Welcome to the second Romans 15:8 blog for 2022. It is good to see this network growing and I am very pleased to announce a new initiative for this network. Namely, in the future, thanks to help from my colleague Philippa Hulett, this website blog will also appear online as a podcast. Also, from time to time the podcast may contain a fuller version of the ‘teaching reflection of the month’ than what appears in this written blog. We will share the link from our YouTube channel as soon as the recording is available.
Teaching Reflection of the Month
On Sunday 13th Feb I preached at Landbeach Baptist Church and was invited to contribute to their current teaching series which is based upon the ‘names’ or ‘titles’ of God. This twelve-part series began on the first Sunday in 2022 with a focus on a key text, Exodus 3:13-14. In making reference to this text, I pointed to a very helpful teaching resource, namely the book The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity by R.Kendall Soulen (WJK Press, 2011).
The title I was asked to focus upon was ‘Yahweh Rohi’ – The LORD is my Shepherd. This title brings much rich Biblical imagery and teaching to mind. I began by looking at Psalm 23. This Psalm by David proclaims that he will not lack any good thing because the LORD is his Shepherd. The shepherd brings rest (:2), and refreshment (renewal) (:3). Yet the reality of the shepherd does not mean an easy path. There will be times of testing. There will be the experience of the darkest valley (:4). However, David knows that even at such a testing time he will not fear, for he knows the presence of the shepherd. This declaration of God’s presence links back in my mind to the experience of Moses (see Exodus 33:14). The presence of God for David is both in the ‘here and now while also pointing to a future assurance- “…and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” This Psalm celebrates and declares David’s personal experience of God as shepherd.
From Psalm 23 which is a personal celebration and declaration, I turned to Hosea 11, which provides a collective wider picture of God’s covenantal care for His people. A care wrapped in love, a love which is costly, a love which hurts. Yet this love which leads, lifts and feeds (just like a shepherd) is rejected, - “…the more they were called the more they went away from me” (:2). Maybe here in these verses from Hosea we see more clearly the cost of redemptive love, the love which leads to the cross.
Finally, I turned to the Gospels, with a brief reference to Luke 15:1-7. Here the Shepherd’s concern for the lost (1 in 100) is shown. This is a radical risk-laden strategy that has the shepherd leaving the 99 in a diligent search for the 1. Following this, the focus was on John 10. Here Jesus challenges some Pharisees, who saw themselves as the ‘shepherds’ or ‘gate-keepers’ of the Torah and the people. Jesus proclaims that it is He who is the only true (good) shepherd. What validates this claim?
Firstly, He knows His sheep well, he leads them and calls them individually by name (:3)
Secondly, the sheep listen to His voice (:3)
Thirdly, He is prepared to lay down His life for the sheep (:11). The false shepherd or hired worker will not do this, when danger comes, he or she will run away and abandon the sheep (:13).
This commitment to lay down His life is a commentary on the events of Gethsemane, where Jesus yields perfectly to His Father's will and walks the path of obedience to the cross.
LORD thank you for making yourself known as the good shepherd. Help us to know more about your care, protection, and guidance in our lives.
Persia and the Bible Edwin Yamauchi (Baker Books, 1990)
We often rightly focus on the land of Israel as the context for Biblical revelation. Yet this book reminds us of the significance of Persia in providing the context for many key revelatory events, especially in the later period of Old Testament history.
Yamauchi guides the reader helpfully through the events linked to the great dynasties of Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes. Much insight is given to Biblical texts and characters, including Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, and Ezra.
This book is well set out, with a good number of maps, pictures, and charts. Each of the fourteen chapters are well structured and gives to us ‘bite-sized chunks’ of history, theological reflection and cultural insight. I especially found the chapter (13) on the Magi to be especially helpful and reading this helped me greatly in preparing three Advent sermons based on Matthew 2:1-12.
Yamauchi writes with academic rigour and a clear love for Scripture and Archeology. I warmly recommend this book to the Romans 15:8 network as a helpful resource for any serious study of key Old Testament texts and the wider revelation of God.
Ministry News Update
I will be sharing in the Oswestry Prayer for Israel day conference, hosted at Holy Trinity Church Oswestry on Saturday 5th March. I will be teaching on the ‘Parting of the Ways’ in the morning and in the afternoon, I will share an update on the current work of CMJ UK. This is an open event that starts at 10.15. If you are near to Oswestry please do come along. There is no charge for this event, but an offering will be taken to cover costs etc.
As promised in the previous blog I share below my sabbatical report.
My sabbatical took place from 25th October to 22nd December. I added a few days annual leave, so I returned to work on January 4th. Any time away brings inevitable pressures on colleagues, especially in a relatively small staff team, so I want to begin my report by thanking colleagues who took on additional responsibilities, especially my SMT colleague John Brooks.
As always, I am very appreciative of having time set aside in the CMJ UK staff handbook for a sabbatical. I believe sabbatical provision is a Biblical principle and a good element within professional development and care. It also contributes to good management of our most precious ministry resource - namely long-serving staff!
This was my 2nd sabbatical with CMJ (and my 5th ministry sabbatical since my ordination in 1985) and while it was difficult to set the timing for this (I had postponed on two occasions previous sabbatical plans in 2020 and 2021 due to covid pressures) I felt that this sabbatical came at a good time for me.
My first action within my sabbatical was to travel to the Wyndham Theatre (London) to see the new Tom Stoppard play Leopoldstadt. The play which premiered in 2020 and is set in Vienna from 1899 to 1955 explores many key questions about Jewish identity, culture, and faith.
Following the visit to the Wyndham Theatre, I had 3 main times away from home, based in Llanflin, Durham and Sheldon (Mary and Martha Centre). In Durham I spent some time at the university library and met with Professor John O’Brien and discussed issues around cross-cultural mission and especially O’Brien’s assertion that the Islamic denial of the historical crucifixion of Jesus in al-Nisa (4):157, is a contra-polemic to a non-canonical, Jewish, polemic counter-narrative against belief in Jesus as Messiah as well as the virginity of Mary. Also, during this time, I met up with my sister and we visited Holy Island/Lindisfarne.
At Sheldon, I shared in an Advent retreat led by Bishop Peter Price- (Peter was Bishop of Bath and Wells and is the brother of former CMJ staff member and trustee Rev Tim Price). Some of you may be surprised (and perhaps amused) to know that this was primarily a silent retreat- somewhat of a challenge for me and perhaps others within CMJ!
Inserted between time away I completed an Olive Press Research Paper (hopefully to be published in March 2022), the paper is titled- How Does God Make Himself Known and His Ways Known? Some Biblical reflections on the Incarnation alongside an engagement with the teaching of Maimonides and aspects of Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism. I also set out a reading/study programme and have subsequently written the following book reviews (these will hopefully appear in my future Roman 15:8 blogs)
- Jerusalem Bound- How to be a pilgrim in the Holy Land- Rodney Aist (Cascade,2020)
- The Jews of Arab Lands- A History and Source book-Norman Stillman (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979)
- God’s Playground- A History of Poland – volume 2, 1795 to the present- Norman Davies (Oxford University Press, 2005)
- Radical Christian Writings-A Reader – Edited by Andrew Bradstock and Christopher Rowland (Blackwell, 2002)
- A Shaking Reality- Daily Reflections for Advent – Peter Price (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2018)
Once again during this sabbatical it was great to spend extra quality time with my wife Mandy and family, including our first grandchild- Ava-Rose.
Monthly Memory Verse
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn.” (Isaiah 51:1- NIV)