Newsletter #38

Mid-Summer '03

Nothing Much. It has been about five years since I looked into the subject of the vacuum. (Background articles: The vacuum is another term for the aether, or empty space, the void--in case you're wondering. Cambridge Professor John D. Barrow, who is not a Christian as far as I know, has written a fun book on the vacuum which I highly recommend. (The Book of Nothing: Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 2000).

Elaine Stedman sent me the following comments this week after I sent her Barrow's book for her daughter Susan:

"This is to let you know I am interested in Nothing. It's true. Since I haven't seen Susan to give her Barrow's book, I decided to just look inside. After all, I've always known nothing about most things scientific, so what's to lose? And I'm finding it quite fascinating, if for no other reason than his writing style. I've been alternating between Nothing and A Dangerous Place (see below), and trying to decide which is more dangerous.

I can't quote it precisely, but Martin Luther said something like 'God created the world out of nothing. As long as you are not nothing God can't make something out of you.' Haven't run across that quote in 'the book of nothing.' And then there's C.S. Lewis: 'There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God.'"

All the way from the ancient Greeks till now concepts of the vacuum have ranged over wide extremes--as Barrow documents. Well, another major paradigm shift regarding the nothingness of empty space is now underway in physics and cosmology. If you grasp the basics of the vacuum, check out the latest work by Barry and Helen Setterfield on their web site,

Mt. Hermon Messages: Speaking of Elaine Stedman, if you have never heard her speak, Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center in California has located 50 tapes by Ray and Elaine (1979-1991) which are now available online in MP3 format,

About 30 years ago Ray Stedman presented an excellent series of sermons at PBC, Palo Alto, on the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24-25. This discourse is a broad, sweeping prophetic description covering the entire age of the church, designed to encourage and stabilize all those who follow Jesus in a turbulent and deceptive age. (HTML and MP3 files: What on Earth is Happening is the new book edition of these classic messages, messages that are noticeably more relevant and clearer today than when first presented. (Discovery House Publishers 2003). The book is must reading.

God of Sinai, God of Zion: Fathers' Day always causes me to reflect on the Fatherhood of God--a favorite subject of mine-- This year it was my great privilege to speak on Father's Day to my friends at Calvary Crossroads Church in Grants Pass Oregon, (MP3 Audio:

It is our natural human fathers who usually provide our first models of what God the Father is like, but in our present-day culture the scarcity of good fathers and male role models is very great. C.S. Lewis remarks that God is a universal father, an archetypal father. The Apostle Paul writes, "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph. 3:14, 15) As the Designer and Master Architect of the universe the Father's handiwork is everywhere around us. Marriage and family, designed by God in the beginning, are the core units of the social order. Whether people know Him or not the God behind the universe has the attributes of Father. It is entirely appropriate to stop and think what God is really like as a Person, as a personal Father to all who believe.

After writing on the basic theology of the Christian faith, C.S. Lewis moves on to discuss the practical issues of establishing a relationship with this God.

"May I once again start by putting two pictures, or two stories rather, into your minds? One is the story you have all read called Beauty and the Beast. The girl, you remember, had to marry a monster for some reason. And she did. She kissed it as if it were a man. And then, much to her relief, it really turned into a man and all went well. The other story is about someone who had to wear a mask; a mask which made him look much nicer than he really was. He had to wear it for years. And when he took it off he found his own face had grown to fit it. He was now really beautiful. What had begun as disguise had become a reality. I think both these stories may (in a fanciful way, of course) help to illustrate what I have to say in this chapter. Up till now, I have been trying to describe facts--what God is and what He has done. Now I want to talk about practice--what do we do next? What difference does all this theology make? It can start making a difference tonight. If you are interested enough to have read thus far you are probably interested enough to make a shot at saying your prayers: and, whatever else you say, you will probably say the Lord's Prayer.

Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realise what the words mean, you realise that you are not a son of God. You are not a being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centred fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.

Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And kin a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children's games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups-playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest." (Mere Christianity, p187-188).

To get a glimpse of what God the Father is like in the Bible we can see something of His frightening and awful holiness at Mount Sinai. Read the account in Exodus, starting at Chapter 19 and continuing through at least Chapter 34, to take in all that takes place when Israel was brought into a national covenant relationship with their God. The whole scene at Sinai is terrifying and frightful.

What a Mediator Does: In Exodus, Moses plays a central role as a go-between between Yahweh and the people of Israel. Exodus 32:7-14 records a remarkable intercessory dialogue between Yahweh and Moses.

And the LORD said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!'" 

And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation."

Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: "LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, 'He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"

So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Moses is clearly a "type of Christ" in this negotiation showing us in shadow form that God will become much more approachable when Messiah came into history in human form. Messiah stands squarely between sinful mankind and a holy God--a perfect sacrifice for all our sin.

Therefore, meeting God at Mount Zion, described for us in Hebrews 12, is a radically different experience for man than meeting God at Sinai.

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched (Mount Sinai) and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: "And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow." And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.") But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, "Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven." Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:18-29)

Ray Stedman says,

The author (of Hebrews)has been drawing a contrast between the old covenant of the law, which was given at Mount Sinai, and the new covenant of grace, which actually preceded the law. It was made fully manifest in the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus. Now, in verses 18-24, he repeats the contrast using striking symbols, drawing from Exodus and Deuteronomy the fearful scene at Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given, and from the prophets various elements of the heavenly Jerusalem which are associated with the new covenant.

The point of his description of Mount Sinai and the giving of the law is that the old covenant aroused unbearable fear. The sight of the burning mountain and the ever-increasing blare of a trumpet, the darkness, storm and fearful threats directed even toward dumb beasts, created such fear in the people that they begged Moses to plead with God for relief. Even Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." (Fear) is the invariable end of efforts made to obey a law which requires perfection. Fear of God's just condemnation is overwhelming. Most people do not feel this fear because they do not take the law seriously, at least not until they reach the end of their lives and its fearful judgments lie immediately before them. All who seek earnestly to obey the law find themselves confronted with such personal failure that they soon despair of escaping God's fearful condemnation. Mount Sinai stands as the symbol of this despair and fear.

"For what the law was powerless to do . . . God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering." (Rom 8:3) That is the triumphant cry of the new covenant! Our author's description of it (vv. 22-24) is one of joyful celebration. It consists of six elements.

1. You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. That is the same city which Abraham and the patriarchs sought (11:10,16). It is what Paul called "Jerusalem that is above" (Gal 4:26), mother to all believers. Our author views it as already attained by those who have believed the new covenant and come to Jesus. In spirit they were residents of the city already, though in body they were yet pilgrims and strangers on earth. That there is yet to be an earthly manifestation of the city is clear from the later reference in 13:13 to "the city which is yet to come."

2. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. The myriads of angels are referred to several times in Scripture (Deut 33:2; Dan 7:10; Lk 2:13; Rev 5:11). All of these six elements here are governed by the verb translated, "you have come" (proselelythate). The perfect tense indicates a condition already existent with continuing effect. The thought of the author here is probably that of 1:14: "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" Angels minister, with joy, to believers in many hidden ways, helping them run the race of life with patient endurance. (An example of this is found in Acts 27:23-24).

3. You have come to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. Bruce properly sees this as a reference to the whole communion of saints who have come, not merely into the presence of the church, but into its membership by faith in Christ (1964:376-377). The writing of their names in heaven recalls Jesus' words to his disciples, "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:20). They share with Jesus the title of firstborn (Col 1:18) because they are "heirs of God and coheirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17).

4. You have come to God, the judge of all men. The Greek text properly reads, "to a judge, who is God of all men." Without exception, all humans must stand before God to be judged. But the glory of the gospel is that believers may stand before him without fear, since Jesus himself assures each one that he "has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (Jn 5:24). This relief from the fear of judgment is an enormous blessing to those who know themselves to be sinners in word, thought and deed.

5. You have come to the spirits of righteous men made perfect. Commentators have differed over whether this describes "believers of preChristian days" (Bruce) or "New Testament believers" (Bengel). It likely looks back to (Hebrews) 11:40 and the Old Testament saints who would be made perfect "together with us." Since it is their spirits which have been made perfect and not their bodies, it suggests that these saints, who lived before the Cross, are waiting with us for the resurrection to come. Jesus spoke to the Jews of "other sheep [Gentiles] that are not of this sheep pen." "They too," he added, "will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (Jn 10:16). As we have already noted, when the heavenly Jerusalem comes to earth, as John sees it in Revelation 21:2, these words will be fulfilled. Its gates are named for the twelve tribes of Israel, and its foundation stones bear the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

6. You have come to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Moses was the mediator of the old covenant and under it, the Aaronic priests sprinkled blood upon the mercy seat to cover over the sins of Israel. This made the continued presence of God among them possible. As our author has ably shown, all this was but a shadow of the new covenant where Jesus would be an eternal mediator, sprinkling his own blood which does not merely cover over sins but take them entirely away. The better word of which his blood speaks is forgiveness, whole and complete. This is in contrast to the blood of Abel, which, as we saw earlier, could only call for vindication but could not offer forgiveness. Let us never forget that we are redeemed, not with perishable things such as silver or gold "but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Pet 1:19).

To summarize, the advantages of being in Christ consist of (1) living already, in spirit, in the new Jerusalem which Abraham and Old Testament believers longed to see; (2) joining already in praise around the throne of God with myriads of the heavenly host; (3) belonging to a body of believers who are members with each other and who share a heavenly citizenship; (4) having no fear of God's judgment even though standing spiritually before his august throne; (5) sharing with Old Testament believers the certain hope of the resurrection of the body; and (6) possessing Jesus in a new and intimate relationship ("you in me and I in you"), which involves a complete and final solution of the problem of human sin. (Ray C. Stedman,

For those who believe there are many paths to God and that all roads in life are relative, I suggest that "climbing" Mount Sinai to get to God--without the right Mediator in between is a deadly peril. Those who confuse Yahweh with Buddha or Allah are really playing with fire. The true God is the God of Moses who met the Jews at Sinai. The true God is perfect in holiness, righteousness and justice. He can not tolerate human sin and evil. God is, however, also loving and merciful. Yahweh is able to approach us with the grace and mercy we desperately need because His own Son Jesus stands forever in the Gap. It is Jesus who makes the Father known to us. But, there is only one way to God--Jesus himself said so. There are a thousand ways to find Jesus. Find Jesus and "he is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through him..." (Heb. 7:25)

A Harry Potter Note. I took the time to watch the first two Harry Potter films and found them both entertaining and fun. Every generation has enjoyed all manner of fairy tales and children's tales. Some of Grimm's Fairy Tales are pretty gruesome! Snow White and the Seven Dwarves terrified me when I was 8 years old. The Wizard of Oz features a very bad witch. All sorts of kids are turning off the TV and actually READING Harry Potter books and I think this is a very good thing. A comment sent by a friend, "I certainly do have an opinion. The idea that Harry Potter is demonic/occult is absolute hogwash. I've purchased every single book for my kids (who--even though one of them likes to read--have read each book from cover to cover and never had the slightest interest in the occult as a result). We've also seen the movies. They're simply good entertainment. And you're right: if Harry Potter is evil, then so are the Narnia books, Tolkien, Grimm's Fairy Tales, etc. The people who call Harry Potter evil have never encountered the real thing; nor do they have an ounce of true spiritual discernment."

These days Christians seem to be AGAINST everything and never FOR anything. How can we win any people to Christ if this is how the world perceives us? In any case what ELSE but evil should one expect from the pagan world system in which we are embedded? We can't expect the spiritually dead of this world to exhibit healthy moral conduct. Were they to try to so it would be a form of hypocrisy. (Romans 7:1-4) The church is supposed to be leading people out of pagan lifestyles into the supposedly better life in Jesus. We ain't doin' a good job at that these days, but failing rather miserably in my opinion. We're supposed to be loving life and overflowing with joy and delight in all God has given us.

Moving to Oregon! I came to the San Francisco Bay Area 49 years ago to attend grad school at Stanford. It hardly seems that long ago. Until last month I had not planned on ever leaving Silicon Valley. But in June--while once-again visiting Grants Pass, Oregon I realized one more time that the stress level in the Bay Area is very high these days. I always notice a burst of energy and refreshment of spirit when visiting friends outside of this Babylonian Bay area. Real estate prices in Oregon are very reasonable, and beginning to climb. Silicon Valley real estate prices, where I live now, are outrageously high and not likely to go higher.

Since I spend many hours per day answering email, studying, and writing it makes good sense for me to be in a more energizing environment away from the Encroaching Darkness. I value very highly my many friends in this area and the Bible classes I teach, but the thought of a fresh new start in Oregon has lots of appeal. I'd really enjoy having all my friends visit me in Oregon where I could hold Bible classes and weekend mini-retreats in my new home. On previous visits to Grants Pass I had no intention of heeding suggestions from friends there to move, but this time it seemed to me it was the Lord who was speaking. All that remains now is selling my present home and moving 452 miles to the North. This is no minor task. After temporarily storing ten pickup truck loads of books at my friend Linda's garage, my house looks a bit more marketable than it did a month ago. I wonder if removing all the dead weight of my books might not trigger the long-dormant San Andreas Fault? (If you are not faint of heart I recommend: Marc Reisner's new book on the inevitable great California earthquake A Dangerous Place: California's Unsettling Fate, Pantheon Books, NY 2003).

The prospect of moving has triggered a flood of self-examination and much awakened ambivalence. Part of me is eager to move, part of me wants to stay put, and the remaining third would seem to be content to just fade away and die. My emotions have been all over the map. Furthermore, having decided I ought to move I want it all to happen on my time table and according to my plan--but as usual God doesn't seem to ever do what I tell Him. As a friend remarked, "He doesn't seem to brief us on His plans very often either."

Contributions: I am very grateful for the financial help of friends who help me stay actively available to the Lord Jesus Christ. The word retirement has zero appeal to me! My income is limited to Social Security, a modest retirement check, and contributions from friends. In the past year or more two or three very generous friends have carried most of this latter burden for me. As I result of the help of these special friends I have had great freedom to stay busy in Christian service. A broader base of contributions would be most helpful so that everything does not depend on just a few. Your contributions can be addressed to Peninsula Bible Church (include a note that it is for my ministry support); 3505 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA 94306. I do not receive a list of contributors so I am not able to write individual thank you notes.

Newsletters are archived on my web site, Recent articles usually are found at the top of my library page, Email is welcome. When I get too busy I share email with my coworkers in the Paraclete Forum, God be with you!

Sincerely, Lambert Dolphin.
July 28, 2003. Web Archive for these newsletters: