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God's not boring

Hi, welcome to the website for Joe Story and the Unboring Book Company.

All the material on this site, which ranges from serious theology to the slightly humorous, aims to reflect a view of life and Christianity which acknowledges Jesus as Lord and Christ. We will try to be practical, helpful and easy to understand. Because we are still writing several more books and need the time to do that, we will not be taking comments and replying to them at this stage. However, if you do want to contact us please use the form provided. All material on this site that has been written by Joe Story, can be copied or quoted for any honourable, not for profit purpose with an appropriate acknowledgement. All books can be read free on line, purchased from your local (UK) Christian bookshop, or ordered online from this site. Contact us for bulk or overseas enquiries.

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Pentecost – the fulfilment of the New Covenant

I love pickled walnuts, but they are very expensive so I only have them as a special treat. However, I have discovered that if I buy a jar of the cheapest sweet silverskin onions, drain them and transfer them into the vinegar that is left from the walnuts, after a few weeks I have some onions that have imbibed the rich taste of walnuts. If I had lived at the time of Jesus, my friends would have described my activity as baptising the onions in walnut liquor.

In classical Greek, the most common use of baptise (in its various forms) was to indicate the coming together of two things where one transfers some of its attributes to the other. So a piece of cloth soaked in dye or a small dirty boy scrubbed in soapy water could both be described as being baptised. Whilst the action involved may often, even usually, have been to plunge the one into the other, the emphasis was always on the result of the act, not the mode of the act itself. The proof that baptism had happened was in the changed colour of the cloth or the cleanliness of the child.

Whilst the term and concept of baptism was used in Jewish and Christian religious language – both the flood and the crossing of the Red Sea were called baptisms – the word was primarily one that was used in everyday life, and virtually always with the emphasis on the result of baptism rather than the act. When Jesus told the disciples that they were to be baptised in Holy Spirit, whilst they would have anticipated that something would happen, the focus of their thinking would have been on what sort of change would occur through that happening. Just as a piece of cloth immersed in red dye would become red, people immersed in Holy Spirit would become holy and spiritual.

Just as our understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus is shaped by the fact that it occurred on the feast of Passover, which recalled the sacrifice of the lamb in Egypt and the deliverance that God accomplished through it, so too our understanding of the coming of the Holy Spirit needs to be shaped by the fact that he came on the feast of Pentecost. The Greek of Acts 2 v 1 can and should be read as ‘Now when the day of Pentecost was being fulfilled’. All the Jewish feasts embodied some agricultural significance, but they also had religious significance as well. Pentecost was the occasion when the Jews remembered and celebrated the commencement of the Old Covenant through the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, when God came down in fire and gave his law to his people on tablets of stone. The prophets had foretold that there would be a New Covenant, when God would impart his Spirit and write his law on the hearts of men and women. That New Covenant promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

Much is often made of the power that accompanied the coming of the Spirit, and of course there was power, but it is important to remember that Peter and many of the others had already been raising the dead and casting out demons beforehand when they had previously been sent out by Jesus. The biggest difference by far was that the disciples now had revelation imparted inwardly to their hearts and minds. Just as God had written his will on tablets of stone, he was now writing it on the fleshy tables of the heart.

Sometimes baptism in the Holy Spirit is relegated to some sort of added extra, but in the scriptural account of the early church, any suspicion that believers may have had an incomplete experience of the Passover and Pentecostal events was remedied as soon as possible. As we celebrate this season of Pentecost again, let us be certain that we do so on true and full biblical foundations.

A couple of my Booklets, Fresh Approaches to Understanding Baptism and Understanding God’s New Covenant in Jesus Christ, can be read online for free or ordered in hard copy from the book section of this website. They both expand on the biblical teaching of baptism in water and Spirit and the relationship to the New Covenant.

Excellent in parts

I have known for a long time that I am not normal. I neither love nor hate Marmite, I do not have a mobile phone and I am unable to get excited by any sport that involves a ball. I tend to speed read books, taking just a couple of hours to cover what others spend a couple of days on, and I find it almost impossible to concentrate on a single task, being much more at ease when I am trying to do a few things at once.

My brother was probably mildly autistic, and did not possess terribly good social skills, but he was able to identify virtually any piece of music from its first few bars and able to remember the colour and pattern of a pair of socks worn by a casual acquaintance whom we met a few days previously. My traits are quite different from those he possessed but no less off-centre in their own way.

We both shared a fairly agile mind when it came to numbers, and though I struggle to remember names, faces, clothes and what I was doing yesterday, I can remember the price of virtually any food item that I have seen in various shops and supermarkets.

I and some friends were recently discussing enneagrams, and following our conversation I decided to check myself out. It was no great surprise to discover that my highest scores were on two types that are generally considered opposites. A few years ago I went on a course aimed at helping people to discover spiritual gifts. My two highest scores were for hospitality and the prophetic, and the trainer raised an eyebrow as he commented that it is not usually possible to combine those two things.

I am now of an age and experience where I have come to terms with my oddities and am assured that God copes with them as well. I recognise that some people find it strange that I combine very high levels of ability in some areas – I am able to co-ordinate and organise a concert, cook a meal for a couple of hundred people or give a concise history of theological development in the Church over several centuries – with very low levels in other areas. I am unable to use a mobile phone, find a station on the radio or get round to filing that one piece of paper that has been on my desk for six weeks.

In learning how to cope with myself, I have found that God has given me an increasing appreciation of the vast range of differences in others. I have learnt that the God who creates every snowflake with a different pattern, actually loves diversity in the church. I have come to understand that unity and uniformity are not only different but are diametrically opposed to each other. I find myself increasingly disappointed to discover churches where the range of activities, style of service, and songs sung have been copied from either a church up the road or one a couple of thousand miles away. I find it very sad when a standard way of doing things is imposed on the basis of denominational identity, ethnicity or social background. Whilst I recognise that in a fallen world there is natural pull for like to gather with like – it is generally both safe and comfortable – in the new world the lion will lay down with the lamb, and I want to have a foretaste of the new world in this life.

I am committed therefore, to exploring the differences that people can bring into the Kingdom of God as it is expressed through the Church. Social background, ethnicity, age, abilities, preferences of style and of course the full range of gifts, natural, spiritual and supernatural. Not everything will be acceptable. Because we are fallen, some things will need to be repented of, left behind and laid aside, but many things will be far more enriching than we can possibly imagine.

I have done some preparation on my own funeral service, and the words I have chosen to accompany the photo on the service sheet are: ‘He was excellent in parts’. These could probably apply to many of us. I am persuaded that it is a far better use of our time to seek out and appreciate the excellent parts that are likely to be there somewhere, rather than the often much easier task of identifying and exposing the bad.

A con or a Kingdom

Catherine and I do not have a television, so during lockdown we (mainly me) have been watching more DVDs than usual. I managed to pick up a few second hand copies of Hustle and worked my way through the first four series. If you are not familiar with Hustle, it was a popular television programme a few years ago about a group of grifters and their elaborately staged confidence tricks.

In one episode, they managed to sell a piece of land in inner London that was supposed to be on the site of an old Roman Gold mine that still had unworked seams. In keeping with the ethos of the series, it was of course all a con. The thing about a good con is that it has to include claims that are barely believable, but just enough so to hook a greedy sucker.

Some of the stories of Jesus would have made a good basis for an episode of Hustle. He told one about a man who found some treasure in a field and sold everything he owned in order to buy the field so that the treasure would be his. He told another about a man who was a trader in pearls who came across one that was the best he had ever seen. He too went and sold everything in order to buy that one pearl.

In both cases, Jesus compared the incidents to someone discovering the Kingdom of Heaven. The points he made, and he made them very clearly, both in these stories and in the rest of his teaching, was that firstly, the Kingdom of Heaven is very precious indeed, and secondly, that it would cost a man or woman everything they had in order to get it. Now the strange thing is, that most of us respond to Jesus as if he is trying to pull a fast one on us. We consider the risk is just too high to lay everything that we have and are on the line, in exchange for something that seems barely real.

True, virtually every Christian in virtually every church is prepared to give lip service to the importance and value of the Kingdom. Day after day, a substantial proportion of the earth’s population appear to faithfully pray that God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. However, it is hard to seriously believe that many of the prayers stretch beyond the sort of wishful thinking that accompanies the purchase of a couple of lottery tickets – wouldn’t it be great if God’s Kingdom did actually manifest in our lives, but we don’t really expect that it will.

The problem is, as the stories of Jesus illustrate, we have to give everything first, before we can receive the Kingdom, and then we have to move into the realm of Spirit led faith in order to see it work out in our lives. Perhaps it would be good to investigate Jesus’ claims as if they might be a con. If we decide they are, then we can safely forget about the Kingdom of God and just treat it on the same level as we do Cinderella or Peter Pan. However, if, after thorough investigation, we decide that Jesus was actually telling the truth and the Kingdom really is worth everything, then what could be more sensible than paying the price of a full surrender of all we have and are in exchange for it?

Obedience – A sketch based on one of the parables of Jesus

(This sketch may be performed without obtaining further permission from us provided there is a verbal or written note that it is copyright Joe Story, The Unboring Book Company.)

Props:
One large table; four chairs; one post box; some large books; pen and writing paper; imaginary door; imaginary tree.

Persons
Jim, Fred, Sue, Mary (all brothers and sisters) and a Messenger. It is quite OK to swap male and female parts around to suit available cast.

Note: All stage instructions are in brackets.

Scene 1

(Centre stage, four brothers and sisters sitting round a table. MESSENGER enters stage right and hands a letter to JIM who opens it.)

JIM: It’s from Dad.

FRED: What does it say?

JIM: Not a lot. All it says is “Will you please dig over my field? See you in a fortnight. Love from Dad.”

SUE: Of course we’ll do that. Better send him a note telling him that’s OK.

MARY: Speak for yourself. I don’t want to do it!……..(Rises to leave through door stage left)

See you!……..(Goes through door, sits down under tree and starts reading a book)

JIM: Well we’ll do it……..(Starts writing a letter) “Dear Dad, Sue, Fred and I will dig your field but Mary says she won’t.”………(Rises from table and starts going to post box stage right)…..I’ll just put this in the post…..(Puts letter in the box and sits down again)……That’s that. Let’s see what Dad says again.

FRED: We want to get it right……(Reading letter)……“Will you please dig over my field. See you in a fortnight. Love from Dad.”…….(Rubbing chin thoughtfully)……I suppose it is from Dad. Do you think we ought to check? After all we don’t want to be silly do we?

JIM: I’ll drop a quick line to make sure…..(Starts writing)…..“Dear Dad, about your letter asking us to dig your field. Did you write it? Love from Jim.”…..(Jim rises, goes to the post box, posts letter and returns).

FRED: While we are waiting, perhaps we ought to check up exactly what Dad wants us to do.

SUE: Yes, I was wondering whether I understand the word ‘dig’. We must make sure that we get it right.

JIM: You look that up. I’ll check ‘field’ and perhaps Fred had better look up the meaning of ‘my’

……(They all get out large books, pens and paper and begin studying.)

Scene 2

(While Fred, Sue and Jim are doing this, Mary puts down her book, stands up thoughtfully and as if coming to a decision says…)

MARY: Bah! I can’t concentrate on my book. I know I ought to be digging dad’s field even though I don’t want to……(pauses)…..Ah well let’s get on with it…….(takes up spade and leaves stage left).

Scene 3

(Fred, Sue and Jim look up from their books.)

SUE: Hey this is really interesting. It say that to dig can mean –To excavate –To turn over with a spade –To poke or thrust –To scoop out –To burrow and to mine –To…….(Jim interrupts)

JIM: Yes, and it says here that ‘field’ is sometimes used for ‘an area where a battle takes place’ or ‘open pasture used for sports activity’

FRED: All it says for ‘my’ is ‘of or belonging to’. What does that mean?

JIM: As I was saying, do you think that Dad means something about thrusting with swords on the field of battle?

SUE: Well it certainly says dig ‘over’ my field. ‘Over’ means above so it can’t mean putting anything into the soil can it?

FRED: I think you are right. One thing I’m certain of, he can’t mean us to get our hands dirty or to do any hard work. I mean, that’s so, so demanding. Surely, Dad wants us to be happy and, well, careful. I mean, if we used a fork or spade on the earth we could injure ourselves and get tetanus. I mean, well, we must be responsible mustn’t we.

SUE: Absolutely! No one today would ever do anything like that. People would think we were being foolish. Fancy risking our lives digging in… (With disgust)…dirt!

JIM: I’ll just drop a quick note to Dad to ask him to explain more clearly……(Jim quickly writes, takes letter to post box and returns)….. I’ve just been thinking. Do you think that there is any significance in the fact that Dad says ‘see you in a fortnight’? I reckon it could mean that we are to wait until he comes home.

FRED: It would certainly make more sense

SUE: He could tell us what he wants us to do then.

JIM: Maybe he means that he will do it and that we are just to prepare ourselves to help him

FRED: Or maybe just watch him…….(Jim jumps to his feet and shouts.)

JIM: That’s it. Don’t you see? In his letter he says ‘will you please dig my field’…’will you’. He doesn’t want us to actually do it……(Fred interrupts)

FRED: Of course not.

JIM: No. he just wants us to be willing to do it……(All three lean back on chairs with a look of satisfaction. They pause for a few seconds. Then Jim leans forward)

JIM: Of course, we must be honest and examine our motives

FRED: No one today could possibly want to do what Dad is asking.

SUE: But we are willing to be made willing

JIM & FRED: Oh yes! We are willing to be made willing

JIM: I’ll just write another letter to Dad……(He writes as he speaks)…..“Dear Dad, as we wrote earlier, Fred Sue and I will obey your letter though Mary has said she won’t….(He smirks at the others)…… but we realise that the most important thing is for our motives to be right. Please therefore make us willing to be willing to help you do whatever it is you are going to do when you come home. Your obedient son, Jim.”……..(He gets up, post the letter and returns to the table)

SUE: I’m really glad we got that sorted out.

JIM: Yes, I’ve been really blessed studying Dad’s letter

FRED: I know that’s been good, but I think that we have missed the most important bit. Look! It says “Love from Dad”. That’s the important thing. Dad loves us.

SUE & JIM: You’re right. That’s absolutely super!…….(All three lean back on their chairs looking happy and satisfied)

JIM: I think that this is one of the best letters Dad has ever written us………(enter Mary from stage left with the spade over her shoulder)

MARY: Hi there. You look happy and contented. What gives?

JIM: We’ve been really blessed by studying Dad’s letter. What have you been doing?

MARY …….(sitting down to relax)….. I’ve just been digging dad’s field.

THE END

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