Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lead us not into temptation

I was chatting to someone this week, and she said, "I don't get it where Jesus says we should pray, "Lead us not into temptation." Now I've heard many an explanation regarding this but I have to admit, most explanations have not convinced me.
First of all, taking it at it's direct meaning: literally asking God not to lead us into Temptation:
Surely the one who leads us into temptation is Satan and not God?
In the book of James says: "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone." (James 1:13)
So if God does not tempt anyone why does Jesus say we should pray, "Lead us not into temptation?"
I have heard the explanation that the word for temptation in the Greek, (peirsamos) can also mean "testing." I checked this in my Strong's Concordance and Lexicon and it says the following:
3986 peirasmos pi-ras-mos; from 3985 (peirazo - to test); a putting to proof (by experiment [of good], experience [of evil] solicitation, discipline or provocation); by impl. Adversity: temptation, x try.
So this could be translated "Lead us not into testing." Oh, it still doesn't work, for me. I may be quite "dof". (Slang for stupid) but I have a few queries concerning this.
Firstly, why has this verse consistently been translated as "temptation." from the KJV to the NIV. There may be, though I am not aware of any, versions that translate this word as "testing."
I do admit that God does test us. There are many instances in the Scriptures that make reference to God testing/trying His people.
2 Chron. 32:31 - "God left him to test him".
Job 7:18 - Job is praying saying: "You (God) examine him [man] every morning and test him every moment." - This is really interesting. - I will come back to this one.
Ps. 26:2 "Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind."
Ps 139:23 "Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts."
Jer. 9:7 "Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: "See, I will refine and test them..." (In the Hebrew the word refine means "melt.")
Jer. 17:10 "I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind."
Zech. 13:7 - 9 The heading in my NIV bible to this section is "The Shepherd Struck, the Sheep scattered." I quote the section in its totality:
"Awake, O sword against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me." declares the Lord Almighty. "Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered and I will turn my hand against the little ones." "In the whole land," declares the Lord, two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine (melt) them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my Name and I will answer them. I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is our God."
In the New Testament we read:
1 Cor. 3:12-13 If any man builds on this foundation (Christ) using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work work will be shown for what it is, because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.
James 1:2-3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
1 Pet. 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (In the KJV - the fiery trial which is to try you.)
So what conclusions can we draw from these scriptures?
1 - God does test His people.
2 - It is an ongoing process (not a once off event!)
3 - The testing is not a pleasant experience to endure.
4 - Nevertheless, it is a good and positive experience and thus we see places where God is invited to test individuals. I stress that although it is difficult to endure the trial, it is a good and positive experience.
5 - Thus we are exhorted to endure the test with JOY.
All the above being true, why does Jesus say we must pray lead us NOT into temptation (testing.)
Surely Jesus should have said "Lead us into testing". (In modern terminology - "Bring it on, God.!) Now I know you are saying "Steady on there John." Jesus however said "Lead us not into temptation." So what IS Jesus saying?
If God does not tempt, but he does test and if that testing is a positive and desirable (though not a pleasant) experience, why does Jesus say Lead us not into temptation/testing?
I was listening to a programme on TBN TV earlier this week, when someone said something which gave me an idea (I'm sorry I cannot name the speaker or the programme) of a different way of understanding this statement. One of the difficulties with reading is that tone of voice can be lost in the process. We are helped to a certain extent by punctuation, but the Greek texts from which we get our Bible were to a large degree devoid of such punctuation.
I think, and I am open to discussion on this, that we could read the text in a slightly different way.
Maybe what Jesus was saying was this:
Lead us, not into temptation but, deliver us from evil.
By praying it this way, we are asking God to lead us. Failure to be lead by God will lead to temptation and sin, and so we need to be delivered - set free from Evil (sin) and ONLY GOD can accomplish such deliverance. So allow me to paraphrase the Lord's Prayer here:
Our Father - (Abba, Daddy) in heaven, your Name is holy.
May you reign and may Your desires be carried out on earth just as you reign and your desires are carried out in heaven.
Today Lord, give all that we need.. (We ask for today, not for this week or this month or this year - simply today, let us have what we NEED)
Forgive us for every sin, just as we forgive those who offend, upset us, or do us an injustice.
Lead us Lord, because if You don't then we will land up being tempted.
Deliver us from our sin (as only You can.)
For You own everything and in complete charge - The Kingdom belongs to you. You have all the power. And ALL THE GLORY (all the credit for anything good) is Yours and will always be only yours.
This is my understanding - but I am open to different perspectives and would welcome discussion. Go ahead and email me.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I am with you

This week I would like to reflect on a statement. This statement was made in two separate contexts.

But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

And God said, "I am with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." (Exodus 3:11-12)

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28: 18-20)

When we are up against a scary situation, the fear is diminished if we know that we are not alone in that situation. Being alone can often magnify our fears and cause us in our own minds to exaggerate the danger. If we are worried about a given situation, it is often as we lie alone during the night, during those pre-dawn hours, that we tend to be most worried. Anticipating having to do something one self, for the first time, will inevitably result in some degree of nervousness. We would not be human if we were not nervous. This week, many children started school for the first time. I saw pictures of the little ones in the newspaper, some of them entering into this new world with some degree of trepidation. One little girl seemed to be saying to her mummy, "Please don't leave me."

It helps of course when the person accompanying us is bigger, wiser, stronger, or more experienced than we are. That's the kind of person we like to rely on and put our confidence in. The other quality that we value in a person who is with us in difficult situations is someone in whom we can trust, not only because we think they can cope, but also because we believe that they love us, and will do everything with our best interests at heart. As a teacher, my primary responsibility towards the children I teach is their safety. Any activity that I involve them with, I should consider how this will impact the safety of the children. That's what it means to be a responsible adult. In the United Kingdom recently the Secretary for Education was challenged that their were adults working in schools who could potentially pose a danger to the children. I watched the SKY NEWS coverage of the speech she made in parliament this week to deal with the matter. I have to say, I was frustrated and annoyed by the way the reporters were insinuating that the Secretary was "fighting to keep her job" etc., when, call me naïve, I'm sure her major concern was and is the safety of the children of Britain. Ah, but I digress.

My point is facing a new or difficult situation by ourselves is very daunting indeed, but we are reassured when we here someone say, "I will go with you."

Moses was given a job to do: to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He knew that this would not be a walk in the park. He was very aware of the impact of such an event and rightly surmised that he would receive opposition. He naturally felt overwhelmed by the task: hence his question: "Who am I?"

I've felt like Moses, sometimes. Seeing a need, and yet feeling completely inadequate to meet the need.

Now, Praise God, he is very gentle and tolerant with us. He could say to us, something like "Of you can do it - do you think I would ask you if you weren't able to?" He could, but He doesn't - Instead He reassures us "I am with you."

Moses had a mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt - but He in turn was lead by God.

Someone might say, it was Okay for Moses, after all he had a visible manifestation in the Cloud that went ahead of them by day and the Pillar of Fire at night. But though God's presence may not take on visible forms such as that, we do have the witness of the Holy Spirit who is in us (believers.) He being God assures us of His eternal presence.

God has a mission for us, and that is to reach out to a lost and dying world and share with them the "Words of Eternal life." A daunting task? Indeed, but he told us He would be with us ALWAYS. Knowing He is with me, I can take the next steps, I can speak to the stranger or that friend about my Friend, Jesus Christ. I can when I receive the command to go, pack my things and go to another country, trusting God to have the support I need to live and work there and tell others about Jesus.

As you step out today, don't forget, He is with you.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
His praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise His name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats and
two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations and
punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains and
their nobles with fences of iron,
to execute on them the judgement written!
This is honour for all His godly ones.
Praise the Lord!

This evening I was privileged to join with my new Fellowship at an event they titled ONE 4 NINE. This is a reference to Psalm 149.

This is a Praising Psalm - All about expressing Praise to God with EVERYTHING WITHIN US. And the event this evening was about the same thing. We are blessed to be able to express our praise through the arts. YES - Express praise through the arts. There was an exhibition of paintings and drawings by members of the fellowship. There was photography. There were paintings done by children from the Sunday School. There were incredibly well drawn portraits. They also sang songs of praise and it was performed incredibly well to the glory of God. All the songs were written by members of the Praise Team - some especially for the event. They were really cool songs. There was one young lady who worshiped in dance. I was not sure if this was "on the programme" as it were, but it certainly was a beautiful act of praise. At one point, while she was dancing, a little toddler wanted to get in on the act. Instead of becoming annoyed by this "distraction" the young lady simply danced around the little one and at one point picked her up and incorporated the little one into her dance. It was good to see. It reminded me of the scripture "Suffer the little children to come unto me." Between the songs there were readings of poetry. Those poems were really powerful. Towards the end of the evening a lady got up and unceremoniously started to paint on a glass panel (that had been set up for the purpose.) We watched with interest as the picture of a person bowing down in worship emerged. At the end of the evening, they showed a short film, that again pointed to God's awesome Creativity.

Some people may feel uncomfortable about the use of "the arts" in the context of "Church".
I am talking off the top of my head here and so I would welcome discussion on these opinions. The traditional church is more comfortable with visual arts - such as paintings, statues, architecture, etc. More modern Churches tend to be more comfortable with dramatic arts - such as singing, dance, poetry, drama, etc. I know this is a generalisation, and as such is very dangerous. I acknowledge that the hymns that are sung in the more traditional church such as those written by Sir Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, etc. are in themselves art, though I would argue that they are not generally perceived as such by these people. Even the liturgies are a kind of dramatic art, though again, I would argue that most people don't think of them in those terms. If it is suggested that a dance be performed during a service, many Christians may be horrified at the thought, and say that such activities belong on the stage, not in Church. It's not that they would not readily go and watch a performance of an opera or a ballet in the theatre, just that, in their opinion, "It doesn't belong in Church." Is God any less present in the theatre than He is in the Church? If I can't watch, look at or listen to something in Church, should I be watching, looking at or listening to it anywhere else?

Do you agree with me that worship songs can be considered as art? Does art have only aesthetic value? I believe that a Christian artist can and should use his or her art for two primary purposes - firstly to glorify God with his or her gift, and secondly, draw people to Christ through art. Does that mean that artistic Christians (I believe that excludes nobody!) can only have Christian-themed art? i.e. An explicit reference to Christ or Christian teaching? I don't think so, but I look at the Scripture that says we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. Thus, if a Christian, writes a song that is not explicitly Christian, it does not mean that the person is "back-sliding" or "turning their back on the Faith." If a Christian artist, like Amy Grant, makes it big on the secular hit parades, with a song that is not explicitly Christian we should not shake our heads or despair, instead, let us give glory to God for her talent, and rejoice and praise God for her achievement.

My mother is an art teacher - that is she teaches people (both young and old) how to draw and paint. This is an example of how we tend to have a very limited concept of art - we immediately associate the word "art" with painting and drawing. My mother is an art teacher, but she is not a singer (My mother reads this and she would agree with this.) She uses water-colours and other media very well to give glory to God. When she teaches she aims to inspire the students to glorify the Lord in their art. She also likes to write poetry, and in there again, she writes it to the glory of God.

My particular art, I am starting to realise, is the ability to write prose, and I have tried my hand at writing short stories for children, and little plays. I haven't published them, but I believe I will at some point. The stories are not all "Christian" in the sense that they explicitly teach about Christianity, but they do have a "moral." - as we used to call them - the stories are intended to teach positive values such as acceptance, honesty, etc. as well as helping children protect themselves against abuse.

Pushing the envelope a bit more - a few forms of art that don't quickly spring to mind: mime artists, magicians / conjurers, clowns, circus performers of various types, rap/reggae singers, break dancers, public speakers, puppeteers, fabric designers, seamstresses and tailors and many more.

Don't say: "I'm not artistic, or creative". I believe God has put a creative spirit in each of us.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

  • Dear Friends,

    After many weeks I have finally got down to writing a short submission for my blog page.

    Last time I wrote it was last year! I was living and working in a different country and I was preparing to leave.

    Well now I am am living in South Africa, and hoping that Home Affairs Department will let me stay.

    It was not easy saying good-bye to the land of my birth and place of abode for 36 years, and saying good-bye to my church family in Harare, but I do believe it is the right thing at this moment, and that through this experience I am going to grow.

    What are my New Year's Resolutions?
  • To grow in Christ and become a better witness for Him!
  • To succeed in my University studies - improving on last year's performance.
  • To become a better educator.
  • To become better organised (THIS IS A REAL CHALLENGE!!)
  • To maintain a regular healthy exercise regime, specifically by going for either a cycle ride, or a run every day. (I have slipped up a couple of times on this one, but I will not give up on it yet.)

I have read and heard that Goals (resolutions) should be realistic and measurable. Do my resolutions measure up to this standard: Let me analyse them.

To grow in Christ and become a better witness for Him. If I have improved in the area of personal devotions (THere is need for improvement) and I can easily talk about Christ to friends and colleagues and family, I will consider myself to have succeeded in this regard.

To succeed in my university studies - improving on last year's performance. Last year I studied 12 university modules (I am doing my degree by correspondence). I passed 8 modules. One I failed and three I have to write Supplementary exams over the next ten days. I got an average of 52% for the modules. This year I have registered for 9 modules. My aim is to get a passing grade in every module this year.

To become a better educator - At this time I am unemployed but I am hoping to be able to get temporary teaching jobs during the year (locums) both to keep myself in pocket money but more importantly to put into practice, the theory that I am learning through my studies. I am aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. I intend to work intently at those areas of weakness and improve markedly. If my employers are satisfied with my performance in these aspects, I will consider myself to have succeeded in this regard.

To become more organised - This is an area where I am excedingly challenged. However, I do believe that in order to give glory to God I need to take myself in hand in this aspect of life and determine to BECOME organised. To this end, I resolve to:

  1. keep my living space tidy and orderly, putting things where they belong, and returning everything to its place when I have finished using it.
  2. Set up a daily and weekly schedule of activities that will allow time for my personal devotions, my studies, my exercise, and my leisure activities.
  3. Ensure that I keep to the schedule.

To maintain a regular healthy exercise regime. While I was in Harare, I had started on this simply by riding 6 km. to work and 6 km. home each day, and on accasions riding much further distances, since I had no car. Now that i am not riding to work each day, I am determined to ensure that I don't become lazy and put on the kilos, so I will endeavour to run or ride every day, each day extending myself a bit more.

Statistics say that 90% (or thereabouts) of new year resolutions are broken before the end of January. I however determine to be a part of that minority, and with God's help I will be. Dr. Phil said that in order for one to break bad habits one needs to replace them with good habits. If I look over the five resolutions that I have just set out, I can see situations which constitute "bad habits" in my life that these resolutions will help me eliminate.

Well, so much for my resolutions.

All that remains for me to say is I wish all my readers, a Happy and God-blessed 2006.

John Blog.