Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Before the beginning there was Jesus – Christmas cogitation part 2

Jesus was not a new idea. Whilst he was born into the world as a child, a new human being, he was not a stranger to this world. He was the Word that began creation and he was there when time and space began.

“He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2)

Before the Creation came to its full maturity, God was. In relationship, in eternity, outside of the time, God existed. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am not going to try and explain it here (partly because this is a blog and a full explanation would require several libraries and partly because I want to think about Christmas).

Jesus was with God, in God, part of God, God… right at the start.

Before humanity was formed and walked with God. Before the first sin of pride led to the expulsion of humanity from the garden and the destruction of the relationship that gave everyday intimacy as we walked with God. Before everything, God.

It is vital to believe, even if we find it hard to understand, that God was and is and is to come. He is not simply pre-existent, He transcends existence and time. It is the reason that the name of God is, I AM.

“In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1)

Were it not so, Christmas would be nothing. God is. Jesus is.

Christmas is not simply a party to celebrate humanity and niceness. Christmas is about a reconnection with the eternal God through the eternal Son by the power of the eternal Spirit.

Before the beginning of time and perception there is Jesus, who submitted to the limitations of mundane existence for the sake of the rescue of lost humanity. Christmas makes sense without this truth… but it has no real meaning.

It needs to be said and, by faith, accepted as true. Jesus is God. Christmas is about the birth of God into human experience in order to offer re-Creation to the human race.

Jesus was and is and is to come. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. And he was born.


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The Word – Christmas cogitation part 1

As we head toward Christmas there is more to consider than cards, gifts and food. As a Christian, Christmas is the festival that celebrates God interceding in the life of the world. The book of Genesis shows us the Creation of the world and the Christmas story shows us the beginning of the re-Creation of the world.

God Created the human race to live in relationship with him. The human race were blessed to walk in the perfect garden with the Creator of the universe, to name the animals and live in total freedom within that relationship. Yet humanity fell, when it chose the action and path of independence over dependence, and sought equality with God rather than unity with God.

This is the inconvenient truth that resides behind the Christmas story and makes Christmas necessary.

The Creation of the world began with a word.

“And God said, “Let there be light”” (Gen 1:3)

From the word of light came the context within which everything else could come into being. Without the light of the presence of God, nothing else makes sense.

The re-Creation of the world also begins with a word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Gen 1:1)

The Word, which is Jesus, is the instigation and beginning of the re-Creation of the fallen world.

The solution to the problems of the world cannot be found in politics or philosophy, which are simply ideas that find their root in the separation of humanity from God. It is in the Word of God that the world, and therefore the relationship between God and humanity, is re-Created. Without the Word there is no light to lead us back to intimate relationship with the Father, Creator God.

The person of Jesus is the only path to reconciliation with God. A Word from God is the only thing that can begin Creation and, therefore, the only thing that can begin re-Creation. Thus… the Word of God!

The birth of Jesus was the plan of God for the salvation of the world. It is through the Word that the world is re-Created. Let there be… LIFE.


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Faith in the promise of God

There are lots of cool things about studying the Bible, but amongst the coolest are those times when a passage that you have read time and again suddenly speaks to you in a fresh way.

In chapter 41 of Genesis, Joseph is standing in front of Pharaoh. He has been taken out of prison, cleaned up and asked to interpret a disturbing dream for the most powerful man in the world at that time. Joseph stands there by the recommendation of the Pharaoh’s own wine attendant, who he had interpreted a dream for two years earlier (see Genesis 40). Joseph makes it clear to Pharaoh that it is not he who has the power to interpret dreams, but that God is the one who interprets dreams and Joseph can only do what God leads him to do (Genesis 41:16).

Pharaoh tells Joseph about his dreams. The first involves 7 emaciated cows swallowing 7 fat cows. The second, 7 thin ears of corn devouring 7 healthy ears of corn. Pharaoh and all of his priests and magicians are stumped by them. It is what Joseph says next that blew me away.

“The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon” (Genesis 41:32)

It had never occurred to me before but, when Joseph utters these words about God repeating the dream in different forms because God has firmly decided upon it, he is also declaring his faith in another pair of dreams. (Genesis 37:5-9). As a young man, about 15 years earlier, Joseph had had two prophetic dreams of his own. The first about sheaves of corn and the second about the sun, moon and stars. Joseph himself had interpreted their meaning, much to the anger of his brothers, that he would come to rule over all of his family. In fact, it was as a direct result of these dreams that his brothers faked his death and sold him as a slave. Far from ruling, he now stands before Pharaoh as nothing more than a slave-prisoner.

Yet, Joseph declares with faith that Pharaoh’s dreams are true because he has had the same dream twice in different forms. He implies, therefore, that his own dreams were true for the same reason.

It is the steadfast faith of Joseph in the face of 15 years experience (that seems to prove beyond doubt that he would not rule over anyone, let alone his brothers) that blows me away. Even though it appears at that moment that there is no conceivable way for these dreams to ever become a reality for Joseph, he believes that God spoke the truth through those dreams.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

At no point before the interpretation of Joseph’s dream does it seem likely that his situation will change, and yet he has faith in God’s word for him. Joseph believes that God will fulfill Pharaoh’s dream and that God will fulfill Joseph’s dream. He has heard the promises of God, taken them to heart and now stands on them everyday, whether they look possible or not.

The question is this… what are the promises of God for you and I? We need to listen to God, discern His promises and then stand on them by faith. Our world might not look as if the promises of God have any hope of being fulfilled, or are even real, but that is not the point. The point is faith. All that matters is that God has promised and that what God promises, He does.


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Living by Faith

I have been spending some significant time in Hebrews 11 recently. It is a remarkable chapter of the Bible that sets out the concept of faith and then uses a massive list of people from the Old Testament to illustrate it.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

This is the BIG IDEA.

When God speaks, we need to live by what He says.

This might seem obvious, but it is profound and important and it is key that those of us who are disciples of Jesus don’t just hear what this says, but live too. So I need to say it again.

When God speaks, we who live by faith need to live by what He says. Even if the world that we observe around us does not seem to conform to what God says, we must.

The writer of the Hebrews illustrates his point, time and again and here are just a few of the examples he uses…

  • Abel – offered sacrifice to God, giving the best that he had, even though he could not see the God that he was sacrificing to with his own eyes. He had faith that God existed and was worth the sacrifice.
  • Noah – built an ark in the middle of a desert to protect his family from flood waters that God had promised, even though it was not raining and did not even look as if it would rain at all. He was ridiculed and pilloried, but he had faith that God was right.
  • Abraham – left his home to travel to another country that God had promised, even though there was no certainty that it would all work out. In fact, God promised that the land of Canaan would belong to his family and he never saw the of this promise in his own in his lifetime. He had faith that God would honour the word that He had given and so lived in the reality of God’s promise.
  • Abraham – again, showed that he trusted God more than his own eyes. As an old man he was promised a son and a multitude of descendants, even though it looked impossible in reality. He had faith that God would honour His promise and Sarah gave birth to Isaac in their old age.
  • Abraham – yet again. Took Isaac, his beloved son, to a mountain top and was willing to sacrifice him according to God’s instruction, even though it clearly appeared to be categorically opposed to the word of God for a multitude of descendants. He heard the voice of God and obeyed. He trusted God over and above his own eyes and the good opinion of others.

“All of these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13)

These people lived by the words and promises that God gave to them, even when they seemed ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the world. In many cases, they never even saw God’s promise fulfilled in their own lifetimes, but they trusted, by faith, that God was in charge and would see things come to fruition according to His word and time. They accepted that their faith was alien to the world that they lived in, but they accepted what God said as truth and lived according to it. They were willing to be derided and laughed at by everyone else, simply because God was greater than they or their situation.

SO what about us? Are we willing to live as aliens in our own world and have faith in the promises and word of God over and above our own good, preference or common sense?

Our job, as disciples of Jesus, is not to witness the fulfillment of the word of God. It might not happen in our lifetime and the story of the world is not about us to begin with. Neither is it our job to judge the word that God gives us according to our own preferences and logic. Our job is to live by faith… even when, to all appearances, the thing that we believe to be from God seems impossible or ridiculous.

We are not called to witness God’s act, we are called to be witnesses to God’s word!

By grace, it might be that God allows us to witness the fulfillment of His word in our lives but, if He does not, who are we to argue? If God is God then God’s word is true. Faith is believing this fact, accepting it and then living by it.

I would rather live by the truth of God’s word than by the understanding of the world… In all things. Because I have faith in God most High.

Of course, this stand on faith becomes problematic when what we believe is not believed, or even ridiculed, by the people around us. When the people around us do not believe what we believe or even oppose our faith choice. Just off the top of my head, the world I live in has different beliefs in areas that I believe God teaches particular truth on issues of sexuality, fidelity, marriage, honesty, creation, truth, divinity, faith, power, and so much more. The faith that get from my discipleship in Jesus is derided by our society, the people who rule the media and many of the people that I live among.

The question that I must ask is, “what does God say?” Even if God’s words is opposed to the voice of the many, I know that it is God’s voice I must listen for and, by faith, His path I must follow. Wherever that might lead.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)


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Good faith is good

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)

I have spent a lot of time in the last week or so cogitating on this verse and the chapter that follows it. I hesitate to blog on it, because I am not entirely sure that I have a proper handle on it. I seem to have a lot of interesting ideas but I am struggling to put them into plain English. (What is the point of an idea if no one except I can understand what I mean?). So let me know if the following is clear.

My first thought is this. Faith is good. Actually, let me put it slightly differently. Good faith is good.

Faith is, according to the verse above, surety of what we hope for and certainty about the things that we do not see. From the perspective of the passage, this is a good thing. All of the people listed in Hebrews 11 stand in faith upon positive promises of God. They hold on to the things that God has said to them and they act in accordance with the future that God has promised, but that is not yet realised.

All of us need to take this on board. What are the promises of God for you? There are many that are clearly general promises in the Bible. That God will bring us into His Kingdom, that those have faith in Jesus will be saved, that the Holy Spirit empowers those who have faith in Jesus, and so on. There are also promises that are specific to us. God speaks to His children (another promise) through the power of the Holy Spirit. What has He said? How we live our lives and the choices that we make point clearly and honestly to where our faith lies.

A specific example of this from my own life is that God called me, 4 years ago now, to leave the church, stay in Braintree and He promised to provide for me and my family. The decision that my wife and I made as a result was to leave our denomination and stay in Braintree. Even though we had no work or home of our own in the town, we put into action the decisions that were in accordance with God’s word to stay in Braintree. We found that, after we had acted in faith, God provided work and, miraculously, the ability to buy a home. God is always faithful to His promises. I have faith in this.

My second thought is similar and, possibly, equally obvious. Bad faith is not good. Faith is the surety and certainty of what is as yet unseen. Therefore, if one is sure that things are going to turn out bad and fearful that the path that might lie ahead could lead to difficulty or pain, then that too is faith (just not a good sort). This kind of faith will also determine our actions and lead us on a path other than God’s.

Fear is not simply the opposite of faith, it is another kind of faith. How many of us who claim to believe in the word of God really, beneath the surface, worry that it is not real or true? Many, many Christians live by fear of what might go wrong rather than faith that God is REALLY all powerful.

For example, how many of us have a stronger belief in our own unworthiness than we have in the grace of God? If we believe, at the heart of things, that we are unworthy of God’s love more strongly than we believe that God offers His grace to us freely and without any need for us to earn it, then we will act accordingly. We will live in fear of God’s punishment rather than assurance of His love. It is so easy to believe that, really, after all is said and done, in the end, I need to be a better person in order to know God. All that this leads to is a guilty conscience and slavery to religious practices that are supposed to purify us for God. When we have faith that God offers free grace then things are very different. It is only after we come to God in Jesus that we change and are transformed into better people because we know God. When we come to God in faith, in humility and submission, then God’s plan unfolds in our lives and we are transformed by it. We are not changed in order to come to God, we are changed because we do come to God.

Fear is a faith that things might not turn out well and it dominates many Christian’s as they try to live in Jesus. Fear ruins the lives of disciples, because it is twisted faith.

I guess the question goes something like this… what do you have faith in most strongly – God or something else? If our faith is in God, then we will act in a way that opens the way for the power of God to move, because we will be in step with the Spirit. If our faith is in something else, then we will act to please or mollify that thing… or we might not act at all. Even then, we will probably try to justify what we do by saying we are doing it for God.

It is hard to think of examples that are simple to give. Yet we all know the competing voices that call for our attention in every area of our lives. The “What if…” question is always loud and it can cripple us as we seek to follow the will of God for our lives. If Noah had listened to what if… he would have drowned in the flood. Had Abraham listened to the what if voice… he would have died in Haran like his father before him.

There is only one voice that matters. The voice of God. When God speaks, there is no what if because we can be sure that He has the what if in hand. Our calling is to walk the path rather than plot the course.

The question I ask myself is this. “What has God said to me and am I acting upon it by faith? If I am not acting in accordance with it then why not?”

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)


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Walking around in circles

Even I can see, as I read Joshua 6, that the strategy to take the fortified city of Jericho is a little bit alternative. It is not normal to walk in circles around a city and never fire a rock or stone at the walls, and then to expect the walls to come down.

“as the commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” (Josh. 5:14-15)

Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army reveals several things.

  • First, God’s power is present as the people of Israel start to take possession of the promised land. His army is already at the scene of the battle and preparations have been made.
  • Second,  the land around Jericho is already holy. God has set it apart for the people of Israel to see the power of His presence and activity. The land will not be made holy when the city is taken and the non-believers are destroyed. It is already holy because God says that it is. In the same way, I am acceptable to God; not because I am without sin, but because Jesus says that I am. It might seem an odd thing to say but; things are not made holy by our actions, but by God’s declaration. They become real to us as we walk in the faith that they are real.
  • Third, the city of Jericho is doomed by the word of God, but the actions are still to take place.
  • Fourth, the plan to take the city is not Joshua’s. Jericho will fall at the hand of God by the plan of God. Joshua 6 relates God’s plan to open a city that is heavily defended and tight shut… and it is crazy.

“March round the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Make seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march round the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, make the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” (Josh. 6:3-5)

As we read on, this is what happens. The whole army of God marches around the walls a total of 13 times in a period of 7 days. The Ark of the Covenant, which holds the words of God and the proof of the wilderness experience, is given centre stage and the people walk with it around the whole city of Jericho. On the seventh day, they walk around the city seven times and at the last moment let out an enormous shout of praise for God and the walls come tumbling down. Then the huge column of the army charges from all directions at once into the now defenseless city and wins the battle.

There are several things that come to mind as I read this…

  • There is no doubt at all that God wins this battle. No matter what people might say or claim, there is no other possible explanation. And so, as the people of Israel enter the campaign to win the promised land they are building on an earthshattering, resounding victory that is entirely down to God.
  • The faith of the people needs to be strong. The army of the Israelites must have felt like a proper bunch of plonkas, walking in silence around the city walls. The people and army of Jericho would have shouted insults at them all the time they marched and, as day followed day, the army must have wondered what was going to happen and if Joshua had made a mistake. I wonder what the talk in the camp was after the first day of walking around the walls? I wonder what people were saying about Joshua after the 6th day of nothing happening? I wonder how enthusiastic they felt after the 6th circuit on the 7th day? By faith they marched and shouted.
  • Faith is not a feeling, it is a conscious decision. Whatever the feeling of the army of Israel, they went through with the entire plan. God said it would work, and it worked. There must have been occasions when the army thought it was a stupid idea… but they kept going out of a conscious decision to follow God’s words. We are no different. If we believe God has said something, we need to carry on until the end. If they had given up after 6 days, they would not have won.
  • God’s plans are not the same as our plans. No sane General would suggest this plan to take Jericho… but God did. How audacious is that? God has the power and authority to carry through His plans… even when we cannot see how they might actually work out. We need to submit to the plan and power of God, not expect him to take our advice.

This passage has so much to teach us. As disciples, individually and as a community, the will of God should be our primary focus and the glory of God our ultimate aim. No matter what the apparent evidence of our eyes might be or what the preference of our desires might suggest, God’s word is key. When we hear God speak we need to carry it through… however mad it seems.


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Freedom and Circumcision

After 40 unnecessary, but prescribed, years wondering in the wilderness, all but two (Joshua and Caleb) of the people of God who had looked upon the promised land and refused to enter it for fear of the people who lived there were dead. Even Moses, the Prophet of God, who God spoke to face to face, had died on the top of Mount Nebo, looking out over the land. This was a whole new generation.

Crossing over (part 2) had taken place. The million or so people of God had miraculously cross the river Jordon and were now, for the first time, standing on the very land that was the promise of God to them. This was a momentous moment and, having placed their feet on the land, they enact a ritual as a commitment of themselves to serve and follow God. It is an act that has not been performed for 40 years.

After the people had left Egypt, God had commanded that all of the men should be circumcised, in line with the promise to Abraham, as a sign of their belonging to God and commitment to follow God as their King. During the wilderness years, this practice had not been carried out on the children born, whilst all of the men who had been of fighting age at Crossover 1 had died. This left an entire generation of men (with only Joshua and Caleb as exceptions) who were part of the people of God but had not been circumcised as a sign of their belonging and commitment.

Thus, in Joshua 5, all of the men are circumcised. Ouch! No wonder it says, “And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed” (Josh. 5:8).

It is obvious to say, but necessary, that we who are God’s people need to commit ourselves to the plan of God. Contrary to much popular opinion, God does not worship and serve us. It is not we who decide what is right and wrong. We serve God and, even when it is hard to follow or we do not see the sense of it, we follow and submit to him.

God is all powerful and when he leads us to the edge of a promise, no matter how impossible that promise might seem to be fulfilled to our eyes, He has the power to make it a reality. We, the people of God, must have faith in the word of God even when it seems difficult to believe.

When the people of Israel had come to the edge of the promised land for the first time, they had looked at a wonderful place and been consumed with fear of the people who lived there. Even though God had told them that it was theirs, they had refused to enter the land. They were still slaves, in their minds, to the domination of human beings rather than fully submitted to faith in the promise of God. Their bodies were circumcised in submission, but their minds were not.

On this second occasion, the people have had their minds renewed over the period of 40 years and ACTUALLY crossed into the promised land in obedience to God’s word. The people who lived in the land are the same as they had been 40 years previously and the cities, like Jericho, were still surrounded by high walls. Yet the people of God were willing to have faith in the power of God rather than the supposed evidence of their eyes. They were no longer in the mindset of the slaves of Egypt, who were unable to see past the power of human beings. Now they were children of God in body, mind and spirit.

Their act of circumcision was the final sign that they had left the past behind and were moving into God’s future. God speaks to them following;

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt” (Joshua 5:9)

I love these words. In that moment, the people of God step out of the wilderness and into the promise of God. They begin to live by faith instead of fear. God, in His grace, rolls away the past so that we can walk into HIS future. These words echo down to us too.

No longer are their minds dominated by the experience of Egypt and the fear of people with whips. Rather, they are defined by their adoption as the nation who are ruled by the one true and living God. God, who took them out of Egypt with miracle after miracle, fed them out of nothing for 40 years and took them over the flooded river Jordon into the promised land, has rolled away the influence of the past.

This people are not longer the people of Israel. Now they are the people of God.

What about your slavery? What experiences and attitudes cause you to act out of fear rather than faith? Have you crossed over into the promised land yet?

Further, what about the Church? Does it live in the attitudes of the past and so called pragmatism, rather than faith in the promise of God that looks far away but is actually much closer?

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt” (Joshua 5:9)

I hear and accept these words by faith. No longer will I be ruled by the past. Now I will walk into God’s future. And where my past affects my actions, I will leave it in the wilderness to be rolled away by God.