Last week we wrote about the text, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1). This paean of praise from David’s lips was underlined by Paul’s words, “what may be known about God is plain … for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and his divinity – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom 1:19-20). Paul makes a very sharp point here that God himself considers the natural revelation sufficient for all people to grasp his existence as Creator, and not to do so is reprehensible. We endeavoured to show what his creation reveals about God and to encourage meditation on it.

Thinkers in the modern world, however, have enthroned scientific rationalism and have not been slow to challenge such a perspective. The creation, they point out, has a very dark side to it and that dark side speaks not of a God of love or beauty, but speak of violence and pain, uncertainty and vulnerability. The very universe speaks of fire and destruction, collisions and explosions. The very earth on which we live, and particularly its living creatures, presents a picture of predatory violence as an inherent and marked feature. This perspective was “immortalised” in Tennyson’s much quoted poetic words, “Man, who trusted God was love indeed …. though Nature, red in tooth and claw …shrieked against his creed”. Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest was the scientific basis for such poetic agnosticism. He produced the most lurid and accurate instances of creatures distressingly feeding off each other, both on land and sea. The conclusion seemed obvious – there was no moral law at the heart of creation, only violence and a vicious struggle to exist.

This attitude and perspective is still very much with us and has been highlighted in particular by a number of recent television nature programmes. These seem to have a double focus; either the hunter/killer instincts of animals which, with the use of incredible filming techniques, are portrayed in a manner which leaves the “red in tooth and claw” aspect very “red” indeed! Or, if not violence, then there is an alternative and lurid focus on the reproductive activities of the creature world (also often violent). Violence and sex are, of course, deemed to be “attractive” to audiences and good for ratings, but the underlying philosophy remains a suggestive, “How can there be a God?”.

These observations of scientific rationalism are of course based on fact; nature is indeed “red in tooth and claw”. And we could add to the violence of living creatures the natural world of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, famines etc. Nature kills – randomly it seems. So we need to say something about this negative observation on the created world, and the first thing to be said is that whilst it is a true picture it is only half the picture. The other half is just as important and cannot be brushed out, namely that there is much in natural creation that speaks volubly of love and care. A starving male bear may eat its offspring, but the elephant family will show incredible patience, care and solidarity with an ailing baby elephant. One observer noticed a male bird faithfully feed its chicks for many days after the mother had been taken by a bird of prey. Cubs may fight but will also enjoy each other’s company with much affection etc. The idea of nature being “red in tooth” and claw applies as much of course to human beings as it does to the animal world. Some parents will abuse and throw out their children; but then other people will foster them at great personal discomfort and sacrifice and love them and give them a new start in life. The soldier who has been pouring murderous fire at his opponents by day will none the less crawl out to “no man’s land” by night at great personal risk to rescue a stranded wounded companion. The world is awash with selfish aggression and self-seeking covetousness, but it still remains full of acts of love and kindness between people. So human beings are indeed capable of great cruelty but they still retain something of the image of God in acts of love. It is not all death and violence.

What is properly required, therefore, is a perspective which reconciles both aspects of creation’s witness, the dark side and the bright side. It is important to recognise that whilst encouraging a thorough grasp of the glory of creation, Biblical Christianity has never denied the dark side. On the contrary it is precisely this dark strand of creation that it has been most concerned with. The very first chapters of the Bible engage with the coming of this dark strand into the world and the rest of the Bible is engaged with dealing with that problem. The overall theme of the Bible message is that God’s purpose with this world is to restore the creation to the full beauty which it had in its original state and to remove the dark side, and it indicates the way in which it will be done. The scientific rationalist’s view is that the “chaos” of creation is intrinsic to the creation and essentially part of it. The Christian view is that the dark side is an imposition on it and an imposition which will ultimately be removed.

The starting point of the biblical message is humanity itself, the crowning glory of the creation, created in God’s image and intended to express the beauty and righteousness of God himself, with the creation providing all its needs. It states unambiguously that it was humanity’s disobedience and continued rejection of God that opened the door for darkness (violence and covetousness etc.) to enter into his being. More than that, it opened the door for darkness to invade the rest of creation. The earth became “cursed”. It would no longer be fully friendly and it would know death.  Thus Man “fell” but the earth fell with Him – that is, it became pervaded with natural violence and uncertainty, though its beauty and provision was nevertheless not entirely eliminated. Put in other biblical terms, man’s disobedience to God and his desire for forbidden things opened the world up to the malign influence of dark, satanic, destructive forces. Thus the problem with the natural world is not that it is a blind, random, evolutionary development groping for some purpose, but essentially a spiritual problem centred in the relationship of humanity and God the Creator.

Any plan for the restoration of the creation must start, therefore, at the point where it first fell, namely with humanity itself. As it unfolds God’s purpose for creation, the bible message, therefore, centres on the restoration of man. Humanity needs to come back to God, find forgiveness and a way in which it can serve God as was first intended, with love, righteousness and truth. It is precisely this that is provided for us uniquely in Jesus. He died for the forgiveness of humanity’s rebellion and to provide a way back for repentant humanity to walk with the blessing of God as was first intended. Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and is now gathering a great multitude of redeemed people. Jesus will return to this world and at that point the redeemed “sons of God” will be presented to Him and receive a new body. At the same time the material creation will be restored even though it be by fire.

This ultimate denouement is clearly and beautifully portrayed by Paul in Romans 8:19-21 where he says ”the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed”, and “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God”. But this concept of a spiritual interaction between nature and man’s disobedience is something that constantly weaves its way through the Old Testament, and is very instructive even for our present living. The well-known text, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, turn from their wicked ways and pray, then I will hear from Heaven and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14) is an example of precisely the same thinking: where people turn to God in repentance, it is “the land” that is “healed”. There are many similar texts, but most strikingly the great Mosaic covenant promises that God made to Israel state quite categorically that obedience to his ways will bring the nation fruitfulness in its land and its cattle etc. whereas disobedience will bring natural troubles and shortages of all kinds. The later prophets brought home this principle and were all very quick to point out the connection between Israel’s disobedience to God and famine and such like affliction that Israel experienced. It is not, therefore, a minor concept biblically: it is a fundamental proposition. What happens in nature is profoundly connected with the behaviour of humanity.

It is well worth noting that in recent intercessory prayer activity this principle has been noticed in remarkable ways. Where people in fullness of faith have humbly sought God for their “land” (and their businesses and other possessions) a new prospering has occurred. Similarly where repentance for past sin has been offered, places which have known only barrenness on account of the evil that has taken place there have been released into a new prosperity. The children of God, though not totally or fully redeemed as yet, are still able even today by the measure of grace which is on them to bring release to the natural creation.

Whilst the scientific rationalist might well be inclined to mock such biblical concepts (as the Athenians mocked a resurrection), it might be much wiser to ponder on God who is the creator and has laid some fundamental principles for his creation. The most fundamental of these is that faith and obedience toward God bring blessing to humanity and to the creation that sustains it; rejection of God, on the other hand, brings increasing alienation between humanity and its environment, a factor that is hugely relevant in our modern era in which humanity seems have fallen foul of its environment in a frightening manner.

Bob Dunnett


“The heavens declare the glory of God” Ps 19:1

 The days we live in are getting increasingly turbulent and threatening. Political turmoil faces us at home, and strong arm rulers are increasing across the world. The problems facing us are almost entirely problems of man’s own creating. Human beings have always been their own worst enemy; they are (despite their extraordinary creativity) destructive and even self-destructive creatures. The root problem is that unfortunately they reject their Creator for their own wisdom and rationality, and worship instead a multitude of idols of their own creation, including the idol of their own humanity. People have lost touch with the only Source that can bring stability. In the midst of the growing threats most of us tend to gulp up as much pleasure and self-indulgence as possible. How do we face all this? We need to go back to Source, back to the Creator, and drink deep, especially if you are fearful, or thoroughly weary. The need is to get back to God.

There is one simple and wonderful way in which we are encouraged to do that: Go back, take a long reflective look at the creation and see what it tells you about the Creator. Let your holiday, for example, be rather more fulfilling than just a pleasure cruise (literal or metaphorical)!! If you are literally on a cruise, look at the stars, the sunset, the sunrise, the sun, the mighty ocean. And then reflect on these words of David, the psalmist:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”                                           Psalm 19:1-4

These are much more than a poetic reflection by a gifted Shepherd Boy/King; they were inspired by the Spirit of God resting on David and were a direct reminder from God Himself to his human creation as to how his true nature could be perceived in his creation. The Creation speaks; it speaks every day; it speaks every night; it speaks to people wherever they are in his world; it is not verbal but it is in a “language” which all can understand. And it speaks of the presence, existence and glory of God. What does it say?

The first thing it speaks of is beauty. The recognition, realisation and appreciation of the beautiful is one of the great gifts that God has endowed us with. God is “beautiful” in all his ways. We are made in his image, and we can relate to his beauty. The sunset, the sunrise will draw many watchers who are simply entranced by the depth and purity of the extraordinary range of ever-changing colours that the scene presents to them. It is not even a “still” picture; one scene gives way to another and none are inferior. When the sun has “gone” the moon continues to reflect its brilliance and illuminate the sky. It hangs effortless in space and glides gently and imperceptibly across its dark background. On a clear night (and in a spot where earthly light pollution is not to be found) it will have a great consort of stars of gleaming brilliance. The modern understanding of these heavenly bodies has in no way diminished their beauty, though an over-concern for scientific analysis might momentarily blind us to that beauty. Even the mathematics of the heavenly bodies has its own beauty (so I understand) even if doubtless at times presents massive challenges. As with the heavenly bodies, so with one of them in particular, the earth on which we live, we are surrounded by extraordinary natural beauty. So the sea is something of continual beauty, though frightening when it rages! The landscape, the trees, vegetation, and the flowers in particular all speak of great beauty. The failure of humanity is to concentrate on the beauty, however, rather than its source. It is not so much the creation that is beautiful as the God who has inspired and made it. Rather than satisfy, beauty on its own sets up a deep longing which is not necessarily satisfied. Only the recognition and acknowledgement of God, the source of beauty, brings ultimate satisfaction.

The second thing creation speaks of is power. The sea is the nearest thing to perpetual motion, unless it is the heavenly bodies themselves bursting with energy. There is enormous power in the universe(s)! God is powerful beyond imagination. His knowledge is equally beyond comprehension.

The third thing it speaks of is stability. Yes, I am aware of the thunderous changes in the universe, of dying and exploding stars, of meteorites and indeed our planetary earthquakes, but the mountains give a very different perspective, as do the trees; they give tranquillity and a sense of permanence.

Finally the creation speaks of peace and joy. Far away from the madding crowd of the noisy, raucous and bustling city we can find green fields, avenues of trees, gardens of flowers where a peace can flow into us. By the sea we can see a seagull riding the strong sea winds with great beauty and huge enjoyment, a dog chasing around a beach with an equal enjoyment, not to mention the great delight of children (and adults) on the sand or among rock pools.

All these things, beauty, power, peace, joy, stability point us to the Creator God. He is the source of each one of them. When humanity turns its back on that Creator God, it experiences less and less of those characteristics in its daily living. When humanity acknowledges God and worships this Creator it opens itself to its Creator it experiences his power, his joy, his peace and his beauty, especially his beauty of holiness.

Bob Dunnett

P.S. I can already hear people whispering what about “nature red in tooth and claw“, and I’ll return to that next week!


“This year it is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood. In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies”.

“As a nation, we continue to reflect and pray”.

(From the Queen’s Birthday message this week.)

The Queen took the unusual step of sending out a message on her birthday celebration day this week. It was very short but much to the point. She noted that traditionally it was a day to celebrate but in fact her message voiced her own deep distress at the Manchester attack and the Grenfell fire. She was clearly not in a mood to celebrate – she had the nation at heart, as she always has. Her genuine concern for the people afflicted was very evident and so also was her appreciation of those who voluntarily sought to help them. She noted “a very sombre national mood” and obviously very much felt it herself. Of course she could make no references to the confusions that surround her government at this time and to the general political climate, though there can be little doubt that she will have felt equally deeply saddened about those things; they also add to the “sombre mood” she detects.

There was concern, there was compassion, but there was a complete absence of “rage”. You wouldn’t expect the queen to be in a rage, would you? That would be outrageous! You’d want constructive concern. Anger might be a powerful motivator in one sense, but you’d want it fully under control. If it were not under control it would almost certainly be destructive. The control of anger or “rage” is essential in those who aspire to rule. (In contrast, the media seem to like the word “rage” because it sounds so much more emotive than “anger”; it grips the reader and sells the paper!) No, those who rule must not rage, and those who rage must not rule.

In contrast to this we read of activists, masquerading under a specious banner of justice, attacking the Kensington Town Hall after the Grenfell tragedy and leaving an innocent man injured and badly shaken after physical assault. The man turned out not to be the “Tory councillor” he was thought to be, but a man volunteering to help the victims of the fire. Such activity is a grave danger to our society; politics by the mob, the violent mob. It was not even rage caused by the human tragedy of the burnt-out tower block. It was quite simply “rage” with political motivation, cynically using a human tragedy to make a political point and gain political advantage. Contrary to what the perpetrators think, it was utterly unacceptable to the free society which has been our birth right. Our birth right is the rule of Law, not the rule of the fist.

Unhappily there is real danger that such organised bullying violence will seek to impose itself more on the nation. Today, Wednesday 21st June, the Queen is due to open Parliament and give her customary speech. However, there has been a nation-wide call (so easy on social media!) for left wing militants to come to London in their thousands, to descend on Parliament and disrupt the Queen’s speech and embarrass and even remove Theresa May. There are those who will do their best to introduce violence to the occasion, a fact that is perfectly well known to the organisers of the event. But the motto of the organisers is “change by whatever means it takes”. This day has been called a “Day of Rage”, a “March of Anger”; it is precisely what the country does not need whatever political party we may belong to. It is particularly not needed at this already tense political moment in our history. The vast majority in the nation will not want mayhem on London streets, with the police yet again in the firing line. We have too much of it already from terrorists. It’s very important that all political leaders go out of their way to roundly condemn such behaviour, though sadly some politicians seem ready to turn a blind eye or even condone it.

History gives a clear verdict on the dangers of such behaviour. In fact “strong-arm” repressive politics is actually very much a contemporary happening in many nations, and they present a very dark scenario. But, in my mind, the memory of the appallingly destructive effect on Germany’s ailing democracy caused by the “private armies” of demagogues in the early 193os remains very much alive. We all know what the outcome of that was. Brute force, coercion, violence, rousing people’s anger are very dangerous tools to play with. They do not build – they only destroy.

The Queen said we were “reflecting and praying” on the grief we are witnessing in the nation (and since her message was given, Moslem worshippers have been mowed down by a van – more grief!) We certainly need to reflect – on many things. One glaring fact emerging from the Grenfell fire certainly calls for reflection; the juxtaposition in Kensington of low cost, poorly maintained public accommodation alongside luxury flats costing millions many of which are unoccupied and simply representing unused assets of rich investors. It highlights the vast gulf between poor and rich in a modern, greedy, riches-seeking society. Interestingly, and very appropriately, a lady preacher in one of the churches adjacent to the tower reflecting on the scene preached about the similarity of Kensington to the greed of the rich in the society of Amos’ day which drew down God’s strong judgement. We also need to reflect on a society which cuts corners at other people’s risk simply for profit, on a society which is losing integrity to increasing corruption. On the other hand we need to reflect on the readiness of so many ordinary people to rally so quickly to the needs of those who have been afflicted; this is good “capital” in the nation and we should give thanks for it. Those who would rage do a gross disservice to such people whose heart is to help.

It certainly is a critically important time to pray. Our society is being “given over” by God to its own lusts and desires, and the increasing and ugly confusion we are witnessing is a marker of that fact. We can only pray for his mercy to be revealed in the midst of his judgements, and for restraint and righteousness to prevail.

Bob Dunnett


This blog is not intended to make any “political” judgements over the extraordinary event of the election last week. Such judgements are all over the papers and still continuing!  I have found some of them to be very helpful, but the fact is that I have very little of the political “background” that would make any comments of mine of any great value.  What I do know, however, is that this election will go down in history as something that was extraordinary, perhaps even unique!  The consequences have yet to been seen and assessed, but the possibilities are legion, and frightening! This was a game changer election!

My eye has been less on the political parties than on stability in our national political institutions (for reasons that I will return to), and I must confess that after the dramatic defeat of David Cameron’s referendum gamble and his consequent resignation I was very thankful that the Tories managed to sort themselves out and provide someone in the person of Theresa May who prevented a wholesale slide into what could easily have been political mayhem. Unpopular with many (what politician isn’t?) she nevertheless sought to bring a strong, determined lead to a nation which had made a momentous, bitter and polarising decision over Europe. The ship of state seemed to regain its stability, even if many frantically thought it was sailing in the wrong direction, and even if the future was fraught with difficulties. However, I felt a great sense of relief and thankfulness for such stability (it was in sharp contrast to what was currently happening in the U.S. political world!). That stability has now been lost; we find ourselves again in a position where political chaos, confusion and in-fighting threaten.  This “strong” leader made the wrong decisions in the wrong way at the worst time (though, of course, a good many are rejoicing that she made those mistakes, chaos or no chaos!!)  Put not your trust in princes”!

Why do I keep my eye primarily on the issue of political stability?  The fact is that historically speaking political confusion and instability of the kind we are facing is a very serious and lamentable position for any nation. It is also dangerous.  It can paralyse government activity at critical moments and it can open a door for extremism and autocrats or demagogues when things get really out of hand. Instability is particularly dangerous when a nation faces an issue of the magnitude and complexity of Brexit for which clarity of intent and unified purpose is essential.  It is even more dangerous when opinion still remains so bitterly divided over the issue of Brexit.

Interestingly we are not alone in this instability. The United States has been living with it for some time now.  The Democratic Obama Presidency has been non-functional with the two Houses of the Senate and Congress, both Republican, making any legislation either impossible or extremely difficult.  With Donald Trump as President, his erratic and impulsive behaviour has probably made the situation even worse.  Confusion reigns, despite his façade of strong action. Paralysis of government in the world’s most powerful nation is not good. One could list other nations in the world where confusion is to be found, and not a few where conditions are chaotic.

We could, however, view all this instability in a much larger context. For instance we could ask the question; “Where is God in all this?” That, of course, seems to be a rather ludicrous, not to say irrelevant question to pose. God and politics don’t mix! At least they shouldn’t do!  God is God, and politics is politics.  God, if he is there, doesn’t do politics; that’s for us.  That is perhaps the unthinking de fault position even of a great many Christians.  But that’s not quite in line with the Scriptures. They tell us, “The Lord watches the nations”: He weighs the nations, he judges the nations, he it is who raises up rulers and puts down princes.  He is the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and destroyed Pharaoh, he is the God who raised up the Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs and let them take Israel back into exile.  He is the God who raised up Cyrus and redeemed Israel once again.  He is in the flow of history, and he is in the demise of nations and he is in their prosperity.  He blesses and he punishes.  Strong and righteous government is his blessing; weak and evil government, along with confusion and instability is his punishing.

Thinking over these present confusions I have been going back in my mind to a position I arrived at whilst studying Amos. Amos prophesied the demise of Israel some twenty to twenty five years before it actually happened.  When he first prophesied its destruction, God was just stirring up a dormant Assyria through a very active and ambitious ruler.  It took all those twenty or so years for that ruler to be in a position where he could terrify and conquer the nations of the Middle East, Israel included.  In those intervening years Israel, oblivious to the prophet’s warnings, pursued its own self-seeking way, ignoring God and his calls for righteous behaviour – it was consumed with pleasure seeking and increasing corruption and greed.  As far as the political scene was concerned one thing about those intervening years was very plain to see: they were years of political instability, incompetence and corruption.  Amos began his prophetic work under a very strong and able king, Jeroboam, but when he died the rulers who followed were of much inferior capacity.  The first year saw two of them murdered in the power struggle that ensued.  Government changed hands rapidly.  It remained unstable and incompetent, and its policies toward the growing threat of Assyria were disastrous. The fact of the matter was, however, that judgement had already started and was evident in Israel’s increasing confusion and incompetence at the political level. God was very much in the unstable and unsavoury happenings and political processes of those years. Those very happenings were part of the very warning God was seeking to bring to a godless nation.

I fear lest the political confusions and chaos with which we have to face up to in the tortuous negotiations in front of us should in fact be part of the displeasure that God has indicated toward our nation. It is extremely perilous future we face: far beyond human competence!  As far as Brexit is concerned it could turn out to be either a blessing or a catastrophe. That outcome will not depend upon our politicians. We have to reckon with the God of the nations.  He deals with nations according to their righteousness and their acknowledgement of Him. Our clever, opinionated analyses of what will happen and our carefully laid plans will not in the end decide the issue. The favour of God alone is sufficient, and that means faith in Him and righteousness of living.

“Put not your trust in princes – put your trust in God.”

Bob Dunnett


“John baptised with water but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit” (Jesus to his disciples) Acts 1:5

“Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear”. (Peter preaching at Pentecost) Acts 2:33

The baptism with the Holy Spirit was of great importance to Jesus. It was something he wanted to give, and he was able to give because of his death on the cross. It was part of the glory of his ascension. It was something that was of primary importance for the dynamic spread and development of the church. It became of great importance to his disciples. It is not therefore a matter that we should allow to lapse on account of theological disagreements. It is much too important for that. Neither is it something merely of historical interest. It is something that needs to be grasped, received, experienced and sustained in our spiritual walk today.

As an expression, “baptism with the Holy Spirit” first appears with John the Baptist. John, the forerunner of Jesus had three essential “programmatic” things to say about Jesus; first he was the “greater one who was coming (The Lord)”; second he was the “Lamb of God”; third he was the one who would “baptise with the Holy Spirit”. These three things formulate the “gospel”. All three are crucial in our understanding of Jesus and none is to be neglected. All are to be part of our spiritual life and experience. All four gospels make direct reference to Jesus as the one who “baptises in the Holy Spirit”. The question we need to ask is how are we to understand this baptism?

We look first at Jesus. Jesus himself received the Holy Spirit after he had been baptised by John in the Jordan. John the Baptist gives testimony that God told him that he would recognise the “one who would baptise in the Holy Spirit” by the fact that he, John, would see the Holy Spirit come down upon that person. And John saw the Holy Spirit come down as a dove and settle on Jesus. This presents a problem, for Jesus already had the Holy Spirit. Indeed he was literally born of the Spirit in Mary’s womb, and his discussion with the Jerusalem elders when he was in early youth indicated a person in whom the “Spirit of wisdom” truly dwelt. By the time he came to his baptism he had an extraordinary prophetic grasp of the Scriptures through the Holy Spirit and knew precisely the nature of what was to come in his life. What was happening, then, at the Jordan? Why the coming of the Spirit?

First we need to notice that it was immediately after the coming of the Spirit at the Jordan that Jesus began his ministry. The ministry started with forty days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness and conflict with Satan. Luke tells us Jesus went into the wilderness “full of the Spirit”. and likewise came out of it “in the power of the Spirit”. The period in the wilderness was a crucial preparation time for the nature of the ministry he was to pursue, a fundamental beginning of the ministry. Clearly the timing of the coming of the Spirit at the Jordan was related to the onset of his ministry. Luke throws more light on this connection when he reports in some detail a sermon of Jesus at Nazareth in which Jesus took the book of Isaiah and read the words from chapter 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to preach… to proclaim freedom ….to release the oppressed etc.” Jesus affirmed that this had now happened to him. (Luke 4:18).  Luke wants us to recognise that this was Jesus’ own understanding of the coming of the Spirit at the Jordan – it was an anointing for his ministry. This is evident from the fact that chronologically Luke puts this episode at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry

If the events of Pentecost tell us anything it tells us likewise that the coming of the Spirit on that day was fundamentally related to the forthcoming ministry of his disciples as witnesses to Jesus, and that it was the essential thing that was necessary for their witnessing. Nothing could be clearer that Jesus’ own words concerning this; “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses ….” (Acts 1:8). On that day the apostles were filled with a great Spirit of praise and worship together with great boldness and freedom. This was their equipment for witnessing to the risen Jesus. They were further strengthened by the remarkable prophetic sign of the gift of tongues – prophetic because the gift of tongues was the sign that the gentiles with all their different languages were now to begin to come into the Kingdom. Peter’s great sermon on that day which led to the conversion of some three thousand people was a remarkable testimony that he had now been appointed to preach. No less remarkably the vital personal witnessing among the rest of the believers indicated they also had been anointed to proclaim the gospel.

This baptism with the Spirit remains the great need of the hour. We must never suppose that it is always part and parcel of our conversion experience. If there is any sense of the lack of this in a person’s Christian experience then there is simple solution – “ask and you will receive”. As with Jesus it may come later in time, as many have experienced. As things get increasingly difficult for Christians to witness it becomes increasingly important.

Bob Dunnett


We are coming to the end this week of what I believe is one of the most productive and promising of the many prayer initiatives that we have seen of recent years.  I am referring to the ten day prayer initiative launched by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York and covering the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost Sunday.  There are many things which commend it.

First it came from the Archbishops of the National Church acting in harmony and unity.  It was not a “token” call in any sense but an expression of their oneness of heart-longing for real renewal by the Holy Spirit in the church at large.  It was not aimed merely at the Church of England but was genuine “national” in concept in that it built bridges and was wide open to other Christian denominations and streams.  Among those other groupings there was widespread response. It gave adequate space for wide variety in the mode and manner and intensity of prayer.

Second it was a clear “spiritual” call – a call to prayer.  Refreshingly it did not centre on projects and programmes, but put its finger on the most important need in the church – a return to urgent and focussed prayer.  The church needs prayer more than plans – prayer leads to God’s plans and God’s power.

Third it was eminently practicable and possible because of its essential simplicity.  It was actually the nearest thing that we can get to a National day of Prayer at this time.  The Queen is in no position to call for such a National Day of Prayer, for such days have as their essential rationale a truly and blatant national calamity which is obvious to the vast majority in the nation.  The days after Dunkirk were the background to what I believe was the last National Day of Prayer, called by George VIth, when we all knew that invasion and conquest by the Nazis was imminent and very possible.  We have no such evident calamity.  None the less prayer for the nation and for genuine Christian spiritual renewal in the nation remains its most pressing need.  The call by the two Archbishops for such prayer, using their position, authority and power in the Church of the nation was the next best thing and highly appropriate.  We should thank God for them and for the Providence that has put them together at this time to make such a call.

Fourth it was astutely and firmly biblical, taking, as it did for its inspiration the model of the early church at prayer for the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost Sunday. In those days the early disciples gave themselves to earnest and prolonged prayer.  This again was no token prayer, but an expression of their deep desire that the promises of Jesus about the Kingdom and the Spirit would be fulfilled. We are told they “gave themselves to prayer” (“made a business of prayer”)”. There were not many of them – a bare handful – but they believed the promises of Jesus and the readiness of the Father to answer their prayers despite the fact that they were few in number. Their number was not an essential factor – their spirit was.  In effect 120 praying people brought about the coming of the Spirit and subsequent revival among the Jews.

Fifth the Archbishops’ Call gave a very clear and simple direction to the prayer.  It is so important that prayer is given a direction and that intent is spelled out. Much of prayer is simply “ask and you will receive” and we should not be ashamed or put off by such simple direct asking.  It is very biblical, and it is encouraged by Jesus himself.  Intercessory prayer is intended to achieve objectives and get results; it needs to be specific.  It is the church’s weapon. There are, of course, other aspects of prayer which are important and belong to the asking process, but we want things to happen.

The direction that the Archbishops gave was twofold, and again thoroughly biblical and simple.  We were asked to pray for the Coming of the Kingdom of God, not only in our own country but across the world.  This was the essential longing of Jesus himself and the substance of his commission to the disciples “to go into all the world and make disciples”.  The Kingdom of God, His rule, is intended to operate in the hearts of men and women and to be worked out through them in acts of peace, righteousness and justice.  Thus the Kingdom of God is extended and grown as people turn to Jesus. It is as simple as that; and that is precisely what this initiative put its finger on – that people might turn to Jesus and so the Kingdom might grow. What a wonderfully accurate pointer for prayer!  At the same time, moreover, the call in its second directive was that we should seek the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to make this happen, to empower Christian people to be the sort of witnesses that could bring other people to believe in Jesus.  It was prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit. There can be no real renewal without the presence and empowering of the Spirit Himself. It cannot be planned and it cannot be programmed.  The Spirit blows where He will, and will not be directed; but God sends Him to those who earnestly seek Him – prayer is key.  How appropriate that the ten days should end on Pentecost Sunday, therefore.  It was Pentecost that gave the power essential to the witness of the church – it gave it great boldness and it gave it great clarity and it released something of the miraculous in the life and experience of the church which greatly authenticated its witness.  It is to be much hoped that we shall see something of this happening on this Pentecost Sunday and succeeding days.

It is also profoundly to be hoped that though this prayer initiative was very sensibly made for just ten days that the impetus will go on for a great deal longer than that and leave a permanent impression. “Keep on asking” until we receive is the need. At a personal level, having moved from the “big city” to small village I have witnessed myself the beginnings of revitalisation in the groups of the 4s and 5s who make up the prayer life of the village through this initiative. It will have had a major impact elsewhere, I’m sure.

Bob Dunnett


Recent reports from funeral directors and burial authorities have noted a very sharp decline in Church and Christian funerals.  Newspapers have commented on it. They have confirmed what many of us have noted with much sadness over a number of years. Funeral “services” can now be conducted by a great variety of people and are expressive of a wide variety of “religious” or philosophical beliefs, or no particular beliefs at all, atheism included. The former customary Christian monopoly of funerals has vanished.  So hymns, scripture readings (of which there are so many comforting examples), talk of life after death and prayers have largely disappeared.  Churches are used for funeral services very much less than they have ever been.  To some this is a welcome sign of liberal progress and “inclusivity” (a great watchword of the secular world).  To others it is regrettably a clear mark of a society that has forgotten and turned its back on a Living God.  It is undeniably a mark of a huge cultural change toward an increasingly secular society.  It has happened within three or four decades after centuries of a foundational Christian culture.

This does not mean that such modern “services” are taken without sympathy or sensitivity.  On the contrary the last one I attended was a model of sensitivity, and much appreciated by the family concerned.  And of course there have been Christian services which unhappily at times have showed very little sensitivity or personal concern.  Such modern services centre on the life of the deceased, with no dimension of any future life after death.  Appreciations of the life of the dead person figure very highly and are more often than not given in a thoughtful, informed and appropriate manner, and at length.  Such appreciations are, of course, very much a part of Christian funeral services, where a person’s life is celebrated along with their faith.   Readings in the secular funeral are generally poetical in content and sentimental; strong Christian biblical affirmations of life after death are noticeably absent.  There is music, but exclusively it seems centred on the favourite songs of the person who has died which tends to make any form of music feel appropriate to the particular occasion.  There are very rarely any hymns. There is no prayer.  Most people with little or no experience about funerals will normally be guided into these kinds of services; they are convenient for planning and organising, and circumvent additional planning with the churches and further expense.

What is lost here is, of course, a massive spiritual dimension.  There is a clear absence of any recognition of the concept of a Creator God, along with an omission of any exhortation to make sure our lives are being lived in a manner acceptable to a Living God who looks for righteousness and godliness in human living.  The moral quality that is required of us as living beings before our Creator is not mentioned.  Much less is any concept of glory in an after-life brought to people’s minds; such areas are “no go” areas for the secularist who will inevitably be pleased rather than saddened by the omissions.

As with funerals, so with weddings!  Again the Christian church has lost its overall coverage.  In our generation marriage can take place anywhere (even on the wing of a flying airplane!), and any suitably legally qualified person can conduct the proceedings.  Once again there is no hymn, no scripture, no prayer, and no kind of exhortation or guidance in the contractual procedure, no kind of indication of the enormous importance of the undertaking and the relational issues and challenges involved.  Once again the convenience of the process steers a couple away from any church and any spiritual input, and so, not only has marriage itself declined in the face of civil contracts and simple “living together”, but what marriage is left is predominantly secular in nature.

Again many are pleased at such a “progressive outcome”.  But many of us see a great void when comparing the modern “service” with the Christian version.  The Christian version makes very clear the virtue of chastity before and the virtue of faithfulness during a marriage and insists on the sexual restraints that are so cripplingly absent in modern society.  It insists that such reminders are not outdated. It has no easy word of “try it and see if it works before you marry” philosophy.  But it does imply the need of very careful consideration of the mutual compatibility of any couple before the step is taken.  The great image the Christian version presents of marriage is in terms no less than that of Christ’s relationship with his bride, the church, where not only faithfulness is foundational, but where the level of mutual love and commitment required is expressed in terms of Christ giving his life for his bride.  The promise “to love and to cherish” is a profound verbalisation of that commitment. Sermons or talks are very frequently precisely down that line. Ignoring these things is a great loss; they give substance to crucial vows.

Marriage has declined for a number of reasons.  One of the more bizarre and more recent reasons appears to be the current overriding notion that a “wedding” has to be a “celebrity” style of event, an occasion which necessarily demands a very large financial outlay and years of “saving up”!  It seems to be the outcome of the “celebrity culture” which the media has spawned so widely. Weddings which the social elite put on for personal display are very far from what weddings are really intended to be.  Even if they are special they are not a good model for most people to follow!  When people begin to think a wedding can’t be a proper wedding without such an enormous splash they are tempted stop thinking “wedding” and take other options.  A simple “wedding breakfast”, however, is not to be despised; the vows and the commitment and the genuine support of close friends are the important things.

I’ve reflected on these  “straws in a secular wind” simply as examples to draw attention once again to how far we have as a society turned our back on our Christian heritage and the moral undergirding that such a heritage has provided for us.  For the secularist this is all progress, enlightenment and freedom. For those of us who still take our guidance and standards from a Scripture revelation this is anything but progress.  It is regressive.  It’s regressive because it is a retreat from God, a turning way from God.  If Scripture has anything to say to us, it is that turning away from God always has dire consequences for humanity.  For a nation not to have ever known God is a great lack, but for a nation that has known God’s blessing for many centuries and been an instrument for good in the hands of God and yet turns away from God it is utterly disastrous.  This is theme I have explored more fully in the pamphlets under the heading of The Nation that Lost its Soul, which is a study of Judah’s historical rejection of God and the great distress it brought to that nation. Take a look at it if you have time.



N.B. There is a new study on the Bible Page. This is no 4 in the series  “Godliness in an Age of Judgement”.  To read more click here.


What a lesson was driven home to us this last week end! A cyber bug crippling hospitals and businesses; operations and consultations stopped in their tracks, and cars frozen on assembly lines. The lesson was simply that our modern world is appallingly vulnerable. Cyber sabotage, for whatever reason, may not be as obviously bloodthirsty in the way that terrorist attacks on our high streets are, or that atomic conflict would be, but potentially such sabotage could be much more dangerous and widespread, especially if primary essential services, including food distribution, came under attack on a national scale.

We are a computerised society in every way and increasingly so, and the more electronically integrated we become the more vulnerable we are. And this is not only in the realm of cyber-attack; electronic personal communication between people on a vast scale has left us open to every kind of misinformation and false news, and is already being used by unscrupulous national governments to interfere with the political affairs of other nations. This is not to mention the huge battle we are now obliged to wage with corporate interests to shield vulnerable people (young and old) from every kind of insidious temptation (pornography, gambling etc.) and fraud.

You will probably have noticed that most commentators on these recent attacks have made the point that it was a catastrophe waiting to happen. We have known of the possibility, even the probability, of cyber “warfare” for at least two decades, and indeed have had frequent incidents of it happening. During the military attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan voices were raised in protest saying that concentration by the U.S. on cyber defence and such issues would have been a much better use of resources. At a much lower level we have pretty well all of us had a bug- prompted crash on our computers that perhaps should have brought the issue more in front of us and made us more aware of a growing danger. It is always easy to be wise after the event, but the failure of the NHS to protect its computers, despite all the warnings, seems monumental. “Why would anyone want to attack a hospital?” might have seemed to be a sensible reason for saving a bit of money, but that was a failure to recognise the malign forces we are dealing with in the modern world.

The fact is that there is another lesson to be learned from the week end attacks and that lesson is that there are people (Individuals, rulers! nations!) that are ready and willing to take such appalling action if they can get away with it and it suits their purpose. Holding hospitals to ransom in order to line their own pockets is the work of utterly blinded and twisted people, albeit very clever! But the fact is that the forces of evil are very present in our world, some would say increasingly so. Those forces of evil are to be found rooted in human beings, and unfortunately not least in clever, able, gifted and “successful” people, and that is a lesson in itself to be deeply pondered. It is that essential problem of the evil bent in humanity that the bible focuses on and provides answers. It is, of course, the pervading modern liberal philosophy to say that man is essentially good, and in one sense that is true – human beings were created good, “in God’s image” in fact, and there are a lot of extraordinarily altruist people around. But that all humanity is warped with a bias toward doing evil is equally true and brings a needy balance to our understanding of the need of control.

There is yet a further lesson to learn in all this. Being vulnerable and feeling vulnerable is not a totally bad thing. In fact it has some real merit, and this has to be good news since we can never get to a point in life where we are completely protected from everything. This is true despite the fact that the main aim of the vast majority is to get to a point where they are living totally risk free in every aspect of life (financially, socially, health wise etc.). Understandable!  But a life can get so comfortable, so pleasure filled, so protected, so self-centred that it switches off from the real source of its protection and peace. That is, quite simply, it switches off from God. Jesus told a simple story of a rich man who grew enormously rich, built many barns to finance and protect his future, and told himself to live the good life he could now see in front of him. He had no need of anything, least of all God. (What a picture of so much of the modern world!) The story ended with a very sharp kick; God said to him, “You fool; tonight your life is required of you”. In similar vein, God spoke through Moses to the Israelites when they were delivered by the grace of God from the torments of the Egyptians and headed toward their promised land. He gave them a warning; “When you have eaten and are satisfied … be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his laws and decrees I am giving you today. Otherwise …when you build fine houses and settle down and when your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold increase, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God. If ever you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed”. Deut. 8:10ff. That was a pretty devastating warning, but it doesn’t just belong to the historical past. Self-satisfaction, complacency and the rejection of God remains a road to destruction today. An awareness of vulnerability is spiritually always a good thing. It can turn our eyes toward God. It doesn’t mean we go looking to be vulnerable – we don’t need to do that because the truth is we are in fact very vulnerable. It simply means we recognise it, and we recognise that whatever plans we lay for ourselves in life we actually need something beyond ourselves to protect and watch over us. God intends that our very vulnerability should lead us to him and to rest in all the protection, safety that he promises to bring to our lives as we walk with him. It is not a stupid or weak person who looks to God for his strength and protection and is ready to acknowledge it; on the contrary, that person is wise and has their feet on the ground. Vulnerability becomes a pointer in the right direction.

And I remain very grateful to God for the young fellow that found a way to switch off the destructive bug, and for the fact that we do have people who can bring us some defence against such unmitigated evil. But don’t let’s take that kind of thing for granted! Even less should we take God for granted and ignore him!

Bob Dunnett


In the last decade of the twentieth century a well-known American Professor wrote an historical survey in which he made a startling comment that we had reached “the end of history”. On the face of it the statement was absurd, but what he was seemingly trying to convey was that we had reached a stage of development in the Western world and in America in particular in which the democratic process had come to fulfilment and that there was little more to develope except for America to export it across the world – in other words the historical period for the development of the state of democracy was at an end. He was, of course, writing at a time when American hubris was at a very high level. The USA was the undisputed leading power in the world, both in military terms and in economic terms; it was the intellectual and business leader; politically it was dominant, with the United Nations and the World Trade Centre both centred in New York. It was a fitting climax to the twentieth century which had historically really been the “American Century”; the USA had come from out of its isolationist background, had been involved in two World Wars and had been pre-eminent in re-settling the nations after those wars. It had prevailed in the highly dangerous “Cold War” with the USSR, and the Soviet Union had, it seems, turned a corner and was heading for a democratic renewal.  China, it is true, was making an increasingly loud noise but was still largely “off stage” internationally.

All this hubris received a chilling rebuff as the twenty-first century turned. The huge event which marked this rebuff was the 9/11 terrorist event in New York itself. This was an appalling blow to pride – a handful of terrorists hitting the epi-centre of power! The response betrayed the prevailing hubris. The strategic thinking in the White House was the neo-conservative concept of “regime” change by means of the vastly superior military power of the USA. Democracy would be exported but, if necessary, by force. It would be essentially a simple process – the ruling arbitrary powers of nations that colluded with terrorism would be deposed by a quick superior military strike, and opportunity would be given for the people to have a democratic resurgence. It was unbelievably naïve, but it went ahead in the Middle East and has left a legacy of devastating chaos out of which anything but “democracy” has emerged. Along with the economic debacle of 2008, it has also left a legacy of appalling national debt in the USA.

Rather than the growth of the democratic process that this well-known historian had predicted the present century has seen instead a development of arbitrary and ruthless autocratic power which has brought much uncertainty. When the “Arab Spring” began there was much hope that this might bring real “democratic” progress. Sadly hopes have been disappointed and have withered in the disillusionment of seeing arbitrary, military-style rule and violent rule take over, even in a country such as Egypt. As the twentieth century finished Russia had seemed to be far less malign than it had been, but nearly two decades into the present century its resurgent malignity is evident for all to see; it is flexing its muscles throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East and has reverted very much toward its totalitarian past. The Kremlin has chosen to sponsor the Syrian autocratic ruler and has established virtual control over that nation. Most recently Turkey has come under a President who is clearly bent on establishing autocratic power, using a referendum as his opportunity, and his relationship with the Kremlin is growing stronger. Europe itself has seen strong surges of discontent with government behaviour and presents real political strain. The times in which we live are times of “shaking”. They are times when we need to be alert.

Trying to “read” history and its probable outcome is a very dangerous business no matter how intellectually gifted we may be. One thing only remains certain: the biblical lesson from history is that God rules it, he raises up nations and takes them down, he blesses the righteous and judges the ungodly. The nations that boast in their own achievement are always in danger of being humiliated. And God has his own end indeed for history, and that is when he has gathered a full measure of redeemed people for his new creation and is ready to launch the next.


Bob Dunnett

There is a new Bible Page this week entitled “THE BLESSINGS OF THE RIGHTEOUS”. Go to Home Page and click Bible Page


“I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians” Hab. 1:5-6       

Does he who disciplines nations not punish?” Ps 94:10

Habakkuk, the prophet, was a godly man who had a deep hatred for violence and injustice (Hab. 1:1-3). But unhappily, he saw both violence and injustice all round him in his own nation of Judah. Distressed he was driven to cry out to God for help for his nation (intercession is the primary function of the prophet!). He wanted to see wickedness, law breaking and strife removed. He understood the fact that God hated evil and would judge it, and he was longing that the evil-doers in the nation might be judged and removed so that life might be peaceful and godly. That’s what he was praying. There are many such people in our own nation, for whom we should be profoundly grateful.

However, God did not answer in the way he wanted. His prayers were heard, of course, and God spoke to him because he was praying. But what Habakkuk heard was something that he found incredibly difficult to accept or understand. Indeed God began to speak to him by telling him to “watch the nations” and saying, “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if it were told you”. God went on to reveal to Habakkuk that He was raising up the terrifying nation of Babylon (1:5ff). Furthermore, though Habakkuk already knew what the Babylonians were like, God actually spelt out just what a terrifying power they were; “They are a feared and dreaded people ….. They all come intent on violence …. They mock kings and scoff at rulers … They laugh at all fortified cities …. Guilty people whose own strength is their God”. It is not clear whether God himself actually said Babylon was going to be a judgement on Judah, but, in a sense He did not need to. Habakkuk himself instantly recognised that the intention was that Babylon would be an instrument of judgement and purging, and, worse, that Judah would be in the line of fire; he said to God, “You, LORD, Have appointed them to execute judgement; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish”.

Even as he spoke it out, however, Habakkuk immediately protested to God at such a thought; how could it possibly be right that such a nation as Judah should be so afflicted? Even if it was full of faults it was nothing as remotely as evil and violent as Babylon. (vv12-13). If God had said he was going to use Babylon against nations other than Judah probably Habakkuk might have grimly accepted God’s word. But Judah was a different matter!

There are really three or four issues raised by this prophetic conversation. The first is fairly simple, but not always appreciated in modern thinking, even in modern Christian biblical thinking, and that is that God punishes nations. He watches them, he blesses and protects them, but he also judges and punishes them in disciplinary fashion. The latter fact is very adeptly summarised by the psalmist, “Does he who disciplines nations not punish?” (Ps 94:10). God is deeply interested in what nations, and their leaders, do, and he responds to what he sees. Habakkuk had no problem with understanding this. For many of us, however, so saturated in the modern liberal historical rationality, this sort of thinking can be quite a leap. But there can be no proper estimate of the direction of world affairs without this essential biblical perspective. The scripture that stands out so pertinently in this respect and demands our attention is “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”.

The second issue raised by Habakkuk relates to the severity of the judgement that God meats out to the nations. Habakkuk found this a problem. He was very much aware of the nature of the Babylonian “war machine”, its uncompromising cruelty towards the people it attacked, its complete annihilation of cities, its devastation of the countryside, and its ruthless deportations. If this were loosed on Judah nothing would be left. How could God do such a thing? War of this kind was probably the worst kind of judgement. Habakkuk could not believe God could do such a thing or be responsible for it. The natural horror of such a happening seemed to blind him to the fact that Judah’s sister nation, Israel, had been overwhelmed by an equally cruel Assyria in precisely this manner a few decades previously and it still lay for the most part devastated and deserted. Perhaps Habakkuk had accepted that conquest as a judgement because he had never realised the sheer horror of the event, nor did it directly affect him. But now he did realise how horrific was the idea of Babylonians coming to Judah. The sheer thought of it was more than he could handle. That is precisely the problem that we ourselves find so difficult when we come to contemplate the judgements of God. How can God allow such appalling distress and suffering? At such times we need to recollect that God is always “slow to judge” and reluctant to punish, that he speaks judgement through tears because he knows the pain it will bring; and even more that in judgement he frequently offers restoration. But the main lesson needs to be learned; God’s judgements can be very severe indeed. And from a disciplinary point of view they are necessary to remove the rot, in this case the idolatry of Judah. The history of every nation bears very adequate testimony to such severity of judgement. God is very severe on unrighteousness, and the discipline required needs to be very hard. It is probably one of the most difficult lessons we have to learn, and we wrestle to receive it. Such was the experience later of Jeremiah when he sat among the ruins of Jerusalem after the Babylonians had actually laid it and its people waste.

The third issue (and the most difficult for Habakkuk) is that an outright evil nation (Babylon) could become the scourge of a nation (Judah) that was much less evil. God gave Habakkuk some re-assurance on this matter by showing him that Babylon would in its turn be judged and that unlike Judah would never be restored. Habakkuk was able to hang on to the eventual restoration of his nation. The total destruction of nations is not frequent but neither is it unknown biblically. It has happened, but for the greater part the judgements on nations for all their severity remain disciplinary.

To say that Habakkuk “hung on to the restoration of Judah” is actually to belittle his eventual position after all his wrestling. At the very end of his prophetic writing he accepts the judgements and God’s purposes, and says that, whatever devastations and shortages may come with the judgements, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my saviour” (3:17-19). If he did in fact live to see the destruction of Jerusalem no doubt that resolution would have been severely tested, but looking at the dark future before his own generation he was determined to live in the joy and strength of his God. There can be no better or more positive determination than that, and no more well-founded and realistic determination than that. “God is our refuge and strength”. When we look round the world and the nations at the present time we can make no greater resolution than Habakkuk’s.


Bob Dunnett