it is dependant on certain conditions.

In a similar way, how things experience the sun is dependant on their personal condition. For example, sun shining on clay and ice-cream produces very different effects.  The condition of the recipient determines the outcome, in the same way, as my friend points out, that people in different conditions experience blessing or discipline or hardship under exposure to the love of God.

In summary I believe God's love is unconditional (constant, perfect, reliable) even though it produces different effects due to the different conditions on which it falls.  For me, God's love is always perfect, operating for our good, whether in blessing or hardship, as it works all things towards God's predetermined glorious end.

What is your opinion of using 'unconditional' in this way?
Blessings, Barry

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

That Unpardonable Sin

I know we have discussed this before (about 5 years ago), but today I was prompted to post a fresh thought on this most interesting verse.
Here it is ...

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. [Matthew 12 : 32  NIV]
Firstly, let's make the obvious comment.
There is no unpardonable or unforgivable sin.  How can there be?  

Regardless of what this verse might or might not say, Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins, as we have been assured many times through the Bible.  For example 1 John 2:2; 2 Corinthians 5:19.

Secondly, by looking at our verse here, we can see that this is also true.
All sin against Jesus will be forgiven - a statement of assurance.

Sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age (the age in which Jesus lived and spoke these words) or in the age to come (the church age in which we are currently living). 

However, the age after that, which includes the judgement pictured by the Great White Throne and the purification and cleansing pictured by the Lake of Fire, will surely look after this sin.

Whatever speaking against the Holy Spirit means or includes, it must wait until a future age to be forgiven. This seems to indicate that people who have committed this sin will miss reigning with Jesus in his kingdom, will not be resurrected until the final age begins, so will be among the last to be prepared for eternal fellowship with God.

Blessings, Barry

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Punishment has a Purpose

In an email discussion with a dear friend who does not agree with me that God's plan is to reconcile the world to himself at the consummation of the ages, he points to the punishments handed out by God, mainly in the OT but also in the New, to demonstrate God's intention to exclude unbelievers from ever enjoying peace with God.

He suggests that because the wrath of God, which leads to vengeance, punishment and death, is an integral part of God's character, it will not change, but continue throughout time, and beyond.
He implies that this "fact" combined with the belief that all decisions effecting eternity are made during lifetimes on earth, shows clearly that most of creation will not make it into eternity.

In my response I suggest that God's wrath is directed towards sin, those things that cause us to miss the target of bearing the image of God, and needs to be seen in relation to his love, mercy, etc..
Interestingly, he has written a paragraph which describes this beautifully ...

There are a number of aspects to the judgment and ‘wrath of God’ that is worth mentioning and which have partially been alluded to. First is that the love of God and the wrath of God are perfectly compatible and can perhaps best be seen in the Cross which shows us the self-giving gracious act of God’s Son paying the price of the wrath of God against sin which Jesus bore. God’s anger and wrath is against sin or sinners that profane his holiness and righteousness, that hurts others, that reduces our love for God and one another. God has in view our good and anything that interferes with that is the object of his anger and wrath. Our lack of wisdom cannot often see what is good for us individually and collectively but God has total supreme wisdom and all the attributes of his character, his love, mercy, grace, holiness, justice, patience, compassion, faithfulness, wisdom, sovereign power and yes wrath…. work together seamlessly.
I have followed up with the following comments ...

If "God has in view our good" and we believe God when he says he is the Saviour of the world (1 Tim 4: 10), then however God interacts with us, even bringing death, has to be seen for our good in some way and a part of the process of fulfilling his role as Saviour of the world.

If we believe God when he says he will bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (Eph 1:10), all aspects of his character and dealings issuing from them must be working towards this end (even if our lack of wisdom prevents us from seeing it).
In other words, God's wrath, punishment, vengeance, etc. are not ends in themselves, but stepping stones to God's predestined end.

This is why I consider our starting point to be vital in appreciating what God might be doing in his various interactions with mankind.

My starting point, illustrated by 1 Tim and Eph and other references, allows me to see that no matter what calamities have eventuated in someone's life on earth, even destruction by God himself, God's love and predetermined plan will always bring them into sweet fellowship with God in the future.

Those with a Calvinistic starting point, belief that God has divided humanity into two groups, the elect and the lost, do not allow millions of people to ever see the love, kindness, mercy or grace of God, or allow the work of Christ on the cross to be as successful as God designed it would be.

Those with an Arminian starting point, belief that mankind has free will and chooses his own eternal destiny during his lifetime on earth, not only confine those who make poor choices to be forever lost, but proclaim that God's will can be trumped by man's will - God is not sovereign.

Believing what God himself says in His Word about his intentions for his creation produces a Biblically more consistent theology for me.

Blessings, Barry

Monday, February 22, 2016

Foundation Stones for Future Scenarios

I am currently writing some articles for the website on "The Future". As always, I am interested in your feedback on my thoughts before I publish them.

I know I have posted on some topics more than once.
Indeed, topics concerning the future are certain candidates for multiple posts because I am always discovering fresh clues from the Bible which either make me more certain about the content of previous posts or require me to amend them, sometimes significantly.
And, let's face it, we can only speculate about the future as there are not many clues to begin with, and those we have are open to seemingly endless interpretations.

However, we must have a starting point for our speculations.
What are the basic "givens" on which all other facts and/or opinions must stand?

1.  God's ultimate purpose, his end result, is clearly revealed in the New Testament ...

    God desires all to be saved. (1 Tim 2 : 1 - 6)
    God is the Saviour of all. (1 Tim 4 : 10)
    God will bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth. (Eph 1 : 9 - 10)
    God will become all in all, that is, everything to everybody. (1 Cor 15 : 28).

2.  God will achieve this purpose through Jesus, who is ...

    The Reconciler of all (2 Cor 5 : 18 - 19; Col 1 : 19 - 20)
    The Drawer of all (John 12 : 32)
    The Sacrifice for all (1 John 2 : 2)
    The Saviour of all (1 John 4 : 14; John 12 : 47)
    The Light of all (John 1: 4 - 9)
    The Giver of Life to all (1 Cor 15 : 20 - 22)

3.  God always remains true to his character ...

    God is love. (1 John 4 : 16; Matthew 5 : 44 - 45)
    God is in control (Proverbs 19 : 21; Ephesians 1 : 11)
    God is kind and merciful to all (Luke 6 : 35 - 36)
    God's grace completely saves us (Romans 5 : 15 - 21; Ephesians 2 : 4 - 8)
To me all other events or opinions that I wish to include in my picture of the future must stand on and be consistent with these three "givens". 
For example ...
God has already reconciled the world to himself. (2 Cor 5 : 19)
All those who know God and Jesus Christ have eonian life, that is, are alive and will be alive in the coming ages. (John 17 : 3)
The Book of Life increases in size at the Great White Throne judgement. (Revelation 20 : 11 - 15) *
The Lake of Fire is God's refining or purifying process, the death/destruction of all that offends God. (Malachi 3 : 3; Revelation 20 : 14) **
Death itself will be finally removed, so that only life remains.
(Revelation 21 : 4; ! Cor 15 : 25 - 26)
What do you think?
    Are there other "givens" that need to be added to the list?
    Do any of mine not stand up to scrutiny?
    What other events or opinions that are consistent with the "givens" could be
    included in the examples?
Please consider and send me feedback.
Blessings, Barry

* See previous post "The Great White Throne Judgement" in December 2013.
** See previous "The Lake of Fire" posts in 2010 and 2011.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Called and The Chosen

I have been musing on these terms recently and have discovered two interesting verses.
Jesus said, "For many are called, but few are chosen."
[ Matthew 22 : 14  NKJV ]
On the other hand ... 
Paul said, " ... those he predestined, he also called; ...
[ Romans 8 : 30  NIV ]
Notice the reverse order: "called then chosen" in the first .. versus .. "predestined (chosen) then called" in the second. Why the difference?

Jesus was addressing Israel's leaders and forecasting that from all those who belonged to this specially called-out nation only a few would be chosen.
Chosen for what?
Israel had been called to live under God's provision and direction, demonstrate that life and its value to the rest of the world, and was destined to reign with God in the future kingdom. 
However, only a few of them were chosen by God to receive the faith necessary to believe in Jesus, their Messiah, and the message of forgiveness and reconciliation that he brought.

Sadly, only a relatively few of Israel will live during the coming age, and reign with Christ in his kingdom.
"Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it," Jesus told them. { Matthew 7 : 14  NIV ]

Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles.
His message was to an audience that had not been seriously considered to have any part in God's reign.
However, God's plan right from the start was to choose others, from the Gentile nations, to add to the faithful few from Israel to create the Body of Christ that would reign with Christ during that coming age.

The mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
[ Ephesians 3 : 6  NIV ]

As a result, those who would rule with Christ in the kingdom age had already been chosen by God before they were even born, and will be called during their lifetime on this planet.
These are the early believers, which we mention from time to time.
These previously chosen (predestined) will be called, and will be trained by the indwelling Holy Spirit for their co-ruler role in the future age.

But Paul's message of "chosen then called" has an even wider, more general application.
From before the foundation of the world, we were all chosen for salvation, for fellowship with God.

Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose.
[ Ephesians 1 : 4, 5  GNB ]

In all his wisdom and insight God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.
[ Ephesians 1 : 9, 10  GNB ]
The whole creation has been chosen, so we will all be called eventually - some as early believers by faith and some as later believers by sight.

God's amazing plan, decided at the beginning, hinted at by the prophets, mentioned by Jesus, and fully described by Paul, should be celebrated from the rooftops by churches across the world.
What a different view and appreciation of God that would produce !
Blessings, Barry

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Following Christ is Not Belonging to a Religion called Christianity

Those who know me are acutely aware that religion, including the Christian variety, is not my thing.
My Brisbane neighbours who eventually discovered I was a church pastor would often claim they were not religious in the hope they could avoid any discussion about God or of a spiritual nature.
They were then surprised when I admitted that I was not religious either (but enjoyed a great relationship with God).

It may also surprise many people to know that Jesus did not come to earth to establish a religion.
In fact, he didn't even mention the words religion, Christian or Christianity.

When you look at the original meaning of the word religion, it is easy to see why Jesus avoided it.
Religion comes from the Latin and means to tie, to bind, to obligate or to fasten.
The word conveys a sense of duty, living according to a set of rules and restrictions.
The highly restricted, performance-based life of a monk illustrates religious life in the extreme, but most people committed to a religion of any variety are dominated by the need to perform and to please in order to 'make it' or 'be accepted.'

Jesus came for something entirely different, indeed the opposite. 
He came to set us free from religion, to reconcile us to God without the need to perform - nothing to do with religion or religious performance at all.

Religion is mankind striving after God.
Jesus did the opposite - He brought God to mankind, and ultimately will bring all mankind to God.

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
[ John 12 : 32  NIV ]

Religion is the outward performance of ceremony, conduct and service motivated by a sense of duty.
Jesus gives life that produces inner joy and peace and service motivated by a relationship of love.

Following Christ is the outworking of that life that brings us to God and Godliness.

Blessings, Barry

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What is Science?

This used to be a simple question to answer.
In my much younger days of scientific and mathematical research and practice, theories were hypotheses (informed guesses drawn from the observation of multiple examples) that could be verified or falsified by experimentation.
Further, a theory had to be capable of producing practical, duplicate examples and of predicting future events.

Indeed, a scientific theory could only be considered a statement about reality if it followed these principles of scientific theory.
As human beings on planet Earth, we are most commonly aware of gravity, now considered a universally established and accepted law, because of our confidence in its ability to withstand all challenges to its ability to describe reality.

Science that follows these principles could be called by numerous descriptors - operational, experimental, observational, structural sciences.
We will call them the "exact sciences" here.
Indeed, it has become imperative to use such a term now that the science space has been invaded by philosophy (or religion, if I were brave enough to use that descriptor).

These historical-interpretative theories, like creation, evolution and significant components of cosmology, speculate about the origin of the universe and its inhabitants.
They might use the currently observable (but not original) data around us, but can hardly produce duplicate origin examples or be subject to a verifiable/falsification process.
Origin events only happen once (do not have multiple examples) and, since observers were not available at the exact time of their happening, contemporary scientists have no examples (original or duplicate) to experiment on, to be verified or to be falsified.

These philosophical theories have hijacked the "science" descriptor, possibly because it is scientists who usually tout them, or because a relationship to the exact sciences has been attributed to them.
We shall discuss this relationship possibility in a future post.

To these historical-interpretative sciences, if they must be called science at all, we will give the name "origin sciences", as they do not follow the principles of science theory as do the "exact sciences".
Three origin sciences are staunchly defended belief systems about what happened in the unobservable past and will be discussed on this blog over the course of the year.
But for now, just a brief introductory description of each ...

Evolution is a philosophical doctrine based on matter and materialistic principles driven by mutation and selection.
To many it has become a basic, universal principle that is taken for granted: to others it is seen as imaginative speculation.

Creation is a biblical doctrine based on the existence of a Creator, the God of the Bible, who was present at the origin events and whose creative activities cannot be explained by natural laws.
To many it is a basic principle that is taken for granted: to others it is seen as an unenlightened view based on the assumption that the Bible is the literal Word of God.

Theistic Evolution is a doctrine based on a marriage of evolution and creation - God used evolution as a means of creating.
To many it is a means of accommodating science and the Bible: to others it describes a marriage of incompatibles, a random process lacking in purpose and design with a deliberate, planned process of intelligent design and purpose.

We shall discuss and evaluate their competing claims as possible explanations of the unobservable past in future posts.

So, to answer our lead question, science has become a mix of exact and origin studies, those that follow the traditional principles of scientific theory and those that are belief systems that have scientific connections.

As usual, your critical review is invited and will be most welcome.
Blessings, Barry

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Why Share the Gospel if All will Eventually be Saved?

This a question that pops up from time to time mainly from Christians who have a determination that unbelievers should pay some eternal price for their waywardness or rebellion, even though they don't have to themselves.
I was brought up to think this way also, but I now see how this position undermines the sovereignty of God and dilutes the work of Christ on the cross.

On page 20 of "The Really Good News About God", I mentioned that my motivation for sharing the good news had increased since discovering that all would eventually be reconciled to God.
So what are my reasons?

Firstly, I earnestly desire my friends enjoy the same relationship with God that I have.
The Christian life is so rich and empowering that it is worth having, even if there was nothing beyond life on this planet to look forward to.

Secondly, God has chosen me, as someone who already has been given faith, an early believer, for a purpose.
God's plan is to save all, and he uses early believers as one of his means of achieving his goal.
Not everyone will have a "Saul on the road to Damascus experience" or a "Thomas in the locked house experience".
Most people come to faith on this planet as the good news is shared with them by others.

When the good news is made known ...

But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?
And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out? As the scripture says, "How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!"
[ Romans 10 : 14 - 15  GNB ]
faith is given ...
So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ.
[ Roman 10 : 17  GNB ]
and people move from darkness to light.
He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven.
[ Col 1 : 13 - 14  GNB ]
Paul also declares that it is we who have been given this task of passing on the good news of reconciliation.
All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.
Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends.
Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ's behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends!
[ 2 Cor 5 : 18 - 20  GNB ]
This is the way God has planned for his ambitious, gracious, reconciliation project to be implemented on planet earth.

Thirdly, it is so satisfying, so exhilarating, to be sharing the good news with friends and see them receive faith to believe and appreciate what God has done for them through Jesus.
Seeing God touch people's lives through little me is so joyous and humbling.

The ministry of reconciliation is an awesome privilege God has given us.

Let's not allow our discovery of God's end result deflect us from the purpose of our early calling. Indeed let's be further stimulated by it.

Blessings, Barry